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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The Law is the Law

Getty Images, thehill.com

“The law is the law.”

That is what I keep hearing.

The law is the law and there is nothing we can do about it. If the law is bad, well don’t break it, ’cause the law is the law.

Good or bad doesn’t matter. Just or unjust don’t factor in. Cruel or unusual are not the issue at hand.

Because the law is the law.

Which is why Christians don’t celebrate or study the person of Moses and his family’s blatant law breaking by hiding him from the army as a child.

And why we don’t mention the magi, commonly known as the wisemen, at Christmas time, who explicitly broke the king’s orders so that they could spare the life of the boy Jesus.

Because the law is the law.

It’s why we don’t read or study or preach from the letters of that scoundrel the Apostle Paul, who wrote from prison. The guy just couldn’t follow the rules and, hey, the law is the law.

It’s why we don’t mind Jesus being crucified, his disciples being martyred, or the Roman persecution of the early church.

The law is the law. Our hands are tied.

Which is why you’ll never hear of Christians working to change abortion policy. We have laws in place already. And laws are laws.

It’s why we shrug at slavery and Jim Crow.

It’s why we condemn all who harbored Jewish people against direct orders in Nazi occupied Europe.

Law breaking is law breaking is law breaking.

It’s why we don’t lament when folks are arrested or killed for sharing their Christian faith in countries where such an act is illegal.

The law is the law folks, sorry. Shouldn’t have broken it.

And it’s why we apparently shouldn’t speak out to ask our government to stop separating children from their parents at the border.

Because the law is the law.

Regardless of the hurt and hardship. Regardless of the long term consequences. Regardless of the shattered hearts of real life human people desperately searching for a new life.

The law is the law, apparently.

That’s what many of my friends keep saying in defense of this policy. That’s what my friends say who are unable to criticize anything associated with people they voted into office.

But, there is a better way, a better law.

In Romans 13, the text often used to excuse our passivity and the country’s ugliness, the Apostle Paul (who would later be executed for breaking the law) also says:

“…whatever other commands there may be are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Love does no harm to a neighbor.

Love fulfills the law.

This is the law we should be living by. This is the law we should be defending. Particularly if we say we are Jesus people.

I’m not suggesting we have open borders. I’m not suggesting anarchy or doing away with any and all laws. I’m not suggesting that previous administrations haven’t had a hand in unjust practices.

I’m suggesting that this particular policy (which isn’t actually even a law) be stopped. Simple as that.

It does harm. More harm than good.

It is not restorative. It is not just. It is not loving. It is not necessary.

We already have family detention centers. We have ways to make this right while still ensuring people come to our country legally.

We have ways to impact the laws of the land and, even if we didn’t, there are times and places and reasons to oppose laws on the books.

Spare me “the law is the law” and give me “love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Give me concern for our neighbors. Even the ones from across the border. Even the ones we like to dismiss as illegal. Even the ones we think don’t belong.

Because this is the way of the Lord Jesus Christ. The entire law is summed up in this one word:

Love. Your. Neighbor.

He gave no qualifications. No loopholes. No exceptions.

Just one law to sum up all the others.

And hey, the law is the law.

Broken Bones and the Church

Unsplash.com, Harlie Raethel

unsplash.com, Harlie Raethel 

Imagine, if you would, that I have a broken arm and that I have had it for years. I am so used to it being broken that I don’t notice my pain or limitations anymore. But you notice. And you want me to be healthy and whole. In fact, you know I can be healthy and whole. I imagine you’d say something, in fact, I’d expect you to say something. You would be doing so for my own good. And if you just went on ignoring it, I’d question your friendship to me.

It does me no good to ignore the broken bone. It does no good to point out that the other 205 bones in my body are perfectly fine. It does no good to say, “Stop talking about the broken bone and focus on the healthy ones!”

Broken bones do not lower the body’s value, they limit the body’s ability.

Since broken bones can be fixed, ignoring them is self-defeating. Ignoring them is dangerous and will have long term complications. There is treatment and healing available, even if it means a painful re-breaking or loads of physical therapy, I don’t have to live this way.

I say all this because I’ve been told (along with many others) I am overly critical of the Church. I know there is plenty bitterness and resentment out there, but the challenges I give or the critiques I share about the Church are because I love her and want to see her thrive. I believe in the Church. I’ve dedicated my life to her. I’m fighting for her. I want to her to be well.

And I think an honest assessment shows we have some broken bones. We don’t always operate as we can or should. We don’t always reflect the Jesus we worship. I think we have gotten so numb to the pain and the limitations that we don’t realize it most of the time.

We are good at pointing out other people’s brokenness, but when it comes to ours we are much more comfortable pretending or assuming nothing is wrong.

Yes. We have some healthy bones and there are things happening in the Church worth celebrating. But there are some bones that need attention as well. There are parts of our body that are hurting or infected or neglected.

We hear over and over about women who have been mistreated in and because of the Church. We see bitter divisions between people called brother and sister. We ignore or ridicule cries from folk who tell us they are treated unjustly. We are quick to be self-righteous and proud. We’ve given ourselves over to the politics and ideologies of the world. Some of these bones have been broken a really long time.

These things hurt us. They limit us. They keep us from doing what we have been called to do. We cannot fully function with broken bones or infectious disease.

If we are going to actually love all our neighbors…

If we are going to declare that what we believe is truly good news…

If we are going to be the Church that Jesus intended and deserves…

We can’t ignore our corporate brokenness.

It is in addressing that which isn’t right that we can find healing. Healing that will lead to movement, to range of motion, to health. We can then use our Body as designed: to carry burdens, to welcome with arms wide open, to wipe away the tears, to receive and offer grace, to walk in step, to bend in service, to kneel, to follow.

I’m not afraid of giving the Church a bad reputation, I’m afraid of becoming weak and bedridden because we won’t address our own issues. I’m afraid arthritis will set in and we will be unable to move even if we want to. I’m afraid my children will look at a twisted and deformed body and wonder why in the world they would want to belong to something like that.

I love the Church. I love us with all our hurts and warts and idiosyncrasies and peculiarities and messiness. I love the expressions of the Church I see in local congregations and those living Christlike lives. I love us. Really, I do. So much so that I cannot ignore our broken bones.

May we have ears to hear when people tell us they are hurting or unwelcome or unsure. May we awake to the pain and brokenness within our cherished bodies. May we understand the unnecessary limitations we have produced. May we be willing to put in the hard work of repentance and fixedness. And may we find health and wholeness.

Jesus Is Just Too Impractical

White-Jesus-1200x500

We like to invoke his name and wear his cross around our necks, but if we are honest Jesus is a little over the top. We want him to bless us and forgive us, but when it comes to ordering our lives we do just fine ourselves, thank you very much.

Jesus is just too impractical.

I mean, turn the other cheek? Are you kidding me Jesus? Someone hits me I’m hitting them back. In fact, I’m hitting them first if they disrespect me, my mother, or my country. That’ll teach them.

You might have said not to resist an evil person, but I can probably skip that one. I’m sure it was a metaphor.

Don’t charge interest? Lend without expecting something back? Jesus. You were a carpenter, not a banker.

Love your enemies? Don’t even get me started. How can I love a person who wants to hurt me? Our enemies are bad people and they should be blown to hell. Do you expect me to just stand there, and what, get crucified?

Bless those who persecute me? Maybe if they sneeze, but that’s about it. People who persecute me should be persecuted themselves.

Love my neighbor? Have you met my neighbors?

Blessed are the merciful? Jesus you can’t become the CEO or the president or prom king by being merciful. It’s a long way to the top and I have a car payment.

Blessed are the poor? Not in this economy.

Don’t call people names? BUT THEY VOTE THE WRONG WAY.

Seek the kingdom first? No, I gotta do me first. God helps those who help themselves (I read that somewhere in the Bible, didn’t I?).

Tell the truth? Okay, but this meme confirms all my worst suspicions about people who disagree with me, so who cares if it literally bears false witness?

Don’t lust after people? Come on, I’m not hurting anyone. Plus times are different. Liberate yourself Jesus.

Wash feet? Gross. Sell my stuff and give to the poor? I could donate this can of lima beans to a food drive.

Be cautious with my words? Sounds like some snowflakey PC nonsense.

Visit prisoners? I’m busy, they’re sketchy. Feed the hungry? They should get jobs. Welcome strangers? They don’t even speak my language. And what if they are dangerous/make me uncomfortable?

Forgive? Please. I’m not a doormat. Save the sappy sentimentality for those who deserve it.

I mean, all this stuff sounds good spiritually speaking, but Jesus couldn’t have possibly meant for us to live this way, right? Its way too impractical. This is not how the world works.

This is America. We have rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I have the right to defend my house and my family and my stuff. I have the right free speech and the right to vote and the right to compartmentalize my faith as much as I want. I have rights Jesus!

You expect me to deny myself? Take up my cross? No thanks. That’s your territory.

I’ll go to a worship service on Sundays (when I have time and a full 9.5 hours of sleep and it’s not the playoffs). I’ll drop some cash in the offering plate. I’ll even consider volunteering in the nursery. I’ll try to stop lying (in person that is, social media doesn’t count) and I’ll post a verse of the day once in a while. I’ll work on being a decent person.

That should be enough. I’m only human after all.

I’m not actually interested in following you because following you looks nothing like the life I want for myself. It doesn’t look like the American Dream. It doesn’t look easy. It is the opposite of what I would choose to do if left to my own devices.

Which is exactly why I should go ahead and do it anyway.

Because left to my own devices I make a mess. Because the American Dream isn’t as fulfilling as we think. Because idols dress themselves up in things we admire. Because calling something Christian doesn’t make it Christ-like. Because the stuff that works in this broken, unjust world doesn’t work when it comes to what matters most.

Because somewhere deep down inside of me I know that those who cling to their life will lose it and those who can give up their life will find it. Because in my best moments I know that the redemption of all things includes the redemption of me. Because I believe in resurrection and know that evil does not get the last word.

I need to follow Jesus. Not just in words, but in action, in practice, in reality.

Following Jesus and implementing these teachings might get us killed, might cost us a promotion, might mean we have to give up something we really want. It might mean we put ourselves or our families in less than perfect situations. It might mean foregoing my own pleasure or my own rights. It might even mean we have to, ugh, be nice to people who annoy us.

It is all completely, perfectly impractical. And it’s just what we need to set things right. To find the freedom we desire. To find our find purpose. To discover hope and peace. To bring about justice and restoration. To defeat darkness. To see his kingdom come, his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

May we be foolish enough to set aside practicality in order to follow Jesus. Amen. May it be so.

Christmas is Messy

sheep

source: davide ragusa, unsplash.com

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

king

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!

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.