Prayer for July 10, 2020

Prayer for July 10, 2020: Please pray with me.  God of losers, thank you.  Thank you for not being the god of winners, the powerful, the mighty, the strong.  You are the unexpected God.  A God who shows us not in royal robes, but in simple cloth.  You pitch a tent to dwell with us, not demand fancy accommodations.  You walk with the outcast.  You favor the poor.  You suffer with those exploited and oppressed.  You do all of this because you care.  Only a God who cares would do something to end injustice and evil systems.  Only a God who cares would offer something transformative.  An impersonal God would not care, not change anything, would not get involved, would not call on followers to upset the status quo.  But you care.  You care enough to be the God of losers.  Because the losers are open to hearing your message of love, grace, mercy, peace, and forgiveness.  They are open to receiving it.  To being enveloped by it.  To living it.  Amen.

The God of losers

That’s who we worship – a God of losers.

We don’t worship the God of winners, success, wealth, fame, might, etc.

We worship a God who is constantly on the side of the losers, the weak, the outcast, the poor, the homeless, the unknown, the lost.

We worship a God who doesn’t believe in might makes right.  Nope.  Might doesn’t make right – it usually leaves a lot of destruction and death though.

We worship a God who doesn’t believe that the ends justify the means.  Nope.  But if that’s your focus, there are plenty of idols and false gods that you can sing to.

Scripture paints us a picture of God.  We can’t deny that God supported the Israelites and helped them win battles and even slaughter whole peoples.  It’s there.

But take a look at the larger context.  Isreal isn’t a winner overall.  The people of Israel are enslaved for 400 years in Egypt.  Then they wander in the desert for 40 more years.  They are constantly fighting the people around them.  They are unwelcomed and despised.  When they finally have their land, they are in unrest pretty often – worried about attack from surrounding tribes and nations and empires.

They remain unified as a nation for a relatively short period of time and then they split apart and are feuding often with their relatives.  And then the empires show up.  The Assyrians take control of the northern kingdom.  Then Babylon comes through and captures the southern kingdom, destroying the Temple and putting the VIPs into exile for 70 years.  Then the Persians take over.  Then the Greeks.  Then the offshoot of the Macedonians.  Then they get some freedom for awhile.  And then the Romans take over.

There is very little time that they are “free” from occupation.

In the New Testament, we see Jesus.  He is homeless – a wandering Rabbi.  He is poor.  He hangs out with people of questionable reputations.  He touches unclean people.  He violates the rules.  He spends time with the people the winners don’t like.  He’s the incarnate God of the losers.  Losing so much that he ends up being executed by the mighty and powerful Roman Empire.  His followers scatter.  He is alone and abandoned on the cross, except for a few powerless women who stand and watch him die.

He is the God of losers, having fallen to a losing position himself – shamed, disgraced, tortured, killed.  The world won supposedly.

Only it didn’t.  God is a God of the losers.  Always has been.  Never a God of the winners, the strong, the mighty, the powerful.  They have no need of God after all.  They have their own gods that serve them.  But when you have nothing, then you are open to God because God comes to where you are.  Offers you everything.  Suffers with you.  Loses with you.  That’s a God who cares.  Only a God who cares would be willing to suffer.  Only a God who cares would call on God’s followers to live out a faith that transforms lives and cultures and communities and nations.  Only a God who cares would invite God’s followers to end injustices and evil systems instead of ignore them, excuse them, give them permission to continue.  A God who doesn’t care has no need for followers to publicly display their faith in action.

We worship a God of losers.  In the end, the God of losers wins – not the things the winners care about though.  Those things don’t really matter.

Prayer for July 9, 2020

Prayer for July 9, 2020: Please pray with me.  God above all gods, soften our hearts.  It may be strange to mention gods.  We like to believe that the idea of gods is outdated.  Yet, how many idols do we face each day?  How many idols and false gods do we listen to and follow?   How many idols and false gods do we worship and revere, giving our full attention to, and follow their ways?  We don’t like to think about this.  We like to think we are innocent.  But is that possible?  Is it possible in a society that is values money, that celebrates license, that praises strength, that reveres success?  Is that possible in a society that makes excuses for poverty, for exploitation of resources and people, for greed, for mistreatment of others?  How is it that we are a society that only worships you if all of these things are true?  Radically reorient us Lord – we need to be turned away from false gods and idols that proclaim their gospel messages of fear and hate, anger and selfishness.  Turn us towards you so that we can not only come to know what you are truly about first hand, but that we can participate in spreading what you are really about to others and all of creation – love, peace, mercy, grace, wholeness, care.  Amen.

Political Idolatry Test

You may like this.  You may hate it.  My question is this – why?

Here’s a simple test to see if politics (partisanship actually) is your idol.  An idol is something that a person worships, that acts like a god of some sort.  An idol is the thing we look too for divine wisdom and salvation.  It is a thing to pay attention to and follow.  It has a high level of importance.  An idol is considered sacred – so sacred that when someone touches it or messes with it, we get really upset.  An idol shapes our identity.

Which are you more upset by:

A. preaching what Jesus said and calls on followers of Jesus to do that doesn’t match your political party platform and beliefs or the agenda of the politician you are loyal to.

Or B. Politicians and political parties whose stands are in conflict with what Jesus taught and calls on followers to live by?

Which could you more easily do:

A. Change your religious denomination/faith/church because what is being taught and proclaimed conflicts with your political party loyalty and positions.

Or B. Change your political party loyalty (or change to no political affiliation at all) because the party and politicians that represent it are in conflict with what Jesus taught?

Which would say is true:

A. Jesus is the Lord of all, that includes my politics.

Or B. Jesus has boundaries and doesn’t get a say over my political positions and loyalties.  That’s my business.

What is the foundation for your identity?  What informs your decision making?  Partisan loyalty?  Faith?  Money?  Something else?

Be careful.  Matthew 6:21 has Jesus saying, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (NRSV).  That’s not just money.  Your treasure is what has value to you.  Your heart will follow what you value.  And what you value can be seen in how you use the resources that you have.  Those are material things of course.  But they are also immaterial things too.  Where do you put your attention?  Who and what do you listen to?  What is it that you value?

Back to my initial question – Are you mad at me for raising these questions?  Why?  Did I mess with your idol?

If faith is the foundation of what you do and how you act and what you believe, then I’m not sure what you are upset about.

If on the other hand I have touched an idol that you cherish, then maybe instead of being mad, you might want to take a moment and ask yourself if you are really mad at me, or at yourself or others for making an idol so very important in your life.  An idol that may have cost you friendships.  An idol that may have broken other important relationships – like family.  An idol that has used you, maybe exploited you and your emotions.  An idol that has controlled you.  An idol that ultimately only cares about you when you comply with its wishes.

If we are followers of Jesus, then that means that our primary allegiance and identity is to Jesus.  The foundation of who we are is identified with Jesus.  Jesus is the measure against which we determine what we will say, do, and believe.  Jesus is the measure which determines how we interact and treat all others – whether they be friend or foe.

If you have fallen for this idol of partisan loyalty, please hear this – you don’t have to continue.  We are set free from the bondage of idols and their heavy burdens.

There is another way.  There is a different lens to look at the world.  We can put aside the lens of partisanship that only sees two options.  That is concerned with winners and losers.  That is more interested in blame and scapegoating.  That is only interested in using people in order to gain power or money.  Take those lenses off.  Throw them away.  And see the world through a different lens.   A lens that sees the multitude of opportunities and expressions of God’s love.  A lens that sees the image of God in all people.  A lens that offers forgiveness, mercy, and grace.  A lens that is interested in making peace real.  A lens that empowers people.  A lens that sees how all of creation is moving towards Shalom wholeness and completeness.

Put away the lens that sees the world in black and white.  Put away the lens that reduces our sight.  That lowers expectations.  That makes us believe that God doesn’t care.  Put on the lens that helps us see that God is a God who suffers with us because God cares that much about us.  Only one who suffers can love those they suffer with.  Put on the lens that gives us sight to see how incarnate Jesus really is – in our world right now.  Put on the lens that clears our vision to see Jesus in ourselves, in others, and in all of creation.

Prayer for July 8, 2020

Prayer for July 8, 2020: Please pray with me.  God of faith, you empower us with the faith you give us.  Yet, I wonder if we fully grasp this.  Do we expect that faith is limited and has limitations?  Do we buy into the notion that society sells us – that you have boundaries?  That faith can’t go into certain areas of life?  Why do we claim that you are all powerful, yet believe that you don’t have a say in our politics, our money, our business, our relationships, our health, how we use the planet, how we treat foreigners and enemies, how we treat the poor and the sick and the outcast.  That doesn’t leave much room for you for anything really, does it?  Nope, and if we are honest, we prefer it that way.  That way we get to be in charge.  We get to be in control.  And you get to be just some ambiguous idea that is impersonal and really doesn’t care about us or creation.  But that’s a lie I’m not buying into.  Give us the courage to believe in the real you – the God who cares.  The God who smashes human boundaries.  The God who encounters us and transforms us.  The God who reminds us of who is the Creator and who is the created.  The God who calls on us to care just as much. The God who favors the poor and outcast.  The God who has a say about our politics, our money, and everything else because none of it is ours anyway.  That’s a God who I want. A God who cares enough to go to death and beyond.  Amen.

Why martyrs ultimately win

The subject of martyrs may be surprising.  But martyrs have been around a long time.  Martyrs are those that are willing to die for a cause.  Often we associate martyrs with religious faith.  Stephen is considered the first Christian martyr – a man who died for his faith in Jesus.  But he is far from the only one.

Martyrs, while admired for their faithfulness are often ignored though in society.  Society doesn’t like to think about the death aspect of being a martyr.  Often, not many years after someone becomes a martyr, a society will start to view the martyr far differently than when the martyr was alive.  Usually martyrs will be seen in a positive light by society after the fact.  This has always been interesting to me.

Take MLK, Jr.  When he was alive, society did not have nice things to say about him.  He was reviled, jailed, called names, beaten.  He was ridiculed by media and those in positions of power.

And yet, those same people and institutions eventually turned around and sang his praise.  Maybe it’s a situation where they wanted to look innocent.  Maybe they had a change of heart.  Maybe.

Martyrs ultimately win though.  I think this is the case because they don’t fear death.  For a martyr, all death does is make permanent what already exists.  A Martyr’s words and expression of action proclaim the reality of the injustice they refuse to comply with.  Death just showcases that a martyr will not give in to oppression, injustice, and evil.  A Martyr will not be intimidated or live in fear.  A martyr will refuse to make excuses for evil.

For all eternity, it will be known that the oppressor was nothing more than a toddler throwing a violent tantrum because he didn’t get what he wanted – willing compliance from the martyr.  The arguments of the oppressor were weak at best.  They couldn’t convince the martyr to just give in.

Oppression works that way.  It gives the appearance of strength and might.  But in reality, the oppressor is rather weak.  The oppressor has weak arguments.  Weak logic.  No patience.  No morals.  Oppressors are empty really.  Killing someone who actually stands for something shows how empty and worthless oppression truly is.

Things that are empty don’t last.  They have no foundation.  They are selfish.  They are narcissistic.  They end violently.

Oppression is so weak that it has to hide when it is exposed.  It needs excuses for why is should exist.  It needs permission to exist actually.  And as long as people either support oppression or give silent consent, oppression can exist.  But eventually that goes away too.  Light has that effect on darkness – it exposes what is there.  And oppression is ugly.  When the light shines on it and we are forced to look at it (often being forced to look is the only way to end the support or silent consent) we see it for what it is and we don’t want to be associated with it any longer.  Because we don’t it’s mark on us.

Martyrs ultimately win because they are full, while oppression is empty.  They are full of faith.  They are full of light.  They are full of calling the thing what it is.  They are theologians of the cross.

Why should we expect anything different?

I’ve been watching.  I watch what people post on social media.  I’ve learned over the years to mostly just scroll past it – especially when it’s something I don’t like.  Engaging in social media “debate” is almost 100% pointless.

I see the posts about a variety of things.  There’s the cute post about kids or grandkids or pets.  There’s the beauty of nature.  There’s the celebrations of life and milestones.  There’s the delicious food.  There’s the support of one’s favorite sports team.  And there’s the partisan posts.  These usually are pretty ugly if I am honest.

Politics and partisanship are two different things though.  Which is why I didn’t label the political posts are ugly – just the partisan ones.  Partisanship is loyalty to a political party above all else.  Politics takes on many forms and can include political parties, but doesn’t have to.  Politics, at it’s core is a group of people coming together to determine how decisions are made.  Politics can be effective or a joke.  Politics can be productive or detrimental.  Politics is just a tool.  What we do with that tool is what matters.  When politics is the tool of partisan loyalty, it is usually pretty ugly.

All this had me asking a question – why should I expect anything different?

Good question actually.  Nothing that happens today is really new.  Partisan loyalty has been around for a long time – well before the Republican and Democrat parties existed.  Think about that for a moment.  People devoted their lives and resources – gave their undying loyalty – to a political party that no longer exists.  And not just a few people – many people did.  And for what?  For what purpose?  All of that blood, sweat, and tears ended up being for something that no longer exists.  In a sense, I think it’s appropriate to say that it was pointless and empty.  Sure, these parties accomplished some things, but I have to ask – could those things have been accomplished without the political party?  I don’t know.

But maybe political parties are like churches.  The churches that Paul founded are no longer in existence.  They haven’t been for years.  So, but the standard that I just made in the last paragraph, does that mean they were pointless?  I don’t know.

When I see what happens in the world, I have to ask – why should we expect the world to be different, or better?  It’s not been the norm after all.  The “news” that we get is what is expected.  Humanity has a stubborn streak in it that doesn’t change easily.  I saw something about people going to pubs during the plague in the 1600’s.  Is it true?  I don’t know.  But it made me wonder why I should anyone alive today to act any differently.  Sure we have plenty more information, data, scientific knowledge, etc.  But knowledge isn’t power – applied knowledge is.  And humans are really good at not applying certain sets of knowledge when it is inconvenient and goes against what we really want.  We’re also really good at applying other sets of knowledge when it matches us with our own agendas.

So why should we expect the world to be different?

Why should we expect racism to be seen as an injustice and evil, to be talked about openly, and be something that should be fought against?  It has been the norm of most of the modern era.  It’s been the norm.

Why should we expect that stewardship of the earth would be a top (or any priority) for humanity?  It’s been the norm that we exploit the earth of its resources in order to either make a profit or get what we want out of it.

Why should we expect that society would care for the poor and oppressed?  It’s been the norm that the poor and oppressed are just that – poor and oppressed.  They are taken advantage of, dismissed, degraded, and exploited.  It’s been the norm that we make excuses for why they are in the situation they are in.  It’s been the norm that we maintain systems that keep the poor as poor.

Why should we expect any type of welcome for the stranger?  It’s been the norm that strangers are scapegoated and blamed for anything that goes on.

Why should we expect an economy that values people over money and materials?  It’s been the norm that the economy exists to advance itself.

Why should we expect a Christianity that actually takes Jesus’ words and commands seriously?  It’s been the norm to come to expect something different.

Why should we expect that peacemaking would be ignored and that our culture would expect and prefer violence?  It’s been the norm to come to expect something different.

Here’s the answer I have for now.  Why should we expect something different – something better?  Because if Jesus’ words are true, then why wouldn’t we want follow what he says?  Why wouldn’t we want to take him seriously and actually do discipleship?  Why wouldn’t we want to see racism end, care for creation, care for the poor and oppressed, welcome the stranger, have a different economic focus?  Why wouldn’t we do what we could to actually live into the kingdom that Jesus talked about?  I just assume that if someone wanted to claim the title “Christian” it meant that they were serious about actually following Jesus.  Does that mean they are perfect at it?  Of course not.  Following Jesus is really for people who are broken, who see the broken world.  It’s for those that want something else – wholeness, Shalom.

That’s why I continue to expect the world to be different – to be better.  It’s the hope that I have.  It’s crazy.  It doesn’t make sense.  And yet, Jesus vision for the world makes so much more sense than how the world is right now.  Why would we expect anything else?

Prayer for July 7, 2020

Prayer for July 7, 2020: Please pray with me.  God who breaks into the world, you offer a vision of what can be.  Yet, for some strange reason we too often reject it.  We claim that it’s not real or a dream.  We claim that “real” life doesn’t work that way.  And yet we don’t seem to find any conflict with claiming to be your followers.  How strange.  This logic makes as much sense as our holding onto the world as it currently is.  Why do we hold onto brokenness as if it is all we should ever expect?  Why do we set the bar so low when it come to you God?  Why do we do this and yet give you labels of magnificence?  Open our hearts Lord to your ways.  Stomp our our stubbornness to holding onto low expectations.  Open our eyes to seeing your vision.  And turn us to be embraced by you.  Amen.