We Have No King But Caesar

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Credit: Scarlet Ellis, unsplash.com

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!

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I Need a New Gym: A Short Parable

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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 every.single.day (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.

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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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a dangerous place to live.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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

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.

What Kaepernick, Immigrants, Republicans, and You Have In Common

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source: generationnblog.wordpress.com

There have been several stories in the news over the past few days that have bothered me:

I have this question: What is wrong with us? How has this become the way we respond to people who are different? It isn’t that we are just so passionate or a little too polarized. These things speak to a lack of decency and a seemingly increasing inability to see value in other people. This is not okay and we need to reconsider some things to bring it a stop.

So let’s start with the basics.

What do Colin Kaepernick, Republican campaign workers, and Somalian refugees have in common? They are human beings. Just like the people who responded to them in evil ways.

And being a human means a few things. It means they are someone’s son or daughter. They could be someone’s mother or father, aunt or uncle, brother or sister, grandfather or friend. They are loved by people. They matter to somebody. They are connected to others.

Being human means they have hopes and dreams and fears. They have plans for their kids. Their dogs are counting on them to be home in time to let them outside. They have projects around the house that need attention. They hate when their cereal gets soggy. They have seasonal allergies. They are real people.

We have to remember that everyone is a person first. It seems simple, but it’s not.  They are a person before they are a statistic, before they are a candidate, before they are a Christian or a Muslim, before they are “all that is wrong with America today.” They are flesh and blood, heart and soul, people.

They may make you irate, they may do things you consider immoral, they may vote from opposite worldviews, and they may be different than you in every way, but they are people. Which means you have something in common with them. If we can start with our common humanity, perhaps we can begin to move toward something better than hate and division.

In the book To Kill a Mockingbird Scout quips, “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” Her brother dismisses her as young and naïve, but I think she is on to something.

There are a lot of ways I may be different from another person. Religion, politics, economics, culture. Some of those differences are things I am not able to set aside. I can’t or won’t change who I am in a lot of ways. For instance, I will never be a New York Yankees fan. This is unthinkable. I have principles. But it doesn’t mean that I have to reject the humanity of those who support that team. They are folks just like me.

Despite our differences, we share something first. And it’s not just that we share tangible things like skin and bones, but there is something deeper that connects us all and informs the way we should treat one another.

The Scriptures say that people are made in the image of God. All people. Not just a select few, not just the ones with the right beliefs. All of them. It extends to all political parties and sports fans and nationalities. It crosses religious divides and language barriers and class systems. If you are human, you bear the image of God.

So I can’t hate you. We have too much in common. We are image bearers. We are people. All of us. And people are meant to be loved.

For me and my tribe, the followers of Jesus, this is not optional. Not one bit. Even if we are confident that protesters and party leaders and immigrants are the enemy, Jesus says to love them anyway. In fact, the more we are convinced they are the enemy, the more our love toward them should grow. That is the way of Jesus.

I believe the more we look at our story, the more we see all the things we share universally. For all have sinned. For God so loved the whole world. Good news of great joy for all people. There is plenty here for us to build on.

So let us start with what we have in common. Let’s start with the fact that we are people. We are all folks. Even when we are different, even when we disagree, even when we are confident we are in the right.

We have got to do better. We have to refuse to be part of the continued dehumanization of “the other.” We cannot allow our world to be a place where people are hated or dismissed or hurt because they vote differently or worship differently or think differently or have a different skin color. We have far too much in common for that to continue.

You and I must remember our shared humanity with the people on the news and the people across town and the people around the world. We share something with the person who is driving much.too.slowly when you are in a hurry. With the waiter who is neglecting your long empty sweet tea. We share some things in common with the annoying guy at work. With refugees and Democrats and The Donald. With the people we don’t understand. With our neighbors.

They are human. Just like you. They aren’t perfect. Just like you. They have experiences and stories. They have hopes and fears. Just like you. They aggravate someone. Just like you. They are made in the image of God. Jesus died for them. They are meant to be loved. Just like you.

Let’s start there and see if we can’t make this world a better place for everyone. Let’s set aside as much “us and them” language as we can and stick to the things that make us “us.” Let’s see the shared humanity in everyone we meet.