Thursday, December 14, 2017


For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. 

I'm not hurting any body! 

In this part of his pastoral letter to the Thessalonians, Paul isn't telling the new Christians what to believe, but how to live out their faith. They, like us, are living in the in-between time, after Jesus’ resurrection but before his second coming. Paul is urging the Thessalonians to live Godly lives in response to the grace that God has given them. They are to abstain from lustful, passionate and exploitive relationships. They are to honor the bodies of the people around them and not use others for their own pleasure.

Not exploiting people is harder than it might first appear. While many of us would never engage in sexual fertility rites like the pagan worshippers in Thessalonica, exploitation of other people's bodies still exists. Recent headlines about sexual assault are a testament to the way women’s (and some men’s) bodies are taken advantage of even today. Human trafficking is still an issue during the Superbowl.

It can be easy for many of us to think that we are quite different from the Thessalonians or those who make unwanted sexual advances or hire prostitutes, but many of us are complicit in the same sin, just to a different degree. We may feel like we have a moral high ground if we have heteronormative, culturally appropriate, mutually fulfilling sexual relationships. We are pretty sure we aren't hurting any body. 

But the truth is, even the most chaste, faithful or respectful among us depends on other people’s bodies. In order to make the everyday things we buy and use affordable, we end up exploiting the bodies of other people. Our grapes and tomatoes and t-shirts and shoes came at a cost to someone else's body. And while it's not the horrible violation of sexual abuse, the exploitative nature of our economy is not holy.

The people who harvest our food, make our clothes or (even closer to home) care for our children are working for our benefit. Their bodies go and do what ours cannot, for whatever reason. Too often hese workers earn less than a living wage, work in questionable conditions and face the painful side effects of their jobs on their bodies without health insurance. If they are overseas, the conditions may be even worse. 

It's easy to be self-righteous knowing that we are kind and respectful to the people we encounter. But how we depend upon and treat the bodies we don't see in our everyday economic choices is something many of us need to think and pray about. Myself included.

Photo credit: Broadus Mattison 
Creative Commons

Saturday, December 9, 2017


1 Thessalonians 2:13-20

How do we wait? 

For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.

Many practicing Christians know that Advent is a time of waiting. In the four weeks before Christmas we remember the promises of God in the past and look forward to Christ coming again. We are waiting, yes. But, I wonder, are we longing for God while we wait? Do we feel like we need Jesus to show up again to usher in God’s peace? Or have thousands of years of waiting numbed us to the promises? Has the long wait turned us into Christians who sit politely in pews like we are at an airport gate instead of creating a community that is out in the world imitating Christ?

Paul applauds the new Christians in Thessalonica for being imitators of the Judean churches and choosing the Jesus Way, despite persecution. In their faith and their actions, they have set themselves apart from the status quo with their passion for Christ. They keep the faith in the face of suffering.

For many of us today, our faith is no longer a matter of life and death, but one of commitments. When we commit our lives to Christ in the United States in 2017, what most of us really mean is we commit our thoughts, our time and our money for a few hours a week. We are not really committing our bodies. For many of us there is no danger in proclaiming or acting upon our faith. I thank God for that freedom.

But, sometimes I wonder if it dulls our commitment. The Jesus Way spread like fire in the crucible of the Roman Empire. At its heart Christianity is a faith built upon the love of God in Christ and the hope of God's peace or Shalom. Christianity was formed in opposition to the exploitation and injustice of God’s beloved people.

We worship a God who promises to heal the broken hearted and bind up their wounds. The God who proclaims freedom for the captives and release to the prisoners (Isaiah 61:1 and Luke 4:18) — the literally captive and imprisoned, not just the spiritually wounded and captive. We worship a God who promises to never leave us or forsake us, even in death. That faith created martyrs who were no longer afraid to die. Martyrs who imitated every aspect of Christ. 

Perhaps this Advent should be a time of active waiting instead of passive reflection. A time when we demonstate the promises of God, live out the actions of Jesus and imitate the faith of the Thessalonians.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


Finding our spiritual family

We were like infants among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves.

Growing up, I read and re-read the book Are You My Mother? Something about the newly born bird searching for its mother captured my imagination. The bird comes out of its shell while Mom is out getting food. Confused, the bird goes around asking various animals and things the same question, Are you my mother?

The bird asks a hen and a dog and a cow but they are not his (or her?) mother.  The bird sees a car and a plane and calls out the question. Finally he hops onto the teeth of a digger and is terrified with the shovel starts taking him up into the air. The digger drops the tiny bird back into the nest where he finally finds his mother and snuggles in with her.

In this part of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he highlights the gentle, familial love he has for the people of that church. He uses family images to highlight intimacy they have. He calls them brothers and sisters; he confesses his vulnerability by calling himself an infant among them. Mixing his metaphors he refers himself as a wet nurse caring for children as well as a father urging his children to lead good lives.

Throughout the Epistles Paul refers to himself and the Apostles as lactating women offering spiritual milk, fatherly guides and loving siblings to emphasize that in Christ we are one family. This  doesn’t mean that the families don't have their share of dysfunction. Paul’s letters to different communities show us that each Christian community has it’s own idiosyncrasies and vices. 

Like the little bird, sometimes it takes a while to find our true spiritual home. We may visit different communities and wonder how we might fit. We ask ourselves: Are these the people with whom I can be all that I am? Can I be the vulnerable child, the gentle mother, the guiding father with these people?

Just like Paul, we are all complex people who sometimes act like children or mothers or fathers or something in between depending on the day.

It is my hope that each person can find a community of people like Paul and the Thessalonians. People who long to see each other. People who are eager to spend time together. People who we can call our glory and joy. People about whom we will boast when Jesus comes. People with whom we share not just the gospel, but our very, varied selves.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017



God Chooses You

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

Sometimes it seems like God’s word comes out of the unlikeliest mouths — and sometimes the people speaking it don’t even know it! I can’t count the number of times have I heard something that profoundly influences my faith in an ordinary, non-churchy conversation. God is present everywhere. This was something that the Apostle Paul understood as he spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to the "churchy" and "non-churchy," to Jews and Pagans alike.

The Thessalonians were not Jewish, but they were people of faith. To share the gospel with them Paul communicates very broadly. No mention of Jewish or Christian rituals or laws, no special words or stories from Torah. When Paul writes to these new converts, he just shares the promise that they are God’s beloved. He reminds them that they didn’t choose God. God chose them and gifted them with the power of conviction and the Holy Spirit. Paul kept it simple. 

Too many times we can let our words get in the way of sharing our faith. We get excited by Biblical history and complex concepts. We use jargon  and big words to try to explain our faith like the people in this video:

Paul was a master communicator. He knew when to talk about history and reference scripture to prove his points. But he also knew that big words and emphasis on perfect theology can get in the way of conveying something so simple: You are God’s beloved. God chooses you. 

Monday, December 4, 2017


 Why Bother? 

flikr: Erin Leigh McConnell
But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

I can remember lying in my dark bedroom as a 13-year old with a knot in the pit of my stomach. The
realization that the world was so much more complex than my own life hit me hard. The news began to mean something. Words like Cold War, first strike, nuclear annihilation meant huge parts of the world could suffer. Hearing about trickle down economics made me realize some people were OK with favoring the rich.

My Sunday school faith was failing me in the face of the world outside of church and family. Nothing I learned in those comfortable rooms with a half-smiling, hippie Jesus seemed to apply to the real world. Who would think that a nuclear war was a good idea for any reason? Why do powerful people only act in their self interest? Where was the light in the darkness? Where was God?

I'm certainly not alone in my political and spiriutal coming of age moment. Teens coming of age today in the midst of news of nuclear tests in North Korea and trickle down economics v.2 are hearing many of the same headlines. None of it is new. The writer of 2 Peter 3 is addressing people who are wondering about the state of the world. Thousands of years ago, they wanted to know why bad things were happening and where was God in all of it?

We experience this disconnect between what is and what could be because we sense that the world should be a more fair and equitable place. We’ve been given an intuitive understanding of God’s Shalom or peace and justice. We know enough about the Bible to picture what that should look like. 

The space between our current reality and God's Shalom is vast — and has been for most of human history. This can create feelings of despair when we witness ongoing evil and exploitation, words that mean acting with unchecked self-interest. We may be tempted to say, Why bother? and decide to indulge our own passions of greed, lust, anger or derision.

But, this passage reminds to be God's people even when it seems like the world around us is going to hell. We don’t join the “scoffers” and mock and jeer other people. Nor should we get “carried away with the error of the lawless" and decide to take what we need and live only for ourselves. Rather, we proclaim the Jesus agenda.

  • Each day we get up and pray for the world to be a better place, including prayers for our enemies.
  • Each day we get up and love the people God puts in front of us, even if they are Samaritans or Muslims or refugees.
  • Each day we get up and participate in the Kingdom of God that is present around us by loving God and our neighbors.
 We have to take it on faith that God’s goodness will prevail. We follow Jesus even when it feels like it's against our own self-interest. Advent reminds us that we may not be able to see it yet, but God's Shalom is, indeed, coming.