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An Old Idea We Have Yet to Master

“For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” — 1 Corinthians 3:17, NRSV

“My body is a temple.”

We have heard, said, or disliked someone who said that phrase at one point or another. It is a spiritual idea that comes from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, yet we somehow have taken it to mean that one shouldn’t enjoy Pringle’s every once in a while. Jerks…

Anyway, I have been reading 1 Corinthians (First Corinthians, not “One Corinthians,” Mr. President) for my New Testament devotional text, and I felt compelled to use this section from chapter 3 to talk about the purpose of the Christian faith and provide some encouragement for all of us to take it seriously. So let’s dive right in.

Verse 16 of the text says that we “are God’s temple” and “God’s Spirit dwells in” us. It should be noticed (as the footnote tells us) that the “you” in this text is intended to be plural, which serves several purposes, the first of which being that the entire Church (the body of believers in Christ) is considered the temple of God in which the Spirit of God dwells. When we gather and act together (in accordance with our faith), the Spirit of God is powerfully present, revealing the love of God to the world through us. As Jesus says in Matthew, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

The “you” in this text can also refer to the body of individual believers, because each believer is said to have the gift of the Holy Spirit (see the entire Book of Acts). Both our personal and communal lives, therefore, should bear witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ. Whether we are gathered in a church, Bible study, service event, or individually at work, school, or home, the Spirit of God and our connection to it should guide our thoughts, words, and actions.

Too often, however, we are not so intentional with who we are. We react based on how we feel, our instincts, or what will seemingly benefit us the most. Our personal, political, economic, and social lives too often fail to reflect that which we claim to be when we gather on Sundays (or Saturdays or Wednesdays, depending on your denomination). In fact, we have developed a system where this is accepted, known as the confession and pardon of sin.

Not every denomination has this as a formal moment in worship (which also contributes to the problem), but for those of us that do, the ritual actually reinforces the idea that wrongdoing is just a part of who we are. If we say the words with the correct measure of guilt, everything will be okay for US, which is hardly the intended point. Similarly, those churches that don’t talk about sin and the need for forgiveness contribute to the problem by failing to acknowledge that we do harm to others. Sometimes it is intentional, sometimes it isn’t, but either way, it needs to be acknowledged and fixed.

So what does this have to do with the whole “you are that temple” talk? I’m glad you asked. Step into my office.

A self-centered life does not witness well to the love of God with which we claim to be connected. I shall repeat that in bold. A self-centered life does not witness well to the love of God with which we claim to be connected. This holds true for when we gather as the Church and when we are in the midst of our daily individual lives.

Do I go to church for me? Do I go to church for my friends or so I can go to heaven? Do I go to church so I can act how I want during the week? Do I leave my faith in my private life? Do I treat others how I want, knowing I can ask forgiveness from God later? Do I keep my faith strictly personal and make my political, economic, and social decisions based on other things?

These are all good questions to ask, and more than likely, we are all begrudgingly nodding our heads in response to some of them. After all, it is how we were all raised to see church: as a service industry. What’s worse? The institutional church plays right into this role. Church is for us. It is so we can get what we need. It is also for when we have the time to do things for others, but mostly it is for us. It’s okay to admit this, because that is how our culture views almost everything. How is it useful? What does it do for me?

Unfortunately, this is hardly how the faith was designed to work. Our intentions do matter when it comes to what we do. If we gather because we are supposed to or because we are getting what we feel we need, we are not gathering in the name of Christ. We are gathering in our own name, and the Spirit of God is silenced. We unknowingly place an idol that looks like us on the altar of Christ and defile ourselves, the collective temple of God.

When we leave our faith at the church or in our hearts, making decisions based on what will make us the most friends, money, or success, we do the same thing. If we treat our neighbors based on stereotypes, prejudice, or ignorance, we defile the temple of God within us. When we poison our earth because we feel it is there for our uses only, we defile the temple of God within us. The same happens if we believe the lies of our culture and what they have to say about us, our bodies, and our value. Whether collectively or individually, we defile the temple of God when we fail to realize our value and the value of all others. 

So what do we do? We go back to square one. We hit the basics again.

We must re-accept the teachings of Christ daily, resolving to live in a way that honors the Spirit of God within us and within each other. When we gather, it must be in order to connect with God. When we go out into the world, it must be to live in light of that connection. We must be willing to change when we are in the wrong, and to stand firm in the love of Christ when we find ourselves tempted to act in self-interest.

In short, we must daily resolve to seek to both experience the love of God AND reflect it. This takes practice and grace, both for yourself and for others. It is about building daily habits of mindfulness and compassion. It is a journey that will last as long as we are on this earth, but it is one that is worth every twist, turn, and disruption.

I don’t know where you are on your faith walk, but I can tell you that all of us need this reminder every once in a while. Remember that you house the Spirit of God within you, and every decision you make either honors that or… does not. If we can all be more conscious of that, we will all get the chance to experience the love of God on a greater level. It is my hope that you will join me in this re-evaluation, so that we can all be the temple we are designed to be.

Peace be with you!

“Stricken”: A Snowflake’s Guide to Caring for the Suffering Servant

“Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God and afflicted.” — Isaiah 53:4, NRSV

“Know thyself!” says the old proverb. Taken correctly, it can actually be pretty fruitful advice. If we honestly check in with ourselves at many points throughout our days, we can get a sense of who we were, who we are, and who we run the risk of becoming. Unfortunately, we tend to confuse “Know thyself!” with “Think you know what you need to know concerning thyself!” Aside from the higher word count, the second, all-too-common phrase is problematic because it keeps us from recognizing where we are in our journey.

Looking at the Scripture quote above, we find one of the many Isaiah passages interpreted to explain the events that happened regarding Jesus. For many, this passage in Isaiah 53 is simply an explanation of how Jesus’ self-sacrifice did away with our sin on the cosmic level, and I think that is an unfortunately shallow interpretation. Yes, there is truth to it, but when it comes to this language of Jesus’ death, I fear we take too much for granted and miss a vital lesson.

While reading this chapter for my morning devotional a couple of days ago, the quote above struck a chord with me. The writer tells us that “our infirmities” and “our diseases” were what afflicted this servant. Then, we are informed that this servant is thought to be struck by the hand of God, one who must have done something to deserve this treatment. The reaction to this suffering one seems to be head-shaking and dismissal, as we are told “he was despised, and we held him of no account” (53:3). The twisted summary is that we are the cause of this person’s suffering, yet we act as though it is something deserved, as though the problem is with the afflicted. Sound familiar?

As someone born in 1991, I am often considered to be a part of the Millennial generation, which has drawn considerable (not wholly undeserved) ire from older generations who feel we are all entitled “snowflakes.” While I am not going to (in this post) discuss the ridiculous hypocrisy of that claim, I am going to point out a noticeable trend that is becoming more and more evident. It seems that we don’t like being held accountable for our part in the suffering of others, and we will do anything to avoid it. This, unfortunately, tends to include blaming others for what our words and actions have done to them.

This may chafe some people, but I do not subscribe to the idea of being “stuck in one’s ways.” I don’t care if you are 95 or 12 years old, if you are a part of this world, you have a responsibility to do the best you can to live a respectful and informed life. I don’t pretend that this is easy. It is hard to unlearn and alter deeply ingrained patterns of thought and living (trust me, I have learned this the hard way). However, it is flat-out impossible if we can’t honestly ask ourselves whether or not the opinions, beliefs, or actions by which we define ourselves are healthy and life-giving or not. Too often, we take for granted the kind of person we are and just expect everyone to conform to that reality. Otherwise, they can go kick rocks.

Interestingly enough, that is exactly the attitude Israel seems to be taking with the servant in Isaiah 53, and it is certainly the cultural climate that put Jesus on the cross. People who thought their way was above reproach and worthy of full acceptance did not take kindly to the “snowflake” talking about love, justice, and caring for those at the bottom of the socioeconomic totem pole (regardless of whether or not we think they deserve it!). Even today, followers of Jesus are put off by some of his teachings, and even flat-out ignore them when it comes to “practical” matters like politics, finances, and how we deal with difference. At the end of the day, the idea was that Jesus put himself on the cross for daring to challenge the religious and governing authorities of his time.

What does this have to do with how you, me, and how we treat each other?

Too often, our assumption seems to be that if our words or actions hurt others, the problem is with how weak they are as opposed to how crappy we are acting in a given moment. We blame others for a sin for which we will eventually have to answer. After all, which do you think God is going to take issue with: the fact that someone is sensitively offended by my prejudicial language or the fact that I don’t care and even persist in said behavior? You can bet I will be the one in the hot seat, no matter what rights I feel I am entitled to.

That’s a small example regarding how people treat the sensitive or offended, but you can take that template to any extreme you want. What about blaming the medically uninsured American because I voted for the guys who wanted to take the insurance they had away? Perhaps it’s blaming that “pig-headed” conservative family member for all the times I called them backward, racist, and ignorant? Could it be blaming the abused person we know for the psychological conditioning and brutal actions of the jerk laying hands on her? What if I blamed my spouse for my infidelity? As you can see, the gate truly “is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it” (Matthew 7:13).

We all do this in one way or another. I get asked why I wear a crucifix necklace when “Jesus isn’t on the cross any more.” While this is in some way true, I can’t help but think Jesus is always up there. I once had a professor who said, “We crucify Christ by our ‘isms.'” Indeed, I think it is safe to say that as long as the innocent suffer and as long as we refuse to acknowledge and change those parts of ourselves that contribute to that suffering, Jesus is crucified time and time again.

This is a harsh teaching, but it is also a blessed one. Just as we put Jesus back on the cross, we also have the freedom to not do that. If we put even the slightest effort into changing our habits and lifestyles to better care for others, we begin to mend the wounds of Christ instead of causing them. Every moment we set our pride or fragile ego aside and act for the good of all, we experience in some small way the resurrection of Christ, made complete at the end of our days.

Now, this won’t always be easy. People like to believe that true change is impossible. “We are who we are.” This is a shallow form of comfort that accommodates people who are too scared or stubborn to try to improve. For me, the biggest lie I had to overcome was the ideology behind that severely unhelpful phrase, “once a cheater, always a cheater.” I believed for so long that my issues with boundaries and commitment were who I was meant to be. “Perhaps I am just better off alone,” I would often think. Guess what? The day came when the Spirit within me refused to accept that, and I sought help. I talked to friends, pastors, and counselors. I faced the pain of my life and asked myself some tough questions. It wasn’t and isn’t easy at all, but for every foot of ground I gain, something in my heart breaks free and I find myself living joyfully with the woman I love. The struggles I face daily are still real. Temptation is always out there, but I have learned healthy ways of dealing with it, and I am now in a place I never thought I would be: happy. 

The same thing is possible for you, no matter the affliction you face. You are not doomed to be what others say you are, even if the “other” you are fighting the most happens to be yourself. You may think you are too old, too lost, too broken, too scared, too weak, too [insert chosen adjective here], but “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God” (Luke 18:27). It may be hard as hell, but it is worth every bit of it to experience the transforming power of God firsthand.

It all starts with openness. We have to be open to honestly examining the effects our words and actions have on others. We have to be honest enough to see those moments when we are shifting the blame from ourselves to those we negatively impact. Instead of accounting them “stricken,” let’s admit when they are bearing the burden of our choices, and let’s make the decision to let God do something different through us. It is never too late to choose light and life, and I hope you will join me in trying to do so. 

Peace be with you!

 

 

Refinement: How We See and Experience Adversity

“See, I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tested you in the furnace of adversity.” — Isaiah 48:10, NRSV

In a previous post, we talked about the fact that adversity is a guarantee in life. Struggle, as you probably know, happens to everyone at one point or another. The intensity, causes, and manifestations of struggle may change, but the fact is adversity is a companion we should get used to. This leaves us with those two all-important questions: how will we face it and how will we surface on the other side?

For me, one of the most adverse experiences that I have been faced with is the loss of my job and calling, all in the span of a few months. After being let go from working at my appointed church, I was eager to  get back into ministry elsewhere. The problem was, the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to go back. Don’t get me wrong, we have been attending churches and I have still kept my Christian spiritual life in tact. I also want to get involved at whatever church we join, teaching classes, serving in missions, etc. However, I want to do those things for free, not tethered to the institutional church. There are some who are called to that and who do amazing work in professional ministry. My personal sense of integrity, idealism, and faith keep me from being one of those people. Others may be called to use these gifts in professional ministry, but I have learned it is not my way.

On one hand, this was a good realization. It is just as much a blessing to know when one is not called to something as knowing when one is called to something. I fostered a lot of resentment in my time in professional ministry, mostly toward other clergy who had a sense of belonging that I never experienced. I also had major issues with a necessary component to church in the United States, which is keeping the right people content. To me, if something is true or in need of being presented, it needs to be presented, regardless of the implications for a person’s spiritual life. If their spiritual life is selfishly constructed, what are we even doing?

Anyway, I won’t go much further down that road.

On the other hand, this one hurt. I was planning to spend my life in ministry. I wanted to be important in the eyes of others and in the eyes of God. I wanted my life to matter for the cause of Christ.

I should say that being fired was actually a bit of a blessing. I had issues with that placement. I was bad at keeping boundaries that protected me, my relationships, and the amazing congregation of youth and adults I love. Being let go and having the opportunity to face those ugly truths has actually made me a better man, and it also allowed me the chance to see what I should (and shouldn’t) be doing with my life. All in all, I’m happier now than I have been in a long time, and I have God and my amazing wife, family, and friends to thank for that. However, this is not the only result that could have come.

You see, adversity like this is not strange or uncommon. Whether it is brought on by chance, our own doings, or the doings of others, we are all going to face the ugly side of life and free will at many points throughout our brief existence on this earth. With that in mind, we need to answer those two all-important questions.

I submit that we look at adversity as divine testing. Now, before my more progressive friends close this window, and before my theologically… assertive (Calvinist?) brothers and sisters jump sky-high with delight, let me expand on what I mean by “divine testing.” When most of us think about the idea of God testing us, we look at it in academic terms. Just as the teacher is the one who hands us the blue book or scan-tron, we imagine God is the one who engineers the particular circumstance by which we are tested. God hands it to us, and we are expected to do our best to pass it.

For some of us, this may be comforting, but it isn’t for me. It makes God seem a bit cruel. However, I do believe we are tested in that God watches how we respond to certain things. God gives us freedom and the tools to make choices, even gives us the means of making the right choices, however, it is up to us to complete that act, and God is watching, prepared to give revelation in either an affirming or corrective manner.

This is a middle road opinion, to be sure, but I find it to be the most Scriptural of the available options. For example, take a look at the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. A situation of adversity comes up (4:5), God warns and encourages Cain (4:6-7), a regrettable choice is made (4:8), and God responds accordingly (4:10-12). The same happens with everyone, from the heroes of faith (like Moses and David) to the entire nation of Israel and the body of Christian believers. All are tested, but not because God puts them in crappy situations. Rather, we are all tested when we face adversity that is common to all, specific to our situation, and has the potential to cause us to act unfaithfully. 

If you look at the Scripture at the beginning of this post, you’ll find that it is a quote from a context in which Isaiah is making note of the times Israel failed their tests. This failure led to their conquest and exile as a natural out working of their violation of God’s covenant. There are many tests that we have failed or will fail. However, the grace of God in Christ is relentless. While we may fail, God calls us to repent (to change our ways and move in a different direction). If we do this, and if we continue to put in efforts to better ourselves and stay connected to God, we will eventually see a change in how adversity affects us.  What once drove us to sin, anger, bitterness, addiction, and other negative actions can actually be an opportunity to live in faith, kindness, compassion, and honesty. When we move from the former to the latter, it is the grace of God working within us, refining us, and making us more whole.

I have responded to the recent tests in both positive and negative ways. I have been hurt, angry, and resentful. However, I have also gotten help for those things, and a result, I have grown closer to God, my wife, my friends, and my family. I have also gained more understanding regarding what kind of life I want to have in order to serve God and others best. In the end, I hope you will pray for me that I may come through this process refined and improved. I will also pray for you in that regard, dear reader. 

Go forth in hope, knowing that every day, we are being tested. Every situation presents us with an opportunity to do good or evil, and we must choose. Remember that God is always with you, no matter what, and rise to the occasion the next inevitable time adversity comes to meet you. By the grace of God, I know that we can overcome.

Peace be with you!

Feel free to comment on this post or ask for prayer from the Contact page!

Wrong Question, Right Answer: On “The Good Samaritan”

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” — Luke 10:36-37, NRSV

This story, often called “The Parable of the Good Samaritan,” is one of the chief parables in the Christian faith. It is about kindness that reaches across social, ethnic, and even religious boundaries. It also showcases one of the best turn-arounds Jesus has ever pulled on someone, and the result is a message that is sorely needed in our world today.

You can find the whole story here, and you will notice that after a lawyer asks Jesus about the necessary qualifications for entering eternal life, and Jesus answers rather bluntly, we get a new question that sounds familiar to anyone who knows this story. “And who is my neighbor?” From there Jesus enters into an unexpected narrative with an even less-expected result.

Now, for those of us unfamiliar with the parable, don’t feel bad, as the most familiar interpretations and lessons on this parable tend to miss a major point. Jesus never answers the lawyer’s question.

The odd interpretation most come to is that one’s neighbors are the people who are merciful toward you, so go and be like them, which one has to admit, sounds weird. It is seldom noted that Jesus doesn’t tell the lawyer who his neighbors are, that he may concentrate his efforts on them. Instead, Jesus teaches the lawyer how to be a neighbor to even one’s most despised enemy (as the Samaritan is to the Jew in this parable).

We as humans always look for the minimum. We want to know how much we really have to achieve, and we strive to fulfill that while still trying to get everything else we want. When it comes to religion, this tendency is more pronounced. We always ask what we can get away with. Not in those words, but we ask things like, “Will I go to hell if…?” or “What does the Bible specifically say about me wanting to…?” We seek technicalities, or, like the lawyer, we want to know who we are allowed to mistreat. He didn’t ask that… but he did.

The lawyer already noted that the Law teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves in verse 27. Therefore, his question (“Who is my neighbor?”) is really kind of wrong. He is asking who he needs to love as himself. He is exhibiting an action we do all too often in our world today. There are people who are more inherently worthy of our love and respect than others. We don’t want to treat our enemies civilly, much less with love, as Jesus teaches in Luke 6:27-36, found here. We want to love who we feel deserves it, but we also want to be free to hate (or “strongly dislike” as every minimal Christian puts it) those we feel have earned it.

With this in mind, we often will be found asking the lawyer’s question every time we come to this story. Now, luckily, we are mostly given the right answer, that everyone is to be our neighbor, treated with love. Jesus, however, doesn’t even bother to answer the lawyer’s question with that. Instead, Jesus asks (and answers) his own question.

Notice, after the parable, Jesus asks, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” His advice is to go and show the same mercy to others. His question and answer are not concerned with who our neighbors are so much as whether or not we are being merciful neighbors to everyone.

Jesus tells us to stop looking for the minimum requirements and to start focusing on being disciples, day in and day out. It’s not important who our neighbors are! It is, however, important to know whether or not we are being neighbors to others. This is an essential teaching for today, when we seem to be more than happy to retreat back to our segregated, isolationist way of surrounding ourselves with similarity and calling that Christian love. It is an essential teaching in my country, where we Christians want to know the minimum we have to religiously adhere to while remaining free to ultimately do what we want.

Our future as a planet depends on our ability to accept this teaching. It will take the help of God every day, but I guarantee that if we wake up determined to be a neighbor to everyone (as opposed to finding worthy neighbors to love), things will start to look different. God is always at work, but when we open the door to our hearts and our lives in this way, real changes will start to happen. I personally think real change is something we desperately need if we want to survive as a species!

I hope this little talk has proved helpful for you. I hope you are, like me, pondering this story anew. Most of all, I hope you will join me today in a journey of discipleship, determined to be a neighbor, exhibiting God’s love to all. It takes practice, but it is totally worth it.

Peace be with you!

Floods Will Come

“I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built.” — Luke 6:47-48, NRSV

I remember seeing an illustrated version of this parable. If I remember correctly, it was in Grandma’s Gospel, a book my grandma in West Virginia (who we are visiting this week) used to read to me on her front porch swing. I have always liked this teaching, even if at first it was because I’d laugh at the guy that thought he was building a strong house on sand. Anyway, I feel this is a good parable to ponder as we enter into a new year. Why?

A new year is a new opportunity, a chance for a new way of life for some of us. It is important that we take a moment to pause and consider how we are going to live in this new year. 2017 certainly revealed a lot about our more negative sides. Selfishness, greed, prejudice, and apathy marked the public sphere, leading to a sense of despair for everyone involved (except for those in power who benefit from the above sinful expressions). The question now is whether or not we want more of the same.

You see, such sinful expressions are the result of houses built “without a foundation” (Luke 6:49). Fragile existences based on possessions, status, self-satisfaction, or the need to be superior often fail us in the moments when the floods of life come along. Notice I said “when,” not “if” the floods come. The text says the same thing. “When a flood arose, the river burst against that house” (Luke 6:48).

Floods are going to come, regardless of whether or not our lives are rooted in stone or sand. Living a life founded on the rock of faith does not exempt one from the immense and often overwhelming pain life brings along. In similar fashion, basing our existence on things that can be easily swept away (work, relationships, self-importance, fleeting pleasures, etc.) doesn’t do us any favors either. The trick for this new year, then, is building our lives on a foundation that is not only strong enough to sustain us through the pain of life, but also has the power to provide shelter and peace for others in the midst of their own storms. 

How do we do that?

It begins with the teachings of Christ in Luke, all summed up earlier in chapter 6. You might recognize the foremost of these teachings in Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” From there, look around at the other teachings.

“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35).

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).

This chapter is then wrapped up with the parable of two foundations.

Coincidence? Of course not. Keep up.

Jesus says the one who builds their house on a strong foundation is the one “who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them” (Luke 6:47). If we want to begin and continue this year in a new, better way, the best advice is build a foundation on those things that keep us kind, gracious, patient, loving, forgiving, and compassionate. What’s the best example? Look at Jesus.

Jesus was maligned almost everywhere he went. People claimed to be his disciples, only to abandon him with alarming quickness. He came teaching freedom, transformation, and a closer relationship to the Divine, which led to a miserable death on a cross. In the midst of mistreatment, persecution, beatings, and a humiliating execution, Jesus never compromised on his love, compassion, justice, and inclinations toward healing and wholeness for those who needed it.

If we want to experience a different sort of year, that’s exactly what it’s going to take for us.

Floods are going to come. Whether literally, as in Puerto Rico and the Gulf Coast of the United States, or figuratively in the form of mass shootings, sudden loss of life, familial stress, unemployment, or the ending of important relationships, these floods all have the capability of turning us into self-serving people who only serve to feed the hateful atmosphere that has been so prevalent in our world as of late. If, however, we build our lives upon a foundation beyond ourselves, a foundation that prioritizes the care and well-being of others, we will be able to withstand the turbulent waters. 

Will there be damage? There always is. Will life hurt? Of course. If, however, our lives are geared toward others, in alignment with the will of God, our pain can be healed and made useful. This results in a very different reality from the one we have seen before. You know, the one where our pain and our suffering and our desires take precedence over anything else.

As you go about beginning this new year, I hope you join in me in doing some construction work. How can we change the foundation of our lives to one that is firmly set on the unshakable rock that is the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ? We won’t always get it right, but our continuous efforts alone will yield something beautiful that will go a long way toward healing previous damage done to us, to others, and to all of creation. So let’s get started!

Happy New Year!

Peace be with you!

Blessed Foolishness: A Comment on Church Status

For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. — 1 Corinthians 1:22-24, NRSV

Alright, so get excited, everyone. This is a rant I have been just waiting to go on, but don’t worry. It is rooted in Scripture and a love for the faith that continues to strengthen and change me. This post was prompted by President Trump’s Christmas speech. Actually, it was prompted more by the response to said Christmas speech, piled on top of the comments I have heard over and over again about the supposed, rightful Christianity of the United States. 

First, I must issue a disclaimer. I am not attacking or denying the Christian faith of the majority of Americans dating back to our nation’s founding. I am not going to be dumping on the president. I am not going to be dumping on the United States. I am also not going to be dumping on Christianity. I am, however, going to take issue with a tendency that has plagued the Christian Church throughout history. As a matter of fact, this is a tendency that has always plagued humanity, namely the tendency to seek out power and protect however much power we manage to get our hands on. 

What do I mean by “power?” I mean social, political, military, and economic influence. I mean that which makes Christians the primary beneficiaries of policy, the chiefly expressed and practiced religion, and the religion that is adopted by the nation to suit the purposes of the nation. It is my contention that for us as Christians to seek out or possess such influence is to undermine the entire faith. 

Christianity was never supposed to be a faith of worldly power. Jesus himself addresses the lack of popularity to be expected by Christians in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The quote at the start of this post comes from a bigger section of the First Letter to the Corinthians in which Paul address the fact that Christian beliefs alone are counter to the world’s logic, much less the way they live their lives in pursuit of “nothing… except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

My point is that Christians believe God Incarnate, Jesus, the King of kings, did not come with the might of an army, the wealth of a king, or the privilege of the elite. He was a son of a carpenter, wandering from place to place, living off of the kindness of others, and spreading a message that challenged the powerful, lifted up the poor, and ended with his own crucifixion. Jesus never pursued worldly power or wealth, and he never encouraged his followers to do so. He actually warned against it multiple times, saying, “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).

So what is my point? After President Trump’s speech, so many extoled the virtues of our Christian country. On top of that, we have a habit of talking about our troops as if they were Christ, potentially sacrificed on the altar of freedom for our salvation. Even more, we equate being a good American with being a good Christian, and  the American values of wealth and privilege seep into our churches and teachings, causing us to mistake riches for blessing, status for righteousness.

This is not the first time. Whether in Rome, the Crusades, colonization, or modernity, any time the Church has sought or achieved worldly power, it became decadent, corrupt, and idolatrous. Forced conversions, wars for land, wars for power, slavery, and the blending of Christian and civil religion all resulted from the Church’s pursuit of that which is counter to Christ… and I worry it’s happening again.

When we as Christians become concerned with our status or endorsement by the government, when we emphasize numbers, when we seek after wealth, power, and security above all else, we start down that wide road that “leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13).

It is my prayer that you will join me in praying for the Church, that she may recover her purpose and identity. It is my prayer that you will find strength not in riches or status, but in the humble cross of Christ. Remember that the love of God is not found in material abundance or social privilege, but in the humble, daily pursuit of justice, service, and kindness for all people. If we can remember that, we  could have a bright new year ahead.

Peace be with you!

Just a Moment to Marvel

“For this foreign affair, I will abide as the middle man, ‘Cause the solo cry is more than I can stand. So I walk on air, and awkwardly seek out a child’s form. And I know that you won’t lead me to the storm.”

Christmas is a-coming! With just two days to go, I have been reflecting pretty intently on the Incarnation. If you don’t know, this is the word that means “to take on flesh,” which is what we Christians celebrate on Christmas: when God took on flesh as a baby in a feeding trough, soon to show us the true meaning of love and humility in the person of Jesus Christ.

The quote above is from a song called “Anything You Say,” by Deas Vail, a band with heavy Christian influence. When I hear this verse, I immediately think of the gift of the Incarnation, and I wanted to share why this story is so beautiful, powerful, and worth becoming a part of.

When we think of God, we often picture a big person or figure in the sky, like Zeus. Maybe we imagine an invisible, impersonal force. Some just don’t even think about it at all. In any of these scenarios, God is something hard to look to or imagine, much less something with which we can have an honest, intimate relationship.

That’s why this story is so important! God desires to have us love Him, know Him, and follow His ways. Because God is so immense and, in some way, unknowable, He has made a habit of revealing Himself to us. We see God in Creation, on Mount Sinai, in the still silence on a mountain, and, in time, our very own flesh!

The Christmas story is the tale which reminds us that God is not some distant tyrant who lords over our lives. God is willing to humble Himself, becoming a lowly child, not born in a palace or house, but in a barn. This child grew to be a wandering preacher and healer, crucified because of the wickedness of those He came to save, only to break the powers of sin and death by rising again. On Christmas Day, we celebrate the beginning of this beautiful story, which teaches us that, wicked as we may be at times, God still earnestly desires to dwell among us in love. That’s some inspiring and instructive stuff!

Peace be with you!