The News of the Day and Advent

We always look for the spectacular. We always look for the bombastic attention grabbing events and headlines. In today’s saturated digital world, it gets harder and harder to do something that actually gets attention, so the action has to be BIGGER AND BIGGER.

Headlines these days will center on TERRORISM or IMMIGRATION or POLICE BRUTALITY or something that will somehow grab the attention of people.

Even for the American Church, we have the tendency to do the “splashy” to try and get people’s attention.

Advent reminds us God just doesn’t operate that way. Advent should remind us that the Kingdom of God will not come in the way you think it should come.

One of my favorite devotionals from years ago was by Chuck Swindoll and it sums it up:

The year was 1809. The international scene was tumultuous. Napoleon was sweeping through Austria; blood was flowing freely. Nobody then cared about babies. But the world was overlooking some terribly significant births.

For example, William Gladstone was born that year. He was destined to become one of England’s finest statesmen. That same year, Alfred Tennyson was born to an obscure minister and his wife. The child would one day greatly affect the literary world in a marked manner.

On the American continent, Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And not far away in Boston, Edgar Allan Poe began his eventful, albeit tragic, life.

It was also in that same year that a physician named Darwin and his wife named their child Charles Robert. And that same year produced the cries of a newborn infant in a rugged log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky. The baby’s name?  Abraham Lincoln.

If there had been news broadcasts at that time, I’m certain these words would have been heard: “The destiny of the world is being shaped on an Austrian battlefield today.” But history was actually being shaped in the cradles of England and America.

Similarly, everyone thought taxation was the big news – when Jesus was born. But a young Jewish woman cradled the biggest news of all:  the birth of the Savior. 

The world overlooks the small corners of the world, but it is in those small corners that the Kingdom will often show up. In Jesus’s day, it was the news of the mighty Roman Empire. In 1809, it was the news of Napoleon. Today, it is ISIS, it is terrorism, it is Putin… And we need to be reminded that what dominates us (or wants to dominate us) in fear today will be gone. ISIS will be gone. Putin will be gone. But the Kingdom? What we do for the Kingdom today will LAST.

Advent. Christ has come. Don’t overlook him.

The ties that bind together mass shootings

We probably lose sight of underlying causes, and it is so incredibly difficult to anticipate or predict underlying causes… but as I look at each of the mass shootings we have faced (and I am NOT using the number 353 or 355, but rather five targeted incidents) there IS an underlying theme.

There was the shooting at the church in Charleston, SC  (June), the Chattanooga shooting (July), the Oregon community college shooting (October) and then in the past two weeks: Colorado Springs and San Bernardino.

The scary thing is the underlying cause I can see is something that can’t have legislation passed on it. It cannot be controlled by tighter immigration policies or high fences. And THAT is probably what scares US.

In each of those shootings we have the underlying cause being hatred. Today’s news details the San Bernardino killers being radicalized years ago. There was a point, just like all the previous killers, where they decided to get mad. They decided to be enraged. And then, horrifically, they decided to act on that rage.

No gun control legislation, no immigration policy, no amount of wire tapping can get at those moments where rage is incited… and then acted on.

And that, in turn, enrages us. We are frightened. We are angry. We want to do something… but every measure can only be meager in “success” because tactics change.

Unless we find some “precogs” and reinvent Minority Reportwe will simply not be able to get into people’s minds and stop them from rage when the point of willingness to kill has been reached.

What to do? We are so enraged, so activated in our fears… we need something TO DO!

For the past week I have been blogging different thoughts on this, but I keep coming back to my first post on all this. If we can put our fears aside, as believers, this can truly be the American Church’s finest hour. 

When we refuse to respond like the rest of the world, and when we bless instead of curse… and when we pour out forgiveness instead of hatred… there is something that is possible in the heart. 

This is truly the brilliance of the Kingdom of God. We are not capable in and of ourselves. But Christ IS our source. It is through our walk with Christ that something different CAN be possible. This is our choice. Just as those killers chose those moments to be enraged and act on it, we can choose as well to bless, to love, to reach out. 

We simply will never know this side of eternity how many terrorist acts we may have stopped simply by choosing to reach out in kindness when we could have reached out in anger and fear. We will not know hearts that could be changed in key moments because we engaged in a conversation or did some acts of kindness that opened up new possibilities.

This is our time. And we need to seize it. We need to deliberately choose to walk away from fearful reactions and angry answers and walk in love and blessing and forgiveness.

This is our time.

God WILL fix it… you just won’t like HIS answer

This was the headline:

And this is the reminder for all of us as believers:

18 They said to you, “In the end time scoffers will come living according to their own ungodly desires.” 19 These people create divisions. Since they don’t have the Spirit, they are worldly.

20 But you, dear friends: build each other up on the foundation of your most holy faith, pray in the Holy Spirit,21 keep each other in the love of God, wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will give you eternal life. 22 Have mercy on those who doubt. (Jude 1:18-22)

No meaningless platitude when we pray… REALLY pray. And we need to be reminded of this: we probably won’t like God’s solutions, either. God doesn’t consult our foreign policy experts to decide how he will deal with those who wreak havoc on this world. But deal with them he will. 



Awful Advent Reminders

Regular Scripture reading schedules have a way of bringing me back around to texts that I both “enjoy” and “hate” at the same time. They are texts that speak of faith and prayer… and then I’m reminded, “Oh, yeah! That means I need to pray!”

Then, I pray my “immense” amount of time (probably 5 minutes) and give up.

“God doesn’t hear! What’s the use?!”

So I come to a passage like that again in this Advent season.

I come to it after reading this devastating article on Syria and how ISIS and Assad are still using chemical weapons. Something that was “supposed” to have been “dealt with” by our powerful government and other world “leaders” and still… it exists. My heart broke reading that article.

And then, I read the Gospel for today and come across this:

21 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matt. 21:21-22)

Honestly… and I mean honestly… How can someone read THAT and think, “Oh, yeah! I’ll just pray the chemicals away!”

But there it is. Staring me in the face. It doesn’t matter HOW things like ISIS or Assad (the “president” of Syria) go down. That’s not my call. I can’t even ask for the how. What I need to do is command that they fall. THAT is the challenge.

So… why not? Our government hasn’t done anything more effective to this point, have they?

What if we, as believers, just began praying in earnest for the fall of ISIS and the removal of Assad? Just leave all the questions at the door. (Who would take his place? How would they be removed?) Just command the mountain to move.

Not just because ISIS and Assad are pure evil. Because they are oppressing their own people and no one cares.

Maybe… just maybe… some mountains would fall.

Every day… command the mountain to move.

Why not?

Advent: The reminder to quit being such suckers!


Refugees and other assorted immigration issues.

Donald Trump.

Racial tensions (especially in my city right now).

Abortion clinic shooting in Colorado Springs.

We clearly have things on our radar… Scratch that. There are things that should probably be on our radar.

It’s our reactions that are too often shameful or puzzling or based on fear that should give us pause. We don’t pause. We just react.

This is why we need Advent.

As believers, we need a buffer zone reminder. As believers, Advent reminds us we are not really of this world. (Of course, this bothers political conservatives a bit because that means WE are the “foreigners”, but again, we need these reminders.)

Events like Advent should be on our calendars and in our daily practices because they remind us that we truly serve a Kingdom not of this world. When we pause and reflect on the more powerful Kingdom of God, we have an opportunity to reflect on the nature of our King and it is quite possible we can then formulate some response that aren’t as shrill as we see in our culture today.

We need Advent. We need the reminder that we’re on a different calendar from the world.

HERE is the one I encourage our church to follow so every day we can be immersed in the Kingdom perspective rather than just waiting for our favorite columnist, blogger, radio personality, etc., to tell us how to react. (Unless, of course, that blogger is me. Then you should pay attention.)

Today’s reading is so needed! Here is an excerpt:

You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. (1 Thess. 5:5-6)

A simple reminder for us: Hey! You know better!

Dear friends, we have a call to walk differently. In this season, let us take that call seriously.


No thanks, I would rather yell

We are in such volatility this week.

I live in Minneapolis, so we have the added issue of a young black man shot by police and the tension is pretty heavy here as well.

Beyond that “small” local issue… there is France and terrorism. ISIS. Immigration.

Governors refusing to let in Syrian refugees. The president firing back. Political candidates yelling. Facebook is just poison. Christians… Christians… yelling at each other over whether to let refugees in or not.

In the midst of this week’s turmoil has been our reading in James for MULTIPLY.

Today I was moving through the section in James 5 talking about prayer. I was using the IVP commentary as a companion moving through those verses and the author made an interesting connection between James 5:12 and the rest of the section to follow.

James 5:12 (NIV)

12 Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.

The author’s contention was that when pressure mounts, we can have the same tendency as the world to ratchet up the volume and “seriousness” of our argument and swearing enters in. We make silly oaths.

The answer that follows is simple…and one we don’t like. Especially in this current environment.


James 5:13–16 (NIV)

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

When? When we’re in trouble. When we’re happy. When pressure is mounting…


To which we all seem to be saying, “No thanks. I’d rather yell.”

Yelling is cathartic. Yelling makes me sound serious. Yelling helps me insult someone I’ve really wanted to insult all along but now I have a good excuse. DOG GONE IT! I LIKE YELLING! LEAVE ME ALONE! I’LL PRAY LATER!

Wow. That felt good!

But what got accomplished? Compared to stepping back and talking to the great King of all kings about any of the world’s current situations? Yelling may feel good, but it accomplishes nothing. Bullet point political rants may make the Twitter feeds, but they don’t solve the problems.

We need prayer. Desperately.

Praying down strongholds like ISIS

This is a time I am so glad to be anchored in the Scriptures:

We give thanks to you, God. Yes, we give thanks!
    Your name is near. Your marvelous deeds are declared.

God says, “When I decide the time is right,
    I will establish justice just so.
    The earth and all its inhabitants will melt,
    but I will keep its pillars steady.” Selah

I said to the arrogant,
    “Don’t be arrogant!”
To the wicked I said,
    “Don’t exalt your strength!
        Don’t exalt your strength so highly.
        Don’t speak so arrogantly against the rock.”
Because what exalts someone
    doesn’t come from the east or west;
    it’s not from the south either.
Rather it is God who is the judge.
    He brings this person down,
        but that person he lifts up.
Indeed, there’s a cup in the Lord’s hand
    full of foaming wine, mixed with spice.
    He will pour it out,
    and all of the earth’s wicked people
    must drink it;
    they must drink every last drop!

But I will rejoice always;
    I will sing praises to Jacob’s God!
God says:
“I will demolish every bit of the wicked’s power,
    but the strength of the righteous will be lifted up.” (Psalm 75)

Pray for the downfall of the arrogant. Pray for the crushing of evil. God has this last word… and he always does.

Paris, Beirut, Cancer, and the Word of God

Through this portion of MULTIPLY discipleship we are focusing on the need to study the Word of God. We need this anchor. In a world gone mad, we need this anchor.

If there isn’t something deadly serious going on in the world (as in ISIS bombings in Beirut and Paris) there is always something ready to offend us (like crazy social media outrages). We can so easily be upset with so many things… real or imagined.

This past week came news of a wife who has faced cancer and beat it… and it’s back again and this time the faith is a bit harder to “muster up.” Treatments aren’t going well, more tumors are showing up… Lord! Hear our prayers!

We need anchors.

We hear news of bombings and the fear can mount up. We pray against cancer and the fear can mount up.

It is the steady diet of the Word of God that can keep us anchored. We need his presence in a powerful way and the Word can lead us into that powerful presence.

In a week gone crazy from the idiotic (like the great Christmas controversy of the Starbucks cup) to the deadly (like cancer returning and the horrific news out of Beirut and Paris), we can let all other voices dictate our “responses.”

We can lose focus.

It is today I found myself in Psalm 73. It is a psalm dealing with that very theme: the temptation to lose focus.

For the psalmist, the deal was with the wicked and the wealthy. They always seemed to “get away” with things! Why follow God? Why bother?

It was desperate!

13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
and have washed my hands in innocence. Psalm 73:13 (NIV)

But then there is the turn:

16 When I tried to understand all this,
it troubled me deeply
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny. Psalm 73:16–17 (NIV)

We need the anchor of the Word. We need the presence of the LIVING Word calling us out to gain perspective. It will save us from fear, from hatred, from normal “worldly” responses… and in a day like today, that is precisely what we need.

Hear our prayer, O Lord.

Help us care. Help us pray!

More persecution. How we need to lift up the Body of Christ in prayer!

Bishop Angaelos, the general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, underscored the Ethiopians’ testimony.

“Once again we see innocent Christians murdered purely for refusing to renounce their faith,” he said in a statement.

“As Christians, we remain committed to our initial instinct following the murder of our 21 Coptic brothers in Libya, that it is not only for our own good, but indeed our duty to ourselves, the world, and even those who see themselves as our enemies, to forgive and pray for the perpetrators of this and similar crimes,” he said. “We pray for these men and women, self-confessed religious people, that they may be reminded of the sacred and precious nature of every life created by God.”

The devaluing of human life

Usually when it comes to war and use of force, especially use of troops, media sources like The New York Times are fairly pacifist. (Depending on the president in office at the time and their political party, of course.) Generally speaking, many media outlets back off the calling for use of force.

But this editorial in The New York Times was strident.

They want force against ISIS. NOW. Tough words are laid down in this piece:

Will the world do nothing to stop extremist groups…

And this:

But the United Nations says it is largely powerless to deal with the threat, and Western governments claim they have more urgent military objectives.

This is dangerously wrong.

And this:

Why hasn’t the international community responded?

I’ve certainly asked questions like this of the media before. Where IS your outrage?

The difference is this: I am burdened over the loss of life. There is a systematic persecution raging in many part of the world against Christians. Thousands displaced. Thousands killed. Slaughter every week that should shock us. Al-Shabaab killed 148 Christians in Kenya last week. Targeted them in a university and shot them.

The outrage The Times has over ISIS? National treasure… STUFF… is being destroyed. It took the destruction of artifacts for the paper to shout, “Why aren’t we nuking these people???”

Not one word in this piece about the extreme loss of human life. It’s not even that they’re silent on Christians being slaughtered. It’s any religious group. The silence, as they say, is deafening.

It is the height of hypocrisy and it is revealing of a soul all at the same time. I could call it an “elitist” attitude or a “liberal” attitude, but that’s just too narrow. What it is… is scary. People of influence, people of means, people of persuasion who sit back and say nothing about the loss of human life… and if they do they will hesitate to show the loss is due to religious affiliation… but destroy a painting and they are ready to call for nuclear war.

This is the world they want. A world without religion in the public square. They don’t want people going “all moral” on them about the value of human life. This is a world where “freedom of religion” is about the “individual” and their right to keep their religion to themselves… just don’t drag it out there for the public to see.

This isn’t about conservative or liberal theology, or conservative or liberal Christianity. This is about a deep desire in those spouting off a false belief in the “progressive improvement” of humanity without religion getting their ultimate way. The value system is warped, and it’s on full display in this ridiculous opinion piece. Center stage.

Religion at its core isn’t the problem. It’s the insistence on not having religion in the public square adding to the debate that is the problem. Without religion in the public square, there is the false belief that humanity will only get “better and better” and if there are problems in this world, it is religion that is at fault.

It is not religion. It is human. Humanity has a problem. At our core, we want to be the little gods. We want to be in ultimate control. And left to our own devices… we don’t improve ourselves very well. We tend to start world wars and find more ways to destroy people than ever before. That’s not religion. That’s humanity.

But a world with less religion, and by that if it means fewer religious people, so be it, is a GOOD thing… in their view. Just save the artwork!