Monday, February 29, 2016

the suffering of Christ



Yesterday in worship I preached on God's faithfulness in suffering. The faithfulness that Thomas Dorsey experienced when he wrote "Precious Lord, Take My Hand"; the faithfulness that the apostle Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 10:13: "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it." Many people have encountered God's presence and power for endurance right in the middle of their pain and suffering.

Then this morning I was reading in Consuming Fire, a 365-day devotional version of George MacDonald's classic Unspoken Sermons, and MacDonald turned to the topic of Jesus's suffering on the cross.

It is with the holiest fear that we should approach the terrible fact of the sufferings of our Lord. Let no one think that those were less because he was more... My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Never before had he been unable to see God beside him. Yet never was God nearer to him than now. He could not see, could not feel him near, and yet it is "My God" that he cries.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

"little" sins

It often seems like we Christians like our sins big and in other people. Something you can point at. But, I think, more often than not, that's not how sin works. More often than not, sins are small, the kinds of things we can shrug off, that we can pretend we don't see anything wrong with. Oh, and most of the sins I see aren't someone else's - they're mine.

I've been thinking about some of the 'little sins' lately, the ones we do every day, ignoring the very real effect they have on our hearts.

1. Being obnoxious. People who follow Jesus are called to only speak what "is good for building up" and gives "grace to those who hear" (Eph 4:29). We're to be known for our gentleness (Phil 4:5), not our snark. We're called to love, and "love is not arrogant or rude" (1 Cor 13:4-5). Are our words building people up and giving grace, or are they accomplishing something very different? Words matter, even the little remarks.

2. Always having to get your way. 1 Corinthians 13, again, says it: love does not insist on its own way (13:5). Or, as Paul puts it elsewhere: consider others more important than yourself (Phil 2:3). That's the example of Jesus. Many of us don't think or care to give others consideration at all - much less to consider them more important than ourselves. And it might only be in little ways... but that doesn't mean we don't need to reorient our hearts.

3. Not listening. James said it pretty clearly: "Everyone [everyone!] must be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" (1:19). I saw something of Facebook, that fount of all wisdom, recently that said one of the world's problems is people who listen to respond instead of listening to understand. We've probably all be on both ends of that. But what if Christians actually took time to hear people?

4. Always having to get the newest thing. This is a way of life in the United States. We're a nation of upgrades - upgrading our Kindles, our phones, our cars, our homes. Constantly. The biblical term for that hunger for the latest and the best and more is "coveting." One of the Ten Commandments is against coveting (Ex 20:17); according to Paul, covetousness is a form of idolatry (Col 3:5). Things can get a hold on our heats! (Isn't that what Jesus is saying in Matthew 6:21?)

Pastor Mike Slaughter recently asked, "instead of giving up chocolate this Lenten season, why not make a commitment to give up being a jerk?" Not a bad thought. If you want to give up something this season, why not pick one of those "little" things that is corrosive to our souls, that, if we did give it up for just 40 days, might bring some more joy into the lives of the people around us?

And at the end of 40 days, you may find you've developed some new, better, more faithful habits.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Christians in the voting booth


If you are a dedicated church-goer and consider yourself a committed Christian, then your faith probably has a big impact on your politics. In fact, in the United States many of the hot-button political issues are the issues that are significant to Christians: you believe the Bible has something to say about abortion or marriage or refugees, and so you support candidates whose platforms, you feel, are in line with scripture. Following Jesus means I need to vote for [your candidate of choice here], and it's as simple as that.

Or is it?

Dr. Christena Cleveland (a recent addition to the faculty at my alma mater, Duke Div), in an article for Christianity Today, has some bad news for all of us Christian voters: it's really not that simple. Her piece, "All Christians Are Biased Voters," makes the point pretty clear: other factors, beyond your faith, influence your vote as well - factors like your personality, your race, and your life experiences. Studies show that people who otherwise you'd expect to have pretty similar views will diverge sharply along these lines. In other words, nobody, she argues, votes just what the Bibles says, just what Jesus teaches. There's more impacting our decisions than that.

As I was reading her story of teaching undergraduates about these factors that affect our politics (where students insisted, "come on, Dr. Cleveland, you have to admit that [my party’s] values best reflect the values of Jesus”), and as I read her description of our "bias blind spots," I found myself thinking, "sure, but I've thought through all this stuff, and my votes really do reflect Jesus' teachings!"

Keep telling yourself that, Nance.
The thing about a blind spot is, you can't see it. I can't see it.

We'd all like to think that, if people really read their Bibles, if people really prayed, if people really let the Spirit guide them, then they'd think like me, they'd vote like me. And during the long campaign season, it's easy to get frustrated with your fellow citizens and their positions ('how could anybody in their right mind support ____________??'). I think this is especially true on Facebook, where other perspectives can be pretty in-your-face: "Share if you think Donald Trump will make America great again!"; "Share if you think a woman's place is in the White House!"; and on, and on. We're all so sure that we're right, and they're wrong. We're voting the Christian way, and they're not.

Well I'm not going to tell you the 'Christian way' to vote. I'm starting to think I'm a little too biased for that.
But I can tell you one thing: during election season, especially on Facebook, we all have the choice between holier-than-thou and humility. And I think, in this case, there really is only one Christian response. 

For more on all of this, check out Dr. Cleveland's article (it's not long!): "All Christians Are Biased Voters."