Rethinking Sunday

thinker

Yesterday I preached  from the following text…

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:  “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15 – ESV)

This short story is coupled with similar stories bragging on a God that goes after lost sheep, coins, and sons. Those three objects don’t tell the full story about the things our God is after. He is a reconciling, redeeming God who is intent on embracing everybody and everything with His grace and mercy. Anyone or anything left out will not do. He is in it to win it and more importantly He is in it to win you.

The focus of the sermon yesterday was on calling people to repentance and sharing in the heavenly celebration of each and everyone who God reclaims. It would have been good, but a slightly different sermon to preach about the possible response of the 99 sheep left in the open field or more precisely of the congregation wondering why Jesus isn’t given them more attention. When Jesus tells the story he leaves no room for the 99 sheep to complain or push back, but anyone who has led Christians…I mean sheep…for 5 minutes knows what a fuss and ruckus it would cause if a pastor abandoned 99 to pursue 1. That kind of ministerial math never makes sense and is highly frowned upon. Good pastors focus on the 99 and leave the 1 to find their own way home…or not.

I sometimes wonder if  most people in the church would prefer to hear the passage this way…

Now the good church people were all keeping notes of what Jesus was up to. They began to stir up Facebook and Twitter by saying “This man wastes his time with the wrong people and doesn’t manage the church well and keeps talking about changing things around here.” Jesus told this story in response. “What kind of pastor spends her time hanging out and pampering those who should be mature in Christ? If one person or family is outside of the family of faith a good pastor gives the greater part of her attention to reaching them with the gospel and urging them to return to their faith in God. While she is shepherding lost sheep the sheep who are safe and sound can tend to each others needs and the business of the barnyard.” But the good church people responded with suspicious and critical hearts saying people who abandon God and the church should not be celebrated, but judged. The church is for saved people and the pastor should protect, provide, and predicate everything around them. Jesus urged the good people to have a right spirit about the gift of repentance that God offers us all. Everyone should rejoice when God gives grace for anyone or anything – for those in and those out. However, the 99 persisted in their beliefs and demands that Jesus could do much greater things if he would only tell and retell the stories that they liked to hear him tell…over and over…again and again….softly and tenderly…for those who are living right and keeping their membership covenant only…like the Father intended. 🙂 (Luke 15 – GDB2 version)

Every story that we tell about God should make more of the life and ministry of Jesus and less about the gory details of our shame and suffering as well as our selfishness and stone heartedness. Bragging about God’s grace is much better than bragging about our sinful past. Nor is it important to highlight how good, faithful, decent folk have been born and raised in the church and never needed God to rescue them. This story highlights the seeking, searching, soul saving nature of our gracious God. God is determined to give grace to the sinner and grace to the saint. Everyone gets grace!!!

Repentance is the singular appropriate response to that gift and all of us should practice it…today…right now…in everything. Repentance is for the one who strays, but it is also for the 99 who kept the faith, but maybe got sideways about the church or something else God was doing. Repentance is for the one who makes a bad decision and follows the wrong spiritual leader, but also for the 99 who in their heart values the politics of their party over the Great Commandment or the Great Commission. Repentance is for the one who has life pound them in the ground so hard that they stop believing God really knows them by name, but it also for the 99 who grumble over first world problems and the privileges they think they are entitled to as Christians. Repentance is for all of God’s people – lost and found. It’s a shame that we reserve it only for the really, really bad, shameful, dirty sinner.

Repent today of anything in your heart that might be against or between you and God. To Repent is to confess, turn away from, and abandon anything that does not honor God in word, thought, and deed. You will not only feel better (confession is good for the soul), but your life will be better for it (and so will others.)  You might even hear a song being sung when you do because Jesus tells us “there is more joy in heaven over the 1 who still see their need for God’s grace than the 99 who desire to stand on their own works and ways.” And who doesn’t love good music on a Monday morning?

Holiness Lost and Found

take-time-to-be-holy

It seems to me that a lot of my good, good friends these days have lost sight of what is most important in loving and leading all of God’s people. And when I say ‘all of God’s people’ I mean ALL – red and yellow, black and white, Democrat and Republican, gay and straight, rich and poor, educated and simple, American citizens and global friends. ALL is not a reflection of one’s faith, but a condition of one’s creative origin in the heart of God for the relational purposes of God to live for the glory of God. All of these people groups matter to us because they all matter to God.

Who I am thinking about and speaking to is anyone who claims Jesus as Savior and Lord. My calling and pulpit is primarily one to the people of faith who are called to not only believe in a higher power in all things, but to live to a higher standard at all times. By ‘standard’ I might say purpose or way or ethic or cause, but I mean the same thing. Christians of all traditions, denominations, ethnicities, and political parties are first called to embrace the kingdom of God that has come and is coming. To embrace such a kingdom is to embrace the way of the king. His way is a way of love. His way is a way of hope. His way is a way of gentleness and meekness. His way is a way of reconciliation. His way is a way of holiness.

But we seem to have certainly lost this way of living together in America and especially in the American church.

Chuck Colson – that politician turned theologian – said that “Holiness is the everyday business of every Christian. It evidences itself in the decisions we make and the things we do, hour by hour, day by day.” I’m gonna add “friendship by friendship, stranger by stranger, thought by thought, word by word, feeling by feeling” to his train of practical holiness. He is right of course. Our job is not to win the day politically. Nor is it to hurl truth bombs to the party that has newly acquired, but temporary power. Holiness is our word, thought, and deed. Any other view of what God has called us to is incomplete and inconsiderate to the hope God has for his new creations.

Perhaps it isn’t so much a problem of believing, but a lack of seeing it in the body of Christ. We have lost a vision of God’s holiness because our spiritual idols and ideals aren’t interested in transformed living at all. The mind of Christ is not attractive to most people. A heart after God’s own heart is not appealing to the populous. Life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit is not nearly as cool as living in the prestige of the creative freedom and force of any generation. Journeying together as the body of Christ is no longer possible because individual choice and philosophy is greater than the good of unity and wholeness in Christ.

Little by little, day by day we are losing our ability as a church to see the way of holiness that is open and available to us as God’s holy people. Not because it is leaving us, but because we insist on pursuing a faith that is forged in the relevancy of our time rather than the righteousness of Christ. We have lost sight on what it means to live peculiarly and particularly.

 

This election and the outcry from the results has gouged the eyes of believers so viciously that we can’t even see the shame we are sharing with our groans and grimaces, our posting and preaching, or our smirks and smiles. We have lost full sight this year on where earthly politics fit into our kingdom way.

I’ll say it again. The way of our king is the way of holiness. But holiness is hard to see, hear, or taste in the after shocks of this election gone wrong. We can’t see a holy future because we have lost sight of what living holy in the present might look or feel like.
Life has happened to us and we have let it blind us and put blame in our hearts for what we have lost. We can no longer see or remember the way of holiness in our church and it shows in our recent attitudes and behavior.

We have lost sight of the way when we divide by party at the cost of being unified in Christ. We have lost sight of the way when we let our labeling of others harm the love we should have for them. We have lost sight of the way when we would rather grandstand in social media with our fears than pray in private because we are full of faith. We have lost sight of the way when we go underground and leave the discussion because we declare all other views stupid, unspiritual, and damning of our future. We have lost sight of the holiness of God when we let our fear and failures, emotions and exchanges, or our aches and pains lead us off of the way of holiness that this kingdom of God has called us to.

Fox News, CNN, the Today Show, the NY Times, the Washington Post, Facebook, nor Twitter will show us that way. None of them are fair and balanced nor are they full of grace or truth. They are a business that is out to make money and shape consumers. We either see them for who they are and lean on God’s Spirit to help us despite them OR we walk blindly into their web to be confused and stirred to anger. We will not find them walking in the kingdom way. They will never lead us on the way of holiness. But don’t blame them because they have a mission rooted in wealth and power. We know what we are getting because we know who they are.

But that is not who we are. We are God’s holy people. Make no mistake about it. Holiness is the way that God has called us to live as a person and as a people.

This way – God’s way of holy living, loving and leading – is a gift to us. Let us find it again together. If the people of God can walk together in the holy way that God has called us and prepared for us, then the ALL of creation might one day see its beauty too. The defense of our way of living or our abided rights is not going to lead us anywhere beyond where we are today. But a vision for and call to the holy way of God will bring our dead and decayed spirits and congregations alive in Christ and full of the purposed activity in every change that comes to our country and our world.

God’s vision for us is greater than any woman or man’s vision for our country. Don’t defend or die for the wrong thing. Don’t lose hope hoping that a President or a party will make us great again. They won’t because they can’t. Trust in God and pursue His way for your life, the church, and our country. On this there is not a diversity of views or positions. There is God’s way and then there is the way of the world.

Let’s find again a vision for the way God wants to lead us as a people…ALL people.

Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
    “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
    will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
    He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
And a highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
    It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
    even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.
No lion shall be there,
    nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
    but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain gladness and joy,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35 – ESV)

In Honor of Good (and not so good) Pastors Everywhere

pastor-pic

John Wesley gave his Methodist preachers 12 rules for their ministry. That seems like a lot to me, but this was probably a concise listing for the man who made rules and routine a global movement. These rules are good for pastors, but they are also good and true for anyone gifted and called to serve others in the gospel.

Rule #1 is to be diligent. Idleness is the devil’s work shop. “Never be trifling employed.”   (I love when the word trifling is used effectively.)

Rule #2 is to be serious. “Holiness Unto The Lord. Avoid all jesting, foolishness and light talking.”  (I’m way too serious to comment on this one.)

Rule #3 is to converse sparingly with women. Rule #4 is take no step towards marriage without first consulting your brethren. (I think John may have momma issues).

Rule #9 is be ashamed of nothing, but sin. (Easier said than done.)

Rule #11 – “You have nothing to do but save souls..” ( Are you kidding me? Sometimes I don’t know what John was thinking.)

Most days it doesn’t seem like I’m saving souls or at least it doesn’t feel as like I am doing anything to save anybody. My job doesn’t look anything like my job description and the language used in my ordination covenant greatly differs from my actual daily duties.

Instead of saving souls…

I’m mopping up messes and mistakes from previous leadership.

I’m holding the hands of the converted “faithful” who never became disciples.

I’m recovering from the arrogance and self centeredness displayed by Christians on social media.

I’m giving Vitamin C to a congregation to help the culture recover from the flu of inward focus and outward neglect.

I’m busy planning a contemporary, casual, culturally relevant service that brings substance, satisfaction, and salvation to those who gather. Next week I will be planning a traditional, reverent, old time gospel sing to make sure we have balance in our church worship gatherings so that God is pleased by the happy songs we sing.  🙂

I’m hunkering down from the sky that is falling and rebuilding the wall that has been knocked down as we fear politics more than we fear falling away from our first love.

I’m trying to explain to some why we have to sing off of the wall now instead of from the book like God intended for us to.

I’m also trying to explain why the theology of our song selection is more important than its style or sensation to our ears.

I’m interpreting the “he said-she said” dialogue of what people in the church did or did not say about someone, something, or some galaxy far, far away.

I’m begging for people to give generously to the church – not so we can pay my salary, but so we can support missionaries whose blood is being spilled in the 10-40 window.

I’m caught up trying to explain that God is not a Republican or a Democrat so neither candidate represents God, the church, or faithful Christian witness.

I’m scheduled to attend a church growth conference this week, a pastor’s prayer retreat next week, and a preaching seminar when I get back.

What pastor has time (or energy) for saving or souls?

Of course Wesley’s statement is casting a vision for ministry and not forging our practical responsibilities. His words help us to see all of the things that we do in ministry – the menial and the mystical, the glory and the grief, the enriching and the exhausting – as full partners in God’s redemption of the world through the church. So as we serve the Lord through the church let us do so with the conviction that we are seeing souls saved. And when we are involved in tasks not suitable for seminary preparation we should frame such a task as a door to what God really is doing with an eternal soul that we can’t yet see. Pastors must be gifted with a vision by God, but God’s vision for us is less about buildings or programs and more about the soul of humanity, the strengthening of the family, and the the future of the church as the bride of Christ.

Rule #12 is “Act in all things – not according to your own will – but as a son of the gospel.” (Boom! Mic drop.)

May God help us to put away our profession, repent of our frustration, gather up our greatest effort so that we may work through the ministry of Christ our Lord in saving souls. There is no other worthy calling for us to answer.

Happy Pastor Appreciation Month. I am proud to serve with you. (Now get back to work.)

Why Pastors Need Lent Too

lent pic

 

In a few days I will make my way towards the sanctuary to begin calling my congregation to focus their attention on a new angle of the story of Jesus. Very quickly we have transitioned from celebrating the birth of the King Child who changes the world to remembering the beautiful details of his early days of ministry to others. We have peered into the nativity with the Magi (Matthew 2). We have sipped the wine that was borne as water at a wedding we didn’t expect to be invited to (John 2). We have sat very still in the synagogue and heard him proclaim Isaiah’s prophecy that He would bring good news to the poor and set the captives free (Luke 4). We have heard his call to Peter after a long night of fishing to trust in Him for the catch (Luke 5).

This Jesus story is getting better every day, with every detail. It is a joy to join in on this journey. It is an honor to lean in and catch a glimpse of the Messiah on the move. It is unbelievable that we are included in this great God story that is full of so much promise, so much hope, so much meaning for life on earth.

Then comes the cross. The bloody, brutal cross carved for the final story of Jesus’s life with us. The cross that Rome designed to humiliate, humble, and horrify the populous into submission and surrender. The cross that will forever stand for victory in Jesus, for all the world, throughout eternity, forever and ever. Amen.

This is the new view for my congregation (and yours too, pastor.) It is a view that is less about simply believing in Jesus and more about trusting and believing in him even into death. It is a part of the story that calls us to to lower ourselves, confess our sins, let God draw us near. A call for us to embrace our brokenness, trust in Christ alone by denying the lordship of self, and repent…of everything. Repent of everything that is not rooted in and breathed through the life of Christ. Repent of everything that does not reveal his character and compassion through us. Repent of everything that is not connected to that cross – that bloody, brutal cross.

While I will invite congregants to journey towards the cross and repent, I recognize that I must not only join them on this journey, but I must lead it. I can not just point them in the general direction and bid them to go. I must lead. I must go first. The pastor must lead, not only in the liturgy, but in the lamenting of sin and separation from God.

But what does a pastor really have that needs to be confessed? What on earth does a pastor repent from? Plenty. Believe you me.

Pastors may or may not need to repent of the social sins that are most commonly thought of when preaching/teaching on confession. I am thinking specifically about addictions, attitudes, and anti social behavior that are both clearly defined in scripture and often spelled out in common language in the Special rules or Book of Order. Thanks to the working of God’s grace, most of those sins have been confronted and cast out personally or with the help of ministerial fellowship and accountability. But there are other sins that need to be – must be – dealt with on the way to Easter and on the way to a full life in Christ.

I am finding that there are realities in the pastoral life and call that must be confessed or they will bog down our spiritual life and derail our ministry. While we might not call these social sins they serve as spiritual barriers or bumpers to congregational leaders from the supernatural movement of God in our midst. Truthfully, we should never be ok with anything that we do intentionally or out of ignorance that distracts or detracts from the work of God in us and through us. While sin is often thought of and preached as violating a known law of God, perhaps we should consider it to be a pastoral sin when we put ourselves or our ministry in a place of competition, consternation or conflict with kingdom of God even in the smallest of ways.

“So what on earth are you saying padre?”

I/we need to repent of a cynical spirit, for God is still working in ways that my skeptical eyes can not see. I/we need to repent from a professional busyness/business that prohibits me from being present when others need me to speak into their life and situation. I/we need to repent of living in discouragement due to a perceived lack of success, fame, fortune, and following. I/we need to repent from a personal focus that distracts us from seeing the bigger picture of people/communities in need around us. I/we need to repent from the spirit of self righteousness that keeps us convinced that everyone is a sinner and we can save them through our preaching or programs. I/we need to repent of a ministry that is without hope in a God who saves and sanctifies. I/we need to weep and wail at all of the ways that we minister in our strength rather than in the glorious, graceful strength of Christ our Lord. Then and only then will our ministry be worthy of the call that God has given us as ambassadors of reconciliation in a separated world.

So, I am going to not only repent today (Ash Wednesday) but live repentantly of those (and other) burdens that weakens the ministry of Jesus in and through me. I am thankful that as I confess and pray for forgiveness that the grace of God will both cover and cleanse my sin and shame as a flawed leader. I am thankful that today (and everyday) is the day of salvation for me and those who abandon their own strength and cling to the power of God in Christ. I am eager to know what it means to have nothing but possess everything. I am longing to weep and wail over the sins of the world as a worker in the kingdom of the crucified. I am longing to live with the faith that I can tell God everything and believe that He is already aware and at work in working all things out for the good. I am joyful in the reality that in my weeping and wailing at my need, Christ has set me/us free to live, to love, to lead, and to long for the kingdom that has come.

————————————————————————————————————

So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10)

See What You Want To See

glory of god

Sometimes in life we see the things that we are looking for and miss seeing the things that we aren’t expecting. We become small minded and limited in our creativity when we are looking for something in particular instead of searching for everything in general. Whatever is on our minds or in our hearts becomes the obsession that are eyes are peeled to find. Humans have the special ability to focus on the desires we crave while ignoring the beauty that is all around us. And we miss so much because of it.

We look for the easy route instead of the road less chosen. We search for the perfect house for our family instead of the special home to share life together with them. We see the bad in others before we see the good. We live defeated in our weaknesses rather than celebrating our strengths. We fret about what is missing instead of what has been gained. We hope for the best, but expect the worse in ourselves, our work place, our government, and even our churches. We miss so much because we are looking in the wrong place or for the wrong thing.

It’s not just our problem currently. It is a man/woman problem for many generations. And it isn’t just about missing things in everyday life or in everyday choices. Our ability to see what we are looking for and miss the things that are unexpected gifts often occurs in our encounters with God. God shows up and we are looking elsewhere.

When Solomon brought the ark into the Temple built for the Lord to dwell something amazing happens. A grand parade led by the elders processed into Jerusalem, everyone offered sacrifices (according to their practice) like never before. The cherubim spread out their wings for the ark to rest on and not be profaned. The two tablets of Moses rested in the most holy of places it had ever resided among the people of Israel. And a great cloud descended and the glory of the Lord filled the house. And King Solomon, man did he wax poetic in telling what he had done and what his doings now meant to Israel and to God. Then the King prayed one heck of a prayer and really got Israel fired up over how he had fixed things proper for God. Israel now would be special because they had kept God first and put His holy things in a most holy place.

God, you are welcome. Signed, Israel and King Solomon. (See 1 Kings 8 below.)

In case you missed it in the previous full paragraph I would like to point out that as awesome as this special service of temple dedication was, missed in the grandeur of the King and the sacrifices of the priests was a great cloud and the glory of God filling things up. Read the fine print. It is there. God came down and Israel was looking at how great they were rather than how awesome it is to see God in His fullness in your midst. Everyone was seeing what they wanted to see in the form of a new temple, a great religious celebration, and a king that spoke words that aligned the nation with God. Good news and a very good show.

But they looked past the greatest detail of the story being told. God was there. He was not far off in the past or in the future. God – the one of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – was very much present and showing off for this special occasion. Nothing they were doing was wrong or even unnecessary, but in their religious fervor the most important detail plays second or third fiddle in the story. They were too busy getting their worship on to notice what God was up to in the moment. That is the worst of possible outcomes when singing, praying, preaching at or about God.

To be clear, we are always in the presence of God. Never are we absent from Him. He is all things “omni.” But there are moments – sacred moments- when God shows Himself in an almost overwhelming way to us. Maybe it is in a worship service, maybe a wedding/funeral, maybe on a walk through the forest, maybe on a flight to Timbuktu, but it happens and we never forget it. What we are doing is always the secondary detail of what He is doing.

Listen close. In those moments that God shows off in such a way – shut up and get very still. It is not about the experience or the memory being made. It is about taking notice of the God of all time – the Alpha and Omega – coming close enough for us to almost see and certainly near enough for us to feel. Don’t mess up the moment with unnecessary words or thoughts reminding Him of how faithful or good you have been. Be still, be quiet, be changed forever.

Today when you roll into your church for the worship service make sure you are looking for the glory of God. If you aren’t looking for it you certainly won’t see it. You might walk in and out of the sanctuary happy your songs were sung and upset the sermon was too long, but ready to get to Luby’s for lunch. That will be time wasted. So much more is happening when we worship. Don’t miss it by looking for the wrong things or remembering the minor points. Don’t tell God how great you are or how awesome your church is. He already knows and couldn’t be more impressed.  🙂

The glory of God is filling this earthly temple and we all need to see that personally so that our lives are changed forever and our faith is full of the beauty of almighty God. Encountering God in His glory is the only worthy moment worth remembering.  See for yourself today. If that’s the kind of thing you long to see.

For Proper 16 – August 23, 2015 – Sunday————————————–
Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. 2All the people of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the festival in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month. 3And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests carried the ark. 4So they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. 5King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. 6Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. 7For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles. 8The poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the holy place in front of the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside; they are there to this day. 9There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, when they came out of the land of Egypt. 10And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

12Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. 13I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.” 14Then the king turned around and blessed all the assembly of Israel, while all the assembly of Israel stood. 15He said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who with his hand has fulfilled what he promised with his mouth to my father David, saying, 16‘Since the day that I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city from any of the tribes of Israel in which to build a house, that my name might be there; but I chose David to be over my people Israel.’ 17My father David had it in mind to build a house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. 18But the Lord said to my father David, ‘You did well to consider building a house for my name; 19nevertheless you shall not build the house, but your son who shall be born to you shall build the house for my name.’ 20Now the Lord has upheld the promise that he made; for I have risen in the place of my father David; I sit on the throne of Israel, as the Lord promised, and have built the house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. 21There I have provided a place for the ark, in which is the covenant of the Lord that he made with our ancestors when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.”        (1 Kings 8)

Is God Fair?

justice

Nearly everyday, I go for a walk. I do it for me, and I do it for my doggie because exercise is good for us. It is time well spent. I also do it for my neighbors and the cars that drive through the neighborhood because every time I walk, I pick up nails, glass and construction debris that would cause great mischief to tires or shoes. One little nail in the tire can cost between $5 and $500 to repair or replace a tire(s). One little nail in the shoe might cause a more expensive trip to the ER. That is money most of us don’t plan to expend for transportation or medical care.

Today I picked up 5 nails/screws that had fallen off of construction trucks and lay waiting in the street to ruin somebody’s day. Usually I pick up 2 or 3. Add it all up, multiply it, divide by 2, and I think over the last 3 years I have picked up 1,000 nails, screws and sharp things. That is a lot of tires I have saved. That is a lot of money I have kept in the pockets of the families of Northpointe. That is a job well done by a boy on a walk with his dog. Since I have “paid it forward” for nearly 3 years, surely God will make sure I never get a nail in my tire or my foot. That just wouldn’t be right. That would not be just – not fair – at all.

Except that my wife just called, and we have 2 tires that need to be replaced because of nails, screws and sharp things. The cost will be $475 for two tires replaced and balanced. That is just my luck! Where is the justice? How could God let this happen to me? This isn’t fair at all!

When we think that by doing something good we are preventing something bad from happening, we are not pursuing a path of justice. That is a path of karma. Karma and justice often get mixed together when we are considering or commenting on things happening in life. Most often we think that if something happens to someone bad, that justice was served. In ministry we will think that by serving God we are due for reward (or at least for protection from harm or hurtful happenings). That might be thought of as justice by many people, but it is more like karma and karma is a false philosophy. So don’t buy into it.

Most of the time we have our definition of justice all wrong. Justice is not about being fair or making things fair in life. Justice is not a new fangled political action or platform on which to build your identity. Justice is not a about keeping or upholding the legal letter of the law, and finally Justice is not (merely) a clothing store for tween girls.

Justice – God’s justice – is a whole other cool thing. And just to be clear, the pursuit of justice is not something new that was birthed in this millennium by hipster Christians. Justice – God’s brand  of justice – is as old as Israel and as modern as the new heaven and the new earth on the horizon. This kind of justice is rooted in God, but branched out through Christian action and witness. We don’t own or control God’s justice. Instead, we act on behalf of just causes that matter to our just God. Causes like water, earth, orphans, world peace, sanctity of life and the homeless are near the heart of God and therefore are to be near the heart and hands of Christ followers. Justice is not an “add on” to the Christian life. It comes standard in how we join ourselves together with other believers in mission and ministry.

Acting justly in our world is not about creating a climate where everything is fair, or whereby doing good we prevent harm from coming our way. Justice is about working to make things right that have been wrong. The work of justice in a religious sense is about acting rightly in a situation where wrong has been done. Acting justly is acting righteously with purpose, conviction and cause. It is setting to right what has been turned or twisted in life. When we do work in a just way, we are setting aside our own claims to privilege or profit for the purpose of guaranteeing that others receive equity when they can not claim it for themselves.

The focus of our work is to make the world a better place by announcing that God’s righteous kingdom has come. We are to be both a righteous witness and a righteous warrior for others who are caught in the weight of the world so they may encounter our just God in ways they never before thought possible. Likewise, we are to band together in Christian unity and say enough to the powers that be in our world who make victims of so many people, places and things.  To be clear though, it is not our justice or American justice or any other brand of organized justice that we are working to provide. It is the justice of God who desires to fix broken things, help broken people, restore broken families, redeem broken governments. He is not just a “fix it” God. He is a righteous Father who by His very nature restores order, reclaims the lost, and recreates beauty in our lives. No matter what sentence life has pronounced over us or over those we serve, God’s justice speaks love and mercy into us and into them, causing us/them to turn away from what is wrong in life and turn into God to receive Him fully.

Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell forever.

For the Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.

The righteous shall inherit the land
and dwell upon it forever.

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.

The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip.

The wicked watches for the righteous
and seeks to put him to death.

The Lord will not abandon him to his power
or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off.
(Psalm 37:27-34)

Justice is precisely what God is doing to bring His kingdom into the world’s view because justice is who He is. When we see or hear justice planted into dysfunction we are witnesses to one of God’s mighty acts. The grace of our Lord poured out for us preaches justice in the desperation of all people. Even those who don’t know they are desperate benefit from the justice of God announced in the ministry of Jesus and carried forward in the work of the church through the ages. When we care for the orphan (and the widow), we are joining God in his justice mission by helping kids and strengthening the family. When we protect the unborn we are joining God is his life giving work to the world of a new gifted generation. When we oppose slavery, speak up to protect/preserve marriage and appropriate family structures, pick up those in poverty, shelter those who are homeless, give water to the thirsty, preserve both the beautiful and the ugly places of the world for another generation, we are agents of justice in an unjust world bent on turning in on itself. Speaking up for and doing justice work for the kingdom of God and that is a calling worthy of our full pursuit and investment.

Is God fair? Maybe. Are some lucky to be born into faith? Probably, but those are the wrong questions to be asking about God. Those questions are more about us than they are about Him. Is God righteous and just? Absolutely! And the more you grow to know Him, the more you will trust in Him to bring righteousness and justice – His righteous, life giving justice – into your world.

Thanks be to God for calling us to such a place in such a time as this. There are so many causes and conflicts waiting for a bold witness to speak faith, hope and love into chaos and confusion. May the righteousness of Christ flow through us in a just way so we may work for justice for those hoping to see a sign from God in their life. Let this be a week/month/year where we see clearly what our calling is so that we are certain in what we our being poured out for.

MY NYC is better than your NYC!

nyc 2015

(Note: NYC stands for Nazarene Youth Conference – not New York City, No Yucky Cantaloupe or Nasty Yellow Cat)

NYC memories and experiences are a matter of competition among some Nazarenes pitting one district against another and comparing the stories of one teenager (or youth pastor) to their friends. On occasion these memories and stories fall victim to the temptation to stretch the truth a little just so my/your NYC seems cooler than your/my NYC. Ministerially speaking I guess a little NYC “tall telling” never hurt anybody too bad. It has just made the event bigger and bigger for the next generation of Nazarene youth and allowed NYC alumni to bask fondly in the memories of our days gone by.

Nothing makes you realize your age more than seeing your child standing in the spotlight you once stood. For the last 28 years I have reflected on and spoken fondly of my first youth leadership conference in Washington, DC. As a rising high school sophomore I boarded a plane with a few of my friends to hear great speakers (Tony Campolo), eat great food (Roy Rogers Burgers), hear great music (Michael W. Smith) and dirty my hands in ministry to others for the first time. Now Davis stands in my shoes in Louisville at NYC 2015 along with 7,000 of his closest Nazarene friends. Time does not stand still.

I am hopeful that the impact on him from this conference will be severe – in a good way. Ideally, he will be not only touched, but shaped by his experiences with others and most importantly his encounter with Jesus through discipleship and missional outreach. My preaching and teaching him about God as I know Him is limited by his hearing God speak in his heart and learning to know God in new and fresh ways. He must build on the teachings of his childhood and progress to a mature man of faith. That is my prayer.

NYC isn’t only for him though. It is a time to reflect on my faith and on my obedience to God. To hear God speak in a new way and with a fresh clarity on the calling in my life. If my son is the only one growing in his faith and moving on with God then there is a problem. One event in 1987 didn’t finish the work God had in mind for me. He has much, much more to do in my body, my mind, my spirit. I can’t go back to 1987 and I wasn’t invited to participate in the Louisville event, but God has great hopes for my heart this week too. God has never stopped doing the work on the inside of me so that the work He is doing through me might be blessing to others and a witness of the kingdom that has come into the world.

The truth is I have been very busy this week. Lots of meetings and phone calls to return. Lots of events with my other two kids not at NYC. Lots of good baseball on TV to watch in my spare time. Not enough time taken to pray for, fast over, and encourage Davis while he was away at what may be the most formative event of his life so far. Have I missed my moment for him?

Nope. God has had this all along. He was thinking of my son long before I paid the registration fee for him or put his bags on that bus. God placed his soul in the most capable hands of His Son and blew his blessings into his body. While I might miss moments or meaningful events, God doesn’t. He knows my son by name and he knows him in ways I don’t know or understand. He has plans and has given promises that nobody knows about yet, but we trust in Him to work all of the things (events/experiences/encounters/etc..) in Davis’ life in good and glorious ways.

My privilege is to point him towards God and let God do the shaping. That is my place and it fulfills the promise I made at his dedication and again in his baptism. That doesn’t mean that I am free from my spiritual duties as a father, but my role is changing. As he matures and moves on from my constant care over his life I must become much, much less of an influence on his spiritual life and Jesus must be the primary preacher/teacher in his heart. If Davis is my disciple, then I have failed as a father and as a pastor.

That is why I sent my son to NYC 2015. Not to gather great memories (he will) or eat great food (he stopped at Monells in Nash-Vegas) or get a picture with Colonel Sanders (“I’m back America!”). I sent Him to get away from his routine life and sit with God so that he might heart more clearly what God is saying to him right now and so that he may learn the beauty of hearing God speak throughout his life -no matter how old he gets. That is why I completely hope that his NYC is better than my NYC.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. (Ephesians 1:3-4)