Waiting to be Discovered…

I have a real fondness for television shows that focus on discovering the diamond in the rough. Whether this is an item in your grandparents’ attic or an unassuming bloke with a voice of gold. These shows stir something in me in regards to redemption and restoration. Obviously it is not just me because these shows are packing our stations and our binging sessions.

  • Why are we so drawn to this?
  • What makes these shows compelling?

I think a major part of it is that each of us imagines that all that needs to happen for happiness, success, and ‘life to the fullest’ is to be discovered. If only we hit the reality show lottery, then we’d be an overnight sensation; a diamond in the rough! Is this truly reality? Will we ever be discovered?

  • What if we were to recognize that we were ‘discovered’ long ago?!?
  • How would our lives look if we lived as though the ‘discovery’ has already happened?

I’m convinced that each of us has, indeed, been discovered. Faith is built upon this assumption. Abraham Heschel wrote a wonderful book (one of many) titled: “G_d in Search of Man” — this book helps illuminate the idea of G_d’s pursuit and ultimately G_d’s ‘discovering’ us! Now what?

  • Once discovered…then what?
    • What’s our next step?
    • Where do we go now?
  • What’s the role of the one that discovered us?

I’d imagine if I were ‘discovered’ by a talent scout…I’d probably become their disciple and shape my decisions, actions, and words upon their recommendations and guidance. This would be obvious…a ‘no-brainer.’ Yet this is so far from where most of us go when it comes to our obedience and movements in G_d and faith.

  • Why?

Does it effect anything when we believe we ‘deserve’ to not just be ‘discovered’ but also that we are entitled to happiness, success, and life to the fullest. I also believe these things to be true but I believe they require our work & dedication and then we sit back and wait to reap the rewards of our pricelessness.

  • How have we gotten here?

In many ways the church has become the friend or family member that tells you you’re an amazing singer while closing the bathroom door to avoid hearing you perform. It’s not that the talent isn’t there but rather it needs to be honed, refined, disciplined. But we shy away from these hard truths in order not to hurt feelings and to maintain power.

  • Sometimes I wonder if we are holding out for a better scout!

The current ‘scout’ will require too much change, too much work, too much improvement. An internal, eternal, moral rollercoaster that shaping us into our ‘sensation’!

Sometimes it’s easier to just watch vicariously through the TV in comfort of our pajamas and ice-cream bowls.

We’ve been discovered – Now what are we going to do?

Discipleship — Dedication — Devotion

Whose Inscription?

There is a great moment in the gospel narrative when Jesus is asked a question that many of his fellow Jews wrestled with. Israel was in a strange situation, being in Jerusalem yet in many ways still feeling the pains of exile because of Rome’s oppressive rule. Israel enjoyed few freedoms beyond their Temple practices, often being forced to contribute to a system that revered other gods, goddesses, and idols belonging to Rome and their fellow conquered nations. Though Rome relented and allowed Israel to abstain from offering a “pinch of incense” as they entered each city gate (a way to honor the gods of that city), they were still expected to pay a tribute tax to Caesar. This tax was complicated for Israel; Rome—and Caesar himself—proclaimed Caesar’s role as a deity.

The religious leaders of Jesus’s day debated the virtues or evils that were inherent in the very giving of the tribute tax. On one hand it kept things peaceful (Jeremiah 29:4-7), but on the other, it was counter to their sensibilities of the shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) and the Ten Commands (especially Exodus 20:3). These new exiles were left to debate, wrestle with, and find a way forward in paying a tribute to Caesar.

This is the setting for the scene in Mark 12:13-16. It is interesting to note that the two groups sent to trap Jesus were Herodians (who had every reason to keep Rome happy) and the Pharisees (who were most likely against paying a pagan leader tribute). They assumed their trap to be foolproof because Jesus would ultimately have to choose a side.

Enter, stage right, the brilliance of Jesus. He responds to their question by employing the cleverness of a truly great rabbi—a better set of questions! This is where things get interesting and take an unexpected twist for the original questioners, because they responded to Jesus’s two questions, “Whose image?” and “Whose inscription?” with one answer, “Caesar’s.” Jesus corrects their answer by saying, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.”

The passage ends with everyone being “utterly amazed,” yet we typically aren’t that impressed with this story. Why should we be? When we look at a denarius we find that throughout the time of Jesus there were several different versions struck for each Caesar. Each of these contained the image of the current Caesar and then a title that made the declaration of divinity of said Caesar. Jesus counters the trap by saying that theimage is indeed of Caesar but the inscription belongs only to God.

This is the picture drawn for us, one that still comes with great difficulty as we wrestle with the theology of our bank accounts. What things, people, and places do we elevate above God? It is not a problem to spend money, to enjoy money, to save money—but we must always know whose inscription is on our finances.

First Published here.

Putting The Christ back in Xmas?

Jesus (1)

It is interesting to me that this is the season that we celebrate the birth of The King. Oftentimes we fill the air with debate over whether just saying, “Happy Holidays” is sufficient enough – or if it even warrants boycotting certain businesses due to their improper Holiday expressions. (I’m looking at you Starbucks and your bare red cups!) Offended by the lack of Christ in their salutations, we throw temper tantrums and refuse to do business with them and call others to join us. We impose our views on them.

This brings me to this notion of Happy Holidays – really? What’s the problem? Holidays after all means “Holy Days”…X-mas is short for Christ-mas! (x became the symbol for Christ in the Greek because it is the first letter in the name Xristos – see John 1.41) Why don’t protestants ever complain that the Catholic Mass has been removed from Christ – Mass? What about our neighbors who are celebrating other things this time of year? Kwanza or Hanukkah? Are we that arrogant to believe that everything in culture needs to cater exclusively to Christianity? Then we wonder why folks are continuing to hate us…

So you want to put The Christ back in Christmas? Well then let’s talk about what that really means. What is it that G_d has in mind? What does Christmas mean to G_d? Do we even know?

Do you think that G_d is concerned that Box Stores don’t put the word Christ in their advertisements…or do you think that G_d is more concerned with their environmental practices (pollution) or even moreso their treatment of the poor? Injustices such as sweatshops and environmentally damaging factories built in places that don’t have restrictions all for the sake of making a higher profit margin – their employment strategies have created a whole new English term – The Working Poor… And we’re concerned with their Advertising Wording?!?!?

That brings us to another point of contention – do we really believe that G_d even wants His persona associated with consumerism? The fact that a holiday that commemorates the life of a man that brought sight to the blind, healing to the sick, freedom to the oppressed, and salvation to the whole earth is celebrated by the distribution of stuff…now don’t get me wrong, as Christians we tend to notice the poor at this time of the year…we even become a little more generous toward the stranger. We remember the poor and marginalized this season in celebration of a man that gave his entire life to taking care of the poor and marginalized…

Don’t get me wrong, I am not condemning us for our generosity at this time of year…I am condemning us for our lack of it the rest of the year!

Many of you may be thinking or feeling, How dare give a letter like this at this time of year? This is exactly the time of year we need to be reminded of the call that G_d has on His people! To be a light to the world in darkness – that means to be about Justice and Mercy – to be about Shalom. To love G_d and neighbor. Instead we are filled with self-love…G_d, who gave up everything in order to enter into our suffering, is remembered during our holiday season in a manner that has been known to be a catalyst to even greater oppression!

Do we believe that the King of the Universe, The Creator of All Things is worried about marketing ploys or trite arguments over His name being mentioned! Is G_d that narcissistic?

A King whose riches makes Solomon appear that he lived in squalor puts on flesh, making himself susceptible to poverty, hunger, thirst, pain, rejection, and even death – all of these things we believe he faced! This doesn’t sound like narcissism.

So what, then, is the incarnation about? What was the intention of this action by G_d? Is this something that G_d had to do? Was G_d obligated to us? Can we understand G_d’s reasoning?

We say that this is a season of hope…well, that is easy for us to say since we’ve got it pretty good here! So maybe our idea of hope is this:

  • Hope that we get the best sale price
  • Hope that our familial gathering won’t be made awkward by Uncle So-and-So
  • Hope that grandma won’t drink too much eggnog again this year!
  • Hope that our children will like the presents we’ve picked out for them.

Few of us are thinking about the hope of getting out of an abusive relationship…hope that tomorrow will bring us out of slavery…hope that bombs won’t destroy our homes – a hope of peace – individually and corporately.

G_d sent His son because, “He so loved the world!” [Jn 3.16] G_d left the comforts of His affluence and entered into our destitution and poverty…His desire that, “no one should perish” [2 Pt 3.9] but that “every knee would bow and every tongue confess” [Romans 14; Php 2]- His hope that we would, “hear his words and do them” [Mt 7.24] and if we would do so that, “there would be nobody in need amongst us.” [Deut. 15.4-5]

G_d’s birth in Nazareth has little to do with exchanging gifts – little to do with cute carols – little to do with Santa Claus – little to do with plastic nativity scenes – little to do with Happy Holidays or Merry Christmases.

But it does have everything to do with the redemption and reconciliation of His creation! The ushering in of a kingdom – His Kingdom – that unlike earthly kingdoms is not oppressive…not destructive…not abusive…not a division of the Haves and the Have-Nots, but a place of peace, mercy, justice, and compassion – a place of Shalom! He attempted this through living a life in poverty – a life in the margins – a life of rejection – a life of a person without hope…and through that life demonstrated a life of wealth – a life that represents what should be our norm – a life of inclusiveness – a life of hope.

That is what we are to celebrate this season: that G_d became flesh – He does not wait for us to ascend to Him, for He has already come down to us! He met us where we are and through grace and love He desires to lift us up. He has asked for us to partner with Him – to be about hope…to be about peace…to be a part of the reason for the season. He does not desire our lip service – He desires us to be about His Father’s work – our Father’s work. The redemption of all creation!

Not to wish others Peace and Goodwill but to be the Peace and Goodwill to others! Not to critique Holiday greetings or decorations – rather for us to become that which is irresistible to our community – a place of love – of peace – of hope!

We should not be concerned about putting “Christ” back in Christmas for He is already there. Rather, we should be concerned about demonstrating Christ to those who do not know Him. If we want to return Christ to his proper place we should be feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, and visiting the prisoner! But please be warned this is not a seasonal event. Jesus doesn’t tell us in Matthew 25 – I was hungry at Christmas and you fed me! If we want Christ to be the “reason for the season,” then we should live a life that “lifts him on high,” a life that demonstrates the beauty of His life, a life that gives hope, a life that brings peace, a life that is about redemption and reconciliation. If we live our lives like that then there will be no doubt of who we are celebrating – and I would venture to say that the whole world would celebrate with us!!!!

**A version of this was originally published in 2009