Discipleship

Satan is Pleased

Disunity is nothing new. It is an old trick, arguably around since the garden scheme to put husband and wife against each other in blame and the resulting separation from God.

But this year’s pandemic-drenched election is confounding with the layers of disunity.

The progressive left is agitated that the party they have tried to transform has as its candidate who some view as a centrist. Republicans are left wondering what it means to be conservative anymore as some shill for the cult of personality while others lament the loss of small government and kindness. Pro-life people are disunified on what the term means, do we only vote for a candidate perceived to be against abortion or do we actually work to value life of all people.

Sadly, the church, a people prone to be discipled more by confirmation bias than the Bible, has allowed the same level of disunity over politics or even response to a global pandemic. All of this leaves the accuser of the Saints, Satan, pleased.

Now I have no insight for the political left, or right, but I do have some encouragement for those claiming faith in Christ. Unity is what we are meant for. If it wasn’t important Jesus could have saved his breath in John 17. A oneness in Christ, with each other is the design for the church.

We are all culpable so where do we go from here? I suggest we become more rooted in the Word, more aggressive in repentance, and more familiar with love.

We must know what Jesus taught in order to be his disciples and we hear it in Scripture. Of course every believer is committed to Scripture, just ask them. But as individuals I wonder if we are ripe for evaluation of our lives and how much we take in that is in opposition to God’s best for his people and his invitation to live as Kingdom citizens.

Can we endeavor to consume more of Christ’s word? And do so not to confirm a bias we have but asking the Spirit to open our eyes and show us how to get to unity with others anchored in the good news of Jesus?

As we read then we should be quick to act upon what we hear. We tend to read Scripture looking for stories of great blessing that we can claim for ourselves but neglect the calls against rampant idolatry and half-hearted worship. Maybe in this season, to get to unity it will take aggressive repentance for the ways we have sinned against each other and the Lord by calling lesser things more important.

A whole-life repentance (given it’s Reformation Day we should reclaim this!) will move us beyond our prayer closet and into each others’ homes asking for forgiveness and seeking restoration with one another. It will also move us into the streets to care for the least among us, those without voice, without privilege.

And it might recenter us in love. Jesus does bold work by calling his followers to not only love our neighbor (hard enough for us) but to also love our enemies and pray for those that persecute us. Some of us find it hard in this season to love the people we sit six-feet away from at church. But following Jesus is death-to-self. A sacrificial life of care for others, even those we are sure are against us. Let’s recommit to that, to love.

Because Jesus first loved us we have nothing to lose in extending love to others. Maybe the Spirit will even give you a tangible way to do that before the election is even over.

In the Word, quick to repent, and active in unlimited love, we will find our unity. In Jesus, who forgives us and gives us new mercy to try again. We are free to throw off what weighs us and separates us and realize the answer to Christ’s prayer that we would be one and he and the Father are one.

Are we up for it?

Discipleship, Grace

Being Direct

As the earth seems to crumble, and the structures we have built up to carry us through seem to teeter under the weight of a global pandemic, environmental disaster, and political upheaval, each of us is being stretched and made to bend in difficult ways.

I have spent a lot of breath on calling my friends, family, and church to be sure not to waste the pandemic but come through it in such a way that it is clear they have been with Jesus. That’s what we all want isn’t it? At least those of us who call Jesus savior! But more than mere exhortation away from waste of time and energy on things temporary, I also believe we each need spurs, those that can speak directly to us and tell us the truth when we are blinded by bias and a cherishing of self over all things.

To that end, this morning I had a direct conversation with a member of our church. Now, I don’t think I am known for sugar-coating things, and have always attempted to be forthcoming and direct. Today was no exception, although I am not sure he appreciated by directness.

As a pastor that will stand before Jesus and give an account of how I cared for his flock, I take the task seriously and I couldn’t avoid the conversation any longer. As I have watched this guy interact (or refuse to) over the last six months I have had an increasing unease about where he has been placing his hope and the things he was valuing.

So I told him. I let him know that I was concerned that he had been missing, intentionally, the biblical call to “love one another” in the church and the way he was putting his preference before the value of the body of believers was sinful. He has essentially been speaking with his actions that the church is not worth sacrificing for and participation was only worthwhile when his pet-opinions were highlighted over everyone else’s.

But there was more. I also told him that I was convinced he had zero positive influence with his neighbors because of the way he condescends to those holding differing political views. I told him I thought the candidate he supports is actually an anti-Christ and I gave Scripture to show it. That didn’t land as well as it should have but it is true.

What’s more, I told him that it was clear his wife and kids were merely floating along in the cultural river of fear, gossip, conspiracy, and intrigue because he refused to show them Jesus in meaningful ways. No husband or father likes to hear that he is failing to lead spiritually but sometimes we have to face the truth.

By this point in the conversation I am pretty sure he was more prepared to fight than break down in tears admitting his fault in repentance. Shoot, I was ready to fight. This guy has been pissing me off and I am pretty sure he has even been badmouthing me to others.

Rather than press further into his faults, I looked him the eyes as best I could and told him that he was exactly who Jesus decided to spend his life for. That even in all of these failed opportunities, in his political idolatry, in his obsession with gun rights and mask-wearing, Jesus took on the cross for him. All of those things could never cloud his Savior’s love for him and universe bending desire for his heart.

As best I could, I relayed to this guy that Jesus’ approval of him was not determined or diminished because he had focused on other things. That Christ’s work truly was finished and from that work now he could live with hope, joy, and purpose far better than all those temporary things. I told him that he was forgiven and made the righteousness of God by the God-man willingly becoming sin for him.

That seemed to be what he needed to hear. And at that moment we took a deep breath and prayed that Jesus would forgive us of the way we have let distractions get in the way this year (he is quick to forgive!), asking for strength to choose what is right and pure and glorifying to Christ, that he would be transformed all the more by the grace of Jesus for him.

I raised a hearty “amen” and mentioned how it was God’s loving kindness that brings us to repentance, and because that’s true we could be honest about our sin and selfishness. Jesus loves us still.

Then I got up from my chair and started on the list of tasks set for the day. You see, the member of our church was me. I needed some direct talk and a thick application of the gospel of grace. I won’t always get things right, but Jesus will keep me.

And friend, he will keep you too. You are probably getting a lot of things wrong right now and wasting energy on things that don’t matter. Know that Jesus loves you still. He frees you by his grace to cling to what is good. And he will carry you all the way home. Turn to him. Smile and get on with the day.

And if all else fails, just give me a call and I will be as direct with you as I can!

Discipleship

Vital Proximity of Friends

Yesterday, to the consternation of a dear friend, I witnessed a poignant illustration of the need for other voices in our lives. Voices that call us to something better than what we are focused on, and stand with us through life.

A group of us were preparing to go our separate ways on a local patio when a Japanese beetle flew into the midst of our group. For those of you not in Southern California, this beetle can be quite large and sounds like a jet when it is buzzing around you in all it’s green/black shining brilliance. Most of us backed away from the buzzing but the beetle acquired a target and made its attempts for the inside of my friend’s shirt.

She freaked. Dancing about, swinging her arms, shaking he hair out. Screams of terror!

What she didn’t see though as she was flailing, but what all of her friends saw, was that the beetle flew away nearly as fast as it approached. We all raised our voices “it’s gone!” “Don’t worry!”

Our friend responded that the beetle was down her shirt, but we assured her that it flew away. Calm returned. We went our own ways.

This is life isn’t it? We face what seems to be the attack of some crazy objects and begin to flail around, terrorized by our circumstance. If left along we might eventually figure out that the danger has passed or more likely, we will succumb to far more terror than need be.

If we have friends with proximity to our lives, the ability to be near and see us emotionally, physically etc, then we will be brought out of the trouble sooner, like my friend and her experience with the beetle.

It is vital, especially for the Christian, that we have community, friends with access to our lives, the freedom of proximity, to speak into our transformation, our path forward. They can spur us on, see that the trouble has gone, and be anchors steadying us in the storms of life.

Friends are not our Savior, but he uses them for our good and his glory in our lives. While the pandemic adds new layers of difficulty in allowing proximity, we can live up to the challenge and engage with each other in creative ways to keep proximity (dinner at a really long table, walks on the beach, conversations in the driveway.)

So as the best you can, don’t be left to be freaked out by the beetles of life, let some friends close and mutually help one another. A great place to start is engaging the people in your local church. Go for it.