Jesus is not a conservative

…or a liberal. Or a capitalist or a socialist.

He is not a card-carrying member of the Republican Party or the Democratic Party – or of the Conservative Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, the Bloc Québécois, or the New Democratic Party.

The One who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and staggered out of the city carrying a cross is the King whose reign transcends any political affiliations or associations we may hold. The One who rose on Easter Sunday defeated sin and can destroy the barriers that strain the unity of believers who hold to different perspectives.

Believers – people with whom you and I will live for eternity face to face with Jesus in the new heaven and new earth – hold to different political, economic, and social opinions just like I can hold the February 2019 issue of Maclean’s in my hand. That month the editors of Canada’s current Maclean's February 2019 issue with its two coversevents magazine did an ingenious thing: They created two covers – a “tumble edition,” as they called it. One cover boldly asks, “What’s wrong with the Left?” But then you flip the magazine over and the other cover asks with equal audacity, “What’s wrong with the Right?” As Canada’s federal election looms, the editors’ objective was to “to raise the alarm. Both sides of the spectrum are spoiling for a fight to such an extent that nuance, irony, and reasoned debate are at risk.” Reading forward from both sides allowed me to respectfully listen to cogent arguments from the Right and the Left without flippantly or angrily dismissing them or attacking those “on the other side” with my words or actions. Is this not how Christ would have me behave?

But this goes beyond behavior.

While Christians will likely always identify as Right or Left (or perhaps Centrist), I believe this identification should not be my primary way of identifying or labeling myself. I am a follower of Jesus before I am a conservative or a liberal, before I am Canadian, Romanian, Cambodian, Mexican, Dutch, Liberian, or American. If by the way I think or act I make being a Canadian or anything else more central than being a Christian, I am committing idolatry.

I appreciate how my former teacher at Abbotsford Christian School, Trent De Jong, puts it in an article he wrote for Christian Courier earlier this year:

“…Many Christians believe that being Christian goes hand in hand with being conservative or being liberal. This is plain wrong. If we follow the Jesus of the Bible, we will find ourselves uncomfortable on either end of the spectrum.”

We’re uncomfortable at either pole because we realize that neither are sufficient to completely express who we are in Christ.

Frankly, sometimes my loyalty to Jesus puts me in the Right camp when, for example, it comes to recognizing the intrinsic value of individuals from the womb to the tomb (Psalm 139 and 1 Timothy 5 support this). But sometimes my loyalty to Jesus finds me walking alongside those on the Left who, for example, are often the ones advocating for the foreigner, widow, and orphan (Exodus 22 and Matthew 25 quickly come to mind). Similarly, I personally feel those with a more liberal outlook tend to have a better track record at being good stewards of creation and the environment (texts connecting with this include Genesis 1 as well as Mark 16 with its command for the Gospel to impact all creation) while those on the conservative side often seem to be better stewards of my tax dollar (I haven’t tried connecting specific Bible texts to this before but some suggest Leviticus 25 and 2 Thessalonians 3 imply small government and conservative fiscal policies). Overall, Jesus doesn’t let me pin Him down to any one particular political label; perhaps I should be cautious with such labels for myself and others, too.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be conservative or liberal. I’m not saying you should switch sides or just sit in the middle. What I am humbly asking is that Christians remember that our primary identity is in Christ. Through Christ, God the Father adopts us into His family, makes us citizens of His eternal Kingdom, and fills us with His Holy Spirit. Christ is King ahead of any president or prime minister, ahead of any political, economic, or social philosophy.

I see White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, White Memorial Presbyterian Church, Raleigh NCmodeling how to live into this. With a membership of around 4,000 in a city and a state that alternates between voting red and blue, White Memorial Church calls itself a “purple church.” Instead of taking the easy path of finding a church where they can worship only with people just like them, the members take the harder route of seeking community (and civility) within their diversity. And the media noticed.

This Spirit-enabled willingness to listen to and love those who are “other” than you and me demonstrates and strengthens our identity and unity in the crucified and risen Christ. This transcends political, economic, and social labels. It’s how Jesus calls you and me to live. And it’s appealing both for Jesus’ disciples and for people watching us from outside the church.

This piece from NPR gives practical tips about talking politics
with civility: “Keeping It Civil: How To Talk Politics
Without Letting Things Turn Ugly”

Advertisements

Make me your manger

Christmas Manger

And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
She wrapped him in cloths and placed Him in a manger…
This will be a sign to you:
you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger…
So [the shepherds] hurried off and found Mary and Joseph,
and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

— Luke 2:7, 12, 16


Come, Lord Jesus, make me a place
where you can rest.

Make me a place where others will see you
and find peace and joy.

Make me a place where the empty
will be fed by your presence.

Make me a place where the unimportant
will find their significance as they gaze at you.

Make me a place where lost people
will see the light of your face.

Make me a place where the hardened
will be softened by your tenderness.

Make me a place where the helpless
will find help through your seeming helplessness.

Make me a place that people will forget when they leave,
caught up in the joy of the One who makes his residence in me.

Make me a manger—
of your grace,
your mercy,
and your life.


Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown
when thou camest to earth for me;
but in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
for thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus—
there is room in my heart for thee.

Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
proclaiming thy royal degree;
but of lowly birth didst thou come to earth,
and in great humility.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus—
there is room in my heart for thee.
— from Emily E.S. Elliot’s hymn, “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne”


This was Dale Vander Veen’s daily e-devotional for 21 Dec 2018
which he gracious welcomed me to share with you.
Email dalevanderveen@sbcglobal.net
to receive his daily e-devotions yourself.

Good soil

The first parable Jesus tells is about a farmer who is either new to the agriculture industry or is not too bright. Having grown up on a farm and now being surrounded by smart, industrious farmers in northwest Iowa, I know farmers plant their seeds in fields. In Jesus’ story, the Soils graphic found with Googlefarmer scatters his seed “along the path,” “on rocky places,” “among thorns,” and “on good soil.” Jesus does not say that a little fell in unsuitable places while (thankfully) most ended up in a field with good soil. Just strictly based on what Jesus says, there seems to be a fairly even distributing of the seeds all over. Either the fellow is new to farming or he isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.

Or maybe Jesus is drawing our attention to something else.

The different places in which the seed is sown represents the variety of places and people that receive God’s Word. The conclusion of Jesus’ story highlights how the Word takes root and grows best in good soil. And so I sincerely sing and pray with Handt Hanson, “Lord, let my heart be good soil, open to the seed of your Word.” But (thankfully) the good soil is not the only place God sows the seed. If that were the case, I’d be in a lot of trouble. Sometimes my life is more like the hardened path or the shallow rocky patches or the busy thorny places. But God still risks coming along and giving me his Word. That is, God doesn’t wait for me to be good before he’ll show up and speak to me. He is willing to risk investing in me even when I don’t look like a promising investment.

Is this an excuse not to cultivate the soil of my life? No. It grounds my desire to cultivate the soil of my life in the light of God’s grace, knowing that he loved me before I was of any value or worth to him. I don’t desire for my life to be like good soil so that God will show up; I desire for my life to be like good soil because God has already shown up and risked everything – the life of his own Son, in fact – on me.

So when I celebrate a good crop in my life (such as seeing evidence of the fruit of the Spirit or developing the talents God has given me or nurturing a relationship with someone), it’s a celebration of God’s grace from start to finish. That’s why instead of trying to figure it out on my own, I pray God makes my heart like the good soil in Jesus’ story.

The hard work of rest

It’s ironic but I’ve discovered that resting can be hard work. It does not come naturally to me. I might step out of the office and leave the building, but I’ll still take my work with me in my mind – thinking over sermons, wondering about particular people, planning meetings and church events. My body might be out of town, but sometimes it takes two or three days before my brain begins its vacation. And often a day or two before our scheduled return, my brain already begins thinking it’s back in the office. Just because you or I say we’re resting or just because it looks like we’re resting, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are!

Taking a break is not easy. It means letting go, and I have a hard time doing that. I want to stay involved (read: I don’t want to be out of the loop or not in control). I want to be continually productive (read: I don’t want to disappoint people or have them think I’m lazy).

Nevertheless God tells me to take a break, to engage in Sabbath rest as directed in the 4th Commandment, which says: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy… On it you shall not do any work…” In his mercy, God does not want to watch me burn out, even if it’s by doing good and worthwhile things. My physical and emotional health is important to God.

But I think even more importantly, in telling me to rest, God is inviting me to trust. He reminds me that the world will not spin off its axis if I take a break. Sabbath rest teaches me to recognize and resist when and where I am trying too hard on my own to secure my future without trusting God or sensing his presence. When I slow down and stop, I am assured afresh that God is in control. Rest keeps things in perspective.

I like Mark Buchanan’s double definition of Sabbath. In his book The Rest of God, he has the familiar definition that it is a day, typically Sunday in the Protestant tradition. But he also defines Sabbath as an attitude:

A Sabbath heart is restful even in the middle of unrest and upheaval. It is attentive to the presence of God and others even in the welter of much coming and going, rising and falling. It is still and knows God even when mountains fall into the sea. You will never enter the Sabbath day without a Sabbath heart.

Sabbath graphic found with Google

It often does not come naturally, but part of trusting God means resting and observing Sabbath – Sabbath moments, Sabbath days, Sabbath seasons. It lets God be God. And it helps me be better at being the me God wants me to be.

I wrote about this back in July 2015
and adapted it for the Perspectives column
in the Rock Valley Bee a couple weeks ago.

Rejected

This meditation was written by retired CRC pastor Dale Vander Veen and is posted here with his kind permission.

“He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain…
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.”
– Isaiah 53:3 & 5

Rejection is not a pleasant feeling. It is particularly painful for a child. A friend, a classmate, a neighbor child, a teacher, even a parent can send signals of rejection. Rejection graphic found with GoogleGrowing up is not idyllic. And learning to absorb, recover from, learn from, and ultimately forgive someone for rejection can be a long process.

Adulthood is no rain-free, bug-free picnic either. First-time authors know what rejection at the hands of publishers means. Job applicants and those who want a promotion at work have felt the sting. Buyers and sellers in the real estate market dance through rejections of prices, offers, and counter-offers – and loan applications And then there are the dreaded rejections of love, from first requests for a date to the rejection that only the divorced and their families can describe.

Some years ago I was scheduled to donate blood at our church’s quarterly Red Cross blood drive. I was rejected! I have a slight rash that comes and goes on the inside of both elbows. The rush showed up when I rolled up my sleeve. I was rejected. Don’t worry. My psyche bears no permanent scars. The feeling was more disappointment than rejection.

Jesus was not only rejected; he was also despised. I was not despised. On the contrary, the Red Cross representative invited me to stay for juice and cookies normally reserved for those who give blood! And they encouraged me with “Maybe you can give next time.”

Because I was rejected, I could not give my blood. Because Jesus was rejected, he had to give his blood. Actually, he arranged to give his blood. When arrested in Gethsemane, he declined to ask his Father for twelve legions of angels (that’s 72,000 angels). My blood could possibly have helped heal someone. Jesus’ blood has healed many, including me. Praise God! Thank you, Jesus!

“Lest I forget Gethsemane;
lest I forget thine agony;
lest I forget thy love for me,
lead me to Calvary.”

– lyrics from a hymn by Jennie Hussey

Today may you know, and perhaps even weep, that your crucified Lord’s rejection has secured your full acceptance with God.

Praying to our heavenly Father on Father’s Day

488443308

I’m leading the morning prayer at Trinity CRC this Sunday and wanted to ensure I prayed for fathers, it being Father’s Day. In looking for good wording, I came across a meaningful prayer by Rev. Chuck Currie which I adapted slightly and plan to include in my prayer.

You reveal yourself to us as Abba, Father. We are your children; you are the perfect parent.

On Father’s Day we pause to remember and thank the earthly fathers in our lives. Fatherhood does not come with a manual, and reality teaches us that some fathers excel while others fail. We ask for your blessings for them all and forgiveness where it is needed. We remember the many sacrifices fathers make for their children and families, and the ways – both big and small – they lift children to achieve dreams thought beyond reach. So too, we remember all those who have helped fill the void when fathers pass early or are absent; grandfathers and uncles, brothers and cousins, teachers, pastors and coaches and the women of our families, too.

For those who are fathers, we ask for wisdom and humility in the face of the task of parenting. Give them the strength to do well by their children and by you.

There’s a psalm for that

Years ago the Visine marketing people produced clever commercials saying that no matter what problem your eyes were having, a Visine product offered relief: Red, irritated eyes? There’s a Visine for that. Itchy, allergy eyes? There’s a Visine for that. Irritated by contact lenses? There’s a Visine for that, too.

The same marketing campaign could work for the book of Psalms: Happy with how life is going? There’s a psalm for that. In the depths of depression? There’s a psalm for that. Worried about the injustice in Psalms graphic found with Googleour society? There’s a psalm for that. Angry with God? There’s a psalm for that, too.

It was Martin Luther who made this observation: “The Psalms is the book of all saints, and everyone, in whatever situation he may be, finds in that situation psalms and words that fit his case, that suit him as if they were put there just for his sake, so that he could not put it better himself, or find or wish for anything better.”

I suspect this at least partly explains the popularity of the Psalms: Read long enough and I read myself – I read words I could have written at this very moment of my day and of my life. But more than reflections written in a journal, each psalm is inspired Scripture filled with words the Holy Spirit invites me to pray. Through the psalms, instead of bottling up what I’m feeling, I express back to God the joy or angst of my heart. I’m not left to process it on my own but to and even with the One who gave me my emotions in the first place and loves me more than words can describe.

Reading a psalm a day has been a habit of mine since before that Visine ad campaign. Try it for a while and let me know what you think of the practice.