Saturday, January 26, 2019

Mike Pence, Lady Gaga and Jesus

Which follower represents the real Jesus? Vice-president Mike Pence or entertainer Lady Gaga? The public spat between these two famous Christians represents the current state of affairs in North American Christianity.  The divide in the modern Church has fallen between ‘conservatives’ on one side and ‘progressives’ on the other. (Some writers will use the terms ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘liberals’, but I do not believe they fairly capture the 21st Century groupings.)

Some advocates on both sides have said that any Christian must choose a ‘side’ or a ‘label’ in the current debate. Each side will claim that the other side does not represent a truly  ‘Christian’ point of view.  Sometimes history has, I think, proven that to be true: both sides cannot be right. For example, the so-called Christian Crusades are one of the blackest marks in the history of the Church. Advocacy for slavery, arguing it was somehow supported by the Bible, is another example of Christians abusing the Bible for their personal, economic or political goals.

However, I would like to sound a note of caution to those who claim one must fall in the camp of either Mike Pence or Lady Gaga.  The danger every Christian and every church must guard against is using Jesus to promote personal, economic, social or political views. By this I mean we always stand in danger of getting it backwards:  “I believe ‘X’, and here are words of Jesus which support my point of view.”  The proper use of Jesus’s words is to allow Jesus to speak for himself first: “Jesus says ‘X’, and I make Jesus’ beliefs my own.” 

I believe that both Mike Pence and Lady Gaga are children of God and followers of Jesus. Both are sinners saved by grace.  So are you. But, they are not Jesus.  Neither are you. Only Jesus is Jesus.  Read what Jesus says, then decide what you, as a Christian, are called to believe and to do. 21st Century Christianity has created a false choice for Christians. You are not required to choose sides: ‘progressives’ or ‘conservatives’. Choose to be on the side of Jesus.

Now, go read Luke 4:18-19.  This was Jesus’ self-chosen mission statement. Make it your own. And pray for Mike Pence and Lady Gaga to find unity in Jesus.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Seeing the Winemaker

Did you hear the one about Jesus turning water into wine?  Jesus’ mother asks him to help save a groom from the embarrassment (and potential lawsuits from disgruntled guests!) for running out of wine before the party was over. Jesus, in a quiet, hardly-noticed way, provides. (John 2:1-11)

Modern ears, rendered skeptical by science, hear that story and respond,  ‘Really? This sounds just like some ancient Greek myth about their god of wine.’  

But, in our less skeptical moments; in our more faith-filled moments, I wonder if we want this story to be true. We want to see it as the new reality, because deep down, we dare to dream and hope that there will be a day when none will be in want, when all will be invited to the Party. (You should stop here and read Amos 9:13-14)

Jesus is at the party, and he is just doing that which God does every year, but in a super-sped up way.  We see it with every glass of wine, but, like the guests at that wedding in Cana, we don’t see the Maker. So, if when you read about Jesus turning water into wine your response is ‘balderdash’, perhaps the problem lies not in the story but in your eyes.


“God creates the vine and teaches it to draw up water by its roots and, with the aid of the sun, to turn that water into a juice which will ferment and take on certain qualities. Thus every year, from Noah’s time till ours, God turns water into wine.  That, men fail to see. Either like the Pagans they refer the process to some finite spirit, Bacchus or Dionysus: or else, like the moderns, they attribute real and ultimate causality to the chemical and other material phenomena which are all that our senses can discover in it. But when Christ at Cana makes water into wine, the mask is off’ (John 5:19). The miracle has only half its effect if it only convinces us that Christ is God: it will have its full effect if whenever we see a vineyard or drink a glass of wine we remember that here works He who sat at the wedding party in Cana.”

C.S. Lewis, “Miracles,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970)

Saturday, January 12, 2019

When The World Is Too Much With You

In the human effort to manage time we created calendars. We mark off time by days, months, years.  Thus we created an annual rite of turning the page to a ‘new year.’  It is an artificial creation, the new year, but one we all agree upon. For most of the ‘new year’s’ of my life I have been happy for it to arrive. It gives me reason to feel like ‘this year will be different’. Personally or professionally or relationally.

But this ‘new year’ was different.  My mind couldn’t get to thinking positive thoughts because the stock market had just suffered its worst December in like forever; the government was partially shutdown with no end in sight as the children who govern us play games with our lives; the threats to world stability in the Middle East were growing. Some ‘Happy New Year’, my mind persuaded me to lament.  My thoughts were caught up with William Wordsworth’s sonnet’s first lines:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
…We are out of tune. Great God!

And then another word came to me, a word I credit to the Spirit.  “In every situation, by prayer and petition.” I looked up Philippians 4:6. The formula for overcoming my anxiety was right before my eyes.  Now I pray for our nation and our world because that is the only thing I can control in the midst of the mess.  I cannot alter the stock market. I cannot negotiate an end to the longest shutdown in U.S. history. All I can do is change my focus.  I can offer thanksgiving to God for God’s faithfulness; I can offer petitions in prayers for sanity and stability. I can do what I can to get the world back into ‘tune’, so the notes sound like they should.  I can stop giving my heart away.  I can focus less on ‘getting and spending’ and more on seeing in Nature that which is ours.

I can overcome my anxiety about this new year by giving time back to God, and receiving from God the eternity on the other side of the window.