Month: March 2016

If You’re Feeling Discouraged Today

It’s the Monday after Easter, and Jesus is still risen.

Even if the cheesy potatoes are all gone and you didn’t get seconds. Even if some unnamed family member spilled dye on the carpet. Even if you had to return to a routine that feels difficult or dull, not particularly rested from the holiday weekend.

Or, more seriously, even if it was hard to sing songs about the resurrection because death and suffering came a little too close to you this year. Even if you thought of your sins and struggles in the darkness of a Good Friday service and the list was much longer than you thought it was. Even if, this Monday, you are lonely or frustrated or confused or bitter or fearful or just plain tired.

We ask, “Death, where is your sting?” and that’s the answer. It’s here, all around us.

Death still stings…but it’s temporary. With the resurrection of Christ, that sting is no longer ultimate for those who believe, and that’s why we sing as if death has already been defeated, because it has.

It’s the Monday after Easter, and Jesus is still risen.

From the time I was old enough to have a favorite Bible verse that wasn’t John 3:16 (and cocky enough to pick an entire chapter, because that sounds more impressive) I loved Hebrews 11. The entire Old Testament in one chapter, I’d say. What’s not to like? (more…)

Almost Midnight: A Story for Maundy Thursday

 

Passover

Do you know what my favorite part of Passover is, brother? The bitter herbs.

Don’t look at me like that. I saw you slip some under the table last year, coward, even though Mother didn’t catch you. You shouldn’t do that, you know. We’re meant to remember: nothing sweet comes without something bitter.

Every year, parents are supposed to tell their children of why we celebrate the Passover meal. Now that Father is gone, I suppose it falls to me, then, being the oldest.

Mother doesn’t tell it right. She tells only the sweet—God’s mercy in leading us to freedom. Just like a woman, I suppose. The God they serve is weak and beautiful, the psalms they sing are the ones with happy endings, the ones without curses or darkness or unanswered questions.

I’ll show you the bitter, Simon. You’re old enough now. You listen, and you tell me if it doesn’t feel more real.

Do you ever wonder what the angel of death looked like? I do. I’ve drawn sketches of him, hundreds of times. He’s no pure and golden archangel like the ones in the temple, that’s for sure. I see a figure with a bared sword the size of a city wall, towering with thundering steps, crushing all who stand in his path and try to resist. Red eyes, the smoke of wrath curling about him. And blood. His robe is dripping with blood.

It’s almost midnight in Egypt. The cruel oppressors are in their beds, but they don’t sleep well, none of them, for their dreams are haunted by the ravaging disease, the crawling pestilence, and unfathomable darkness of the plagues. More than that, some have heard whispers of worse to come.

Among our people, no one sleeps. Everyone is preparing for the great Exodus, following God’s instructions, holding their breath under blood-drenched doorposts. Counting down till midnight.

Yes, the women could bake the unleavened bread and whisper prayers and lullabies over their children that night. But someone had to slit the lamb’s throat. There is the bitter in the sweet, Simon. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” God himself said that.

Then…midnight comes, and the angel of death unsheathes his sword. The story started with rivers of blood, and that is where it ends. The blood of the lambs…and the blood of every firstborn son of Egypt. I’d have died, if I’d been born among them.

What would you do, waking up, to find the angel of death had slaughtered all the heirs in your land, great to small?

You’d cry out, just like they did. Listen, Simon. Can you hear what it must have sounded like? I hear it sometimes, in my dreams. It sounds like every tax collector dying in agony, every Roman mother wailing for a lost son, every oppressor cowering in fear, suddenly realizing that the weak people they belittled and bullied for so long decided it was time to fight back.

We don’t know how the angel struck them down. I like to think, sometimes, that they were hacked to pieces.

Don’t look at me like that. They threw our babies into the Nile to be drowned or eaten by beasts. It’s no more than they deserved. And besides, they had fair warning.

Sometimes I wonder about Pharaoh—how could someone who had seen all the miracles of God that he had, who had heard God’s messenger predict exactly what would happen still make the choice he did?

And then I realize I already know: power. Control. The desire for more, always more, never satisfied. I understand him. Sometimes, when I tell the story to myself at Passover, I am Pharaoh, proud and determined. Sometimes I am the angel of death, bringing justice by the sword. Sometimes I am Moses. Sometimes I am God himself.

They say our God is a merciful deliverer. Don’t believe them, Simon. They tell you that to keep you docile, in hope that someday, if we pray enough, if we follow enough commandments, God will lead us out from the Roman empire.

They forget that our God is a warrior with legions of angelic armies at his command. Any Passover, at his command, and plagues and pestilence could sweep down again on our oppressors. Maybe not this Passover. Maybe not the next. But someday.

They call me a Zealot. Well, David himself said, “Zeal for your house has consumed me.” That’s in one of those Psalms Mother doesn’t sing. Do you know what it’s like to be consumed by something? By anger, by desire, by a need to rise up to a glorious destiny?

No? I suppose that would be too much to ask. I’ve always felt…very alone.

There’s something about the Passover, though. It’s special to me, somehow. If I could rise up on that day with the sword of the Lord and do something—anything—to stir our people out of their apathy, I could make them all free. I, Judas Iscariot, could be the second Moses.

So eat those bitter herbs, Simon. Let them linger on your tongue. Savor them. Remember that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins, and if we wait too long, that blood might be ours instead of our enemies.

The day of death is coming, and soon. And I, for one, intend to be there when it happens.

 

(Every year, around Good Friday, I write about Judas. Here are the archives: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015.)

What Churches and Caucuses Have in Common

About all I know about Robert’s Rules of Order comes from the game Mafia, which basically amounts to someone being nominated and seconded and all in favor say “aye” and possibly not interrupting the person speaking (although even that is flexible).

I learned a little bit more while caucusing earlier this month.

The Robert of Robert's Rules of Order. Check out the epaulets.

The Robert of Robert’s Rules of Order. Check out the epaulets.

My roommates and I went to the caucus calling ourselves “The Disenfranchised Millennials,” which, incidentally, would be an awesome band name for anyone who wants to put the parody that is current politics to music. You’re welcome.

After filling out paperwork that will probably get me phone calls from politicians for the rest of my life, we found our way to the room for Precinct 12. Upon entering, I corrected the horrendous greeting written on the whiteboard—“Thank U 4 Coming”—into actual English, to a chortle from an elderly guy at the front. Then my roommates and I, accurately representing ourselves as the youngest people in the room, took a caucus selfie. (Seriously. I kind of look pained in it.) (more…)

In Which Abraham Lincoln Makes Us Feel Better About Super Tuesday

Let’s take a straw poll. Ballots with more than one (1) option checked will be discarded. Two tellers and one observer will count the votes. Feel free to interrupt using Robert’s Rules of Order.

As you look to the future, are you…
[   ] Fearful
[   ] Frustrated
[   ] Depressed and resigned to our country dramatically crashing and burning
[   ] All of the above

I understand these reactions. Really, I do.

But, public service announcement from the convener of this blog post: the results of Super Tuesday do not determine the future. Neither do the results of the presidential nominations from either party. Neither do the results of the election.
God determines the future.

Sometimes it’s good to have a little reminder of this on the days when you stare at the news reports and bar charts in disbelief.

So let me stretch out the timeline of political history in front of you. Do you know who relates to the fear we’re experiencing right now?

All the Israelites during the exile, who watched their homes burn and their family members die, then looked to the prophets who had warned them it was coming, pleading for a little hope. The early Christians during an era when “civic engagement” involved being fed to the lions in the Coliseum. And then the slightly-later early Christians who cheered when Constantine the Great converted to Christianity…and then watched the newly religious government mix politics and faith as the church become more corrupt.

If American history is more your thing (go patriotism!), let me tell you about those hot, crowded continental Congress sessions, where delegates were worried they were selling their souls for compromise (particularly on the moral issue of slavery) and the people outside had no idea what sort of government was being created behind closed doors. Or quote from Lincoln’s second inaugural address near the end of a long, weary war: “Both [sides] read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other…The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.”

Lincoln.jpg

Let’s play “Where’s Lincoln” at the Inaugural Address!

 

I love that, especially the last line: “That of neither has been answered fully.” In Lincoln’s case, that meant over 600,000 American lives lost. High stakes there, guys.
The point is, we are not the only Christians in history who have felt the frustration of divided politics and moral decline.

Lincoln’s conclusion is a reminder that yes, we should be informed about the best possible candidate for the presidency. (And then, you know, actually do something with that information at a primary, caucus, or election.)

But there will be no perfect candidate. America will never be a Christian nation because it was never intended to be one. Our progression as a country is not the millennial kingdom, Washington D.C. is not heaven, and the president is not a second Messiah.

Our prayers for this election—whichever candidate we align with, whichever issues are most pressing to us—will not be answered fully.

And there’s something encouraging in that, I think, in the fact that this is not our home, that current events don’t align to our carefully planned schedule, that we face opposition on all sides.

Because that’s what Jesus told us would happen. Over and over and over again, the Bible reminds us that life is going to be hard, particularly for believers. It also repeats, even more often, the character of God: unfailing love, unyielding justice, absolute control.

So let’s not live in fear. That’s the wrong posture for the church to take…ever, really, but especially when reacting to a fallen world looking just like a fallen world.

Lincoln2.png

Thanks for the perspective, Lincoln. I appreciate you.

 

We live in a messed-up society. We worship a sovereign God. Let’s let that second truth speak louder than the first one.

In the end, I say with the (slightly-revised) Psalm 20: “Some trust in [elections] and some in [political parties], but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”