Thursday, August 28, 2008

Who would Jesus vote for?

Ok. I’ve written and re-written this thought for Thursday a dozen times and I’m getting nowhere. Why? Because I’m trying to tackle a difficult topic and I’m having trouble getting any traction. The topic? Politics. The trouble? As a pastor, I do my best to stay out of partisan politics. The reason is simple. As a pastor some people look at me for direction as to what God would have a person do in his or her life. That’s reasonable, I guess, and it works for some areas of life but not for others. Why? Well, I’m not perfect so often I don’t do what God wants. Just as important, there’s not always one way to live out our Christianity in the world around us. Just because I decide to do or not do something, doesn’t always mean you have to do the same.

That is especially true in politics. Lot’s of people want to know, “Who would Jesus vote for?” That sounds like a good question. In many ways, though, it’s impossible to answer, at least in any definitive way. For one thing, Jesus never voted. He didn’t even have the opportunity to vote. And as difficult as it may be for our modern sensibilities he didn’t even address the topic. He spent zero time on suffrage issues. The few times he did address earthly political leaders, he was pretty dismissive of their false positions of power. Jesus was political, no doubt (he was executed as a political dissident), but he wasn’t political in the way we so often use the term.

Does Jesus’ lack of involvement mean we shouldn’t be involved in partisan politics? Not at all. We live in an entirely different situation from Jesus. We have the opportunity to have a say in our government - a say that can have a major effect not only on our neighbors here in America, but on people around the world. Such opportunities are no doubt a gift and a responsibility from God. But how do we, as Christians, employ that gift? How do we get from the world of the Bible, where voting was a non-issue, to modern day life, where we live and work and breath?

First of all, we make the move humbly realizing that when that much distance exists between the world of the Bible and our own world, very reasonable, dedicated Christians are going to come to different conclusions concerning how their faith will inform their politics. Just because someone chooses to vote differently than me, doesn’t mean they are less of a Christian. Let us treat one another with civility and love. Second, we approach the task with a healthy bit of skepticism. I don’t mean we should be cynical about politics – far from it. The political world, whether we like it or not, is where we make decisions in this country. Democratic (that’s little “d”) politics really are better than the alternative - there are no participatory politics in a totalitarian government. No, we shouldn’t be cynical, but we should be skeptical. The kingdom of God can’t be reduced to partisan politics. No political party, no politician, no political system will save the world. Politics can certainly make things worse or better, but only the gospel of Jesus Christ can make people whole.

Jesus answered [Pilate], “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” – John 18:36.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Spiritual gift of being a woman or a man

I’ve been reading Jeanie Miley’s new book Joining Forces. Several of you at Southland make appearances in the book (all positive), so you may want to check it out. Jeanie covers quite a bit of ground in this book, talking about the many struggles we humans encounter as we attempt to live out our maleness and femaleness in this world and in the church. She starts where every discussion should start on this topic, with the great truth that God made both male and female in his image. In fact, when we read Genesis 1, we realize that a community only truly reflects God’s image when both male and female giftedness are allowed to shine.

The church has struggled with this for a long time, from many different directions. The most obvious is in the way the way the church has attempted to quiet feminine forms of leadership, whether openly or subtly. How many Spirit-filled sermons, how much pastoral care, how many wise decisions have been hampered through the centuries because well over half of the church’s participants have been refused a voice? On the other hand, while the church has emphasized male leadership through the centuries, it has often struggled to attract and keep male participation at the lay level (this has been true since the beginning days of Christianity when a Roman official described the church as a collection of “women and slaves”). Books about why men hate the church are the latest fad to hit Christian book stores. They seem to indicate that male ways of thinking and acting often feel out of place in current styles of worship.

It’s easy to turn these problems into an “us” vs. “them” situation. My gender vs. your gender. We’ve done this in the past and left injured and hurting people in our wake. But such gender warfare clearly misses the point of Christian community and the way of Christ. Healing begins when through the Spirit’s power we attempt to return to Genesis 1 and remember that we were created together to be God’s reflected image in the world. In the church, exclusively male ways of thinking will not suffice. Neither will exclusively female ways of thinking. We need one another in all our uniqueness, both male and female. Our coming together doesn’t mean giving up our maleness or our femaleness, but rather recognizing that our being a male or a female is itself a gift from God meant to be used for his Kingdom’s glory. We remember also, that my neighbor’s gender, especially if it is different than mine, is also a gift from God.

J├╝rgen Moltmann, the great German theologian puts it this way, “If we want to do justice to the fellowship of women and men in the church, we must therefore come to have a new understanding of the church based on the shared experience of the Spirit. There is one Spirit, but there are many spiritual [gifts] . . . To be a woman is a charisma [a gift], to be a man is a charisma [a gift].” How true. I hope today, whether you are male or female, you’ll know that you, with all your gifts, with all your idiosyncrasies, with all your uniqueness, are made in God’s image and are his gift to our church and to the world.

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them – Genesis 1:27.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Baylor names David Garland interim president

The Waco Tribune-Herald is reporting that Baylor has named David Garland interim president. Dr. Garland currently serves as the dean of Truett Seminary. I have the utmost respect for Dr. Garland having studied under him while a student at Truett. He is an exceptional Bible scholar, a passionate preacher, and a man of the highest character. He has served as an administrator for the seminary (first as an associate dean, then as dean) for several years always to high praise. I stay out of Baylor politics, but do think this is a good move for Baylor during the transition between presidents - I'll certainly put Dr. Garland in my prayers and ask that you do as well.

See the press release here: http://www.wacotrib.com/blogs/content/shared-gen/blogs/communities/breakingnews/entries/2008/08/20/baylor_names_garland_interim_p.html

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Can't touch your toes? That's OK

Like so much of the world, Alyson and I have been glued to Olympics this week. Well, Alyson’s been glued. I make it until about 10:15 and fall asleep on the couch. I don’t know what time Alyson’s been going to bed, but it’s been late. We’ve been recording the gymnastics for Sophie. She loves the gymnastics. Sophie thinks she is a gymnast because she participated in Central High School’s kid’s gymnastics program last year. I asked Sophie if she thought someday she’d be able to do some of the flips and twists that the Olympians do. She said, “Yes . . . when I’m six.” Ah, the wide-open world of a four year old.

Reality is that the odds are stacked against her being able to do those things at that level even by the time she’s sixteen. As ridiculous as it seems, most Olympians have already been dedicated to the sport by Sophie’s age. Take the Chinese for the extreme example. They remove three-year-olds from their families and begin training them in special gymnastics programs. How do you spot gymnastics potential in a three year old? I’m afraid Sophie wouldn’t make the cut and it would be my fault. Neither her mother nor I can even touch our toes. But who knows? Maybe Sophie has some hidden recessive genes of flexibility.

In life, we’re always attempting to evaluate our own potential (and the potential of others) at some activity or another. Most of us don’t want to try an activity if we don’t think we’ll be able to succeed at it. Some of us, bound by perfectionism, won’t try an activity if we don’t think we’ll be able to be perfect at it. This can lead to a paralysis of life. That is especially true in the Kingdom of God. God asks us to do some pretty bold things as Christians. In fact, the things he asks us to do, like loving our enemies, serving the least of these, taking up our crosses – these things make the balance beam look down right tame. If we decide to act or not to act based only upon our own potential for success, we’ll never take even the first steps of obedience. Why? Because none of us have the potential to do such things. The good news is that God already knows that. He knows, and communicates to us, that the potential for obedience to his ways and purposes rests not with us, but with him. At church, we call that grace. Grace is what allows four year olds, thirty-four year olds, and eighty-four year olds to hear the commands of God and respond with a wide-open “Yes. . . I can do that . . . by God’s grace.”

We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us – 2 Corinthians 4:7

Online Devotional

A good online devotional can be found at www.d365.org.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The worst word is not the last word

If you haven’t seen the interview Good Morning America did with Stephen Curtis Chapman and his wife Mary Beth yesterday, you need to check it out (http://abcnews.go.com/video/playerIndex?id=5524419). Have a tissue handy. This is the first interview the family has given since the tragic death of their youngest daughter, Maria Sue. I was struck by the Chapman’s honesty and hope. They didn’t try to sugar coat the situation. They didn’t pretend they weren’t hurting. They didn’t deny that the death of their daughter had caused them to question God, their faith, you name it. Mary Beth’s confession that she didn’t care if this “helped” anybody else, she just wanted her baby girl back, brought me to tears.

It reminded me of a time in my own family’s life, when we had encountered a tragic loss. One of the least comforting things people would say was that this will make you a better minister – as if the highest goal God had for me in this loss was to “learn a lesson.” I would think to myself, “This may make me a better minister, but that can’t be God’s primary concern here.” It gets to a difficult question in our Christian lives – does God cause bad things in our lives in order to shape us into the type of people he wants us to be, to teach us a lesson as we say, or as he tends to us in our brokenness does he simply redeem (and not cause) the bad things in our lives that they may serve his ultimate purposes and our ultimate good? I don’t pretend to have this figured out but I certainly lean towards the latter.

There are bad things that happen in the world. Sometimes these bad things happen because we ourselves do bad things. Sometimes they happen because other people do bad things to us. Sometimes they just happen and no one is at fault. That God can use these bad things for our good and his purposes does not negate their tragic nature. The death of a child, a miscarriage, a murder, a divorce, any number of other tragedies – these things will be tragedies ten years from now . . . ten million years from now. We don’t have to pretend like such things are “good” when they clearly are not.

Hope isn't pretending that bad things are good. No, hope is believing that God is in the business of redeeming bad things for our good. What else is the cross, but God redeeming the worst we could do into the best he could do for us? Because of that, we can have hope. God says to us, as Richard John Neuhaus puts it, “The worst word is not the last word.” In the Chapman interview, you clearly see that they are presently encountering one of the worst words the world could speak, but you also see that they firmly believe the worst word shall not be the last word. Say a prayer for the Chapman family today – I can’t imagine having to go through such a tragedy, much less in the public eye. And say a prayer for one another, that when the worst words of life are spoken to us, we will hold fast to the truth that such words will not have the last say.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose . . . Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?. . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us – Romans 8:28, 35, 37.