Church, We Don’t Need Religious Liberty

 

I hear regularly on the news and online that the Church is under attack. 2017-05-04 14.39.36

I think those who say so are right, but I think they have gotten confused about where the battle is coming from. The attacks are not from the people we are often told to fear.

The greatest threat to the Church is not godless liberals or a politically correct government that wants to do away with the 10 Commandments in public places. No, the greatest threat to the Church comes from within our own ranks. It is sitting in our pews and writing our books and blogs and standing behind our pulpits.

The threat is us.

The people who say they have faith in God but who put their faith in other things. The people who will trade most any value for the chance at political power. The people who love to be comfortable and in charge. The people who are infatuated with the concept of religious liberty.

We are a threat because we have let these things distract us from the things Jesus called us to. We are a threat because we sing “the world behind me, the cross before me” and then act as if we are doomed should an election not go our way. We are a threat because we bear false witness by pointing people to a hope that is built on politics and circumstances rather than faith.

Now before you start your rebuttal, know I sincerely believe in religious liberty.  I believe in liberty for people of all faiths and creeds and will work for and defend everyone’s right to be here and have the same freedoms I enjoy.

I am thankful for my freedom. I use and probably exploit it. I stand multiple times a week in front of people and proclaim the Good News of Jesus. And if it were outlawed tomorrow, I’d show up on Sunday and do it anyway.

I’m guessing there are many Christians in many churches who would say the same thing.

What then are we after when we say we want religious liberty? What are we chasing? What is our end game? We say we want religious freedom but religious freedom does not make our faith stronger, it does not make our churches come alive, it does not claim that people will come to faith in Jesus.

What we are after is what that freedom brings us: We want comfort. We want control. We want political power.

Take a stroll through the Gospels and show me a place where Jesus is after those things. He lived in an occupied land. He had no votes. He had limited freedom. He couldn’t pass religiously based laws. He had none of the things I see Christians saying were their top priorities this last election cycle.

Never once was he worried about the threat of Caesar showing up and telling him to stop. He never once said the way to be faithful is to hang the Scriptures in City Hall or stamp In God We Trust on our money. He didn’t say, as the people wanted him to, that we need to overthrow the haters and install God’s government.

He didn’t say those things because they simply did not matter to his ministry and work. Not ultimately.

He wasn’t chasing after an earthly kingdom because his Kingdom was not of this world.

Jesus didn’t get his power from government. He didn’t need Rome to give him permission to speak. His freedom was not wrapped up in the laws of the land.

And neither is ours.

The faithful Christian life is lived out regardless of where we find ourselves or what government we happen to be ruled by. This doesn’t mean we don’t work to make our culture and government better, but we certainly don’t put our hope there or take our marching orders from them.

The faithful Christian life has nothing to do with who has political power and instead has everything to do with who has our heart.

I’m telling you right now that religious freedom is one of the biggest idols in the Church today. And idolatry will kill us far sooner than persecution will or making room for people of different faiths and practices will.

I’m convinced we are being led away from Jesus. We are giving our heart to things that will not bring us abundant life. Religious liberty has absolutely nothing to offer the Church.

Just like Jesus we do not need political power, comfort, or control. Not only do we not need them, they will ruin us.

Power corrupts. Comfort lulls us to sleep. Control is the antithesis of a love.

We are killing ourselves and the faiths of our children and our witness to the world as we chase after these things. Things that don’t look like Jesus.

I can’t imagine Jesus saying, “What the North American Church really needs is pastors telling people who to vote for.” I can’t imagine him saying, “Christians need special laws and protections so they don’t have to bake cupcakes for so and so” or “Blessed are those who wield the power.”

Jesus invites us to serve, to become uncomfortable, to give up so much control that we’d risk everything to love people unlike us. He invites us to lay down our lives. He invites us to trust him on this journey of faith.

Jesus invites us into a Kingdom. A Kingdom far more beautiful and powerful and life giving than anything democracies or monarchies have to offer. A Kingdom that is not run by coercion or violence or deal making but by sacrificial, extravagant love. A Kingdom where laws give way to grace. A Kingdom that changes hearts and minds. A Kingdom that never ends.

So while I hope our nation will live out its identity as a land of freedom for people of all faiths or no faith, I will not be chasing after or applauding things marketed as Christian religious liberty. I will not be schmoozed by politicians who hope to gain my vote by promising me something that isn’t theirs to give.

Church, the government does not give you your voice. The government does not give you your power. The government does not give you your freedom. It does not give or transform life.

Stop putting your hope there. We must stop clamoring after religious liberty as if only then will we experience the life God wants for us. As if only then will God show up.

God will show up when we assume the posture of Jesus. When we love our neighbors as ourselves. When we live a life of faith. When we eschew power and comfort and control in order to look more like the God we claim.

We are better than this. And our Kingdom is better is than this.

May we never bow down at the feet of religious liberty. May we stop chasing after worldly things only to find that we’ve left Jesus and our neighbors in the dust. May our allegiance be to an eternal Kingdom. And may our free or persecuted lives look just like Jesus.

 

 

 

This is not okay.

© UNHCR/A.McConnell

Syria has been at war with itself for years. Countless lives have been lost. Most of the country has been displaced. Many fleeing with only the clothes on their back. And our response to this disaster has largely been a shrug. This is not okay.

Those aware of the situation have turned it, like most things, into a political issue. We’ve reduced a humanitarian crisis to a partisan talking point. This is not okay.

Meanwhile, today in Syria citizens were killed through the use of chemical weapons. Weapons unleashed by their own government. Men. Women. Children. Today. Burned. Poisoned. Suffocated. Dead. The pictures on Twitter are unfiltered and haunting. If that isn’t bad enough, planes then launched rockets at the clinics where the wounded were being treated. This is not okay.

These are people that we are reluctant to welcome when they beg to come. These are people that we have wanted to shut the door on. These are people we’ve largely turned our back on. Men. Women. Children. This is not okay.

The government needs to figure out what they will do for the those remaining in the country, the refugees who’ve fled, and the evil Assad regime. Hopefully this administration will take the issue more seriously than the previous one. It is complex and I don’t have all the answers. 

But you and I need to have our hearts broken by the evil in this world and let it change our attitudes, opinions, and behaviors.

You and I need to consider our response to atrocities like this. It should shake us.

You and I need to decide that this is not okay.

Don’t tell me things like, “America first.” That just does not fly for me as a Jesus follower.

Don’t tell me that Saudi Arabia and whoever should be doing more. Aren’t we supposed to be a “shining city on a hill?”

Don’t tell me “Veterans before refugees.” Certainly our vets need help and resources but the people being choked to death by Sarin gas from their government should be moved to the front of the line. (And you will see shortly we have more than enough cash to go around for refugees and veterans.)

Don’t tell me they can’t be trusted. Don’t tell me we have to do more “extreme vetting.” Don’t tell me one Skittle might be poisoned. 

None of that. Look at the pictures of boys and girls who lost their life today gasping for air that wouldn’t come. Read the stories of the conditions of refugee camps. Listen to the people.

Enough is enough. This is not okay. 

Don’t want to bring them here? Ok, what can you do feed, clothe, and medicate them where they are at? Can you love them as people and be moved by their desperation?

This is a heart issue, not a resource issue.

The US spends around $2.5 billion on Halloween costumes every year. For one night of trick or treating and a party or two. In 2012 we spent $370 million on dressing up our pets on October 31st. None of this includes decorations or candy.

We spend nearly $14 billion on ice cream annually, and that doesn’t include restaurant sales.

The amount of federal dollars that goes to resettling refugees in the USA each year is approximately $585 million. Peanuts compared to the way we spend elsewhere.

Look, I love Halloween and I love ice cream, but I love people more. Maybe I could do without.

Without ice cream or fancy costumes or even safety.

This may sound crazy, but I’m willing to risk safety for the sake of these people. I’m willing to risk it in the name of love. That’s what a Jesus follower does. 

Despite statistics showing that refugees have not been terrorists 99.99938% of the time, some will say this makes me foolish or naïve or something else, but that’s the part I am okay with. I’m not okay with people suffering like this. I’m not okay with saying no to people who are being killed just because of where they live.

Who are we as a nation if we don’t help these people?

Who are we as a Church if we don’t use our voice to bring attention to this?

Who are we as people if we can’t set aside some things in order to save the lives of people?

This is not okay.

God have mercy on them. God have mercy on us.


Give/Learn/Get Involved:

Charity Navigator lists some reputable organizations assisting in this crisis:
https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=1523#

Preemptive Love Coalition is on the ground feeding and treating people. http://www.preemptivelove.org/

Catholic Relief Services: Get to Know Refugees
http://www.crs.org/media-center/syrian-refugees-meet-the-people-everyones-talking-about

Catholic Relief Services: Ways to Help
http://www.crs.org/stories/helping-syrian-refugees-numbers

My own tribe, the Church of the Nazarene, has good folks on the ground caring for refugees where they are at, donate here: https://give.nazarene.org/donate/f/125347

 

 

A Seat at the Table: Lead Like a Girl

Note: One of my strongest convictions is that we need to hear a variety of voices. I think hearing from different perspectives will bridge unnecessary divides and cure unhealthy polarization. I think we will become more empathetic, more grounded, and have more influence in our world. I want to provide a seat at the table for those voices we may not always hear or those who can provide us with insight we would otherwise miss. I will present them unfiltered so that I can learn right along with everyone else, even if we end up disagreeing. Today I present Kristin. She leads a variety of ministries in the local church and is pursuing ordination in the Church of the Nazarene. – Chris

A number of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a conference geared toward women in ministry.  The opening speaker began by stating something similar to this: “As women who are called into leadership roles, we are not here with a chip on our shoulder or an ax to grind.” I hope and pray that my message is not now nor ever steeped in bitterness toward the injustices in our world. Rather, my purpose in speaking out is that a new voice might be heard. A voice that has the potential to show the world another side of the same coin. A voice that is equally cherished by God, equally inspired by God, and equally part of God’s original plan for humanity.

As a woman called to ministry, I cannot say I’ve faced a lot of blatant sexism in my life. I honestly don’t recall anyone telling me I couldn’t do something because of my gender. In fact, my experience has mostly been the opposite. My parents have always been my biggest supporters. They modeled equality in a marriage as far as I can remember. I always thought of them as two halves to a whole, each of them holding the value of exactly half, no less, no more.  I don’t remember them ever mentioning gender equality or lack-there-of, but somehow I have always believed that men and women are equal.

When I went to college as a religion major, for the first time, I realized the unusualness of my worldview on this issue. Nobody ever told me that I couldn’t be a pastor and my professors were supportive, gracious and inclusive.  Yet even in this atmosphere I encountered countless people who assumed that my role in the church would be to support a lead pastor and minister to a small portion of the congregation – youth, children, women—rather than taking the lead position. And we need good people who will fill each of these roles, but the ability to lead is not gender-specific.

You see, sometimes prejudice doesn’t show itself through nasty words or outright hatred.  Sometimes prejudice is seen in the expectations we hold or the terminology we use. Sometimes it’s the side-long glance or the questioning eyes.  Sometimes it comes in the form of a question like “Do you need to check with your husband on that theological issue?” As if my education isn’t enough. Or a determination of my value based on how well I “pastor’s wife,” as if I am defined by my husband’s job. And sometimes it comes in the form of jokes and teasing, like calling a man “Nancy” when his physical strength is deemed lacking or blaming a woman’s passion on her hormones. It may seem harmless, and it’s probably not always intended to degrade women, but it is a contribution to gender inequality none-the-less.

So for the better part of the last ten years I have questioned what exactly I can do in leadership. What role can I possibly play in the edification of the church? Am I ‘less-than’ simply because of my gender? Am I capable of speaking in public and bringing sound doctrine to the people of God? Is God really calling ME?

Maybe these questions and fears are rooted in my own insecurities.  Or maybe these insecurities have been fed by the biases of other well-intentioned, although misguided, Christians. Either way, I do not believe that God’s intention for me is to be lost in a sea of doubt. Nor do I believe that He desires for me to be silent, to be inferior, to be powerless.

In fact, the more I pray and study and discuss with other spiritual leaders, the more I am sure of it. When I read in the Bible that I am chosen and dearly loved (Colossians 3:12), and that I can approach God’s throne with boldness (Ephesians 3:12) I feel the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit, telling me: “Be bold. Be strong. Be exactly whom I have created you to be.”

Sometimes it’s easy to listen to the voices that say women should not be leaders among men or that a husband and wife cannot function as true equals in a marriage.  After all, those voices are often the loudest.  But just because a voice is blaring as if through a megaphone, that doesn’t make it right.  Wasn’t it Elijah who searched for God in the wind and the earthquake and the fire? And after all the other “voices” had died down, it was instead the whisper of God that spoke to Elijah.

When the voices that ring like thunder surround me, trying to lessen my credibility, I seek the one who speaks in a whisper.  And as one of our congregation’s favorite songs states “I’ve heard the tender whisper of love in the dead of night. And You tell me that you’re pleased.” God is pleased. With me.  Just as I am: with a passion for leading others into His presence.

I am blessed to have a husband who believes in empowering women, and to be part of a church that celebrates women in all levels of leadership. Not every woman can say that. But a woman, just like a man, is an image-bearer of the one true God. When the voices of women are silenced, the entire church misses out on part of God’s creation. On the other hand, when women are valued and encouraged to embrace their God given gifts, the church is blessed. Inspire her to use her voice, make room for her in your circles, give her a seat at the table. You may just find that this is pleasing to God.
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Kristin Gilmore studied Religion at MidAmerica Nazarene and is a locally licensed minister at Corbin Church of the Nazarene. She is a worship leader, bible study teacher, and budding preacher. She is a mom to three who enjoys running and coffee, just not at the same time. You can find Kristin on Facebook here and Twitter here.

Have Mercy On Me, a Sinner

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What we think of ourselves says a lot about how we approach God and how we treat others. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus uses a story of two men at the Temple praying in order to teach us a thing or two along those lines.

One of the men is a Pharisee. He is devout and schooled in theology. He knows the Scriptures in and out. He has mastered the disciplines of his faith. He knows he is good.

His prayer is a picture of self-righteousness, “Thank God I’m not like everyone else.”

The other man is a tax collector. He is considered a traitor to his people and his faith. He gets rich working for the bad guys while lining his pockets with the neighborhood’s money. He is despised. He knows he is broken.

He prays from a place of humility and contriteness, “O God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Jesus explains it is this man, not the “good” one, who leaves the Temple right with God.

Now sometimes us church folk fall into the category of Pharisee. We start thinking we are better or more holy than others because we do the right things or avoid the wrong ones or at least don’t do them as much as other people. The problem with the Pharisee’s prayer is not that it isn’t true, but that it is built on what he has done and dripping with pride.

This mindset is graceless. Here being right with God is about behavior modification. Here we forget we need God just as much today as we did at our lowest point. And here we become hypocritical judges in our assessment of everyone else. We reassure ourselves of just how good we are and miss out on God’s work in our lives and transformational relationships with people around us.

This is a dangerous place to live.

There is another mindset that isn’t mentioned in the parable but is prevalent in our culture. Sometimes we model a similar prayer, “Thank God I am just like everyone else.”

Here we aren’t bothered by our brokenness, we are just glad we aren’t the only ones experiencing it. We excuse our behavior/thoughts/attitudes because everyone else seems to be on the same page and, hey, we’re just human after all. Here the idea isn’t to elevate ourselves over tax collectors, but to lower the bar for what is required of us.

We like being broken, so we don’t change. We rest in the comfort of knowing there are other broken people, so we don’t want to see them change.  We enjoy our sin. Or perhaps its too hard to resist so we’ll just stay right where we are.

This too is a dangerous place to be. Here we find cheap grace. Cheap grace is as useless as no grace.

The only proper approach is that of that tax collector. It is here we realize how much work needs to be done in us. That scandalous sinner or pious preacher, I need God. It is here we see regardless of how good or bad our behavior is we must have mercy.

Change without mercy is fine, but cannot save anyone. Mercy without change is easy, but meaningless. Mercy, when experienced with a humble heart, has the power to bring about change in us.

This is the mindset the Church is to have: acknowledging our need of mercy and allowing mercy to transform us.

That means more than mouthing these words in prayer, but allowing this understanding to shape us through and through. We are to embody this concept in attitude and action. It should guide the way we take inventory of our hearts. It should affect the way we approach our neighbors and our God.

O God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

May these words be on our lips and in our heart. May we pray them and live them. May we be humble and contrite. And may we find the mercy we so desperately need.

Don’t be a Lemming (or Lessons From a 1991 Video Game)

lemmings

Lemmings came out in 1991 and in 1996 was rated the 8th greatest video game of all time. 

There is a fantastic old video game called Lemmings. In Lemmings a stream of little creatures constantly walk forward with no regard for what they are walking toward.

A wall in the way? Keep it moving. A lake of fire just ahead? Walk on. Imminent death? Move it along.

Your job is to equip some as builders, blockers, or miners to navigate the obstacles and dangers these poor, mindless lemmings encounter. (I just found out you can still play this game online, so I’ll be back to finish this post in an hour or two.)

We’ve probably all heard that real life lemmings will follow other lemmings right over a cliff with no regard for their own welfare. It turns out that this is a misconception originating when Disney drowned a bunch of rodents for a fake documentary. So when I call us lemmings it isn’t all that accurate to nature, but I think the word picture works.

When I call us lemmings I don’t mean you are a lemming and I am not. I mean I do the same things. Even when I don’t want to. I’m not talking down to you, I’m trying to keep myself accountable.

When I call us lemmings what I am saying is that we blindly follow along without much regard to the dangers, pitfalls, and destruction that lies ahead.

We do this in many arenas including sports and religion, but it seems our political ideologies have increasingly become something we thoughtlessly follow without stopping to ask if they are good, beneficial, or even true.

This is not a left or right issue. It impacts both extremes and many in the middle.

My left leaning friends recently circulated a New York Times story about Department of Energy nominee Rick Perry not knowing that his new job included overseeing the nuclear arsenal, even though his acceptance of the nomination included his willingness to oversee our nuclear arsenal.

My right leaning friends are posting about how Trump had the largest in-person inauguration crowd of all time because his press secretary said so, despite the facts making it demonstrably untrue.

We want to be right more than we want the truth.

President Trump said during the primary season that he could walk out onto the street and shoot someone and not lose a single vote. His ability to say that (and I believe he was mostly right) shows how strongly we are devoted to our political preferences. And I think much of the same could be said for the other side.

We are so entrenched in our opinions and worldviews that we cannot allow ourselves free thought. We are so wrapped up in a quest for political power and outcomes that we have lost our intellectual integrity. We have allowed ourselves to become lemmings. Or at least what lemmings are commonly believed to be.

Here are some lemminglike behaviors we are guilty of far too often:

– We applaud everything our side does. It doesn’t matter if we opposed the same behavior two days ago, today we applaud it today because it’s our team/party/candidate of choice.

– We condemn everything the other side does. It doesn’t matter if they have a point or they did some good or if we previously supported such efforts. Now it’s bad because “they” did it.

– We dismiss any information we don’t like as biased or fake. We have reached the point where we only listen to the voices we already agree with. This allows us to never be challenged, never think for ourselves, and able to assume that anyone who disagrees is an idiot.

We’ve got to do better. It doesn’t matter who you voted for, no candidate or party will always do what is good or right or best. No candidate or party will perfectly represent your views. Not if we are willing to think independently and constructively.

We’ve become so partisan that we are afraid to show any agreement across the aisle. We see compromise and working together for the common good as a negative thing instead of a necessary thing. We value people based on their political opinions more than our shared humanity.

And in the process, we just keep walking despite the upcoming cliffs and pitfalls and destruction. We don’t want to hear otherwise, we don’t have time for facts, we don’t need various opinions and voices. We have somewhere to go and we will get there without ever stopping to ask if where we are heading is even worth heading toward.

I’m afraid we are more loyal to the direction we are walking than to common sense, the truth, and, at times, our faith.

If we keep going the way we’ve been going, we will be meet with an unfortunate end. Loss of friends, loss of respect, loss of influence, loss of decency, loss of integrity.

I suggest we take some measures to prevent ourselves from blindly running over a cliff:

1) Disagree with our own people. It’s okay, I promise. What if it was not uncommon to say, “I generally support what they are trying to do, but I cannot get on board with this issue.” The sky wouldn’t fall and we’d push our culture toward a more reasonable future. Or is toeing the party line more important than being true to our values?

2) Agree with people coming from other perspectives. Again, this is okay. Not everything the other side (and I hate even using the term “sides”) does is wicked or corrupt or out to ruin our country. They get one right at least every once in a while. Applaud them for it. Or are we so afraid of recognizing the worth of “those people” that we can’t even admit when something positive has taken place?

3) Educate ourselves. Please. Learn why people believe differently than you. Most people who support stricter gun control do not want to round up all the weapons in the country. And most people who support free market capitalism do not want to see poor people taken advantage of. Most issues we debate are complicated. There are no easy answers or we would have solved all our problems by now. Find out what people think and why.

4) We must want truth more than we want to be right. I might think the Philadelphia Eagles are the best team in the NFL but when I am presented with some recent, observable facts I need to change my mind. We can’t allow our opinion to be more valuable than reality. Sometimes we need to shift what we want to believe based on what is actually happening. Truth is worth embracing, even if it means I have to admit I was previously wr-wr-wrong.

I’m going to try my best to live these things out. I won’t be perfect at it, but I hope you’ll consider joining me. I don’t want to mindlessly walk towards our demise. I want to think and learn and grow and discover. I want truth. I want integrity.

It turns out that the lemmings aren’t as mindless as we once thought. They don’t just blindly follow with no regard for what is good and right and true. Hopefully we can soon say the same thing about ourselves.

O Come All Ye (Not So) Faithful

invitedOne of my favorite Christmas carols begins with the line, O, come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. I imagine shepherds and wise men singing these words and asking others to join them as they visit the newborn and long-expected Savior. It is an invitation to gather around Jesus to celebrate his coming. Come all you faithful.

But what about the not-so-faithful? Are they invited as well? Can only the joyful and triumphant come to Jesus? If so the guest list will be remarkably small. Even those who are the most enthusiastic about Jesus are at times unfaithful. We all fail to live up to our own standards, let alone God’s. We’ve all felt defeated. Honestly, some of us find ourselves here quite often.

As we read the gospels we find that the invitation is much broader than the faithful and joyful. There we see that it is Christ himself who does the inviting. Jesus reveals that his kingdom and his table and his grace are for all people. That he came for the whole world and he invites any and all to come to him. Jesus embodies a love that is for people wherever and whoever they may be.

Sometimes we don’t communicate that message very well. Sometimes we exclude folks who are messy or who sin differently than we do. Sometimes we find it difficult to make room for people who aren’t just like us. Sometimes we act as if we’ve been faithful when we haven’t. Sometimes we pretend to be joyful and triumphant when we are anything but. Sometimes our behavior builds barriers between Jesus and the people he loves.

But Jesus is better than that. And its his party, not ours. And he says you’re invited.

So yes, come all ye faithful. And come all ye not so faithful too.

Come all you who feel defeated and who feel hopeless.

Come all who are worn out and carry heavy burdens.

Come you who are stressed and at the end of your rope.

Come all who feel dirty and unlovable.

Come you who grieve.

Come wise men with gifts fit for a king.

And come drummer boys with nothing of value to bring.

Come lepers and tax collectors and prostitutes.

Come you who feel overlooked or pushed out or rejected.

Come shepherds and doctors and inn keepers and waitresses.

Come people from every tribe and every tongue. Come young and old.

Come you who feel betrayed. And you have done the betraying.

Come all who blew it this year. And last year.

Come doubters and skeptics. Come with your questions and your intellect.

Come all who hunger and thirst for something more.

Come all of you with baggage.

Come all of you with fear.

Come you with broken hearts and shattered dreams.

Come you have already quit. And those who wish they could.

Come refugees and CEOs.

Come you who are enemies. Come you who are strangers.

Come you anxious and come you hiding behind a mask.

Come you who can barely muster a prayer and you who cry out daily.

Come wanderers and seekers, legalists and charlatans.

Come me. Come you.

“Come and behold him, born the King of Angels.”

Come and see that the Lord is good.

Come and find hope and help and healing.

Come find rest.

Come and find meaning.

Come and find belonging, find family.

Come find forgiveness and salvation.

Come and find light.

Come find a fresh start.

Come and find grace.

Come and find Jesus. He is Christ the Lord.

When you come you will find that he is better than we have demonstrated and more marvelous than we deserve. He is trustworthy and he is true. He is for us. He is with us.

And you, whoever you are and wherever you’re at or however you feel, are invited. Come.

Advent: Hope for a Dark World

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Candles. Mike Labrum, unsplash.com

Turn on the news. Pull up your Facebook feed. Go outside. The world is a dark and messy place. It is full of destruction and darkness and death.

Battles rage around the globe. In Aleppo, Syria not a single hospital has avoided bombing. In the United States there are approximately 415,000 children in foster care, mostly due to the harmful choices parents have made. Families fleeing war wash up on foreign shores. 1 in 3 women in the world today is a victim of physical and/or sexual violence. We are still a nation viciously divided by politics and race and culture.

None of those things are part of the world that God intended. None of them are welcome here. And one day, all them will be defeated.

The ancient prophet Isaiah wrote these words about that one day:

The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2)

No more war. No more violence. No more greed induced destruction. No more hate.

The things we once used for harm will now be used for nourishment. We’ll turn our bombs into flower pots and machine guns into shovels. We’ll turn our tanks into merry go rounds and our jails into libraries. One day we’ll use our protest signs to roast marshmallows and the police will use their batons for a game of stickball.

This is not some crazy pipe dream. This is not some hippy fantasy. This is God’s plan and vision for the world.

This Advent we put our hope in that vision. And while God’s vision isn’t fully realized yet, it has begun.

It begins with the coming of Christ. A babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. It is realized when the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed and the lonely are loved. It breaks through when forgiveness is found and lost sons and daughters come home.

It doesn’t just happen in our churches. It happens in our day to day. It doesn’t just happen one day way off in the future. It happens now in our hearts and in our homes.

If one day we will put away our weapons, perhaps we should put them away today. Maybe we don’t fight with swords or guns but we’ve likely wounded and cut with our words. We’ve likely caused pain and destruction in the way in which we treat others. Lets beat our words and thoughts into things that bring encouragement and growth.

If one day all wrongs will be made right and all enemies will become friends and all strangers will become neighbors, then lets work to make that a reality today.

If one day peace will reign, then I want to begin to realize that peace today. I want to be first in line to make it a reality in my world.

We have hope that God will make all things right. That justice will roll down like a mighty river. That the things that now destroy will one day be destroyed. That darkness will ultimately give way to light.

That is our hope. And that is our mission. We don’t just live with hope, we work toward that hope. With expectation. With anticipation.

We live and work with a holy ache for the world as it should be. We put in the blood, sweat, and tears to join God in the redemptive mission to reconcile all things.

We put our hope in Christ and therefore reject the idea that we can hate our enemies. We put our hope in Christ and we live as ones who cannot be finally defeated. We put our hope in Christ and lay down our rights. We put our hope in Christ and live as ambassadors of God’s Kingdom and work to bring about the beautiful vision laid out by Isaiah.

This Advent season join in God’s vision to bring all people together and to bring an end to the wars that rage on the news and in our hearts and in our homes.

Let’s walk in the light. Let’s defeat darkness little by little, candle by candle. Let’s see the world as God intended. Let’s work toward that end. Let’s hope relentlessly and let’s be that hope with skin on.