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Friday, July 20, 2018

Mad Jacks and Miles Standishes

     Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 
     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!”  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 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, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
     Now you are the body of Christ,  and each one of you is a part of it.
-1 Corinthians 12:15-27 (NIV)


I always suspected I had greatness in my bloodline. Now I know for sure. Or, like, for possibly.
     I’ve been playing around recently with a little genealogy research online. I’ve been mostly concentrating on the Odum side of the family so far, and I’ve made a discovery. It’s nothing a real genealogist would sign off on, I’m sure, but the links are there.
    A guy they called “Mad Jack” Oldham is probably my 11th great-grandfather.
     You know how some families trace their heritage back to the Mayflower, right? Mad Jack — John, to his mother (I imagine) — came to Plymouth Colony only three years later, on board a ship called the Anne, and apparently didn’t like those Mayflower guys. The way they ran Plymouth didn’t much agree with him. According to William Bradford, the leader of the colony, Mad Jack stirred up some dissension. He and some other troublemakers wrote some letters back to England disparaging the Pilgrims (some of which Bradford intercepted), and refused to stand watch when it was his turn. Things apparently came to a head when he pulled a knife on Miles Standish — yep, that Miles Standish — and called him a “beggarly rascal.” I guess that was a bridge too far, because shortly thereafter he was banished from Plymouth Colony.
     He did better after that at the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and as a trader as far as Virginia and England. He was overseer of shot and powder at Massachusetts Bay (but not knives!), and was even appointed to the General Court of Massachusetts for a couple of years.
     But then he started a war. I mean, it wasn’t totally his fault, but on a trading voyage to Block Island, Rhode Island, he got himself killed by a group of tribesmen, probably Narragansett. They claimed another tribe, the Pequot, were the culprits, which led to hostilities later called The Pequot War between the Pequot and several colonies.
     I think my son said it well: “Wow, I’ll try my best to live up his example.”
     There are Mad Jacks in every family, aren’t there — family members that sometimes don’t want to consider themselves part of the family, and that we’re tempted to banish? (If you can’t think of any in yours, well, you’re probably it…) What’s true in our own biological families is true of the church as well. Look at history, if you doubt that; it’s full of believers who chafed under the rule of the churches of their time, and full of those who tried to show them the door — and sometimes succeeded. Mad Jacks fill the rolls of church history, pulling metaphorical knives and sometimes driving some of the church’s most complete reforms. But those who opposed them often served the family of God as well, sometimes moderating those reforms and helping the church keep their hold on the ancient truths of the faith. Today we consider the Mad Jacks and the Miles Standishes of church history as part of the same family — even if they didn’t see it that way during their lives.
     But you don’t need to look to ancient history to see this. Your church’s own history probably reflects the push and pull between the Mad Jacks and the Miles Standishes. Maybe your church came to exist because a group of Mad Jacks united in their opposition to an existing church decided to strike out on their own. Maybe your church has been marked by the departure of some Mad Jacks. God can and will use even some of those circumstances for good. 
     But maybe it’s time again for the church to reconsider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians about the church as the body of Christ. He speaks, first, to the Mad Jacks — to those who don’t see how they fit into the local church. They don’t feel appreciated, they don’t feel like their gifts are being used, they just don’t think they belong. They’re thinking about heading for the exits. 
     If that’s you at the moment, then Paul says to you that your feelings of not belonging don’t mean that you stop belonging. It isn’t always easy to be part of a family. It isn’t always comfortable. There isn’t always agreement. We’re not supposed to all be alike — Paul says God has made the church that way. It may hurt when we find it hard to discover our place in the church, but it doesn’t mean we walk away. It doesn’t mean we’re not an essential part of it.
     Paul also speaks to those in the church who adopt a “my way or the highway” philosophy, the Standishes who would banish the Mad Jacks. That usually happens because the ones doing the banishing have a high need for control and a low tolerance for diversity. They want everyone to look, talk, act, pray, sing, and believe the same. They doubt that the church needs such diversity, and they want to cull those who at a particular moment are weaker, less honorable, less “presentable”.
     But Paul says we need those “weaker” parts in the church. We need to give special honor to the less honorable and special care to the “unpresentable” parts. The sick, the broken, the divorced, the doctrinally “incorrect”, the powerless, the poor, the maladjusted, the exhausted, the aged, the uneducated — those who in a lot of circles might be considered an embarrassment — should be treated by the church as particularly important. Again, this is because God has put the church together just as he wants us, and he intends that the suffering of the weakest, most dishonorable, and most unpresentable should be the suffering of all of us, and they should be included in the celebration of all the others.
     “You are the body of Christ,” he says, “and each of you is a part of it.” We don’t always feel that’s true. We don’t always even want it to be true. But true it is.

     May we create in our churches places for the Mad Jacks and the Miles Standishes among us.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Holy Family, Incarcerated

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 
     So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled  what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  
-Matthew 2:13-15 (NIV)


A church in Indianapolis has pulled its statues of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph out of storage at an unusual time of year.
     While a lot of churches have the holy family set out on their lawns in a nativity scene during the Christmas season, they don’t usually come out in the middle of summer. But Christ Church Cathedral decided to haul theirs out to make a statement
     Instead of the usual stable, Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus have been placed inside a chain-link fence on the church’s lawn. The intent, as you’ve probably guessed, is to mirror the situation that many immigrant families on our borders — especially our southern border — find themselves in. While families are no longer being separated at the border, they are being detained together indefinitely according to the administration’s new policy.
     “Holy Scripture is clear about how we are to treat people trying to find safety for their families — we are to show mercy and welcome them,” said Steve Carlsen, dean and rector at the Cathedral. He went on to say that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph “call us to stand with all families seeking safety and a future for their children,” and that "We must not be divided by race, language or culture, but reach out to care for our neighbors — because every family is sacred.” 
     Mr. Carlsen is, of course, referring to the fact that the Gospel of Matthew tells the story of Joseph taking his wife and newborn son to Egypt in order to escape King Herod’s murderous intentions. In the gospel, the story functions more as a meditation on the strange twists the fulfillment of prophecy can take. In our world, though, it takes on a little different meaning. Jesus began his life as an immigrant asylum-seeker. He was born into a world that didn't have a place for him and his family, into a world that would just as soon exterminate them. His family left their livelihood, family, and everything they knew behind to give their new son a chance at life. To the degree that any family in our world has to make that decision, we’ve failed as a race. To the degree that we don’t show compassion and mercy to those who are forced into that decision, we’ve failed as a church. 
     How does it change our thinking, those of us whose families have been here 3 or 4 or, like mine, many more generations, to see Jesus and his family as immigrants struggling to survive? Were there folks in Egypt saying that to “make Egypt great again” they needed to stop the flood of potentially dangerous immigrants coming to their borders? Were there those who would have turned this little family from Nazareth around and sent them back into the waiting arms of Herod? Almost certainly there were. If that makes some of us who are believers rethink our position on those who come to our shores looking for a life, so be it. "They were a homeless family with nowhere to stay," Mr. Carlson said in an interview. "I think our faith tells us where we need to be.” 
     One of the things I appreciate about the statement Christ Church is making is that it offers us an alternative way of reading Scripture. I think that’s pretty important, especially when administration officials are quoting Romans 13:1-5 as a way of telling believers that we should just be quiet and meekly submit to what the government tells us is right. (As if Paul would have ever stood for that!) The Bible can be and has been used to justify some of the most horrific abuses in human history — often by the very governments carrying out those abuses. It takes some discretion, some critical thinking, to read the Bible well. Christ Church takes the story of the flight to Egypt and uses it to make us think about what the “old, old story” of Jesus tells us about this very contemporary issue.
     I know a brother in Christ who thinks that the church, in its zeal for interpreting and explaining individual Bible texts, sometimes misses the big picture. He thinks we read Scripture in a way that misses the forest for the trees. I think he might be onto something, even if it’s not what he thinks it is.
     My take on it is that it isn’t so much a “miss the forest for the trees” problem. It’s that we ignore a large percentage of the trees — unfamiliar ones, of a species we can’t identify at first glance — and focus on a small grove here and there that are familiar territory. The Bible is a vast wilderness, and we tend to leave a lot of it unexplored and untouched. You know those parts in your Bible where the pages are still stuck together? Yeah, they’re Scripture too. And if the Bible is as important as we claim it is, then leaving large chunks of it untouched leaves our faith impoverished.
     If the sight of the Holy Family caged up on a church lawn makes your blood boil a little, you might ask yourself what it is that’s bothering you about it. The Bible shouldn’t always confirm what we already believe. Sometimes it should upset our beliefs. Sometimes it ought to wreak a little havoc in our value systems, overturn some tables, bust some holes in old wineskins. Maybe, if this little display bothers us, it’s because it’s allowed a previously-unexplored bit of Scripture to burrow its way to right where it should be: under our skin.
     I can already hear some believers saying that this is too political, that a church should concentrate on preaching the gospel and not take sides in a political debate. I get that, I do. In a lot of ways, I sympathize with it completely. Some of the spiritual ancestors I most admire would have said the same thing. They probably wouldn’t have taken a position on the subject, or had any confidence that one party was motivated by anything other than political gain.
     But here’s where they would have parted company with some I know who decry politics in the church: they would have gone out and served immigrant families in the name of Jesus. They would have gotten to know them, loved them, cared for them, and helped meet their needs because they would have known that the gospel correctly understood pushes us and nags at us to love the most vulnerable among us. They’d make their churches places of welcome. For some of us, worries about the church being “political” are a smokescreen that let us use our faith as a blindfold to keep us from having to see the suffering of real people. 
    It strikes me that it seems I can’t decide whether this is a post about immigration or reading the Bible. Turns out it’s both. That’s as it should be, since our opinions about the one should be formed by the other. 

     If someone needs to break out a nativity scene a few months early to remind us, so be it.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Such As These

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
-Mark 10:13-16 (NIV)


A crying two-year-old in a pink jacket and shoes has become a Helen of Troy for the 21st century: the face that launched a thousand ships. And sunk a few, too.
    It’s sad that, in our world, being good and generous to children has become politicized, but that’s exactly what happened in the case of little Yanela, whose photo was snapped last week at a border crossing in McAllen, Texas. While US Customs and Border Patrol Agents question her mother and pat her down, Yanela looks on and wails. The fear and exhaustion is evident on her face.
    The debate over President Trump’s so-called “zero tolerance” policy has run at a fast clip the last couple of weeks. The President and his supporters claim previous administrations are responsible for the problem. Critics point out that, while previous administrations enacted procedures to deal with unaccompanied minors at the border, it’s this administration that has made a point of separating children from parents. (not an insignificant point) It’s a deterrent, say supporters. Criminals have their children taken from them every day. But comparing people trying to cross the border to give themselves and their children a chance at a better life with drug dealers, murderers, and violent offenders is not exactly apples to apples, is it?
    President Trump, to his credit — or do you get credit for finally deciding to do what most people seem to think is the right thing? — has signed an executive order backing off his “zero tolerance” policy. Little Yanela — who may or may not have actually been separated from her mother — may have had something to do with that.
    In all of this, though, the world has been treated to the spectacle of the United States, ostensibly a beacon of liberty and justice in the world, intentionally and admittedly using children as leverage in a war against a flow of undesirables from other countries that no one even seems to know for sure is coming.
    And we’re treated to Christians (mostly white), quoting Scripture to try to support this policy.
    I hope it isn’t the majority of us. I don’t think it is. Most believers I know seem opposed to the policy. But it’s enough of us that it gives the church a black eye and undermines the gospel.
    Yes, I said that support of the “zero tolerance” policy — even if it’s backhanded, “Well, someone has to do something” support — undermines the gospel. I don’t care who you voted for. Let me say that again. I don’t care who you voted for. This isn’t partisan. If you think that the way to solve our immigration problem (a debatable problem, at best) is by putting children at risk, then you’re not paying attention to Jesus.
    This is not hard at all. There are things about being a Christian that are tough, and stuff that’s kind of uncertain, but this is the equivalent of “Write your name here” on the Christianity 101 self-assessment. So some of us aren’t as familiar with the Bible as we’d like to be. Fair enough. Just type “little children” into the search box of the Bible app on your phone, or look up “children” in a concordance if you’re more old-school. It won’t be but a minute until you’re reading something like this: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” It’s in three out of four of the Gospels, for goodness’ sake. Really, I’m serious here — this should not be difficult at all.
    Let me ask this: How likely do you think a parent is to come to believe in Jesus when people who wear his name say they think it’s OK if the government separates them from their children? How willing to hear the gospel do you think they’ll be if that gospel doesn’t offer grace to their family? How inclined to believe in the love of God do think they’re likely to be if his people think that separating children from parents is an acceptable strategy for keeping them from living in “our” neighborhoods, taking “our” jobs, or getting seats in “our” kids’ schools?
    According to Jesus, the test of the gospel you preach and live and believe is whether or not it welcomes “such as these.” By keeping the kids away from Jesus, his disciples belied the good news of the kingdom of God. In effect, he asked them, “How can you claim to believe in the kingdom of God and turn away some of those who would enter it most readily and who are most able to receive it?”  
    As a general rule, when the Bible says that a thing made Jesus “indignant,” we would do well to avoid that thing.
    A church that doesn’t know how to say that children should be cared for, and that anything that would put them in harm’s way is wrong, is in danger of losing sight of the gospel we claim to preach. A church that is willing to trade kingdom work for any nationalistic agenda, however well-intentioned it may be, is serving the wrong Master. Believers whose consciences aren’t pricked by the predicament of the weakest among us need a refresher course on compassion from the One who took children in his arms and blessed them and said that his Father’s kingdom was especially for them.
    Right now, in our city, there are children of immigrants who are in need of a blessing by the church. Even those who are with their parents may be in need of food, medical care, assistance with homework, and so forth. Some have parents who have been detained or deported; will the church be their surrogate family for as long as it takes?
    “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them,” said the Lord. May we love the little ones among us and near us with his love, so that they will have the chance to come to him. May we take the time and make the effort to show the children that are so important to him that they matter to us.
    If not, how can we call ourselves his followers?

Friday, June 15, 2018

Generations

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever!
-Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)


I’ve been reading Jonathan Storment’s latest blog post and thinking about a man named Gene Arnold.
     So, first, Jonathan writes this in his post, titled Generationally Generous: 
I think so much of the Church problems that we have today can be summed up by the fact that we have generational divides that are being addressed, not by working through problems together and reconciling, but through just creating different churches.
     One of the by-products of the individualistic society that we have created is that we have carved up the world so many distinctive ways that we no longer have to share life with people who are different from us. This is true racially, economically, educationally, and generationally.
     This is the great tragedy of modern American Churches.
     I think Jonathan’s right, which doesn’t mean he is, but just go with me for a minute here. When churches start talking about this problem we seem to have of keeping and/or attracting younger members, how does the conversation usually go? We start talking about changing the window dressing. Let’s have a coffee hour. Let’s change the music. Let’s add a band. Let’s throw out the liturgy. Let’s put in a liturgy. 
    Of course, the existing members of the church like things as they are pretty well. We don’t want to alienate them. So what do we do? Well, some churches solve the problem by having two different worship services. Traditional and Contemporary, they might call them. Others just plant a different church, one better suited in location, style, etc. for younger people. And some — most, maybe — just kind of give up and decide they’ll appeal to one demographic or the other. Usually, the one that’s already filling the pews and giving the money.
     In all of those cases, though, what you’re left with is two different churches. As Jonathan says, instead of working through problems together and reconciling, we’re carving up the church so we don’t have to share it with people who are different.
     In that, we look very much like our world: we’re pretending we’re tolerant and accepting of others by doing our best to associate mainly with people who aren’t very different from us at all.
     In our world, young people are lazy, spoiled, demanding, oversensitive, image-obsessed hipsters. In our world, old people are cranky, boring, out-of-touch, behind-the-times codgers. In our world, old people and young people live, work, shop, and eat in different places. They watch different TV shows, on different devices. They listen to different music. They get their news from different sources. They use different social media.
     I have one question. Answer it, and you can stop reading now: Why isn’t the church different? 
     Maybe it’s because we haven’t given this idea of carving the church up into generationally homogenous segments a whole lot of thought. We inherited grade-level Sunday school from those who went before us. We inherited youth ministry segregated from the rest of the church. We just don’t have a lot of experience that tells us how to live and worship and serve together. So, instead, we argue and fight and end up dividing over the “right” music, preaching style, dress code, or something equally asinine — as though there is a “right” any of those things. As though what we’re talking about isn’t just what we like best, what pushes the right emotional buttons, what makes us feel like we’re in our kind of place.
     Listen; if we’re trying to create generationally-specific churches, then we’re trying to do something that the church has never done in any other time or place. Something that seems very much like the co-opting of Christianity to cultivate an image that we want the world to see.  
     And, by the way, say you do find the perfect image that makes your church attractive to younger people. That image that seems so new and cool now will seem old and irrelevant to your kids and grandkids. Good, Good Father will, one day, be Just As I Am. One generation’s Oceans is the next’s Be Not Dismayed Whate’er Betide.
     The problem is that churches don’t know how to be generationally generous. We don’t get that love demands listening to one another and caring for one another. We don’t get that church is supposed to consist of older believers and younger believers serving and working and growing in Christ together.
     Which is why I’m thinking about Gene Arnold. 
     Gene was a longtime minister at the church where I grew up. He was there for some of my most formative years. When I think of Gene, the last thing I think of is hip or cool. At church, Sunday or any other day of the week, he would be in a conservative suit and tie. (He’s the main reason I still can’t bring myself to wear jeans on Sunday morning.)  He wore a fairly obvious toupee. His jokes were corny, and he was old. (Like, in his 60’s!) There was little obvious reason for a teenager to become friends with him. All the same, I like to think that’s what we were. I can tell you this: I really don't see how I’d be doing what I do today if I hadn’t known him.
     Gene loved me, and it showed. He was patient with me. His joy in my growing faith was evident. He asked my opinion as though it mattered to him (because it did). We would talk about the Bible, and life, and he had the humility to appreciate my point of view. He took me under his wing. I went with him to visit hospitals. I learned theology and languages and homiletics in school. I learned from Gene how to minister. 
     The church will be so much the poorer if we don’t learn generational generosity. If older believers don’t learn to be thankful for the energy and new perspectives of younger believers, we’ll miss out on so much. If younger believers don’t learn to be thankful for the wisdom and patience of older believers, what we lose will be irreplaceable. If we can’t learn to sing each other’s music, listen to each other’s opinions, value each other’s points of view, and give of ourselves for one another, the damage to the church will be catastrophic.
     I heard someone not long ago disparage some older hymns by saying something like this: “I can’t sing songs that don’t sound like the way I speak.” I get what that person was saying, but it’s just wrong. As the church, we don’t speak to ourselves through our music. We speak to one another. If we can’t learn to speak each others’ languages, how can we hope to embody the good news of the One who gave himself for all of us?
     Of course we can learn. The problem is that we don’t want to. That’s why our churches struggle to attract anyone that doesn’t look just like us. That’s why people come in, and sit quietly for a service or two, and then leave. That will never change until we decide to love each other, whatever our age, as we have been loved.
     Reach out to someone at church who’s older or younger than you. Ask them about a favorite hymn or worship song. Invite them to your house. Listen to their stories. Tell some of your own. Pray with them. Serve together. Sit together in worship.

     They’re part of your family in Jesus, and you don’t want a church without them.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Be Faithful

Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer...Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
-Revelation 2:10 (NIV)


Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Cleveland Cavaliers are in trouble.
    By the time you read this, in fact, the NBA Finals might already be over. In the best of seven series, Cleveland is down 0 games to 3 to the Golden State Warriors. They were in two of those games. But for a major brain freeze on the part of J.R. Smith at the end of regulation in Game 1, things might be different. But even those games the Cavs were in kind of make you feel like Golden State is just going to find a way to answer everything Cleveland does. Like in Game Three, where in rapid succession, with time running out, Steph Curry hit a 3 to give Golden State a 4-point lead, LeBron James hit a 3 to cut it to 1 point, and then Kevin Durant hit another 3 to push the dagger in. As if to say, “It doesn’t matter what you do. We’re the better team and will find a way to win.”
    No, the series isn’t over. But, yes, it is. Teams that have fallen behind 0-3 in the NBA Playoffs are, collectively, 0-131 in Game 4. It would be an achievement of historic proportions for Cleveland to even win the next game, never mind 4 straight. So what do you do if you’re Cleveland? Give up? Stay home tonight instead of going to the arena? No, of course not.
    In the words of LeBron James, one of the greats in NBA history, “When I wake up Friday morning I’ll be locked in on the game plan of what needs to be done to help our team win. That’s just who I am.”
    We live in anxious times. Terrorism. School shootings. A country divided along ethnic, racial, and political lines. Renewed tensions with old enemies. And that doesn’t even include all the stuff you carry on your shoulders personally: the health problems, family problems, work stress, school demands and so on that everyone seems to bear to one degree or another.
    It’s easy to think, in times like these, that the ending is written and there’s nothing to be done.
    The original readers of Revelation were believers who might have been tempted to think that themselves. Their faith cost them: their livelihood, their standing in society, their friends, their families, their lives. Following Jesus didn’t ease the burden of life for them: it added to it. And, considering the number of times in Revelation the phrase “be faithful” is used, they needed to be reminded that the fact that they were down didn’t mean that they should count themselves out.
    That’s what Revelation is about, by the way: those believers couldn’t have cared less about the things that we find so fascinating in that book. What they needed, and apparently got in Revelation, was assurance that whatever was happening around them, just on the other side of the door God was at work and his plan wasn’t inconvenienced in the slightest. Evil was being dealt with. The righteous would receive their reward. Things too big and too wonderful for them to understand were happening, and the cries of those who were suffering were not falling on deaf ears.
    All they needed to do was “be faithful.”
    “Be faithful, and I will give you life” – I think I’d prefer it if Jesus had left it at that, if you want to know the truth. “Be faithful” – that’s harmless enough. That’s about going to church and saying my prayers and being nice to people, isn’t it?
    No, it’s not. “Be faithful” is about suffering and not giving in to fear. I didn’t say it was the absence of fear – Jesus himself didn’t meet that standard – but recognizing that being afraid of something doesn’t have to be the same thing as shrinking from it. The promise Jesus makes is for people who will put their trust in him even if it literally kills them. And the reality is, of course, that every person who has ever trusted Jesus before you is dead. No one survives the experience.
    So the more I think about it, the more I think we need the promise as it is: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” That’s real, isn’t it? It takes seriously the gravity of the struggles we face, the toll it takes on us to live in this world. It takes seriously that there really are people and forces out there who would hurt us if they can. It’s a promise that grapples with human mortality, a promise for hospitals and funeral homes. It’s for battlefields and prison cells, for killing fields in places like Somalia and blighted urban neighborhoods closer to home. It’s a promise that even though Jesus’ vision of love and justice and holiness sometimes looks a little thin and unsubstantial next to the reality of the world around us, faithfulness to him is where our hope lies.
    Jesus’ promise is that we are not done, not by a long shot, if we will just hold on to our trust in him. The outcome is sure. The victors’ names are already announced, and their trophies of eternal life will soon be in their hands.
    I like what LeBron said about Game 4 because I like the reason for his showing up to play: “That’s just who I am.” For believers, being faithful is as easy as being true to ourselves. Through Jesus, that’s who we are. We belong to him, we follow him, we were saved by him and live in him and, really, what else are we going to do but be faithful?
   So things are tough. Uncertain. Difficult. Jesus never promises that it won’t get worse before it gets better. But he does promise that it gets better. Maybe he doesn’t spare us the struggle so that we’ll enjoy the victory that much more. Maybe we need the struggle to harden and refine our faith. I don’t know. I don’t understand it. But I know the promise he makes is one that he lived. He was faithful to death, and his Father gave him life. And it’s his intention to share it with all his faithful people.
    So hang in. Keep doing what he tells you, what you know to be right. Love God, and love your neighbor, and take your life’s energy from that source. And when you’ve gone as far as you can, he’ll step in and take you the rest of the way.

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