Good News. Great Joy. All People.

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Have you seen this on a billboard? “Don’t make me come down there. – God” I hate this billboard.

I hate it because it perpetuates the idea that our God is aggravated, annoyed, or just plain mad at us. We are down here messing up His world and His plan and He may, begrudgingly, have to come intervene. But this is not the God revealed in Jesus.

The God revealed in Jesus is a God who comes to rescue. He is a God motivated not by frustration or anger but by love and mercy. A God who longs for every person to be free from the sin and the darkness that bring destruction to His creation. He is a God who lays aside His power and privilege in order to come serve and teach and touch and save those far from Him.

And He has already come. As it says in Joy to the World, “The Lord is come.” He is with us. Both at the first Christmas and even still today. God is with us. We don’t have to worry that God is just within earshot and may burst in at any moment to deliver our punishment.

He is with us. Not against us. Not mad at us. Not dragging us around like a mom trying to finish the shopping with all her children in tow. He is with us. He is with us when we struggle and with us when we fall. With us when life seems out of control and when we are walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Our God is with us.

When he showed up in the flesh angels announced that it was “Good news of great joy for all people.” Not good news for a few lucky shepherds. Not good news for those who have it all together. Good news for all people. All people from all places. Good news for the religious and the non-religious. Good news for those opposed to God and good news for those trying to their best to be faithful. He is with us to show us the way and the truth and the life.

When Jesus moves into the neighborhood it is good news of great joy because what Jesus offers is so much better than what the world offers or your favorite politician offers or what money offers or what self-indulgence offers. He offers us the life we were intended for from the very beginning. And even when He asks us to lay down the things we desire (our priorities or our guilty pleasures or our comfortable positions or our very lives) He gives us life to the fullest in exchange. The more I let go of the things I think I want or need, the more I find good news in the message of Jesus. We discover those things we are holding onto can be full of death and decay, but Jesus is full of life and light.

Yes, He will come again and yes death and sin and darkness will be destroyed. But He is here now to lead us out and set us free. To bring us hope and make us whole.

When we feel broken and when we feel lost. When we feel unworthy and when we feel unable. He is here to remedy those things. Jesus, God with us, invites all of humanity to come to Him and experience his Good News. Like we sing in the old carol, “Come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.”

And come all ye unfaithful too. Come all you who feel defeated and feel like the darkness is winning. Come you who hunger and thirst. Come you who carry heavy burdens. Come those who are worn out. Come you who are stressed and at the end of your rope. Come all who feel dirty and unlovable. Come you who grieve. Come you who feel betrayed. Come all who blew it big time this year. And last year. Come doubters and skeptics. Come all you disenfranchised. Come you anxious and come you hiding behind a façade. Come all you who have been pushed out. Come wanderers and seekers. Come legalists and hypocrites. Come pastors and tax collectors. Come and see.

For today a Savior has been born for you. For you.

His name is Jesus and He is Christ the Lord.

And that, my friends, is Good News.

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On Santa & Jesus.

Each year I hear some form of the question, “Should Christians allow their kids to believe in Santa?”

In case anyone cares, my answer is simple… If you want to, go for it. (*Disclaimer – My parents let me believe in Santa and this is how I turned out, so…)

The concern is that we are lying to our kids or that we are making presents more important than Jesus or that Santa is really just the devil in disguise (red suits anyone?). I have heard the horror stories of kids who reject Jesus because they have been lied to about Santa and now they can’t believe anything their parents say.

That is sad. And it is sad because if our faith is as easily dismissed as our belief in Santa then I am not sure we have much faith to begin with. If my children are able to compare the way I live my life as a follower of Jesus with the way we celebrate a chubby husky guy coming down the chimney once a year, then I have a problem.

The problem isn’t Santa. It is me. The problem is my lack of making sure to demonstrate the reality of Jesus in my life every day of the year. Our faith should be able to be seen. It should be tangible. It should make a difference in the way I talk and work and spend and (when I try really hard) drive.

Faith is not a mental assent. It is not just a way you view the world. It is the way we live. You can believe in all things you want and not actually have faith in any of them.

You can not believe in Santa and still be wrapped up in the materialism of the season or in the constant fear of condemnation. You can still miss the wonder and the worship and the Good News while trying really hard to make sure everything else is perfect or everyone is where they are supposed to be or simply just because you missed it.

At some point in history Christians have been told to avoid Christmas tress, Christmas lights, Christmas carols, Christmas presents, and even December 25th altogether. If you choose do that, that is your choice and I don’t condemn or fault you for it. Our family doesn’t embrace everything that our culture does around Christmas. If you choose to celebrate using all those things or some of those things, I think you can do it in a Christ-centered way. Do what works for your family and do it thoughtfully.

One day my kids may come to me and say why did you let us get our picture with Santa or why did you let us watch Peter Pan when pixie dust is a lie or you mean you weren’t really finding those quarters behind our ears?

If their questions or now shaken worldview leads them to ask about the reliability of Jesus I hope I have more to give as an answer than “Trust me.” I hope I can point to the places and times where my faith has been evident. Where Jesus has been real in my life. I hope I can point to how we have treated others or how we have chosen where to live and do ministry. I hope I can point to the way we help people in need or open our home or they way we handle conflict and stress. I hope I have more than enough examples to show that Jesus is not only real, but the most real thing ever.

And if I can’t do that I have a whole lot more to worry about than how to handle a pretend St. Nick each December.

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source: graphicleftovers.com

So. Much. Hate.

So. Much. Hate. We have all heard the outrageous statements ISIS and their sympathizers have made against Christians. They range from specific threats to general disdain for the people of our faith. Here is a brief sampling:

“I hope there is a backlash against Christians because Christianity, as practiced by most Christians, is not a religion of peace, and all of us who do live in peace should do whatever we can to defeat Christianity.”

“There is no such thing as a good Christian.”

 “We could end those Christians before they walk in… Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”

Add to these many others statements that call for the destruction of Christians, the deportation of Christians, and the general mocking of our faith. It is disgusting.

There are two major problems with these statements:

1) They are dismissive, destructive, uncivil, and I’d say evil.

2) They actually weren’t said by ISIS types. They were said by Christians, about Muslims (not just the radicalized ones), and I just changed the words to disguise that fact.

If we would be horrified hearing these statements about our faith coming from terror sources, we had best take pause when our own people are saying this about another faith. It isn’t okay for ISIS and certainly is not okay for a Jesus follower.

Many will protest that this is all in self defense. Or that it is just the truth (I address that here). After all, we haven’t committed any acts of terror so we aren’t nearly as bad as they are. They are worse.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says difficult things like, “You think you are good because you haven’t killed anyone, but if you hated them in your heart or cursed them or called them names, it is just as bad as murder.” And “You think you are pure because you haven’t physically had an affair, but when you lust after a person you are just as guilty.” (Those are paraphrases, read the real thing here.)

Jesus desires more from us than simply following the letter of the law. Sure, we haven’t killed anyone, but we’ve hated them and degraded them, and these things are not compatible with a Kingdom life. Hate may not be murder and lust may not seem like adultery, but we have devalued people made in the image of God and we are taking steps in the direction of the thing we wish to avoid and steps away from God.

So when we say things like were mentioned at the beginning (regardless of who it is about), we may not be terrorists in the physical sense, but we are guilty in our heart. These are hard words to write and hard words to live, but this is the way of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God seldom works like the kingdoms of this world.

Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. And Jesus is all about our heart. We may never cross the line into terror, but when our words cross the line, when our attitudes toward others cross the line, we have missed the point.

Jesus calls us to a radical love and a radical way of life so dedicated to God that even our words and our thoughts are godly. He calls us to such surrender that we don’t even speak or wish harm on our enemies. He calls us to a something so much better than the ways of earthy kingdoms.

Scripture says both fresh water and salt water cannot come from the same spring. Too often we want to be able to turn the fresh and salty on and off as we please. It cant work that way. If we are followers of Jesus our words are to be full of life, not venom. Peace and reconciliation, not discord and strife.

Let’s leave the destructive rhetoric and hateful hearts for the terrorists. These things have no place in the life of a Christian. Let’s not succumb to hate. Let’s not allow fear to drive us to unfaithfulness. Let’s be more like Jesus than like those who wish us harm.

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source: iStock via theweek.com

On Political Correctness

Recently the idea of being politically correct has come under great scrutiny. One person in particular has launched a seemingly successful presidential campaign around the notion that political correctness is weakness and undermines our country.

I think most everyone is sick of political double speak. When someone tries to gain votes by skirting the truth, that doesn’t help anything. But much of what is being written off as too politically correct is more along the lines of taking care not to offend other people. Which I am not sure is a problem.

Maybe we are a bit too sensitive and overreact to things that used to be shrugged off without much thought.  Maybe we do need thicker skin. But maybe we need slower mouths and kinder dispositions too.

Maybe when we stop to ask what others are feeling and experiencing we improve ourselves. What if it is healthy for us to weigh our conversations and preconceived ideas and attitudes to see if they are selfish or inclusive? While I’m positive all of us could use a dose of maturity, perhaps much of what is labeled “politically correct” is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.

This isn’t a left/right/conservative/liberal issue. It is a human issue.

If mocking a person’s physical or mental limitations is applauded in a non-PC world, I want no part in that world.

If stereotyping and gross over-generalization of cultures and faiths and ethnicities is what our culture values, I want no part in that culture.

If the way we “Make America Great Again” is to say whatever comes to mind regardless of who is offended, I think we have different definitions of greatness.

We have a problem when we call people fat and ugly and losers without pause. Or when we refuse to use a filter and everyone else can just deal with it. We have a problem when we rebuff criticism because people nowadays are just too whiny.

These things are not politically incorrect. They are just incorrect.

Whenever people are mocked or ignored because of who they are or what they feel, we are in the wrong. Whenever people are dismissed because our experience doesn’t match theirs, we are in the wrong. Whenever we flippantly say, “I don’t care who this offends” we are in the wrong.

Instead we should give careful consideration to the words we use. We need to understand the gravity of the things that come out of our mouth and the environments we create. We should speak and act from a place that begins with others in mind, not ourselves.

We must start with seeing other people as, well, people. And valuing them for who they are right now. Even when we disagree. Even when we don’t understand. Even when it is easier to draw lines and pick sides and make fun.

Does that mean we never tell the truth? Never speak difficult words into someone’s life? Does it mean we never hold people accountable? Absolutely not.

But any time we hide behind “telling the truth” while degrading another person, our truth has little value. If our truth is not capable of helping or building up or making right, than it would be better for us to keep our truth to ourselves.

Perhaps the truth is best heard not in unfiltered language or knee jerk responses, but in seeking to understand who the other person is and where they are coming from. Maybe truth is most clear when the playing field is leveled. It is possible to hold strong opinions and specific values and disagree passionately while treating people with respect and common courtesy.

This is not weak or soft or whatever thing we are afraid of being when we say we no longer want to be politically correct. This is strength and selflessness and courage. This, I believe, is love.

This is the kind of world I want to play a part in. A world where people feel they belong, like they have a voice, like they have value simply because they exist. Because they do.

I believe when we give worth and consideration to other people we are not enabling them or coddling them or wounding them. I believe we are pulling up a chair at the table. We now sit eye to eye. We can have a conversation and break bread together. We can learn from one another.

When that happens we’ll be better for it. When that happens our language and politics and churches and dinner tables will be full of grace and truth. We don’t have to pick one or the other. Let’s do better.

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image source: kingkurtissmith.files.wordpress.com