I don’t know much about the refugee crisis, or why President Trump has issued an executive order to close our borders to people from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Lebanon, and Libya. I’ve read the executive order, but I couldn’t parse the political or social implications of it for my children. The global political situation is beyond my comprehension. I don’t understand the causes of the war in Syria. I can’t tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys, and I’m not sure there is a difference anymore. My Twitter timeline and Facebook feed are filled with posts of varying degrees of outrage at Trump’s executive order. I don’t know whether I should be outraged, and if so how much, because, in our post-truth culture, I don’t know who to trust to explain this to me.

When the chaos and confusion of our culture swirl around me, my instinct is to lash myself to the only fixed point I know – Jesus Christ. He is my Rock, and the one on whom I can rely in distressing times. When I don’t know how to move forward, I try my best to find Jesus and just follow him. While I cannot speak to the complexities of holding political office (particularly the office of President), I believe I have something to say to my fellow Christians, particularly my evangelical brothers and sisters.

The world is a dangerous place. It has always been this way, though some of us in America have not had to experience the kind of imminent threats that people in Syria deal with today. But the reality is that death, disease, and suffering are never far away. Whether the threat is from a microscopic virus or a bloodthirsty warlord, there is much in our world to make us afraid. Fear is, more often than not, the rational choice.


Fear is not an option for those who follow Jesus.
But it is not a choice that Christians are permitted to make. Fear is not an option for those who follow Jesus. All of life is an act of discipleship, therefore all of life must be a demonstration of the agape love Jesus exemplified in his life, and most completely at the cross. The Scriptures are clear: “Perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18) Our own love may be imperfect, but if the Holy Spirit dwells within and among us, then so does the perfect love of God. The Church is the place where fear does not get to have a voice because the melodies of God’s love are too loud, too strong, too catchy.

As the people of God, we do not have a choice between fear and love. We are compelled to love and commanded to reject fear. Fear must never be our rationale for any decision, large or small. We cannot support public policy that rejects refugees because one of them may (by the tiniest of chances) be connected to a terrorist organization. It is impossible to faithfully follow Jesus by carrying your cross while at the same time deny hospitality and refuge to those in need because you are afraid that they might mean you harm. Jesus knew what the Romans were going to do to him, and he overcame the fear he expressed in the Garden by steeling himself toward the cross. Why did he do this? Because he loved the world – even the Roman soldiers who crucified him!

Perhaps there really are terrorist agents trying to sneak into this country through the refugee process. Jesus didn’t command us to be unwise or naive. But in the absence of clear information, we must not assume the worst of others. We must love without fear. We must welcome the stranger; after all, how do we know we aren’t secretly entertaining angels? We must provide for the needy, because as Jesus himself said, when we do this we are doing it for him. We must love others and entrust ourselves to God.

I admit, that’s not a very good public policy. But I’m a pastor, not a politician. My primary citizenship is in the kingdom of God, not the United States of America. I’m not calling on the state to enact a more Christian policy. I’m calling on the Church to act more Christianly. Don’t be afraid, Church. Jesus has conquered our greatest enemy, death itself. There is no one, then, that we should fear; but there is everyone that we can love.

Identity politics are a hot button issue these days. Self-identification has become a vital component, not just of personal understanding, but of social politics. It seems that we can self-identify as anything we want, without respect to our physical bodies. Identity politics are about the soul, we’re told, not just the body. What’s on the inside is what truly counts.

What makes this so interesting, for Christians, is that it sounds like Christian teaching. We believe, of course, that the heart is the focus of regeneration, that sanctification flows from the inside (from renewed thoughts and desires) out, and that becoming like Christ means imitating his character, not simply his actions. A Christian would have no trouble agreeing with the statement: What’s on the inside is what truly counts.

Identity: Christ is allWhere the difference lies, however, is that Christian doctrine proclaims the need for internal change, and that this change is a person. It’s not what’s on the inside; it’s who’s on the inside. Christian identity is not wrapped up in what I believe myself to be, but rather in who has saved me from my sin. As Paul says in Colossians 3:11, “Christ is all, and is in all.”

This means that, before you are anything else, you are a Christian. Your identity in Christ is the spring from which all your self-understanding flows. You are not who you think or feel you are; you are who Christ says you are. By faith, you are in God’s family. If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, you are, more than anything else, a child of God.

More than anything else, this is why Christians oppose the identity politics of our culture. It’s not because we are grossed out or think people are being ridiculous. It’s because we know there is a better way. There is a better identity. And his name is Jesus.

shadow

A good filmmaker knows how to terrify his audience with just a shadow. You never have to see the actual monster to be gripped with fear, just the long dark outline suggesting how horrible and mutilated the beast is. Of course, this same effect is used as comic relief when the strange shadow turns out to be a cuddly kitten.

We are frightened by shadows because we fear what might be casting them. Rarely, however, do we mistake the shadow for the real thing. But this is precisely what Paul warns us about in Colossians 2:16-17. He said that the food laws and holy days of Judaism were not the real thing that devout Jews thought them to be. The real thing, he said, is Jesus.

Jesus is the reality to which religion points. All the things that we might think are so important – obeying religious laws and customs, observing holy days – find their fullness in Christ. Religion is good and true as long as it is centered on Jesus. It is good to obey the rules, but only if we are acting from a heart that is devoted to Christ. Christless religion is like grasping at shadows. It’s not that religion, ritual, or rules are unimportant. Nor is it that they mislead us. It is that they are empty apart from Jesus.

If you feel that your religion has grown stale, that the rituals of what you do at church or in your daily devotions has become mere routine, it is time to lift up your eyes and see who is casting the shadow. Jesus is the real thing. It’s time for you to re-center your life and your religious activity around him. We drift so easily. We so quickly relapse into following shadows instead of worshiping the reality. Here is a prayer to help you re-center around Jesus.

shadowJesus, you are the reality;
You are the fullness;
You are the truth.
Center me around yourself.
Take your throne again
In the depths of my heart.
Cast your shadow across my life.
Fill my empty religion
With your holy presence.
Capture my imagination,
My devotion,
And my desire.
Be yourself in me
That I may find myself in you.
Amen.

Made alive

Have you ever turned left when you should have turned right? All of us have gotten off track at one point or another. We’ve gone the opposite way we were supposed to, and the quicker we realize it, the sooner we can get headed in the right direction. When faced with the choice between two opposites (left or right, north or south, Ohio State or Michigan), it’s important that we choose the right one. (Go Bucks!)

We often think of death as the opposite of life, but that’s not the best picture of the truth. The relationship between death and life isn’t the same as the relationship between left and right, or in and out. Instead, it’s like the relationship between dark and light. Darkness is the absence of light, not the opposite of it. In the same way, death is the absence of life.

Made AliveIn Colossians 2:13, Paul says that we were made alive with Christ, even in the midst of our sins. That means that God has filled us up with the life of Christ, which is both abundant and eternal. There is no way for us to possess this life apart from Jesus. After all, Jesus himself said in John 14, “I am the life.”

Being dead in your sins doesn’t mean, of course, that you are biologically dead. It simply means that you are devoid of the abundant and eternal life that Jesus alone possesses and gives. It means that you are lacking, as we all do without Christ, the fullness of life that only the Author of Life can provide.

How can you become filled with this life? Through faith in Jesus Christ. You are made alive with Christ because he was made alive when God raised him from the dead. Placing your faith – your full trust, love, and obedience – in Christ means that you, too, will receive the benefit of his resurrection. But you don’t have to wait until you die to experience new life. You can have it today! Eternal life begins the moment you place your faith in Jesus. Choose life.

You Complete Me

I have to confess something: I never liked Jerry Maguire. Yes, there are some good lines. Cuba and Tom shouting “Show me the money!” at each other through the phone is a great scene. And Jerry Maguire has a noble purpose in making sports agency more relational. But the plot was hijacked by the romance which was, shall we say, overcooked. “You complete me.” Really?

Brought-to-Fullness-WebSadly, however, that may have been the truest line in the film. Not that any person can actually complete us, but that we believe: a) that we are at least half empty, b) that we can find our fullness in another human, and c) that romantic love is the only path to this fullness. “You complete me” is the teary-eyed plea of a narcissistic generation bent on finding love, not for the sake of the beloved, but for their own existential fulfillment.

While romantic love has its proper place, the only love that can fulfill us is the agape love of Christ. Paul says, in Colossians 2:10, “in Christ you have been brought to fullness.” This means that Jesus has done for us what no one else could do – make us truly and fully human. Our sinful inclinations, what Paul often calls “flesh,” are subhuman. They move us away from the purpose and glory for which we were originally created. But in Christ we are set back on track. Jesus puts us on the train to fullness.

In fact, it’s more accurate to say that, in Christ, we have already arrived. He has given us everything we need to complete the high calling of humanity. This means that the truest, fullest version of yourself is not the one who gives into sin and temptation or that looks for fulfillment in another person, but the one who lashes himself to Christ and follows hard after God. To be true to yourself is to be faithful to Jesus.

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