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Friday, February 21, 2020

The Habit of Going to Church

     Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together,  as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.   
-Hebrews 10:23-25 (NIV)


The first time I can recall ever missing church just because something else sounded better, I was in college. It was Super Bowl Sunday, and what I missed was a Sunday night service. There was no one around to tell me to go, so I decided to watch the Super Bowl with some friends.
     I know. My rebellion was shocking.
     I grew up going to church. We were three-times-a-week people: Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night. It wasn't a decision I made every week; there was no decision to be made. We went to church. I wasn’t always happy about it. There were times when I wouldn’t have said I got much out of it. None of that mattered, though. When it was time to get into the car, we got into the car. As a teenager I sometimes missed Sunday night for a job. Other than that, I was there. 
     When I left for college, it was to go to a “Christian university.” I was a Ministry major. Where most people in college probably are dealing with pressure not to go to church, the pressure I got was very definitely pro-church. It was less strength of character than it was going along with the crowd, which happened to be heading to church.
     What I’m saying is that I don’t see going to church as something to be proud of, or something that makes me better than someone who didn’t. It was, as much as anything, a habit I picked up. I have some habits that work against me. My church habit, I think, works for me. But it is a habit. 
     Now, of course, it’s part of my job description. Folks would likely notice if I didn’t show up. I’d probably get a phone call. Still, if I changed jobs tomorrow I think the habit of church attendance would kick in again. 
     It seems like we disregard doing anything habitually, as though doing something out of habit doesn’t really mean anything. Of course, I know people who make going to the gym a habit. They don’t necessarily enjoy it, aren’t always motivated. But they go because they believe that it’s a habit that makes a difference in their lives.  
     I wonder if maybe we need to rediscover the habit of going to church.
     Maybe you want to stop me right there, with my use of the phrase “going to church.” I do understand that the church is people, not a place. In that sense, of course, you can’t “go to church.” You’re a part of the church. Here’s the thing, though: the church does get together at a set time and place.   
     Only, I’m not sure that for a lot of believers it’s a foregone conclusion that they’ll be there.
     I get it. There are a lot of reasons not to be. We’re busy, busy people. (Where are those 30-hour work weeks folks used to predict were coming?) Our kids’ schedules are booked as tightly as our own. There are a lot of reasons to miss church. 
     Besides, what are we actually going to miss if we average, say, twice a month?  
     Let me just ask this question: Why should all the other things we have to do be the reason we miss church? Why shouldn’t church be the reason we miss everything else?
     The answer to those questions says something about our priorities, what we consider important, or at least what’s most urgent to us. I know that  things can get complicated. I know there are times when it’s inevitable that you’ll miss church. There are exceptions to every rule, but exceptions exist as exceptions because they are not the rule. And I’m afraid that the rule for some of us goes something like this: “I’ll be at church on Sunday morning if there isn’t something more pressing going on.”
     If that, or something like that, is the rule for you, then I don’t think it’s because you’re a bad person. I don’t think it’s because you don’t love the Lord. I think it’s because you’ve convinced yourself, somewhere along the line, that church is one of several alternatives. It’s on the menu, but why would you order it every week? We have a tendency to see church with a consumer mindset. It’s an option, not an obligation. 
     Let me just quickly point out, if you’ll allow me, a few reasons why I’m convinced that church attendance is an obligation, a habit we should develop:
  1. Your attendance will be an encouragement to someone else, often in ways you don’t understand or can’t anticipate. Believe it or not, just seeing you there will help someone in their spiritual life. 
  2. The gifts God has given you are not for you alone. They are to be used in ways that lift up the whole church. How will that happen if you choose not to be there when the church is together?
  3. The New Testament is full of instructions for how we are to treat “one another.” In those texts, the “one another”s in question seem most naturally to be the church. The church gathered together (as opposed to the hypothetical church) is the laboratory in which we live and experience what it means to be a part of the kingdom of God, both receiving and distributing God’s grace in all its forms. 
  4. Paul pictures the church — the local church — as the “body of Christ.” In that body, he says that God has arranged the parts just as he wants them and that there are no unnecessary parts. (1 Corinthians 12) To functionally absent yourself from the church is to remove a part of the body of Christ.  
  5. I have never known someone whose spiritual life and walk with the Lord were improved by casual church attendance. 
  6. Why should we expect future generations of believers to take the church seriously if they see us treating church attendance as an option and not an obligation?
     I know very well that not everything that happens at church is good, or uplifting, or helpful in our walk with the Lord. I know that not every sermon is a home run and not every song sounds great. I know that the church can even do great harm. Still, God has chosen the church to be about his work in our world, and he’s chosen us in all our diversity, disunity, and even brokenness to be imperfect vessels of his grace. 
     Darrell Hutchens, an elder at Northwest and a guy I’ve admired and loved for 25 years, used to often pray publicly for those who were “careless” in their attendance. I think he was on to something. We can be careless in our commitment to being at church. We can develop some bad habits.

     But we can also change our habits. Let’s develop the habit of church attendance. Let’s be willing to miss other things for the sake of that habit. Our churches will be stronger because of it. So will our spiritual lives.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Rats and Cockroaches?

    You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  
-Matthew 5:43-48 (NIV)


Very few people, I assume, buy a Valentine’s Day gift for their ex. But the San Antonio Zoo has a deal this year that might make you think about it. 
     For a mere $25, the Zoo will name a rat after your ex
     You say that’s not worth twenty-five bucks? All right, then, see how this sounds: After naming the unfortunate creature after your ex, the zoo will feed the rat to a snake on February 14th.
     Still not sure you want to drop $25 to buy a gift for a person who’s no longer your Valentine? Understandable. That’s why the Zoo has another deal that might be even better. For a mere $5, you can name a cockroach after said ex. And, yes, the zoo has plenty of birds and other animals that will be happy to wolf your ex’s namesake down. 
     You can even join in the fun — remotely, of course. The Zoo will be live-streaming the event on Facebook.
     Not only that, but you’ll also receive a certificate suitable for display on your social media.
     The zoo is obviously doing all this as a fund-raiser/PR move, with tongues in cheeks. Judging by the level of contempt and outright hatred that a lot of people seem to have for their exes, though, I imagine the zoo will have plenty of rats and cockroaches to feed to the animals on Valentine’s Day — ironically, a day that’s supposed to be all about love. 
     On Valentine’s Day, we celebrate those we love. We give gifts and do special things with spouses, romantic interests, sometimes best friends. We go to dinner together. We give candy and flowers. We celebrate romance, if we’re in a romantic relationship.
     In short, we celebrate Valentine’s Day by loving those who love us.
     And — the San Antonio Zoo hopes — maybe by resenting or hating those with whom we once shared something, and don’t anymore. 
     I don’t know if it was intentional or fortuitous, but a scheduling quirk put the National Prayer Breakfast the morning after the State of the Union Address last week. After one of the most contentious State of the Union Addresses in recent memory, political rivals had to sit in the same room together and pray. 
     The day after President Trump took a smug victory lap after the Senate impeachment trial, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ripped up her copy of his speech, they and their colleagues had to listen to author Arthur Brooks keynote the theme of the Breakfast: “Love Your Enemies.”
     It’s worth a few minutes to read Brooks’ speech. But one thing he said in particular resonated with me: 
“How do we break the habit of contempt? Some people say we need more civility and tolerance. I say, nonsense. Why? Because civility and tolerance are a low standard. Jesus didn’t say, ‘tolerate your enemies.’ He said, ‘love your enemies.’ Answer hatred with love.”
     When it was President Trump’s turn to speak he began by saying he wasn’t sure he agreed with Brooks’ remarks. I imagine that was OK with Brooks, since as he pointed out they weren’t strictly his remarks, anyway. In point of fact, President Trump was disagreeing with Jesus. It was Jesus who seemed to come up with the revolutionary idea that love can’t be restricted to those who love us, to those about whom we have good feelings, who have done nice things for us, who make us laugh and who make our heart rates speed up. 
     Jesus called that kind of love easy. Almost anybody can love like that. What’s harder is to love like God loves: without discrimination. He loves the evil and the good, the righteous and the unrighteous. He loves by doing good to all people, no matter if they love him or not. God loves proactively. He loves first
     Jesus embodied that love: “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 
     So he demands that those who follow him love like that. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.
     Be honest, now: President Trump isn’t the only one who struggles with that, is he?
     We often say that’s the hardest thing Jesus asks us to do. Well, maybe it is. But I don’t think it’s quite as hard as we sometimes make it out to be. Part of the problem might be that we hear “love your enemies” and think that means we’re supposed to have warm feelings and pleasant thoughts about people who’d just as soon stab us in the neck than talk to us (or who we’d just as soon stab in the neck). But a minute’s thought will tell us that can’t be right. In Scripture, God is sometimes angry toward human beings who have disregarded him or hurt other human beings. Jesus himself was downright rude at times. But, as he points out, God sends his sun and rain on everyone, however he might be feeling about them at a given moment. God loves primarily by doing, not by feeling. And so should we.
     So Jesus gives us something to do: “pray for those who persecute you.” One way to love your enemies is to discipline yourself to pray for their well-being. When you ask God to heal your ailing parents, or to help your friend with her job concerns, or to bless your children, you can also ask him to bless those people you don’t feel nearly so good about. And the more bad feelings toward them are in your heart and mind, maybe the more you should pray for them.
     Maybe you’ll have the chance to do something more for them. Visit them in the hospital. Send them a Christmas card. Maybe, one day, talk with them about what happened between you. Maybe you’ll never have that chance. But your prayers will be a real act of love on your part. And, incidentally, they’ll make that enemy of yours seem less like an antagonist to you, and more like, well, a person. Over time, praying for someone can’t help but reshape your view of them. And even your feelings.
     Maybe right now you’d rather think of them as cockroaches. Rats. 

     Pray for them, and you’ll likely start to see them the way God sees them. And love them like he does.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Anyone

     In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.  
-Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)



Demi Lovato performed her song "Anyone" at the Grammys on Sunday. Lovato has been forthcoming about her struggles with addiction and depression, and the lyrics of the song speak to the isolation she’s clearly felt: 
I feel stupid when I sing
Nobody's listening to me
Nobody's listening
I talk to shooting stars
But they always get it wrong
I feel stupid when I pray
So, why am I praying anyway?
If nobody's listening     
Anyone, please send me anyone
Lord, is there anyone?
I need someone…
     Lovato isn’t the only one who’s felt alone. But the nature of feeling alone is that you do feel like you’re the only one. You need someone. Anyone. But there’s nobody.
     We can feel alone in the middle of crowds. We can feel alone while wrapped up in frenetic activity. Lovato proves that we can feel alone when millions hang on every word we sing or speak or write. We can feel alone in comfortable homes, with families who love us. 
     Lovato’s song resonates, I think, because human beings need to know that someone is listening to them.
     Without that, we feel isolated.
     Even when we pray.
     See, here’s what we might not understand sometimes: If you don’t feel like the people around you hear you, then you’re not going to feel like God does either. Sure, I could tell you that God’s listening, even when no one else is. I’d be right if I told you that. But it’s awfully hard to believe that God hears from heaven when the people you share a life, an office, a school, a church, a home, even a bed with don’t seem to. It’s hard to imagine the Creator of the universe wants to listen to you if you don’t think the people closest to you do.
     For that reason, those of us who claim that God hears us, whoever we are, should be the world’s best listeners. We need to do a better job of hearing those around us, and of showing them that we’re willing to go below the surface pleasantries that some feel like they never get beyond.
     The climate in which we live discourages us from listening. We’re told that needing to be heard is weakness, that those like Lovato who plead for someone, anyone, to listen to them are “snowflakes” who aren’t tough enough for the real world. But all of us need someone to really hear us, even those of us who are ashamed of it.
     We’re also conditioned to ignore those who disagree with us. The default in our world is to shut out contrary voices from our dinner tables, friendship circles, churches, social media, and political discourse. We too often develop opinions on privilege, racism, poverty, immigration, health care, or a host of other issues without ever listening to someone whose experience of those things has been different from our own. Instead of listening, we create echo chambers for ourselves that reflect our own voices back to us. 
     But James reminds us that believers in Jesus “should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Our society teaches us pretty much the opposite: Use the time someone else is talking to formulate your rebuttal. Get angry when they don’t agree with you. Cut them out of your discourse. But James goes on to connect the inability to hear each other with the inability to hear God. Those habits by which we build our echo chambers also make God’s voice sound suspiciously like our own.
     Jesus never shut out others’ voices. Part of his incarnation is that he hears us. Bartimaeus, the Canaanite woman — their cries for help embarrassed Jesus’ followers, but not Jesus. He heard them. Jesus listens, without anger, without judgment, and without fail. When we needed someone, anyone, to listen, God sent him. 
     May his followers listen, too. May we listen to people who are different from us, people we don’t understand, even people whose lifestyles and choices we can’t condone. After all, when we’re honest we have to admit that people following Jesus can’t condone all of our choices, either! Right? And aren’t we glad that Jesus hears us even then?    
     I need to say something else, though. If you’re feeling that no one’s listening, I do need to tell you that God is. If you can identify with Lovato’s lament that she feels stupid when she prays, if you wonder with her just why in the world you should pray anyway, then you need to know that God is listening. Whether it feels that way to you or not, God is listening.
     This is one of the places where our postmodern belief that feelings equal truth fails us. Feelings affect what we perceive to be true, that’s correct. But feeling that the ice on a frozen pond will hold your weight doesn’t necessarily mean that it will. Feeling that your new crush is the one you’ll be with forever doesn’t preclude the possibility that one day he or she may not feel the same way. And feeling that God isn’t listening doesn’t mean that it’s true. We can’t always be led by our feelings. There have to be some things that we know are true, no matter what our feelings tell us.
     So if you feel stupid when you pray, then pray anyway. 
     Paul tells us in Romans that God is at work when we pray. No, we don’t know what to pray for. We don’t know what to say. We aren’t sure it does any good, sometimes. But when a believer prays, God’s Spirit acts. God himself, in his Spirit, takes our confused ramblings and incoherent groaning and creates from them beautiful prayers from our hearts to God’s. God listens to our prayers because he wants to. He works at listening to our prayers. Whether it feels that way to you or not, trust that he hears.
     And be the Anyone he sends to hear someone else.  

Friday, January 24, 2020

Clean Out Service

     Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.  
-1 Timothy 5:1-2 (NIV)


A couple of days this week, I’ve seen some trucks from a clean-out service at the house across the street from the church. The guy who lived there died a couple of months ago, and I guess his children are getting ready to sell the house. 
     First, though, someone has to clear everything out. Hence the trucks, and crews carrying out a lifetime’s worth of stuff.
     He lived there already when I started at the church and moved into the neighborhood almost 26 years ago. He must have been there over 50 years. He and his wife raised a son and a daughter there. A few truckloads of stuff later, and you’d never know he lived in the house at all. Someone else will move in, eventually, and then in a few more years no one who knew him will be in the neighborhood anymore. Seems sad, though I guess it’s only inevitable, the natural consequence of advancing years. James said it well: “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Few of our houses will be remembered as our houses for very long after we’ve stopped occupying them.
     Sometimes, though, our culture’s fixation on young and new unduly influences us to hurry the previous occupants out the door.
      That’s what seems to be happening in a church in Minnesota.
     The church, though it’s been shrinking in size and increasing in age for some time now, has a loyal core group of members who have been keeping things going in the absence of a pastor. Recently, though, a new pastor has come in with a turnaround plan. Actually, it seems more like euthanasia. Someone — the pastor, the denomination, or both — decided the most efficient thing to do would be to close the church, make some renovations to the building, and then reopen as a brand new church. Drastic, sure, but OK.
     Here’s the problem, though: The existing members — almost all of them in their 60s or older — would be moved to another church. Then, when their church reopened (as a “new” church), they would be encouraged to “talk to the pastor” about coming back, provided they were on the same page with the new church’s leaders about vision, direction, and so forth. It was suggested that they should wait 15-18 months after the church reopens to connect with the pastor about returning.
     So, to sum up: The decision has been made — independent of the core group of members who have kept a small, struggling church alive and witnessing to the gospel in their community — to shut their church down and reopen it later in the year as a new church. And, a year and a half or so after they reopen, that core group can interview with the pastor and apply for readmission.
     Maybe the pastor himself can explain it: “It’s a new thing with a new mission for a new target and a new culture.” No, guess not. But at least he said “new” a lot.
     Maybe a denominational official can make this all sound better: “We are asking them to let this happen. For this to be truly new, we can’t have the core group of 30 people. The members of the church have other options.” No, that doesn’t help either. But, again, at least he referenced how “new” it was all going to be.
     Look, I get that leading churches can involve difficult choices. I get that sometimes folks can get too wound up in the way things have always been done in a church to allow for needed changes. I get, too, that there are reasons to be concerned about young adults leaving churches. That’s a trend that’s easily observable across all denominations, fellowships, tribes, and flavors. It’s such a worry, in fact, that I could go to Amazon right now and browse title after title of books about bringing young adults back into the church. 
     Do you know what I see a lot less of? Concern about how churches can minister to the older people in their pews. Most churches, I think, are growing older, and I frankly don’t hear much about how we can best minister to folks with increasing health problems, or who are burying their spouses, or who are trying to figure out who they are after they’ve retired, or who don’t have the energy or the mobility they once did.  
      All I hear is how to be the kind of church that young people will want to attend.
     Are we expending so much of our energy and resources chasing our world’s infatuation with “young” and “new” that we don’t have anything left over for our older members who have kept us alive for decades?
     I’m not even sure that chasing young and new is getting us where we want to be anyway. My son, a college student, attends a chapel service every week with a couple hundred students who just get together and sing hymns. On purpose. They could sing Chris Tomlin or Hillsong or whoever if they wanted to. They choose hymns, instead. “Don’t let anyone tell you that people my age don’t like to sing hymns,” he says. 
     But it doesn’t have to be one or the other, does it? There’s room in our churches, isn’t there, for trying to connect with younger people while at the same time making time and room to love and serve those who are older? If we reach one generation at the expense of another — whichever way our preference goes — haven’t we already failed? Are we really supposed to believe that the church should be generationally exclusive? That the gospel doesn’t have something to say to people in their youth as well as those in the twilight of their lives?
     Has our world’s single-minded pursuit of youth and novelty so damaged us that we can’t even imagine a community in which four or five generations can serve the Lord, and each other, and their community together? 
     I mean, of course we all prefer and gravitate to people most like us — including in age. But should we be content with that? I think not.
     Listen: if nothing about your church has changed in twenty years, something’s off. Churches always have to change, like everything else in this impermanent, changing world. The world to come is the permanent one.
     But change doesn’t have to — and shouldn’t — mean leaving behind brothers and sisters, or mothers and fathers as Paul might say. It’s still their house, too. Let’s be in no hurry to move their stuff out. 
     It’s no great trick to create something new after you’ve gotten rid of the old.
     Creating something beautiful, full of love, and fit for the kingdom out of treasures new and old? That’s God’s work. And that’s what I want to be a part of.

      

Friday, January 17, 2020

Sufficient

     You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.  
-Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV)


I noticed this week that a large, private Christian university had launched a “think tank” to, in their words, “equip courageous champions to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ, to advance his kingdom and American freedom.” (I don’t really want to name the university or link to them, but if you’re interested you should be able to find them easily enough.)
     I guess I’m generally pretty suspicious of “think tanks”; I tend to think that they mainly serve as convenient tanks for charitable money, with vague enough missions that they don’t much have to account for it. I’m definitely for proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ, though, and for advancing his kingdom. I’m certainly appreciative of American freedom as well, though I get a little jittery when those things are clumped too closely together. I think too much can get compromised, and usually the compromise doesn’t come in the “American freedom” part of mission statements like this one. 
     To be specific, I think when we link the truth of Jesus, the advance of his kingdom, and a (any) specific view of America, we can too painlessly and easily equate the America of our mind’s eye with the work of Jesus in the world. When that happens, the truth of Jesus tends to become whatever American ideology might be driving us. The advance of the Kingdom gets confused with the advance of a conservative or liberal or more inclusive or more exclusive or more religious or less religious America. We tend to get less involved with, I don’t know, living the way Jesus taught us as we get more concerned with Presidents and congresspeople and Supreme Court Justices and political power. 
     But the truth of Jesus and the advance of his kingdom doesn’t necessarily have much to do with American freedom, however we conceive of it. 
     You know that’s true. There are people right now in some of the most oppressive, repressive, dictatorial regimes in the world who are living by the truth of Jesus and working for the advance of his kingdom. They would love to live with the most eroded version of American freedom that you and I can imagine in our worst nightmares, but they are experiencing the blessings of God in Christ — and blessing their world — right where they are.
     A quick question: in which democracy did Jesus live? The early church?
     In fact, concern with American freedom — however you conceive of it — sometimes makes it difficult to live out the truth of Jesus in our lives. If you doubt that, then take a look at this line from the mission statement of the “think tank” I referenced earlier:   
Bemoaning the rise of leftism is no longer enough, and turning the other cheek in our personal relationships with our neighbors as Jesus taught while abdicating our responsibilities on the cultural battlefield is no longer sufficient. There is too much at stake in the battle for the soul of our nation. Bold, unapologetic action and initiative is needed…
     So, correct me if I’m wrong, but this group of thinkers from a Christian university is so committed to “the truth of Jesus” and “the advance of his kingdom” that they explicitly believe that they shouldn’t follow one of Jesus’ direct commands. According to them, what Jesus taught is no longer sufficient. We have “responsibilities on the cultural battlefield” — fighting “the rise of leftism,” apparently — that outweigh our responsibility to follow the teachings of Jesus.
     Well, I’m not part of a think tank — I can barely think — but could I just ask a crazy question? Who says we have responsibilities in any culture war at all? Has the American church been drafted, and I didn’t get the letter? Can I just sit this one out? Can I be a conscientious objector in these vague “culture wars”?    
     The problem with this think tank is that they’re conflating being a Christian with “defending American ideals and Judeo-Christian values.” Leaving aside the fact that they’re defending a very specific subset of those ideals and values they say they champion, I don’t see Jesus telling the Zealots to rise up against the Romans — in fact, if anything he seems to say the opposite. That thing about turning the other cheek: that wasn’t only about personal relationships. Jesus followed that up by telling folks who found themselves coerced to “go one mile” to “go with them two” — probably alluding to the practice of Roman soldiers forcing local residents to work for them, carry their burdens, use their animals, and so forth. 
     Point is, Jesus had the chance to tell his followers to defend Israelite ideals and values. He told them that their responsibilities on the cultural battlefield of Roman-occupied Palestine consisted of not resisting an evil person, giving to the one who asked something of them, loving their enemies as well as their neighbor, and praying for those who persecuted them.   
     What Jesus taught is sufficient. 
     It’s sufficient to prioritize being reconciled to those who have something against us. That matters even more than the personal observation of our own religion.
     It’s sufficient to settle disputes with others quickly, instead of letting them develop into long, ugly court cases.
     It’s sufficient to guard our hearts against adultery by showing discipline about where we look, and how, and at whom.
     It’s sufficient to be people who can be trusted, known for meaning it when we say yes or no, whether to our spouses, in personal relationships, or in public settings.
     It’s sufficient to let God’s love for all people — the evil and the good, the righteous and the unrighteous — be the model for our love for those around us, whether they’re people who are like us and who we understand, or people so different that understanding seems impossible. It’s sufficient to show the love of God to every person, not just by what we say, but by what we do. 
     It’s sufficient to give to Caesar what belongs to him, but never anything that rightfully belongs to God.
     What Jesus taught is always sufficient, and may his church always be known less for our political opinions and more for the way we radically follow the One who gave himself for all people. That’s how we advance his kingdom. 
     The only culture war he ever fought, he fought from a cross. 

     May we carry our own crosses and follow him by giving ourselves in love for others. That is sufficient.   

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