What if you could dash it all to pieces… and start over?

There’s been a lot of anger surrounding ideas concerning immigration, racism, sexual assault, consent, abuse, and so many other issues I’m having a hard time remembering which one of them has priority at the moment. It can get difficult to trek through all of these issues, but I had a thought the other day to help deal with some of these. It’s an exercise even kids can do.

Have you ever asked yourself what a perfect society would look like? Have you ever gone through the exercise of deciding how you would build America if you could do it all over again? What would you keep? What would you scrap? What do you think your kids would say in response to that question?

Now, there are some people who would say that America is fine, as is. I wonder about those people. Seriously? There are absolutely no problems that need fixing either present or historically speaking?

Try the exercise and ask specific questions. Start with the fun ones. What would be the national style of food? What language would your country speak? Would you have specific national clothing? What would be the most popular books or movies? Who would be the people celebrated in your country? And after you’ve got the fun stuff talk about, move on to the difficult stuff…

What style of government would you have? What responsibilities would that government have? What would you do about poverty? How would you handle immigration? How would you handle diplomacy with other nations? What would your cities look like? Who would manage the resources of your land? How would you avoid extreme inequality? How would you regulate industry? What would your justice and prison system look like? How would you treat criminals? How would you handle healthcare and illness?

It’s easy to just copy and paste whatever our current US system is doing. Often times we don’t recognize our own blind spots and weaknesses until we do an activity like this. Which is more important, infrastructure or military, freedom or order, compassion or justice? Asking ourselves what we see as priorities for life can give us insight into ourselves as individuals as well.

While I would like to sit here and go on and on about my personal beliefs and how Scripture and church tradition as well as wisdom from people I trust has guided the development of those beliefs, it wouldn’t be productive. See, I understand that a blog doesn’t have the kind of punch to change someone’s mind… but you do. Can you hold your beliefs and views under extreme scrutiny, comparing each detail to Scripture, to Jesus, and come out with all of them in tact?

I’m not going to get all cliche and ask, “How would Jesus vote?” Instead, I’ll just ask whether or not our society, our families, our churches reflect Jesus’ conception of the Kingdom? Do our lives look as though “His Kingdom [has] come?” Or do our lives look more like that other extremity?

What will you change to help your family better reflect the Kingdom? How will you act to help your community better reflect the Kingdom? How will you engage your family to serve the city around you?

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You May Have an Idol in Your House an Not Even Know It!

Throughout the Bible, God’s main concern is where His people are placing their trust and worship. Israel found itself constantly caught in an affair of worship with false gods, and Jesus and Paul were usually challenging what it meant to worship God in truth and in spirit. So what about today? We’ve solved our worship problem… right?

I will admit that today I am tired. I have received a visit from my old friend A. Sinus Infection last night and we are currently having tea together in my office. (He always overstays his welcome, and as a friend, I call him “jerkface.” He doesn’t seem to mind or get the hint to leave.) Regardless, I have reached the end of my processing ability for the news lately… or maybe I’ve just reached the end of my processing ability for the reaction to the news.

To begin, I am in Numbers right now, which deals with the struggles of godly leadership and the perils of ungodly leadership. I have seen in the before and after shots what effect the presidency has on the men who have occupied the role. I cannot imagine the stress and massive sense of responsibility that comes with that office. That said, I have little to no faith that things will change overly much for good or ill regardless of who’s in the White House. I’ve said before, America boasts a government for, of, and by the people, so the guy in the big chair is simply the byproduct of whatever the country may be feeling, not necessarily the ultimate decider of its destiny.

I know some of my readers feel otherwise. I know some people on Facebook who seem to believe that any opposing political viewpoint is a personal attack. Why is it a personal attack, I wonder? It could be that one is simply interested in a fair and balanced examination of the facts, taking into account facts, experience, and feelings? Maybe it’s to challenge blind faith? Or maybe, because our trust is placed in something earthly, mortal, fallible, and we’re scared we may be proven wrong?

When Israel asked for a king, God gave them one, along with the caveat of what happens when kings come into power. (It’s a long, nasty list.) But God had a different plan in mind from the beginning. He wanted His people to be royal priests, responsible for caring for one another and creation while also giving due glory to God. Idolatry is handing one or both of those responsibilities to something, or someone else.

Where is your trust? Are you handing your God-given authority and responsibility to something or someone else? Worship is more than singing, worship is a lifestyle of reflection – of God into the world and praise back to God. When we place our trust and hand over our power to institutions, persons, or objects, that’s where we are giving our praise and worship, and that’s who, or what, we’re reflecting back into the world.

Stop and reflect the next time you become angry when you bump up against an opposing viewpoint and become angry or defensive. Why are you feeling that way? Does it lead to positive action sustained by love of others? Does it lead to dominance-seeking exchanges of words and articles? If it’s the latter… maybe you should start to wonder if your worship is in the wrong place…

How do your reactions with your children and family show where your worship is going? How do your priorities illustrate that you take your responsibility to and from God seriously? When is it hardest to fully put your trust in God?

Oh, and check under the driver’s side seat in your preferred method of transportation, I understand that’s a good hiding place. (Genesis 31, particularly v.34-35)

Photo Credit: Billy Idol 2012.JPG via Wikimedia Commons

And if you got the joke, good for you.

You Voted Scared

I know I said I was going to write an individual post for both sides of the aisle in order to give both sides a chance to look at the reasons people may have voted the way they did. I changed my mind, so sue me. (Don’t really, though. You’ll be very disappointed.) That said, I had some conversations this past weekend, over the Thanksgiving holiday, which helped me to boil down the issue into a more helpful one-post kind of situation.

Many Americans voted scared. Some were scared of racism, sexism, bigotry, of having their rights revoked, ignored or trampled on. Others were scared of facing corruption, liberal supreme court appointees, or watching their views mocked and derided. Both political parties used fear to turn out their respective voters, and so many responded exactly as the parties desired.

As a Millennial, I understand fear. I grew up in it. I was in my formative years when we experienced 9/11 and the subsequent fear-driven legislation that we have yet to repeal because we still maintain our fear. Since that day, America has been at “war” with one thing or another, this abstract idea called “terrorism.” Do I believe that there are people who harbor evil intent in their hearts and seek to influence others to also participate in that evil? Yes. But is fear helpful in these situations? No. Our movies and television, 24-hour news networks, and social media only compound the rate at which fear can grow and gnaw on our better intentions. Fear can be helpful in certain circumstances, but constant fear can only harm, decay, and ultimately kill unity and love.

If Americans had been more level-headed, neither of these candidates would have had any ground to stand on. Some states are even initiating a “None of the Above” option on their ballots. Honestly, I agree with that option and Dan Carlin when he argues that we should have a federal-level “none of the above” option that forces all candidates on that ballot to pull out and parties to present new candidates. Shame we didn’t have that option this go-around.

Our fear has gotten out of control. We are out of control. And, no, I’m not just talking about the election. We have cloistered ourselves away as if we were hermits avoiding the temptations of the world. It takes a special kind of person to live that life, and most of us aren’t that special. Ask yourself where you get your information. Does it challenge you or confirm you? Does it manage to do some of both? If you are never challenged by information, by stories, by conversations, you may be well on your way to fear.

Perfect love drives out fear. And I’m tired of being afraid all of the time. I’m sick of hearing how one group or the other is causing all of our problems. We as a people are the cause of our trouble. If our country has internal issues, we need to remember that this place has a government of, by, and for the people. If there’s a problem, we’re part of it… all of us. We’re either perpetrating, complicit, or complacent. Blaming others is weakness, fear, and entirely un-American.

Advent has started, which is typically a chance for the church to stop and reflect what it means that God became human. I would also say that this year Advent is also a time to reflect on what it means that God is King. If God is King, then rulers and authorities mean a little less. If God’s Kingdom has already come and has been breaking through since Jesus taught and healed, then relying on a government to fix the world’s problems begins to seem less useful, if not entirely foolish.

Luke begins his account of Jesus’ birth with the words, in the days of Caesar Augustus. If that seemed like just a side-note to you, look again. Luke is subtly pointing to the moment that Caesar, the great worldly power, begins to diminish and God’s Kingdom breaks through. God’s Kingdom enters the world through a baby, born in poverty, and visited by the lowest of the low. God didn’t choose a government or emperor.

So as this trip through Willy Wonka’s horror tunnel of a year comes to a close and as Christmas draws closer. Let’s take some time to reflect on our fear, and then begin to dismantle it. Let us instead put on the full armor of God and begin acting on behalf of the poor, the outcast, the fearful, and the weak, because Jesus said that the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

It Can Defend Itself

Have you stopped to listen to the words of the National Anthem lately? The song is about the flag surviving a rather brutal attack, with shells falling all around. Despite the ferocity of the combat situation, “our flag was still there.” And we can even read the last couple of lines as a question, “O, say, does the star-spangled banner yet wave […]?” Does it? Yes. Have men and women died defending it, yes. Do we as civilians need to defend the flag itself, or has it stood the test of time as Americans of all colors, sizes, and creeds have defended the ideals of what it stands for – “the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Yes, the defense of the flag and national anthem, plus several more shootings, have sent every armchair pundit rushing for their corners for the inevitable media boxing match with each side not giving a single ear to the other side’s point of view. But, for some history, the national anthem was not really used at sporting events for the reason you think it has been used. Originally, it was not used at the beginning of the game, if it was used at all. The anthem was first introduced to a sporting event, specifically baseball, in 1918 during the seventh inning stretch as a mood booster for a small crowd suffering from the effects of WWI and several other national stresses. The effect of the military band striking up the song was immediate and dramatic, with the song becoming a regular part of sporting events after receiving so much attention. (Source here) The anthem has since become a way of promoting good will, togetherness, and spirit during modern sporting events. One could even make a very cynical argument that the anthem was kept due to its money-making ability to draw crowds by promoting a sense of patriotism. Regardless of its history of inclusion or its purpose in sporting events, we can understand that not all people view the symbol in the same way. Some have had negative experiences in dealing with that flag and may be hesitant to support what they believe it to be about. Others have positive experiences and are clearly ready to support what they believe it stands for.

Consider also the idea of God. Not everyone has experienced God in a positive environment. Some feel abandoned, scandalized, or abused by religious groups. Some feel accepted, healed, and wanted by God because of a loving group. Can we understand how these different groups of people feel when presented with the idea of God? How do we wrestle with the way that some Christians, and other religious groups, feel it is their vocation to defend God through anger, violence, shouting, and legislation? If we truly believe that God is the Creator and King of heaven and earth, what makes us think that our weak self is what God needs to defend Himself?

If we want to honor God and defend His name, let’s obey His commands: love God, love others, make disciples. If we want to honor the flag, let’s stand up for ideals of the nation for which she stands: freedom, equality, justice. American ideals do not survive through arguments and mere words. These truths that we hold to be self-evident survive through men and women of all kinds living them out in their daily lives, showing with their actions that they have chosen to build something concrete, instead of building flimsy edifices with empty words. God’s Kingdom does not hinge on our grasp of apologetics or whether or not certain laws are on the books – His Kingdom has been established already at the cross and it has no end.

May we all filter out the myriad of voices to hear the voice of our King.

How do you approach patriotism in your home? What do conversations about current events look like in your family? Do they happen? How do you instill trust in God and responsibility for actions?

Patience

Most of us want an adventurous Christianity. We want a journey that takes us into the wild unknown, to fight back the darkness, helping the broken, healing the hurting, and setting the captives free! We want a Christian walk that is full of excitement, thrills, and marvelous, miraculous victories that prove God is King!

But what is the reality we live? We live routine lives which dull our passions, drench our dreams, and force us to reconsider life’s status as a “grand adventure.” The days come in and out, people pass in and our of our lives, and each days seems much like the last on the dreary journey to the grave.

Even Jesus saw this coming. In Luke 21:34-36, Jesus warned his followers about becoming complacent, about shutting their eyes even for a moment. He warned them that the tedium would set in, and if they let it win, then the surprise would be theirs and not in a good way. So what to do?

My elementary age kids are taking a good, hard look at patience this month in our large group time. Patience is something we have all but written out of our daily lives with social media, 24 hour news cycles, instant dinners, and email. In our race for efficiency, we’ve set a trap for ourselves in slowly eroding patience. We say it’s a virtue, but how many people actually practice it anymore?

Jesus had enough forethought to encourage us to keep up our vigilant, patient wait until his return. He encourages us to patiently, with determination continue building the kingdom here on earth. We should not give up, not close our eyes, and not lose hope. Our God is King, and he requires our patience for his grand design. Life is an adventure, it just doesn’t move as quickly as an action movie.

May you be blessed with patience this week.