New Year & A New President

We are perched again at the beginning of a new year. Many of us Image result for donald trump presidentfind ourselves at the beginning of a new year hoping for a lot of things – hoping that some things will be the same and hoping that some things will be different. I know that I hope 2017 will be better than 2016 for myself, for my loved ones, and for the church I serve. Yet I also know that each year seems to have both blessings and hardships – sometimes a lot more of one than the other, but this is to be expected.

2017 seems to have a lot more ‘unknowns’ for us due to the inauguration of a new president on January 20th. There have been a lot more ‘unknowns’ with the election of Donald Trump than around the election of mostly ‘career politicians’ to the office of the presidency over the past many years. For some people the unknowns bring a sense of excitement and for others these unknowns bring a sense of fear and even hysteria.

Followers of Jesus are called upon to be people of hope and faith, rather than people of fear and anxiety.  When we grow in Christ we spend less energy running around as if our hair is on fire because we trust God’s providence in all situations.   Of course we must take politics seriously since political realities are part of the human condition which impact human life – but we must not give politics too much importance in our lives since this is a sign that we are falling into a subtle form of idolatry.

Remember that God’s word calls us again and again to put our hope and faith in the Lord rather than in human institutions. I love this clear counsel given in Psalm 146:

2I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish.

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God.

As you read these verses from the Psalms it is clear that putting our trust, our hope, and our faith in the Lord is an essential part of living what is called a “blessed” life. When we put our trust in human institutions we will tend toward the twin core sins of anxiety and idolatry. As followers of Jesus we need to model to the world that the one who is sitting in the Oval Office does not have as big of an impact on our lives as the One who is on the throne in Heaven.

So let’s look toward 2017 with hope and faith instead of with fear. Let us pray for our nation and for a new president who surely needs our prayers (whether he knows it or not). And let us pray for one another as we serve Jesus together as the one who is (as we sing in the Easter hymn) the “Lamb upon His throne,” the “Potentate of Time” and the “matchless King through all eternity.” He is the One who is worthy of our hope and trust no matter what life brings our way.

Messy Grace & The Incarnation

Image result for messy graceI recently read a short book called Messy Grace (How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction) by Caleb Kaltenbach. The author does a good job of telling his story of becoming a Christian, facing rejection from his parents, but finding a way to combine grace and truth in his ministry and family relationships.

The longer we live the more we tend to understand the idea that life is messy, relationships are messy, and our own lives are messy – but God is always at work bringing peace, grace, and wisdom to our lives as we grow in following Jesus.  I appreciate that Caleb Kaltenbach made the effort to put his story into writing and to challenge both the church and the gay community in various ways.  The sexual ethic he outlines in the book is thoroughly orthodox, yet because of his background and life journey it comes across differently than many books on the same topic.  His approach is to call everyone to the gospel core which combines both truth and grace — not an easy task, but essential in the offering  of an authentic Christian witness.

Here is one of many helpful passages in the book:

If we are going to be honest, Christians do not have the best track record in loving people… Part of the problem is that we get trapped in the wrong thinking. We think that we are not supposed to love people who live in a way that is contrary to what God says. Atheists, abortion doctors, legalists, alcoholics, convicts, hypocrites, the sexually immoral, gossipers, and anyone who seems to be on the opposite end of any kind of spectrum from us – these are people we are fearful to get involved with because it seems messy.

It’s a good thing Jesus didn’t decide that we were too messy to get involved with! The apostle Paul said, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners… Not when we had it all together. Not when we started attending church. Not when we started acting the way Christians act. Not when we started believing. Paul said that while we were still sinners, God extended an offer of relationship toward us. We need to express that same kind of love – a love that doesn’t wait for people to be perfect or get everything in order before beginning a friendship with us. It’s imperative that we have grace for people while they are still thinking, speaking, and acting in ways we might not agree with.

Image result for joy to the worldAs we journey toward Bethlehem and the celebration of Christmas, we do well to note that the incarnation (God becoming flesh) was a pivotal moment in human history where God enters into the messy world and begins a quiet revolution of love. As God has come into our mess – to offer us cleansing grace – so too we are called to enter into the messy lives of others to offer them love, truth, and grace.

Image result for truth and graceI hope and pray that Jesus’ followers will not allow the polarizing forces of our culture wars to infect our calling to tell the One Great Story of Jesus through our words and our deeds. I hope and pray that we can be a model of Christ’s love as we live and speak with both grace and truth.

Image result for truth and graceAs we sing “he rules the world with truth and grace” let us reaffirm our commitment to both truth and grace.  Let us renew our calling to be part of his army, his kingdom, not afraid of stepping into the lives of others and offering our hands and hearts in acts of sacrificial love in a messy world that God loves more than we can imagine.

 

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