I'm currently sitting at my kitchen table, working. Soft music is playing in the background in an attempt to add some tranquility to this room and my second third cup of coffee is sitting next to the computer. I have a to do list longer than there are hours left in the day, and life is just not slowing down - I'm sure I'm not the only one. Right in the middle of it all, God just whispered to me "Look Up" so I did, and this is what I saw:
Have you ever stopped and looked around? I'm sure you know the old adage "stop and smell the roses," but have you actually done it? Have you actually slowed down to take it all in?
Well, today I did. The Lord's still small voice told me to look up. So I did. I saw my daughter in our playroom. There she is, sitting in the floor playing. She's clean, fed & content. She is surrounded by so many toys that she can't decide what to play with (thanks to her super loving grandparents!) so she's carefully taking it all in. The Lord gave me two specific thoughts in this moment of observation. Am I clean, fed & content? Am I slowing down enough to see my surroundings? Herein lies my lesson today. I hope it's one that will encourage you as you read. So let's dig into these two questions ...
Am I clean fed and content?
Clean - I was reminded that I'm not perfect. Ouch! But, neither are you. We are in need of cleansing forgiveness daily. When we mess up (like speaking harshly to my husband this morning because I was tired when that cute girl in the picture woke up at 4:30am) we need to confess. He will forgive, every time, not matter what. That's a relief and it's humbling.1 John 1:19 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Fed - I'm not always studying God's word. Life is busy and sometimes personal study falls away. But when I do make that a priority, I'm healthier. That spiritual health overflows in all areas of my life positively (i.e. patience with my early rising infant). When you eat good food, it sustains you. So God was telling me to prioritize my personal time with Him. To read and "chew on" the truths in the Bible daily. John 15:4 says, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me." Content - There I was worried about my long list of things to do & the Lord spoke to me in two words, "Look Up." He didn't give me a list of ways to accomplish my list in one day or a step by step guide on how to make that child sleep past 4:30am. Nope, instead He reminded me what Psalm 46:10 says, "Be still, and know that I am God." His character brings peace, He is all I need.
Am I slowing down enough to see my surroundings?
On the table in the corner, you might have noticed in the other pictures, we have some marble jars. They are a reminder to take captive our time with our girl. Each Sunday, my husband and I move a marble from one jar to the other symbolizing one week less until she graduates from high school & is off to college. It reminds us to keep the end in mind. You see, when we see how much time we have left, we'll make what matters matter more. The things that matter to us are simple, to raise her in a gospel centered home where she is pointed toward Jesus as much as possible, to love her unconditionally while teaching her right from wrong, and to have fun! We're in the beginning of a life full of parenting through all kinds of phases and reminding ourself of the things that matter can't get lost in the hustle & bustle. It's easy to say, "Its just a phase!" and work harder next time. But before we know it, without focusing on the now, we'll just wish her life at home away. We don't want to do that ... especially since time is flying! So now, we try to say, "It's just a phase, so don't miss it!"
Well, today, I think the Lord wanted me to apply that concept to my personal life. It's not just a concept for raising children. He wanted me to keep the end in mind for my life too. What matters here, is sharing about Jesus. Revelation 22:7 says, "And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book." He is coming back! Jesus came to this earth to rescue us from our sin - our separation from God. He lived a perfect life, died in our place, and rose from the dead three days later. Today, He is alive, and preparing a place for us to be with Him again one day. We don't know when He is coming back, so while we wait, we share. This is a message worth sharing. But, in all these busy life activities, I'm not slowing down enough to really see who around me needs to hear this message. God wants me to slow down and build margin in my life to share this good news message with those around me. Building in margin will take sacrifices, and they'll be worth it. This busy phase in my life will pass so I don't want to miss the opportunities I have right now to share just because I'm caught up in the hustle & bustle.
I hope you can be encouraged that you aren't the only one who has trouble finding extra time, or getting things on your to do list done. I hope that you can be encouraged that you aren't the only one saying "It's just a phase!" or "Time is flying!" The best encouragement to me, though, has been knowing that God is with me through it all and that He is all I need. He will give me patience when I'm up at 4:30am, He will forgive me when I confess my mess ups, He will nourish my soul when I prioritize my time with Him, He will give me peace in my surroundings when I recognize who He is, and He will help me find margin to share with others what He has done for me in the gift of His son Jesus. He rescued me! Oh what joy!
What about you?
Will you seek Him in all the time you do (or even don't) have this week? Will you confess wrongdoing? Will you dig into His word? Will you "be still" and depend on His character? Will you tell someone what He's done for you?
And guess what? It doesn't have to be something else you add to your to do list! This is the best part! These things can be built into the regular rhythms of your day. For me, reading the Bible might look like listening to the Bible app while I drive on a busy day. We all have drive time! Confession might happen through prayer while I get dressed in the morning. We all have to get ready for the day and I don't know about you, but my mind is usually wandering during this time! There's also bath time, playtime, down time, bed time. What about your times ... which ones can you take captive in order to "Look Up?"
I am still in the process of learning and growing into much of what it means to do and be a preacher. I do know this: preaching is, at the very least, observing the ancient Biblical text, observing the current culture, and applying the former to the latter faithfully and appropriately.
Sometimes finding where the two cross paths can be tricky. For example, explaining how God’s instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle in Exodus 25-27 applies to our lives can take some work. At times like those the preacher becomes an archeologist carefully and painstakingly sifting through the fine dust of the past to uncover the beauty within.
At other times the modern relevance for an ancient Biblical text is readily apparent. On those occasions the preacher becomes more of a trauma surgeon applying his skill to the readily-apparent issue(s) at hand in a way that needs to be straightforward, effective, and efficient.
This past week I felt like a trauma surgeon.
The sermon Sunday was on Matthew 5:1-12, a passage commonly referred to as the Beatitudes (if you would like to watch the sermon you can find it here). Verse 9 reads, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Blessed are the Peacemakers…
As I sat in my office last Friday my sermon manuscript was on the computer screen in front of me, while the Presidential inauguration was on the TV screen to my right. As the day wore on, I wore down.
Blessed are the Peacemakers…
Protests erupted on the screen to my right, virtual protests erupted on the screen in front of me. Gauntlet-throwing rhetoric spewed from the screen to my right, gauntlet-throwing posts spewed from the screen in front of me.
ALL OF YOU ARE TOTALLY WRONG!! ALL OF US ARE TOTALLY RIGHT!! It didn’t matter which side people were on, the tone was the same. WE’RE SICK AND TIRED OF PEOPLE LIKE YOU, AND WE WON’T STAY QUIET ABOUT IT ANY LONGER!!
Blessed are the Peacemakers…
I shouldn’t have been surprised. We’re a culture that thrives on polarization and the demonization of opposite “sides”. In the arms race-like struggle for ratings the actual news has been supplanted by opinions about the news. The need to fill 24-hour content cycles has devolved sports TV and radio shows into an endless progression of “hot takes”. Film and music awards shows are increasingly used as public square platforms. Comment sections are filled with people who read the headline, skipped the article itself, and jumped straight into offering their opinion. The plethora of on-demand content sources means we rarely have to listen to anyone or anything other than what has been customized to our personal preferences based on past choices.
The resulting echo-chamber of homogenous perspectives contributes to a lack of empathy for and understanding of those with whom we may disagree. Inevitably, Google’s Third Law of Internet Dynamics kicks in: For every hashtag there is an equal and opposite hashtag.
#BlackLivesMatter begets #BlueLivesMatter which begets #AllLivesMatter
#NotMyPresident begets #Snowflake
#AmericaFirst begets #AlternativeFacts
And the thought I could not shake was, “Where are the Peacemakers? Where are the sons and daughters of God?” We’ve got plenty of points and counterpoints. We’ve got plenty of cynics. We’re all stocked up on finger pointing, blame shifting, and spin. But where are the peacemakers? Where are the gospel-saturated, Spirit-empowered, neighbor-loving, Christ-like peacemakers?
The thought I could not shake was, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
With that (admittedly extended) background I offer the following thoughts on what I believe is a dire need in our culture right now:
Why strive to be a peacemaker?
What does peacemaking look like?
What are the peacemaking pitfalls?
Where does peacemaking start?
Peacemaking starts when people love God and their neighbors more then they love themselves. “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
The conflict in our country isn’t new and it isn’t unique to the United States. Last week we saw a transition of power that led to protests. Other countries have coups, genocidal civil wars, and decades-long dictatorships. I’ll take hashtags and memes.
But, at the same time, I’m grieved by the trajectory of the tone and the temperature of conversations (real and virtual) in our country.
I’m going to try to be much more intentional in the days and months ahead to be sure I am not adding to it. I’d like to learn to be more of a peacemaker, and I hope you will to…the culture needs it.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
The physician-turned-historian Luke wrote the most well-known of the accounts of Jesus's birth. If you have spent any time at all in a church around Christmas time (or even if you've watched Charlie Brown Christmas) you have likely heard Luke 2:1-20 read aloud and perhaps even remember verse 7, "And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn."
Joseph is a pretty sympathetic figure in the birth narrative. Can you imagine how his year had gone? First he finds out his fiancée (who is a virgin, mind you) is pregnant. Then the occupying foreign power (Rome) demands he travel to his ancestral hometown to be registered (i.e. sign up to be taxed). Then, once they get there they find there is, "no room for them in the Inn." I don't know about you, but I would be in a seriously sour mood!
I doubt Joseph could have conceived of the reality that 2,000+ years later people all over the world would recreate that night's scene during church plays, and on their mantles, dining room tables, and front yards. No, I imagine Joseph was just feeling pretty inconvenienced, maybe disappointed, and perhaps more than a little frustrated.
I thought about Joseph this week as I explained to person after person about how King's Cross Church wouldn't be having services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. See, all Charleston County School facilities are closed on Christmas (as, by the way, they should be; it is important for CCSD employees to be able to be with their families at Christmas). I resonated this week, to some small degree, with Joseph's sense of displacement. Our church doesn't have a "home" yet, and when we do gather on Sundays we do so just outside the part of the city we want to be in long term. And so, perhaps for the first time in my life, what has jumped out of the Luke 2 passage to me was the little detail, "...there was no place for them in the inn."
And yet, unlike Joseph so many years ago, I know what happened after Luke 2. I know that God was doing something glorious. His plan was perfectly on track. God wasn't caught off guard by the lack of accommodations for his Son's birth; He wasn't scrambling for Plan B.
And the same is true for our Church. God is not concerned that we're "missing" a Sunday morning. He isn't frustrated with CCSD. God's plans for King's Cross are perfectly on track. He knows exactly where we will be this time next year, and exactly who will be a part of our church in December of 2017. He knows how many lives will be changed, how many marriages will be saved, how many people will hear and understand the gospel for the first time. He knows how many babies will be born, adopted, and fostered by members of our Church. He knows how many funerals our pastors will preside over. He knows how many baptisms we will celebrate, and how many parents we will commission. He knows which countries we will visit to support missionaries, and in which cities we will support new church plants.
God was doing something glorious that night in Bethlehem. And He is doing something glorious in and through King's Cross Church right now. How can I be so sure? Because I believe the same power that was at work that night in Bethlehem is at work in the world today! And I believe God is able to do far beyond anything we can ask or imagine!
So, how about you? Are you feeling a bit displaced this Christmas? Feeling like there's no room for you at the metaphorical "inn"? Maybe you're feeling inconvenienced, disappointed, or even frustrated with the way things are going? Can I speak light, and hope, and peace into that place? Friends, Christmas is a reminder that God is always at work, often in the smallest of details!
So, I'll rest easy on Christmas morning knowing that I'm not the first follower of God to be displaced and I won't be the last. But I'll rest with an eager expectation and longing to see what comes next knowing that God is working to glorify himself in my life, in our church, across our city, and around the world!
"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Most of us still remember the days and weeks before Christmas that slowly progressed with mounting anticipation. It almost seemed as if the machine that governed time, which during the summer months ran so efficiently, was clogged with all the tumbling leaves of fall and was in great need of scheduled maintenance by Thanksgiving. I can imagine how my cold breath would linger in the air for hours if the seconds dragged as slowly as the days seemed to pass. During this season, my generation passed the time by circling our favorite toys in department store catalogs and sneaking candy canes off the tree, hoping that no one was looking, especially Santa’s watchful eye. The Christmas season was defined by longing and waiting: two sides of a coin that, at times, seemed too high a price to pay for the reward. I tested this theory later in my childhood by searching for my gifts in the attic before Christmas.
Maybe you grew up in a family, like mine, that attempted to correct the selfish, self-centered aspects of Christmas that the marketplace so efficiently bolstered in my young heart. My parents were earnest, and they were wise to direct my eyes and heart elsewhere, but my sisters and I get a good laugh at the thought of some of their attempts. “Santa is watching you” was the early iteration. It morphed into going to Christmas Eve services, which was an appropriate measure, but soon things got a little weird because we started receiving gifts on Christmas morning with the label, “To: Kelly, From: Jesus!” (…whose handwriting was strangely similar to my dad’s. I can’t make this stuff up, people!) I suppose I should have felt more grateful if my ninja turtles were placed under the tree by the Son of God, Himself. Well, despite their efforts at changing my motives, I still get those feelings of anticipation and longing, and even do the same watching and spying, but now I’m learning to aim those feelings and actions in a much different direction. I can attribute this refocus of my heart, in part, to observing Advent.
I talked with my dad yesterday, and we were both curious why the church I attended while growing up didn’t observe the Advent season as the Church has historically done for centuries. We racked it up to having been members of a church that seemed to detach from the more liturgical aspects of worship for a more informal tack. I understand that reasoning, but as much as I love my childhood church, and as much as they are not mandated to observe Advent, I do believe I may have lost something valuable for years as a result of that decision.
Advent, which simply means “coming,” is the season that spans the four weeks prior to Christmas, in which Christians remember the longing God’s people experienced between the ancient promise of a Savior King and Jesus’s birth which dawned the fulfillment of that promise. Some churches, as KCC will practice, follow a series of themes which were epitomized in Jesus’s life. Each Sunday leading up to Christmas Eve will focus, first, on the theme of hope, then peace, followed by joy, and love. Each week’s theme will coincide with a candle that is lit and a scripture passage read by one of our church members. The last and fifth candle we light is called the Christ candle, which is lit on Christmas Eve. Throughout the Advent season, we will sing carols which many of their singers around the world may not realize are filled with rich, beautiful, God glorifying theology, a couple of my favorites being “Joy to the World” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
The candles represent the light of hope, peace, joy, and love that Christ, the Light of life, shined on the world of men at his coming. The Gospel of John says “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5, ESV) What is interesting, is that mankind sought to snuff out the Light by crucifying Jesus, yet Jesus was resurrected, defeating death. He later ascended into heaven promising he would return to make everything new that was broken by sin.
This is where the second purpose of the Advent season comes into view. We find ourselves in a similar place as Israel, waiting for the second coming of Jesus. The Advent season connects us with our forefathers who saw the promises of God fulfilled, and the knowledge that God made good on his promises helps us to be patient for our King’s return. Remembering the feelings and experiences of our predecessors, as well as recalling the promises God has made, helps us process the tension created by the sin that remains in the world and the promised end of sin and strife. Observing the Advent season also helps us turn away from self-centeredness and propels us to spread the gospel because we remember that all God’s promises are true.
It is my hope that each Christian who comes to King’s Cross Church will find reason to wait faithfully and hope confidently on the divine promises to be fulfilled by the God who has always kept His promises. For those who may not yet trust in Christ, I pray that through experiencing the Advent season, the Holy Spirit will cause you to hope in Christ, bringing peace to your soul, resulting in joy that cannot be killed, because you have experienced the love of God for the first time. For all who trust in Jesus, there will be a time when sin will be no more and faith will be sight. There will be a time when patience will be relieved by experience, and longing will be fulfilled by a life lived in the presence of God. Until that day, we should tell the tales of God’s faithfulness over and over again. As my favorite songwriter, Andrew Peterson, writes, “Gather ‘round, ye children, come. Listen to the old, old story of the power of death undone by an infant born of glory. Son of God. Son of man.”
The most viscerally divisive election of my lifetime (I turned 42 years-old today) is over. Regardless of the Electoral College result, the reaction this morning would have been the same. The country is divided. We’ve known that instinctively for a long time and now we have the data to back it up.
This morning the same expert political pundits who told us that Bernie couldn’t challenge Hillary, that Trump couldn’t get the GOP nomination, and that Trump had no chance at winning the general election, are writing columns and filling airtime telling us why this happened and what it means moving forward.
I’m neither political expert nor pundit. I’m a pastor. I’ll leave the political analysis to those better equipped to handle it than I am.
However, what matters most today is not “Political Insider” analysis, stock market futures, celebrity reactions, the dissection of acceptance/concession speeches, or social media trending topics.
What matters most today (and, by the way, every other day too!) is how ordinary people interact with one another as they go about their ordinary lives. What do I do today? What should the two hundred people in our largely unknown church plant in Charleston, SC do today? How should we be thinking about the future? How should we be talking to our friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors?
Matthew 22:35-40 is a well-known passage about Jesus that I think gives us the answer to that question. It goes like this:
“And one of them, a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
As a pastor, I know that sometimes the simple answers are easy to point out, but hard to live out. Love God with all my heart, soul and mind? I don’t think I have lived up to that simple standard on even a single day of my life! Simple isn’t always easy.
With that in mind, here are four practical ways that you can “love your neighbor (e.g. family, friends, coworkers, classmates, literal neighbors, etc…) as yourself” in the wake of the election results:
1. Listen to people more.
There is a very good chance that your neighbors feel personally marginalized, politically disillusioned, socially betrayed, and nervous, if not outright scared, about the future regardless of whom they voted for. That is a problem.
People you know and love felt/feel like:
You may agree or disagree with their perspective of the problem(s). You may agree or disagree with their perceived solution(s) to the same. What I plead with you not to do is dismiss them or tell them that they shouldn’t feel the way they feel.
Loving your neighbor as yourself means acknowledging the concerns that led them to vote are just as real and as valid as yours. It means asking why they are hopeful/fearful today, rather than telling them not to be. It means listening to their American experience, rather than assuming your reality is, or should be, normative.
You can learn a lot more by listening than by talking. So, rather than teeing off on the next person who views this election differently than you… love them enough to slow down and learn why they feel as they do.
Love your neighbors by listening to them more.
2. Listen to more people.
How is it possible that literally every poll got this election wrong? Millions of dollars were spent, hundreds of polls were taken, months of programming on TV went by…and yet it was not until the early evening of Tuesday’s election returns that the possibility of Donald Trump actually winning the election began to make its way into the mainstream conversation.
How does that happen? Pollsters made the same mistake professionally that so many of us make personally: they needed to listen to more people.
Technology allows us to customize our lives to such a degree that we rarely have to listen to anyone or anything unless we choose to do so. But, sometimes that means we simply don’t listen to enough people, or we simply don’t listen to enough different people.
Here’s a helpful question to ask yourself, “How often do I intentionally listen to people who are different than me?” To be more specific:
Loving your neighbor as yourself sometimes just means listening to more of them.
For example, let’s say you find out that you share a common religious worldview with a diverse group of people, but you have a significantly different perspective on social justice issues. I don’t know about you, but I want to explore why that is. Not merely from a place of intellectual curiosity, but also because I believe that listening and learning widely is a practical way to love people. But here’s the thing – you have to listen before you can learn.
Love your neighbors by listening to more of them.
3. Pray for their leaders.
If you are a Christian, God commands you to pray for those in power (1 Timothy 2:1-4). What is interesting is that in context, that command is given not to benefit the leaders but for the benefit of “all people.”
One of the ways you can love your neighbors well is to pray that those in power would lead in such a way that your neighbors’ lives improve. Financial flourishing, social stability, the rule of law, fair and impartial justice, civic prosperity, international peace, educational opportunities, domestic tranquility…these are not partisan issues. These are not the domain of only one socio-economic class or one ethnicity. These are not to be enjoyed only by one political party, gender, or race.
God’s common grace is intended to bless all. When you pray for those in power, or those who will be in power in the future, pray in such a way that your neighbors would experience God’s common grace—even if/when it is mediated through government—to a greater degree.
Love your neighbors by praying for their leaders.
4. Point them to a greater hope.
I don’t write this because of what I do, I write this because I believe it with every fiber of my being: our hope for a better future is not found in politicians or government, it’s found in King Jesus.
The reality is that humans are flawed, broken, sinful beings. We are. I am, you are, everyone who has ever lived. Oh, sure, we uncover people’s flaws more easily these days with the prevalence of social media and camera phones, but people have always been flawed. To put your hope in flawed, broken, sinful people whom you expect will perform as if they are perfect is a tragic mistake that will only lead you to despair and disillusionment.
There is, however, someone who had no flaws and who never sinned. There is someone who was a perfect servant-leader. There is someone who was willing to enter into this world of brokenness and offer hope for eternal healing. There is one whose plans will be precisely carried out, whose kingdom is unending, and whose justice is perfectly balanced by his mercy.
The joy/angst your neighbors feel over this election speaks to the object of their hope. Christian, you have a wide open door to discuss a Greater Hope, do so with love.
Love your neighbors by pointing them to a greater hope.
Loving your neighbors as yourself requires much more intentionality than loving your neighbors who are already like yourself. Hopefully this helps to start you thinking about these, and other, practical ways to love your neighbors in the weeks and months ahead.