How Will You Respond?

This past Sunday, I shared my response to the recent presidential election. It had been almost 2 weeks since America had voted, which, I think, was a good thing. Time and distance help give perspective and much-needed balance.

Because many of you would not have heard me share my thoughts, and because some of you might want to consider again what I had to say, here is the gist of what I shared at Fern Creek Christian, post-election:

 

I didn’t stay up Election Night to see who had won. My need for sleep outweighed my need to find out the results, state-by-state. But, whether you found out at 3am, or 6am, or 9 or noon, all of us had a reaction. In this regard, we’re no different than any one else; people all over our country, and all over the world, had a reaction.

But more important than our reaction, is our response. A reaction happens in the moment; a reaction is determined by circumstances.

A response, however, isn’t determined by circumstances, but by who we are. And who we are is the Church: the people of God; the body of Jesus Christ; the family united in One Spirit. That’s our identity.

So, no matter what your reaction is to last week’s election, let me frame what I think should be our response as followers of Jesus:

  1. Presidents come and go. Good, bad, or somewhere in the middle; presidents don’t last forever.
  2. Jesus, however, does. He is the same yesterday, today, forever (Hebrews 13.8).
  3. Jesus didn’t get all that worked up about politics. In Luke 13.31-32, the Pharisees come and tell Jesus that King Herod is trying to kill him. Jesus doesn’t panic; he doesn’t even change his plans. Instead, in essence, he responds: You tell that fox that I’m on a mission, and nothing will deter me from it. Simply put: Jesus was not deterred by political OR religious leaders from fulfilling his calling.
  4. That calling? To lovingly seek and save the lost, giving his life for ALL people.
  5. Jesus is in charge of the Church, so guess what we’re going to continue to do? Reach people with Jesus’ love, and point them to the kingdom of God.
  6. And because every one needs Jesus, the Church is a place for everyone. Democrats are welcome, and Republicans. Independents, too. Folks born in Louisville. Folks born in other states. And folks born in other countries.

Last week, I attended the International Conference on Missions. While there, I attended a workshop led by a guy whose church has an active ministry to folks from Myanmar who have settled in their area. Other folks in that session chimed in, discussing their church’s outreach to foreign-born folks in their communities. It was very encouraging to hear.

And then a young woman raised her hand, and said: “I’m a first-generation refugee.” Tears formed in her eyes as she recalled her experience: “People were cruel to me when I got here,” she told us.

But she responded to what she had heard in that room: It’s encouraging to see a roomful of people who care.

Is that not the Church? A roomful – a family – of people who care? We follow Jesus, and, as Preston Sprinkle has pointed out: Jesus didn’t do a background check before he chose to love others.

So, the church where I serve is not a reactive church. Which means: our first calling isn’t to get sucked into “reactionary” conversations, especially with those who don’t know Jesus.

Instead, let’s be a responsive church; where our response to the love and grace of Jesus that WE have experienced, is to share that with Every One.

There will always be people in power, and they’ll use power how they see fit. We should pray for them, and hold them accountable when they go outside of the appropriate use of power.

But the Power of Love is what changes lives. And nothing can change that. So, no matter what happens in Washington, or Frankfort, or City Hall – for good or for ill – the Church should never budge from using the power it has. That power? It’s simply the power of the love of Jesus. Working in us, and through us. Reaching out. To Every One.

What It Means to Get Worship “Right”

In Jeremiah 2.12-13 (NRSV), God addresses the reality that His people have turned away from Him:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
    be shocked, be utterly desolate,
says the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
    they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
    and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns
    that can hold no water.

The Lord says that His people have committed 2 sins: 1) they have turned away from Living Water, 2) choosing, instead, to dig their own well. In other words: they have chosen to worship other gods – and worshiping these pagan deities has led them to forget their call to love each other. This then leads them to, as described in Jeremiah 7.5-6: act unjustly; oppress the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow; and shed innocent blood.

And if that weren’t enough, there’s more. In verses 8-9, God then accuses them of trusting in deceptive words; of stealing, murder, adultery, and swearing falsely. Even so, they still go the Temple of God and do the acts of worship, while not living a life of worship.

So, why does God get so worked up when we worship false gods? Whether they go by the name of Baal, or Success, or Wealth, or Comfort, or Fulfilment, God cares WHO we worship because God cares HOW we live. In other words, worship and life are inseparable. If you worship God rightly, it leads you to LIVE rightly. Wander from worship, and your life wanders.

So, God is not a petty, petulant 2-year-old, demanding we do things His way. God is a jealous God because He is zealous for us to get worship right – which leads us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6.6-8).

Of course, this kind of “right” worship is about more than Sunday. It involves Sunday, yes, but it’s more. It’s about submission, surrender, trust. It’s about coming before God on Sunday, yes; but it’s also about walking before God each day.

So, are you truly worshiping the One True God? One simple way to tell: How are you living each day?

College Visits & the Big Questions of Life

I’m writing this week’s blog entry from the rolling hills of Wilmore, Kentucky. I’m here with my daughter, who is knee-deep (or, maybe, neck-deep) in the process of considering where she wants to go to college next year, and what she wants to study. Today’s college visit has brought us to Asbury University in Wilmore.

It’s a tough choice for a high school senior, deciding where to go and what to study. (Heck, it’s not easy for us parents, either.) With your whole life ahead of you, it’s hard to answer some really big questions at the young age of 18. So, who knows where she will end up – or what she will study. Big questions, with answers still to come.

But, as big as those questions are, I think they are less important than an even bigger one. See, there’s the What should I be? question, and then there’s the What should I BE? question. The first asks questions about job titles and employers and how I want to make money. The second asks questions of identity and purpose and mission. The first can tell me what I am doing; the second tells me why.

God cares about the first question, for sure. But I think God cares more about the second. Where my daughter goes to school, the degree she pursues, and the place she will ultimately work – those matter. It’s just that the second question matters more.

The most important thing I can do for my kids is not: get them into a good college or career. The most important thing I can do for my kids is help them know who they are. If they know that, they will be able to choose – with joy and purpose – how to answer question #1. Giving my kids a sense of identity (I am a follower of Jesus) and purpose (I choose to love God, & love others) will then lead them to live a life on mission. And mission can be lived out in all kinds of places, in all kinds of careers, with all kinds of job titles.

So, Ruthie: Keep learning. And exploring. And dreaming. But most of all, keep listening: To the direction of God, as He calls you by name. And reminds you who you are, and who you are called to be.

And this postscript: If you’re open to exploring how God might use you where you are, consider spending some time at this year’s ICOM (International Conference on Missions). It meets in Lexington, Kentucky, Nov 17-20, and is geared to help ALL kinds of people from ALL walks of life explore ways God wants to use them (read: you) to follow Jesus, and help others do the same. Learn more at theicom.org.

What Elections Can’t Change

I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that next Tuesday is Election Day. You’d have to be living off the grid, out in the wilderness somewhere, not to know that. Even then, if you were in a swing state, some political operative would probably still find you.

For many of us, it’s been a long election season. I would guess that most of us are ready for it to be over with – even if we’re not sure we’re ready for what comes next. This was especially true for Mary Anne Noland, who passed away in May. Her death may have been expected, but her obituary was not. It began:

Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016….

I expect that Ms. Noland’s family was trying to be funny; but they clearly were also trying to make a serious point. This is especially true, I think, for those of us who wear the name of Jesus. When I look at the presidential race, hoping to see plans that would reflect God’s heart for justice and compassion; integrity and principled leadership; real freedom and a respect for ALL life – I don’t see it.

So, for me, Election Day will not solve many of our biggest problems. While this should concern us, it can also serve as a reminder of what is bigger than politics. That as important as a presidential election is, there is much that it does not determine or change.

Here’s the deal: I will wake up on November 9 hopeful, no matter who wins. And I will do so, because:

  1. God is still God. He has been so from before Time began, and He will be so for all Eternity.
  2. Jesus still saves. He’s been doing so for nearly 2000 years.
  3. The Church gets to be the Church. Though we are flawed and cracked vessels, the Spirit of God will continue to use us to show the Grace & Truth of God. No law or limits stop that.
  4. Love is still love. No matter how ostracized or overlooked we might feel, love will always be the language we speak – and the language that others understand. Love will simply never go out of style – and, we’re told, it is the greatest of what remains.

So, as followers of Jesus, let’s not worry or rage, point fingers or withdraw in fear. Instead, let’s continue to follow the Lord of love, as we live in love – remembering that, when it’s darkest out, the light shines brightest.