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.

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Jesus Is Just Too Impractical

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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

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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

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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!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

O Come All Ye (Not So) Faithful

invitedOne of my favorite Christmas carols begins with the line, O, come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. I imagine shepherds and wise men singing these words and asking others to join them as they visit the newborn and long-expected Savior. It is an invitation to gather around Jesus to celebrate his coming. Come all you faithful.

But what about the not-so-faithful? Are they invited as well? Can only the joyful and triumphant come to Jesus? If so the guest list will be remarkably small. Even those who are the most enthusiastic about Jesus are at times unfaithful. We all fail to live up to our own standards, let alone God’s. We’ve all felt defeated. Honestly, some of us find ourselves here quite often.

As we read the gospels we find that the invitation is much broader than the faithful and joyful. There we see that it is Christ himself who does the inviting. Jesus reveals that his kingdom and his table and his grace are for all people. That he came for the whole world and he invites any and all to come to him. Jesus embodies a love that is for people wherever and whoever they may be.

Sometimes we don’t communicate that message very well. Sometimes we exclude folks who are messy or who sin differently than we do. Sometimes we find it difficult to make room for people who aren’t just like us. Sometimes we act as if we’ve been faithful when we haven’t. Sometimes we pretend to be joyful and triumphant when we are anything but. Sometimes our behavior builds barriers between Jesus and the people he loves.

But Jesus is better than that. And its his party, not ours. And he says you’re invited.

So yes, come all ye faithful. And come all ye not so faithful too.

Come all you who feel defeated and who feel hopeless.

Come all who are worn out and carry heavy burdens.

Come you who are stressed and at the end of your rope.

Come all who feel dirty and unlovable.

Come you who grieve.

Come wise men with gifts fit for a king.

And come drummer boys with nothing of value to bring.

Come lepers and tax collectors and prostitutes.

Come you who feel overlooked or pushed out or rejected.

Come shepherds and doctors and inn keepers and waitresses.

Come people from every tribe and every tongue. Come young and old.

Come you who feel betrayed. And you have done the betraying.

Come all who blew it this year. And last year.

Come doubters and skeptics. Come with your questions and your intellect.

Come all who hunger and thirst for something more.

Come all of you with baggage.

Come all of you with fear.

Come you with broken hearts and shattered dreams.

Come you have already quit. And those who wish they could.

Come refugees and CEOs.

Come you who are enemies. Come you who are strangers.

Come you anxious and come you hiding behind a mask.

Come you who can barely muster a prayer and you who cry out daily.

Come wanderers and seekers, legalists and charlatans.

Come me. Come you.

“Come and behold him, born the King of Angels.”

Come and see that the Lord is good.

Come and find hope and help and healing.

Come find rest.

Come and find meaning.

Come and find belonging, find family.

Come find forgiveness and salvation.

Come and find light.

Come find a fresh start.

Come and find grace.

Come and find Jesus. He is Christ the Lord.

When you come you will find that he is better than we have demonstrated and more marvelous than we deserve. He is trustworthy and he is true. He is for us. He is with us.

And you, whoever you are and wherever you’re at or however you feel, are invited. Come.

Advent: Hope for a Dark World

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Candles. Mike Labrum, unsplash.com

Turn on the news. Pull up your Facebook feed. Go outside. The world is a dark and messy place. It is full of destruction and darkness and death.

Battles rage around the globe. In Aleppo, Syria not a single hospital has avoided bombing. In the United States there are approximately 415,000 children in foster care, mostly due to the harmful choices parents have made. Families fleeing war wash up on foreign shores. 1 in 3 women in the world today is a victim of physical and/or sexual violence. We are still a nation viciously divided by politics and race and culture.

None of those things are part of the world that God intended. None of them are welcome here. And one day, all them will be defeated.

The ancient prophet Isaiah wrote these words about that one day:

The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2)

No more war. No more violence. No more greed induced destruction. No more hate.

The things we once used for harm will now be used for nourishment. We’ll turn our bombs into flower pots and machine guns into shovels. We’ll turn our tanks into merry go rounds and our jails into libraries. One day we’ll use our protest signs to roast marshmallows and the police will use their batons for a game of stickball.

This is not some crazy pipe dream. This is not some hippy fantasy. This is God’s plan and vision for the world.

This Advent we put our hope in that vision. And while God’s vision isn’t fully realized yet, it has begun.

It begins with the coming of Christ. A babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. It is realized when the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed and the lonely are loved. It breaks through when forgiveness is found and lost sons and daughters come home.

It doesn’t just happen in our churches. It happens in our day to day. It doesn’t just happen one day way off in the future. It happens now in our hearts and in our homes.

If one day we will put away our weapons, perhaps we should put them away today. Maybe we don’t fight with swords or guns but we’ve likely wounded and cut with our words. We’ve likely caused pain and destruction in the way in which we treat others. Lets beat our words and thoughts into things that bring encouragement and growth.

If one day all wrongs will be made right and all enemies will become friends and all strangers will become neighbors, then lets work to make that a reality today.

If one day peace will reign, then I want to begin to realize that peace today. I want to be first in line to make it a reality in my world.

We have hope that God will make all things right. That justice will roll down like a mighty river. That the things that now destroy will one day be destroyed. That darkness will ultimately give way to light.

That is our hope. And that is our mission. We don’t just live with hope, we work toward that hope. With expectation. With anticipation.

We live and work with a holy ache for the world as it should be. We put in the blood, sweat, and tears to join God in the redemptive mission to reconcile all things.

We put our hope in Christ and therefore reject the idea that we can hate our enemies. We put our hope in Christ and we live as ones who cannot be finally defeated. We put our hope in Christ and lay down our rights. We put our hope in Christ and live as ambassadors of God’s Kingdom and work to bring about the beautiful vision laid out by Isaiah.

This Advent season join in God’s vision to bring all people together and to bring an end to the wars that rage on the news and in our hearts and in our homes.

Let’s walk in the light. Let’s defeat darkness little by little, candle by candle. Let’s see the world as God intended. Let’s work toward that end. Let’s hope relentlessly and let’s be that hope with skin on.