Monday, November 2, 2020

Vote. Pray. Trust.


The post was one of those rare breaths of fresh air on social media. Chad Bird's piece was a short, thoughtful essay reminding us that God is all-powerful, and trustworthy. The post was a beautiful reminder of a God who is sovereign over both the right-hand kingdom (the Kingdom of God) and the left-hand kingdom (the kingdom of earth.) 


The first comment after the post was a "yes, but" comment. It assured agreement but reminded us that we still need to remember that one party is evil and the world will collapse if the wrong party wins the election.


 Just say "no" to “yes, buts.” 


Either you believe that God is in charge, or you don't. Either you believe that He created the world and knows more about what the world needs than we do, or you don't. Either you trust Him to protect His people through all manner of turmoil, or you don't.


You can't have it both ways. We can't trust in God AND lean on our own understanding. (Prov. 3:5)


We must stop saying, "Yes, God is good, but did you read this article or listen to this political pundit?" We must stop worrying that God does not see all of the junk on our newsfeeds. He sees it and He knows that little of it is true. God knows all people involved. He knows the candidates' true motives from both sides, He knows the intent of people in both parties, and He loves us anyway.


Even though we are all sinners, He loves us anyway.


When God works in the left-hand kingdom, He does not need our votes. He asks us to vote because it is good to be obedient to the process, but He doesn't need us to save the world for Him. 


God is good. God is good all the time. And His goodness is especially evident when we humans are not good.


If we are concerned about what will happen after the election, it would be good to practice some self-examination. Ephesians 4: 25-32 has some convicting content. Here are the guidelines I need to hear:


Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 


When it comes to posting about politics – DON’T! Such posts don't change any minds, are likely full of untrue statements, and only serve to push us away from each other. God created us to be in fellowship – not to be on a debate team.


Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. 


We can be angry about politics, but anger is useless and potentially harmful when we are angry with our friends or family about politics. It's not good vs. evil. If it is a human endeavor, it's not going to be good.


Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 


As much as possible make sure your actions are good. Stay busy with the work God sets before you. There are people in your vicinity who need care and words and actions, reminding them of God's grace. Political posts don't change people; the Gospel changes people. Live the Gospel.


Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  


If it isn't supportive, if it doesn't make things better, if it takes a side or tries to make a complicated issue simplistic, it is not helpful. Remember that name-calling and insults are signs of contempt, and contempt leaves no room for love. Live love.


And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 


Consider that you grieve the Holy Spirit when you pronounce one party more Christian than the other. Both parties are full of sinful, deluded, misguided humans. God is God, and we are not.  


Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4: 25-32


We are forgiven. The Saving Blood of Jesus covers our awful sins and nasty motivations. We belong to a powerful God who made us, loves us, and protects us. Through our Savior's actions and the Word and Sacraments, we are set apart by the Spirit.


We are not the people of "yes, but." We are the people of "yes, and."


Yes, I am a sinner, and I am forgiven.


Yes, the world is chaotic, and God is in charge.


Yes, I want to see a change in this world and God can make that happen.(Maybe He will use me to do it.)


Lord Jesus Christ, show me how to be part of the change You know the world needs. Not a political change, but a spiritual one. Not with hope placed in a politician, but with the assured hope of the resurrection. Amen. Amen. Amen.


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

We Find No Answers in Fear or Anger

We just want answers. We just want to know what is right, what is helpful, what we should do.

Does it help to wear masks?
Should we continue to stay at home?
Should we have a soft opening?
Or maybe we should throw caution to the wind and return to long lost routines with no precautions?

This politician says one thing. This scientist says another. I read an article on social media, but I am not sure about the accuracy because it was snarky and insulting, and mean. 

Some people are living in fear, and we show that fear in different ways. Some fear leaving home; some fear government intrusion; some fear deep seated conspiracy.

We just want to know what to do. Is that asking too much? Apparently, it is.

Almost 25 years ago, our three-year-old son started having seizures, and I wanted answers.

I read over a dozen books, including a medical text I could barely understand. I developed a new vocabulary but found few answers.

I asked every doctor along the way, every question possible. I felt sure God would show us the answers through medicine and science.

I wanted this fixed. I wanted my bright, bouncy son back. I wanted to tuck worry away in a drawer and no longer wear over my shoulders like a heavy winter coat.

Instead, we got a problem that lasted several years. There were many tests, wrong medicines, right medicines with breakthrough seizures, doctor changes, side effects, and hours of worry. 

In the end, a doctor’s confusing words began to make sense: “I guess they call it idiopathic because we doctors are idiots when it comes to figuring it out.”

Doctors are not idiots, neither are scientists, neither are politicians. This wasn’t a hoax; it wasn’t a plot; there were no evil people forcing their will on my child. 

It was epilepsy, the result of sinners living in a broken, sinful world. We found few answers. Rather, we found ourselves in a situation of merely doing our best and praying for God’s intervention. 

I didn’t find answers to my questions, but I did get an answer to my prayer.

Our current situation leaves us searching for answers from science, from medicine, from politics, or social media. When our sources do not agree, we become angry, or suspicious, or fearful. We want simple, clear answers, but instead we get confusion and accusation.

Politicians from both sides of the aisle are doing their best. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t making mistakes, but it is not helpful to assign evil intent.

Science and medicine seek answers but do not always have them. There is never one medical research study that gives the definitive answer – science doesn’t work that way. Science and medicine consult research, pose theories, devise practice, and dive in. The constant collection of data, during the process of an event, continues to inform the process. That is how the directive on masks changes over time. It is just an improvement in understanding. It is not a sign of everything from that source being incorrect. Nor is it a sign of evil intent.

In the end there is no perfect solution. Masks don’t work all the time. Social distancing doesn’t work all the time. What works for some people might not work for all. But, together, these practices make us safer than if we were to ignore them.

When we react in fear or anger, when we begin to believe and spread conspiracy, we are following a useless path.

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Philippians 4:11b

These are powerful words from a man who understood oppression and deprivation. Through all of his suffering, Paul found not anger or fear, but contentment. There is much that Philippians chapter four can teach us about how to find contentment in the age of COVID19.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving  let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:4-6

Now is our chance to live these verses and not just recite or sing them!

Be reasonable: Avoid words of anger, blame, sarcasm, and insult. These words come from fear, and chronic fear rarely points us to the right answer. If you read or hear any of these emotional words – move on.

Do not be anxious: This is not the time to doubt God's providence in our world. Listen to and obey people in authority while you put your trust in God.

Let your request be made known to God: Study His word and pray. We must accept that even though God has blessed us with medical and scientific knowledge, the world is not a perfect source of answers. We will not find a COVID19 Bible verse, but we will find peace.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4: 8-9

Whatever is true: Sing hymns, memorize scripture, attend online services – do these things instead of reading questionable material on social media or listening to political pundits who get attention from shocking people with words that are shy of the truth.

Whatever is honorable: Stop fighting the people who seek to care for you. God does not promise to give us sinless politicians or infallible scientists. Instead, He cares for us through the life and work of people whose brokenness resembles ours. 

Whatever is lovely: Turn your attention toward the needs of others. Donate food to a food bank. Call or write an elderly couple from your church. Pray for caregivers and check on neighbors. God has given us many ways we can care for each other. When we are busy caring – our hearts do not have enough room for fear or anger to take up long-term residence.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

This peace is Paul’s secret to finding contentment in every situation. God’s peace seeks to guard our hearts against anger, from fear, from distrust. God does not expect us to achieve this on our own. 

Our lives are hard in many ways, but our God is bigger than the hard things and tough situations. 
He is the God of answered prayers. He is the God of peace. He is the God of strength. 

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

Monday, April 20, 2020

Fear, Control, and Covid 19

What can Doubting Thomas teach us about our emotional reaction to the covid virus situation?

But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” John 20:25

So what’s up with Thomas?

I can accept that he couldn’t connect the dots on ancient prophecy, or that he was confused by Jesus’ prediction of His return. I get it that he was reluctant to accept the rumors of Jesus’ resurrection that must have been flying around town. But, why didn’t he believe his fellow disciples? I mean, the disciples had actually seen Jesus.

Our biggest problem with the stuff on social media is that we tend to notice, share, and believe the posts that tell us what we want to hear. Confirmation bias feeds our thinking, right or wrong. It helps us to focus on what we want to hear and ignore what doesn’t fit. Confirmation bias also answers our emotional needs. 

But would this same bias apply to Thomas? Didn’t he want to hear that Jesus was alive?

The answer to Thomas’ strange behavior may find a source in Thomas’ emotions from the week before Jesus’ resurrection. Holy week was an emotional roller coaster if there ever was one. Jesus went from being praised as a victor to feeling the scourge of the whip on His back in just a few days. That’s enough to give your amygdala a good case of emotional whiplash. On Sunday, the disciples were riding on Jesus’ coattails, and by Friday, not only had their world come crashing down, but fear was their primary emotion.

Fear of a changing world.

Fear for safety.

Fear for loved ones.

Fear of loneliness.

Fear that this might never end.

Sound familiar?

There are several ways of reacting to fear. Some of us sit in our fear and find we can do little else than seek solace. 

Some of us react in anger as if anger is more comfortable to feel than fear. I see this all over social media with people angry at politicians, experts, and guidelines. We chafe against the rules and look for ways to make our anger justified. These rants lead us to conspiracy theories and typically begin with the phrase: “They just want to . . .” This thinking is dangerous because long term anger rarely sends us down the right road.

Some of us react with denial. We laugh in the face of danger because we refuse to believe there is any. We deny the statistics by undermining the source or countering with different statistics as if that proves the situation is a hoax. In doing this, we build up a false sense of security which cause us to begin rants with “I can’t believe . . .” This thinking is dangerous because it keeps us from doing the things we need to do for the safety of ourselves and others. It is also likely to lead to anger.

But, Thomas’ reaction to fear was one of control, and that is the most dangerous reaction of all. He saw, all too well, the response of the crowd to Jesus’ agony and humility at the trial. Thomas saw the reality of the change in the situation. All of Jesus’ miracles, enlightening sermons, and fulfillment of prophecies – none of it mattered once the crowd started chanting, “Crucify him!” This anger is not just about the death of Jesus. The potential was death for His disciples, too.

Perhaps, Thomas felt he had to take control of his fear by taking control of the situation. It was time to reassess and find a new way of thinking and living. Jesus was gone. The crucifixion marked the end of three great years. It was time to move on to something less dangerous. At the very least, he needed to control his thinking processes.

And yet, there were those ridiculous rumors that the tomb was empty and that Mary had mistaken Jesus for a gardener. Some people showed their belief in these rumors with joyful faces and a spring in the step. These realities threatened his newly claimed control, and Thomas dug in deeper. 

Then there were the assertions of the disciples. Their words were not gossip; they were eye witness accounts. Thomas’ heart must have filled with fear as he felt his control slipping away.  He took control once again by demanding to see and touch Jesus before he would relent and change his mind.

I love Jesus’ reaction to Thomas. He did not dismiss Thomas’ foolish need for proof. He did not reprimand Thomas for his lack of faith. He came to Thomas and showed him the evidence he needed. Jesus simultaneously restored Thomas’ standing as an eye witness and wrestled away his need for control. Jesus prepared Thomas for the work ahead – a life that was to be anything but safe.

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20: 27b-29

The words “Do not disbelieve, but believe” are indeed as much for us as they are for Thomas. When we try to take control of our fear, we must work at it because disbelief takes work. If we feel we must work at our belief, we are attempting a different kind of control. Belief comes from faith, and faith comes through the work of the Spirit. None of this requires our control. It does, however, require that we relinquish control. 

We do not require proof of God’s love and care because we have faith. This faith comforts even when we are afraid, or worried, in denial, or angry. Faith is from God; it does not come from proof or our hard work. When we are afraid, it does not mean our faith is weak. It simply means we require God’s comfort. 

In Mark chapter 9, we hear the story of a father in fear. He brought his child to the disciples for healing, and the healing was unsuccessful. There was no medicine, no tests, no hospitals, and highly trained doctors to heal his child, only Jesus. The father put his fear under control and begged:

But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us. Mark 9:22

Jesus immediately pointed out the error in his request:

And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23

The father’s need for control was stronger than his faith. His control of the situation brought him to the healer but stopped him short of believing in Jesus’ capacity to heal. Control can keep us calm. Control can help us to do what is right. But, control can fool us into thinking we are in charge of the fear. In this way it pushes aside faith in order to let control reign.

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:24

His prayer could easily have been "I believe; take away my need to control." 
Are you experiencing fear during this time of isolation? I am. I am afraid for my health and the health of my loved ones. I am afraid of the implications of the economic situation. I am afraid for those who do not have a social safety net and for those who must expose themselves to the virus to keep us safe.
I am afraid, but I don’t want to be in denial, I don’t want to be angry, I don’t want to be in control.
I want God’s control.

Abba Father, I believe; help my unbelief.