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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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.

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!

Advent: Wait

(This post first appeared on HuffPost Blogs: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/advent-wait_us_5a1cb465e4b07bcab2c6996a)

Recently my four year old needed to use the bathroom while we were out to lunch. There was a wait for the men’s room and no line for the women’s. He did the expedient thing and used the women’s.

Waiting is seldom fun. We all have better things to do than to wait in line or be stuck in traffic or wait for the cable guy to show up.

Sometimes our impatience is a result of the hurry we are in. Sometimes, like my son, we need to GO RIGHT NOW. Sometimes we think waiting is beneath us. Sometimes it is simply because waiting is dull and life-sucking.

“Wait” is a difficult word to hear in our right now world.

Wait.

Wait for the light to change. Wait for the check to clear. Wait for the hour hand to hit 5 o’clock. Wait for the elevator to come. Wait for a text response (we know you saw it).

Wait.

Wait for the pregnancy test to reveal news or no news. Wait for the uncomfortable truth to finally be revealed. Wait for our fairy tale ending. Wait for the other shoe to drop. Wait until next year, next time.

Wait.

Wait for wrongs to be made right. Wait for things like cancer and murder and terror and sexual assault to be swallowed up forever. Wait for the chains of addiction to be broken. Wait for our sons and daughters to come home. Wait for answers to long-prayed prayers.

Wait for the darkness to give way to light.

We wait.

We wait in the tension of the already and the not yet. We wait because, as my wife will preach this Sunday, Christ has come and Christ will come again.

Christ has come. His Kingdom has been inaugurated. It is here amongst us, close enough to touch. And Christ is coming again. His Kingdom is not yet fully realized, but will be one day. He will make all things new.

And until that happens, we wait.

But we do not wait idly.

This type of waiting is about preparation. We need not sit in our pews and shrug our shoulders at a struggling world. We actively work and pursue and seek God’s Kingdom in our hearts and on earth as it is in heaven.

We do all we can and cry out to God for the rest. In our waiting we hope and lament and ache and pray for all that is broken to be mended. In our waiting we do not despair. In our waiting we trust that God is up to something.

Because this type of waiting is also about expectation.

In Advent the Church waits in expectation, in anticipation that Christ is coming. That this newborn babe in a manger is going to do a new thing in us and a new thing in the world. We wait with bated-breath for our long expected Jesus who brings good news of great joy for all people.

And we await his return. For the day when all waiting will be banished forever. Hallelujah. When we finally and fully find our rest in him.

This wait will not last forever, but this wait is worth it.

Waiting reminds us that we are not in charge. It reminds us that we don’t know best. This wait instills in us a very real need for our God. For Someone to come and fix all that we have broken. To make right all that is bent within and around us.

So this year don’t skip the line. Don’t hurry past. Don’t jump to the end. Don’t grab for microwave answers.

Wait.

Prepare. Expect. Long. Anticipate. Hope.

And believe.

Christ has come and Christ is coming again. I’m staking all I have on that. I’m here hoping and waiting for Christ to come in our hearts and homes, in our marriages and in our neighborhoods and in our public squares and perhaps even in our churches. I am waiting and trusting for the faithful love of God to rule and reign in all places and people.

The psalmist says it best:

I cry out to you from the depths, Lord— my Lord, listen to my voice! Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy! If you kept track of sins, Lord— my Lord, who would stand a chance? But forgiveness is with you— that’s why you are honored.

I hope, Lord. My whole being hopes, and I wait for God’s promise. My whole being waits for my Lord— more than the night watch waits for morning; yes, more than the night watch waits for morning!

Israel, wait for the Lord! Because faithful love is with the Lord; because great redemption is with our God! He is the one who will redeem Israel from all its sin.

(Psalm 130, Common English Bible)

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.