You Can’t Kick God Out of School

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This is not God.

Whenever there is a school shooting one of the responses I hear goes something like this: We’ve kicked God out of schools, so what do we expect?

The argument suggests that God is sufficiently barred from schools and unable to help with these tragedies. That somehow God is not allowed in our schools, as if God needs an official permission slip.

Let’s set aside the fact that these events don’t happen in countries that are far more secular anywhere close to the rate they happen here. This post isn’t about the how or why school shootings happen.

This is about a very feeble view of God.

To suggest that the hands of Gods are somehow tied because of the pluralization or secularization of our schools is dangerous. If your god is unable to work in schools because they no longer do public prayer or because they teach a particular view of human origins, you need a bigger God.

The God I know is not limited to places where they hang the 10 Commandments on the wall. The God I know is not restricted by walls or doors or boundary lines. This God cannot be kicked out of buildings because some people don’t stop to acknowledge the Creator before the day begins or because certain administrators chose to stop allowing school sponsored Bible study in classrooms.

Is our God that anemic? Is that all it takes to thwart God Almighty?

Forget spiritual warfare, just teach a class on evolution or make space for non-Christian kids and watch as God is weakened like Superman holding kryptonite.

This is not a god worth worshipping. This is not the God of Scripture and certainly not the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

That God showed up in the flesh in the midst a pagan empire. The Romans had many gods and worshipped them in ways contrary to what God wanted for humanity. God showed up anyway.

The early church thrived under persecution from authorities who had no interest in worshipping or acknowledging Jesus. They lost jobs and homes and lives because the powers-that-be weren’t going to let them refuse to bow to Caesar. God showed up anyway.

Abraham was an idol worshipper when God showed up. Adam and Eve were hiding when God showed up. Paul was a Christ-hating murderer when God showed up.

This is how God works.

The Church is growing in places like China where they cannot openly meet for worship or prayer. They have no political power or privilege and certainly no sway over what is taught in schools. God shows up anyway.

If our God is limited to working in people and places where God is already esteemed by all or most people then we are in trouble. There are few places where God can work. And there is little that can be accomplished.

But if our God is the God we see throughout Scripture and in Jesus, the one who moves toward the mess, toward the hard places, toward the people who appear furthest from faithfulness, then we can have incredible hope.

We have hope that God is not only at work in schools, but in all places. That God doesn’t need to wait to be honored to begin setting things right. That God is drawing all people toward redemption. We can have hope that God shows up.

We certainly have a problem in our country, but I wonder if it has more to do with our impotent view of God than the lack of classrooms teaching the Bible as curriculum. I wonder if it is because we’ve reduced God to a good luck charm or a genie we can pull out of a lamp whenever we need something rather than Lord of our lives.

I wonder if we’ve become so accustomed to setting the rules that we’ve forfeited our responsibility to teach our own children who God is and what God desires. I wonder if we’ve traded in a living faith for a set of check-listed actions and beliefs. I wonder if what we say we want and how we actually live are unaligned in any meaningful way.

We don’t need to reclaim the curriculum for God to be taught. We don’t need prayers over the loudspeaker for prayers to happen in classrooms. We don’t need power or position or permission slips for our God to come.

God is here. Present in this world.

And Christians are here too. God is present in them. Every time the doors open Christian students carry the love and truth of Christ with them. Every day teachers spend time teaching addition and Spanish and science and do so with the presence of God within them as well.

God has not been and cannot be removed from schools. Not the God I serve.

So may we know this present and powerful God. May we set aside any small view of God or faith. And may we believe that this God is at work. That this God goes with us to every dark corner, to every dentist office, and to every classroom. May we seek to live faithful to the grace that has been given us regardless of what the world around us does. And may we be part of the solution our country so desperately needs.

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Have Mercy On Me, a Sinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a dangerous place to live.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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