A Question of Sides

Once when Joshua was by Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?” He replied, “Neither; but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Joshua 5:13-14, NRSV

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of always having to have a “stance.” Our world is all about finding ways to divide us, usually over issues that provoke our most intense emotional responses. Pro-choice, pro-life, Republican, Democrat, this or that religion, pro-closed borders, pro-immigration reform, pro-gun, anti-gun, cat people, dog people, and the list just goes on and on and on.

It’s exhausting. There is always someone getting angry, upset, or offended. Sometimes, that’s just life, but it’s also the case that the sharp divisions in our society have left everyone’s nerves exposed.

So what are we to do?

I guess we could keep digging our heels in, willing to fall on whatever sword our “camp” chooses for us. We could keep treating one another as either ally or enemy, unable to discuss the deepest issues of human existence because to do so would cause untold relational damage.

Or…

We could not.

Looking to the passage from Joshua’s story, we see a situation in which he puts to God the question we all face. “Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?” The divine answer is, “Yeah, man! Your side! Definitely!”

Wait…

God’s answer is actually that the Divine is neither of the Israelites nor of their adversaries. God is on God’s side, the side of mercy, justice, and transformation. So I guess the question is whether or not we who claim to be disciples are on that same side…

More often than not, we choose to be on a path other than God’s. In fact, whenever we draw our lines in the sand over and against the other people in this world that God created, we leave the path of righteousness. But good news!

There is an alternative.

Now, the world tells us there isn’t. We MUST decide, otherwise we are wishy-washy, and the issues that follow are our fault. This isn’t true, though.

To choose God’s side is freedom. We are free to hold a variety of positions that put people first, and not our little tribes. We are at liberty to honor one another (and God) with our choices rather than dismissing or demonizing each other.

This doesn’t mean we don’t stand for something. To honor each other and the life we share is not a timid, neutral stance. It’s also not self-glorifying or “sexy,” full of hashtags, angry articles, and half-truths.

I know it’s ironic for me to write a critique of having to pick sides while offering another one, but hey… That’s just how it’s going to have to be. But the difference here is that God’s side aligns us with the welfare and concerns of all people, not just those in our respective “clans,” and I feel like that is an important distiction.

I pray you will choose the third way, rather than the two sides always being peddled by the world. It’s not an easy path, and it won’t make you famous, but I guarantee it can change the world.

Peace be with you!

The Most Important Decision

Those who make them and all who trust them shall become like them.Psalm 135:18, NRSV

Everybody worships something. It may not be God, and most often, sadly, it isn’t. Our idols include celebrities, information, politics, institutions (including religious ones), our nations, families, work, money and others.

There are many things we worship, and, as the Psalmist points out in 135:15-18, our lives reflect this. We treat each other in accordance with our idols, and such things hardly cause us to treat one another well. When we fail to honor the One who is known for His compassion and justice (135:14), we also fail to exhibit those traits as a rule. Instead, our love for our neighbor depends on how they relate to the power, wealth, and desires that actually govern us.

For me, Sundays are a day to decide. I worship because I am grateful for my life. Further, I want to renew my commitment to live and love according to my example in Jesus Christ, rather than allowing the many false gods of our time to dictate my thoughts, words, and actions. I may fail at times throughout the week (duh), but I always come back to my center that I may be empowered by God’s grace to try again.

I don’t know where you’re at or what your idols may be. We all have them. I just want to issue an encouragement to make a different choice.

As my Old Testament professor once said, “You become what you worship.” So let’s examine what drives us, and let’s decide to live according to the image of love, for such life has the power to change everything for the better.

Peace be with you!

Back In Action!

But to the Kohathites he gave none, because they were charged with the care of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulders. — Numbers 7:9, NRSV

We just got back from an awesome trip to Colorado. My grandmother turned 90 this week, and we had a great time eating, drinking, and dancing the week away. Believe it or not, that little elderly woman hung in there for 3 hours of Oktoberfest themed dances!

Anyway, this trip also gave me some spiritual insights that I would like to share over the next few days, beginning with this story of the Kohathites from Numbers 7. The other Levite groups receive offerings from the leaders of Israel, which consisted of covered wagons and oxen. The Gershonites and Merarites receive the goods, but the Kohathites, “because they were charged with the care of the holy things,” receive nothing.

One way of looking at this is obvious and practical. Because they were all busy carrying the holy items of the tabernacle, the Kohathites simply didn’t have the capability of taking on even more stuff. For me, though, there is a spiritual teaching here for those of us who try to lead holy lives.

If there is one thing I learned on this trip, it is that we can only carry so much before something has to give. Hauling a backpack, two full suitcases, and four jackets made for quite the waddle to our room in the basement of a lovely rental in Breckenridge. It wasn’t long before the point came when I eventually had to let it all hit the floor.

The same “breaking point” applies to our spiritual lives. There are many things we try to carry all at once, and the burden often causes a disastrous overload. We try to be better people, but we also harbor bitterness, hatred, and a lack of forgiveness. In the pursuit of holiness and “the good life,” we also refuse to let go of our greed, selfishness, and prejudices.

Coming back from this vacation, I’ve realized that I have to be choosy about the things I carry. As with the Kohathites, I cannot expect to bear the love of Jesus in my body if I am also loaded down with a bunch of other distractions. For them, it was the choice to hang on to the holy items rather than receiving oxen and wagons. For me, I must decide to pursue forgiveness, compassion, and loving justice in my life as opposed to clinging to my wounds, anger, and selfish desires.

As we see in Leviticus/Numbers, unholiness cannot remain in the presence of holiness. It is either transformed or renewed. My encouragement for today is for all of us to intentionally decide what we will allow into our finite spiritual space. May we all sift through our wounds and fears to uncover the precious gems of love, healing, and transformation.

Peace be with you!

Make a Choice For Today

I know I normally start things off with a Scriptural quote followed by a topical discussion on how to live faithfully. That’s all well and good, but this is Monday, and I feel we are in need of a short, simple commission before the week begins. After all, how we approach today will largely determine the experience we can expect for this week.

Jesus boils the entirety of Jewish law and religion down to a single “coin” with two complementing sides. Matthew 22:37-39 states that we are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Life lived in faith is life lived in love.

This all seems simple enough, but for some reason we take a passive approach to this central teaching. We already have habits that determine how we react, and more often than not, they conflict severely with the law of love. That jerk in traffic, the office pain, our most annoying family member, or the odd political ad all tend to reveal the superficial effort we put into loving our neighbors, simultaneously exposing how little we think of loving God.

The neat thing about habits, though, is that they can be changed, but it is not a passive process. We can’t just read and recite the words while waiting for something to magically happen. Instead, we must make a conscious decision and effort. Every morning, before we even encounter another soul, we should set our intention to strive for love throughout the day, no matter who or what we face. If we do this every day, we will eventually establish a habit that will lead to greater awareness and transformation in our daily lives.

So today, whether you’ve already screamed your way into society or are preparing to do so, take a moment. Ponder the words of Christ in your mind, feel them in your heart, and envision what it would look like for you to live them throughout your day. I guarantee you it will be a difficult and rewarding process that will enrich your life and the lives of those you encounter. Ultimately, though, the choice is yours.

Peace be with you!