Today's Awakening - With malice toward none, with charity for all

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address
“How are you doing today?” she asked with a smile. “Not great,” I replied in haste, opting for honesty over pleasantry. “I’m sad and angry,” I told the woman on my way to work.

Like many of you, I awoke today in disbelief. How could *this* man be our President elect? How could our country – the great US of A, land of liberty and justice for all - knowingly choose a man who unashamedly propagates racism, xenophobia, sexism, isolationism, greed, fear and disregard for the stewardship of this planet? What will we say to our children? I grieve with my friends and neighbors in this country who are minorities, immigrants, refugees and oppressed. I am genuinely sad today that the color of your skin or your nation of origin divides us today in this land. (And, yes, I know that some of you who put a checkmark next to Trump's name on your ballot, did so with sadness.)

How far we’ve strayed from Lincoln’s vision for America today, it appears. That said, we must press onward, heeding Lincoln’s 19th century word to his land.

So, to all among the #neverTrump base, do not give Trump and his supporters the satisfaction of returning the same divisive behavior and hurtful rhetoric to those we disagree with. Let’s not vilify. Let’s be part of bridging the gap, not wedging it further apart. Turn your emotion into humble, collaborative, prayerful action for the benefit of your neighbor. Seek to understand. Listen. Love trumps hate.

I once read a book by author James KA Smith (You Are What You Love) in which he says that apocalyptic literature – such as the final and important book of the Bible, Revelation – acts as set of louvre blinds. If you slant them the other direction, you get a new revealing of light. Today, sort of feels like that to me (I’m not saying this is “the Apocalypse”, i.e. the American pop culture’s abuse of that ancient word). As Christians, we find ourselves in a moment of awakening, a moment where a letter like Revelation calls out to us to look anew at the culture around us and to freshly attach to the hope of our Resurrected Lord. The dominant images of the empire (blue or red) need to be challenged and replaced with a new imagination fixed upon the values of God's in-breaking kingdom of mercy and justice for the least of these.

Today, I am reminded of the enduring Story of the counter-cultural, subversive God who used his power to run toward us while we were enemies, far from home. Through the incarnation, Jesus submitted to the Father and took the downward road of humility. He wept over the death of friends. He wept over the waywardness of Israel. He stopped and showed compassion to women, foreigners, children and the materially poor who were oppressed, worn thin and needy. He LOVED his enemies and prayed for those who despised him. He surrendered his life to the empire’s tool of death. And he conquered the empire. He is LORD, not Caesar.

So, today as my American blood boils and my hunger for justice for the poor is stirred and my heart laments for election of a shameful man, my hope is yet nudged further up and further in toward the kingdom that never ends, to the First and the Last, the triune God who was, who is and who is to come, the true Prince of Peace who created the nations, the King who will return to this earth to reign with his worshippers, to the Bridgegroom who will dine with his bride composed of the least of these and the poor in spirit from every tribe, tongue and people group.

Poetically, today’s Psalm (82) sang a bright song of truth and hope amid my morning’s pain and chaos. If we did not have hope in a God of mercy and justice like this, what hope would we really have on this earth? Certainly, not in a “ruler” who will fade away in just a few years!

A psalm of Asaph.

God presides over heaven’s court;
    he pronounces judgment on the heavenly beings:
“How long will you hand down unjust decisions
    by favoring the wicked? Interlude
“Give justice to the poor and the orphan;
    uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.
Rescue the poor and helpless;
    deliver them from the grasp of evil people.
But these oppressors know nothing;
    they are so ignorant!
They wander about in darkness,
    while the whole world is shaken to the core.
I say, ‘You are gods;
    you are all children of the Most High.
But you will die like mere mortals
    and fall like every other ruler.’”
Rise up, O God, and judge the earth,
    for all the nations belong to you.

Do I have enough?

When you drive a maroon Toyota Sienna, you see maroon Toyota Siennas. It's as if there are no other models on the road - they’re everywhere!

The past few weeks, a theme has caught my eye everywhere I gaze: podcasts, songs, books, Scripture, tweets. 

What is that theme? Generally speaking: materialism, consumerism, earthly treasures, the dangers of greed and the Christian's responsibility and privilege of caring for the poor and vulnerable.

An overlooked literary piece on this subject is Jonathan Edward's The Duty of Charity to the Poor. It is a powerful, thorough exposition of the Christian foundations for sharing bountifully with those who are materially poor. His words stung my stingy heart and he has laid out a noteworthy prophetic word for today's western church which finds itself in an increasingly materialistic landscape with a large chasm between the wealthy and the poor, the safe and the vulnerable.

This morning, as I opened to Psalm 71, I read about the character of a wise and just king. Solomon or David did not manifest these qualities to the fullest, but Jesus has and does! What does the psalm invoke most clearly? That a good king is one who cares for the poor and needy. And as sons and daughters of this King, we are called to display the goodness of his kingdom. Or take Psalm 68 from earlier this week which tells me that our God is Father to the fatherless and a protector of widows.

What about me? Do generosity and compassion for the materially poor and vulnerable characterize my life? Am I more focused on laying up treasures on earth than with caring for the stranger, the sick, the naked, the homeless (Matt. 25)? Am I simply a product of my age – one who is defined as a sum of my consumer choices rather than by the weak and oppressed ones whom I love and serve? 

To come back to the title of this post: Do I live as if I truly believe I have enough in Christ, so much in fact that I have a joyful, bountiful spirit of abundance toward others? Where does that bountiful heart come from? Only from a meditation upon the radical gospel of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of his Holy Spirit who empowers the sons and daughters of the King to carry other's burdens thus "fulfilling the law of Christ." (Gal. 6) The first disciples of Jesus Christ "had all things in common" (Acts 2:42) and Paul advocated that no one would have too much, but rather equity out to prevail in the church (2 Corinthians 8).

There’s a beautiful piece composed by Bach titled Ich habe genug which he wrote based upon the words from Luke’s gospel when Simeon held the Christ child in his arms and declared “I have enough.” That sentiment sums up the Christian’s faith, does it not? I have enough in Christ. I am satisfied in Him. He is my living water, my bread from heaven, my breath, my redemption, my resurrection, my hope, my joy.

Do I live with this “I have enough” spirit, or am I too easily turned to the Siren’s call of possessions, comfort, prestige and power?

Take care, Jesus says. Take care and be on guard against every form of greed, for man’s life does not consistent in the abundance of his possessions. How tragic to be rich in the world and yet fail to be rich in God, Jesus warns. (Luke 12)

What good does it do a man to gain the world and yet forfeit his very soul? (Luke 9)

How do we begin to spin a tapestry of generosity toward the poor and oppressed? By his grace alone. One day at a time. By prayer and trust in God's sovereign care over us. Looking for opportunities to practice generosity. Whether with my time as my two daughters ask for it. Or with my neighbor who is feeling chatty. Or with the stranger on the sidewalk asking for help. Or with the immigrant at the post office in need of assistance. Or with the refugees abroad trapped in dehumanizing camps. 

I have enough!

How can we live in Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow?

Consider this insightful meditation on time by Pascal:
"We do not rest satisfied with the present. We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten its course; or we recall the past, to stop its too rapid flight. So imprudent are we that we wander in the times which are not ours, and do not think of the only one which belongs to us; and so idle are we that we dream of those times which are no more, and thoughtlessly overlook that which alone exists. For the present is generally painful to us. We conceal it from our sight, because it troubles us; and if it be delightful to us, we regret to see it pass away. We try to sustain it by the future, and think of arranging matters which are not in our power, for a time which we have no certainty of reaching.[Pg 50]Let each one examine his thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means; the future alone is our end.[78] So we never live, but we hope to live; and, as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable we should never be so." Blaise Pascal, Pensees 
We search the past, present and future for the means by which we can be happy - and a lot of anxious thought is expended in that arduous journey.

Rightly learning from the past, preparing for the future and living in the present affords the only opportunity to for joy - more enduring than happiness.

In the present we discover the simple and profound gifts we take for granted: breath, a beating heart, sunshine, the laughter of a child, the fragrance of fresh herbs. But not only does the present afford the opportunity to increase in gratitude, it also is a gateway to reduced anxiety over the unavoidable challenges of life as a human.

Jesus, the supreme sagacious one from whom Pascal draws his wisdom, taught us not to worry about tomorrow. Today has enough troubles, he said. The lillies and sparrows do not worry about clothing and food and our heavenly Father cares for them. How much more will he care for us - his very image bearers!

How much trouble have I caused my soul over worrying about the future, forgetting the lessons of the past and missing out on the gifts of the present moment.

We humans are truly unique creatures on this planet. As God's image bearers, we are able to live outside of time, as we think about the past, present and future, yet we are embodied only in the present. We have the oft-resented or misunderstood dignity of freedom which weighs heavy upon us.

Only by union with Christ will we be able to bear this mantle with grace and responsibility, to lean into the future with determined and righteous planning, to glean absolute truths from the ancient paths and to inhabit the present moment with gratitude and peace under the gracious, watchful care of our abundant Father who loves us more than we can imagine.

The Head of a Quarter Dollar

If the Federal Reserve can reach consensus, there will be a new face on the $10 bill in 2020. Not just any face. A woman. Gasp.

I’m excited about this, personally. I believe it’s time for the boy’s club to make room for a girl in the clubhouse. Countless women have proven to be pivotal in our history of forming a more perfect Union. Admittedly, the ranks of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin, Hamilton, Jackson and Grant seem hard to mess with, but let’s find a way.

With a 2020 redesign of the $10 bill in play, Hamilton’s head was naturally on the chopping block. The movement to displace Alexander Hamilton in favor of a woman had plenty of wind in the sails until Hamilton fever swept the nation. So, now we wait for the Feds to determine whether they’ll put a woman on the new $20 – which may not come until 2030 (apparently counterfeit proof currency creation is a mammoth endeavor these days) – or whether they’ll find an intermediate compromise. Personally, I like the idea of demoting Jackson. My Grandpa Pearl always said he looked crazy anyways, not to mention his regrettable penchant for slave-trading.

But it’s not the head of Hamilton or the head of an historic American heroine; it was the head of Washington that caught my eye today.

During my cool down walk, after a brief three miler, my head was filled with turbulent thoughts about, well, of all things, money. My tangled mess of thoughts about a recent expenditure unraveled into the exposure of my failed budgetary habits, resulting in a dampening of my mood and troubling of my spirit.

So, as I walked with my head turned downward, lost in anxious thought, there it was on the pavement before me.

A quarter dollar with Washington’s big head staring up at me.

“Hey, alright, twenty-five cents!” I thought. But, as I picked it up, it wasn’t the monetary value, or the head of Washington, or the 1987 minted age that caught my attention, it was four, short arresting words:

“In God We Trust.”

If the Spirit of God can speak through Balaam’s ass, he can certainly speak through a coin.

More than religious boilerplate (To venture into the other currency debate would be a journey too far down the rabbit hole), these four words seized my heart and called forth my attention. My anxiety over money revealed a present god over my heart: money.

It’s not God in whom I trust right now, it’s money, I realized. It’s not the “fear of the LORD” which is the wind in my sails, it’s this means of exchange that steers my course today. It’s not my gracious Abba Father whom I am confidently running to because of my standing in Christ, it’s my ability to perfectly manage money which I seek to control. It’s not the freedom of Christ I revel in this morning, it’s the tyranny of greed that rules my heart today.

Jesus said we cannot worship both God and Mammon. It could be easy to substitute the lower case, more innocuous “money” here, but Jesus prophetically names the god Mammon and its powerful reign over the kingdom of this fallen world. Mammon is a terribly unforgiving god who always demands more. God allows money to expose the idols of our heart and the jury has spoken today for this fellow!

After all, we’re anxious about what we adore and love, right? If I know anything about being human, it’s that we are hardwired to be worshippers. We will worship something. But whether that object is worthy of our worship is the question.

But, even in the dense fog of my anxiety about money today, the luminous warmth of my merciful and gracious Abba Father dawned upon my heart. The Spirit of God beckons the children of God to remember the gospel, to repent and turn from the tyrannical idols of the world and to receive the grace of my Lord Jesus who gave his life to set me free. By God’s mercy, he called me to the line today.

Religion says, “Obey. Do more. Then God will accept you.” Irreligion says, “You got this.” But the good news of the kingdom of God proclaimed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth says, “You’re accepted in Christ! Now, freely and joyfully obey.”

I’ve tried the first two paths too many times. Only the third way holds hope.

In God I trust.

Step into their world

"Step into their world..." goes one philosophy for Rules of Engagement with family members suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's. While listening to NPR's recent This American Life episode, "Magic Words", Act 2, I learned about the creators of, a couple whose mother fell prey to Alzheimer's.

Forgoing immediate correction, dismissing nay-saying and altogether disregarding the entrenched demand to get the facts straight, this imaginative and playful approach suspends reality in order to enter into the world of the family member whose memory has betrayed them.

I don't personally have any experience with this painful and confusing sojourn with a family member whose mind is unpredictable and unchartable. The merits of this philosophy seem to have warrant, though. Not that the affects and remedies of these painful tribulations can be so simplified into one simple rubric, but a "step into their world" mantra could be beneficial.

I can relate as a father and as a child in the kingdom of God. It gave me pause to evaluate "How am I doing at stepping into my daughter's world?" Her imagination is exploding right now: bears in the closet, make-believe friends who need prayer, surprise events from the day which never truly occurred, monkeys in the tree. When I step into her world, I affirm her dignity as a child, as my daughter. Her imagination afterall is the precursor to faith, faith which I pray grows like a mustard seed in her heart. If she learns to live a myopic and short-sighted life which can only be corroborated by the seen and tangible, then her heart will atrophy, wither and die. The rejection or loss of childlike wonder, imagination and helplessness leads to suffering for her and others. When I lose this wonder and imaginative play, I also lose out on relationship with her.

The Contents of my Refrigerator

"There's nothing to eat in the fridge," I said glibly and hurriedly in a passive aggressive tone to my bride.

"Oh, I'm not complaining..." I fumbled for a quick follow up for Amber who was in earshot, trying to cover my tracks with a healthy dose of self-deception.

After a few moments, the Spirit shone a light into the dark recesses of my soul where grumbling and complaining sit like stagnant water. Were the shelves a bit sparse? Yes. Was there food? Yes. More food and more diversity than most in the world enjoy? Yes. What I was really saying was, "I'm tired of eating what's in the fridge. I want something more exciting and comforting to act as a balm to my aching soul right now."

"Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks" - those are the sagacious, timeless and cutting words of my Lord.

Later that day as I was reflecting on this seemingly innocuous encounter with the contents of my refrigerator and the contents of my heart, I chuckled.

Earlier that morning while reflecting on the grumbling and complaining of the liberated people of God which we find in the book of Numbers, I took that as a nudge to pray and ask the Lord to aid me in not being a complainer like "those" short-sighted, ungrateful Israelites who had just been freed from slavery. How could they complain about God's provisions in the wilderness? How?! He had just performed the greatest liberation at that point in human history and they had the gall to complain about the food he was generating for them in the wilderness. Those ingrates! How could they be so myopic!

Oh, wait.

The Wonder and Power of Reconciliation

Take a mere cursory glance at the world around us and into our own hearts and we see division, opposition, hatred, hurt and broken relationships. The painful exposure of the racial divisions in America in recent weeks has reminded me of three things: how fracturous and diminishing this disunity is for our personal and shared human experience of life as imago Dei (made in the image of God), how much it grieves the heart of God who created us and how unique and singular is the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to bring true healing, reconciliation and shalom. We, as individuals and as communities, fall short of life that is truly life apart from the power of reconciliation - a reality born from the heart of God our Father, brokered to us through Jesus Christ and manifested today by the power of his Holy Spirit. 

Reconciliation is the restoration of relationship. Restoration implies a recovery of something which was lost. It is rooted in the past, present and the future; a former relationship of unity, a present reality of fracture and future promise of wholeness and peace. There are many apologetics for the uniquely Christocentric Gospel narrative - inked by the prophecy, birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth - but when I think about the Gospel story, I see a story which tells the truth about our human experience as it relates to fractured relationships and the promise of reconciliation. God's power is the only one able to cover that span of past, present and future. 

 The racial and ethnic divisions in our nation and in our world provide a commonly experienced place of reflection for this discussion on a uniquely Gospel-rooted reconciliation. If the world has a conversation about healing racial and ethnic divisions, I often hear it move only to the realm of equal rights and diversity. Yes, those are ideals born from the heart of God who made us equal in his image - and it is from a Biblical view of the the world that the African-American civil rights shouts of "I AM A MAN" and #blacklivesmatter have been justly born. However, if we stop at equal rights or merely celebrate multi-ethnicity we fall short. God calls us to unity, to reconciliation, not merely diversity. A snapshot from Scripture reveals his heart: 

 John the Seer's heaven-born vision of the age to come echoes the proclamations of the kingdom of God: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation." (Revelation 5:9) God is not a distinguisher of persons; he shows no favortism. 

And, Paul the Church-planter's exposition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ brought us this history-changing truth: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28) God doesn't just save people from sin/death and into heaven, he saves us into a new family where we are called to sit at the same table as folks we are much different from. 

 And, Jesus our Lord subverted everything we thought about how the world should work by telling us straight from the heart of God: "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Jesus doesn't call us to tolerate our enemies, or relegate them to the margins, but to press in and love them. 

So, at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ alone and no other place, we rightly see our common human experience: we are poor, incapable wretches bent on getting our own way - however slyly, subtly, cleverly or blatantly we may pursue it! We've offended God, each other, ourselves and creation. Broken relationships everywhere. But, by the grace and kindness of God our Father in Jesus Christ, we have been offered terms of peace! 

So, when I think about the racial divisions in our nation - be they at a personal, neighbor-to-neighbor level or at a systemic, national level rooted in centuries of oppression upon a minority people group - I ONLY see hope in the story of the King who came to redeem lost and messed up people by shedding his blood for us and restoring his rightful kingdom through reconciled relationships - firs to God and then to one another. 

I've had the privilege of spending time in to places in our world often known by the history of racial division - South Africa and Memphis, TN - and I will soon be traveling to a third this coming January - Rwanda. Whether it be Desmond Tutu's and the Church's "Truth & Reconciliation Commission" in South Africa which championed forgiveness as a means towards progress rather than "eye for eye" or mere tolerance of the "other", or Dr. King's Gospel-driven ethic of racial harmony and forgiveness for a racially-torn America or the application of the Gospel to the ethnic hatred and genocide in Rwanda, these are stories of the salvation and healing that only comes from God's grace and Jesus' call for us to "love our enemies." 

 We can rearrange the furniture all we want in our cities and nations (and I am certainly not diminishing intentional movements toward honest dialogue and more just ethics and laws - these things should be prayed for and championed by the Church, not relegated to "the world"), but until we are reconciled to God and to one another through Christ, the promise of lasting healing remains empty. 

This may all sound like hyper sentimentalism and idealism, but in the words of GK Chesterton: 'The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried."

Until we honestly see the extent to which we've each been an enemy to God our Father who simultaneously sent Christ to die for us "while we were yet sinners", we will treat the "other" as someone to be tolerated, tamed, manipulated or marginalized. Thank you, God, for your grace which saved us, is saving us and will save us!