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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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. 

 

On Being Afraid of the Wrong Things.

There are a lot of things I fear. Like windows without blinds (seriously) and heights.

And there are a lot of things I do not fear. Fear Ladder

Like Muslims.

I’m also not afraid of Buddhists or scientists or flying spaghetti monsters.

I’m not afraid of questions or doubt or skepticism.

I’m not scared of any government or capitalist or communist. I’m not even afraid of Trump.

I’m not afraid of refugees or illegal immigrants or legal ones.

I do not fear gay people or trans people or people we can’t categorize in neat and tidy ways.

Along the same lines, I’m not afraid of finding someone in the “wrong” bathroom. I’m just not.

I’m not afraid of political correctness or laws that make room for other people’s belief systems.

I’m not afraid of the super rich or the desperately poor, people on welfare or people in penthouses.

In my greatest moments I’m not even scared of those who wish me harm or those who tell me I’m wrong.

I do my best not to be afraid of people who don’t look like me, act like me, speak like me, or believe like me.

I am, however, afraid of the way I and others like me misrepresent Jesus. I’m afraid people may reject Jesus because they see me and decide if this is what Jesus is about, they want no part of it.

I’m afraid the Kingdom of Me is a whole lot more appealing than the Kingdom of God. I fear that I seek first my reputation and status and rights. I’m scared to think that I would chose safety and security or comfort and complacency over faithfulness.

I’m afraid our commitment to political opinions is stronger than our willingness to “love your neighbor as yourselves.” I’m afraid that our quest for power and position and privilege leaves us overlooking the very people for whom Jesus would be most concerned.

I’m afraid I don’t have enough friends who are prostitutes or tax collectors. I’m fearful I exclude outsiders and those whose lives look messy. I’m afraid I too easily look down on or insult those who look, act, and believe differently.

I’m afraid all our boycotts and clever memes and FWD: FWD: FWD: emails (and blog posts) will do nothing to bring about the world God desires. I’m fearful that we’ve traded Good News for bad news, an eternal perspective for a temporary one.

I’m afraid that I desire to be right more than I desire to be loving.

I’m afraid that when we respond in fear to people, politics, religions, and whatever things are different than us, we are not responding in the way of Christ. I’m afraid that fearing “the other” will leave me only loving myself.

Most of all I’m scared I will raise my kids to be afraid of the people they are called to love. I’m afraid I will so want to save my children’s lives that they will lose the only life that matters in the process.

That terrifies me far more than terrorism does.

As a general rule I avoid ladders and roofs and other things from which the greedy hands of gravity wish to remove me. My discomfort with heights is stronger than my desire to have clean gutters. My fear wins out.

Since fear often determines my behavior I want be sure to fear the right things.

I want to avoid division and exclusion. I want to build bridges, not walls. I want to learn from people who see things differently. I want to hear the stories of those I don’t understand. I want to break bread with people who have dreams and fears of their own; people who have value to my God. 

I long to set aside things I want in order to serve and love the people everyone else seems to fear. I don’t want any part of pushing people away because they vote or live or believe differently than I do. I want less of “us and them” and just a whole lot of “us.”

When we do that we’ll all be better for it. When we do that we’ll look more like Jesus, who fears none and loves all. And I believe when we look more like Jesus everything changes. And when everything changes, there will be nothing left to fear.

On Fear & Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear is a part of our story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will no longer be a slave to fear.

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