Spiritual Battle in 2017

A spiritual battle has begun in America, but it’s not being fought in the way or over issues that many evangelicals are familiar with.

It’s not about traditional values.  It’s not about culture wars.  And it’s emphatically not about restoring America to a place of exceptionalism, making America first, or making America great “again.”  In fact, all of that seems silly, boring, and idolatrous when considering this spiritual battle.

This is a battle for the heart of the Gospel, and it what it means to follow Jesus in 2017 whilst living in the United States of America.  It’s being fought over issues such as gun violence, immigration, sexuality, sexual abuse, racism, classism, the environment, to name a few.

It’s not about abortion only, and that seems strange, foreign even, to evangelicals of a certain stripe and certain generation.  It’s not about family values and that seems odd, unfamiliar.  It’s not about Christian worldviews and apologetics, and that further confounds many evangelicals brought up in the good old days of the Religious Right, Case for Christ, Moral Majority, and Focus on the Family. 

While some of those things maintain a level of importance in this spiritual battle, they are not at the forefront.  At the forefront are questions of what it means to truly love our neighbor – whether our neighbor is Muslim, Latino, Black, Asian, or white; what it means to follow Jesus who said, “Love your enemies,” and “Blessed are the peacemakers”; what it means to be a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven first, foremost, most importantly, most distinctly, definitively, before identifying as a citizen of America or other geo-political entity; what it means to walk humbly, doing justice, loving kindness/mercy; what it means that God is making all things new, not all new things, and to live as if you expect that to happen.

At the heart of this battle there is the person of Jesus, the Christ.  Jesus is at the heart of the battle because some who don the name “Christian” say Donald Trump is our dream president.  Jesus is at the heart of the battle because some have said it’s our God-given right to possess firearms designed to kill at high rates.  Jesus is at the heart because some have said it doesn’t matter what we do with this world, it’s all going to burn up in the end anyway.  Jesus is at the heart of the battle because some claim sexuality has been decided, centuries ago, and there is no grey, only black and white, male and female, that’s it.  Jesus is at the heart of the battle because some say upholding the laws of the land are more important than the command to love our neighbor in the way the Good Samaritan exhibited radical, costly neighborliness.  Jesus is at the heart of the battle because some say people of other faith traditions threaten our ability to freely worship and, ultimately, desire to exterminate our faith altogether.  Jesus is at the heart of the battle because there is disagreement about Jesus and his teachings.

There are others who say no elected official will ever be our dream president because no elected official can ever replace our one and only true allegiance to King Jesus.  There are others who say that when Jesus commanded his disciple to put his sword away, he once and for all commanded all Christians to lay down their weapons.  There are others who say that this world was given to us to steward and care for, and as ‘creation groans’ we will be held responsible for what we do to the earth.  There are others who say sexuality is broken, for ALL people, and so the best way forward is acceptance, understanding, and compassion.  There are others who say the laws of the land are secondary at best because our primary call is to love our neighbor, love the foreigner, for we were once foreigners.  There are others who say other faith traditions are not our enemies, but may be the sheep of the other fold Jesus referred to, or seekers of the cosmic Christ in their own understanding and tradition.  There are others who say that Jesus’ teachings are radical, adventurous, push the boundaries, and we should do the same.

There is a spiritual battle.  It’s not the battle you might imagine.  Maybe you’ve been missing the nuance.  See, the lines are not clearly drawn.  It’s not about liberal and conservative, that’s boring.  It’s not about being traditional or progressive as I don’t know whether anyone really knows what any of these terms really mean anymore.  In other words, they only mean what I want it to mean when I’m trying to distance myself in the battle, draw lines in the battle, explain why I am right and you are wrong in the battle.

A generation is rising up observing the battle – the lines that have been drawn – and many are walking away, disengaging, choosing not to participate.  They aren’t walking away from faith, spirituality, the need for a Source, a Creator, a Spirit that makes life more meaningful, more purposeful, more beautiful.  No, they’re walking away from the battle that is, at its heart, a battle between people who say they follow the same God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ but refuse to come to the Table, yes the Table, and move forward. 

We need to get our act together, Church, fam. The Spirit is moving. We need to confess our complicity in systems that hurt people created in the image of God. We need to repent. We need to listen. We need to get do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.


Our Idols

I'm sick over these shootings. I'm sick that these have become status-quo. I'm sick that as a country we have apparently become so impotent: "Nothing can be done. It is what it is."

Yet some say we are exceptional. But we can't be exceptional if citizens can't go to a concert, the movies, school, or church safely. We can't be exceptional if we can't band together and make sensible change. We can't be exceptional if living here means we simply accept these tragedies as normative and magically wish and pray they don't happen to me or my loves ones. Exceptional people make exceptional, sacrificial, courageous decisions.

Yesterday I preached on the topic of Solus Christus, salvation in Christ alone. Nothing else can save us, but Jesus Christ. In Christian churches, heads nod and "Amens" are heard throughout when sermons like this are preached! "We love it! We love Jesus! He's my King! He's my Lord!"

But we have our idols. If we're honest, it's not always Christ alone, and guns are but one of those idols. Our inaction on sensible gun control illustrates the fact that we would rather cling to our weapons for a feeling of safety and security than lay our lives at the feet of Jesus. We would rather hold fast to our claims as citizens of America who uphold the "laws of the land" than our identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God with Scripture as our one and only guide.

We are experiencing a crisis of faith. Too many of us who claim to represent our Lord and King, Jesus the Christ, are double-minded and divided in our loyalties, something our Holy Scriptures warns against. It's no wonder the next generation is walking away from this badly conflated, syncretistic version of nationalistic faith we have passed down.

Agree or disagree, these moments call for confession, repentance, prayer, unity, and the courage to move forward with hope as our guide, rejecting the FEAR so many will alluringly dangle before us.

To my friends and congregation, I'd love to begin face to face conversations on how we move forward as followers of Jesus that we might better represent his Kingdom while we sojourn on this earth. Lord, have mercy. May the peace of Christ be with us all.



I heard Richard Rohr say,
"Without the self-critical aspect of religion, when religion does not develop the prophetic or self-critical function at the core of its message, it is always idolatrous; it will always worship itself.”
I wonder if this could be true of all organizations, institutions, nations, even of individuals. When we lose the self-critical aspect - when we are afraid to ask tough questions, have tough conversations about the realities we are facing - we curve inward. This curving inward causes us to reject criticism, reject anything that might suggest, "Things could be better." We become defensive. We make excuses. We blame others. We cannot look within. We don't dare examine the depths of our heart, the depths of our souls.

A truly great organization, institution, individual can stand up to scrutiny, criticism, examination; it/he/she is not afraid to take a long look in the mirror. Criticism doesn't diminish greatness, it aims to make things better.

Given the recent barrage of general craziness in our country over the past months, I wonder if this great nation is strong enough to stand up to criticism. Are we as a nation strong enough to carefully examine our warts, our diseases, our social and moral shortcomings? Do we believe "things could be better"? Some suggest calling any attention to these matters is divisive, thus seeking to shut down the criticism.

Players in the NFL and people of color are and have been criticizing; gun control advocates are criticizing; the citizens of Puerto Rico are criticizing; religious minorities are criticizing; LGBT community is criticizing. Will we hear the critique? Will we listen and wonder, "Could things be better?" or will we simply dismiss these voices and curve further inward? Are we impotent, powerless, unable to effect change?

And Church. Come on. Where you at Church? We who claim Christ should be more willing than anyone to look within, name our faults, and believe we can change, we can be made new, we can see things get better, we can see the messiest of situations redeemed. Right? Or have we given up on looking inward as well? Are we too participating in a culture that refuses criticism?

We need the prophetic voice. We need to listen to the prophetic voice. We need to allow the prophets on the margins of society to call us to something better, something deeper, something richer, something that allows for human flourishing for all humans, something that helps us all prosper and thrive.

If you've read this far, may the peace of Christ be with you!


Lord Have Mercy

I am a white man.  I have the privilege of sitting here in rural Washington living my life as if nothing has changed and nothing will change; as in, my life goes on just as peachy, prosperous, and promise filled as before.

I find myself watching Facebook and Twitter to get a pulse for where “my people” are at on the recent verdict.  My seminary friends – mostly pastors now – and especially my African American “friends” around the country are angry.  There is righteous anger.  There is serious reflection.  There is a sense that they are all asking, “Seriously, this happened in 2014?” 

And then there are my more conservative “friends.”  They too feel a sense of righteous indignation.  They too feel wronged in this moment; after all, this was a police officer, one of US, defending himself against a criminal.

I read.  I weep.  I get pissed off.  I wonder.  What will I do?  How will I respond?  Will I tweet something provocative?  Will I share links that agree with where I’m at?  Where am I at? 

And I realize.  We all need to shut up.  Especially those of us in the white, privileged community.  We need to shut up and listen, grieve, seek understanding, and forgiveness.  We need to shut up and realize that a young man’s life has been cut short.  A young man’s life has been ended.  Whatever he did; whoever he was; the truth is that he was unarmed.  He was alive one moment, dead the next.  His life was cut short, taken from him, ended. 

If this happened in my community – to someone I knew – I’d want answers.  I’d want justice.  I’d want things to change, or to at least know that this event, this terrible, tragic, insane event was taken seriously enough to incite change.

And then I see it.  I see what’s wrong with the paragraph I just wrote.  Did you catch it?  I “would” want this; I “would” want that.  Why don’t I want it now?  Sure, this happened thousands of miles away from me.  Sure, this doesn’t really impact me right now, right here in rural Washington.  But maybe it should.  Maybe it does.  No, strike that 'maybe,' it does.

If I’m serious about Jesus’ definition of neighbor.  If I’m serious about Jesus’ call to love neighbor as I love myself, then this should matter.  I shouldn’t see Michael as a MEMBER of some community somewhere, out there, over there, different, detached, separate, OTHER from me and my people.  Michael is my people.  Michael is a kid that could be on my football team; he could be in my youth group; he could be a friend of my kids’ one day.  Michael could be the son of a guy I coach with.  Michael is part of me.

But it’s easier to protect myself from going there.   It’s easier to ignore that truth.  It’s easier to go about my life because I’m allowed to go about my life; I’m privileged to go about my life.

Jesus says, “To those who much has been given, much is required.”  I hate that passage.  Why did he have to say that?  I ask because the truth is, I have a lot.  I know it, and therefore I have no excuse.

So what will I do?  Where am I at? 

Writing this is the beginning – a really lame first step.  Some who read it will question my motives.  Some will disagree while others will want to join their voices to mine.  But those who truly know me – know my heart for the Lord and desire to see the Good News be Good News for all people – will know that these words, these musings, are but a beginning.

Lord have mercy.


Be Holy. Be Fascinating.

Leviticus 20:26
You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.

Ephesians 1:4
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

Hebrews 12:14
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

1 Peter 1:15-16
 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

1 Thessalonians 4:3
 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified

“Be holy.”

We are called to be holy; to be sanctified; to be set apart; to be different.

In Jesus for President, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw write, “God would save the world through fascination, by setting up an alternative society on the margins of the empire for the world to come and see what a society of love looks like.” 

An alternative society on the margins.  Saving the world through fascination.

I’m not sure if this is exactly appropriate, but what happens if we replace the word holy, with fascinating? 

“Be fascinating.” 

I wonder what this might do for the cause of Christ.  What if instead of being uptight, boring, uninteresting, blah, plain, against this and against that, the people of God were fascinating?

We love and are loved by a fascinating, extraordinary God.  Would that our lives would reflect this truth.


Be holy.  Be fascinating.


We All Die

We will all die.  We spend a lot of time, energy, and resources desperately trying to avoid this truth.  Through modern medicine, safety requirements, laws, and the like, we do everything we can to avoid the reality of death - the reality of our mortality.

I stood in line to receive ashes.  I watched as a mother went forward with her small children.  They all received the ashes:
"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Repent, and believe the gospel."
I'm a parent.  As I watched these children receive the ashes, I immediately thought about the mortality of my own children.  We do so much to protect our kids.  We go to great lengths and are willing to spare no expense to shield our kids from harm, especially from death.  But on this night, the words for young and old are the same, "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

I was still in line.  An older couple wanted to get in line, so I stepped back to let them in.  He entered using a cane for support; she followed close behind.  They helped each other along to the ashes, receiving them one after another:
"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Repent, and believe the gospel." 
There aren't different words for different ages, races, genders.  In this respect, Ash Wednesday reminds us of the greatest equalizer of all: the reality that we all die.  Yes, we will all die.  We all know it.  We throw around the cliches, "Make the most of your time."  "Life is short."  "You never know when it's your time to go."

But what do we do with this reality?  How do we live into this reality?  Lent invites us to consider these questions anew, with greater purpose and an intensified intentionality.

We live into Lent, and the reality of death, anticipating resurrection hope.

We live into Lent, and the reality of our sin and imperfection, anticipating forgiveness.

We live into Lent, and in so doing, we proclaim the message of the Gospel - the message Jesus' proclaimed when he began his ministry - "The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Good News!"

But until the Day comes,
"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Repent, and believe the gospel."


In Observance of A Holy Lent

“What is one thing you could do over the next forty days that could change your life forever?”

This question was asked in Mark Scandrette’s book, Practicing the Way of Jesus.  I can’t think of a more appropriate time for us to begin to ask ourselves this important question than in anticipating the observance of Lent.

I have to admit, the idea of giving something up or even adding something to one’s life in order to think about Jesus’ sacrifice has often, in my opinion, seemed trite or not quite far enough.  “Jesus died for my sins, so I’m not going to eat chocolate or be on Facebook this month.  And on top of this huge sacrifice, I’ll be sure to tell all my friends and complain whenever the opportunity arises.”

Somehow I don’t think that’s the idea of fasting.

So what if we considered making a change that could actually impact our lives – not just for 40 days – but forever?  What if we considered making a change that not only eradicated a negative habit, but that created space for God to inhabit the space that habit once held?  [Mmmmm.  I liked that last question]

Scandrette offers some helpful instructions:

1 - Examine Your Life
Spend some time in solitude asking God to reveal where transformation is most needed. In what area do you long for healing and greater wholeness?
2 - Explore Patterns and Root Causes Identified
On a piece of paper, briefly describe the issue or pattern. What are the daily choices you make that support this habit or pattern?
3 - Decide What New Practice(s) to Adopt
An effective experiment will include both elements of abstinence and engagement—something you will stop doing and something you will start doing as a healthy alternative.
4 - Commit to Your Plan
We show what we really believe and value by what we are committed to actually do.  Share your plan with a trusted friend who will hold you accountable.  Find a way to actually chart or show your progress and STICK TO IT!  If you miss a day, don't give up!

What if we committed to observing a holy Lent, and in the process changed our lives – creating space for the Creator to enter into and reshape our habits, passions, and way of seeing the world?  Will you choose to observe a holy Lent?