The Problem with Biblical Heroes

When I was younger, I really looked up to King David. And in some respects, I still do. He was the man to stay loyal to God in a culture of idolatry. He fought bravely on behalf of his people and His God. He worked tirelessly in his early years to benefit his people and prepare the way for the building of the Temple. Honestly, he’s got a decently long list of positive achievements even outside of his battle acumen – not forgetting, of course, that famous battle with a giant.

That said, the older I get the more the veneer seems to be wearing thin on David’s shine. He’s described when we meet him as basically a second, better Saul, a Saul 2.0, if you will. David is handsome, well built, tanned, and plays the guitar. You know, one of those guys. He’s a serial polygamist, which starts pretty early in his career. And he’s distinctly cold in the love/kindness department, outside of his best bro, Jonathan. His parenting could also have been a bit better in the role model department. But David is loyal, a man of his word both to God and man.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is the fact that it is mighty hard to have a biblical hero because the Bible does a thorough job of listing out their flaws quite clearly. We are left with no ambiguity whether or not these men and women had issues and shortcomings. And it’s probably for the best.

See, the less we know about someone, often the more able to idealize and eventually idolize them we are. They become the goal, the finish line, the summary of all we want to be. We can build entire worldviews around these heroes, only to watch them crumble into dust when our hero inevitably fails us in some way. It’s a constant reminder against idolizing others and keeping the main thing the main thing.

How wonderful is it, then, that we have a God that has no problem using the broken, out-of-sorts, and misfits to further His story? Even his son conducted his ministry from a place of poverty, itinerancy, and outsider-ness. It’s encouraging to know that we can be used and that we can rely on our God so thoroughly.

Advertisements

Cutting Down God’s Image

I’ll be honest. I’ve tried writing a blog every week for the past few weeks (except for that camp week, and VBS.) Each time, however, I found myself at a loss for words. And for as wordy as I get on this thing, some of you are probably wondering how that even works. Most of my reluctance to publish has been a nagging question at the back of my mind: “Haven’t you said this already?” I freeze, and wonder what else there is to be said.

Then I remember an idea C.S. Lewis (I think) tossed into my worldview a while back: that the moral thinkers and prophets we remember weren’t writing anything new, just reminding their time period of what we all know is right. I can certainly see his point with the biblical prophets – they seemed to be stuck on repeat. And, yet, I still see people ignoring them, plugging their ears and pretending that certain passages aren’t in the Bible.

As Rabbi Sacks points out, the greatest single idea that the Bible has given to modern society is that every human being is created in God’s image. And, might I add, no status or action can take away that truth. For example, a convicted felon in prison is no less made in the image of God than a minister boldly proclaiming the word on a Sunday morning. Please mull that over for a moment.

Why use the example of a prisoner? Well, because America has one, if not the, largest prison population in the world. And I am so happy to say that my church family is highly involved in prison ministry. Our kids even make cards and notes for the prisoners each semester. Dominique Gilliard pointed out in a recent interview on Seminary Dropout that, “without prisoners, we wouldn’t have the Gospel.” Peter, James, Paul, John the Baptist and others were all prisoners at some point. (Also note that nearly every one of them ended up on the “death row” list as well.)

I bring this up because for years the language surrounding prisoners, the poor, and foreigners has been, frankly, dehumanizing and ungodly and unworthy of a child of God. Words like “animals,” and “predators” have been tossed around by both ends of the political spectrum, so neither group is let off the hook. For generations, children have heard these terms applied to different people, and I don’t have to wonder what the effect has been.

Jesus, in particular, was very clear about humanizing the enemy, going so far as to pray for them as he was being killed. He also spent a large amount of his time and energy with the poor, the sick, the hurting, and the “sinners.”

Can you imagine Jesus teaching an ESL class? Can you imagine Jesus volunteering at the local community kitchen? Can you imagine Jesus leading a prison ministry? Sure, right? We can all agree these things are what good people do. But, remember, Jesus was lumped in with the sinners. He was called a glutton and a drunkard. Jesus also lived a life of an itinerant, traveling everywhere, and calling nowhere “home.”

So can you imagine Jesus sitting at the bar in your local drinking establishment? Can you imagine Jesus sleeping in the homeless camp out in the woods behind the subdivision? Can you imagine Jesus at Burning Man? Can you imagine Jesus mingling with people at a gay pride parade? Can you imagine what people would say about this Jesus? You don’t have to! Read Mark, or Matthew, or Luke, or John! We know exactly how people responded: the sick, poor, and sinners rejoiced at Jesus’ message of the Kingdom; and the church people, community leaders, and government felt their power and status quo threatened and reacted with violence.

Remember, when Jesus arrived at the party, lives changed. Hearts melted and were remade. People found themselves transformed in the radical love, firm challenge, and life-altering compassion Jesus exuded. Jesus saw each and every person as being made in the image of God, and it clearly affected the way he interacted with others.

Have we been transformed? Do we really see the world as it should be: flipped upside down in the new Kingdom worldview of the first being last and the last being first? Do we truly see the image of God in every human being? Can we evaluate the way we act, speak, and listen based on the Kingdom of God rather than this kingdom of air?

Let’s work on this next generation now. Let’s change the way we speak about people, particularly the vulnerable and those who need a hand. Let’s model how to speak about others by offering respect and compassion. Let’s teach our children that respect doesn’t mean agreement. Compassion doesn’t mean signing on to someone else’s beliefs. These things are what we should offer to everyone.

Calling Jesus Names

Have you ever heard a racial slur come out of a child’s mouth? I haven’t heard one recently, but when you do, trust me, the event will stick in your mind. You’ll ask, “Where did they learn that? Do their parents talk that way? Do they know what that means?”

I’m not really sure where to start with this post. I had a really great weekend. I celebrated my Scottish heritage up at Maryville College for the Smoky Mountain Highland Games. I watched burly men toss rocks. I watched burly men toss huge telephone poles. I had a plate of haggis and mashed potatoes washed down with an Irn-Bru, which is still the weirdest drink I have ever thrown down my goozle. (If I had to describe the flavor it would be orange rind and bubblegum.) I listened to some old Irish and Scots folk songs and was blasted by a combined Pipe and Drum Corps playing Amazing Grace. I was happy, and full, and very, very warm. The warmth was from the dear sounds of ancestry… or maybe the 88 degree heat, not sure. I enjoyed celebrating a culture, but I know that not everyone can with as much open pride.

God created us in His image, which gets called the Imago Dei (Latin) in the pop Christian lingo right now. I have to hand Gen X and Millennials one big high five for bringing back early church fathers and mothers and incorporating more Latin and Greek into teaching and popular theology. As God’s images, we are designed to reflect God’s glory, authority, and love into the world around us and reflect Creation’s praise back to God. (I’ve tread this path before on this blog.) God encourages culture. In fact, read through the Hebrew Bible and New Testament and you’ll rarely find God or His prophets and apostles calling out the culture (food, clothing, artwork, language, etc.) Instead, you’ll see God calling His people and others to a right attitude of justice, mercy, care for the poor, proper worship of God, to repent and seek forgiveness while offering it to others.

So it pains me greatly when I hear God’s people who are supposed to praise God with their mouth and not slander their neighbor talk about “those people.” “Those people” often come tied to some pretty nasty assumptions, and are usually poor or have little power to affect the kind of change they need. “Those people” are listed in Matthew 25 as appearances of Jesus. See, “those people” need a cup of water, need a decent meal, need clothing and security, need a safe place to sleep, need a visitor in their prison cell or their hospital bed. When we as God’s people begin to dehumanize and speak about “those people” with anger derision, refusing to help or speak out, or allow the powerful to continually take advantage of them, we may just be speaking the words, “But, Lord, when did we see you thirsty, or hungry, or naked, or in prison?” And our own reckless words will condemn us.

I beg you to come with me on a nuanced journey. Let’s work this out. If you get uncomfortable, you can stop at any time… but you’ll have to face this at some point.

You are made in God’s image.

Your most hated co-worker is made in God’s image.

Your in-law that drives you nuts is made in God’s image.

Prisoners are made in God’s image.

Death-row inmates are made in God’s image.

Your pastor is made in God’s image.

The pastor you disagree with is made in God’s image.

The President is made in God’s image.

Immigrants are made in God’s image.

Migrants are made in God’s image.

The Ayatollah is made in God’s image.

Kim Jong Un is made in God’s image.

Police officers are made in God’s image.

Black Lives Matter members are made in God’s image.

Every person you fear might shake up your comfortable life and status quo is made in God’s image.

Are you uncomfortable? Do you see what God’s image does? It places us in an uncomfortable place where we share the exact same foundation with every single other human being who has ever lived and who ever will live. We are all made in God’s image.

The Benedictine monks had a practice of bowing to guests to their monasteries. They bowed in reverence to the presence of Christ in their guest. They recognized that welcoming someone and showing hospitality was welcoming the presence of Jesus into their midst.

We seem rather quick to draw lines that Jesus didn’t draw. Jesus, who defined his primary ministry as to His people, the Jews, still served the Roman Official, the Syro-Phoenician woman, the Samaritan woman, and chastised his disciples when they threatened Samaria in their anger.

If we can look at another human being and see anything less than a human being, loved by the God who longs to show them mercy and love, maybe our eyes haven’t been made complete in Jesus’ image, yet. If we can hate and denigrate and name call and demean and ignore, maybe our hearts still need work until we’re made complete in Jesus. If we can look at the image of God and speak hate over it, aren’t we really speaking hate to the One who made them in the first place? Aren’t we throwing our voices in with the crowd shouting and mocking Him as He hung on the cross?

Who do you need to rethink? What groups have you denigrated? What kind of language do your kids hear when it comes to minorities, immigrants, or those that look or think differently than you? Do your children know anyone different than them?

A Nation of Scaredy Cats

We, as Americans, have become scaredy cats. All of us. Home of the brave, my foot. You and I both know we can’t turn on the TV or radio or open our homepage without some new Chicken Little remarking about how another piece of the sky has fallen. Sure, it’s been a long time coming, but what frustrates me most is who seems to be the most terrified about life right now: Christians.

Really? The people who serve the King of the Universe, the God who made the earth and everything in it, the Savior who faced down Rome’s wrath and rose on the third day victoriously condemning, deposing, and defeating the wickedness and violence that he bore on the cross, are the ones sitting in abject terror at every newscast and Facebook story?

Sorry… I get a little worked up on this one. Fear is the perfect opposite of what a Christian should base their life. We’re told that perfect love drives out fear. Why? Because fear leads to contempt and hatred – which often leads to violence and destruction. Fear caused Peter to deny his very best friend and mentor. Fear causes us to deny our savior, too. Love leads to understanding and compassion – which leads to service and generosity. Love led Jesus to welcome Peter back with a fish fry on the beach.

Matthew 25 makes a strong case for getting outside of ourselves and serving others – the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the poor, the prisoners, the outsider, the children. Do we recognize Jesus in the least of these? Or are we afraid because we see where one bad day could land us?  Do we reach out our open hands in generosity, or clench our fists, avert our eyes, and pretend everything is fine?

Jesus didn’t fear having his reputation questioned for the good of others. He touched lepers. Spoke openly with women and welcomed them as disciples. He ate and drank with tax collectors and other miscreants – to the point that some groups called Jesus a drunkard and demon-possessed. Sure, Jesus was wise and chose his battles with intention and purpose, but he didn’t fear the repercussions.

If we are following the lead of Jesus, comfort should never be an expectation. Expecting an easy ride should be seen as the exception to the rule, rather than the rule itself. Jesus’ path drove right through the cross – and so does ours, for that matter.

There are so many things that drive us to fear, but if we fully understand the love of God and His command to love others we will be able to proceed with a Spirit of power, and not fear, that God has placed within us. Don’t fear those you serve. Don’t cower before the wars and rumors of wars. Don’t allow fear to become your god – the thing that drives all of your thoughts and actions.

How do you model courage- or fear – in your life? Which of your political, theological, or social views are built on a foundation of fear? How can you rethink them? What can you do today to help your child live courageously in Jesus?

Death and Grieving

Living in the wake of death is a difficult thing to do. Watching a body retire from this world is not an easy process. The reminders of that person’s life come in small ways. A missing car. An empty chair. A daily phone call that never comes. Little things here and there that add up to the now empty space where a mind, a heart, a soul once occupied. These things aren’t the person by any means, but normal is shattered.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. In the midst of excitement and movement as things seemed to be shifting, growing moving forward, we received several blows of the hammer of death. It’s a part of living – the dying, but no matter how many times I see it, it never becomes any easier to accept.

Kids feel this loss, too. We do worship responses which include written prayers praising God or asking Him for help, comfort, or wisdom. I read these because I want to see where our kids are, what questions they’re asking, what their prayer lives look like. I have seen so many that are dealing with loss and death. Sometimes they need to write, or draw, or play to deal with the complex emotions that come with experiencing loss. A new normal will need to be built, a different life continued.

Give kids the opportunity to grieve in their own way. Be vulnerable with them while allowing them to still feel safe. Say how you feel, let them know it’s ok to feel sad, or angry, or upset. Take time and let yourself and your family process.

May the God of peace grant you and your family rest, opportunities to process and strength to build the new normal.

“Don’t Make Me Come Down There!” – God, also my mom, and every parent ever

As a child, I was a little wild. Most of it was not malicious, but I had an energy and curiosity that often got me in trouble. The few times I was blatantly defiant, my parents were often standing right there with me and saw the whole thing. I wasn’t much for sneaking around. That said, I’ve seen my share of punishment and discipline over the years. And, honestly, I’ve just now come to know the difference.

I think this may have been the reason I was always a little averse to the idea of Spiritual Disciplines – I had equated the word discipline and punishment. Punishment might be an aspect of discipline, but it’s not the whole package.

Discipline comes from the Latin discipulus,  which means “pupil, or learner.” A disciple was one who learned, either as a pupil under a teacher, or as an apprentice under a master craftsman. So a discipline is a course of learning or training, a way to attain mastery in a field or craft.  Discipline, then, is a way to learn that encompasses all the ways people learn, by positive and negative reinforcement, reward and punishment, and internal drive.

Spiritual Disciplines are not punishments meant to harm us or whip us into submission. the Spiritual Disciplines are a training course in humility, God’s character, and submission to His will. Fasting isn’t a painful beating, it’s a practice that reminds us that God sustains us even in periods of hunger or want. Fasting helps us clear our minds so that we can better hear God’s calling.

Silence isn’t a time out from God. Silence is (come to find out) a necessary aspect of our lives for mental health, but also for spiritual health. It’s hard to hear God if we’ve got sound and information bombarding us 24/7. Silence gives us a chance to stop, listen, and reorient to God’s way of life.

Sabbath (rest) is a spiritual discipline! It isn’t a red card to get out of the game of life. It’s a reminder that worrying and trying to do everything ourselves is pointless, because God doesn’t need to rest and will continue sustaining the world even while we sleep. We rest because we have trust in God’s compassion, love, and care.

Those that surrounded Jesus received the honor of being called his Disciples. We still call them that today. How many of us are disciples? How many of us have truly submitted to the discipline of Jesus by living and walking with him every day? In the case of those twelve men who were called by name, their discipleship training never stopped. It just changed, became different since they were no longer able to reach over and tap Jesus on the shoulder. You can bet they continued praying, seeking one another’s advice, sharing meals together, and sharing in that renewed life that Jesus brought through his death and resurrection. Many of them showed their devotion through martyrdom and suffering, facing the challenges that the world threw against them.

In the case of children, you are discipling them whether you realize it or not. When you choose church over sports, or choose kindness over revenge you lay out a discipline for those in your life, children or adult, who look to you for guidance. Do your choices, the discipline of your life, lead others in Jesus’ path, or another?

May your discipline be that of Jesus’, and may you lay out that same path for others.

 

Gun Violence

Often times this blog is more of a place to allow me to air some thoughts that I feel are worth at least thinking about. I understand that not everyone will agree with all the thoughts, and, truly, that’s fine with me. As long as we can have a civil discussion (which I have had with several of you), I welcome disagreements and counter-thoughts that help me better understand the world around me. The news has been quite full lately of some pretty serious issues, and I’d like to write out some thoughts briefly. Also, I do not put the authority of ministry behind these thoughts, only the weight of a human, who like Israel, is constantly wrestling with God and what it means to be human, made in God’s image, and rescued by Jesus.

We are all, with regularity, terribly saddened by the deaths of so many at the hands of firearms – in schools, in homes, homicides, suicides. Before you start contacting me, hear me out. It may not be a regulation issue, even though we can do a much better job of that. It may not be a mental health issue, although we certainly need to do a better job at handling that. It is a sin issue… and that’s where the issue gets muddy. Is there sin in the hearts of those who would cause violence to innocents? Yes. Is there sin the hearts of some who look the other way when there are ways to stem the violence? Also, yes. Sin is the problem, and lies both in those that commit violence and in the idolatry of some who uphold their own rights and money instead of looking for ways to protect the vulnerable. I do believe in self-defense. I do believe there is merit to the second amendment and the heart with which the Framers wrote it.

Can I do anything to change things? Not really. I can meditate and prepare myself on how to survive situations. I can continue to train myself to use the firearms I do own. I can make sure my daughter understands firearm safety and gains a healthy respect for guns, the same as with knives, heavy machinery, and anything else that can end a life. I can prepare my children’s ministry for the possibility of an attack. I can pray for those who suffer loss. I can donate to support those who have lost loved ones. I can do all of these things, same as you.

If nothing else, use this as a moment to think about how you approach this issue. You may come out at a different position than I do, and that’s OK. What’s important is that you think, evaluate, pray, and have a rational and Scriptural foundation to your transformed, renewed mind that should be that of Jesus.