And so the Balance Shifts

Rage

Gentle Reader,

What better way to come back from an unscheduled hiatus than with something that will press the hot button of the day?

#thatshowIroll

The title of this post is taken from “Guns and Ships,” a first-act song from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony award winning Hamilton. The Marquis de Lafayette has just returned from France with money and materials necessary for the very rag-tag Continental forces to engage in (what would be) the climactic battle of the American War of Independence. The balance, the characters sing, has shifted in their favor. A greater arsenal must equal victory.

That idea was imprinted upon the psyche of a young, new nation. We have yet to shake it – to our detriment.

It’s not about political parties. It’s not about philosophies regarding the role and function of government. It’s not about what the Second Amendment does or doesn’t mean.

It’s about us operating out of fear and anger.

I have to protect myself. Nothing and nobody is going to get me. They can’t tell me what to do. I know best. This world is scary.

I’m not here to tell you that you shouldn’t own a gun. While I don’t see the sense in it, I recognize that people have to make that choice on their own. Gun ownership is an issue over which reasonable people can disagree. I am here to implore you to take a step back and consider the frantic rhetoric that crackles through the air – especially if you claim the title “Christian.”

See, I know what it is to wake up and immediately be on the defensive. As soon as my eyes open, my mind begins to wonder what dangers await in the coming hours and attempts to devise plans to keep me safe. When my feet hit the floor, the sense of unease, connected to everything and nothing, pulses through my body. Therapists call this Generalized Anxiety Disorder and there’s nothing rational about it. Of course we must eschew recklessness and keep ourselves safe, i.e. you don’t pick up a rattlesnake for funsies, but there’s a difference between living within logical boundaries and paranoia.

Over the last couple of years I have watched my fellow countrypeople move toward paranoia. Neighbors aren’t simply neighbors anymore; they are potential enemies. Some find it impossible to be in relationship with those who may vote for a different candidate. Everyone is suspicious. Everything is a conspiracy.

Groups like the National Rifle Association fan the spark of fear into full-fledged flames of idiotic anger. Advertisements paint a picture of near civil war, with the “liberals,” whoever they are, out to “take your guns” or “trample your rights.” Their picture appears to be legitimized when some, perhaps well-meaning, perhaps not, call for a ban on all weapons, believing that the Constitution is more flexible than it is. Meanwhile kids get shot at school and cry out, begging the adults in charge to do something, but their voices are drowned out by the sound of large donations spilling into campaign coffers.

Nothing changes.

Fear and anger grow.

We who say we follow Christ have to get off this crazy train. How can we possibly go out into the world and preach the Good News, as we are commanded to do, if we see everyone around us in terms of friend or foe? If we are obsessed with being “right” in political, temporal terms? If we won’t learn how to listen to those with whom we disagree?

Paul tells us in the famous “Armor of God” passage (Ephesians 6:10-20) to put on the shoes of peace. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we are meant to leave footprints of grace. While none of us is perfect, those whom we encounter should have at least some sense of us being different. That there’s something about us at marked contrast with the world at large. More than the things we oppose, more than the things we don’t do. When we come into a room, others should sense the presence of the Holy Spirit.

This is not something we manufacture. This comes about by daily, momently, submitting to His lead. Fact is, He doesn’t lead us to territorialism, tribalism, politicism, or any other -ism you can think of. He doesn’t goad us to anxiety and rage. He doesn’t teach us to see people as obstacles or enemies. The Holy Spirit is the fresh, clean, cool air that untangles the knots in our souls and expands our hearts to love as He does.

This past Sunday my pastor preached on hospitality and how it is so much more than having a nice meal with friends or family. At its root, hospitality is the love of stranger, the willingness to open doors and arms to those who are different – which is exactly what Jesus did.

We have to recognize and accept the role we have played in both creating and furthering divisions in this country. I am under no delusion of utopia. This, right now, is not Eternity. Nothing is as it should be. I am, however, under a strong sense of conviction. We – I – cannot waste time building fortresses, living in echo chambers or believing the lie that one man-made, man-led political party is more “godly” than the other. The world watches us in our pursuit of power and they don’t like what they see.

We can’t blame them for that.

Let’s decide, you and me, today, to remember that people are people. We don’t have to be afraid of or scorn someone because they vote differently, believe differently, dress differently, etc. God loves people, wherever they are in relation to Him, and it’s our job to be about the business of sharing that love. The way we live must align with the words we say, otherwise we truly are blatant hypocrites and can hardly be angry when someone points that out.

In our spheres of influence, however large or small they may be, let’s work to shift the balance toward peace. Toward a living out of “God so loved the world.” Let’s step out from behind our walls and break them down, brick by brick. Let the light shine and the grace flow.

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Herod or Amos

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

I’ve made no secret of my disgust over the current state of politics in the United States of America. A casual browse through social media will tell you all you need to know about that. I also haven’t tried to hide my growing distaste for the way Christians across the country are responding to the situation we find ourselves in. (A situation we made for ourselves, if we’re choosing to be honest today). Clearly we (very much in the general sense of the term) have chosen to prioritize fleeting political power over preaching the Gospel. What other conclusion can be made when pastors waste their breath defending sexual predators and some who should know far better compare the President to Jesus? Worse yet and outrageously, we have the gall to act surprised and upset when someone calls us on our blatant, transparent hunger for power and disregard for the morality we claim to live by.

We love to cluck our tongues and shake our heads when reading the Gospels. Those Sadducees, we think. All they wanted was money. And, oh, those Pharisees. They just wanted to control people. Jesus was so right to put them all in their places.

We shouldn’t be so smug.

And we’d do well to read the book of Amos.

The LORD roars from Zion,
And utters His voice from Jerusalem;
The pastures of the shepherds mourn,
And the top of Carmel withers.

– Amos 1:2 (NKJV)

Let that chill your bones for a second. The Lord roars. He’s not happy. He’s not smiling. He’s not cute. He’s not something you can hold to the side.

The dominant message of the book of Amos is the proclamation of judgment upon Israel by Yahweh their God because of their oppression of the poor. The book of Amos accuses them of “sell[ing] the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals” (2:6); of crushing the needy (4:1); of abusing the legal processes held in the town gate for the improper acquisition of large estates (5:10-11); and of indulging in merrymaking, all the while taking no responsibility while the community was breaking apart (6:1-7). …

Amos criticizes his hearers’ confidence that the sanctuaries and their sacrificial cult would gain them Yahweh’s approval. Amos uses the very language of the cult itself, but with satirical tone, to poke fun at his hearers’ reliance upon the sanctuaries, to show that Yahweh desires justice and righteousness more than sacrifice, and to proclaim the end of the cultic centers (see 4:4-5; 5:4-7, 21-24).

Asbury Bible Commentary, emphasis mine

Look at us, all fat and happy. Sitting up in our clean little church buildings, quite content with ourselves. Raising our voices neither in praise nor repentance, but in clamor, railing against the “liberals” or “conservatives” (whoever they are and whatever those terms mean) and how they are “destroying this country” and “we need to take it back.” We shake our fists to the rallying cry of “what about…?!” We turn blind eyes to sin and excuse failings of character because that politician might just give us whatever it is that we want in this moment.

…they sell the righteous for silver,
And the poor for a pair of sandals.
They pant after the dust of the earth which is on the head of the poor,
And pervert the way of the humble.
A man and his father go in to the same girl,
To defile My holy name.
They lie down by every altar on clothes taken in pledge,
And drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god.

– Amos 2:6b-8 (NKJV)

We like to think that we’re so much better than the people we read about in the Bible.

We’re exactly the same.

With few exceptions, the prophets were sent to the people of God. To the people who knew better. Their messages, from the mouth of God Himself, were meant to slap them across the face. To shake them out of their self-indulgent stupor. To cause them to look up instead of down. To grab them by the hair so hard that they couldn’t help but notice the pain.

This is a side of God that we like to ignore. We like to focus on His gentleness and love. So we fail to realize that the hair-grabbing and face-slapping are acts of love. He is broken-hearted. He is justly angry. He wants His people to wake up, to get over themselves, to move beyond this whiny, annoying, petulant phase.

Because they have work to do. Because they are so much more.

Ancient Israel was meant to shine the light of God out into the dark world, just as the church is meant to do today. Just as they did, we have forgotten our purpose. We are so focused on achieving societal dominance through laws and slogans and slick marketing that we fail to tell people about Jesus. We fail in the one mission we have.

For behold,
He who forms mountains,
And creates the wind,
Who declares to man what his thought is,
And makes the morning darkness,
Who treads the high places of the earth—
The LORD God of hosts is His name.

– Amos 4:13 (NKJV)

Let that chill your bones for a second. How is it that we can possibly be so small-minded as to believe that God, who spoke all there is into existence, won’t notice that we’ve gotten so far off course as to be in another country entirely?

In two weeks we celebrate Christmas. We pause and again reflect on the miracle of God Come to Earth. In our reflections, let us consider this commentary on Matthew 2:

The contrast between Herod and Jesus centers upon the question of kingship. Matthew introduces the theme of kingship at the outset of the chapter: The wise men ask Herod where the king of the Jews has been born (2:2), Jesus is indirectly identified as a ruler (v. 6), and Matthew repeatedly refers to Herod as the king (vv. 1, 39). Matthew thus directs our attention to two types of king and two types of kingdom: the kingship of Herod versus the kingship of Jesus.

The kingship of Herod is presented in harsh terms. His tyrannical rule is characterized by an all-consuming desire to preserve his own status and power. Herod will stop at nothing, including the murder of innocent children, to realize his self-serving goals.

The nature of Jesus’ kingship, on the other hand, is defined by the word from Micah quoted in 2:6: He will be “the shepherd of my people Israel.” He is the gentle and loving Ruler of his people, who, like a shepherd, saves his people from destruction. Specifically, Jesus reigns as King over his people by dying for them (27:11, 29, 37), thereby saving them from their sins (1:21; cf. 20:28). The contrast with Herod could not be more pronounced: Jesus gives his life for the sake of others; Herod takes the lives of others for his own sake.

This tension between the kingdom of Herod and the kingdom of Jesus points to the conflict between the kingdom of this world (i.e., the desire for power and self-rule on the part of evil persons everywhere) and the kingdom of God. The passage challenges readers to reflect upon the character of their own lives in order to determine whether the spirit and attitude of Herod (an attitude of militant self-rule) is present to any degree in their hearts. Those readers who see a bit of Herod in themselves will soon encounter a word of challenge and hope: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (3:2; 4:17).

We get to choose: Herod or Amos? The kingdom of this world or the Kingdom of God?

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Photo Credit: Pawan Sharma

Five Minute Friday: Silence

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Jeremiah. I just finished studying the book that bears his name. Now, I’m in the middle of Lamentations. That man walked a long, hard road. He preached destruction and repentance to a people who were in no way interested.

I love him.

Kate says: silence.

Go.

I have a new favorite phrase: “I’m not here for that.” Urban Dictionary (a most reliable source) tells me that this is what you say “when asked a question that is beneath you, or else confronted with a situation that you simply cannot care about.” I like that definition, but I prefer to use the phrase differently. After all, doesn’t postmodernism teach us that words are fluid? (FYI: I don’t actually believe this).

So.

I’m not here for the ongoing defense of sexual predators.

I’m not here for prioritizing power over holiness.

I’m not here for the abuse and twisting of Scripture.

I’m not here for willful ignorance.

I’m not here for speaking softly and kindly to false teachers.

I’m not here for overlooking sin and character flaws because we think that person might give us what we want.

I’m not here for turning a blind eye to injustice.

I’m not here for deceit.

WAKE UP.

American evangelicalism is burning to the ground and we’re the ones who lit the fire. Not some external, vaguely-defined cultural “force.” Not members of other religions. Not atheists. Us. We. You and me. Every time we talk about a Jesus who supports the “American dream.” Every time we preach prosperity over sacrifice. Every time we talk a great game and make no attempt to live it out.

I love the church. She does much good. But she can be better.

We can be better.

It’s not about programs or numbers. It’s not about websites or social media. All that stuff will fade away. It’s about us putting our lives where our mouth is. It’s about us actually doing this thing.

Read your Bible, people. Learn some theology. Ask God for the discernment to be able to recognize false teachers and manipulators before you’re in too deep. Ask Him to examine your heart and expose your idols. Then destroy them. Beat them into dust.

Because you know what?

For all the noise out there, for all our screaming, the silence of cowardice – the profound lack of ability or willingness to rage against the evil that’s all around, but especially the evil that’s within His Body, and weep, pleading for the grace to change – is really deafening.

And telling.

Stop.

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Photo Credit: Ben White

31 Days of Feasting on Theology: Bonus Post

31 Days 2017 Large

Gentle Reader,

All right.

I don’t usually post when I’m angry.

But there’s an emotion we call righteous anger. The kind of fury and frustration that arises from a broken heart. The kind of pain that makes you want to tear your clothes. The flush that splashes your cheeks at the sight of injustice. The sort of chest-constricting, goosebumps causing, I’m going to throw things while I cry if this isn’t made right feeling.

That’s what I felt when this made its way across my Twitter feed:

DL5X2cAVQAE0uJ3

I don’t know who painted this.

I’m not sure it matters.

This painting is the fruit of bad theology. It’s the result of sprinkling a little Jesus on the salad of life. This painting exists because of blind, unthinking nationalism. It is a shining example of everything that’s wrong with believing that America and Americans are special (it isn’t and we aren’t). But first, foremost and glaringly – this is a portrait of idolatry. Trump will make everything right again. Trump is Jesus’ special guy. I’ll put my faith in Trump.

Stop it.

Just stop it.

I’m nearly halfway through this series. My heart hurts. Unbidden tears roll down my cheeks. Come on, people! Come on, church! How can we, who are so privileged, who possess multiple Bibles, who can listen to thousands of sermons at any time, who are the wealthiest and best-educated (comparatively speaking) be this stupid?

In the Old Testament, we read about the Israelites and their fondness for Baal and other ancient Canaanite deities. We think, “Wow, they were so dumb. How could they worship some hunk of stone? I would never do something like that.”

Except we do.

It’s not about Trump. He’s just the latest, loudest example.

The president, whoever he/she is, will never be your savior. He’s not going to make anything great again. She can’t fix you. He can’t provide for you. She doesn’t even have a clue who you are.

Oh, dear reader! Lay down this burden of placing your hope in people who are as frail and flawed as you are. Let go of the desire to “Christianize” the nation through law. If the perfect law of God as handed down at Sinai couldn’t save, then how can imperfect law imperfectly enforced by imperfect people save? Make like Gideon in the good days of his life and topple the statues that lurk in your heart. Prostrate yourself before the Holy King and beg forgiveness. Ask Him for a new perspective, eyes to see and ears to hear.

Please, please, for the sake of your soul, your heart, your mind, your life – read the Bible. Really read it. Study it. Ask questions. Learn things. Get to know the truth so you can spot the lies. Pray for the president, yes. Support him/her within the boundaries of faithful Christian ethics (i.e., follow God and do as He says first and always). Never, ever, idolize the president (or this country).

God doesn’t take kindly to that sort of thing.

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For all entries in the 31 Days of Feasting on Theology series, go here.