Tag Archives: Works

On Presidents Day, We Are So Lucky to Have Donald Trump as President!

This week’s reflection has nothing to do with President Trump. Not directly. But the title merely serves to make my point — you either immediately agree with the title or your immediately disagree. There is no middle ground, and this is where I am in the whole political climate here in the US. There is no middle ground. And everything that happens, and I mean everything, evokes an emotional response that is either angry or arrogant, depending on which side your standing. This is true for me and everyone I know. No exceptions, we are so terribly polarized.

Yet Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” and “give to anyone who begs from you.” Alas, I have come to realize that Jesus didn’t mean it. It’s too hard. And he didn’t understand that here in America, whichever side you’re on, we know better than that. Jesus was misinformed when he issued new, impossible-to-follow guidelines.

So when Jesus came, and God essentially said,

Here’s how it’s going to be going forward. Jesus is going to tell you about living by faith, that works come from faith, that it is your heart that matters. He’s going to tell you about new ways of living and thinking and praying. The ways I have always wanted you to follow. Some things you won’t fathom, but that’s no surprise because you humans are just as stubborn and arrogant as you have always been. No really, you have not changed. And get this, 2000 years from now, the things around you will be very different (you’ll have things like the Internet and nuclear power and airplanes and penicillin), But your hearts? Well, they’ll be just as cold and stubborn as ever. And you know all that stuff about loving your enemies, and turning the other cheek? You’ll rationalize it. No really, you’ll find ways to build walls and to justify actions based on snippets of scripture that were never intended to be interpreted as you will do, and your political affiliations, believe it or not, will be the primary relationship you have with the world despite who you say follow.

I think what’s going on here is that God has been radically wrong. He didn’t get it then, and He does not get it now. I can’t forgive my enemies. And really, my enemies are evil people. I can’t listen to them. And make no mistake, they are enemies because we have divergent views of what America — and the world — should be. I side with those I agree with and ridicule those whom I do not agree.

It’s a terrible place to be. And I don’t see a path forward. The best thing I have been able to figure out is this — don’t pay attention to the political drama. In fact, for the last two weeks, I ignored the news. I took a break. And I felt a whole lot better. And an inkling of hope came to my mind too.

Oh yes. What God intends for us? God does not intend for humans to rationalize and interpret the world using our intuition. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your insight.” And that is absolutely the best consolation I have. It’s private and is in many ways between God and me. The sad and immensely frustrating truth of the 21st century is that people interpret that Kingdom in so many different ways, molding theology and prayer to their world view. Clearly, I need to get back to a God-centered worldview.

The hard and immensely important and critical thing for me as a Christian is to focus on what the Kingdom means, and not to allow the distractions of the world to detract from real Kingdom building. But it’s a daily battle. And a daily challenge to focus on His Word and to pray and to show hospitality in all situations. And to be obedient. Obedient to this, in Jesus’ words:

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

American Blessing

I have been thinking about this idea of the US being blessed for the last few months. Being blessed implies that there is a way to assign goodness to an action or result of one’s standing. Did God bless me with good health? Or did I just make some good choices? When I get sick, did God make me sick, or did I get sick because I made some bad choices? (Is that an anti-blessing?) Did God bless me with my good job, and what was my role versus what God gave me? Or did I respond to the circumstances in a way that led to good outcomes? I simply don’t know what is a blessing and what is a result of my personal choices. But what I do know is I can be grateful either way.

Now on the national scale, we have many incredible things to be grateful for, but I think we fall into a trap. We ascribe our blessings to some special favor God has given us. And when we don’t have that special favor, we say America is losing its greatness and on the verge of losing its God-given blessings because of a long list of rationales including our insufficient virtue. In other words, we’re rich and powerful because God blessed us due to our ways of living (and to be ignored, slavery, the systematic annihilation of Native Americas, but extolled our wealth and freedom). Somehow some people just know this American blessing to be true. It is a power packed sentiment, and I have to admit, it is alluring to think we are special in the Creator’s eyes.

I think we confuse our national prosperity, freedom, and safety with some type of divine blessing. That’s a mistake easy to make. After all, why wouldn’t there be some external factor giving us all these things? But Jesus told us differently. He told us what being blessed is. And he told us how we are to know that we are blessed. It all comes down to our attitudes and our actions. Just after he began his ministry, Jesus sat down with a crowd, and he taught them. And the first thing he taught, according to the Gospel of Matthew, was what it means to be blessed.

Matthew 5:3-12 (NRSV)
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

We Christians have to beware we do often confuse prosperity with what Jesus described as being blessed. Maybe if Jesus had said, “Blessed are the constitutional republicans, for they shall have great wealth and power and righteousness.” Well, then I could be convinced America has great blessings through its form of government (a constitutional republic). But Jesus did not say that. Instead, he talked about the way an individual is supposed to live. He said our blessings would be derived from being poor in spirit, being meek, being merciful, being a peacemaker. And a result, we would know the kingdom, we would inherit the earth, we would receive mercy, and we would be called a child of God.

So is America all these things: poor in spirit, meek, peacemaker? Are we pure in heart as a country? Can we even be pure in heart? Perhaps, as a country, we could. But I think it would be fair to say a lot would have to change. But as a Christian, I know what Jesus taught does not have to be on a national level. It must be personal. That is hard stuff in this day and age, and this idea goes against the current national climate. But blessings are not a direct result of my earthly citizenship. They are a result of my individual choices and the way I live. And in that area alone I — we all — have significant work to do. And that’s the key idea, and one of the more frequently missed points of Jesus’ ministry: work on yourself first, and the rest will follow.

Stop Praying

I recently finished a book called, Wasted Prayer: Know When God Wants You to Stop Praying and Start Doing by Greg Darley (five stars for this book). The basic premise is that we Christians pray a lot, and when confronted with action, we often say something like, “Let me pray to God, and see if He gives me a clear idea as to what I should do.” And that does often sound really good. I mean really, really good. And pious. And devoted.

But so often that is where things stop. In all honesty, I have been praying about a lot of things, and not doing anything about them. For example, re-engaging in this blog has been at the top of my list for a long time. But I have been doing nothing about it, and wanting so much to see what the “big plan” was all about while ignoring the nagging thought, just write once this week.

Darley recounts the story of Peter’s calling. After a miraculous encounter with Jesus, Peter becomes a disciple (Luke 5). As far as we know, there was no clear plan explained to Peter. We modern day people often want that 100% clear plan before we decide anything. So, imagine if we were the modern day Peter, we’d ask Jesus for all the details, and he’d tell us: We’ll do a lot of walking, you’ll see some miracles, we’ll be challenged by the local politicians, you’ll betray me, you’ll try to kill a Roman soldier, but cut off his ear, you’ll make some amazing speeches, convert a lot of people, and eventually you will be crucified because of me. Peter: well, thanks, Jesus, but I think I’ll fish instead.

The point is, our must-know-it-all world stops us in our tracks, and progress is often really, really slow. Instead, Darley’s idea is to respond to little yeses. “This is the beauty of the small yes. I think it’s one of the ways God protects us. The small yes allows us to deepen our trust in the Father and his call. With each yes, we build a little more trust, gaining a little more confidence for what the next call may be. If God isn’t giving you the entire picture, rest in the possibility that this is a grace allowing you to only focus on the step in front of you.”

So there you have it. I don’t know where this blog will go. Or what I will do next week. But if I am going to follow Jesus, I have to begin walking behind him. And I don’t need prayer to do that.