You Can’t Kick God Out of School


This is not God.

Whenever there is a school shooting one of the responses I hear goes something like this: We’ve kicked God out of schools, so what do we expect?

The argument suggests that God is sufficiently barred from schools and unable to help with these tragedies. That somehow God is not allowed in our schools, as if God needs an official permission slip.

Let’s set aside the fact that these events don’t happen in countries that are far more secular anywhere close to the rate they happen here. This post isn’t about the how or why school shootings happen.

This is about a very feeble view of God.

To suggest that the hands of Gods are somehow tied because of the pluralization or secularization of our schools is dangerous. If your god is unable to work in schools because they no longer do public prayer or because they teach a particular view of human origins, you need a bigger God.

The God I know is not limited to places where they hang the 10 Commandments on the wall. The God I know is not restricted by walls or doors or boundary lines. This God cannot be kicked out of buildings because some people don’t stop to acknowledge the Creator before the day begins or because certain administrators chose to stop allowing school sponsored Bible study in classrooms.

Is our God that anemic? Is that all it takes to thwart God Almighty?

Forget spiritual warfare, just teach a class on evolution or make space for non-Christian kids and watch as God is weakened like Superman holding kryptonite.

This is not a god worth worshipping. This is not the God of Scripture and certainly not the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

That God showed up in the flesh in the midst a pagan empire. The Romans had many gods and worshipped them in ways contrary to what God wanted for humanity. God showed up anyway.

The early church thrived under persecution from authorities who had no interest in worshipping or acknowledging Jesus. They lost jobs and homes and lives because the powers-that-be weren’t going to let them refuse to bow to Caesar. God showed up anyway.

Abraham was an idol worshipper when God showed up. Adam and Eve were hiding when God showed up. Paul was a Christ-hating murderer when God showed up.

This is how God works.

The Church is growing in places like China where they cannot openly meet for worship or prayer. They have no political power or privilege and certainly no sway over what is taught in schools. God shows up anyway.

If our God is limited to working in people and places where God is already esteemed by all or most people then we are in trouble. There are few places where God can work. And there is little that can be accomplished.

But if our God is the God we see throughout Scripture and in Jesus, the one who moves toward the mess, toward the hard places, toward the people who appear furthest from faithfulness, then we can have incredible hope.

We have hope that God is not only at work in schools, but in all places. That God doesn’t need to wait to be honored to begin setting things right. That God is drawing all people toward redemption. We can have hope that God shows up.

We certainly have a problem in our country, but I wonder if it has more to do with our impotent view of God than the lack of classrooms teaching the Bible as curriculum. I wonder if it is because we’ve reduced God to a good luck charm or a genie we can pull out of a lamp whenever we need something rather than Lord of our lives.

I wonder if we’ve become so accustomed to setting the rules that we’ve forfeited our responsibility to teach our own children who God is and what God desires. I wonder if we’ve traded in a living faith for a set of check-listed actions and beliefs. I wonder if what we say we want and how we actually live are unaligned in any meaningful way.

We don’t need to reclaim the curriculum for God to be taught. We don’t need prayers over the loudspeaker for prayers to happen in classrooms. We don’t need power or position or permission slips for our God to come.

God is here. Present in this world.

And Christians are here too. God is present in them. Every time the doors open Christian students carry the love and truth of Christ with them. Every day teachers spend time teaching addition and Spanish and science and do so with the presence of God within them as well.

God has not been and cannot be removed from schools. Not the God I serve.

So may we know this present and powerful God. May we set aside any small view of God or faith. And may we believe that this God is at work. That this God goes with us to every dark corner, to every dentist office, and to every classroom. May we seek to live faithful to the grace that has been given us regardless of what the world around us does. And may we be part of the solution our country so desperately needs.


Christmas is Messy


source: davide ragusa,

Christmas is messy.

Just look at the shreds of wrapping paper and the stacks of receipts. Look at the scattered stocking stuffers and the crumbs of quickly consumed cookies. Look at the half eaten candy cane stuck to the carpet and the Pinterest fails and the exhausted in-laws. Messy.

But Christmas was messy long before any gifts were unwrapped or mixing bowls were left in the sink.

Christmas has been messy from the very start.

Christmas is centered on a human birth. I’m not sure if you’ve ever witnessed one of those, but I can testify to this fact – they are quite messy. Messy with blood and amniotic fluids and tears and sweat and other, well, messes.

This is the way Christ comes into the world. This is the way God shows up. A messy miracle.

And the mess wasn’t contained to just the biology of it all. The mess included livestock’s sleeping quarters, which smell about as good as you might imagine.

Christ comes not into a sterile hospital room or even a well-prepped master bedroom. He comes into the equivalent of an oft used garage. Nevermind the animal feed and draftiness and random goat or two.

And then the messy welcoming committee arrives. Not kings or princes or the head of the local chamber of commerce. Shepherds. Night shift shepherds at that.

Shepherds who likely hadn’t had a proper bath or used copious amounts of hand sanitizer in some time. Dirt under their fingernails, sheep poop on their sandals, long stained clothes. There is that smell again. What a mess.

And of course, there is the mess involving his parents. Mary says the child isn’t Joseph’s. Rumors swirl and the folks in town give knowing glances. “Who is the father?” the gossipers ask. Joseph plans to stay with Mary and raise this child as his own, despite laws and opinions suggesting otherwise. What a mess.

And then there is Herod. He fears the child so much that he will order all boys under the age of two to be killed. The heartache. Little Jesus and his family will flee their home and escape to Egypt to ensure his safety. The chaos and mess seem to never end.

Back then and still today, Christmas is messy. And that is good news.

Because our lives are often messy. And our world is often messy.

We make messes out of our relationships, messes out of our futures, messes out of our finances. Our faith gets messy, our pasts are messy. We have an incredible knack for messing things up.

We do what we don’t want to do. We don’t do what we do want to do. We are slow to learn our lessons. Quick to find new ways to blow it. Messy.

Rather than avoid the chaos, our God jumps right into it. Moves toward it. Enters the mess.

Rather than avoid it, because the mess is gross and God is above all that, a God whose holiness is rooted in love dives in after us.

To help us. To clean us up. To lift us out of our mess.

To forgive all the messes we have created. To heal all the messes that have been set upon us.

Christmas is messy. And grace is messy. And love is messy. People are messy.

And it is here in the mess, not above it, not once the mess is cleaned, right here in it, that Christ is found.

Here in the mess Christ comes, not to scold us for the messes we’ve made or keep a suspicious watch as we work to clean ourselves up.

He comes and stoops and washes and tends to needs and makes right what is wrong.

He enters the mess not to remind us of how bad we are, but to show us a better way. To lead us out of darkness and into light. He comes to the mess and offers us his presence, his tenderness, his understanding, his unmessiness.

So when the mess is so bad that you don’t know where to begin the clean up, remember Christ comes to messes.

When you buy the lie that you have to clean yourself up first, remember Jesus is deeply familiar with messy people and situations.

When you nervously wonder if perhaps you’ve missed a spot or left something untended, remember God is more concerned with the position of your heart than what you’ve stepped in.

When you feel unworthy or too dirty, remember Christmas is messy.

And that’s the point.

The love revealed at Christmas is intended for you and all your dirty, stinky, bloody messes. Joy to the whole messy world!

We Have No King But Caesar


Credit: Scarlet Ellis,

We have no king but Caesar.

I know it is 2017 and Caesar and his ilk have been dead for a while. I know we are no longer under a monarchy, but still we have no king but Caesar.

I know we gather in sanctuaries and sing about our devotion to Jesus. I know we declare our hope in Christ alone, but if we are honest, we have no king but Caesar.

Despite our modern sensibilities and our religious persuasions, we have given ourselves over to the ways and priorities of Caesar. Our loyalty, our allegiance, our worldview largely belong to him. Our hearts, our eyes, our minds belong to Caesar and his earthly kingdoms.

I am convinced that we have discarded the Kingdom of God for the kingdoms of this world, and all the baggage that comes with them.

The ways of Caesar or Pharaoh or Babylon operate in a distinctly different manner then the ways of Jesus and his Kingdom. As we’ve blurred the lines between these kingdoms and tried to force a shotgun wedding, we’ve ended up embracing one and neglecting the other.

We are left with no king but Caesar.

We have lost our holy imagination. We no longer dream God dreams of peace and justice and wholeness. We dream Caesar dreams of power and wealth and security.

We say we believe God will give us the desires of our heart and then we waste our desire on what corrupts and rots and rusts away. And what leaves us estranged from God and neighbor.

We have no king but Caesar.

We’ve lost our taste for a kingdom that is upside down. We’ve lost our stomach for the way of the cross. Those things are just not practical enough for us.

We have no time to wait for the last to be first.

Like the clumsy disciples we still argue over who will be great while unable to imagine that greatness comes through serving, not economies or privileges.

We have no king but Caesar.

We have been convinced that the only way we can impact the world is through the power of law and might. We have been sidelined from our mission while we campaign for Caesar and all of his friends.

We swallow party platforms and turn them into religious convictions.

We have no king but Caesar.

We make enemies out of people who vote differently than us. And justify it. All while ignoring Jesus’ command to love even our enemies.

We excuse our support of terrible candidates by pointing to their worse candidates. We are certain this is the only way to win.

We have no king but Caesar.

We will trade any and all values for the promise of accommodation and favorable votes. We will look the other way at evil and deception as long as we get what we want. We will make back room deals with the devil as long as he promises us political freedom.

We will sell out the way of Jesus for thirty pieces of silver or better unemployment rates.

We have no king but Caesar.

We’ll take racists and sexual predators and murderers and cheats as long as they promise to vote like we do and kiss our babies.

We have no king but Caesar.

We’ve been deceived and it is time to wake up, Church.

I am not suggesting that we never vote or run for office. I’m suggesting that we take a long, hard look at how we have been doing those things and then repent, turn from anything that doesn’t look like Jesus.

I’m suggesting we say no to a lot of the things we have been saying yes to. Even if it costs us a vote or the Senate or the approval of our neighbors or a manger scene at city hall.

The way of Caesar may look appealing and make sense and offer tangible goods, but it leads to death. It leads to tramping over our neighbors. It leads to pride and idolatry and emptiness.

It destroys our witness to the world.

There is a better way. His name is Jesus.

He tells us that we could gain all the world and it wouldn’t be worth our soul.

He invites us to imagine the world as it could be, to not conclude that Caesar’s is the only way we can operate. He shows us that through love and mercy, truth and grace, service and humility that we can bring about all the change the world might need.

His way tells us that in losing our life we will find it.

This way is harder, but this way is worth it. This way is dangerous, but this way is holy.

May we be found faithful to this way, to this Kingdom, to this King… for we have no King but Christ!

I Need a New Gym: A Short Parable


I joined a gym back in May. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles and it certainly doesn’t offer Cross Fit or I’d be posting about it (just kidding Cross Fit people, just kidding), but it has some weights and treadmills and other machines I’ve yet to attempt to use.

I don’t make it over there very often, usually only every few weeks. Randomly I get inspired to go, but honestly, I struggle to put in work while I’m there. I don’t particularly enjoy sweating or the soreness that accompanies lifting weights so I stick to low resistance and easy-to-accomplish exercises. Sometimes I don’t even need a shower when I’m done, which is a bonus.

In the treadmill area they have all these mirrors that show me how I really look, so I avoid that room completely. I’m not interested in reality, just what I want to reality to be.

And now, I am looking for a new gym.

See, after months of gym membership I am not getting any results. I’ve actually gained weight and my six year old has to open the jar of pickles for me. I expect more out of my gym.

I’m looking for a gym that will shed the pounds for me regardless of the junk food I consume throughout the week. I need a gym that can increase my strength without increasing my need to lift. I need a gym that can instantly zap off a few inches when I require my suit to fit by tomorrow.

My doctor says I need to make some healthy changes in my life, so here I am, once again, looking for a gym that can help me. Hopefully the next one will be just what I need.

The moral of this story (that is only mostly true) should be obvious. It’s not a gym problem, it’s a me problem. But it’s a whole lot easier for me to blame the gym then to take ownership of my physical well-being.

I can search high and low for a gym that magically produces results, but until I am determined and committed to put in the work, I will see no progress. Until how I eat daily changes, no amount of walking into a building occasionally will do much good. Until I push myself further than I want to go, I will not see much difference.

And this, my friends, is how many of us attend to our faith and to local church families. We want the results without the effort. We want the beach body without the sugar and carb free diet. We want to show up whenever we feel like it and still get the same results as those who hit the track first thing every morning.

And when we don’t get results, when our problems don’t miraculously disappear overnight because we went to the altar once, we look to find someone to blame.

We find a new gym. A new trainer. We try pills. We try crash diets. Anything to keep us from having to honestly examine our own role in perpetual state of ill health.

There are very good and necessary reasons why we may need a new church family or a new pastor or new mentor, but before going down that road, we should stop and take an honest inventory of our faithfulness and our effort.

Without those things, the next gym or diet or trainer will end up disappointing us as well. We will end up in an endless cycle of “not getting my needs met” while doing nothing to attempt to meet our own needs.

The gym/local church provides the tools, what we do with those tools is up to us.

  • Are we exercising our faith muscles?
  • Are we consuming lots of junk?
  • Are we taking the path of least resistance?
  • Are we showing up and participating in any kind of meaningful way?
  • Are we lifting?
  • Are we stretching ourselves?

Are we approaching our faith and church community like I approach the gym? This won’t lead to the change we hope for or the change we need.

A gym membership card in my wallet doesn’t do a lick of good until it is put to frequent use. Spiritual health, like physical health, requires action and intention and effort. If you resist sweating and stretching and soreness or if you feast on junk food more days than not, you will end up discouraged, hurt, or unhealthy.

The solution for most of us isn’t a new gym or new 90-day cleanse. It’s a new attitude, some new priorities, and a renewed effort. The solution isn’t out there somewhere, its within us.

If we want to be healthy we’ve got to put in the work to be healthy.

So show up. Serve. Read your bible. Pray. Give. Be consistent. Watch what you consume. Target problem areas. Worship. Ask for help. Be honest. Confess. Forgive. Love. Then show up again. And again. And again. Even when you’re sore. Even when your tired. Even when its easier not to.

May you and I dedicate ourselves to our spiritual well-being. May we take ownership of our faith and our circumstances. May we commit to the hard work of faithfulness and growth. And may we then see the results we so desperately need. May the pounds fall away, our strength begin to swell, and our faith be encouraged as we put in the effort to follow Jesus.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to finish this double cheeseburger before heading over to the gym.

There Is Another Kingdom

I’ve heard about a kingdom where justice rolls like a mighty river. Where enemies become friends and captives are released from their chains. It’s a place where the stranger is welcome and the wayward is pursued. Where the hurting find comfort and the broken find healing.

It is a kingdom full of peculiar people. They listen before they speak and do all they can to live at peace with everyone. They are quick to confess and always seek to be humble. They are known by their love. They keep no record of wrongs.


In this kingdom weapons of war are transformed into tools for farming. Here debts are forgiven and resources are given away freely. In this kingdom the last go first and the first go last. It is like a feast where all the people we wouldn’t think to invite are the guests of honor.

This kingdom is upside down.

It is not a kingdom for the self-sufficient or the capable or the best of the best. It is given to the poor in spirit, those who find themselves at the end of their rope. It is kingdom that belongs to children. A kingdom where prostitutes and tax frauds often find their way before the pious do.

It is a kingdom of people tasked with the ministry of reconciliation. Where folks move to the margins to be with the looked over and left behind. It is a place where worship looks like meeting the needs of the least and lowest and setting the oppressed free.

Here the people seek to change the world with towels and basins rather than horses and chariots. In this kingdom people hunger not for power or privilege but for righteousness and justice. Here doing right and loving mercy are inseparable.

Here the works of darkness are exposed in the light. This kingdom has no room for selfishness or hate, greed or lust. It is a place where all people are cherished and equal. Here love purifies from all -isms and phobias and pride.

This borderless kingdom shares no common language or dress or flag. Their people are united by faith, hope, and love. Their anthem is, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” and their pledge is, “Jesus is Lord.”

Their most sacred site is an empty graveyard. They model the belief that laying down their lives is the only way to truly live. And they wouldn’t trade the whole world for a single, solitary soul.

This kingdom, they believe, never ends.

It is not fully realized but it is not some far off fantasy. It’s breaking in, here and now. It is at hand. Close enough to touch. Among us.

If we are not careful, we will be so consumed with other, earthly kingdoms, that we will forget our roles as the citizens of this one. We will lose our imaginations. We will give into despair. We will look for salvation in all the wrong places. We will begin to look and think and act just like any old kingdom in history.

We can’t do that because there is another way.

There is another kingdom. We’ve been invited to be participants and ambassadors. To take it to our neighbors and to the ends of the earth.

This is what we belong to. This is who we are.

God help us to remember. God help us to be faithful.






Religious But Not Spiritual

religious not spiritual

It is popular these days to hear people describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”

Many observe the stale, lackluster faith of those simply going through the motions. Or they see religion as a box too small to contain their worldview. Organized religion is often perceived as corrupt, outdated, or harmful. And we’ve all encountered a person who is both intensely religious and intensely a jerk at the exact same time.

So plenty shy away from the label and baggage of “religion.” I get that.

Even churches tend to resist the term “religious.” I regularly hear (and have probably said), “Christianity is not about religion but relationship.” When we say that we are trying to point people to something dynamic and impactful rather than something that becomes empty and heartless. We believe that checking the right number of religious boxes isn’t the thing that matters most. And the Bible certainly speaks to that repeatedly.

But here is the thing: I need religion.

The truth is sometimes I’m religious but not spiritual. Sometimes I don’t “feel” it. Sometimes I wonder what in the world I am doing. Sometimes I have doubt, anger, frustration, or failure in my spiritual life.

If I can only show up when the fire is hot, I will be in trouble. If I was to rely on just my feelings, I’d have quit a long time ago.

There are times I may not feel like attending worship or loving a person who is difficult to love. There are times I am not up for singing “It is well with my soul.” There are times my prayers get caught in my throat.

When those times come, religion keeps me going. The structure built around my faith comes to my aid. The things that have been practiced and rehearsed week after week and century after century minister to my dry spirit.

When I participate in religion I eventually find the things I have been lacking. I find hope and joy and rest. I find substance and sustenance in the bread and the cup of communion. I find peace in the reading of Scripture and support as I gather weekly with my church family for corporate worship.

Even after I’ve already believed and committed. Even when I already obey and follow. Religion and its prayers and rituals and movements bring me rescue and relief. When I go through the motions of religion, I am renewed.

Though I strive to avoid an empty faith or passionless belief, though I desire to always have my heart stirred, the truth is sometimes it doesn’t go the way I want. For whatever reason, sometimes I need a push, a jump-start, a nudge.

I find the help I need in religion.

I wonder if our reluctance to call ourselves religious has been to our detriment. I wonder if we rob ourselves of the very tools we need when we turn our nose up at ritual and habit. I wonder if we’ve damaged the relationship because we have neglected the practices of religion while looking for a purely spiritual faith. 

Religion can certainly be misused, but it is a gift from God and I’m thankful for the ways it has brought newness to my faith. It need not be stale and lifeless, but the very place where grace is found over and over and over again.

So gather with God’s people, even when it’s easier to avoid them.

And say your prayers, even when the words sound hollow.

Sing the songs, even if you aren’t sure you believe them.

Read the Scriptures, even when the message seems distant.

Take and eat, even when you don’t feel hungry.

Go through the motions, especially when the motions are all you have.

And then, may God show up. May your soul find rest and encouragement. May living water quench your thirst. May emptiness give way to satisfaction. May you be formed into the fullness and likeness of Christ Jesus. And may the spiritless become Spirit filled. 

Have Mercy On Me, a Sinner


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.