Election Fatigue

When I left my apartment this morning, I said to the empty space, “Keep paying the bills. I hope to return before the apocalypse.”

It would have been funnier if I hadn’t halfway meant it.

If you, like everyone else in America old enough to know what’s going on, are suffering from “election fatigue,” here are a few things to get you through the days ahead.

  1. God is still on His throne.
  2. Nothing will change #1.
  3. God loves us all.
  4. Nothing will change #3.
  5. The election commercials are over!
  6. The Church is built on the Rock, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
  7. Jesus alone can save. The spilled blood of politicians will accomplish nothing. (And the odds are they won’t accomplish much living, either.)
  8. We have to have better options in 2020. (I realize I won’t be old enough to run until 2024, but I have hopes for 2020 anyway.)
  9. The world will end when God says so, not because a candidate you didn’t vote for gets elected and/or takes office.
  10. Your Facebook feeds will soon return to normal: pictures of food, cats, babies, and the current Internet obsession.

My brothers and sisters, keep the faith. We’ve almost made it. And no matter the results, the gospel we preach remains unchanged: Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again to grant us eternal life if only we believe.

An Open Letter to the Church Universal

Dear Church,

I know. I promised both of us I would never do this, that I’d never write to you in public like a public service announcement. And while I hate to break my word to you about this — you know how that always hurts my soul — and while I wish there were another way to say this, there simply isn’t one this time. Too much is going on, and you won’t answer your phone. We need to talk, even if you really don’t want to. So . . . here goes.

I miss you. I miss you so very, very much. You used to be different. Simpler. More focused. I’m not saying you’re too busy or too complex or whatnot, but it just feels like you’ve lost sight of who you are. You don’t keep the Main Thing the main thing anymore, as the saying goes. You’re the Church. The Bride of Christ. The Body of Christ. Baptized believers. The followers of the Way. “Little Christs.” Our Mother, even as God is Our Father. Jesus told you that the very gates of hell itself would not triumph over you. You’re built on the rock, secure in the confession that Jesus is Lord. You’re a hospital for sick souls. A teacher for those who need knowledge of God. Among other things.

Church, do you notice the theme? The single recurring element in everything you used to be — and were supposed to be? Jesus. God. The Holy Spirit. The salvation of souls from hellfire, the regenerate Christian life of the new creation. That’s you! That’s who you are! That’s what you’re supposed to do! That’s the Main Thing! The gospel of Jesus Christ is the Main Thing! Remember how incredible the good news is the first time someone hears it? That the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, that the Son of God emptied himself of all but love, came to earth, taught, bled, died, and rose again all for us? That we receive salvation, forgiveness, and freedom because of that, if only we believe? It’s the Main Thing.

So why did you leave it behind?

Don’t give me that look, Church. We both know it’s true, and it won’t do either of us any good if you feign righteous indignation like that. I know you’re just acting scandalized so you can get me to apologize and ignore the problem again. I can’t do that this time. This is just too serious to drop. Because I love you. I love you, Church, with all my heart. I love the way you help the poor, clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. I love how you go into prisons and offer redemption to those who think themselves beyond it. I love how you tend to the sick and elderly, how you befriend the friendless, extend hope to the hopeless. I’m head-over-heels for how much you love the dying and minister to the grieving and heartbroken. And the way you sing? All of your rites and rituals? Your worship makes me weak in the knees, so much so that I can’t even stand up sometimes and have no choice but to kneel down with you. You’re my favorite. I love you.

I love you so much I can’t let you go on like this.

I get it. You’re part of — no, a pillar of your community. You want to serve it and honor it. And that’s great! We’re servants, you and I. We paint homes and wash feet. It’s who we are. But lately you’ve been crossing the line quite a bit — and blurring it even more than that. You trade worship services for community events that may or may not try to masquerade as praise of God. You let politicians into your pulpits to advance their agendas instead of preaching the gospel. I mean, you’re overly politicized in general, really. You know I enjoy politics, and you know I think you, Church, should spread the gospel even in political ways at times, but . . . really? You’re more worried about maintaining political power than producing genuine disciples of Jesus Christ. Church, the Bible only commands us and commissions us for one of those things; guess which?

You’re not you when the Main Thing isn’t the main thing.

While we’re talking about being active in culture, let me reverse that and discuss how culture is too active in you. I’m not against contemporary music (you’ve seen my iTunes), but the stuff you’re trying to pass off as Christian just . . . isn’t. Yeah, I know; you’re being trendy, appealing to the younger crowd. Great! Fantastic! Do it! Get them in here! But give them the Main Thing when you do. Sing songs with biblical lyrics, not empty appeals to emotions. I mean, yeah, give us Jesus with a beat, but please make sure you’re giving us Jesus. All these programs you have going on? Which do you really need to do? It’s grand to have things for every age group, but if we don’t let all ages worship together, aren’t we really just contributing to the demise of the family we keep saying we’re protecting? Relax a little bit. Don’t try to do so much, Church. You’ll only wear yourself out. And all these trends and fads . . . please stop. Jesus threw the moneychangers and merchants out of the temple, so please stop trying to sell me brown water impersonating coffee before the service starts. If you love me, truly love me, you’ll permanently ban anyone on the platform from wearing skinny jeans ever again. Right now. And cool t-shirts, cool tattoos, cool glasses, cool bar stools for preachers, cool music stands filling in for pulpits . . . just anything cool that has no function besides being trendy. Those trends change too fast and have too little substance.

You want to be cool; I understand. You want all the cool kids to like you; it’s only natural. But Church, you and I, well, you and I will never be cool. Remember our Main Thing? Telling people about a guy bleeding out on a cross will never win popularity contests. A mixed choir of kindergarteners and octogenarians will never win any talent shows, either. We will never be the cool kids on the block. And you know what? We were never meant to be. Remember when you were young and had to hide in the catacombs or be killed? Or how about all those times people called you “an alternative community” because it was up to you to offer the world something different than what was popular? It is literally in your job description to be uncool. You’re asking people to die to themselves, take up their crosses daily, and follow Jesus. You invite people to come just as they are but to leave new creations in the Holy Spirit, changing — repenting of their ways.

Total reorientation of one’s life generally isn’t popular.

Please, Church. Let it go. Let go of the idea you have to somehow make relevant the timeless word of God. It’s always relevant. Make it appealing, make it knowable, but don’t sacrifice bits of it on the altar of the false gods Relevancy, Popularity, and Cultural Clout. You do you. Be the weird kid who gets picked last at recess. That’s us, Church. The weird ones. The ones who put faith in a God we’ve never seen face to face. Who believe words written two and three thousand years ago are still absolutely true for absolutely everyone. Who sacrificially love everyone, even the ones who hate us. That’s the real you. That’s the Church I fell in love with and was called to shepherd.

Come home, Church. Come back to being you. Come back to the gospel. Let’s make the Main Thing the main thing again. Let’s go hug the homeless, give them a bed, and tell them about Jesus. Let’s hold hands and walk in faith, hope, and love one more time.

Because I love you. And I always will.

Love,

Chris

Public Faith Begins with the Gospel

To get things started here on the blog, I’ve decided to post an old sermon manuscript. Being a Christian in public begins with becoming a Christian; to that end, allow me to present an overview of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

———-

Our God is a God of order. It is written that He orders our steps; He has plans for our lives; He can turn chaos into structure, whether that chaos comes in the form of a storm on the sea or it arises from a life that has taken one wrong turn too many. And so when God gave His only son to the world, He did so with purpose. The Word wasn’t made flesh simply to impart the ineffable wisdom of the Almighty to His children; no, the life of Christ was a deliberate act that finds its true purpose in the dual symbols of the cross and the empty tomb.

As Jesus approached the end of his life, he entered the city of Jerusalem one last time. He rode into the city on a donkey – an odd sight, especially for a king. But as we’re reminded, our Lord came in the form of a servant, a slave. This wasn’t an earthly king who came to subdue and dominate people. No, he came to overthrow tyrants and liberate people from bondage. He enters Jerusalem as a humble servant so that he can later set the captive free from service to sin and death.

Even though he had proclaimed this message during his entire adult ministry, Jesus was largely left alone by the religious elite of his day – the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees – until he came to Jerusalem this final time. There, discovering the moneychangers in the Temple, he made a whip of cords and drove them out. Instead of letting the Jewish people into the Temple to give their sacrifices to the priests for burnt offerings, the Temple establishment created an elaborate miniature economy. The faithful would come to the Temple, exchange their secular, unclean money for Jewish Temple currency which would let them buy animals for the sacrifice. Jesus took a hard look at this and decided in his heart of hearts that, no, this will not do. And so in righteous anger he turned over tables, flailed the moneychangers, and called them one of the worst names imaginable: thieves. From this point onward, the life of Christ was forfeit. The religious authorities would tolerate no such behavior in their holy Temple. They wouldn’t suffer those they considered to be madmen and demoniacs to upset the applecart and accuse them of a gross lack of piety. And so the conspiracy began.

It was a conspiracy aided on the inside. While Jesus continued teaching in the Temple, in the midst of his “enemies,” one of his own, one of his inner circle, one of the Twelve decided that it was time for things to change. Judas Iscariot, for reasons unknown, went over to “the dark side.” John’s Gospel says that it was because the devil entered into him. Others make no mention of his motives. And some modern readers and commentators paint him in a more positive light. What if Judas, being a good Jew, simply wanted the promised Messiah to be the way the rabbis and other interpreters of Torah said he would be? As I’ve already said, it was odd for a king to ride into town on a donkey. It doesn’t exactly scream “noble steed fit for royalty.” But the donkey fit the life and the style of Jesus. He was an itinerant preacher and teacher. He was a rabbi who chose his followers, not from the educated elite, but from the common workers. He wasn’t a warrior, and the only sword he ever brought to bear was the edge that separated believers from unbelievers.

Judas was expecting none of that. The promised Messiah was to be a king and a warrior like his forefather David. A great strategist and tactician, he would lead a revolt that would finally see the Jewish people back in their homeland free of oppressors and overlords. He would ride into Jerusalem on a white charger and rescue his people. THAT was the man Judas was expecting – and that was the Messiah Judas never got. And so people now speculate if, instead of outright betrayal, Judas was simply trying to force Christ’s hand. If Jesus wouldn’t announce of his own free will that he was the Anointed One of Israel, then Judas would make him confess it out of necessity. In order to do the job of the Messiah, he had to go public: the people had to know who he was and rally around him.

But regardless of his motives, Judas agreed to give his master over to the Temple elite for the sum of thirty pieces of silver. Before that bargain was struck, however, the Twelve gathered for the last time as the Twelve. Their Master, our Lord, celebrated Passover in an upper room in Jerusalem. At the conclusion of a meal eaten after he had washed his disciples’ feet, Jesus took bread, broke it, and blessed it. Giving each person a piece, he said, “This is my body which is broken for you.” After he blessed the last glass of wine, he similarly gave it to them, saying, “This is my blood poured out for the new covenant. As often as you drink it, remember me.”

These were strange words. Why would they have to remember him when he was still with them? What was this new covenant? His body was broken? His blood was poured out? Even though Jesus had earlier rebuked Peter trying to stop him from giving up his life for us, this was still a dark saying. Why would he have to die? Yes, he had earlier said he came to seek and save the lost, but what did that have to do with his dying? Many questions arose at that last supper, and it would be days before they could be answered.

Yet this was his purpose in coming. He came to undergo exactly what was to happen next. This is not to say that he was fully prepared by the Last Supper. No, when he instituted the Eucharist, he still had some praying to do. He took the Eleven – for Judas had left to make his dread bargain – and went into the garden of Gethsemane at the Mount of Olives, and he prayed. He prayed desperately, crying and sweating blood in his fervor. “Lord, let this cup pass from me.” The Bitter Cup of his passion and crucifixion was a hard draught to drink, even for someone who was fully God as well as fully human. And yet the close of this prayer was “Nevertheless, Your will, not mine.”

If Christ could be obedient in knowingly and willfully going to a cruel death, why can’t we be obedient in the little day-to-day things? God may tell us, “Go speak to that person. They need comfort,” or maybe He says, “He doesn’t know me. Tell him the Good News,” or perhaps it’s something like, “Can’t you just trust Me to provide for you?” And our response – instead of a simple “Yes, Lord,” is something along the lines of, “Have you lost Your Divine, Omniscient Mind? I can’t do that. I won’t do that. You can find someone else.” Our momentary comfort seems to be of higher priority than the souls and emotional well-being of God’s other children. And yet Jesus Christ, out of divine love and obedience, endured a torturous passion, as much for them as for us.

After his betrayal by Judas and arrest, Jesus was tossed around to the various authorities of his day. First to the Sanhedrin and chief priests, the ruling religious figures. Next to the political entities, the ones with the real authority to end his life. Through all of this, Jesus never offered a word in his defense – but the few words he did utter were misconstrued as blasphemy. In response to being asked who he was, all he could utter was “I am who I am.” To Western, English-speaking ears, it seems an innocent-enough statement. To the Jews of Palestine, however, this was him declaring himself to be God, YHWH, Elohim – the one whose name is “I AM THAT I AM.”

Blasphemy.

The astounded Jews were incensed, and this is why it was decreed that he must die. Not because he was a criminal or a murderer or had done anything to violate any civil law. His only “crime” was being completely honest – about why he came, about the true path to righteousness, and about who he was.

Honesty can often bring problems all its own. We live in a post-Christendom, postmodern world. I’m not entirely sure how the flip came about from where we once were, but our culture has shifted dramatically. No one is allowed to have views of truth that come only in shades of black and white. Everything is relative, including truth. So instead of being recognized as honesty and truth, messages of any nature – but especially the Gospel – are written off as being absolutist or exclusivist. My truth doesn’t have a grip on or hold sway over anyone but myself. God’s truth, by extension, is relevant and true only for those who choose to believe it. And if you choose not to, then our culture of relativism says that’s OK; there are plenty of other equally valid (and thus equally invalid) truths floating around out there.

It’s easy in that kind of environment to stop standing up for the truth. To let it slip idly by while we preserve our good graces with others instead of showing holy love by speaking truth into their lives. And there is a delicate balance of grace and truth when we speak to others. Truth without grace condemns; grace without truth does nothing. We are called to speak truth in grace; to do anything less is to allow people to continue in their relativistic ways and traverse a very real, very absolute pathway into hell. We must not be afraid to speak truth.

Jesus certainly wasn’t. He – like all martyrs who followed him – spoke truth at the cost of his own life. The truth about who he was sent him from Jewish authorities to the rulers of his world. Pontius Pilate could find no fault in him whatsoever. He washed his hands of the situation and released the prisoner Barabbas for whom the crowd cheered and called. Pilate then delivered Christ over to be crucified.

As with Judas, history has tried to soften Pilate’s character a bit. Honestly, there’s more Scriptural precedent for this, in my opinion, than for making Iscariot into an over-anxious zealot. Pilate seems to have sincerely wanted to release Jesus, seeing no evidence that would condemn him to a tortuous death; and yet, ever the consummate politician, he still gave the people what they wanted – and what they wanted was nothing less than to see Jesus bleeding out upon a Roman execution stake.

They got what they wanted. Our Lord was crowned with thorns, scourged, beaten, spit upon, and mocked as the king he truly was. Finally, when it would seem that he could bear no more, he carried the means of his own death up a hill and was nailed to the cross. Even there his love poured out with his blood. Even as he died, true light shone into the darkness surrounding him. He spoke – perhaps whispering – in a voice wracked with pain and an anguish born of a love too deep for words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Those are truly the words of a scandalous love. This man looked down on his executioners through blood-stained eyes and loved them. He begged forgiveness for them, saying they acted out of ignorance instead of true malice or hatred.

A friend recently pointed out to me that these words are good news. The Gospel – the Good News – is that, at the foot of the cross, where we all stand equally as sinners, that’s always the first thing we hear. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Whenever we sin, whenever we fall short, whenever a child of darkness chooses to step into marvelous light and approaches the cross of Christ and pleads for mercy, Jesus, now seated at the right hand of the Father, looks upon the errant child and says, “Father, forgive them.” The love of God, mediated to us through the atoning work of Christ, is such that, even if we nail the Redeemer to two planks of wood, we are still forgiven.

And with that, Jesus died. Christians are perhaps unique in that we celebrate the death of our God. Had he not died, we wouldn’t have forgiveness. But since Jesus did die, he died for us to pay a debt we never could. And that is good news. At his death, the veil is the Temple was torn in two. No more was there a division between the common person and the holy glory of God. We have free access to our Creator and Father. And that is truly good news.

But the great news, brothers and sisters, is that the story doesn’t end there.

Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus removed the body of Jesus from the cross, prepared it for burial, and placed it in Joseph’s new tomb. There the body was to await its final treatments and decay before the bones would be collected and placed into an ossuary for final “burial” in the wall of the tomb.

That is exactly what didn’t happen.

When Mary, the other Mary, and the other women went to the tomb to anoint the body with perfumes on the third day, the stone had been removed. Angels sat on top of the stone, shining in their glory. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” they asked. “He isn’t here; he is risen, as he said.” Can you imagine what went through their collective mind as they heard that? Did someone take him? He is risen; what does that mean? Where could he be? What did the angels mean?

And then they saw someone they mistook for the gardener – until he spoke Mary’s name. This was the risen Lord! This was Jesus, fully alive and in full health! He had come back from the dead as he had promised, hallelujah! The women ran to the apostles and told them of the resurrection, thus becoming the first evangelists. Some of the Eleven believed; some didn’t. But their unbelief didn’t change the fact that the Lamb of God Who Takes Away the Sins of the World had indeed conquered death and the grave and returned in full glory to live and teach again.

VeggieTales put it this way: “Jesus died to give us life; he rose to give us hope.” But not just hope. He also rose to fulfill his promise to give us something else. My college motto was “Vita Abundantior” – Life More Abundant. The resurrection gives us the means to live a life that’s more than just the rote routine, the daily grind. Life more abundant is a life lived fully in the Gospel. It’s a life that recognizes the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. It’s a life that obediently takes that absolute truth and gives it to the world so that others may experience forgiveness and true life. A life more abundant is a life of holiness that wants nothing less than to see others come to know and live in holiness as well. That’s the calling of the Christian: to live a life that shows full knowledge of the crucifixion and resurrection and reflects the personal knowing of the crucified and resurrected one.

Sisters and brothers, let’s live that life. An obedient life, for Christ was obedient; a truthful, truth-speaking life, for God is truth; and an abundant life, for Christ died to set us free from the law of sin and death. This is the Gospel. The Good News. The Great News. The news that the church was built upon.

Amen.