#mentalhealthmonday 1.24.22

With economic insecurity, geo-political insecurity, and (still) health insecurity all flooding the news today, I thought I’d repost a great recent piece from @charliemackesy

There’s a lot going on right now. Just know that you are enough, that God is for you, and that you have what it takes to practice that “long obedience in the same direction.”

🙏🏻 for you today and every day.

Take care. 🤗

Universalism

Let’s Talk about Salvation, Eternal Life, Grace, and Heaven/Hell 😅

There has been a lot of thoughtful discussion via DM, text, and FaceTime around both my “Scandal: The Case for a Liberal Faith” post as well as my A.C.T.S. series. It’s wonderful to have a community of thoughtful readers and thinkers from all over the theological map who are willing to have good conversations around topics that matter. This was the whole goal behind starting @kgcwrites, and it’s so fun to see it already happening in realtime – despite @kgcwrites still being in its infancy.

One of the questions that has come up in these discussions has been the question of Universalism. I’ve been asked, “Do you believe that God saves everyone?” Usually followed up with some form of, “What do you believe about salvation and Heaven and Hell?” These are wonderful, deep, complex, and intense questions requiring a lot of nuance to navigate. Even the definition of terms in these types of discussions takes up a lot of time, as each person has his or her own definition of salvation, eternal life, Heaven and Hell, etc.

But I wanted to address these questions to the best of my abilities in this post. Let me explain ➡️

First: Do I believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that Jesus is God’s means by which all of humanity and Creation are redeemed? Yes and yes.

Second: Do I believe that everyone goes to Heaven – meaning does everyone spend eternity with God, in perfect relationship with Him, after their mortal lives come to an end? No. Why? Because people choose themselves over God all the time, and Hell is just an eternity of choosing your own headship over God’s (see C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce for a really wonderful exploration of this).

But the question of Universalism inevitably comes up in conversations about salvation. One of my long-time friends asked: “Do you believe God saves everyone? Even a person as evil as, say, Hitler?” Honestly, I wouldn’t claim to truly know the answer in that specific case, as that’s an intense edge case. But I want to attempt to answer it here ⬇️

re: Hitler – I want to first acknowledge – especially to my Jewish friends who are a part of the discussion here @kgcwrites – that what Hitler did in the 1930s and 1940s is some of the most destructive evil human history has ever seen. And Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s attempt to assassinate Hitler is a really profound Christian response to an evil like Hitler. But is Hitler too evil for God to redeem? Can Hitler be saved? I know it’s an intense edge case, but what’s the answer?

Although there’s a lot in this edge case that is beyond my knowledge and ability to articulate, what I do know is that Jesus teaches us in Matthew 5:44 to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. So, as a follower of Jesus, I am charged to love my enemies – even a person as evil as Hitler – and to pray for them. If that’s our charge as followers of Jesus – imperfect as we are – how much more does God, our perfect Father, love our enemies and desire to redeem their lives? Take the story of the Prodigal Son as a case study for the ability for God to redeem ANYONE, no matter how far gone they are. God has eternity past, eternity present, and eternity future to bring ANYONE into perfect relationship with Himself – no matter what they’ve done. That’s the scandal of grace. That’s where the rubber of unearned, unconditional redemption hits the hard road of humanity’s brokenness and imperfection. The saving grace of God through Jesus really is a scandal on a cosmic scale, even in an edge case as evil as Hitler.

So can God redeem an evil person like Hitler? Absolutely. Moreover, can He redeem the people of the German Church who acquiesced to Hitler’s murderous vision and aligned German Christianity with Nazism? Absolutely. Again, that’s the scandal of grace, as horrid as it sounds. There is no one too far gone for the unending, eternal, perfect and perfecting love of God. Through Jesus, all of humanity can have a perfect relationship with the Creator God of the Universe. Even the worst of humanity.

As I’ve given this answer in multiple discussions, I typically then get asked: “So, are you a Universalist then?” To which I would answer: Do I believe all of humanity and all of Creation can be saved and redeemed through Jesus? Absolutely, yes. Is Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection the means by which God grants humanity eternal life and brings Heaven to earth? Absolutely, yes. However, do I believe a person gets “saved” by a quick, transactional Sinner’s Prayer where he or she “asks Jesus into his or her heart”? Maybe. But it really depends on how we define salvation, eternal life, and the Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t think a quick spiritual transaction is the Gospel that Jesus embodied in His life, nor is it the type of faith modeled by the first Christians and the early Church. Furthermore, I think the salvation and redemption of a human life through Jesus is much more intimate, much more unique, and much more profound than a cookie-cutter Sinner’s Prayer.

Salvation is intimate and unique for each person, and there is so much more to the Christian life, to the Kingdom of Heaven, and to eternity than the Sinner’s Prayer. Yes, salvation is made possible by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but even if you just look at the four Gospels, there is story after unique story of salvation ➡️

Examples:

The story of the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22)

The story of the woman who is healed of her blood issue by touching Jesus’ cloak (Mark 5:25-34)

The story of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-26)

The story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)

The teaching about trees and the fruit they bring forth (Matthew 7:15-20)

The story of the thief who was crucified next to Jesus (Luke 23:38-43)

How these examples play out:

1. For the rich young ruler, salvation is found in keeping God’s commandments, selling all his possessions, and giving the proceeds to the poor (!)

2. For the woman with the blood issue, it is her faith in Jesus – that He could heal her – as well as in her determination to, literally, meet Him that brings her the salvation she is looking for

3. For the Samaritan woman at the well, the Good News – the Gospel that changes her life – is manifested in her in-person encounter with Jesus where He shows her that He is the Christ, the Messiah

4. For the woman caught in adultery, salvation is found, first, in her leaving her life of sin, and second, in her accepting that Jesus does not condemn her for her previous sinful behavior

5. Jesus’ teaching about trees and fruit is about what eternal life looks like for pastors and teachers of Scripture – namely, and crazily, that Heaven or Hell is determined by the fruit they produce in their lives and ministries (!)

6. For the thief who is crucified next to Jesus, salvation is found in admitting his own guilt, in standing up for Jesus and His innocence, and in straight-up asking Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes into His Kingdom (i.e. “paradise,” i.e. Heaven)

That’s just a few examples that show the intimacy and uniqueness of each salvation story, and there are so many more stories littered throughout the four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament that speak to God’s unlimited creativity in saving a human being. So is salvation just about “asking Jesus to come into your heart”? In my estimation, my answer would probably stay, “Maybe.”

To wrap it up, I would argue that there is a unique salvation story for every human being who has ever walked this earth – including the unborn. It’s why I’m developing a deeper and deeper passion for discussions around abortion, parental support, equitable housing and education and healthcare, labor rights, mass incarceration, immigration, our unequal legal system, and the death penalty. Through Jesus, God wants to redeem EVERYONE and EVERYTHING. The whole cosmos, the entire planet Earth, our imperfect and divided country, our churches, our neighborhoods, our nuclear and extended families, and, yes, even our enemies. That’s the scandal of grace. That’s the eternal, perfect and perfecting love of God – given freely to humanity through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. If that makes me a Universalist, then, I guess, I’m ok with that. I’d rather have the doors of Heaven flung wide open with the grace shown to the Prodigal Son than to live in an “us vs. them” or a “you’re in, you’re out” understanding of salvation. Salvation through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is both exclusive and inclusive. It truly is the cosmic scandal of grace.

Tsunami

Reverent awe. Fear. Respect.

It was relatively early when I walked out the front door of our beachfront rental in Capitola and was – “alarmed” isn’t the right word, although that would come shortly after – but I was “taken aback” by how high the tide was and how close the water was coming to our condo. I thought, “I am this tiny human being, on this tiny piece of beach, and before me is this immense, powerful, and unruly ocean – beautiful, yes, but also capable of a lot more than just soft, playful waves.” And I just kept watching.

Then our nextdoor neighbor joined me out front, and, as I looked at the tide, she said to me, “Have you heard about the tsunami warnings this morning?” – to which I said, “No, I haven’t” and my “taken aback-ness” quickly turned to alarm. “Yeah,” she said, “you should turn on the local news. An underwater volcano is erupting in Tonga, sending waves and surges in all directions – including towards the West Coast.” At this point, I was definitely alarmed.

“So,” I responded, “do you think it would be wise to pack up and head to higher ground? I mean, could this property get flooded with these surges?” To which she answered, “We’ve been coming here for years, and very rarely have I seen surges flood these condos. And today’s shouldn’t be too bad. Our grandkids are coming today, and I don’t think these surges will be anything big.”

All this time, I continued to watch the water rise closer and closer to our condo. I turned to my wife and said, “It’s time to pack up and head out. Now. I don’t want to take the chance of being caught up in any flooding if the water continues to rise.”

So we hurriedly started packing up our things and loading our van – which was parked at higher ground. Amazingly, the water receded and calmed a bit, and we loaded our car with no issues. Until we were just about done.

I finished getting our final load in the van, and I returned to the condo to turn off the lights and lock up. The rising waters were back, and were starting to make their way onto the sidewalk out in front of our condo. I closed and locked the front door, only to turn around to see water flooding the sidewalk outside our condo – at least 3 inches deep, maybe more, and unruly with the ocean’s surges. Needless to say, I ran through the water, headed away from the beach to the parking lot, jumped in our van, and started the engine. My wife took a quick moment to capture the rising water on video, then she jumped in the van. We pulled out of the parking lot, and headed out.

All said, it was quite the morning.

It’s a bit surreal to write about this, 48 hours after it all took place. But that feeling of smallness in the face of an immense power like the Pacific Ocean has not left me. It’s a kind of reverent awe mixed with a sense of fear of and respect for the might that the Pacific Ocean wields each and every day – especially on days where there are tsunami warnings. We are just tiny humans, on a tiny plot of coast line, totally at the mercy of something almost infinitely bigger than ourselves.

Which makes me think, also, about our relationship with God. He is immense in His power and creativity and ability to shape human history – yet He cares deeply about us. With God, I can’t help but feel a kind of reverent awe mixed with a sense of fear and respect – yet He loves us. We are just tiny humans, on tiny plots of land, totally at the mercy of things infinitely bigger than ourselves – yet God sent His Son, Jesus, to live, die, and resurrect for us, so that we might be in perfect relationship with Him. I keep thinking about the Psalm: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalms 8:4 NIV). God is infinite and eternal and all-powerful and all-knowing, and we are totally at His mercy – yet His love for us is perfect and perfecting, and He welcomes us home into perfect relationship with Himself just like the father of the prodigal son.

Lin-Manuel Miranda writes in Hamilton, “Oceans rise, empires fall” – which hits very close to home today (to say the least LOL 😅). I’m super thankful we got out safely from Capitola, and I’m also sending lots of prayers to everyone affected by the surges along the California coast and beyond. But I’m also super thankful that the God of the Universe is mindful of us. That He cares for us. The power He wields is immense, just like the ocean and its surges. Yet, He loves us.

So I find myself with this three-part response today:

Reverent awe.

Fear.

Respect.

Prayers for Capitola and everyone affected by the surging tides.

🌊

Zion

How a Scotch glass, a National Park, and the heavenly Jerusalem speak to God’s plans for humanity and Creation (LOL 🤣)

It was early December 2021, and I was getting our house ready to host a handful of small but safe holiday gatherings for family. For some time, I had known my Scotch glasses from several years back were needing an update. So I asked one of my designer friends for a good site where I could get some fun Scotch glasses. He recommended Huckberry.com, and, in less than a minute, I found exactly what I was looking for: handmade, light-weight Scotch glasses for a reasonable price. Win! And more, this collection was called Whisky Peaks, where the bottom part of each glass “featured a raised topographic impression of some of the greatest, most majestic peaks in the world.” There was Mt. Everest, Grand Tetons, the Grand Canyon, Mt. Whitney, the Rockies, Half Dome, Zion, and more. So cool, right?

Being the faith nerd I am, I immediately picked Zion, one of the most majestic National Parks in the United States but also a big concept in my faith tradition – and got a set of 4 glasses. The fun with picking Zion is that Zion represents a literal and theological reality woven deep into the Jewish and Christian faith traditions – so a Scotch glass with a Zion National Park impression as its bottom was perfect. LOL

Which brings me full circle in this post: How does a Scotch glass, a National Park, and the heavenly Jerusalem speak to God’s plans for humanity and Creation? #nerdalert, I know LOL. But, there’s actually some cool stuff in this discussion. Let me explain.

Aside from being a National Park in the U.S., Zion was a literal place in ancient Jerusalem – and is also a theological centerpiece for Jews and Christians alike ⬇️

Old Testament

“Zion, in the Old Testament, [is] the easternmost of the two hills of ancient Jerusalem. It was the site of the Jebusite city captured by David, king of Israel and Judah, in the 10th century BC (2 Samuel 5:6–9) and established by him as his royal capital […] Mount Zion is the place where Yahweh, the God of Israel, dwells (Isaiah 8:18; Psalm 74:2), the place where He is King (Isaiah 24:23) and where He has installed His king, David (Psalm 2:6). It is thus the seat of the action of Yahweh in history […] [More], in the prophecy after the Babylonian Exile of the Jews, Zion is the scene of Yahweh’s messianic salvation. It is to Zion that the exiles will be restored (Jeremiah 3:14), and there they will find Yahweh (Jeremiah 31)” (Britannica.com). Pretty cool stuff, right?

New Testament

The Apostle Peter connects Jesus to Zion by quoting Isaiah 28:16 in 1 Peter 2:6: “‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame’” (NIV). The author of Hebrews also connects Jesus to Zion: “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. […] You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 12:22-24 NIV). Also super interesting.

I know there’s a lot going here with these texts. But let’s distill it:

In addition to Mount Zion being a physical location, Zion (for the Jews) is where God dwells (Isaiah 8:18; Psalm 74:2) and where salvation via the Messiah will take place. For Christians, Jesus IS that Messiah, that Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:6) who brings salvation through His life, death, and resurrection – “the mediator of a new covenant” between God and humanity (Hebrews 12:24). Additionally, for Christians, Zion represents “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” – which is central to Christianity’s belief that the Kingdom of Heaven is brought to earth both now (through lives of love and faith) and in the future (through Jesus’ return). In total, for Christians, Zion represents God’s eternal plan to redeem humanity and all of Creation through His Son, the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus. Needless to say, Zion is a central idea for Jews and Christians alike.

I wrote some poetry several years back that speaks to this theme:

“The day past tomorrow, where everything changes / Where You are the Sunshine in this darkness I know / The day past tomorrow, where we’re all a City / And no one’s a stranger, and we find our way Home”

So, just by delving into the fine print of a Scotch glass and the National Park that inspired its making, we find theological truths that harken back to Old Testament messianic prophecies and resound with New Testament salvific proclamations.

Cool, right? At least a little bit interesting? Or maybe just nerdy? A bit of all three? I did my best LOL 🤷🏻‍♂️. That’s how a Scotch glass, a National Park, and the heavenly Jerusalem all speak to God’s plans for humanity and Creation.

Cheers! 🤣

Prayer Team

How Prayer Acquaints Us with Suffering and Teaches Us Faith

I’ve been a member of the Prayer Team at my local church for some time now, and I’ve come to learn two things about the Christian life because of it:

1. Nowhere do you become more acquainted with the suffering of your faith community than when you commit to pray as part of your church’s Prayer Team.

2. In practicing prayer with a Prayer Team, you get to learn, in greater nuance, the Christian understanding of faith.

Let me explain ⬇️

Churchgoers go to a Prayer Team with any number of prayer requests – oftentimes pertaining to very difficult situations, and in my church’s case, identified only by their first name. These prayer requests include but are not limited to sickness, divorce, financial struggles, mental illness, spiritual issues, and even the death of a loved one. And these tough prayer requests come to us, as Prayer Team members, week in and week out. You can see how quickly one would become acquainted with the suffering of his or her faith community by being included on these regular communications. Furthermore, you become even more acquainted with that suffering as you daily pray for those requests. It is as if, daily, in prayer, you reopen the wound of a fellow church member’s suffering as you intercede on his or her behalf.

All said: committing to a Prayer Team makes you well-acquainted with the suffering of those you share the church rows (or pews or YouTube channel) with. And that can be difficult, for sure, as your heart breaks over the pain others are going through. It’s also a not-so-gentle reminder that life is hard. For all of us. Or as Katherine and Jay Wolf might say: being part of a Prayer Team disrupts the myth that church life is a pain-free life. Or, even more, on a theological level, maybe this is part of what it means to be a co-sufferer with Christ.

But then there’s the faith part of being on a Prayer Team. And I don’t mean the wonder and joy that comes when a prayer is answered: a healing occurs or a financial provision appears or a Service member comes home safely from overseas or a prodigal family member comes home to God. Moments when God answers prayers the way we hoped for are wonderful, but Prayer Team members are still left with ongoing prayer requests about difficult situations that don’t have resolutions.

Instead, by practicing prayer as part of a Prayer Team, you get to learn a more nuanced take on the Christian understanding of faith:

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)

And…

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV)

To daily enter into the prayer requests of my faith community teaches me that faith is the “assurance about what we do not see.” Faith is “what is unseen,” and, more, it’s in the unseen that we find the “eternal.” Faith resides in the immaterial, the spiritual, the eternal, in the infinity that resides within a human soul, in the deepest parts of what it means to be human. Faith is found collectively in the metaphysical beauty of a faith community as it leans into the love of God. Faith is not something you can quantify on a spreadsheet or store in a bank account; yet, it is cosmically powerful.

So when we go to prayer, we enter into that God-created space where, in His Presence, we can practice what we “do not see.” We can lean into the “eternal.” We can choose to hand over our own mortal, finite abilities, and, instead, have faith that the immortal, infinite Creator of the Universe will answer our prayers for our community’s good. The Apostle Paul says as much in his often-quoted letter to the Romans: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,” (Romans 8:28 NIV). And while we lean into the practice of prayer on our own and as a Prayer Team, the local Church can also bring us together regularly for communal worship and the study of Scripture – while also meeting material needs as they arise. From a theological end, this could be part of what it means to be co-heirs with Christ, right?

In total, being a part of a Prayer Team both acquaints me with suffering and teaches me faith. As I daily pray over what are, oftentimes, the tough realities of my fellow members of my local church, I daily open the wounds of those I share community with. And that practice is hard, no doubt. But in so doing, I also lean into the healing salve of faith: faith in a God who is present in the unseen, the eternal, and the infinite, and who is working in the very depths of our souls for our good. And, maybe, in this, we get to be co-sufferers and co-heirs with Christ, and be a Church that comes together to meet the needs of our community.

🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

#mentalhealthmonday 1.10.22

“Self-care is not selfish.”

This is the mantra in our house to start 2022. It applies to so many facets of our lives: mental health, physical health, family life, work life.

It’s not selfish to care for yourself – especially in this pandemic season. It’s not selfish to jump on the bike or get in a run or do a quick on-demand yoga session or take a mid-morning walk or take 10 minutes to silently pray or read Scripture or do your meditation practice. It’s not selfish to take your anxiety medication every day as prescribed, nor is it selfish to schedule an extra video session with your therapist.

Remember: this is just one season of your life, not its entirety.

You are not a failure because you can’t do it all. More than that, you’re a super hero just for making it to today! You didn’t give up! You didn’t give in! You survived to today!!

As @morganharpernichols recently posted:

“And here you are…

Millions of breaths taken,

You have come so far”

So take care of yourself today.

Know that I continue to pray for you, friends. Every day. Know that God is for you. And more, know that you have what it takes to practice that “long obedience in the same direction.”

-KGC 🙏🏻

The Practice of Supplication

A – Adoration

C – Confession

T – Thanksgiving

S – Supplication

“‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’”(Jesus in Matthew 11:28)

Deep breath.

2020 was a doozy. So was 2021. With Omicron and more, 2022 has started off on much the same foot. I’m hopeful for the new Administration, but what we face is much bigger than politics. Everything that’s happened in the last two calendar years is a lot to take in.

But I write today from a place of hope, even though it’s hope amidst struggle. The Christian faith knows well these types of hard seasons. Jesus called to Himself all those who were weary and burdened because He knew He could give us rest (Matthew 11:28). He called us to Himself because He knew His yoke was easy and His burden was light (Matthew 11:30). He knew the human condition: that “even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall” (Isaiah 40:30). But He also knew what He offered amidst that: “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

The Christian practice of supplication is asking God for specific prayer requests, especially amidst difficult circumstances. It’s a chance to pray to God for a myriad reasons: family, friends, health, finances, work, our government, our church, for really anything we’re dealing with in our lives.

Supplication is the act of laying down our ability to handle things on our own, and acknowledging that we need Someone bigger than us to help us through the present moment. It is surrendering our ability to do it ourselves, and, instead, accepting the good gifts of a good God who knows what we need before we even ask. Supplication is allowing an all-powerful, creative, loving, heavenly Father to do in our lives what we are unable to do on our own.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “We must lay before Him what is in us; not what ought to be in us.” That means that when we are bankrupt, when we are burdened, when we are exhausted, tired, weary, and broken down, we practice coming to God and pouring our hearts out to Him. God’s not interested in any attempt at perfection – the “ought to be” that Lewis is referring to. It is our honest, vulnerable, imperfect selves that God is after – “what is in us.”

And the craziest part? Not only does God hear our prayers and meet us in those moments, but He answers those prayers in infinitely creative ways. A family member sends you a text right at your deepest moment of sadness, giving you the fight you need to make it through the rest of the day. A friend sends you a DoorDash gift card out of the blue to take away the stress of meal planning for a couple days – bringing tears of joy and thankfulness, and the knowledge that you are not alone in this moment. Or an author you follow posts some words about suffering that shake you to your core, helping to remind you that joy can be found amidst heartache and that no one’s life is pain-free.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus summarizes how God feels about our practice of supplication:

“‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.’” (Matthew 7:7-8)

This is the God I know, a God who, amidst our hardest moments, is at His most intimate with us. Who, amidst our moments of greatest need, is so, so present. Who “whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain). While I know that supplication doesn’t always bring the exact outcome I pray for, the practice offers me the chance to connect deeply with this good God who is present with me amidst it all. And then I get to watch His eternal, unlimited creativity go to work in answering those prayers.

The practice of supplication teaches us that

we

are

not

alone

in

this.

We. are. not. alone. in. this.

And that’s a gift for these days.

The Practice of Thanksgiving

A – Adoration

C – Confession

T – Thanksgiving

S –

“Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

It’s been almost two years since we were thrown into the maelstrom that is the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020 was brutal in every way – physically, economically, spiritually, socially, and politically. And now, at the start of 2022, most of those same issues still plague us – albeit in new variants. We still have health insecurity with Omicron, and we still have economic instability thanks to the widening wealth gap and our “K” recovery. We also have fierce divisiveness around vaccine mandates, voting laws, and abortion legislation, and even the ugly head of our racial inequities has reared itself again with recent court rulings. Last but certainly not least: January 6, 2021 is still top of mind a year after the insurrection.

But my faith tradition has an ancient practice of giving thanks to God no matter the circumstances – as a way for us to remember that God is a good God who is in control (Jeremiah 29:11) and who knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8). The people of God are not unaccustomed to hard times – whether it be Jewish enslavement in Egypt or exile in Babylon or wandering in the Wilderness for a generation, or early Christianity’s persecution by the Roman Empire for its first 300 years as a fringe, counter-cultural, religious movement.

The people of God also know the imperfect history of European colonization as well as the various issues embedded in U.S. history – including genocide and enslavement woven into the fabric of our country’s founding, our Civil War, our Jim Crow laws, the continued evils of labor exploitation, mass incarceration, the death penalty, our treatment of the unborn and the parents of unplanned pregnancies, and white supremacy.

But the Christian faith has long been about the practice of thanksgiving, the practice of proclaiming God’s sovereignty and goodness amidst any and all circumstances. We do this, as people of faith, because we know that God has shown He can lead His people out of Egypt by parting the sea, that He can keep His people safe inside a Babylonian furnace, that He can bring His people into the Promised Land, that He can rapidly grow a fledgling Church amidst Roman imperial persecution, that He can save the Union from a white supremacist insurrection and exorcise our original sin of slavery, that He can bring us Civil Rights leaders that give political voice to all races, genders, and sexual orientations, and that He brings hope to our present day as activists win clemency for death row inmates, as white supremacist vigilantes are (at least sometimes) convicted of their violent crimes, and political leadership – at the local, state, and national level – still work to form a more perfect Union. In short, I do still believe that though “the arc of the moral universe is long […] it bends toward justice” (Martin Luther King, Jr).

There is power as we practice thanksgiving, especially during tough circumstances. So, today, despite the continuation of difficult days here at the start of 2022, I give thanks. I give thanks for my wife and my boys. I give thanks for our extended family and our community of friends. I give thanks for my colleagues, my company, our church, our country, our health, our schools, the COVID vaccines, and our frontline workers who continue to put themselves and their families in harm’s way to serve us all.

Yes, this season has been a hard one, and it continues to be hard almost two years into this pandemic. But my faith tradition teaches me that we have reason to be thankful – despite the difficulties.

I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s admonition to the Romans: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited […] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:12-16, 21 NIV)

It’s as if Paul is saying that the secret sauce is found in joyful hope, in patience amidst affliction, in regular prayer, in sharing what you’ve been given, in hospitality, in going through the ups and downs of life together with your family and community, in humility, and in goodness instead of evil – all while being loving towards your enemies. There is a way, a life, that leads to thankfulness, and it includes these markers along the way.

So, today, I want to walk that path where thankfulness is both the journey and the destination. Today, I “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalms 107:1 NIV).

The Practice of Confession

A – Adoration

C – Confession

T –

S –

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.” (Psalms 51:1 NIV)

This is what David prayed after the prophet Nathan called him out for his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and his subsequent murder of her husband Uriah. David was the King of Israel, a shepherd boy turned war hero turned royalty, a man after God’s own heart. But David tried to keep his murderous affair with Bathsheba a secret. And God, through Nathan, called David on it. And the house of David was marred forever because of it. It was a personal and political sin that never left David’s house. It forever changed Israel’s history.

Yes, this post is a post about individual Christians confessing individual sins to God and within community on a regular basis – as the Bible calls Christians to do that (James 5:16). But this post is also about when a nation is brought to its knees by the sins of its leaders. When a nation needs to come before God and confess its collective sins – so as to “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24 NIV)

What we saw a year ago today at the US Capitol was sin in action. Political sin. Personal sin. As many have said, it was just the culmination of years of sin by Trump’s enablers and Trump himself. Eugene Cho said a year ago today: “This is the result of several years of enabling, spewing conspiracies, and lack of accountability.” Another post I saw said it really well: “The name of Christ has been dragged through the mud – not by His critics, but by those who claim to be his followers.” There were “Jesus Saves” signs commingled with Confederate flags at the insurrection. There was white privilege on full display. As Ibram X. Kendi said a year ago today: “If these people were Black… well, we all know what would be happening right now to them.”

King David’s sin was personal and political. He and his house were never the same afterward, nor was the nation of Israel. The Trump presidency was our country’s political and personal sin – enabled by religious conservatives and an immoral political right. But we, as Americans, all share in the collective blame. We allowed the Trump presidency to become the grave threat to our democracy it became. As a white male, I confess my sin of not doing enough, of taking for granted my white privilege during the Trump presidency. Now, a year into the Biden presidency – where we still have a racist legal system and immoral policies regarding immigration, the death penalty, abortion, paid family leave, military spending, voting laws, labor rights, and the widening wealth gap (to name a few) – we collectively must confess our country’s sins. Especially in the face of the COVID pandemic. This practice of confession is not just about Trump; it’s about Biden too. And it’s about every Presidential administration before them. It’s about our nation as a whole – our past, our present, and our future.

I know it’s not a feel-good post to bring up sin and confession. But confession is a practice that my faith tradition has practiced for thousands of years. Confession acknowledges our imperfections and humbles us before a good and gracious God. We are far from a perfect country, and we need to acknowledge that with a practice of collective confession.

Lord, have mercy on our country. Especially in this pandemic, Lord, heal our land.

🙏🏻

The Practice of Adoration

A – Adoration

C –

T –

S –

2022.

Wow. Where to begin. This week marks a year since the Trump-incited insurrection attempted to thwart our democracy. We enter yet another year caught in the swells of the COVID-19 pandemic, with case numbers climbing substantially with Omicron. Our racial reckoning is still front of mind, our politics are as divided as ever, and our economic recovery has been both K-shaped and uncertain.

But, amidst all this, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around Christianity in the early days of 2022. I keep asking myself: How do I practice my faith in our present reality?

More specifically: How do I continue to practice my adoration of God – that is, giving God praise for all He’s done, is doing, and will do – when the faith tradition I practice is realizing the consequences of having been corrupted by an immoral political movement? There seems to be a huge chasm between the good God the Bible speaks of and an American conservative Christianity of, as Rachel Held Evans said, “Patriarchy, White Supremacy, and Violent Religious Nationalism.” You don’t have to look much further than the recent Pew Research Center study that shows how the Trump years have accelerated the growing secularization of America – especially among my generation, the Millennials. Unfortunately, Pew’s data shows that the church needs Millennials a lot more than the Millennials need the church.

What I do know is that Christians have practiced the adoration of God for thousands of years, in a myriad of political and cultural contexts. The Christian faith started amidst Roman occupation and persecution, so I know the God of the New Testament is for and with the oppressed. Not only was Jesus nailed to a cross because of the challenge he posed to the political and religious power structures of His day, but the New Testament is filled with examples of early church heroes being jailed and/or killed for their religious and political declaration that Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord. But then, starting with the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in 313 AD, Christianity became a tool of empire, with a very imperfect historical record ever since.

But, here, a year into the Biden presidency, I’m asking: How do I present Christianity to the person who is part of that growing number of Americans who consider themselves religiously unaffiliated? (30% of American adults) What could I say to THAT person so that he or she would give God a chance or, maybe, even come to the place of adoring Him?

I would start by pointing to the inspired, historical writings of Christianity that paint the picture of a God who is good, who is endlessly creative, who is on the side of the oppressed and downcast and lowly, who comes to the rescue of those in bondage, who makes clear His distaste of performative, empty religion, who comes to earth to save humanity, who comes to give us life to the full, and who is still at work today.

Let me show you what I mean ⬇️

Old Testament

-God created the whole universe (Genesis 1)

-God saves His people from slavery by parting the Red Sea (the book of Exodus)

-God protects His people while in exile in Babylon (the book of Daniel)

-God rescues His people from genocide through an amazing woman (the book of Esther)

-God despises hypocritical, performative, immoral religion (Isaiah 1:11-17)

-And much more…

New Testament

-God becomes a Middle Eastern, improverished Jew and dwells among us in the form of Jesus amidst an occupation of God’s people by the Roman Empire (John 1)

-In Jesus, God is with and for the lowly and oppressed (Matthew 5) and calls out religious hypocrisy (Matthew 23:27-28)

-In Jesus, God comes to give humanity abundant life (John 10:10)

-In Jesus, God becomes a servant to humanity through His life on earth and His death in a cross (Philippians 2:6-8)

-In Jesus, God is a High Priest who is able to empathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15) while also being the perfect sacrifice for all of humanity’s sin (Hebrews 9:26)

-And much more…

I would say that I can give God adoration today, despite everything going on, because I actually believe that the writings of the Bible – the seeming myth about a God who comes to earth to set humanity free – are TRUE. It’s almost fantastical: that God would do this for us. But I believe this story is true. This seeming myth is a true story: the truest story of the craziest love of a Creator for His Creation. C.S. Lewis says, “The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact.”

All said, though, I adore God because He first adored us. I love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Or, as Chance the Rapper says in that Bieber song, “I know we believe in God and I know God believes in us.”

I would say that I practice adoration not because God is a needy God, and not because Christianity has a perfect track record, but because adoration reminds me about God’s unconditional, sacrificial, and eternal love for all of humanity. Adoration is a practice that reminds me that we are adored by God – even to His own death on a cross. I adore Him because, even in our brokenness, even amidst our political, social, and economic turmoil, He adores us unendingly – while giving us clear directives to stand with those who are lowly and oppressed. The Creator of the universe, the God of all creation, the Savior Christ, adores YOU and ME and our family and friends – and even our enemies – and wants to set us free. That’s why we can sing the Christmas carol: “Come let us ADORE Him, [for He is] Christ the Lord.” The Christ has come, right into the middle of our brokenness and imperfection, and has called us to Himself in love. This is my practice of adoration here at the start of 2022.