One Eye Closed – Kingdom Issues and the American Christian

You may sleep with one eye open, but if you walk around with one eye closed, you will have issues with perspective.

As my Facebook newsfeed again erupts in the latest outrages (real or hyped) I have been reflecting on the larger picture that fuels our responses as people who believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and trust Jesus as the only source of salvation.

Many times, we have been looking around at “our” country with one eye closed I fear.

Remember the “good old days” of our Founding Fathers who had regular Bible studies together and founded this “Christian nation?”    We just can’t look at the fact that many of the founders believed in God as watchmaker, that Jefferson was a humanist who had taken a razor to his Bible to “fix” it.  Some of the Founders had put their faith in Christ, and most of them admired Biblical principles, and those principles were good for our country.    But if you were not white and male the picture was different.

But we fixed that right?  Civil war, emancipation, suffrage.  So then we have the “good old days” for sure, right?  But keep the eye closed that might see systemic segregation, child labor, exploitation.

So now these are the “better days”, right?  But still one eye must be closed.  We still have racism, just more hidden, we have abortion, we still have the poor, and our culture is further and further from the Good Book.

So the liberal side says the old days were bad and now we’re progressing.  The conservative side celebrates the old days and says these new days are bad.

I think both are right.  This is a sinful world, and it has been.  We live in a sinful country because we are a country full of sinners.

What we call “lawlessness” today is just the latest manifestation of what happens when man lives for himself and doesn’t make Christ the center of his life.  As a church we need to spend less time trying to fix politically what can only be fixed through Jesus.  We need to proclaim the good news.   Living in a democracy (or democratic republic, or however you want to put it) our well being as a country depends on reaching as many people as possible with the Good News of Christ’s love, life, death, and resurrection for our forgiveness and redemption.

We, as followers of Christ, need to remember that the old days were sinful too, just in different ways.  Our society has always abided evil, because man in his heart is evil.
Don’t look back at the days of slavery or racism and say that those were better because abortion wasn’t legal.
Don’t look at today with its abortion and anti-immigrant hatred and say its better because we’ve become more tolerant and enlightened.

Our hope is not in princes, presidents, laws, or morality.  It is in the risen Christ who transforms us out of our selfishness and wicked hearts.  Our whole world is in trouble, and always has been.  That’s why Jesus came.  That’s why He has placed us here.  To be lights in the midst of this crooked and perverse generation.

Footnote: Because some will try to twist this, let me say that I am not arguing against Christians voting, or advocating for truth in politics.  I’m not against standing up against unjust laws.  But if we place that as our primary strategy, we are missing the heart of Christ and the means to truly change our world.  Christ’s redemption.

Loving Justice

Most all of us love Justice.  Its a love we developed in childhood.  Especially if we had siblings.  Having four kids now, I am deeply familiar with this.  “That’s not fair!” is a common refrain.  Who got more treat, less chores, or any other inJustice is a big deal.

Ever get pulled over and fumed because someone else passed you earlier going much faster than what you are now in trouble for?  Ever even try to tell the officer that?   When you’re late and in a hurry, you are hoping no police are around.  When the guy behind you is in the same hurry and finally blows by you on the straight-away, you are praying for a police car up ahead, and if you then go by the guy stopped, you cheer a little inside (at least!)

We love justice….when it benefits us.
But we also love mercy, when justice falls on us.

You want the cop to let you off with a warning, you are not upset that you got less chores or more ice cream then your sibling.

That is our problem, especially in today’s partisan and angry society.  Many scream for justice as long as that justice does not fall on them.

God gives us a very very different perspective that as Christians, especially in our current American society, we would do well to dwell on strongly.
You are a cosmic criminal, and God, rather than mete out Justice upon you, showered you with Mercy and then threw in Grace as well.
We know this theologically, but we tend to forget it on Tuesday when we are on Facebook or talking with friends.  Jesus was very clear that after He has been willing to deal with us through Mercy rather than Justice, allowing Himself to (very unfairly) take the hit for our wrongdoing, that we should never forget that by setting aside mercy and pounding on Justice for others.
In fact, His warnings against doing that are STARK.  He told a story of a person who after being shown great mercy and forgiveness, was not forgiving himself.  The story doesn’t end well for that person at all.  Also, there is this,

For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
(James 2:13)

As a result of our love for Justice, we will always readily for cry out for it when we are right and others are wrong.  Let’s not forget that while, on any one issue here on earth, you might be right,  in God’s eyes, you are a big pile of wrong and He was shown you mercy.  Let’s remember that each day.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
(John 3:17)

When Jesus Wore Shoes

One of the things God has been teaching me in the last few years is a deeper understanding of what it means to be “Christ-like”.  To live and embody His heart, His actions and motivations.

That has caused me to think more about shoes.  The old expression of compassion and understanding encourages us to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”  This is what Jesus did and its an important, crucial part of our theology.  Jesus BECAME man.  His name becomes Immanuel, God WITH us.  The Bible makes it clear that this identification with us is part of why He can be our Savior.

  Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.
(Hebrews 2:17-18)

Jesus doesn’t merely offer salvation and instructions for how we can get to heaven, He comes and lives our situation.  He wore our shoes.

As American Christians, we now can get pretty excised about how people live their lives, especially people who’s lives are SO different from us.  People from away.  And we find it easy to condemn them.

But have we tried to think about what life looks like in their shoes?

When we’ve made trips to the Dominican Republic, we’ve had situations where one of our team has held a baby for a minute only to find that the mother has left.  Why would she do such a terrible thing.  Obviously someone who is a terrible parent and doesn’t love her child.

Except that its the opposite.  Facing poverty, hunger, disease, and no hope for a change of status, these mothers hope beyond hope that this American will take their child and offer them hope, a life.

I can’t imagine giving my child away.  Why?  Because I am a superior human being?  No, but because I have never lived in abject poverty.  I have never lived in a country and situation where I have NO options, NO help, and NO real hope.  Most all of us sitting comfortably in America can’t fathom not having any way to improve our situation or keep our kids safe.

We have never stood in their shoes, and so we easily and proudly condemn desperate parents and judge them as inferior parents and human beings deserving of blame.

The issues facing our nation today are very complex and there are no easy answers.  There are also plenty of people who seek to exploit others.

But before we rush to condemn someone, let’s try on their shoes first and honestly consider what we would do in their shoes.

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
(1 John 3:16-18)

You Deserve It-(New House Edition)

Three years ago, after living in the parsonage for fifteen years, Sarah and I bought our first house.  At the time it was a nerve wracking experience for me as I’d never bought anything so big or been in debt.  I had trouble really trusting God during the process, stressing out repeatedly as we navigated the steps you take in buying a house.  In the end, things went amazingly smoothly and we even closed two weeks ahead of our original closing date!    Its a nice spot, the perfect house for us, and has many extras that have blessed us.

People have been happy for us, and one comment has come again and again: “You deserve this.”   Now I appreciate the well-meaning sentiment of that statement.  People know that we have dedicated our lives to serving the Lord, and they are happy to see us end up with something nice.

It is a beautiful house…., and we certainly don’t deserve it, not one acre or bedroom.

As Christians, we can easily slide into this thinking, that as we are good and faithful, that God is going to reward us, or that we are racking up points like a rewards card from the store.  You’ve been a loyal God customer and your reward is coming.

This is normal, but also very unBiblical and dangerous.  When we think that our relationship with God is merit based, we have moved away from an understanding of and appreciation for the amazing Grace of Jesus.  Grace of course is undeserved merit.  If you earned it, it wasn’t grace.

God didn’t owe me a house.  Not a nice one or a small one or a big one or anything.  The fact that He provided one for me is purely and completely an example of His Grace.   Years of faithful service are not given for the purpose of earning points, but rather in response to the One who gave up Himself for me.

“So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'”
(Luke 17:10)

The danger is that we start feeling like God owes us one.  When I look at my kids, my house, or anything in my life with a feeling that I’m entitled to it, I forget my hopeless state outside of God’s grace.  Then if I lose anything, experiencing a loss of some kind, I can think that God has cheated me.  I am no longer living in grace.   I also forget that while I will be rewarded, the reward that I will get is not coming in this world.  The reward is in the future, and that too will be given because of God’s grace.  Without His work, I could never have anything.

in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.
(2 Timothy 4:8)

I’m very thankful for all that God has provided my family.  We are very blessed.  Knowing that we don’t deserve it has made my appreciation of God’s lovingkindness, His grace & mercy all the sweeter.   Much better than if I’d earned it.  Thank you Lord!

Driving Miss Message

Imagine how you would describe the job of a race car driver.  Would you say “Drive Fast” or perhaps “Drive faster than everyone else.”  Simple, to the point, accurate.  Also a bit incomplete.

Imagine our new hire following his job description on I-95.  He would be a menace to all around him and not accomplishing what he was supposed to.  Yet he did drive fast; faster than everyone else.

The problem was that driving fast is not the point of a race car driver.  The point is to win the race.  Driving fast is a method, not a goal.  The goal is to win on the track.  Driving fast is just a description of how to best fulfill that mission.

Without a clear view of that mission, the instruction to Drive Fast could result in failure.

Now consider this key verse for pastors.

 “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. ”
(2 Timothy 4:2)

This is an important instruction from Paul to Timothy.  Paul even warns a few verses later that the day will come when many won’t want sound doctrine, preferring to have their ears tickled.

So how does this relate to my race car driver?

The job of a pastor according to Scripture is to equip the saints for service.

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
(Ephesians 4:11-12)

This is the only time in the New Testament where the word Pastor is used.  The job here is clear, to equip the saints for the work of service.

I fear that sometimes pastors are driving fast, but they are not trying to win a race, they are merely barrelling down I-95, scattering people left and right.  They are preaching the Word.  They are ready in season & out of season.  They are rebuking and exhorting their hearts out.  They go home feeling good that they “drove really fast today.”

But did they win anything?   Sometimes our hearers are deeply educated but lightly equipped.  They will win at Bible Trivia and pass the theology test, but haven’t made a Disciple in years.  They can recite the four spiritual laws but are still not mature leaders who are training other leaders.  They have been in church for years, learning, but producing no disciples, and haven’t even brought a friend to church in recent memory.

Preaching the Word for a pastor is like Driving Fast for a race car driver.  Both are essential and neither is the point.  The point, the goal, for the pastor, as well as every Christian is Make Disciples.  Not merely educated believers, but equipped-for-service believers.

Without a clear view of that mission, the instruction to Preach the Word could result in failure.

It is beautiful when we put aside our pride at being “Preachers of the Word” and pour ourselves into the race that has been set before us:  to equip the members of the Body for their service.  To see them not only become Disciples, but to become Disciple makers.  Some of them even becoming Pastors & Teachers.  Oh, the joy of that winner’s circle.  Paul looked at Timothy and saw the wreath he had won.   He had preached the Word, but in a way that achieved the goal.  He had finished the race.

 

Far From God

What do you picture when you think of someone being far from God?  Sometimes we might feel far from God because we’ve been messing up big time.  Perhaps our life has just been full of sin.

Same with looking at others.  We might often think of the person on drugs, or deep in partying, or just living a wild or troubled life as being so very far from God.

Conversely, when you look at the person who has their life together, working hard, being responsible and a productive member of society, you might be less inclined to think of them as being far from God.

If they go to church, then they are definitely not too far from God.  From birth many of us have learned what it means to be a good person or a bad person.  We have learned what is acceptable and what is not.  If we were raised in a religious context, that standard got spiritualized and we are even more sure of what it means to be “good” or “bad” and what it means to be far from God.

Of course, if we have a Biblical theology, that tells us something a bit different.

If we have studied the life of Jesus, that tells us something different as well.

What does it mean to be far from God?  Is it found in behavior, or in reception to the love and forgiveness of Jesus?  We know from the Bible that the key to being close to God is to receive his love and forgiveness by repenting and turning to Him.  We do not have to clean ourselves up or make ourselves acceptable.  We need to admit that there is nothing we can do in ourselves to make ourselves presentable to Him.

When Jesus walked the earth, there were a lot of really “good” religious people who were busy being good and following the rules.  There were others who were successful in life and impressive members of society.  Few actually followed Jesus.  We may know of the rich young ruler who admitted that he kept all the commandments, but wouldn’t follow Jesus because he also wanted to keep all his money.  Then there were all the religious leaders who didn’t want to admit that they weren’t good enough.

They were really far from God.

Meanwhile the poor, the destitute, the sinners of the world, the outcasts who didn’t have a place in polite society had a great reaction to Jesus.  It even became a bit of a scandal, seeing who Jesus tended to hang out with for dinner.    He was friends with some really bad people.

They were much closer to God.  Having supper with Him.

In Revelation, one of the churches that is rebuked the strongest, Laodicea, has a problem with thinking they are really good when what they really need is the work of God.

Many very good polished people who even go to church are very far from God for the simple reason that they are good and polished people who think they do good things Humanly speaking, they are doing great things.

Being close to God is not a matter of behavior, but is a matter of grace and mercy.  If you are not fully aware each day that your closeness to God always rests in His grace, His mercy, His sacrifice on your behalf, on His work, then you miss what it means to be close to God.

Now to be sure, those who have been touched by the Amazing Grace and Mercy of God will be changed and will no longer live for themselves.  In other words, if you are close to God, you will live better, but living better does not earn you closeness.

Our theology teaches us this.  Let’s live it.   Make each day about His goodness, not your goodness.

 

Driving in the Fog

With the warm and wet weather, we had some serious fog around here recently.  Driving in it was not a fun experience and several times I had to slow to a crawl as I could barely see the road at all.  Too much water vapor to be able to see clearly.   I was glad for the snowbanks that at least made it clear where the edge of the road was!

It got me thinking about navigating in our current culture as Christians.  It seems more than ever these days that there is a general fog at work in the American culture.  Cries of “fake news” and “alternate facts”, partisanship, and competing narratives.  If my Facebook feed is any indication, these cultural trends are strongly affecting the members of the Body of Christ, including pastors.

There’s a lot of moisture in the air.

When you’re in the fog, and unsure of the truth, bad things can happen.   A man, convinced by fake news about a child-sex ring connected to Hillary Clinton, tried to rescue the kids.   The only problem?  It wasn’t true.

How many well meaning people had posted that rumor, like a fake Facebook privacy warning, saying, “I don’t know if this is true, but better to be safe than sorry” ?

Like driving in Fog, we need to slow down and be clear.  We need to be sure of Truth and speak Truth.  We must not allow ourselves to perpetuate the fog.  Especially in our politically polarized times.

Jesus said of Himself, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No ones comes to the Father except through me.”

As people of the Way, as people who claim to follow the One called the Truth, I think we need to be much more careful about a fog of lies.  As we post on social media, as we interact with political leaders of any kind, as we attack or defend, we should be guided first and foremost by a strong stand for the truth.   Lies in the service of our political goals will have the unfortunate side effect of undercutting our witness to the One called Truth.

If we expect people to believe our witness, we need to be very careful that we are not peddling, approving of, or repeating falsehoods.

But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him–
(Colossians 3:8-10)

If you are a Christian, you have a great responsibility and opportunity to be a voice of truth, but make sure that is what you are speaking and celebrating, not a comforting falsehood that you want to believe because it fits your thoughts or confirms your ideas, but a real truth.

He who conceals hatred has lying lips, And he who spreads slander is a fool. When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise. The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver, The heart of the wicked is worth little. The lips of the righteous feed many, But fools die for lack of understanding.
(Proverbs 10:18-21)

 

Old & New

After several years of blogging, life suddenly took two left turns and my blogging ways came to an end.  The desire never went completely away, however, and moving forward I’m excited to return to blogging.

When I started blogging, I lived across from the church and watched a lot of life happen out of the window in my office.  “Pastor’s Window” seemed like an appropriate name as a metaphor for watching everything happen.

Two & half years ago we moved.  Life has brought a lot of major changes in my life and the life of the church.  I find myself in a new place both physically, and metaphorically.  My “view” has changed a bit.

So its time to relaunch.  No longer do I see the church building and a busy parking lot when I look out my window.  I see trees, and sometimes a glimpse of mountains.  So instead of “Pastor’s Window” now the blog is “The View from Zions Hill”.

If you are interested in reading some of my old posts, the old blog still exists and can be found here: http://www.beanscorner.org/blogs/

Onward and forward!