It’s not sexy, but it is beautiful

pexels-photo-29751I have been following the Bible Project’s Read Scripture plan this year and have enjoyed it. I probably would enjoy a little more of an Old Testament / New Testament mix, but overall it’s been good to journey from cover to cover (with a repeat trip through the Psalms along the way).

I started in Jeremiah a couple of days ago and cannot for the life of me think of why I haven’t come back to this historical/prophetic record on a regular basis.

Jeremiah is given a pretty gritty ministry by the Lord. He does what the Lord says, and each time gets abused for it, more or less.

We shouldn’t be surprised considering the nature of prophetic ministry laid out for him. More than predicting the future (prophecy), prophetic ministry is about holding people to account in the present, that is, holding up the standard of God as a measuring line for all else.

What’s that look like for Jeremiah?

It’s not about health and wealth.

Jeremiah 1.10 See, I have appointed you today over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and demolish, to build and plant

  1. Uproot and tear down
  2. Destroy and demolish
  3. Build and plant

This prophetic calling is not a recipe for winning friends. Numbers 1 and 2 have to happen before 3. Which means upsetting, offending, and angering a lot of folks.

It means, for instance, telling people they have abandoned the fountain of living water and instead dug cracked cisterns for themselves that are incapable of holding water, let alone the bitter waters of flaccid saviors and fleeting satisfactions (the Nile and Euphrates).

             We dig leaky wells, too. Our Nile and Euphrates tend to be consumable,    wearable, edible, or achievable, but oh do we dig…

The prophet calls this futile effort what it is and lays out a vision of the God-shaped alternative.

Reading the first chapters of Jeremiah calls to mind the ministry of Jesus. Like him or not, Jesus was bold. Jesus didn’t play favorites or pull punches.

In true prophetic fashion, Jesus uprooted and tore down established religious practices, destroyed and demolished entrenched religious beliefs.

He did so in view of building up something new. If all you do is demolish, you aren’t prophetic. You’re just a jerk.

Jesus demolished the religious soil of his day and planted the seed of a new people. But, for the seed to grow, it first had to die.

Writing about persecution of Christians throughout the Roman Empire, the ancient theologian Tertullian penned an indelible depiction of this death to life phenomenon: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

How did a movement catalyzed by a criminalized Jewish mystic and carried on by a ragtag band of misfits from the margins ever make it out of the first century? Not by political force or entrepreneurial prowess.

No. It was by faithful devotion to the way of Jesus, the way he modeled.

It is not sexy. But it is beautiful. 

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If you are in Christ, you have prophetic blood flowing through your veins. You, too, are seed.

What could it look like for you to give your life’s blood for something that will outlast your carbon footprint?

 

 

 

Are you a peacemaker or peacekeeper?

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Jesus once said, Blessed are the peacekeepers, for…..No, no, no. He didn’t say that.

Jesus actually said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Yep, that’s what he said.

David invites those who want long life to “seek peace and pursue it.”

But is there really a difference between peacemaking and peacekeeping? I think so, especially in my southern context.

Southerners–especially church going Southerners–tend towards peacekeeping.

  • Which basically means don’t say or do anything that might upset someone, even if they’re in the wrong. It’s best just to let it go, let a little time pass, and move on.
  • Or the classic, don’t poke your stick in it and it won’t stink.

I’ll confess that I’ve done my part of this for decades. It sounds something like-“That’s not my place.” or “It probably won’t go well, so why bother?” There, I kept the peace.

Simply put, we confuse peacekeeping for peacemaking.

Here’s the primary difference b/n the two:

 

  • Peacekeeping is passive.
  • Peacemaking is active.

I.e., We think we’re keeping peace in the home, at work, or at church, but that peacekeeping is really just a glorified passivity.

There is nothing passive about peacemaking. Patient, yes. Peaceful, perhaps. Not passive.

 

Peacekeeping is about protecting an illusion of calm or avoiding conflict of some kind.

But Peacemaking almost always involves conflict of some kind. It’s active.

  • It may be a difficult conversation. (e.g., someone is doing you wrong)
  • It may be a confrontation. (e.g., someone is wronging others)
  • It may be a confession. (e.g., you’ve wronged someone)

Making peace via these avenues means you and I will be engaged in conflict. It means we will make enemies most likely.

But think about this in honor of Father’s Day. The men we remember and revere (not everyone will agree with my list, but you have your own), were actively seeking and pursuing peace.

  • MLK was a peacemaker. He gave a voice to a people who weren’t being heard and didn’t feel safe to speak.
  • Abraham Lincoln was a peacemaker who put his career and life on the line to acknowledge and honor the inherent dignity of every person no matter the color of their skin.
  • Jesus was a peacemaker whose ultimate goal was to lead people into peace with the God of heaven.

These were men of action. They had plans and goals. And all of these peacemakers have something else in common–they gave their lives in the pursuit of peace.

Peacekeeping doesn’t get you killed. Maybe an unfollow or unfriend, but not killed.

If you choose to respond to the Lord’s exhortation to be a peacemaker, you’ll end up with more unrest and discomfort in your life because of it.

It’s one of the reasons, I suspect, David writes in Psalm 34.19 that “the one who is righteous has many adversities.”

Because you just have more problems trying to follow Jesus than not. As if peacemaking isn’t enough, you love enemies, forgive 1bajillion times, wash dirty feet, and so forth. So I get it, peacekeeping is easier now, but what about in the long run?

If you choose peacekeeping, what you actually do is leave the door wide open to greater and more complex problems in the future.

       A failure to address things now will only be magnified later.

 

 

David could certainly think about this from his experience as a man, husband, dad, and king

David wasn’t a great dad from the picture presented in Scripture. Well after the triumph over Goliath and his disastrous sequence of events surrounding Bathsheba, David was husbanding, fathering, and doing what kings do. But he wasn’t doing what peacemakers do. Quickly:

  • David’s son Amnon was infatuated with his [Amnon’s] sister, Tamar.
  • Amnon raped Tamar, making her an outcast in that culture.
  • David finds out and is infuriated, as any dad should be.

Here’s the crazy thing, though. Two verses after David is said to be furious comes this: “Two years later…” Two years passed, and we hear nothing of David’s actions to reconcile this situation, to bring the peace necessary to this massive injustice.

Absalom–Tamar’s other brother–hated Amnon and found a way to kill him. Such bitterness took root in Absalom toward David that he decided David was unfit to rule and ran him out of town. Not long after, Absalom himself ended up dead.

And there is king David left to make sense of the carnage. Two dead sons and a disgraced daughter who feels unloved and unprotected by the man who should have been looking out for her the most.

David may have been a pro at keeping the peace, but he was pathetic at making peace.

After avoiding confessions around Bathsheba and Uriah he evaded necessary confrontations and conversations with his sons and daughter.

Peacekeeping is easier now, but everyone pays for it later. As best I can tell, that’s true in business, education, church, and family.

Making peace will require making a mess, at least for a while. But to avoid it is to ensure a greater calamity in the future.

Since peacemaking is active:

  1. What conversation do you need to have?
  2. What confrontation?
  3. What confession might you need to make?

Blessed are the peacemakers…

The censorship of Christian community

lion-predator-big-cat-cat-162093There is so much I want to say.

So many comments I’d like to make.

More questions I’d like to ask than anything else…

But the Christian community is extremely sensitive. We–I include me in the we–are so sensitive! [don’t use an exclamation point unless you mean it!] What are we so scared of?

It’s like anything we disagree with or anyone who disagrees with us is immediately blacklisted and deemed a heretic or apostate or, dare I say, liberal!!!????!

Scott Sauls, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Nashville, tweeted on February 12

“I am too conservative for liberals, and too liberal for conservatives.” – Everyone who follows the whole Jesus

2,400 people retweeted. I can only assume it’s because more persons don’t know who Scott is.

Point being, yes. This is an amen deep in my soul. One  of the hardest aspects of doing ministry of any kind in the South is being pigeon-holed by others, feeling like there’s a mold one has to fit into, and then fearing the backlash of not fitting in.

I get diplomacy, I do. But what if the prophets of the Old Testament had been diplomatic? Would they have been prophets? No. They wouldn’t have been thrown into cisterns or killed. They probably would’ve been…wait for it…promoted.

Prophets speak.

         They are a voice.

                      They ask.

                                They tell.

                                           They prod.

Subsequently…

They are isolated. Lonely. Blacklisted, ignored, imprisoned, fired, demonized, etc.

I guess what I’m saying is, can we Christians–bought with the blood of Christ and freed from the strictures of this political world–be truly free? Can we refuse the titles and categorizations that the world requires in order to make enemies?

Why the titles, the categories, the sides? Because we have to know who’s wrong, right?

Following the whole of Jesus really leaves us as misfits. We can’t be contorted to fit into any one corner or box. Too liberal. Too conservative. Can’t be nailed down. Enemies on every side. Sounds like Jesus.

Here’s the thing. If nobody is upset with you. If nobody is frustrated by what you say. If nobody is really bothered by you. You’ve picked a box.  And turns out it’s a perfect fit.

 

Weary Mama, Jesus has been there

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Moms, the struggle is real. I’m not a mom, but I am married to one. We have four kids, the oldest of which is five, three of which are girls, which means there’s more drama in my house than on all of daytime television.

And when I find myself taking care of all of them solo, I wonder how my wife does it the other six days of the week. But what’s that have to do with Jesus, you ask?

Jesus performed two separate feedings of thousands of people with minimal resources.

In Mark 6, there are 5000 men and who knows how many women and children. The disciples have just returned from their maiden missionary voyage to report all they’ve done in Jesus’ name. But Jesus says, “Shhhhh….you need to rest.”

Out on the boat they go for some rest and relaxation. After all, you can only pour so much of your cup out before the thing is empty. Time to refill.

BUUUUUUUUUUT here come all those needy people. It’s like no matter where Jesus and the boys go, the crowds find them.

Jesus has compassion. “They’re like a sheep without a shepherd,” lost, wandering aimlessly without a clue of how life is supposed to look. After instructing them even more, Jesus feeds them. Actually, he makes the disciples feed them after miraculously multiplying the fishes and loaves.

So I’m reading this in preparation for Sunday’s sermon, and I think, hold on one daggum minute. I’ve seen this happen. In fact, I see it almost everyday.

Lindsey has 2 or 3 kids with her depending on the weekday. Inevitably I get a call or text about 2pm. That’s supposed to be nap time for the kids, which would mean mommy time, which would mean rest or something productive for her own sake.

But that 2pm text usually reads something like, “Addie sabotaged nap time today” or “Caroline is still awake and asking where you are” or “Why do my kids hate me?”

I try to reassure her it’s only a season…that’s going to last another 5 YEARS!

And before you do the whole, “Cherish it because it goes by so fast and you’ll miss it” thing, I hear you. But I’d be better off slapping a lion in the face and trying to outrun it than telling that to my bride.

There will be times, dear mommies–maybe every single day of the week–when you’re at the end of your proverbial rope.

  • Physically exhausted.
  • Mentally shot…like you just found the milk in the pantry that you thought you put in the fridge mentally shot.
  • Emotionally worn.
  • Spiritually sapped.

Because you pour yourself out and out and o..u…..t.

And still, here come those needy people. They’re hungry, tired, scared. They have a belly ache or need a drink of water for the fourth time in 14 minutes. They have no idea what life is supposed to look like. That is, no idea except what you show them.

You’re poured out for them. You resemble the disciples, called by Jesus to shepherd and feed and love those who can’t seem to fend for themselves.

So you have compassion. You shepherd those little hearts (sometimes with the spanking spoon), but always with love. Even when it doesn’t feel like love, it’s love. You’d roll yourself across burning coals for those little punks.

Jesus was literally broken and poured out that we might be blessed and filled. You are figuratively broken and poured out that they might be blessed and filled. But what a calling that is. What a season.

 

Real Life is (often) a Better Education than Seminary

Real life–that’s the life you actually live in case you haven’t been there in a while. It’s not the one on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest where everybody is having an awesome day and their hair never looked so good.

Real life on my end also excludes the imagined life that professional theologians pontificate about behind their blockade of black-rimmed glasses. I mean can’t someone buy tortoise shell?

Real life, with some common sense and wisdom attached to it, teaches more about theology than I ever learned in seminary (which makes me miss that $20,000 all the more).  I’m not discounting seminary, but I am saying it isn’t the be-all and end-all of theological training or ministry preparation.

I say that because on a handful of occasions I’ve processed something for a long time, years even, in the theological realm, and confidently asserted my position to Lindsey (my not theologically trained common sense, wise wife). And I reached a conclusion, or at least a satisfactory resting place (such as with predestination or with what life looks like for someone who is saved). And on these occasions, I stand on the other side as my wife.

But on these occasions, I’ve ended up on her side. And it was real life that led me to reexamine my otherwise studious position(s). Staring into the eyes of my first child, fresh out of the womb, undid all that I’d surmised about predestination.

No w283193_528197791803_7519239_nay…no way God looks into these big blue eyes and says, “To hell with you!” no matter what you wish or will.

The point of this post is to say that Jesus entered the real world, not simply to die. He became incarnate to show that the real world matters. That life communicates truths about the Source of life. That all of our theologizing has to be done through Jesus, the embodiment of God’s purpose and personality.

To whom did Jesus say, “Sorry, you were damned before the creation of the world”? To whom did Jesus say, “Sorry, you’re beyond the reach of the Father’s grace and mercy”?

I think part of maturing as a believer and theologian (they can’t be separated, by the way) is being willing to ask, “Is there something I’ve missed?” “Is there something to other position I haven’t considered or have mischaracterized?”

Advent Anxiety

Waiting.

  Wondering.

    Questioning.

  What will he look like?

 Will he be healthy?

Does he really have a role to play in God’s grand story?

Lindsey is about six months away from giving birth to our third child. In a few weeks, Lord willing, we’ll find out if the balance of power will rest with the men or women of the house. From the fatherly side of things, it’s difficult to wait on the arrival of a child. I realized with Ben and Nora Jane and now unnamed child 3 just how powerless I am.

I’m powerless to make my child healthy. I’m powerless to protect Lindsey from drunk drivers or freak accidents that make headlines every day. The waiting (advent) can breed anxiety. That is, if trust isn’t placed in the only place that matters.

Imagine the myriad of questions that Mary had 6 months away from Jesus’ birth. 3 months. 3 weeks. 3 days before, as she’s journeying for the census and knows the time has come. Oh how intense that anxiety must have been!

She had the anxieties of every woman who gives birth. But she had the added anxieties that come with giving birth to the Savior of the world. That’s something we can’t imagine.

Waiting is a humbling experience. I can’t do anything. Waiting teaches me where to place my trust, namely, in God.

To all you moms, you know the Christmas story more intimately than a man ever will. May we all, like Mary, humble ourselves before God this Advent season. As we wait, we give thanks: “for he who is mighty has done great things for me…

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What if we Forgave Like We’ve Been Forgiven

I won’t run off a list of scriptures that talk about how God’s forgiven us for our sin and did so through the sacrifice of His own Son. But I will ask, what if you and I forgave others to the extent God has forgiven us?

Some of this depends on how you view yourself in relation to God. If you don’t believe in God this ‘what if’ falls short. But even if you don’t, pretend you do. Just for a minute, buy into the belief that sin is a willful decision to violate the word of God. In essence, sin is like spitting in the face of a parent or guardian who is trying to protect you by setting boundaries. We’ve all done that at some level.

Yet regardless of the seriousness of our sin, God forgives. Through Jesus, God absorbs the insult, absorbs the rebellion, absorbs the slap in the face, and He offers reconciliation, relationship, and redemption. What if today you did that? Is there someone who has wronged you and doesn’t deserve your forgiveness but would be humbled by your gracious offer of it? Maybe they wouldn’t be humbled, but would it release you from the bitterness and anger you harbor as a result of not offering forgiveness?

What if you forgave…what if I forgave? Could that possibly uproot some of the hatred or anger in the world?