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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Who Is God?

I started this articles of faith series with article IV and just kept going from there until I reached the end.  It is not lost on me that a blog, created largely in part for the purpose of theological exploration, has been nearly silent on the nature of God to this point.  It's almost time to start discussing the attributes of God.  Almost.  But I didn't feel like I could finish up the articles of faith without at least posting the first three, which deal with how the Church of the Nazarene defines who God is.

The parallels to the Nicene Creed are vast.  Honestly, this has caused me to consider why we have such a fragmented universal Church when many of our essential beliefs are the same.  However, it also inspires hope that there are some foundational beliefs on which we might stand, ecumenically, as a light in a world that so desperately needs us to be the hands and feet of this God we desire to trust and serve.

I. The Triune God

1. We believe in one eternally existent, infinite God, Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the universe; that He only is God, holy in nature, attributes, and purpose. The God who is holy love and light is Triune in essential being, revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

(Genesis 1; Leviticus 19:2; Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Isaiah 5:16; 6:1-7; 40:18- 31; Matthew 3:16-17; 28:19-20; John 14:6-27; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 2 Corin- thians 13:14; Galatians 4:4-6; Ephesians 2:13-18; 1 John 1:5; 4:8)
II. Jesus Christ

2. We believe in Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Tri- une Godhead; that He was eternally one with the Father; that He became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary, so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say the Godhead and manhood, are thus united in one Person very God and very man, the God-man.

We believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and that He truly arose from the dead and took again His body, together with all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature, wherewith He ascended into
heaven and is there engaged in intercession for us.
(Matthew 1:20-25; 16:15-16; Luke 1:26-35; John 1:1-18; Acts 2:22-36; Romans 8:3, 32-34; Galatians 4:4-5; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:12-22; 1 Timothy 6:14-16; Hebrews 1:1-5; 7:22-28; 9:24-28; 1 John 1:1-3; 4:2-3, 15)
III. The Holy Spirit

3. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Triune Godhead, that He is ever present and efficiently active in and with the Church of Christ, convincing the world of sin, regenerating those who repent and believe, sanctifying believers, and guiding into all truth as it is in Jesus.

(John 7:39; 14:15-18, 26; 16:7-15; Acts 2:33; 15:8-9; Romans 8:1-27; Galatians 3:1-14; 4:6; Ephesians 3:14-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 John 3:24; 4:13)

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Poor and Politics, Follow Up

Ten weeks ago, I found myself staring at my computer screen, unable to look away from the images of Aylan, three years old, Syrian, perfect in every way from the top of his sweet little head to the soles of his velcro tennis shoes, washed up on shore, dead.  I knew I would never be able to get  the images out of my mind.  As I revisited these images, this afternoon, I could taste the bile threatening to end in vomit, because I am so literally sick about this narrative... still.

Interestingly, some of us started to come together when this story hit the press, and for a moment I felt like there might be some good left in the world.  Maybe we could identify, not necessarily with the tragedy, but with the humanity.  When we looked at Aylan, we didn't want this part of history to repeat itself.  We could help.  We could give.  We could love.

Unfortunately, this has changed, again, for many of us, today.  In the wake of the horrific acts of terrorism in Paris, we have decided that, given the opportunity, we would look Aylan in the face and say, "We're sorry, but we've decided that it's acceptable if you are not safe, because there are some bad people who originate from the same country as you do."  We have decided to be safe, instead.

I'm not saying that we should throw caution to the wind.  If you know me, you know that.  I understand that we must put processes in place that allow us to safeguard against offering safe harbor to terrorists.  But I'm not buying the line that we can't even begin to tell the difference between refugees fleeing for their lives and terrorists sneaking in on their coattails. 

And friends, safety is thinly veiled.

If we think, for one moment, that we don't have home grown terrorists or any number of others who have found a way to cross our borders, we are fooling ourselves.  If you look at the big picture, rejecting all Syrian refugees, out of hand, doesn't actually meaningfully increase our safety.

But what if it did?  Even if rejecting the Syrian refugees guaranteed that we would be 100% safe, would it be the right thing to do?  Of course not, because we are not called to live a life of safety.  We are called to live a life of love.  That's dangerous.  You don't have to look much further than the life of Jesus to see that.  And yet, somehow, we have forgotten that comfort is not a virtue... or a right... or a need.

My heart is breaking, today, at our response to the poorest of the poor, displaced, homeless, innocent, fleeing evil with no hope for the future.  I know that many good people will disagree with me, but my conscious cannot be clear unless I say what I believe to be true about our purpose and calling in this.  In addition, talk is cheap, so I am linking to a blog post, here, that my friend Sharon shared some time back.  At the end of her post, you will find several links to practical ways to help the Syrian Refugees.


The Poor and Politics

I don't love politics.  I don't love national politics.  I certainly don't love church politics.  However, it is hard (and probably irresponsible) to ignore politics, completely, as we approach an election year, so I have somewhat lazily been observing at least bits and pieces of the presidential candidate debates, leading up to the primaries.  I would be lying if I said there are things I don't understand and, quite frankly, some things about which I do not care.  On the other hand, there are some things about which I care very deeply, and these things often come back to our treatment of the least of these (no surprise there). 

Yesterday I was thinking about this in view of systemic sin, and it occurred to me that our systems are so broken it will be difficult to find a way forward.  In fact, it will be impossible for one person... or even one group of people... or even one nation.  I was thinking about the polarizing issues that we face and how everybody thinks they're on the right side, but maybe we're all wrong.  It's heavy stuff for a Monday morning, but let me explain.

There is the far left.  At best, these people desire to care for the poor by creating government programs that meet basic needs.  We can all argue until we're blue in the face about what those needs are.  I would certainly welcome discussion on this topic.  On the surface, a community that pools its resources and meets the needs of all its members (see: early Church) looks very appealing.  Unfortunately, this philosophy is tainted by power struggles, and systems such as these often end up enslaving the poor.  I don't think we want to head down a path that leads to the kind of oppression we see in communist countries where basic needs are (in theory) met, but the people are still impoverished. 

There is the far right.  At best, these people desire to care for the poor by creating a chance for them to meet their own basic needs.  On the surface, a community that provides ample jobs and educational opportunities looks very appealing.  Unfortunately, this philosophy is tainted by power struggles, and systems such as these often end up falling short, because generosity doesn't run as deeply as we would like to believe and limited resources are often exhausted on those who already have influence.  I don't think we want to head down a path that continues to oppress the least of these by counting them out, based not on merit but on history.

In both systems, we have created a stigma regarding the poor.  I know what it feels like, firsthand, to offer up a Medicaid card and immediately be made to feel as if I am not intelligent enough to read the medical intake forms or sign for the care of my children.  Because of this, I also know what it feels like, firsthand, to just avoid going to the doctor's office, myself, even if I am really sick.  I know what it feels like to run a food stamp card and to cringe when I realize that the cashier has observed that in addition to healthy meats... and fruit... and vegetables... I also let the kids pick out candy bars at the checkout lane.  Because of this, I also know what it feels like to refuse food stamps and simply learn to make as many things out of eggs, flour, and water as possible and to say "no" to the extras.

Honestly, I am tired of hearing about how everyone who really wants a job can get one.  It's not true.  If anyone feels the need to vet how hard I've been trying for the past 3 1/2 years, be my guest.  I'm also willing to talk about the year I took a temporary overnight shift at a Target that was 2 1/2 hours away from my home and dropped my kids off at Grandma's house for 5/7 days every week, if you really want to go there.  And then there are the countless hours of volunteer work (often far more than a full time job) that I wouldn't trade for the world, because it has actually made a difference in the lives of people.  I hate putting my personal garbage out there like this, but we have to stop assuming that everyone who is struggling is lazy.  We have to stop assuming that government programming is enough.  And we have to stop assuming that there are opportunities available to everyone if they just work harder.

I don't want to live in a world where we have to "steal" from the rich to give to the poor.  I also don't want to live in a world where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and everybody feels like that's OK, because you deserve whatever you get.  So, how about generosity?  I'm not going to stand here and pat myself on the back, because I'm probably not nearly as generous as I should be, but what if we all gave, not only out of our excess but out of our deficit?  What if we gave generously, not because we were forced to do so, but simply because it is the right thing to do?  What if we stopped talking about it and actually did it?  Because honestly, I am tired of talking about the same things over and over and over again. 

Be the change...  Gandhi...  That'll probably go over well...


Monday, November 9, 2015

The Naked Truth

I have no idea if this is going to come together fluently or not, but I have a couple of things on my mind.

Lately I have seen a lot of social media posts regarding the concept of a "living wage".  Maybe it's because we're getting ready to enter an election year.  It seems that people who are making enough money to have whatever they want get really nervous about this kind of thing during election years.  I sure wish they'd stop to think about how distraught the people who cannot find jobs that make ends meet are feeling every day.

I've been thinking about this for a variety of reasons.

First, there are my friends who seem to have no discretion when posting conservative memes.  If I see one more quote about how fast food workers don't deserve the same hourly wage as firefighters... or whoever... I am going to scream (into a pillow, behind a closed door, when no one is home).  Don't misunderstand me.  I sort of hear what you're trying to say, but when the audience you're reaching includes my twenty-something year old friends with new babies who cannot find jobs, even in the fast food industry; well, what you're saying is falling on deaf ears.  All they hear is, "You don't deserve to support your family."  Just think about that.  How would you feel if someone was saying that to you?

You didn't take time to think about it did you?  No?  Because this query is almost always answered with something quick and impersonal about how "they" should just look harder, apply for more positions, go to college, or gain more useful experience.  And my sweet friends listen to you, with their heads in their hands, wondering how they can do better than applying for jobs every single day when each one seems to require education and experience to begin with.  Are there no entry level positions left? 

I am tired of hearing about how these "kids" (yes, I'm getting old) should pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  They... don't... have... boots!    

Matthew 25:36a, "I needed clothes and you clothed me..." (NIV).  Well, I could talk about the van loads of clothes we've donated to the Salvation Army (that's good, and if you have extra gently used stuff, you should donate it), but what if we talk about providing some figurative clothing instead.  Let's consider how we might put boots on some feet.

This brings me to the second reason I'm so upset about all of this, today.  Last week, I was involved in a discussion during which I was essentially told that since we only have so much time we should spend it with powerful people, because that's the best way to influence the world.  If that's true then let it be known, right now, that I will never influence the world, because I'm not going to do this.  If you want to know why, here it is:  I... don't... want... to.  Just ask the people who know me best how easy it is to get me to do something I don't want to do.  I'll give you a hint.  You have to be intensely compelling, I have to think you're right, and I have to love you a whole lot.  That said, I have made an intentional decision to spend my time with people who have nothing, and if that means I will also live the rest of my life with nothing, so be it.  Being the Church is not about power.  I'm so done with that model.  But, really, that's nothing new.  I've been done with that model for a long time.  I just thought I'd lay it out in no uncertain terms today.

Instead, I'd like to provide some boots.  I am in the very beginning stages of thinking through how I might do that.  I have degrees in business and theology.  Perhaps it's time to put them to work.  Perhaps it's time to do something bigger than myself that will actually provide for the needs of some significantly needy people.  I am currently overwhelmed by fear and doubt regarding how this can actually be accomplished.  I think I might feel a little bit like someone who has an idea in the storyboard stage... without a storyboard... 

I know this is vague.  You could pray for me (and my family, because, you know, they have to put up with me) as I work through this.  And while you're at it, take some time to think about how you might put some boots on a pair of feet... or two... or three...


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Turn it Around

A quick devotional thought on an almost quiet Sunday morning.

I Thessalonians 5:16-18

"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (NIV).

I think these verses are often misused.  When we look at these, I think we often assume that the circumstance, whatever it is, is God's will.  Instead, what if we considered that the rejoicing, praying, and thanksgiving are God's will, regardless of the circumstance?  I know it's a relatively popular belief that God, in God's sovereignty, gets whatever God wants, but I'm less and less convinced that this is true.  Sometimes (OK, maybe more than sometimes) stuff happens that God does not want.  Stuff happens that we do not want.  How we react, what we do next, says a lot about who we are.  God often uses these things for good (see Genesis 50).  How can we, being created Imago Dei, do they same?