“Can Anything Good Come from Nazareth?”

26220101_10159794806340147_6943418189534145442_nIn the summer of 2016, I had the honor of attending the Wesley Pilgrimage sponsored by Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Along with seeing sites significant to the history of Methodism and learning from some of the greatest Wesley scholars available, I also had the opportunity to meet people from many different places and from many different backgrounds. Two of my fellow pilgrims hail from nations in Africa. Ande (“Andy”) is an ordained Elder from Nigeria and Julu is a lay leader in Liberia. Both are two of the most committed Christians and United Methodists I have ever met, not to mention that both are just extremely nice men. Both are working hard to make their homes better by taking seriously the call to discipleship and mission.

Both were also among the people President Trump insulted with his “shithole countries” remark.

The words that President Trump used to degrade immigrants from third world nations – many of whom are refugees escaping extreme poverty and war – are the most reprehensible words that I have ever seen or heard attributed to the president. I realize that our political leaders are just as human as you and I but, simply, they can’t say things like that and not expect to be held accountable. The President of the United States wields much power with their words and the words that President Trump used to demonize human beings who are of sacred worth in God’s eyes are beyond comprehension. I join the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops in denouncing the president’s statement and I, too, call it what it is: It is racist. It is evil. It simply can not be tolerated.

I refuse to be complicit in his unbiblical and unchristian statement through silence.

Like many pastors, I follow the Revised Common Lectionary most weeks. I know some view this as “quenching the work of the Spirit” but I disagree, especially when the readings are so prophetic and timely to what is happening in our world today. Sunday’s Old Testament reading is from 1 Samuel 3:1-20 where God calls out to Samuel and declares a judgment upon his own father Eli for not heeding God’s word. The Gospel reading is from John 1:43-51 and the part that strikes me so much as far as this week’s big news is concerned is found in verse 46 where Nathaniel says, “‘Nazareth!’ exclaimed Nathanael. ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’” Nathaniel is soon converted as he realizes that, yes, something good has come out of the s***hole Nazareth – the Lord Jesus Christ.

God is still speaking. Are we still listening? Even more so, are we ready to actually heed his word and do what we are expected to do as Christians? Can we stop judging and hating people who look different than us and who are from different places? Can we stop condoning and even defending evil words and actions from our elected officials and our clergy? When will God’s people stand up and shout “no more!” and then actually rise up to do something about it?

All people are made in God’s image. All people are of sacred worth.

All means all.

Worship leader and songwriter Matthew West has a song called “Do Something.” The man in the story names several ills of the world and shouts to God, “Why don’t you do something?!” In the song, God responds: “I did, I created you!”

So, I say again: When will God’s people stand up and say “no more?” I don’t know about you but this one is choosing to respond.

No more!

It’s Time For Some Tough Love

widetableFriends, it’s time for a dose of reality and some tough love. First of all, I am sick and tired of all the bruhaha over NFL players kneeling, standing, not standing, staying in the tunnel, staying in the locker room, or whatever they choose to do. My social media feeds have been filled with nothing but reactions for and against the actions that NFL players, coaches, and owners took or did not take in response to President Trump’s remarks calling for the firing of NFL players who protest during the national anthem (the fact that he used language that I would rather he didnt is another story). There has been great passion displayed by people arguing on both sides of the issue, a passion that I admire and find very commendable.

I just wish we would show this much passion about things that actually matter.

One thing I have noticed during my existence in this world is that we tend to display lots of passion about sports, politics, and which celebrity is pregnant this week. However, that same passion is rarely placed where it is actually needed. Our priorities are all messed up. We care about things that have absolutely no bearing on the greater good of the world and care little to none about suffering, oppression, and the other things that we really should be so passionate about. While we (collectively) have been pouring our energy into what an athlete does or does not do during the national anthem, here’s what I did not hear much about.

  • The entire island of Puerto Rico – very much part of the United States as they are a territory – is without electricity or communication. Most of their houses have been severely damaged or destroyed. Their supply lines are all but completely shut off. They are in desperate need of aid and it may take years for the Puerto Ricans to recover. The damage has been described as “apocalyptic.” On top of all of that, a dam was heavily damaged and is likely to completely fail.
  • A mass shooting in Antioch, Tennessee at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ killed one and wounded six others, mostly older people who had gathered for worship. The local media reports say that if an usher had not intervened to fight the shooter, the situation could have been much worse. One of the wounded is their pastor, Rev. Joey Spann, and he remains in critical condition. It’s unknown what the motive of the shooting is.
  • People in Florida, Texas, and other places impacted by recent hurricanes are continuing to recover from the damage sustained during those storms. People are still living in shelters and many have no homes to go to.
  • Homelessness still exists, children are still going hungry, people are still addicted to drugs and alcohol, and families are still being torn apart due to these addictions and much more.

As long as these things are in existence, I simply don’t have time to worry about what someone does or does not do when the national anthem is played. And, frankly, if you’re a Christian… Neither do you.

The Old and New Testaments are rife with teachings about caring for the poor, seeking justice for the oppressed, loving our neighbors, and being kind but it seems like we ignore those things. We expend so much time and energy on petty political differences when we could be putting our energy into much more productive endeavors. If we used that energy toward ending hunger and homelessness, those issues would be gone tomorrow. If we used all that energy to working to end drug and alcohol addiction, the number of lives changed for the better would be astounding.

If you are a Christian and spend more time behind a keyboard or holding a smartphone using it to argue political ideology than you do working on things that break God’s heart, you’re not in line with the teachings of Jesus (I include myself in this rebuke). Does that sting? Good, it should.

We need to do better by using our passion and energy toward things that actually matter. In ten years, I can promise you that what an athlete or a team choose to do during the national anthem will not have one bit of bearing on anyone’s’ life. In ten years, we likely won’t even remember that this was a debate. But in ten years, someone could have a better life or even be alive in the first place because you put the phone down and invested in your energy into something – or someone – that actually matters.

And if you’re a Christian, that’s your duty as a disciple.

Prayerful Hope for President Trump

prayer-blocksI have to be very honest: I have had a lot of mixed feelings about the outcome of the last presidential election. Today I had many of those same mixed feelings as I witnessed the inauguration of (now) President Trump. While I did not vote for Mr. Trump (who I voted for is irrelevant and it’s likely not who you think), I do have to acknowledge that he is the President of the United States and should be given the opportunity to govern and to finish establishing his cabinet. As such, my hope is that his term in office is one of peace, grace, mercy, and that the hope that many Americans have of a better life will come to fruition. I hope you will join me in sincerely praying for President Trump as he seeks to lead this nation.

Today as I was pondering all of the events of the last few months, I thought of three passages of God’s Word that I would like for President Trump to keep in mind as he shapes his policies and chooses his advisers, department heads, secretaries, and others who will fill crucial positions within the government.

The first is Matthew 25:34-40 (NLT):

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

If the United States is to continue claiming to be a Christian nation, one of the things we must do is show mercy and generosity to those who are in need of it. I’ll give you a hint as to who that is: You and me. All of us. It matters not what we look like, where we come from, or even what deity we place our faith in (if any). Christians are called to show mercy and to provide for the needs of all people, all of our neighbors (that would be everyone), and people who are even from outside of our borders. God’s kingdom is much bigger than the United States. The reality is, we are not special in God’s eyes because all people are chosen by God and are worthy to be at His table.

All of this to say: We are called be generous in caring for the needs of all people, especially the poor. Let us not forget later on in Matthew 25 God judges the ones who fail to care for the “least of these.” My hope is that while Mr. Trump makes decisions that will especially impact the poor, he keep in mind that caring for them is part of the calling of all Christians.

Next is Micah 6:8 (NLT):

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.

To really understand what the meaning of this verse is, we need to look at whats going on the larger context. Through the prophet Micah, God is chastising the people of Israel because they have forgotten who they are and whose they are. They have forgotten that God was the one who brought them through the wilderness and made a way to freedom for them. It was not a king or even Moses, it was all God. They have been deep in the mire of sin and what God is telling them is that trying to buy His forgiveness with offerings and then returning to their selfish ways is not going to cut it. Instead, God – more than anything else – simply wants them to live in a way that reflects the life of those who claim to love Him. Jesus summed this up when told us (more or less) to love God above all else and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

My hope for President Trump is that he remembers that we are called not only to be generous but to be just and to ensure that we truly have “liberty and justice for all.” That is not just the closing words of the Pledge of Allegiance but it’s a biblical mandate. All people for whom he now assumes care for are entitled to justice and he should do all within his power to ensure that justice is truly available to all people.

Finally, Proverbs 15:22 (NLT):

Plans go wrong for lack of advice;
many advisers bring success.

This should go without saying, that failure to seek wise counsel and to heed their advice is a recipe for disaster. Mr. Trump has been very outspoken on his views about… everything. He has made promises and certainly seems to be set in his ways. My hope is that he surrounds himself with many who are wise and can offer to him the advice he needs to truly consider all angles of an issue, the people his decisions will impact, and how not only our citizens but how the world will react. While I do agree that nations should be free to place their interests first, we must also be mindful that our actions as a nation do make waves all over the world. Not to mention that any decision he makes on issues such as healthcare will certainly impact us all in positive and negative ways. May Mr. Trump have enough people wise enough to help him keep the pulse on what the American people need and how to best meet those needs.

Bonus: 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT):

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.

I certainly hope that President Trump will pray for discernment, but this one is more for you and me. Regardless of how we feel about President Trump, Christians are called to pray for our leaders. Note that Paul did not differentiate between kings we agree with and kings with whom we do not. If we truly want to call ourselves a Christian nation, we must be people who pray for our leaders regardless of our political ideology. In keeping with what I said above about God choosing all people to come to His table, we must practice the same love no matter what. It is not only in our best interests to pray for our political leaders but it is also our duty. Let’s take it seriously.

On the Election

Lots of people want to know if the Bible has anything to say about an election. Some say that it does. I agree. So, here are some verses I would like you to keep in mind tomorrow as you go to the voting booth:

“No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NLT)

Jesus: “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’[g] 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-30 NLT)

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;[a] but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NLT)

These are the most important things we need to remember as we prepare to vote. I don’t have to tell you that the rhetoric that has been spread throughout the campaign has been nothing short of toxic. The nation is polarized more so than it has been in my entire life. I don’t know about you but I’m tired and am looking forward to an end to all of this garbage (although I know that regardless of who wins there will continue to be toxic speech from the other side). Frankly, we have been anything but Christlike to one another. We have not been kind. We have failed to show grace to one another and we have been judgmental of our political stances.

No one is going to Hell for voting a certain way. One’s salvation is not demonstrated by which candidate they vote for or by which political party they align with. God is not a member of a political party. God is not on the side of one candidate over another. God is on everyone’s side. All people – be they Republican, Democrat, or whatever – are equally loved by God and are of sacred worth. No one is going to be condemned to a lake of fire because they vote for certain political parties or candidates. To suggest otherwise is not Christlike and unbiblical.

Above all, pray. Pray that God will guide you as you cast your vote. Ask God to give you grace for your part in the election fray. And show grace to everyone, especially those with whom you do not agree.

The Worst Election in Memory

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I think many of us are to this point. Credit: Reddit

This cycle of election for federal offices, especially President, has proven to be nothing short of a disappointment. Not only do I believe that both parties have nominated what are in my opinion less than ideal candidates but the discourse among the candidates, the electorate and the media has been nothing short of embarrassing. The sophomoric jabs about the size of a candidates’s hands, their voice, and now even their illnesses – confirmed and alleged – have made me shake my head more than once. The media have sensationalized this election like – I will dare say – never seen before in the history of the United States to the point that I almost can’t stand to even watch the local news because I have grown so tired of the reality TV show that masquerades as an election campaign.

But I suppose that beats talking non-stop about what a football player does or does not do during the national anthem.

Just over the last few days, the two major party candidates themselves have engaged in some of the most ridiculous exchanges that I have ever heard two grown men and women participate in. As has been widely reported, Mr. Trump has made remarks about Mrs. Clinton’s health, suggesting that pneumonia somehow disqualifies her from office and also gives credence to the various conspiracy theories floating around the dark web about her having a seizure disorder or Parkinson’s disease. Perhaps Mr. Trump should brush up on his history, seeing as we have had a president who was diagnosed with polio and at least one who has vomited all over a foreign dignitary.

Likewise, Mrs. Clinton engaged in her own shenanigans when she made remarks generalizing supports of Mr. Trump as “deplorables” and generally bigoted. While I am certainly no Trump supporter (or a Clinton supporter for that matter), I do not condone name-calling on people we do not agree with and I especially will not condone name-calling in a presidential campaign. Mrs. Clinton was way out of line in making these remarks and has likely alienated many people because of her comments.

The electorate has been even nastier. As I can barely stand to watch the news, I also can barely stand to log in to my social media because I know I will have to endure post after post of idiotic memes, inappropriate remarks about the candidates and their supporters, and conspiracy theories that would make chem trails sound logical. I could probably wrote another 500 words or so just on these types of things.

If it seems that I’m frustrated, that’s because I am. I realize that my words may not sound “pastoral” but understand that I am writing this diatribe as a frustrated voter who happens to a pastor. I am tired of this idiocy that poses as political discourse in the United States. We are supposedly the greatest country in the world – and I don’t doubt that we are great – but we have a strange way of acting like it. We can and should do better.

Unfortunately, Christians have been some of the nastiest commentators. I find this very disturbing in light of the calling that all of us have as disciples of Jesus Christ. On Sunday (by the way, I will post my sermon tomorrow), I preached about how love for one’s neighbor should not have strings attached to it just as God’s love does not have strings. Likewise, we also must remember that our neighbor is every single person we come into contact with on the street or on Facebook. Read the gospels closely and you will not find one example where it is outright stated or even suggested that Jesus engaged in mean spirited name calling or condoning violence against those he disagreed with. Jesus instead instructed us that we are to love our neighbors, period, full stop.

People who consider themselves to be followers of The Way have no logical reason for engaging in the kinds of exchanges concerning the election that we seem to see and hear everywhere. It’s quite difficult for one to be salt and light when the salt has lost its bite and the light is dimmed by contempt for those who do not agree with them. Instead of engaging in name-calling and backbiting, Christians should be examples of patience and peaceful debate, not the childish antics that we have seen over the last year or so.

Likewise, Christians, can we please stop claiming that God has chosen a candidate or party for office? That’s not how He works. But that’s another blog for another day.