Monday, January 25, 2016

A Greater Hope than Bernie

I am not altogether on anybody's side, because nobody is altogether on my side...”
- Treebeard, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Politics often seem like the most volitile of subjects, especially in the social media age. Everyone has an opinion, and far too often, if you disagree with the opinion, you're wrong, stupid, and ignorant. As Jesus-followers, I've seen more disparity within the church this round of elections than I have ever seen. The trend seems to be more and more younger believers side with the loud cries of liberal agendas, while older, conservative stalwarts look down upon them. This is a broad brushstroke, it's certainly not descriptive of the entire scene. But where there used to be dialogue and debate, it's become hatred and mockery.

What's worse, is that Jesus' name has been invoked to justify both the platform and the attitude of shaming.

It's at this point in time that the Treebeard quote at the top is very appropriate. A lot of folks have made statements about how Jesus wouldn't stand for this or that, and then quote a bible verse to justify it, and then go on their merry way. While I think it's wise that we discern all viewpoints (political and otherwise) from the scriptures, I think we often use our experience to interpret God's Word, rather than letting God's Word interpret our experience. And our experience, while valuable, is not authoritative, nor is it prescriptive.

A great example is when the Pharisees try to trap Jesus with a question about taxes.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.” (Matthew 22:15-22)

The Pharisees, and the Jews in general, hated being under Roman rule. The Herodians, however, were put into power by the Roman Empire to have authority in Israel. Jesus is put into a difficult predicament. Which side will he be loyal too? What side is the right side? To choose one would seem like turning his back on His people, the other would likely land him in trouble with Rome! What does he do? He chooses a different path. He says that taxes must be paid, and that they must give to God what is God's.

In other words, the Pharisees are looking for Jesus to either dishonor the state or dishonor their faith, and Jesus says you can honor God by honoring the state! And they leave perplexed.

This is a helpful reminder when we come to public square issues, especially as the presidential primaries approach.

For me, it's easy to be sucked into the thinking that the conservative platform is 100% right. And while the scriptues do support some conservative stances, it's very important to distinguish that Jesus is not a conservative republican. He's not a tea party guy. He's not a moderate. Jesus is Jesus, He is who we must conform too.

On the other hand, we also see support for different social justice causes in the scriptures. James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” There is some biblical credence to some liberal ideas. But Jesus is not a liberal. He's not a socialist. And He cares far more for people than to just let people do what they want to do. He calls us to conform to His image.

And this brings us to the most important point.

Whether you have loved Obama or hated him, a new president does not bring eternal hope. A new president will make mistakes. A new president must work with a flawed system... because it's human. And while, as believers, it's important to talk about public policy and what it should be in light of the scriptures, the mission that Jesus has given us is not to have a Christian country in this life. It's to usher in a kingdom fit for eternity. Our hope must be Jesus, the Jesus found in His Word.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Humbled by a "Small" Sin

“Oh gosh!” I yelled, frustrated that the former defending champions of college football were struggling with the lowly Hoosiers of Indiana University. It was supposed to be a cakewalk, the Buckeyes were close to three touchdown favorites, and I'm not sure Indiana has come close to beating them in my lifetime. In fact, a running joke between Ohio State fans (and probably fans of any decent Big Ten team) is if one of your stars are struggling during the season, the Indiana game is when they get back on track.

Apparently, MY Buckeyes didn't get the memo. They trailed in the second half. And it was when our quarterback threw a pick in the endzone when I releashed my two word tirade.

And now, everytime we watch football, my two year old says “Oh gosh,” because he thinks that's what you're supposed to say during a football game.

While I'm thankful I said something that could be repeated without blushing, everytime he utters those words I realize the potential damage. “... no human can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” (James 3:8-9) My son, who sees me pray to God, give thanks to God, and worship God with my mouth, saw its opposite ability, to sin. To give in to anger. Over something as trivial as a football game.

It's humbling to say the least.

I know what some of you are thinking.

“Zack, you're not that bad.”

“Zack, everyone gets a little peeved.”

“At least you didn't say the F-word.”

But here's what Jesus says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

The outburst signals the evil within. The evil of discontentment. The evil of unrighteous anger. The evil of hating God. And it influenced my two-year old to think that all football games should be accompanied by said outburst.

In hindsight, it's a bit comedic, something out of a sitcom. But everytime my son says it, a twinge of guilt rushes through my veins. It reminds me that I messed up. It reminds me that I'm still a sinner.  Thankfully, it also reminds me of my need for Jesus.  Thank God that Jesus died... even for what we typically deem as “nothing major.”

Jesus died for cosmic treason. He also died for my anger and my negative influence. And he can redeem it. He can redeem it by letting me explain to my children that their Daddy is also a sinner in need of grace. And that God can transform me even further to desire the eternal joy of His Kingdom more than the fading kingdom of being a fan of a football team.