Christian Way of Life Under Attack

And if that statement is in any way shocking to you, perhaps you should re-read Mark, Matthew, Luke, or John. Really, the idea that Christians should be comfy and in-control is an idea that has been squashed since Jesus was telling parables and healing lepers. Well, actually, Jesus was simply continuing on what God had shown the Israelites in the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible).

“But, sir, if we don’t vote and make sure our way of life is fought for by government agencies, then what’ll we do?” some may be asking.

Yes. What shall we do with a mighty God directing our steps through Whom death and sin have been defeated once and for all?

Really, Jacob had this same issue. Yes, we’re still going with Genesis, I write what I read, don’t ya know? See, Rabbi Sacks points out that Jacob had an issue… an identity issue. He wanted to be Esau. Jacob saw that Esau was strong, agile, and had the love of Isaac. Jacob wasn’t really any of those things, but in the first case of identity theft, Jacob dresses as Esau, assumes his identity, and gains a blessing that wasn’t his.

Here’s the blessing meant for Esau that Jacob obtained through deceit: “May God give you/ Of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth,/ Abundance of new grain and wine./ Let peoples serve you,/ And nations bow to you;/ Be master over your brothers,/ And let your mother’s sons bow to you.” Genesis 27.28-29

Here’s the blessing that Isaac gives Jacob when he knows it’s Jacob: ” “May El Shaddai bless you, make you fertile and numerous, so that you become an assembly of peoples. May He grant the blessing of Abraham to you and your offspring, that you may possess the land where you are sojourning, which God assigned to Abraham.” Gen. 28.3-4

These are two very different blessings. Esau’s is one of power and wealth, whereas Jacob’s is the covenant blessing of land and family. In fact, Jacob ends up enacting Esau’s blessing by gifting to Esau flocks, herds, and goods and bowing to Esau seven times. Jacob literally gives back the blessing after God wrestles with him to show him who he really was. Jacob, once he let go of being Esau, became Israel, who refused to let go of God, and who knew God refused to let go of him.

Jesus did not give blessings of wealth or power. In fact, he often thwarted wealth and power, telling people to give it away and become servants. Jesus’ modern follower has gotten very used to holding onto power and covenant. There may come a time, such as now, when he and she have to make a choice what he and she cling to. Will we hold tightly to a blessing that isn’t ours, or will we cling to God and claim our place in the covenant?

So to those who are angry at the answer to how you voted, or whether you voted at all, remind them that God is still God. His is not a democratically elected position. (And thank God for that.)

How do you address the way power works in our culture? How do you model being a servant in your home? Do you have an Esau you are trying to cling to? How is God wrestling you into the person you’re meant to be?

Photo Credit: Raffaellino Bottalla – Meeting between Esau and Jacob – Google Art Project.jpg

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When Your Muscles Ache

Sunday, I played in our church’s men’s flag football game. And if you read the rules, you might think that the proceedings may have been calm, collected, and free from injury. We all know that when a group of men get together to play sports, the heat of the moment will create contact and more than likely injury.

I had fun. I played hard, and even broke the asthma barrier – that point in exercise when muscle fatigue and pain overcomes the chest pain. And I am paying for that fun afternoon as I write this. Sitting feels ok, until I try to stand up and every muscles protests quite loudly. I feel quite decrepit this morning. But, in a way, it’s a good ache. It’s an ache that reminds me that I am alive and pitted myself against strong men and sharpened myself.

I’ve been thinking about God’s name change for Jacob lately. God changed his name to Israel, saying “You have struggled against men and God and prevailed.” But the actual translation of the name Israel might read better as “God struggles with.” And, in a way, from the moment God called Abraham to today, God has been wrestling with his people to transform them into something greater than just human beings. God is in the business of recreation and transformation, and, clearly, has no problem wrestling with us.

When was the last time your spiritual muscles ached? When was the last time you risked, wrestled with darkness and oppression and poverty? When was the last time you threw yourself in the fray on behalf of a friend or acquaintance? When was the last time you really wrestled with God over an issue, a sin, or a doubt?

I may hurt today, but I understand that Sunday’s exertion will lead to a stronger body and a faster mind. I may feel overwhelmed after a wrestling match with God, but I know that it will lead to blessing and transformation.

May your risks, effort, and struggle be blessed with a good ache in your spiritual muscles and a stronger will to resist evil and do good.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, “US Navy 071201-N-5328N-586″

Putting the Blessing in Dysfunctional

I was reading Genesis 29-31 this week and my commentaries struck on an idea.

First, to summarize, Jacob and his family are a mess. They’re a dysfunctional, jealous, lying, cheating, conniving, bragging, deceitful bunch of misfits that drag other people into their family drama. They’re extended family brings the heat as well with their own brand of deceitful trickery, which only adds to the chaos of Jacob’s life.

But here’s the kicker: God still used them. God’s purposes were still being accomplished even in that moral swamp. Judah would grow to become a leader and the ancestor of kings. Joseph would save his family. The Israelites would teach the world how to live and worship the one true God. And how did it all start? With a big, messy family… that God blessed.

Here’s to your messy family. May God bless you and turn your chaos into riches and your sorrow into joy. May he turn your business into productivity, and your rest into refreshment. May he bless your family’s efforts to reach others in His name.

God uses messy families, even yours, even mine.

Photo Credit: FUNnel Vision – FGTeeV: 300 CUPCAKES CHALLENGE! w Surprise FUNnel Vision Kids Get Messy via YouTube

Playing With Your Spouse

I ran across a passage that I love, but had temporarily forgotten about in Genesis 26 today. It comes in the middle of a story about Isaac following in his father’s mistake by trying to pass off his wife as his sister in order to avoid confrontation or threats to his life. Now, this was not intelligent for so many reasons, but let’s get to the positive part.

The passage says that several months after beginning this ruse, someone in authority looks out a window and sees Isaac with Rebekah. Here is where the passage gets interesting. The verb used between them is translated differently in several versions. You might see he was laughing with her, playing with her, or perhaps fondling her. The Hebrew verb used here, though, is similar to the one used of Sarah and Abraham laughing when they are told they will have a son, and Sarah’s laughter upon Isaac’s birth, and also the one most similar to Isaac’s own name.

Isaac here is being himself with his wife. He has no mask, no persona, no facade. He is living up to his name and the two can enjoy that fact. Considering that marriage is of itself a stripping away of the facades, or should be, and a brief return to the unashamed state of the Garden, this laughter and enjoyment makes sense.

As people of faith, we often focus on the negative. We shout out loud over and over again about what we find wrong with the world. Lately, we’ve had plenty of reminders that all is not completely well in the relationship between the genders. But instead of harping on what we shouldn’t do, why don’t we, as adults, model the behavior we want our kids to inherit.

I was blessed with very affectionate parents and got to watch them enjoy joking, laughing, hugging, kissing. It gave me an idea that marriage is supposed to be fun – something to be enjoyed. And I have carried that over into my own marriage. In fact, my wife and I will share kisses and hand holding in front of the kids we minister to. Why? Because ours may be the only positive model of marriage they see. Not to say our marriage is perfect, but we are a team, are affectionate, and have each other’s back – and not all marriages can say those things.

So when faced with talking with your kids about how relationships work, focus on the positive. Spend time on the do’s and not just the do nots

What conversations have you had with your children about relationships, whether that be friendship, romance, or family? How do you positively model marriage and relationships in your own home? How affectionate are you in front of others?

photo: “Under the Veil” via Wikimedia Commons

Outrunning Racism in Borrowed Shoes

Americans have a mythology that has been an identity for a couple of centuries now. The mythology is that American was founded, and sustained, by self-made men who struggled against injustice to establish a land of equality where all would be able to pursue their goals. This is a nice, packaged ideal that has very little grounding in actual history.

America has been won and sustained not by self-made men, but by people who have, from the outset, been opposed to injustice and oppression, but who have often succumbed to the temptation to oppress others. And then that oppression has been fought against, triumphed over, only to be replaced by injustice in a subtler form. This is the American pattern, slowly, but surely, rooting out injustice and replacing it with a sense of equality, not in means or stature, but under the law.

And at the moment we are at a moment of decision. We have reached another boiling point where the felt injustice of one group is threatening the comfort of another. We’ve all heard the anecdotes about conviction rates, prison populations, attacks, shootings, etc. And I could go into the graphic, gritty details, but instead, I want to set a pair of shoes in front of you to try on.

This pair of shoes belong to a black parent. As you wear those shoes, begin to develop a conversation in your head to explain to your young son, who is also black, how life is going to be different for him. Explain to him how he will have to be above reproach in every aspect of his life. Explain to him how his behavior, speech patterns, and way of dress will all be taken into account more so than his white friends. Explain to him that he will need to keep his car in immaculate condition and check it regularly to make sure there is never a reason to be pulled over. Rehearse with him the words he must use when conversing with law enforcement should the need arise.

If you were as uncomfortable imagining that as I was writing it, then we can both admit that there’s a problem. The excuse “I have a black friend” or “I adopted a black child” does not excuse us from facing the reality that others live with daily. I wonder at all of the young black men who haven’t heard from their white parents how reality might be different from expectation.

Our story as people of God should be different than the traditional American story. Our story includes a people who lived in slavery in a strange land in order that they might have respect for the stranger in their own land. Our story includes a man who was excluded from his own people and sentenced to die so that we might identify with the excluded and sentenced to die. Our story is one that from its earliest days until now includes people who suffer and die on account of their belief, so that we will not look down on others who face the same. Our story is one of role-reversal in order to relate to the stranger, the Other, the different. We should be a people who wear other people’s shoes, who walk in them, walk beside them, and work to make a better world.

We are a people who are called to mourn with those who mourn, to love our neighbor, and care for the Other – because they, too, carry the image of God. Can you look into the eye of your black neighbor and tell them that everything is fine and racism doesn’t exist? Can you look into the eye of the Syrian refugee and tell them to go home, when home is a pile of rubble? Can you look into the eyes of your Muslim neighbor and tell them that it’s their individual responsibility that violence happens?

More importantly, can you look through the eyes of your black neighbor and feel the pain of hearing that your experience doesn’t matter? Can you look through the eyes of the Syrian refugee turned away from sanctuary? Can you look through the eyes of your Muslim neighbor and feel the fear at being told “your people” are the problem?

Jesus simply told us that whatever we do for the least of these, we have done for him. Whenever we recognize the suffering of another, we recognize his suffering. Whenever we relieve someone of their burden, we are caring for Jesus.

How have you responded to your children when they ask about the news? What conversations have you had with your children about racism, about strangers, about neighbors, and those different from you? How does your faith affect the way you talk about these things?

photo credit: Running Shoes,  Josiah Mackenzie via  http://www.flickr.com,

Your Gossip Problem

Gossip is the quiet kid at the sin table. He makes sure whatever he does is unassuming, deliberate, and phrased in almost admirable terms. He’s the white-collar criminal of sins, if you will. He will quietly rob you of human dignity and smile during the transaction. He’s also considered a respectable member of society, a top-notch fellow who does the dirty work so others can enjoy the results. And he’s the one most people, especially Christians, tend to secretly enjoy keeping company with.

Where does he show up? Well, he can show up during prayer times – “So and so, you know ‘the drunk,’ needs some prayer right now since he got arrested last night,” or “Pray for miss what’s her face since she’s pregnant and not married to that boyfriend of hers.” He shows up on Facebook posts: “Look at what this pastor did!” “Can you believe what this celebrity just said?” “Aren’t those Christians over there heretics, or what?”

Look, we all have a penchant for curiosity, especially of the morbid type, but we need to be honest with ourselves. Are we really posting things because they are bits of information others need to hear, or are we just eager for someone else to smirk smugly alongside us as we deride and chastise others?

For Christians, this is especially important. Let me be clear. In the middle ages, it may have been necessary to publish polemic (attacking) articles in order to defend orthodox (commonly agreed upon truth) beliefs, in today’s communication-rich world, it’s not as necessary. Whoever needs correcting is a phone call, direct message, or email away. (If an idea is being criticized, it’s one thing. However, most of the shared articles are attacking a person, not an idea.) Chances are whoever is being admonished will never see the article you shared about their alleged heresy or weird spiritual practice, which makes that article nothing more than gossip. Why? Because it’s unhelpful (person in question may never see it), it’s divisive (probably not meant for the person in question, but rather itching ears waiting to pounce), and it’s hurtful. (And “being unable to reach the person” is no excuse. If the author truly acted in love, they would persist like the widow to the judge – not sink to the low standards of some modern speculative journalism.)

So before you share that article, ask a few questions:

Is this about an idea or a person?

If it’s about a person, is it an attack or a dialogue?

Is the article helpful for building up faith, or is it tearing down someone else’s?

Am I sharing this out of sincere love for my fellow Christians?

Gossip is often listed alongside things such as adultery, lying, and murder. And, yet, we often tend to overlook it. God doesn’t. God expects unity among his people. Gossip divides.

Do you discuss people or ideas at home? When you talk about others is it in context of prayer or genuine concern? When you think about your conversations or Facebook posts, do you sense gossip in them? What example are your kids seeing in regards to gossip in your home?