I Am Sure Glad Genghis Khan Wasn’t the Messiah!

I’ve recently begun playing an “empire building” game… mostly because my laptop cannot run anything more recent than 2007. Besides the game’s AI playing a horribly ironic prank on me (making my chosen world leader, Genghis Khan, start on an island with no exit…), it’s been an interesting exercise in considering how I would run a civilization. My tendency is to play defensively and work toward world peace and unity… except with the Genghis Khan playthrough, because that wouldn’t make sense, would it? I do pause and consider my actions before attacking another city…

That aggressive method of world diplomacy goes directly against what I’ve been reading in Zechariah. In between all of the promises of blessing, encouragement to complete the work on the second temple, and charges to live faithfully in regards to one another, one passage jumped out at me. On my first reading, I found myself shocked at the mention of Judah being given so much compassion and mercy by God that they would weep at what their hands had done in fighting off the nations around them and beg for God to spare those same nations that had threatened them.

I sat and meditated on that idea for a while. What kind of compassion would we need to have within us to weep for our enemies… as if they were our only child? What kind of compassion and forgiveness would we need to weep for a terrorist killed in action? Or an abuser, oppressor, or someone else who has harmed us? What kind of heart change is that?

We hear of stories where families forgive the murderer of their loved one. That family may go as far as to fight against the death penalty for a lighter (albeit still severe) sentencing. I wonder what that struggle to forgive looks like… Maybe God still has some work to do on me, but the idea of weeping over that person’s misfortune seems so far out as to seem absurd.

And yet, God’s compassion and mercy are so great that we celebrate His generosity every Christmas with the gift of Jesus. Unlike my Genghis Khan, God chose to inaugurate His Kingdom with a child, with a living testimony, with a sacrifice, and with a resurrection. As powerful as God is, the picture He gives to us is a King entering on the back of a donkey, a King coming to conquer with peace, humility, and liberation. As I look at my own daughter, with her beautiful blue eyes, I wonder how hard Joseph’s world was rocked holding Jesus for the first time. Joseph held a King, a Redeemer, the Messiah.  All the hopes, dreams, and prayers of the Jewish people leading to this. Was it what he expected?

And Mary… was her compassion big enough to weep for those who had crucified her son? Did Joseph have enough to forgive those who called his son crazy, or demon-possessed as Jesus began his ministry?

How is God molding you into a picture of His love and grace, compassion and forgiveness? How do you model compassion to your children?

Advertisements

Christmas Is Coming…

Advent has begun.

As I write this, it is mid-November, and I have been listening to Christmas music for half a month now. This year our church has decided to be a little more low-key about the Christmas season. Our huge Bethelehem Walk is on a break, so for this year I get to savor Christmas. I’ve also had two cups of coffee in quick succession this morning, so I’m pretty excited about life!

The original advent lasted hundreds of years, and not just a month before Christmas. The Jewish people were resting all of their hopes on God’s promises of freedom and an end to the exile. Sure, the physical exile was over, Jews once again lived in Judea and Galilee, and there was a Jewish king on the throne and a high priest in the Temple. But things weren’t right… all the way. The king wasn’t from David’s line. The high priests were a wealthy family who had a hand in politics. Oh, and Rome had its grubby little (well, not so little) paws all over the territory. Rome had a special interest in this region of the world because of Egypt and the surrounding area’s ability to grow wheat to feed a gigantic empire. There was peace on earth and goodwill toward men… so long as you stayed in line, were actually a man, not a slave, and had the coveted status of Roman citizen. So, maybe the Pax Romana had a few caveats…

The Jewish people languished under Roman rule. What did it even mean to be Jewish under Roman rule? How long would God wait to overthrow the Romans and reestablish His Kingdom on earth? Hadn’t the seventy sevens been completed? Hadn’t the time arrived for the anointed one to appear, who would lead Israel to freedom and power, and create a new world where the nations fell under God’s generous rule? Maybe if they followed the rules even more strictly, something would happen. Maybe if they created monastic, apocalyptic communities to purify themselves, something would happen. Maybe if they prayed enough, or sacrificed enough, or were faithful enough, something would happen. But all they could hear was the deafening silence…

One young lady, though, received a visit. She was told to not fear, to find joy in the favor God had given her. She was given an opportunity. And, unlike many of the men of Scripture, she asked one question, and accepted her mission. What was that mission? She was to carry the Son of God. She was to give birth and raise a child who would grow up to be both king and high priest, who would represent Israel in Himself, who would shoulder the burden of the curse of the Law in order to break its power. This child would be God with His people – a more concrete presence than Israel had ever experienced, a walking, talking Temple.

Last year at this time, I was waiting with broken heart to hear two words, “I’m pregnant.” I, too, was anticipating a child, but one who hadn’t been promised. I was heartbroken, feeling exiled myself. I wondered what I needed to do to get God’s attention. I knew where God was, though, present with me as He has always been with His people. He sat with me as I wept, angrily pleaded, and finally accepted my situation. He listened, and let me continue waiting. What are you waiting for? What has you feeling exiled, broken, oppressed?

This year, though, is full of joyful expectation as I look forward to celebrating my little girl’s first Christmas. Don’t read into this that God always grants our requests. Read into it that I had hope over three years of trying and waiting. And my hope did not disappoint. Hope and trust are our greatest gifts, our greatest tools for dealing with the difficult times of life.

We must, like the 1st Century Jewish people, continue to hope against despair. We must stare into the face of the oppressive forces of this world with hope and trust in God firmly in our hearts, minds and hands. We must work and carry on, and day, one hour, one step at a time.

I encourage you to find time this Advent to stop and rest in God’s peace. This time of year can be a struggle, but look for the peace. Look for the moments of quiet anticipation. Maintain hope. Maybe, like Mary, you too can carry Jesus with you through this season.

Do your Christmas plans make time for calm, stillness, and peace? How does your family’s holiday schedule form your child’s priorities?

Give the 9 Some Credit, and the 1 Even More (Luke 17:11-19)

I’m writing this the week before Thanksgiving, and we’ll be covering the story in Luke 17:11-19 where Jesus heals ten lepers and only the one Samaritan comes back to thank Jesus. There’s way more to this story than a simple lesson in politeness and a reminder that 90% of the population doesn’t show gratitude. (Wait… that number seems high.)

First, the story begins by noting that Jesus “continued his journey to Jerusalem.” Luke uses this phrase as a constant reminder, and tension builder that Jesus is on His way not just to Jerusalem, but also to the cross – which should be in the background of each and every story here. Remember, the cross is the moment when God took the curse of the law onto Himself to fulfill the Covenant He had made with Israel back in Exodus, and further back with Abram back in Genesis.

So ten lepers – and leper here is a word that boils down to “really ugly skin condition.” It could’ve been a rash, or it could have been actual leprosy. Regardless, if the skin condition was bad enough, the Mosaic law required that person to live outside the community to keep the community safe, and also to maintain the ritual purity of the people and the Temple.

Jesus responds to the cry for help from the ten men – who were risking quite a bit by coming close – by telling the men to go and see the priest. Now, this is where everyone gets tied up in this story. While on the way, the men realize they’ve been healed, and they hurry on to see the priest, all except one.

Let’s pause here. Jesus here is asking these men to trust, to have faith in God, in Himself. The nine Jewish men did just that – they went on their way, and followed through. Part of their cleansing involved sacrifice, and they probably would have offered fellowship and thanksgiving offerings in gratitude for being healed. These men were well on their way to showing gratitude – and in the proper way laid out by the Mosaic Law.

Now, what about that Samaritan? Sure, we give him marks for coming back and saying thanks directly, but he should get WAY more credit than just for saying “thank you.” See, the Samaritan saw something the Jewish men missed… God in the flesh. While the Jewish men went to praise God in the Temple, where they and their ancestors had met with God for generations, the Samaritan realized that God had met with him in-person in the form of Jesus. The Samaritan threw himself at Jesus’ feet – something normally reserved for kings or, in Jewish practice, God alone. Luke is showing us that the Samaritan noticed God in the midst of his people when the ones looking hardest missed it.

So this Thanksgiving, the most important lesson may be to ask ourselves: “Do we notice when God is present?” Do we realize when God is with us, in our midst, acting to bring His Kingdom here on earth as it is on heaven?

Where have you seen or felt God in your midst this past week? When do you have conversations with your kids about God’s nearness? Are we people who miss the relationship and meeting with God for the protocol? Are we the nine who missed it, or the one who realized what was really happening?

Thanksgiving is coming! Grab the flak jackets!

I’m weird.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way: I have about three news podcasts that I listen to on a daily basis – two American and one UK source for a worldwide perspective. I usually listen to these in the morning, and sometimes my little girl gets to listen along and we’ll have some discussions about what’s going on in the world. And by discussions I mean I try and simplify the topic at hand in such a way that a newborn can grasp. (For real, though, we all know she’s just getting language training at this point by learning speech patterns and the basics of English.) Anyway, one of these podcasts had an interview with a Senator I have a hard time understanding. (Nope, not gonna name names, or give that much info about it. Read into it what you like.) I looked down at the precious eyes of my baby girl and said, “And what we’re doing now is listening to someone we don’t completely agree with because that’s the kind of people we are.” And I sure do hope I model that behavior as much as I preach it.

That most American of holidays is approaching – Thanksgiving. We’re all already dreaming of turkey, ham, potatoes, sides, rolls, desserts, and the millions of pounds of butter that will be used over the course of that week. (What? You don’t celebrate for a whole week? Then I guess you aren’t very grateful, are you?) I also know that many people dread this holiday as a time when speech must be very guarded or arguments will explode. The only blessing I have for you is this: may your conversations have more civility than social media. I worry about how family gatherings or other physical social meetings may change in this culture of outrage, perpetual anger, and general frustration. I know I’ve found myself on more than one occasion keeping my trap shut to avoid any conflict. Instead, I listen. I try to hear what the other person is saying, to stop and really consider the words, their motivation, source, heart. Learning is one of my hobbies, and listening is the best way to learn, in my opinion.

I also enjoy having misconceptions busted. Sure, it’s jarring, but there’s a sense of fun and adventure when confronted by the truth. (And it bothers me that the word and concept of truth have become such a contentious issue.) I love the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. So I listen. I try hard to listen without judgment or creating my counter-argument. I may learn something and be able to better understand a topic, or at the very least the other side’s view.

This season throws us all into a lot of situations with people we may disagree with on a theological, political, philosophical, culinary, or some other basis. We should be willing to sit, break bread, and experience them. The experience may be joyful, or painful, but either way, be present – be welcoming.

When do you model acceptance of others, even without agreeing with them, to your kids? How do your family gatherings look: are they places of peace and active love, or are they places of anger and dissension? What steps could you take to prepare yourself to be better able to listen and welcome?

So I Guess the Church Needs to Talk About Sexual Assault?

There are so many times in my life when I ask the question, “Do we really have to say this out loud?” I ask this when I have to remind a child that poking their injury will indeed continue to cause pain and they should probably stop. And now we apparently have to say, to grown men of all people, that sexual assault, rape, and pedophilia are not ok and have never been ok. I would say I have no words, but you all know that’d be a lie.

The news has really been dealing with the concept of sexual harassment and assault lately. The sad fact is that generations of women have grown up receiving warnings of the “big bad wolves” of the world, being told “it’s just the way things are” and “boys will be boys.” It’s a shame, really. As a man, my parents raised me to treat women with respect, as human beings, not as something to be handled with kid gloves. Sure, I was taught to hold open a door and do what I can to make them comfortable, but that also applied to how I was to treat men as well. I was taught the Philippians 2 method – consider others better than myself.

I have heard that many of these allegations are politically motivated. I would disagree and say that this is the first time that women have felt safe enough and believed enough to actually come forward with these things. Going through sexual assault brings with it a lot of shame and self-doubt, which makes talking about the experience difficult. And, previous to now, most women were told to sit down and be quiet and not  mess up some guy’s career or life. This year, however, from sheer number of allegations alone, several high-profile men’s actions were brought to light: Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and more. Women finally have a society/culture they feel safer sharing their stories.

I would love to say that now that the process of outing these men has begun we can finally put all of this to rest and proclaim throughout the land that women will never have to deal with harassment and assault ever again; however, that would be naïve. It would also be naïve to think that there aren’t still men who will do whatever they want as long as they feel their power or cunning can shield them from repercussions. Women cannot be the only ones fighting this battle, defending themselves, decrying their persecutors with no one listening or taking them seriously until the overwhelming weight of multitudinous testimonies finally forces doubt aside by sheer volume.

The church should really stand up and treat sexual misconduct like this with the seriousness it deserves. We should follow Jesus’ example, who believed women, relied on women for material support during his ministry, and took their side in disputes. (See John 8, the story of the women caught in adultery. I have always found it telling that she was caught, but the man was nowhere to be found, which showed the religious people’s priorities.) Jesus’ message was one that each person was to be seen as having value, as being worth our time, as being a creation and child of God. Even the lopsided equality we have now is due to the inherent value placed on each human being in Judeo-Christian theology: from Exodus’s and Deuteronomy’s commands to look after the weak, powerless and foreigner as well as the many protections for women, to Jesus’ treatment of women and the role of women in the early church.

We, as the church, should not tolerate this kind of treatment of women – the crown jewel of creation. (Artist’s final creations are considered the master work, and women were created last, the finest part of creation.) We should take women at their word when they claim harassment. (I am well aware of the “crying wolf” that is often cited here to counter allegations. Those cases should be handled on an individual basis, and not used as a way to discredit half the population. And ask yourself, how many people would be willing to wreck their reputation, job prospects, and bring shame on their family on the slim chance that someone believes them and acts against a perpetrator?) We, as the church, should take the lead in educating men on consent, common decency, and that sexual misconduct of this nature is a zero-tolerance situation. We should remind women that they have a right to say “no” to any unwanted contact, that they have a right to speak up and be believed, and that their personhood is not threatened by having suffered. Women should expect to be sheltered and protected by the church after dealing with abuse, assault, or harassment. We should neither give men the benefit of the doubt just because they’re men, nor doubt women because they’re women. As a society, we’ve known about this stuff for far too long without doing a single thing about it. As a church, we should feel great shame about the lack of attention we have given to women who have suffered and persevered under abuse, assault, and harassment. We should repent, and begin the hard work of honestly evaluating the way we as a church and society handle these cases, and more importantly how we treat fellow human beings who have dealt with the pain and shame that comes from these situations.

And, sure, we can have guidelines like the Billy Graham rule and other fences around these situations, and can follow proper protocol, but it boils down to a heart issue – especially in men. Jesus said that if we think just following rules will prevent sin, go ahead and cut off every limb and cut out every sensory organ, making yourself physically incapable of breaking any rules… and become the most black-hearted, sin riddled torso that ever lived. The heart/attitude is the root of action. Change the hearts, change the minds, and change the culture.

How do you talk to your kids about consent, sex, and how to treat others? Have you discussed with your kids what to do in situations where sexual harassment or assault happen? Have you thought about how to respond if someone confides abuse, assault, or harassment to you? Have you thought about how to respond if your child confides abuse, assault, or harassment to you?

Remember, how you talk about those who have survived abuse, assault, and harassment (alleged or otherwise) will decide whether or not your child feels safe talking to you about their own experiences. Will your child feel safe to talk in your home?

A Letter from a Newly Promoted Devil

(Just to be clear, the following letter fell into my possession through digital means. Whether it was sent erroneously or not, I’ll never know. The contents may be a little disturbing, but it seemed better to share than to keep to myself.)

Most Honorable Undersecretary Screwtape,

I must admit my surprise at being offered the position of Head of Human Family Degradation. I am most proud to know that my work has finally received some recognition after working tirelessly the past few decades on my pet projects while also handling normal tempt work. I do, however, understand that your work is well-renowned in the Lower Realms and I would like your advice on one or two proposals.

First, I have an underarching vision for my Department, which I hope will please you and our Ruler Below. Often times we must seek out our historical work and bring it to bear on these more modern times. Children, I believe, have for too long enjoyed personhood. It is my belief that by working to erode that personhood we can again place them in the category of “possessions” in the minds of their parents, thereby stripping them of any importance they might have in the life of the family, and especially in the church.

What I specifically propose is to make them honored trophies, meant only for show, and very little for interacting. See, my goal is to shift parent’s perspectives to focus on their child as a point of pride and measure of their own self worth. In this regard, a child’s success or failure reflects entirely onto the parent. Parents will then seek every opportunity to improve their child, and discover their gifts and talents, not for the child’s sake, but to protect their own fragile pride. Parents will seek every chance and fill a child’s schedule with things that will improve their chances for college, work, schooling, etc. Many will even completely forego church meetings in order to seek the betterment of their child. (This does, in effect, also teach the child to not prioritize their relationship to God or the local church, which is in our favor.) Once the parent has thoroughly invested their entire being into the child, children then reach the teenage years and begin to exert their independence. This, I propose, is the crucial point where we subtly influence (the word “temptation” is so passe) the parent to work all the more to bring the child under the control of parental expectation. This way we begin to build a wall between child and parent so that every interaction is pain and frustration,  hopefully creating a bitterness that will continue on into the child’s adulthood. In the experimental phase, I was excited to watch several young adults leave their families, and the church altogether, over this built up resentment – and at that point nursing a grudge is something even our dumbest trainees can manage.

My plan is a more elegant way of stripping children of their personhood and choice than my predecessors who simply created a culture that lumped children in just above the slave population. (And I commend the work of the Human Chattel Department’s work in continuing slavery and the buying and selling of slaves while convincing society at large to congratulate itself on eradicating it.) Instead, the same status can be imbued to children by simply having parents view them as a means to prestige, instead of actual humans. (The later we can have humans recognize personhood in children creates more opportunities for simply exterminating that kind of joy, wonder, and innocence that reminds humans of our Enemy.)

Now, my next proposal, which I present to you in order to aid in your work. I do believe you pioneered the method of the slow descent to the Lower Realms. (Again, “hell” has become a dirty word in modern Christianity, and most don’t even understand the point of our efforts anymore.) I would recommend applying this particular method to the Church at large. Sure, there will be those blasted prophets who seek to remind the Church of her Lord, but most people choose to not listen anymore – and many don’t even think prophets exist in the modern world! I say make the Church comfortable. Give them a leader of government that pays them lip service and makes them feel safe. Give them cushy seats and the desire to set their own direction instead of listening to the Gospel. We’ve already seen many local congregations admirably developing the infernal virtues of bigotry, hatred, and ignorance – to great effect of continuing the oppressive systems you and your colleagues so deftly set up years ago. Once we’ve lured the church into a place of comfort, power, and complacency, again it is simple maintenance and a subtle shift in wording to maintain that state. Tickling itching ears and stuffing them when necessary is easy enough to accomplish for a moderately trained tempter.

Finally, the work done on nearly silencing half of the Church has been a master stroke that has lasted generations! I still cannot believe we have managed to keep women silent in the church for as long as we have! We can do better, though. We must have churches silence those who are young, or innovators, or evangelistic. Once we have beaten them down into sullen silence, we can continue the ongoing work of fracturing the congregations down more and more. And the beauty of the whole scenario is that we can make use of each person’s own sense of duty to God and personal righteousness to fuel all of the wickedness! They truly believe they are doing God’s will by whining, complaining, blackmailing the leadership with money, shouting angrily, disrupting the worship time (which whoever created a culture where worship happens only one hour a week must still be resting on those laurels), and angrily denouncing their fellow brothers and sisters!  At the moment, there are multiple generations all vying for attention – and we should let them all have it. Throw congregations into confusion about who needs what. While they’re focused squarely on how to do something with the members inside their walls, we can rest easy knowing that their focus surely isn’t on those who have never heard of Jesus. Instead, the leadership will be tied up in methods, while, as stated before, the congregation will feel no obligation to evangelize personally because they are comfortable and realize that anyone new will only change things more.

I know these proposals lack any real depth or detailed planning, but I did want to run them by such a distinguished official before beginning work in earnest on them. And I know some of them may not seem to fall under my jurisdiction, but the more we can fracture and disrupt churches the less important children will be and so families will not have the support that comes from belonging to a congregation.

Sincerely Yours,

Molech, III

 

Four Ways to Use Halloween as a Christian Parent

Every year a debate ensues about whether or not good Christians should involve themselves with Halloween. “Isn’t it devil worship?” some cry. “It’s harmless fun,” shout others. Meanwhile, somebody else just got the last good candy bar and left nothing but tiny bags of candy corn in the treat bag. (Candy corn and circus peanuts, though, may have been created by the devil as a snare – unflavored sugar molded into unholy mockeries of their namesakes.) But can this seemingly creepy holiday be used for anything other than greed, cavities, and celebrating the darkness? I’d say, yes.

Coming to Grips with Mortality

In the affluent West, we often don’t consider the finality of life and our own looming mortality. Most of us could go weeks without having anyone we know die. Some areas of the world, though, watch death take their loved ones at a rapid pace. Our ancestors faced this reality on a regular basis, and they took whatever chance they coudl to host a raucous party. Why? Because winter was on the horizon and who knew if everyone would survive the season. Skulls and death have always been a motif of Halloween, and remind us, subtly, that we all must face death someday. Not to say that death is any friend to us, but death itself has been conquered. Christians have nothing to fear from death, and may even find some solace in laughing in its direction while stuffing another Snickers in our face. (I prefer Twix for my own chuckle session if anyone was wondering.) In fact, the Christian Calendar celebrates this period as a time to reflect on the Saints that lived exemplary lives in service to God and others. All Hallows Eve, a time to remember those who have gone before and the impact they made on our lives, a moment of prayer, of thanksgiving.

Pray While You Trick-or-Treat

Prayer? On Halloween? Of course! See, the act of going from house to house begging for treats has a long history. (Shorter in North America, but the UK has a longer history with this sort of celebration.) In those old celebrations of All Hallow’s Eve, the poor would often go by the houses of the rich and receive food in exchange for prayers. (On that note, if you’d like to bring me lunch, I’d be happy to dedicate some prayer time to you and your needs any day of the week.) So, what if you and your kids had a prayer ready to pray over each house you visit? Sure, it may take some extra time, and may fall through a few houses in as the excitement builds (or as kids start tiring,) but what a difference that might make for your kids and the families you pray over!

Costume Talks

What’s in a costume? (Hopefully some extra layers this year, it’s been CHILLY!) The costume tradition comes down to us from several directions, but one is the dressing up as saints to honor their memory. Sure, your kids probably won’t ask to dress as St. Nikolas or Athanasius, or Teresa of Avila, but what role models do your kids have in their lives? Whether fictional or real, is there someone your child looks up to and wants to embody that person’s character? Or if you’ve picked the costume already, ask your kid why she chose what she did? Why did that character stick out to him? (Or you can go straight Scriptural on everyone like my Youth Minister growing up who dressed in a burlap sack with the word “rice” painted on the front… You know, a “living sack-of-rice”[sacrifice].” Romans 12.1)

Making Memories

Halloween was always fun with my family. From my brother being dressed as a Hershey Kiss when he was little and being fascinated by the white tights that came with it, saying “Pretty legs,” (sorry, bro, still funny,) to the Harry Potter costume my mom scratched together before Harry Potter got huge and you could find licensed stuff everywhere, my family had fun figuring out what we’d be and spending time together. We’d often make it a big family gathering with all the aunts, uncles, cousins, and some extras and have a party so we’d have something to do before and after trick or treating. The memories made on those occasions stick with me even now.

Halloween can be a great time with your kids. Be intentional with every holiday and chance to make memories. Sure, it can be a little creepy, and a little morbid. And some people do go a little overboard and spend a little too much time in the deep dark. Instead, let’s focus on the positives and make sure that we make the most of the time we have with our kids.

Oh, and eat candy. Lots of candy.

(Now I want a Twix… I wonder if Halloween candy’s on sale yet?)