God has you in his hands? (Is that just Christian mumbo-jumbo?) – Ecclesiastes 8:16-9:10, Part 2

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What do you think about the title of this post? God has you in his hands. Christians have been saying that kind of thing for centuries. Is it true? Or is just Christian mumbo-jumbo, feel-good nonsense? As we continue our study in Ecclesiastes, the Teacher (the writer of Ecclesiastes) has some ancient wisdom for us, and it involves that phrase. Will he agree with the phrase? Will he disagree? He tends to have some unconventional viewpoints. What will he say about God?

First, we need to remember the context of the Teacher’s larger argument. We cannot know when we will die, the Teacher reminded us in the previous post. So why is the Teacher bringing this up?  Look at what he says in chapter 9:1-4a.

Dorsey’s Translation: “9:1 I pondered and considered all of this. I concluded that even in the case of the righteous and the wise, what happens to them is in God’s hands.  No one, including the wise, can know whether easy times or hard times await him.  2 All that can be known for certain is that the same fate awaits everyone—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.  The same destiny awaits good people and sinners, those who take oaths and those who refuse to take them.  3 Whatever happens to people in this life, the same fate awaits them all.  Whether a person’s heart is full of evil or praise while he lives, in the end he will join the dead.  4 Anyone who is still among the living can be sure of this one thing.”

We’ve heard this from the Teacher before, haven’t we?  Look at verse 3: We will all die.  Just saying that makes me think, “Geesh, this is depressing stuff, Teacher.  Why do you have to harp on death over and over again?”  But remember that this entire section from the middle of chapter seven through the end of chapter ten is advice for living wisely.  So what is the wise advice is these dark words? It just seems like a cold, depressing view of harsh reality. Is there any wisdom here? The Teacher’s advice here is that we need to face the hard truth of our mortality.  We cannot know when we will die, but we need to come to grips with the fact that one day we will die.

Yet ours is a world that wants to avoid death.  I don’t blame anyone who thinks that you would like to avoid death, or that you don’t want to talk about death. I am not a fan of death. I often lament the fact that my hair is getting grayer, that my body has more aches and pains than it did ten years ago.  I wish I didn’t have those constant reminders of the aging process, of the fact that I will die. 

Still the Teacher is right.  It doesn’t matter who you are, you will die.  But that’s not all he said.  Did you notice verse 9:1, the phrase in bold above: “What happens to them is in God’s hands.”?

We are not alone! God is living and active, and very involved in our lives.  Read that again: God is living and active and very involved in our lives. 

Do you hear that and think, “Yeah, that’s the standard Christian view.  I’ve heard it a million times. But it doesn’t seem like God is involved in my life.”  We don’t have to look hard in 2020 and the unsettling question rises to the surface of our hearts and minds, “Where are you, God?” 

Oftentimes at the heart of some of our fears is the thought that we might be alone, not cared for, unheard, or misunderstood.  But when we have knowledge of and experience of God’s involvement in our lives, the uncertainties of this life might not grip us quite so much.  Here’s the thing: we can know God’s involvement in our lives.  That’s why the Teacher’s reminder here is so important:  God is with us.  He is FOR us.  He adores us.  He is not surprised by anything in this life.  He didn’t make all the bad things happen. He is a good God and will only do good; he has no part of evil.  He is not surprised by the difficulty and evil in the world, and he has not left any of us alone.   

If the fact of your death freaks you out, as it does me, know that God is able to handle it.  He has you in his hands.  Clearly God doesn’t have physical hands that he is actually holding you in.  When the Teacher says that God has you in his hands, the Teacher is using figurative language to say that “God is all knowing, all powerful, all present, and all loving. He is infinitely able to take care you, and he wants to take care of you.”  We need not become hopeless about death or about anything that might lead to death because of the way God showed his love for us in Jesus.  Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus made it possible for us to have forgiveness of our sins, for us to be in right relationship to God, and thus to have assurance of abundant life now and eternal life after death.  If you don’t know that assurance, I would love to talk further with you.

That assurance of abundant life and eternal life doesn’t mean you won’t feel hopeless or defeated from time to time because of the difficulties of life that.  It is natural to feel down when life is hard, but you don’t need to get stuck there.  Refocus on who our God is and the very active role he wants to play in your heart, your thoughts, your attitudes, your choices, your life–all for your good!

The Uberman Sleep Cycle, Time Travel, and figuring out God’s Plan – Ecclesiastes 8:16-9:10, Part 1

A couple weeks ago I sent a church-wide email with resources for tending to our mental health.  I had received it from Messiah University, and I adapted it for our church.  I sent it along because God cares about our mental health.  I heard back from a number of people expressing their thanks because 2020 has taken its toll on many of us.  We hear Jesus say to us, as he does in John 10:10, “I have come that you might have life abundantly,” and many of us are thinking, “Jesus, I hear you, but this madness of 2020 has thrown me for a loop.”  We might not feel like life is abundant or joyful. Or that it is not as joyful as it could be.  

Thankfully, there is hope!  In our study through Ecclesiastes, for the last few weeks we’ve been in a long section of advice for wise living.  It runs from Ecclesiastes 7:15 through the end of chapter 10.  This week we are studying 8:16-9:10, where the Teacher, the writer of Ecclesiastes, has advice for wise living that has some great teaching about joy when life is difficult.

My seminary OT professor Dave Dorsey translates it this way: “16 When I sought to become wise and to understand what goes on in this world, I realized that even if a person were to stay awake day and night, 17 he would never be able to know God’s plan.  No human being can comprehend it.  Despite all his best efforts, a person cannot discover it.  A wise man may claim to know it, but he doesn’t.”

The Teacher’s comment in verse 16, about staying awake all the time, reminds me of an episode of Seinfeld in which Kramer had been reading a book about Leonardo da Vinci.  The book claimed that da Vinci practiced something called Polyphasic sleeping.  It’s real thing, and my guess is that a lot of you are Polyphasic sleepers.  I basically am, though not on purpose, as Michelle will tell you.   What is Polyphasic sleeping?   It is contrasted to monophasic sleeping which is getting all your sleep in one period of sleeping per day.  Then there is Biphasic sleeping, which is when you have two sleep periods per day.  Polyphasic sleeping is when you spread out your sleep over more than two periods per day.  Anyone do that?  Lots of naps!  Or maybe like me, with the ability to fall asleep on the sofa pretty much whatever time of day it is?

While it is not certain, there is some evidence that Da Vinci might have practiced an extreme version of polyphasic sleeping called the Uberman Sleep Cycle, which is taking six 20 minute naps equally spread out over your day, giving you a lot more time to be productive, especially in the quiet hours of the middle of the night when everyone else is sleeping.  In the Seinfeld episode, Kramer begins to follow this sleeping plan.  Kramer excitedly tells Jerry, “That works out to two and a half extra days that I’m awake per week, every week.  Which means if I live to be 80, I will have lived the equivalent of 105 years.”  While this isn’t being awake all the time, like the Teacher in Ecclesiastes describes, the Uberman Sleep Cycle certainly would give a person a lot more time to try to figure out God’s plan!

It doesn’t go so well for Kramer, who ends up falling asleep all the time, everywhere, and hilarity ensues.  It also doesn’t go so well for the Teacher in Ecclesiastes.  The Teacher says that even if we could stay up day and night all the time, never sleeping, wracking our brains to figure out the world, even then we would not be able to discover God’s plan.  No one, not even the wisest people can claim to know God’s plan. 

What plan is the Teacher talking about?  You and I might think, “Wait… Don’t we kinda know God’s plan?”  Yes, we know the larger story that we read about in the Bible: the Creation of Humanity, the Fall of Humanity, the Redemption of Humanity, and what will happen one day in the future, the Consummation of all things.  The big piece of that story is the Redemption piece.  First God brought redemption primarily through the family of Abraham and the nation of Israel, through whom he promised to bring blessing to the whole world.  With the exception of a few great leaders like Moses, Joshua and David, that plan didn’t work out.  Israel did not live out their God-given mission to be a blessing to the whole world.  So God brought global redemption through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, followed by his Spirit living with and empowering his church.  This is the part of the story that we still live, the Redemption story, and we play a part in it.  We know all this plan. 

So there is a sense in which we can say to the Teacher, “Teacher, things have developed quite a bit since you wrote your book,” and I believe the Teacher would be genuinely surprised and amazed, especially hearing about Jesus, the promised Messiah, the Savior, and the Holy Spirit.  But then after hearing us talk about Jesus and the Spirit, I think the conversation would go quiet for a moment, as we waited for the Teacher to respond.  Would he say, “Ok, you’re right, a lot has developed in the last few thousand years, and now I need to go back and write the Revised Edition of Ecclesiastes.”? 

I don’t think he would say that.  I don’t think the Teacher needs to update his book.  In fact, I think the Teacher, though he would be extremely excited to hear about Jesus, the Teacher would say, “What I’ve written here in chapter 8, verses 16-17, still holds true.  The plan we don’t know about and will never know about, is the timing of our future.  We do not know when we will die.”

That’s true.  Also, there are other parts of God’s plan that we do not know.  For example, Christians through the years have tried to figure out when Jesus will return.  They have claimed to be able to read the signs of the times, or to have a unique interpretation of the Bible, or some will go so far as to say that God himself told them when Jesus will return.  They’ve all been wrong.  Jesus agreed with the Teacher of Ecclesiastes, when Jesus taught, “No one knows the day, time or hour” of his return. 

We have to admit that we simply don’t know some parts of God’s plan.  And that lack of knowing can make us uneasy.  We want to know! 

I am fascinated by the concept of time travel.  Think about how many books, movies and TV shows feature time travel.  What about you?  Would you go forward or backwards in time?  Which time would you travel to?  To the time of Jesus?  There’s no doubt it would be astounding to be there as Jesus walked and taught and did miracles. It also might be frustrating, though, because most of us don’t know the language Jesus spoke, Aramaic!  Before I get too far off topic, think with me about this question: why is time travel such an intriguing concept?  I think time travel taps into our uneasiness with not knowing the future, our struggle with not being able to control that part of life.  We want control!  We want to feel the certainty of knowledge.  Or at least we think we’ll feel better if we know how things turn out.  But would we feel better?

As far back as Shakespeare’s MacBeth, people were speculating that if we knew the future it would ruin us.  This fascination we have with wanting to know the future just might reveal a deep discontent inside us. We think that if we could go back in time, we could fix mistakes, or avoid pain.  And we think that if we could travel to the future, or maybe know the future, such as the day of our death, we could avoid it.  But this is not possible, the Teacher reminds us. So what we can do? The Teacher is a step ahead of us.  Check back in for tomorrow’s post as the Teacher guides to ancient wisdom.

How to have and express joy in the difficulties of 2020 – Ecclesiastes 8:9-15, Part 3

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It can seem almost wrong to say that we should have joy in 2020. This year has been a nonstop slog of hardship. And yet, in the previous post we learned that God is and always will be actively involved in the world. As a result, it makes perfect sense how the Teacher concludes this section.  Look at verse 15.

Dorsey’s translates it this way: “15 So I recommend the enjoyment of life.  The best thing a person can do in this life is to eat and drink and be joyful.  Let joy accompany him in his work all the days of life that God has given him to live in this world.”

Isn’t that wonderful?  Despite the fact that the Teacher has seen injustice he recommends joy.  Why?  Because God is still and always will be God, victorious in the end, and deeply involved in the here and now. So let us rejoice. 

Election didn’t turn out how you hoped?  Rejoice that the one true King Jesus has been, is, and always will be on the throne that one throne that always matters most.

Pandemic have you angry? Rejoice that God is our God, and he is faithful, even in the midst of a global health crisis.

Injustice have you upset?  Work to right the injustice, and rejoice in the victory we have in Jesus.

Natural disasters have you scratching your head about what this world is coming to?  Work joyfully to help those suffering through loss, give cheerfully and generously to causes supporting recovery.

Let joy accompany you all the days of your life.  This is not saying that you need to happy about the negative and painful things in the world.  It does not mean that you don’t feel hurt, upset or disappointed, but joy in the Lord is a deep and strong foundation.  Instead, joy is a trust in God, in the middle of the pain, that moves you to have hope, to have a positive outlook.   

Remember the student I told you about in the first post?  When I graded her paper, you know how I responded: “Awesome paper.”  Here’s why.  She finished by saying something that was very meaningful:

“It’s easy to think about how much better our situation would be if this pandemic had never happened, making our lives feel unimportant and mundane. According to Christ, the little things that we’re doing are the most important of all. The sacrifices that we are making during this time are serving others to make their lives better, just like He did for us. Reading this passage in Mark really helped me look at the current events going on with this pandemic in a different perspective, and I really think reading the Gospel of Mark and its message of serving others could be helpful for other believers during these difficult times.”

Do you hear the joy in that?  A Christ-focused life can experience joy in the midst of pain.  Pain in relationship, pain in injustices, pain at the workplace, pain in dealing with personal struggles, etc. There is a deep foundation of joy that is available in the midst of great difficulty, when we have a God-focused mindset that wants to serve sacrificially like Jesus did.

Therefore I would recommend that you start like the Teacher in Ecclesiastes starts, by expressing your pain to God.  Use the psalms of lament.  Those are the psalms that are basically bitter complaints to God, sometimes even accusing God of not doing the job that God is supposed to do.  They are bold!  But God wants you to come to him with your pain and your frustration, even if it is about him.  “How long, O Lord, will you hide your face from me?”  Yes, you can say that to him, and I think you should. Here’s a guided lament you can use.

Then move on to the remembrance of who God is, just as the Teacher does. His faithfulness in the past, he promises kept, his provision.  His amazing love and forgiveness in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  His Spirit who lives in us and wants to fill us with his love.  Let that truth fill you with joy! 

Finally, serve the Lord joyfully.  How are you serving?  Work to right injustice, with joy.  Work to help others, with joy.  Lift up the hurting.  Joyfully tell the good news of hope in Jesus, the one who brings new life, who makes all things new.  Joyfully make disciples.

What to remember when life seems unfair or hopeless – Ecclesiastes 8:9-15, Part 2

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Sometimes life DOES seem hopeless.  How do we live wisely then? 

This week on the blog, we’re studying Ecclesiastes 8:9-15, and yesterday we saw how the Teacher (the writer of Ecclesiastes) suggests that life can be so unfair.

Let’s follow the Teacher’s logic:

Here are verses 12-14 in Dorsey’s translation: “12 Nevertheless, although a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time, I know that in the end it will go better for those who respect and obey God, who live obediently before him. 13 And the wicked person who does not live obediently before God, in the end it will not go well for him, and his days will not lengthen like a shadow.  14 The travesties of justice in this world are only temporary and ultimately inconsequential—for example, when righteous people get what the wicked deserve, and when wicked people get what the righteous deserve.  But I saw that such travesties are only temporary and ultimately inconsequential.”

The Teacher is saying in verses 12-14 that, though we can see injustice and unfairness in the world, let us not dissolve into hopelessness.  Instead, let us remember, “that God will right all wrongs.”  In other words, the pursuit of righteousness is still right.  The way of Jesus is still the best way. 

Yes, there are injustices in the world.  That is obvious.  And we should work with God, seeking to right those injustices as much as possible in the here and now.  But the Teacher reminds that the ultimate and final righting of all injustice will not occur until the day of God’s choosing. 

So while we work to bring the Kingdom of God now, sharing the Gospel in word and deed, even as we see persistent injustice, we press on in hope because we know that one day God will reign victorious.  That means we need not fear.  With God’s love and grace pouring from our hearts, we strive to usher in the Kingdom now. 

No, our work to usher in the Kingdom will not bring the Kingdom in its fullness.  Instead we are like an advance, a precursor of the Kingdom. 

Furthermore, our proclamation of the good news and our work for justice is not futile.  Instead it is amazing to think, and maybe even more amazing to experience, that God, in his wisdom, has chosen to use people like us to make a real difference now.  When we faithfully live as disciples of Jesus who die to ourselves and follow Jesus, God can use us to impact people and society.  This is the new life that the Teacher envisions in this passage, and it is the new life embodied in Jesus.  There is a clear connection between Ecclesiastes and the Gospels.  What the Teacher depicts we will eventually see in living color in Jesus.

Sick and tired of 2020? – Ecclesiastes 8:9-15, Part 1

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This fall I’m teaching an online class: The Gospels, the Life of Jesus.  In a recent assignment the students were to find a current events article that somehow connects to what we had been studying in the Gospel of Mark.  One student found an article which reported that more than likely, even if there is a Covid vaccine in late 2020 or early 2021, we will have social distancing regulations, including wearing masks, into 2022.  Why?  Because it will take time to vaccinate the entire globe, and for enough people to develop herd immunity. 

You know what the student said in her paper?  “It makes my blood boil.” 

I told her that I respected her honesty.  She is sick and tired, she said, of wearing masks, of having to take online courses, of being separated from her friends, of losing her job after only three weeks, and on and on the frustrations go, all because of Covid.  What she said resonates with so many of us during this banner year of 2020.  It’s not just Covid, but politics, racial tension and natural disasters.  Nonstop for almost the whole year.  It just doesn’t seem right, she said.  It seems off.  It seems unfair.

Open your Bibles to Ecclesiastes 8:9, because the Teacher is saying almost the same thing. This section, chapter 8, verses 9-15, is part of a longer section, 7:15-10:20, that my Old Testament Professor at Seminary, Dr. Dorsey titles, “Advice for living wisely.” Let’s see what wisdom the Teacher (the writer of Ecclesiastes) has to day that can help us, people living in a year that seems unfair and unjust.

Dorsey translates it like this: “9 I observed all these things and thought about everything that happens in the world.  Sometimes people gain power over others and bring them great harm. 10 I have seen the wicked buried and eulogized in the very city where they did their evil—but such praise has no ultimate significance.  11 People dare to do all kinds of evil because the punishment for such wrongdoing does not occur instantly.”

Have you seen in your life what the Teacher describes? 

Maybe you’ve been treated poorly by a bully, and while you are suffering, the bully becomes captain of the team, dates the popular kids.

Or maybe your boss is total jerk, but people continually fall over themselves to impress the boss or do business with the boss, and the boss gets richer and richer.  And the boss believes they are successful because of their meanness, which they call firmness, boldness or assertiveness.

There has been plenty of this in Christian circles.  We could all probably name people, people who held important roles in our lives, or in organizations or churches who have fallen from grace because of sinful patterns in their lives that went against what they were publicly speaking about.  It can be so discouraging when the people who we look up to fail us.  We think, “Geesh, if they, who seem so put together, so wise, so faithful, if they can’t make it, then I am doomed.”  And we can feel like life is hopeless.  We can take a really negative view of things, can’t we?

Sometimes life DOES seem hopeless.  How do we live wisely then?  Check back to the next post as the Teacher shares his wisdom with us.

How Christians need to be like the Human Carpet after the election – Current Events 2020 Q4, Part 5

Have you heard of the Human Carpet? He gets paid to go to parties where people can walk all over him.  They can jump on him.  Sit on him for hours.  Surf on him.  One time he did this for 11 straight hours! He wraps himself in a carpet, lays down and has never been hurt in the process. 

I’m not advocating that we practice this in the church, but it illustrates the heart Jesus calls us to have for one another.  Consider the Apostle’s Paul’s words in Philippians 2:1-5:

“1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

What Paul describes is that Christians should have a willingness to put others’ interests before our own.  Jesus isn’t calling us to self-harm.  But he is calling us to servanthood and sacrifice, which does not always feel good. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, those he’d poured his heart, time, emotion into.  Servanthood and sacrifice.  Deep kindness.

Barry Corey in Love Kindness provides a practical example of this when he says, “The kinder way is to be present in others’ lives with an honest spirit that isn’t waiting for the conversation to turn toward me.  One of my friends said when he walks into a room, he doesn’t want to be thinking, ‘Here I am,’ he wants to be thinking ‘There you are,’ and see the other.”

Let me clarify: kindness doesn’t mean you need to best friends with everyone.  Even in a smaller church when it is very possible to get to know everyone’s name, you don’t need to be best friends, or even close friends with everyone. But we should certainly be kind.  And we should be receivable.  The fruit of the Spirit should be evident in our lives and in our interactions with one another.  

Let’s bring this back to where we started. We were talking about our interactions with people, in particular over this post-election time that is coming up.  We are talking about how we interact with those whom will feel differently about the election results we will eventually learn. 

I urge you to see others as image bearers of God.  I urge you to make kindness the guiding mark of how you carry yourself.  Some of you could be described as having a hard core, meaning you can hold firm your convictions. You can feel deeply that some issues are important and you hold them as dear to you. But even hard core opinions should be held and expressed in humility as one walking humbly with our God. Hard core opinions should be held and expressed with a soft edge, meaning you are gentle and kind in your reactions and in your engagement with others who feel differently than you.  This means that you are not arrogant and mean. Arrogance and meanness are like sharp or hard edges that do not make you receivable.  Those edges make it very difficult for others to meet and see Jesus in you.  How we carry ourselves matters.  How we interact with those who think differently than us matters.

My prayer for us as we wait for election results, and as we eventually live with the reality of those results, is that we see people as made in the image of God.  That we would work to be more and more receivable to others, that we would carry ourselves in kindness.

How the surprise vine in my garden taught me about how Christians should live after the election – Current Events 2020 Q4, Part 4

When and How to Trim Pumpkin Vines | Gardener's Path

This year we had a large vine growing in our garden. It was a vine we did not plant. I wondered if it was a weed, but it looked familiar, and it didn’t strike me as a weed. So we let it grow, and as the weeks went by we watched as this plant took over that part of the garden. Soon we knew what it was by its fruit. A pumpkin!

What happened in our garden is a helpful reminder of what I’ve been writing about in this week’s posts on how Christians can respond to the 2020 election in the USA. If this is the first post you’re reading in the series, you can start at the first post here. One of the points I made is that we Christians must live out the truth that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, and together we form the body of Christ. But if you are like me, you might wonder how you know if the Spirit is in you. Think about the pumpkin in my garden, and Jesus’ parable of the fruit tree.  He said, “By their fruits, you will know them.”  Just as we eventually knew that the vine in our garden was a pumpkin, we can know if the Holy Spirit is living in us if we see the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Remember the list of the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5? Kindness is on that list. Kindness, then, will be flowing out of us because the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives.

In the same way, you can know if the Spirit is living with you maybe especially when you see kindness flowing out of you toward those with whom you disagree.  When we consider how Christians should react to the election, it should be with kindness to all. But what is kindness?

My wife Michelle recently spoke at a youth group, discussing Micah 6:8 (that famous verse that says, “What is good and what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.”)  In light of that verse, Michelle asked the students the difference between niceness and kindness.  There is a difference.  They said that it is easy to be nice, whereas kindness takes work.  Nice is shallow, kindness is deep.  Nice is basically effortless, while kindness is sacrificial.

I’m not trying to arguing for a word choice.  What the difference I’m describing is the difference between action and sentiment.

Kindness is actively engaged care, love and concern for people.  Are you living out the actions of loving unity and care towards the body of Christ?  Here is one way to tell: Barry Corey, in Love Kindness, says, “The objective is not to be received, but to be receivable.”  In other words, are you the kind of person that people want to receive into their life

As the years have gone by, I’ve noticed that there are some people who require deeper reserves of maturity in order to interact with them.  We tend to call them “difficult.” 

It might be that they are talkers, and you know that if you walk near them, your life will be on hold for the next 30 minutes as they talk and talk and talk, usually about the minutia of their lives, rarely, if ever, asking about you and how you are doing.  It takes great maturity to be kind to them.  To some, they might be low on the receivability quotient. 

Then there are the people who are know-it-alls.  They have a story for everything, an opinion about everything, and they are quick to top your story with their better story.  It takes great maturity to be kind to them.  Again, to some they are not very receivable.

Then there are the intimidating people.  Maybe they disagree a lot, and strongly.  Maybe they complain and critique a lot.  They might even use manipulative means to try to get their way.  This is called gaslighting.  Have you heard that term?  Gaslighting is defined as “to manipulate (someone), by psychological means, into questioning their own sanity.”  Receivable?  Not so much.  People often want to be far from them.

How receivable are you? I recommend not only examining yourself, but asking others to answer that question for you.  Corey suggests, “Remove the distance and obstacles that keep people from seeing Jesus in us.”  Work to be receivable.  You want to be a person that other people want to receive into their world. That’s how they can see Jesus.  Show kindness, even to the people who see the world differently than you.  That is also how you can see Jesus in them, even in the difficult people in your life. You can see that they are made in the image of God, and you can be kind to them. 

What Christians need to do as we wait for the election results – Current Events 2020 Q4, Part 3

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Election Day 2020 has come and gone. I’m writing on November 4, the day after the election, and millions of mail-in ballots are still being counted, leaving the results of the presidential election undecided. We are in a liminal moment, waiting, feeling unsettled, or as one humorist quipped, “It’s like the entire nation is on the Maury Show waiting breathlessly to learn who the father will be.” For us Christians, thankfully, that question (“Who is my father?”) has long been answered, as I wrote about here and in the previous posts in this week’s Current Events five-part blog series on what Christians should do after we vote. As followers of Jesus, it is almost certainly more consequential how we live after we vote than who we voted for. If you haven’t read the previous posts, you can start with the first one here.

My wife, Michelle, has been reading the book, Love Kindness by Barry Corey, and I want to share a few statements he makes that are very helpful as we think about how to be the body of Christ once the election is over.

Corey writes, “Kindness has become far too often a forgotten virtue. Christians often bypass kindness to begin a shouting match, or we just talk among ourselves about how awful the other side is.  We rant before we relate.” 

Pope Francis, in The Joy of the Gospel, talks about this too, reminding us of Jesus’ words in John 13:34-35, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”  Then he goes on to say that we, church, are people on a boat heading in the same direction.  That image got me thinking that too often we are like people on a boat headed in the same direction, but we have erected a wall down the middle of the boat so that the right side and left are divided.  All they can do is yell at each other over the wall.  We rant before we relate.

Imagine if your church sanctuary had a wall right down the middle.  The right-leaning people sat on the right, and the left-leaning people sat on the left.  Divided. Rarely interacting, except maybe on social media, where the tone is critical and attacking, furthering the divide, fortifying the wall. (That said, I need to mention a bit of an aside for those of you who are part of the family of Faith Church reading this: I have been so impressed with the way that you, though you have differing opinions on politics and many other matters, interact with one another keeping the most important thing the most important thing: our love of Jesus and our heart to follow him.) 

Of course Faith Church doesn’t have a wall down the middle aisle of our sanctuary, and I’m guessing your church doesn’t either…and yet do we? Have you allowed a wall to be built in your heart and mind, blocking you from some in the body of Christ?  Have you allowed bitterness and unkindness to grow inside you, directed toward those who think differently from you? We Christians must guard against allowing that kind of wall to be built.  I suspect the origins of the wall are rooted in care. You care about the people in your church, and you want what you believe is in their best interest. But remember Pope Francis’ words. Do you rant before you relate? No one is going to convince another to think of something in a new way when their interactions with them are marked by arrogance and unkindness.  

Corey goes on to suggest that “To be Christian, kindness must shape us and define us because we are seeing the other as someone made in the image of God.”  In other words, we need to go back to the beginning, to the first chapter of the Bible where in Genesis 1:26-27, we read:

“26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; he male and female he created them.”

Every single one of us. Image-bearers.  People from the other political party?  Image-bearers whom God created and loves.  People from other religions that are not from the USA?  Image-bearers whom God created and loves.  People who practice habits you don’t approve of?  Image-bearers whom God created and loves.  Is that in the forefront of our mind when we are thinking of others?

Corey notes that, “In today’s polarized culture, we are often pulled toward one extreme or the other.”  Corey calls these extremes, the soft center on one side and the hard edges on the other side.  What does he mean by that?  A soft center kind of person is wishy-washy, changing their beliefs, or uncertain about their beliefs.  A hard edges person is harsh, attacking, judgemental.  Christians should be neither. 

So Corey proposes a third option.  “Rather than the harshness of firm center and hard edges, or the weakness of a spongy center and soft edges, start with kindness. Kindness is the way to have a firm center, but soft edges.” To have that balanced third option, we can and should view people with kindness because they are made in the Image of God, loved deeply by God.

But what is kindness? Check back tomorrow, as I’ll try to describe this essential quality.

How a unique surgery helped me know what to do after voting – Current Events 2020 Q4, Part 2

Photo by JAFAR AHMED on Unsplash

An acquaintance of Michelle and mine recently had a terrible accident at his work.  He is a contractor and was operating a cement mixer, got his hands caught in there, and the machine did serious damage to both hands.  One hand was far worse than the other, and for that hand surgeons are attempting a unique treatment.  They will make an incision in his abdomen, place his damaged hand inside the opening, and then sew it shut.  His wounded hand will remain inside his abdomen for three weeks, because they have found that the healing power of the body is far more effective when the wounded part is surrounded by and nourished by the life-giving flesh inside his body.  That is not only fascinating medically, but is a powerful symbolic image for how you and I can act once this election is over.    

In the previous post, I mentioned that no matter who wins the presidential election, let us remember that Jesus Christ is our King. And, we are a part of the Body of Christ.

What does that mean, “The body of Christ?”  That is a very Christian-ese phrase.  “Church, we are the body of Christ.”  Christians often refer to church as “The Body.”  But what does it mean?  Turn to 1 Corinthians 12:12.  This is the primary passage that explains why we Christians are called the body of Christ.

The guy who wrote this was one of the first Christian leaders, a guy named Paul.  He was writing in the early years when the church was only 20-30 years, and still very much figuring out how to be the church.  Paul writes, “12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.”

Do you see the incredible importance of this?  We, Christians, you and I, my church family and your church family, along with all other Christians in the world, are the physical manifestation of Jesus in the world.  His Spirit resides in us, which you can read about a few chapters earlier in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, where Paul writes that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit lives in us.  So, you and I, and all Christians everywhere, are living breathing temples of the Spirit, that together form the body of Christ in the world.  Each and every one of us, therefore, is vastly important. 

Whether you vote red or blue or third party is far less consequential than the fact that you are a part of the body of the Christ.  We Christians, together, are an “us”, we are a unit, the body of Christ.  So how should we treat one another? From conversations I’ve had with my own church family, from what I have seen online, it is clear that there are a variety of deeply-held feelings among Christians about the election.  In one body of Christ we have differing opinions about this major American event, so how do we treat one another when we have so many differences?

Jump ahead to 1 Corinthians 12:21-26.

“21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

You may find it unfathomable how people in your church family can vote for the other party.  You may think they are deceived; that they are dead wrong.  You may feel bothered by what they post on social media.  You may feel like you would rather avoid them.  But if one part suffers, every part suffers.  Once that election result is finalized, there will be wounded people in your church body!

Will you allow yourself to be cut open so the wounded part of the body can heal?  How do we do that?  We unclench our fists.  We open wide our arms.  And we embrace the wounded.  If one of us is suffering because the result of the election disappoints us, we all suffer with that person. 

But what if you are the wounded one?  What if it is your side that lost?  That will be very hard to take.  Work hard to practice what the other body-life principle: “if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”  That doesn’t mean you all of a sudden have to agree with the ideas of the other party.  But it does mean that in the church family you learn to “Rejoice with those who rejoice.”  Even if you think, as the losing side most likely will, that the next four years are going to be horrible, what will it look like for you to be the body of Christ and not let your loss cause you to become bitter? In his wonderful book, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis writes, “One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into…disillusioned pessimists, ‘sourpusses’.”[1] It is so easy to be a sore-loser.  Pope Francis is right to warn us about this, because we Christians, while we can have a proper disappointment if the presidential candidate we voted for lost, we should NOT be stuck because of that.   We carry with us the victory of Jesus, the one true king, and we rejoice in him.  Our hope is not in any presidential candidate.


[1] Evangelii Gaudium, page 69

I voted…now what? – Current Events 2020 Q4, Part 1

Our country is divided.  It is not just division about who we are going to vote for.  Our division goes far deeper than that.  We are deeply divided about what we think is best for the country.  Interestingly, what I have noticed is that both of the major political parties believe they are promoting what is best.  Both would say that they have the right ideas.  And yet, what each party thinks is best is often opposite from the other. 

Our community is divided.  If you drive around the community, you see the difference in the election signs people have in the yards.  I think it is funny when neighbors have dueling election signs.  We were recently driving in a neighboring school district, and you could see it very clearly.  One yard had a bunch of signs for one party, and the next yard had a bunch for the other party.  They were big signs too! 

The division we feel is not just in our community or our neighbors.  The division can even hit close to home.  This week I saw one property that had dueling signs right next to each other in the same yard. I thought, “I wonder what is going on in that household?”  And then it hit me…that’s probably the case in many households, and certainly in extended families!  How many of you have family members that think differently from you?  How many of you have family members that will vote differently than you?  It’s true in my family too.

But the division doesn’t stop there.  Some of us have a difference of opinion with ourselves!  When it comes to voting, that is defined as being “undecided.”  Maybe that describes you.  Maybe you have an affinity with some aspects of one political party, while at the same time, you also have affinity with some aspects of the other party.  Or you might be one of the people who feels inwardly torn because you can’t stand the fact that you are being told by some to vote for the lesser of two evils.  What I’m describing is that you feel you are not of one mind within yourself. And I don’t say that in a negative way.  You’re are wrestling with your own dueling thoughts, unsure of how to think about this.

There is one more way we see division.  And this one can be really tough to deal with.  We see division right here in our church family.  In our church family we have people who think differently from one another.  We have differences of opinion about what is best for our country.  And we express those differences of opinion on election ballots. 

Maybe some of you have already voted!  In two days some of you will vote.  My encouragement is that all of us who are eligible to vote, vote!  I am not going tell you how to vote.  If you want to talk about issues that you are wrestling with in this voting season, please comment below, and I would be glad to chat.

But if I am not telling how to vote, what is this Current Events sermon about? 

What I want to try to answer is the question: What do we do AFTER we vote?  How should those of us who claim to love Jesus, those of us who desire to follow his way with our thinking, our hearts and our actions, behave after the election? 

Normally at some point on election night we know the results of the election.  Probably not this year!  In 2000 we also had to wait a long time to learn the results.  Remember that one?  A month-long series of legal battles led to the highly controversial 5–4 Supreme Court decision, Bush v. Gore, which ended the recount on December 10, 2000.  The recount having been ended, Bush won Florida by 537 votes, a margin of 0.009%.  Florida’s electoral votes pushed him over the top, into the presidency.  Michelle and I were living in Kingston, Jamaica, during that time, and it sure was a strange thing to watch what was happening in our “passport country” while we lived in another country.  The US election was big news there, too, and Jamaicans would tell us how amazed they were that violence had not broken out in our country as we waited for the results.

How long will we have to wait this year, especially since Covid has skyrocketed the amount of mail-in voting?  Maybe it will be a few days or weeks, but will we have an election result. 

You know what that means?  There will be a winner and a loser.  Because we have differences of opinion about the candidates, the election result means that some of you will be happy and some will be sad. 

Think about that.  In most church families, the result of the election will be very emotional for us.  This will be my fourth presidential election as pastor of Faith Church; fifth, if I include my years as youth pastor.  Each election I have heard very strong emotional sentiments within our church family.  It doesn’t matter which year or which candidate; I’ve heard this about all of the candidates every election year: “If so and so is elected, it means the end of America.”  Well, 18 years later, America is still here.  And while America is divided, Christians, let us not be divided because, first and foremost, we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Our citizenship in heaven matters infinitely more than citizenship in any earthly nation, all of which are temporary.  No matter who wins the presidential election, let us remember that Jesus Christ is our King, and we are part of the Body of Christ.

What does that mean, “The body of Christ?” Check back tomorrow, and the concept of the body of Christ is crucial to helping us learn how to handle ourselves after we vote.