A Global Conversation

In class we participated in case studies that challenge our witness in surrounding culture. During that time, I learned that yoga is far more controversial than I ever imagined. I do not remember what else we discussed, but I am well aware of what was not. Following class, a friend from Liberia challenged me by claiming the Western Church is much too silent about the LGBTQ issue. He went on to claim that what occurs here eventually makes its way into Africa and they would be looking to the Western Church for ways to talk about the issue. Not long after that conversation, I was challenged by a friend from Kenya. Again, he claimed the Western Church refuses to discuss LGBTQ issues in helpful ways for the Worldwide Church.

 

This has caused me to reflect a great deal on the way the church relies on one another. Even more, how I experience issues differently and similarly than my brothers. I told them both it was not a challenge I was presently experiencing in the local church and that it was a subject many in the Western Church may be getting tired of hearing about. I suspect I came across as defensive. While both of those things may be true, it is still a concern of the church. In fact, I find myself wishing the network of churches I belong to would begin conversations on this very topic. Although our churches are not currently experiencing it as an “issue” it would surely be helpful in the future if we were at least discussing ways to talk about it. It is almost a certainty that what occurs in our sister churches will eventually make its way into our congregations. As I reflect on the conversation, I realize I am actually thinking similarly to my African brothers.

 

This was a wonderful reminder of the ways we need one another. The ways we talk with one another will significantly influence our global witness.

Morality and the Ways of God

It is unfortunate the church continues to be full of voices and rhetoric that sound a lot like American politics.  It is not uncommon for someone to state a preferred political position, add scripture or a theological point, and act as if it is the same as gospel. This raises many questions. One of them, “Is it ok to lean on existing political structures?” And if it is, “How do we know when it is appropriate?” Further, “How do we recognize when we have simply become another voice that supports an existing political structure?”

I was reminded recently that there are very blurry lines in parts of the church regarding this conversation. Some obviously believe a call to activism is the same as the gospel. There are benefits to activism. It shines light on a cause. The world is a better place because of the efforts of some activists. Because of the social good that can come from it, it is no surprise to find Christians participating in some of these efforts. Yet, we must remember that our moral causes and efforts in the culture wars are not the same as the gospel.

We can celebrate when government makes changes for moral reasons. But we must be clear, we are people who live by God’s Good News whether government declares it legal or not. We are not dependent on the government for social good. The world will never be made right by government intervention or hashtag movements. In fact, our moral causes and activism can become distractions that prevent us from demonstrating gospel.

The hope of the world is not dependent on political structures. A church that has become dependent on political structures ceases to be the church. It is the gathering, loving, grace-giving, sending people of God who demonstrate what hope looks like. How will the world ever know the ways of God without a people called church? We know that God so loved the world. We demonstrate that love best through the ways of God and not by the ways of the world.

World Cup and Wild Boars

The World Cup final is this weekend. For the record, I stand by my initial prediction that France will win. However, I want to talk about Croatia.

A country of less than four and a half million citizens, but more importantly, they have 23 pretty good soccer players.

Croatia has won three matches in a row coming from behind. Each of them in extra time. Two of them in penalty kicks. It is as if they have played an entire match in overtime.

But the thing I hope every young player saw is how Ivan Perisic, with his back to the goal, did exactly what your coach wants you to do – head the ball into space where opportunity can be created. And then, Mario Mandzukic followed (again, your coach wants you to do this) and hit it with his left foot past the keeper.

Croatia should be pleased. Most of us love underdogs. But whether you will be cheering for Croatia or France- we have all spent the past several weeks cheering for the Wild Boars. All 12 players and coach are now safe, thanks to assists from the Thai Navy Seals and cave diving specialists from around the world. We can all affirm Paul Pogba’s statement to the young boys. The day France won the semi-final he wrote “This victory goes to the heroes of the day, well done boys, you are so strong.”

So while watching the final – put on your Wild Boars jersey while you cheer for your side to win!

World Cup 2018

Every four years the world throws a party. We call it the World Cup. It is good for the world. Good for unity. Good for my soul. Nearly every day brings a new must see highlight. We are witnessing great sportsmanship and great talent on the world’s biggest stage. And I suspect the best is yet to come.

The tournament is down to the final eight teams and there have been multiple stories of interest. Perhaps the greatest group stage story included Iceland. Seriously, who doesn’t like a side that brings a dentist to coach the team and introduces us to the thunderclap? They didn’t make it through the group stage, but surprise, neither did Germany the reigning champs. Mexico advanced, I suspect many of you, like myself were cheering for the neighbors. And so did Russia, it is always good to see the home team do well. Perhaps Japan advanced in the strangest fashion. They made the cut over Senegal because of fewer cards (I agree if you think that is a strange rule).

The round of 16 gave us added excitement as three matches were decided by penalty kicks. Russia defeated Spain and Croatia defeated Denmark. Perhaps most noteworthy, for the very first time in World Cup history, England won in penalty kicks gaining the victory over Columbia.

Russia’s victory surprised us all, Spain is arguably the best possession team in the world. To let you know how good they are, they held possession 79 percent of the match against Russia. But the match isn’t decided by possession, it is decided by goals. Talking goals, there have already been ten own goals this tournament (a new record).

If you are one who likes to root for the underdogs, go for Belgium, Croatia, Sweden, or Russia. Uruguay, France, Brazil, and England have all won before. But the odds are slim. Some World Cup trivia – only 8 teams have won this tournament, ever. Belgium is actually a contender, but would have to defeat Brazil and then likely France to even get to the final. (A difficult road to be sure). Croatia has been playing very well (they have yet to lose during the tournament and will be heavy favorites against Russia in the next match). Sweden has done everything they need to do to be this far and then there is Russia. I hope that spectators can look past whatever opinion they have of President Vladimir Putin and appreciate what this underdog soccer team has been able to do.

If you like to cheer for the favorites stay tuned until the semi-finals. If France and Brazil both advance as expected, many will consider that semi-final match to be the championship. Brazil has the biggest star and have won more World Cups than anyone else. However, they have only won once on this side of the pond.

For the record, I have England falling to France in the final. I suspect England’s Harry Kane will receive the Golden Boot (award for most goals) but the star of the tournament is certainly Kylian Mbappe from France. A 19 year old phenom, I believe he could outrun Usain Bolt if they raced today.

The quarterfinals start Friday. I hope you will be watching (the rest of the world will be). I have no doubts the best is yet to come.

The Way of God

Our story begins “In the beginning” with a God created world that was declared to be “good.” Not too far into the story we find this good world was broken. God continued to care deeply about the world and formed a relationship with Abraham and his descendants. These people were to be a blessing to the world by demonstrating the way of God to the world.

While the world was still broken, Jesus came to inaugurate the way of God that he called the Kingdom of God. The people of God were to represent the way of God in this broken world by following King Jesus as citizens of this Kingdom.

Other attempts to make the world a better place are incomplete. They are inadequate and often arrogant and doomed to failure. They are, however, often convincing and even the people of God become tempted by the ways of the world. In contrast, the way of God is to follow Jesus. This is a radical way that will take you to the difficult terrain of humility and self-denial and the way of the cross.

This is not a way we can travel ourselves or by our own strength. Jesus is not ever the private Lord of well-meaning individuals who want to live right and do good. Never. The way of God has always been, and still is, the way of Jesus made visible in the people of God. It is not even possible to seek first the Kingdom without joining the people who embrace the Kingdom.

Anything less is just another worldly attempt to make the world a better place by offering security, health, and happiness and adding the name of Jesus. The way of God calls people into a fellowship that demonstrates the Kingdom to a watching world.

Church and Its Relationships

An all too simple summary of the church and its relationships might sound something like this; A) When the relationship between God and church is strong, the world benefits. B) When the relationship between God and church is strained, the world suffers. C) When the relationship between the world and the church is off balance (either due to alliance or hostility) God grieves. D) When the relationship between the world and the church is balanced (church demonstrating what the world is meant to be), God is pleased.

The above summary implies several things. One, the church holds a central place in creation. Two, the relationship between God and the world remains constant. The world convinces itself it is central and can survive without God. At the same time, God continues to invite and welcome and love the world into relationship.

Yet, relationships involving the church are less consistent. The church has consistently moved back and forth in faithful relationship with God and the world. Corporately, we seem to find it as difficult to love God and neighbor as the rich ruler. Another implication from the above summary is that the world will always struggle with itself without the church. In fact, it is possible the world cannot understand who it is without the church. I think of Stanley Hauerwas at this point, “For the church to be the church, therefore, is not anti-world, but rather an attempt to show what the world is meant to be as God’s good creation.”

Good Friday and a Contrast of Kingdoms

Among other things Good Friday reminds us that when the world feels threatened, it becomes defensive. By default, it will attempt to tame whoever or whatever threatens it. But what the world cannot tame it will label a rebellion and rebellions must be stopped. The world will resort to any violence necessary in order to maintain control.

On Good Friday Jesus was viewed as a revolutionary, his following as a rebellion. It should not surprise us the world responded the way it did. Since the beginning the ways of the world have conflicted with the ways of God. Yet, the intensity increased significantly with the arrival of Jesus. The crucifixion is evidence of that and presents a clear contrast between the way the world works and the way that God works.

Ever since Jesus announced the arrival of the Kingdom of God it was inevitable we would find ourselves at the place called skull where the world is trying to maintain control. In order to do so it mocks and spits and hits and insults and crucifies. Meanwhile, Jesus forgives. As the world demonstrates its ways of keeping order, Jesus demonstrates the ways of God.

The cycle has not changed. And we are in it. Good Friday invites us into the Gospel narrative where the ways of God continue to threaten the world. The world continues to respond in ways they do not understand. And followers of Jesus are to demonstrate the ways of God no matter what the world throws at us.

A Plan to Change the World

The early chapters of Genesis are clear about a world gone wrong. It becomes clear that humans have not done well as God’s representatives in God’s world. God’s plan for this world is nothing less than redemption. Everything that follows in the biblical story tells of the Creator’s plan to counter evil and to restore the world.

The closer we look at Genesis 12, the clearer it becomes that God’s plan is to change the world through a people. Genesis 12 sets this plan in motion. What God desires for the world, He desires to accomplish through this people. About the only thing I can say in response is wow.

A Cosmic Meeting

I sometimes wonder about the days when the sons of God, Satan among them, presented themselves before the Lord. I wonder if on one of those days the Lord asked Satan, “Where have you come from?” And Satan would reply “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.”

And then Satan would continue, “I know that you desire humans be your image bearers, your representatives on earth. But the human experiment has been a disaster. They disappoint at every turn. Do you remember what happened in Eden? Have you forgotten the corruption of the days of Noah? Must I remind you what they were doing at Babel? Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that humans will never become the representatives you had hoped for.”

And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered the human Abraham? I have selected him to leave his home. His descendants will be many and his reputation will bring me glory. The whole earth will be influenced by this plan.”

Then Satan answered the Lord, “Have you considered his age? Have you considered he is childless and his wife is barren?” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, watch this plan change the world.”

Wardrobes, RabbitHoles, and Zip Codes

One July day a fire started in Rome.  The Emperor accused the Christians and punished them by using Christians as living torches to light the nighttime games at the Circus Maximus.  This is the story that we enter when we read I Timothy.  We are introduced to a dangerous world where we are in danger of losing everything.  I Timothy encourages you to not allow anyone to deny your role in this story.

One April day a baby boy was born.  When his grandfather first saw him he remarked “that boy looks like Johnny Yuma… he is the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen.”  I did not choose to enter the world like this; it is just the way it happened.  I wish that I, or any one, could tell you all the good things that I have done and all the mistakes I have made since then and you would respond by doing the good things, avoiding the bad things, and life would be good.  But we all know that life gets more complicated than that.

Lucy Pevensie stepped into a wardrobe one rainy day during a game of hide and seek with her brothers and sister and became an important part of a great adventure.  Yet another day a girl named Alice went into a rabbit hole after a white rabbit with a waist coat and pocket watch and experienced an adventure she never imagined.  Another day Sam asks Frodo, “I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?”  We would do well to be asking ourselves that question.

I mention these stories because the characters were not looking for an adventure, they just found themselves in one.  I propose that life is like this.  We all find ourselves in a story that is not of our choosing.  We do not go out seeking such cosmic drama.  We do not know how we get tangled into the story that carries meaning for eternity.  We just find ourselves in it.

My story has never taken me to a place where I had to battle the White Witch or a Jabberwocky.  The emperor has never threatened to light me on fire so that his audience would have light for night-time entertainment.  Yet, I propose that it is still a very dangerous story.  The world wants you.  It will lure you.  It will not stop until it has your soul.  There is a story in II Timothy about a guy named Demas.  He has already been introduced in the letters we know as Colossians and Philemon.  In II Timothy, Paul shares the unfortunate news that “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me.”

We are here on the border of what is holy and what is not.  This isn’t an easy place.  This world is enemy occupied territory.  This world wants your soul.  Demas “loved this world.”  What does this love look like?  What luxuries and excesses does the world offer to lure us?  We might wish that the text were clear about this, but it does not give details.  It just leaves readers to wrestle with the implications.  One thing the text does tell is that even while in the company of apostles and evangelists one chooses the world over the good news.  The voices of this world keep trying to convince us to believe its version of the story.  How will we respond?  Would we have been a reflection of God in front of the emperor?  Are we a reflection of God on our street and in our zip code?

This is the story you have fallen into.  You are part of an adventure that is not of your own choosing.  Wardrobes, rabbitholes, and zip codes are all places where we find stories that are demanding, daring, and dangerous.  The story we are now living has eternal implications.  Do not let anyone deny you your role in the story.