On Bad Eggs and Good Fruit.

Julie Dawn Cole as Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971

In Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory he has fancy geese that lay golden eggs. He also has an “educated eggdicator” that can differentiate between good and bad eggs. Good eggs get shipped out. Bad eggs go down the chute.

Spoiled little Veruca Salt is found to be a bad egg and ends up down the chute as well. I’m afraid there are a whole lot of us like Veruca who would fail the eggdicator’s inspection.

We are a mess. We struggle with simple things like truth and kindness. We continually lower the bar on what is acceptable behavior and language for a civilized society. We are less and less reasonable while more and more bombastic and hostile.

We see it on the news, in the White House, on the streets, around our tables.

We not only disagree, we degrade and bite and devour each other. We’ve lost mutual respect and we’ve stopped searching for common ground or decency.

Bad eggs.

While this troubles me a great deal, what is most alarming is that the church has jumped headfirst into this mess.

We claim that every person is made in the image of God and in the next breath curse them for disagreeing with us.

We gather on Sunday hoping our neighbors will come to Jesus, then spend the week calling them names on the internet.

We teach our children that words matter and then unflinchingly applaud people who have no control over their tongue.

We are quick to excuse and condone ugly behavior as long as the person doing it agrees with our politics or worldview. “We aren’t electing a pastor,” we say. “No one is perfect.”

“They just say like it is,” we repeat, appreciating their bluntness. We laugh when they insult or cut someone down. We pretend this is leadership. We think this is just.

But the eggdicator doesn’t lie. Bad eggs. This is not who we are intended to be.

We are the ones who are the light of the world, the salt of the earth. We are those who claim to follow Jesus and his “love God and love people” message. We are people who proclaim grace and mercy and forgiveness.

Yet it feels like we are disregarding all this at a time when the world desperately needs us to embody these very things. I’m convinced the world is starving for something better. Something more than a continuous supply of bad eggs.

And the solution to bad eggs is, of course, good fruit.

Kindness and gentleness are dismissed by many as political correctness. Silly things that slow us down and show our weakness. But kindness and gentleness are neither silly nor weak, they are Fruit of the Spirit.

They are the result of the Spirit of God at work in us. They show up when we’ve allowed God to show up and have authority in our lives.

The same with self-control. And patience. And goodness. And faithfulness And love. And peace. And joy.

When God leads us, these things sprout up. We move from bad eggs to good fruit.

And they aren’t optional. We don’t get to turn them on or off depending on who we are talking to or about.

Sure, we won’t do this perfectly and every one of us has room for improvement, but lately I’ve been wondering if we even desire these traits anymore. Do we hunger for God to do this work in us? Or do other things have our attention?

Do I want peace or power?

Power corrupts while peace leads to life. Jesus says blessed are the peacemakers, not blessed are the power holders.

Is gentleness needed when we can just say it like it is?

Friends, if “saying it like it is” means being rude and callous in how we talk about other people than Christians are not permitted to say it like it is.

Is goodness going to help us win when the world is so bad and broken?

Church, goodness is the solution to the brokenness. It is the only way to truly win.

Patience? Do we have to?

I’d rather skip it myself but here I am, a recipient of God’s patience. I’ve been given chance after chance and time after time. In my best moments I’m eager to give others the same opportunities.

There is no joy in shaming others. No love either. There is no faithfulness without these other things. This is what we signed up for.

I do believe there are times for causing a scene and getting loud. Particularly in cases where we are being a voice for the voiceless and confronting injustice. But even then our motives must be pure. Are we motivated by the work of God in our lives or are we hungry for things like position and control and acclaim?

Do we have the stench of a bad egg or the sweet aroma of fresh fruit?

“You will know them by their fruit,” Jesus says. The things we bear in our life, from our words to our actions, will demonstrate who we will really are. That should cause us to pause. Who are we known as? When someone disagrees with our positions who do we act most like? When you bump up against us who spills out? Who is leading us? Who is at work in our hearts?

May it be the God who is love. May it be the God who is slow to anger and full of mercy. May it be the God who turns grief into joy and who is faithful from generation to generation. May we be people under the influence of the Prince of Peace. May we desire the gentleness of the Lamb who was slain. And may we be so full of this God’s goodness that it can’t help but show up in all we say and do.

May we bear good fruit in a world full of bad eggs. And may we show that there is something purer and higher and worth pursuing when we are tempted to follow others down the chute and up the ladder. May we have the courage and faithfulness to choose a better way.

Amen.

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To My Non-Christian Friends This Election Season

To My Non-Christian Friends, dearfriends_black

This election season has been something else, huh? (Here is a video of puppies if you need something to cheer you up.) Take heart, it is almost over. We have at least until February before people start openly campaigning for 2020.

In the meantime, I’d like to say something to you. Specifically, I’d like to say sorry. I think you have seen us Christians at our worst lately and for that I apologize.

I’m sorry that you’ve seen so much fighting between us. We can be brutal to each other and we call ourselves family. We fire missiles from all sides of the aisle and don’t worry too much about collateral damage. It probably isn’t very inviting when we behave this way. I’m sorry if you are less likely to want to be around us after all this.

I’m sorry that you’ve probably gotten into a debate or two with one of us. I’m sorry that we don’t often fight very graciously. I’m sorry that we stoop to things like name calling and rapid dismissal.

I regret that we often want to be heard, rather than hear. That isn’t very kind of us.

I’m sorry if you were unfriended because of your political views. I’m sorry we value our opinions more than your friendship. I’m sorry that we let partisanship get in the way of relationship. There are things we will all never agree on, but that shouldn’t stop us from sharing meals and photos of our kids and life in general.

I’m sorry that you see us defending things that are indefensible. Things Jesus would oppose. Things we have routinely and loudly condemned. I’m sorry that we hold a double standard so that we can excuse our candidates and condemn someone else’s. That’s not consistent and its certainly not Christlike.

I’m sorry for all the false memes and bunk articles we have posted. We don’t think very highly of lying, but we are at times in such a rush to be right we fail to check our information. That isn’t very good of us.

I’m sorry if we have led you to believe that a person’s eternal destiny hinges on how they vote. We don’t actually believe that, though we sometimes act and preach like it. Sometimes we (rightly or wrongly) put a lot of hope and energy into these things, but if you give us a time to catch our breath we will remember it is grace, not ballots, that save us.

We sing a song that says our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus. I’m sorry we haven’t acted that way lately. While we want to have a say in government, ultimately our hope is not in presidents and senators and legislation.

I’m sorry if you’ve been hurt by the way we talk about the candidates and their supporters. Regardless of politics you and they are loved and cherished by God. We’ve failed to reflect that too often. That grieves me.

I apologize that regardless of which side we are on, we are often unable to understand where you are coming from. I’m sorry if we talk down to you or figure you couldn’t possibly know or have hurt you with our assumptions.

I know it is probably hard to see through all the nonsense, but Jesus is better than we represent. I’m not sure of a lot of things, but I’m absolutely positive of that. I’m sorry if we have failed him and you this election season.

If we are honest we are just regular ole humans. We mess up, we don’t always do what we want. We can be too passionate, we can be misguided, we can be flat wrong. Please don’t hold that against Jesus.

I can’t speak for all of us, but I can speak for me. I would trade in all this election stuff if it meant people would be more likely to consider following Jesus. His ways are better. We have a saying that goes like this, “His grace is sufficient.” The grace of God is sufficient to cover our weakness and our mistakes. We greatly depend on that.

Now I’m asking for grace from you. Please forgive us for our actions and attitudes, our words and our compliance. Please forgive us for pointing you toward a political party more than Jesus. Please forgive us when we cross the line, wound others, or look no different than any other person you know.

We are supposed to do better than that. We have been wrong. Maybe not all of us, but some of us, including me. And I’m sorry.

The Promiscuous Church & Her Part-Time Lovers

unmade-bed

Source: Pixabay

The Hebrew Scriptures tell the story of a man named Hosea. This religious leader and prophet is instructed by God to marry a promiscuous woman named Gomer (sounds wonderful, right?). Their marriage will demonstrate to the people of Israel how they have forsaken God by turning to the gods of their neighbors.

The neighbors’ gods were promising a host of wonderful things. A bountiful crop, fertility for families and livestock. They offered health and wealth and security. They promised to vanquish their enemies. And the Israelites bought it hook, line, and sinker.

They worshiped these other gods. They looked to them with hope and expectation. They gave them their time and treasure and affection. Perhaps they even put bumper stickers on their donkeys and filled social media with how these gods were going to save the day.

I’m sure many people thought all of this was simply in addition to the worship of their God. I’m guessing some figured God was using these other gods to accomplish his will for the people. Many probably thought they could remain faithful to God, while using these other gods to meet their needs.

But they couldn’t. They cheated on God. And Gomer’s continued infidelity was an illustration of the way the people had traded in the faithful love of God for the groping arms of part-time lovers.

There is a lesson here for the modern Church. 

Certainly the gods look a little different these days, but they still promise the same benefits: comfort and luxury and security and all the things we dream of late at night. Our politics and culture and lifestyles are just another group of suitors clamoring for our affection.

They invite us to give ourselves to them in exchange for some lofty promise. We are convinced they will make us happy or feel important or keep us well fed. We slide under the sheets with political parties and cultural fads and materialism thinking that this time we will finally find all the things we are looking for.

There may have been times when we felt guilty about our little forays, but lately we justify it, baptize it in religious language, and even convince ourselves this is God’s will for us. We join the Israelites in assuming all of our potential lovers are legitimate. We think we can still be faithful to God in the midst of it all.

But we can’t. And just like Gomer we have become harlots. We sell ourselves to whoever will promise us the most. We forsake our vows and our values for the chance at something enticing: a record-setting crop, the promise of security, heaps of privilege and power. We prostitute ourselves to whoever and whatever can make us feel prettiest or safest or shower us with the most presents.

But in the morning when the lights are turned on the Church finds herself in bed with a multitude of strangers who are not all that interested in her. When the elections are over or when things start to get a little tense or when someone else a little more appealing comes along, we find that we have not been loved in the slightest.

Those who intoxicated us with their charm and flashy smile have abandoned us. They weren’t faithful and never planned to be. They lied, promising far more then they could ever deliver. They used the Church for their own pleasure and gain.

So we are left unloved and broken. Those we hoped were lovers turn out to only be consumers. What we had hoped would satisfy has done nothing but leave us starved. What we hoped would make us feel whole has instead wounded deeply. And our reputation has been sullied in the process.

In the story of Hosea, the two-timing Gomer eventually finds herself living with another man. Sadly she has become his possession, not his beloved. She is exploited, not adored. How often is this our story?

Hosea, her rightful husband, the man who loves her, purchases her back. He redeems her. He tells his wife, now forgiven, that she needs to leave this life of promiscuity and not fool around with other men. He commits to be there as she restarts her marriage. He will not leave her.

You see, God wants his people to realize he is faithful. He isn’t quick to drop them. He isn’t running around on them. He isn’t sneaking off in the dark of night. He actually desires them. He cares for them. He loves them. He is always true to them.

The message for Israel is the message for the Church.

It isn’t these other gods who care about you. They have no real power to change your life. They might look appealing and they might offer little trinkets, but they are not worth your affection. They will leave you feeling empty sooner or later.

It isn’t the political parties who love you. They are just another john in a long line of johns who will promise you the whole world if you’ll just be faithful to them. They want to use you. If you want to give them your vote, okay fine, but not your allegiance. Not your heart.

It isn’t comfort or cash or attention or accolades or pleasure or power or privilege that will satisfy you. In the morning they will all run off for the next person and then the next person and then the next person. These things are fleeting, not faithful. Don’t give yourself to something that won’t give itself for you.

If the Church is the Bride of Christ, she cannot allow herself to be seduced by the siren songs of potential suitors. We cannot climb into bed with whatever things sound most fun or promising or comforting right now. We cannot give ourselves to anyone or anything other than the God who redeems us.

Ours is a God who is faithful. The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. He is the one who will satisfy our desires and give us hope. He is the one we can rely on and who won’t run away when times get rough. He won’t abandon us for the next pretty little thing that walks by or use us only for his personal gain and pleasure.

Church, may we be faithful to the One who is faithful to us. May we remember that the sweet nothings whispered in our ear by culture and politicians and neighbors are nothing more than empty words that lead to broken hearts. May we remember our vows and may we change our promiscuous ways. And may we find all we ever need in the loving and trustworthy arms of Christ.

On Fear & Faith

It starts in a garden. In paradise a man and woman are given everything they could ever want. Yet, they are afraid. They are afraid they are missing out on something even greater. They do the one thing they were told not to in hopes of finding out what they were lacking. They are cast from their paradise and confronted with a world far from what was originally intended. Later one of their sons will murder his brother in a jealous rage.

A husband and wife, unable to have children, are promised God will give them a son and a great lineage. Impatient and fearful it won’t happen in time they take matters into their own hands and a servant girl is brought in to conceive the child, causing great pain and friction in the family.

Recently freed slaves, when faced with what they think are insurmountable odds, ask to go back to chains and forced labor. Imagine desiring to return to slavery. The unknown is too great. The fear in the air is suffocating.

Later, after 40 years of nomadic wilderness living and daily godly provision, the people are unsure they should follow God into the land promised them. It is full of strong, warrior men and, well, look at us. Let’s just wander around a little while longer.

Sometime later a group of fishermen panic in the midst of storm, forgetting that the Son of God is on the boat with them. They are fearful that they will drown. They are rebuked, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”

One of the fisherman later denies even knowing the Man. He is afraid his outcome will be similar to that of his rabbi’s. He flat out lies to a young girl in order to save his own skin.

After the Man is tried and beaten, crucified and sealed in a grave his followers all hide behind locked doors. They had seen him heal the sick and raise the dead and feed the multitudes. They had followed and learned from him for three years and now, unsure of what to do next, they are deflated and afraid.

Fear is a part of our story.

The people of God have for all time faced scary, difficult, bigger-than-we-can-handle situations. It seems almost on purpose. As if God is saying, “The only way through this situation is if I show up and help you through.” Perhaps God wants us to find our way into a faith that is stronger than fear.

He wants us to trust him. To trust that he is with us. To believe that the things he has called us to are worth doing. Even when it doesn’t make sense. Even when it is costly. Even when we are afraid.

The question then becomes, does God win or does fear? Do we go into the world believing that this is too much for us to handle and believing that’s exactly how God works in our lives? Or do we justify our inaction, our disobedience, because, well, look at us? It is too much. Too hard. Too messy. Too scary. Do we lock ourselves in our homes and churches hoping that if just hold on long enough we can escape all this mess free and clean?

God wants more for us than that. More than survival. More than comfort. More than salvation. He wants to walk with us. He wants to teach us and shape us. He wants to use us to change the world.

If we let fear hold us hostage we miss out on what God could do. We rob ourselves of seeing God do what God does best.

Ours is a God who parts seas and defeats giants and quiets storms. He gives strength to the weak and comfort to the broken-hearted. And best of all, ours is a God who defeats death.

The Man who had been crucified and buried doesn’t stay buried. He doesn’t stay dead. He is resurrected. Jesus Christ conquers sin and death and darkness not by avoiding them but by entering right into the midst of it all and overcoming them through obedience and love. A love that is sacrificial enough and deep enough and courageous enough to follow through all the way to the end.

And those followers of his, the ones locked behind their doors, something changes in them. They are no longer fearful. With death defeated, with a risen Savior, what could possibly cause them to be afraid? They ask, “If God is for us, who can stand against us?”

They leave their upper room and go out into the streets and to the ends of the earth taking with them their story. They call it the Good News. They walk into cultures that are dark and violent. They are beaten and jailed, shipwrecked and snake bit. They leave jobs and families, they leave comfort and wealth. They leave security and predictability. To be right on the edge of what God is doing.

It costs them everything. All but one of the twelve male disciples of Jesus will be killed for their faith. The other is exiled for the remainder of his days. And it was worth it.

Being a part of the redemption story is always worth it. Obedience to something that is hard and scary and bigger-than-we-can-handle is worth it. This is where God has called his people to live over and over again. These are the places were God is most active. And these are places where God is always faithful.

Fear is an enemy to faith. And I don’t want to be afraid one minute more.

I will not be afraid of missing out on something better. I will not be afraid of missing out on my plans. I will not fear the unknown. I will no longer be afraid of my enemies or those I don’t understand. I will not fear the storms and circumstances that swirl around me.

I will say yes to whatever looks most like Jesus. I will be obedient even when it costs me. I will not ask “what if something goes wrong?” and instead ask “what if God shows up?”

I will no longer be a slave to fear.

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