Do you ever wonder where God is? Why God is silent? Do you carry anger at the injustice you see? Or question the goodness of a God who allows these things?
You could be a prophet.
Habakkuk is an oft overlooked portion of Scripture, but this leader & spokesperson for the Divine let’s God have it.
“Lord, how long will I call for help & you not listen? I cry out to you, but you don’t deliver us. Why do you show me injustice? The instructions of God are useless. Justice is perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:2-4)
Raw. Honest. Harsh. Prophetic.
Habakkuk is not unfaithful here. He isn’t told to stop or repent. He also doesn’t get easy answers. Or a tangible solution to his problems.
Feeling these things or asking these questions doesn’t make him a heretic or mean he walked away from his beliefs. In fact, I’d argue that by asking them he leaned into faith.
He believed there is a good God & now wants that God to show up. The God he was told about. The God he was promised. The silence & absence of God trouble him. As, perhaps, they should.
What if anger & doubt are not threats to faith, but expressions of it? What if we spent time & created space to hold these feelings, rather than skip to the platitudes & life lessons? What if we made room for “letting God have it” rather than pretend everything is shiny & bright? What if people didn’t feel the need to walk away from faith or community for asking the same questions as a person who has a book of the Bible named after them?
When everything is terrible & falling apart, “How long, oh Lord?” may be the most faithful prayer we can offer.
May we find the courage to name what is wrong. May we have faith enough to be bothered by what seems like silence & absence from God. May we expect a better God. And may we create space for the prophets among us who don’t have all the answers, but are asking all the right questions.
For a while now I’ve been bothered by much of what I’m witnessing in the Christian world.
From where I sit, a large chunk of the Church presents as meaner, colder, less compassionate, and less principled today than it was a handful of years ago.
I watch as people I’ve known to be kind, caring folk resort to name calling, hateful language, and even calls to violence. I watch as people dismiss gentleness or concern for neighbor as weakness. As people who claim to follow Truth spread falsehoods and deny reality even as it gasps for breath right in front of them.
The only explanation I can think of is not a comfortable one – we become like what we worship. I fear too many of us have fixed our eyes on political power and those who wield it rather than Jesus.
“We vote for a president not a pastor” has demonstrated itself a bankrupt idea. For many our conversations, online presence, and the way we treat each other has proven not just our votes are at stake, but also our very hearts and minds and souls.
It turns out that who we vote for and champion and the media we consume and the memes we share all shape us. They form us in their image. The word for this is discipleship.
I wonder whose disciples we have become? Whose message do we spread? Whose language do we adopt? Whose values do we carry? In my view we continue to look and sound less like Jesus (no matter how much lip service we give him) and more like our preferred politicians.
This is problematic. Scripture calls it idolatry.
It happens without us realizing it and I am beyond convinced it is happening throughout our country.
I say this from a place of contrition. I am a guilty party. I must be better. We must be better.
For the sake of Christ. For the sake of our witness to the world. For the sake of the healing we could be offering in these troubled times.
We have much work to do. We must relearn what it means to be Christlike. We must unlearn the stories of any competing narratives. We have much to ask forgiveness for and much realignment of priorities to get after.
It will start with humility and repentance. With taking seriously the call to knock it off and turn from the direction we are going (a direction that is leading to our destruction) and head back the way God intends, whatever the cost.
It will not be easy. It will not be fun. It won’t seat us in power or make us rich, but it is the only way we will find what we are most in need of and the only way the Church can continue to call herself Christian.
This day/this season/this year is heavy. The decisions being made, the polarization of our nation and churches, the pain that plays out in our homes, on the news, and on social media.
As we vote and watch results and wonder about the direction of our nation, I invite you to use this reflection to re-center and remind yourself. While elections are important and have a role to play in the world-as-it-should-be, we ultimately belong to a different kind of Kingdom and a different kind of King. Whatever happens in the coming days does not change our call to be people who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Whatever comes in the coming days our hope, and the hope of the world, is Jesus Christ. Our allegiance lies with him.
Below is Scripture, prayer prompts, and songs reminding us who we are and Who we belong to. Today we cast our anxieties on our God. We turn our faces toward our King in hope, in distress, and in anticipation.
If you can, I’d encourage you to read the Scriptures out loud and join the singing as well. It may take about 30 minutes all together so if breaking it into sections helps, go for it.
May God meet us here. May God give us peace. May God help us be faithful.
Watch – The Apostles’ Creed
Read – Psalm 146 (Common English Bible)
1 Praise the Lord!
Let my whole being praise the Lord! 2 I will praise the Lord with all my life; I will sing praises to my God as long as I live.
3 Don’t trust leaders; don’t trust any human beings— there’s no saving help with them! 4 Their breath leaves them, then they go back to the ground. On that very same day, their plans die too.
5 The person whose help is the God of Jacob— the person whose hope rests on the Lord their God— is truly happy! 6 God: the maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, God: who is faithful forever, 7 who gives justice to people who are oppressed, who gives bread to people who are starving! The Lord: who frees prisoners. 8 The Lord: who makes the blind see. The Lord: who straightens up those who are bent low. The Lord: who loves the righteous. 9 The Lord: who protects immigrants, who helps orphans and widows, but who makes the way of the wicked twist and turn!
10 The Lord will rule forever! Zion, your God will rule from one generation to the next!
Listen – My Hope is Built/The Solid Rock – Norton Hall Band
Read – 1 Timothy 2:1-6 (CEB)
First of all, then, I ask that requests, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be made for all people. 2 Pray for kings and everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and it pleases God our savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the human Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a payment to set all people free. This was a testimony that was given at the right time.
Prayer – Use these prompts from World Vision
Pray for candidates to seek God’s guidance.
Pray that candidates (and all of us!) would have listening ears and soft hearts.
Pray for candidates to address poverty and justice issues.
Pray for strength and encouragement for our leaders and election candidates.
Pray that our leaders would commit to working together (and that we would too).
Pray that we would see each other through Jesus’ eyes.
Read – Psalm 22:25-31 (CEB)
25 I offer praise in the great congregation because of you; I will fulfill my promises in the presence of those who honor God. 26 Let all those who are suffering eat and be full! Let all who seek the Lord praise him! I pray your hearts live forever! 27 Every part of the earth will remember and come back to the Lord; every family among all the nations will worship you. 28 Because the right to rule belongs to the Lord, he rules all nations. 29 Indeed, all the earth’s powerful will worship him; all who are descending to the dust will kneel before him; my being also lives for him. 30 Future descendants will serve him; generations to come will be told about my Lord. 31 They will proclaim God’s righteousness to those not yet born, telling them what God has done.
Listen – Let Justice Roll – Orlando World Outreach Center
Pause – Spend a minute or two in silence
Listen – Your Peace Will Make Us One – Audrey Assad
Read – Revelation 4:1-5 (CEB)
After this I looked and there was a door that had been opened in heaven. The first voice that I had heard, which sounded like a trumpet, said to me, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in a Spirit-inspired trance and I saw a throne in heaven, and someone was seated on the throne. 3 The one seated there looked like jasper and carnelian, and surrounding the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald. 4 Twenty-four thrones, with twenty-four elders seated upon them, surrounded the throne. The elders were dressed in white clothing and had gold crowns on their heads. 5 From the throne came lightning, voices, and thunder. In front of the throne were seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God.
Read – Revelation 5 (CEB)
Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one seated on the throne. It had writing on the front and the back, and it was sealed with seven seals. 2 I saw a powerful angel, who proclaimed in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or look inside it. 4 So I began to weep and weep, because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look inside it. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Don’t weep. Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has emerged victorious so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
6 Then, in between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb, standing as if it had been slain. It had seven horns and seven eyes, which are God’s seven spirits, sent out into the whole earth. 7 He came forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one seated on the throne. 8 When he took the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each held a harp and gold bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 They took up a new song, saying,
“You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain, and by your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation. 10 You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will rule on earth.”
11 Then I looked, and I heard the sound of many angels surrounding the throne, the living creatures, and the elders. They numbered in the millions—thousands upon thousands. 12 They said in a loud voice,
“Worthy is the slaughtered Lamb to receive power, wealth, wisdom, and might, and honor, glory, and blessing.”
13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea—I heard everything everywhere say,
“Blessing, honor, glory, and power belong to the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb forever and always.”
14 Then the four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshipped.
Listen – Is He Worthy? – Andrew Peterson
Read and be reminded.
Hebrews 1:3 – The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being. He maintains everything with his powerful message. After he carried out the cleansing of people from their sins, he sat down at the right side of the highest majesty.
Psalm 47:8 – God is king over the nations. God sits on his holy throne.
Psalm 103:19 – The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.
Give thanks to the Lord because he is good. God’s faithful love lasts forever!
2 Give thanks to the God of all gods— God’s faithful love lasts forever. 3 Give thanks to the Lord of all lords— God’s faithful love lasts forever. 4 Give thanks to the only one who makes great wonders— God’s faithful love lasts forever. 5 Give thanks to the one who made the skies with skill— God’s faithful love lasts forever. 6 Give thanks to the one who shaped the earth on the water— God’s faithful love lasts forever. 7 Give thanks to the one who made the great lights— God’s faithful love lasts forever. 8 The sun to rule the day— God’s faithful love lasts forever. 9 The moon and the stars to rule the night— God’s faithful love lasts forever!
Listen – Doxology – Maverick City Music
Benediction – Hebrews 13:20-21
20 May the God of peace, who brought back the great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, from the dead by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with every good thing to do his will, by developing in us what pleases him through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory forever and always. Amen.
Thanks for praying and worshiping with me. Below are some more songs to carry you through this day.
Whatever happens Tuesday, you are invited to a meal at my house.
No matter who you vote for or where you come from. No matter the language you speak or your stance on the designated hitter. No matter who you love or who you worship. No matter if you cheer for the Dallas Cowboys or dip chicken nuggets in ketchup or are one of the many who have unfriended me because my political views annoy you.
You are invited.
Because I am hungry for a better world. At times I am starving for it.
I feel an ache in my gut, a gnawing sensation that I cannot shake.
My stomach knots as I watch the way we interact with people that we disagree with. My heart breaks as I watch how we form our opinions and tackle or dodge the unique challenges of our day. As I watch us avoid critical thinking to parrot tired, worn talking points that neglect both reason and truth. As we refuse to listen to information that challenges our preconceived ideas. As we draw lines around “those people” and do violence with our words, attitudes, and actions.
Our nation is suffering under the weight of hate, disease, death, apathy, prejudice, inequity, violence, fear, hypocrisy, deceit, and polarization.
There must be a world better than this.
We can to better. Love better. Think better. Form better conclusions. We can listen better. Vote better. Treat each other better.
So, you are invited over.
Not because our differences don’t matter. Not in some sort of hollow call to unity that avoids addressing hard topics. Not in an effort to ignore the deep pain much of our nation is experiencing or to put a Band-Aid over the yawning chasm that exists these days.
But in order to move towards a better world. In order to use my position (A position I understand not everyone has) to help bring healing amidst so much brokenness.
Maybe I’m naïve, but I imagine if we sit at the table together our walls will come down. If we turn off cable news and spend time listening to each other’s stories we will be much closer to the truth. If we stop forming opinions based on memes and instead based them on real life, flesh and blood people serving us green bean casserole we’d be much less hostile.
It is a lot harder to call a person names when they are sitting at our elbow. It is a lot harder to dismiss a person’s story or hardship as they play with our children on the floor. It is harder to retreat into the echo chamber when we fully see and know who is standing right in front of us.
When you are truly, genuinely, urgently important to me I cannot stick my fingers in my ears and ignore what you have to say. When you are important to me I will realize that my freedom and your freedom and my future and your future are wrapped up together.
I cannot disentangle myself from you when you are sitting at my table. Shedding your tears, sharing your laughs, hoping your hopes. At the table we level the playing field. We are invited into one another’s world and if we are willing to listen, if we are willing to learn, if we are willing to love each other more than we love our long held ideas or our power or our privilege – if we ever get to the place where we tangibly love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves – we might just find ourselves changed.
When I truly know and love my neighbor, I am forced to engage them, to hear them, to give them space.
When I truly know and love my neighbor, I can no longer hide behind, “I don’t have a racist/sexist/hateful bone in my body” and must be forced to reconcile any ideas, laws, or practices that harm people even when I’m unaffected or unaware.
When I truly know and love my neighbor, I cannot escape to my favorite talking head who is paid to enflame the base and must instead build relationship with the people right in front of me.
When I truly know and love my neighbor, I cannot support what is good for me if it ends up being harmful to you.
I am convinced that knowing each other well will fight against the destructive ideas that exist in our landscape. I am convinced that proximity will eventually, slowly perhaps, lead the way to truth and truth will move us toward love. And love will give birth to flourishing.
When we know each other, fully, we will be better. We will be more just, more peaceful, more joyous, more full of grace. More like the world God intends.
So, I offer you Meatless Monday and Taco Tuesday. I offer you breakfast for dinner and leftover night. We do driveway s’mores on Fridays and you are invited.
You can come. And sit and listen. I’ll listen too. And I’ll invite my neighbors and ask you to listen to them. The ones from different churches and religions, different skin colors and backgrounds, different relationships and yard signs.
And maybe, just maybe, the better world we are hungry for will slowly take root. Perhaps with each bite of cobbler and each relationship made we will move toward a world where we truly mean “liberty and justice for all.”
I believe one day all that is wrong in the world will be made right. I also believe that we can participate in that reality even now as we build the world of tomorrow.
I believe this world can be built on truth and love. That in the end, truth and love will conquer lies and hate, death and destruction, fear and division.
We need not continue like this *gestures broadly at all the things*.
A better world is possible. I’m hungry for it.
And, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” – Arundhati Roy
On my best days, I believe this. On my worst days, I need this.
So may we have the courage to sit at the table. May we have the awareness to make room at the table for others. May we have the boldness to invite those we don’t yet know and those we assume we do. May our proximity change our hearts, our ideas, our actions, and our world. And may we hunger no more.
Are masks good or bad? Is Bill Gates benevolent or evil? Is there a deep state conspiracy to profit off fear? Is a shadow government pulling the strings? Or is big pharma? Can vaccines be trusted? Can scientists? Or are they intentionally hiding findings that could help us?
These are questions I’ve seen throughout my social media feeds. People, in an attempt to discover what is true, are sharing anything and everything that confirms their suspicions about *gestures widely*.
There is a lot of noise out here. A lot. Some of it is true, some of it has truth amongst opinion, some is flat out lies, and some is intentionally designed to sow discord and make us miserable. And based on my desire to stress eat an entire sleeve of Oreos, I think that part is working.
Social media has elevated every voice. This can be a good and beautiful thing, but can also quickly become problematic. Voices that are dishonest, hateful, and have less than healthy motivations have a chance to be heard and spread widely.
How do we tell the difference? How do we know who to believe? What can be trusted? And how to do we cut back on the constant chatter about what is true? I have some suggestions.
But before that we should know the damage all this noise is doing. Every debunked article we share makes us less trustworthy people. Every false narrative we push is bearing false witness. We hinder our influence in the world when we are quick to jump on each and every claim we come across.
We are becoming suspicious, fearful people who trust no one. We are being shaped by the media we consume. It forms our priorities, our worldview, and the way we love (or hate) our neighbor. This is not a healthy way to live.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t search for truth or ask hard questions. I think there are times when truth is covered up, when the popular opinion is wrong, and the lone voice is the one proclaiming what it is real. On our search for answers, though, we need to be careful, thoughtful, and consistent.
We could probably do without sharing every article or video that confirms our opinion. When we share what we think is true, rather than what we know is true, this adds to the confusion. If we don’t know the veracity of a claim, we shouldn’t share it. Even if we believe it. We shouldn’t say, “I don’t know if this is true, but…” By clicking share we are adding our weight to the argument. We can hold an opinion without proclaiming it as gospel truth to our social networks.
I’d suggest that we not believe everything we see or hear. Simply because someone made a video or podcast doesn’t make it true. Just because a website says it doesn’t make it so. Anyone can make content and upload it. You can find people on the internet who think the country of Finland doesn’t exist, Elvis is alive, and the Dallas Cowboys are a good football team. All these things are demonstrably untrue.
I’d suggest we ask for proof. Facts. Data. People should be able back up their claims, and that goes for the people sharing it as well. Before you share it, Google it. Or Ask Jeeves it. Or whatever the people are using these days. Fact check. This may mean crunching the numbers to see if they are good at math. I had a friend do this for a popular video going around recently and it turns out the math was bad, but it had already been shared by many of my friends as proof of a reality that doesn’t exist.
Look up who a person is and what things they are known for doing. If their claim is valid there should be evidence. Scientific evidence can be reproduced. Behavioral evidence repeats itself. People have histories and resumes that add to or take away from their credibility. If it can’t be verified, perhaps don’t share it?
In our rush to be right we often times share something that is wrong. I am guilty of doing this. Perhaps we should slow down. Take time to think it through and read about it. Ask the opinions of people we respect and trust to be honest. Being slow to speak (or click share) would cut down on a tremendous amount of noise in our world. We could always wait. We don’t need to be the first to champion every cause and, this one is hard for me, everyone doesn’t need to know our opinion about everything.
(I fact checked that last statement with my wife and she confirms its legitimacy)
Another thing we can do is ask questions. The more questions we ask the more we will discover what legs a claim stands on. Where do you get your information? How did you come up with these numbers? What’s your background? Do you think pineapple belongs on pizza? Questions help uncover reality. If someone won’t or can’t answer questions, they probably shouldn’t be trusted.
And we should ask questions of ourselves. Why do I believe this? Why do I want it shared? What are my motivations? Perhaps we aren’t always above board either.
We are living in troubled times. Our politics are polarized, our world is battling a pandemic, and most of us are out of our normal routines. Mix in news articles that contradict each other and we have a recipe for noise, confusion, and anxiety. We can rise above it. We can refuse to turn the volume up and can instead help turn it down.
I think it’s desperately needed for our health, for the good of our world, and for our reputations.
I’m going to try my best to think through my shares, my likes, my retweets. To filter my opinions more. To ensure what I share is real rather than imagined. I won’t get it all right, but I’d invite you to join me. We can do better than this.
The Dwelling Church will be using these community practices during the season of Lent and we invite you to journey toward Resurrection Sunday alongside us. We are encouraging our people to practice various things daily, weekly, and in community. These practices are not meant to be a burden or a way to earn God’s favor. They are intended to remind us of God’s work in the world, align our hearts with God’s, and move us out into God’s mission to redeem all things. Practicing alongside others (a church, a small group, or family) allows us to process what we are experiencing and learn from others.
+ Practice 5 (or more) minutes of silence
+ Pray for your church and community
+ Pray the Prayer of Examen (see below)
+ Write a note of encouragement or make a phone call to one person
+ Gather for corporate worship
+ Fast one meal a week (we invite you to join us in fasting Wednesday lunches)
+ Bake a dessert or make a meal or give a small gift to one person/family
+ Memorize the weekly Scripture (listed below)
+ Chose 1 or 2 of the Additional Practices listed below
Additional Practices (choose 1-2 a week)
+ Set aside a percentage of your income and donate it to a good cause
+ Leave your phone at home for a day
+ Host someone for a meal or coffee
+ Make a prayer chain and pull one piece off each week/day
+ Don’t buy anything that you don’t need
+ Go for a walk and pray for your neighborhood
+ Disconnect from cable news or social media or both
+ Listen only to worship music this week
+ Don’t eat out
+ Volunteer somewhere
+ Donate snacks for Adams Elementary students
+ Leave the TV off for a day or two or seven
+ Read a Psalm a day
+ Fast from gossip and insensitive comments about others.
+ Read the Gospel of Mark in one sitting
+ Pray the Lord’s Prayer before dinner or bed
+ Let people around you know you are a Christian (in a natural, unforced way)
+ Declutter: Find 7 items each day this week to donate or throw away
Scripture Memorization for Lent
Practice learning Scripture. Recite it, write it, discuss it with others. Let Scripture shape our lives.
Week 1 – Lamentations 3:22-23 (CEB)
Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended; certainly God’s compassion isn’t through! They are renewed every morning. Great is your faithfulness.
Week 2 – 1 John 1:9 (CEB)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong.
Week 3 – 2 Peter 1:3 (CEB)
By his divine power the Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own honor and glory.
Week 4 – 2 Corinthians 5:21 (CEB)
God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God.
Week 5 – Isaiah 41:10 (CEB)
Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand.
Week 6 – Romans 5:8 (CEB)
God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
The Examen Prayer
The Examen is a old prayer used around the world to help people examine where God has been present throughout their day.
Become aware of God’s presence. Where did I see God today?
Review the day with gratitude. What am I thankful for today?
Pay attention to your emotions. What did I feel today?
Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. What should I pray for?
Look toward tomorrow. How do I feel about tomorrow?
This year I am weary. Maybe it’s my cynicism flaring up, but I feel the weight of our present reality more acutely than in years past.
I’m worn out by our political climate. I’m tired of the name calling and the line drawing, the hypocrisy and the partisanship. I’m tired from holding my tongue and I’m tired from speaking up (however infrequently). I’m fatigued by our lack of decency and our infatuation with power at any cost.
I’m worn out by the Church too. From our political idolatry for sure, but also our constant bickering over petty stuff. I’m tired of watching people walk away from faith because they were shown an inaccurate view of God. I’m drained by self-appointed gatekeepers intent on keeping people out. I’m worn out by church as entertainment and the pull to chase crowds and celebrity. I ache for congregations doing their best to be faithful in a world that has no time for them. And I’m tired of story after story about how we who are called to bless the world have instead wounded God’s beloved.
I’m exhausted from grief as I see people limp through life. From those who are denied justice to those who have made a mess of things.
I see friends and family and strangers on the internet who carry heavy loads. Who battle trauma and depression and estrangement. I watch as people wrestle with doubt and hardship and diagnoses that suck the life right out of them. People we love and people who are us have struggled in finances and bodies and loneliness and child rearing and every single other thing. It has run us ragged.
I’m tired from the 24 hour news cycle. The constant outrage. The constant apathy. The refugee crisis and gun violence and racism and terrorism and war and suicide and consumerism and all of it.
I’m weary from all the times I’ve blown it and all the times I wish I had chosen differently. I am even tired from knowing I have it better than so many others and my seeming inability to bring about progress.
I am weary.
The old song sings, “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn.”
A thrill of hope that Jesus is here. On our side. At work. Restoring. Redeeming. Re-orienting us.
Despite our brokenness. Despite our shame. Despite our constantly screwing it up and never getting it all right, God is with us.
God sees our mess and moves toward us to show us the way. The way out of and away from all the things that beat us down. A God who comes not to burden us but to carry our burdens for and with us.
A God who comes to the bedraggled and barely making it. To battered souls and threadbare faiths. A God who comes and offers unconditional love and incomprehensible peace even in the midst of all that is wrong.
I believe there will be a day when weariness will be no more and darkness will be banished and justice will roll like a river. I believe in a day with no more sickness or political pandering or shattered hearts.
However far off that day feels, Christmas reminds us that it isn’t out of reach. A better world is on the way. The someday we await is just over there, as close as the next dawn.
The light of eternal sunrise is waking from its slumber. It creeps across the horizon, slowly stretching its warm fingers and chasing away all that is shadow. It will not, can not be held back.
When we look for it we can see it. When we are uncertain we can walk toward it. When we are undone by the weight of it all we can rest in and celebrate the goodness of God’s coming.
Even our longing for rest and wholeness serves as a reminder that God is on the move. With us. When we hurt. When we fail. When we want to crawl into bed and sleep for a decade. When hope feels more like an ache than an excitement.
God is near. The sun will rise. The angels will sing. Our tears will be dried. And life and light will bring all that we need.
So rejoice, weary world. Lift up your head. You are not forgotten. You are not alone. All will be made new. Love has come.
I am a fan of Philadelphia sports teams. This necessitates that I hate Troy Aikman, JD Drew, Sidney Crosby, Joe Carter, Sean Rodriguez, and plenty of others.
For seven years I hated Bryce Harper too.
He played for a rival. He was entitled and arrogant, an obnoxious jerk. Easy to hate.
This year he switched sides. He plays for Philadelphia now. He is one of us.
Suddenly he isn’t entitled, he is driven. He isn’t arrogant, he is confident. He isn’t a jerk, he is passionate. Easy to love.
Instead of taunting him, I defend him. Instead of pointing out his abysmal batting average and strike out rate, I laud his defensive skill and hustle.
Last night in Washington, his former city, he was heckled for switching sides.
In sports you are either for us our against us.
This is ugliest when people ignore grievous sins like assault and abuse when it benefits their team.
It turns ugly when it shows up in our politics too.
When the only thing that matters is the name after the name on the ballot. When we determine what we think about a person only by the party they belong to.
When we defend the indefensible simply because they are on our “team.” When we ignore lies or immorality or twist ourselves into pretzels to explain away troubling realities.
When we attack the other team for doing the exact same things we applaud on our side. When we pick and choose based on an R or a D after a name.
We have reached a time in our country where we have long settled what and who we believe and any evidence to the contrary is rationalized away with ease because we are more loyal to our team than we are to rational thought or even ourconvictions.
In politics you are either for us our against us.
And we are worse for it.
It hurts the country, the Church, even the parties we seek to defend. I mean, is there no one else from your political bent who can advance your causes while still being a decent person?
As a Christian I cannot allow a political party to determine what is right and wrong. I cannot allow leaders to steer my moral direction. As the psalmists says, I cannot put my trust in princes and human beings who cannot save.
Church, blind and unmoored partisanship is idolatry. It aligns our heart with other kingdoms and it destroys our credibility in the world. We should be the most consistent when it comes to right and wrong, yet we are often seen as the least.
Our elected officials should be held to higher standards, even when they play for our team. Let’s not so fear making our team look bad that we are afraid to call out wrong behavior. Let’s stop defending people and things simply because we agree on some policies.
We say our hope is in Jesus then we act and talk and attack like our hope is in the president or congress. We say truth and morality matter and then turn a blind eye if it benefits us. We say that Jesus is Lord and then participate in the ways of Caesar.
We must be more faithful. Partisan politics will exhaust us to the point of death and will drag others right along with us.
May our convictions guide us more than our favorite teams. May accountability lead to health for us and the Church and our nation. May we be free to always fight for what is right and good. And may righteousness and justice matter more than winning.
Whenever we face despair in our country one of the most common refrains is, “People just need Jesus.”
My friends, I have bad news – Jesus is not the solution.
At least not the Jesus most of us mean.
The Jesus who is a neat little add on to our lives. The one we keep close in case we find ourselves in trouble or need reassurance that we are good people.
The Jesus who is only after mental agreement that he is God and asks little from us in return (besides inviting people to church and trying to cuss less).
This Jesus allows us to occupy pews with prejudiced hearts and systems unchecked. This Jesus allows us to pray “Thy Kingdom come” without considering the implications.
This Jesus allows us to imagine we are faithful disciples while doing most of our learning from cable news. This Jesus will make your life better if you simply pray at an altar or raise a hand with all heads bowed. This Jesus is easy.
This Jesus fits comfortably next to the gods of power and wealth and upward mobility. This Jesus doesn’t mind sharing space because this Jesus is enamored by those things too.
This Jesus allows us to harbor hate and bitterness. This Jesus allows us to distance ourselves from the world and feel good about it.
This Jesus surely didn’t mean love our enemies and turn the other check, because this Jesus is reasonable and really only wants us to be happy and healthy and make it to heaven some bright morning.
This Jesus has been invited into the hearts of slave owners, rapists, abusers, power hungry preachers, white supremacists, idolaters, war mongers, and the like and done nothing but help them feel more holy in their un-Christlikeness.
He is little more than a prop on the campaign trail and a get out of hell card should this whole thing turn out to be true.
This Jesus is powerless. And a fraud.
But there is a different Jesus.
One who is not beholden to the American dream. One who does not bend like a reed when politicians ask us to change our convictions for the promise of power. One who does not ask too little of us.
This Jesus is Lord.
This Jesus throws out the charlatans and calls the religious folk “white-washed graves.” They have the right hymns and sound bites and bumper stickers, but nothing of life and love on the inside.
This Jesus will not allow us to sit complacent. This Jesus will not allow us to settle for platitudes. This Jesus doesn’t want to just make you into a nicer version of yourself.
This Jesus will not tolerate our prejudices or violent words or the space we make for other gods. This Jesus demands we repent and turn from all things that look like death and destruction.
Even when we enjoy them. Or we want them. Or sell our souls to justify them.
This Jesus instructs us to love our neighbors, to welcome the outcast, to care for the sick, and imprisoned. This Jesus is less concerned about borders and budgets and security and constitutional amendments than we’d like to think.
This Jesus will call into question all our allegiances. To self, to family, to politicians, to country.
This Jesus is not safe. He will disrupt everything. He will put us at odds with people who follow the other Jesus and the kingdoms of the world. There will be hurt and pain and ulcers. He told us this. That following him would bring division because following him turns it all upside down.
This Jesus said, “If you want to follow me be ready to go to the death.” The other Jesus convinces us this was only hyperbole and we can go on living just the way we like.
But the true Jesus, the one from Nazareth, the one crucified under Roman rule and resurrected from the dead, he is Lord. And he is the only Jesus worth knowing.
This Jesus and all the disruption and difficulty and hard reflection that he demands is worth it. With this Jesus we find that this is the only way to truly live.
With this Jesus we find change and transformation for ourselves and the whole broken world. With this Jesus we find there is another Kingdom where the last are first and the greatest are servants and that even death leads to victory.
This Jesus pushes us outside of our walls and comfort zones and partisan talking points and air conditioned answers and confronts us with what is real and true and right and good. This Jesus changes minds and votes and spending behavior and addictions and priorities and conversations and attitudes and neighborhoods.
May we know this Jesus. May we follow him.
May we allow this Jesus full access to all our biases and comforts and brokenness to do with as he pleases. May he do his best work in places we don’t even realize need work.
May we put to death the false Jesus that has for too long masqueraded in our sanctuaries and rocked us to sleep. May we put away apathy and comfort. May we turn from the gods of power and wealth and personal success in order to fully and loudly proclaim, that Jesus is Lord.
You’ve heard about the kids in camps at the border. You’ve likely heard that the US government argued in court that it should not have to supply these kids with blankets, beds, soap, or toothbrushes.
And you’ve probably heard from someone that while this is sad we can’t do much about it because we have to “take care of our own first.”
I’m convinced this is less about helping veterans and more of an excuse to justify our apathy and/or disdain toward these kids and their families. We seem to only apply it to those fleeing north at the border and refugees from around the world.
What we mean is: These people don’t deserve our help because there are others more like us (in color, language, country of origin, culture) who deserve it based solely on their similarity to us.
Used this way, “take care of our own first” is not a Christian argument.
As Christians we are called to care for all people, regardless of their likeness to us. We are told to love our neighbor. Jesus says this is the second most important thing we can do.
When questioned about who exactly our neighbor is (so we can be sure to love only those we have to and not those other, yucky people) Jesus blows the doors wide open by including someone from a different faith and a despised country and ethnicity. Someone that good religious folk would have avoided due to their differences. Someone who doesn’t live next door or on the right side of the border and someone who doesn’t attend our community church. Someone not “our own.”
Jesus says the one we’d rather not help is indeed our own – a neighbor.
“Taking care of our own first” includes taking care of our neighbors. All 7.5 billion of them. With Jesus we don’t get to pick and chose who is our neighbor.
We call these people Brother and Sister. They are family. Members of the communion of saints and the great cloud of witnesses. St. Paul writes that together we are members of one body. People we say will spend all eternity with us.
No matter their legal status or language barriers, these are truly our own people.
And among them are children. There is no child on the face of the earth who does not belong to us, who is not our responsibility. Jesus doesn’t want the children hindered. He welcomes them and blesses them. Honors them.
Children are often among those considered the least of these – people who have limited power or resources – like children held in camps at no fault of there own. Jesus identifies with those who are most desperate by saying how we treat them is how we treat him. So its not just a kid who is being denied medical care or a blanket (which is shameful enough), it is Jesus too.
I see too many of us making excuses as to why we can’t or shouldn’t help. Why we shouldn’t feel bad. Why we should care for others instead because they are more like us.
The only way we can make these arguments is by viewing these people through nationalistic lenses rather than through Jesus Christ.
It is too easy to see differences in how people vote or look or believe or come from. We divide out those we like and those we don’t. Those we know and those we don’t. Those who can help us and those that can’t. Those who belong and those that don’t. Those we deem worthy and those who aren’t.
These distinctions do not exist in the Kingdom of God. Our allegiance is to something grander and more wonderful and far more transformative. We belong to a better way.
So yes, lets care for our own first. But “our own” is a lot broader than maybe we originally intended. Jesus keeps moving the lines we draw.
Young and old. Undocumented or documented. Asylum seeker or desperate nighttime crosser. They belong to us and with us. We belong to them.
We belong to a different Kingdom and a different way. Even our enemies are included.
This is how it works in our Kingdom. And as long as we have a voice and a vote I’m convinced we should be insisting that the elected officials of this nation make it a priority to treat all people from all places and all legalities with the utmost decency and care.
We can have a secure and safe border and a process for immigrating and seeking asylum. We can have laws and boundaries for the safety of everyone. And we can do those things while offering dignity and toothbrushes to anyone and everyone, including veterans and the homeless.
It is not a money issue. It is a heart issue.
If our government can’t figure out how to do it, they should move out of the way and allow humanitarian organizations to care for these precious people who are ours.
Because we take care of our own first. And you are our own. And they are our own. And those folks over there are our own. We claim veterans and the homeless and immigrants and refugees and single parents and all those other people too. We claim everybody as our own because in the Kingdom of God there is always room for more.
In the Kingdom of God no child goes without a blanket or a parent because of lines in the sand. In the Kingdom of God their pain is our pain. And their victory is our victory.
May we have hearts to know and love our neighbors. May we know and love and care for those who live down the street and around the world and in detention camps. May we see people instead of categories; the image of God instead of legal status.
May we find that taking care of our own means including more and more people. And may we find that this is the key to changing our hearts and the world.
May the Kingdom come on the southern border as it is in heaven.