Struggling for Christmas meaning

Truth be told, I’ve been struggling to feel meaning this year in Advent leading up to Christmas. I suspect it’s because I’m in the transition time away from a prior perspective on Christmas and toward something more hopeful. There’s always, always a period of blahdom between places of meaning.

But maybe I’m just not feeling it.

Maybe I haven’t done enough.

Maybe I don’t care enough.

Wherever all this shakes out, I am convinced of this;
Any celebration of Christmas that isn’t consistent with Mary’s song
which includes the poor, the marginalized, the weak being blessed
I will no longer value.

Therefore, a season being immersed in consumerism,
a season where gift-giving has been twisted to enslave us rather that free us,
I will no longer value.
I will need to remind myself of this 1.2 million times before I die
because I will keep forgetting.

I will value the heart of Christmas.

I believe it to be
God with us.
God surprising us.
Kingship and power shown in service and weakness.
Surprising honor shown to people without honor.
These things are worth valuing deeply and feeding our lives.

But what do they look like in practice?
In repetitive action?
In habits that form our character?
In practices that bend our wills out of rebellious ruts and into faithful pathways?
Three years ago, the Advent Conspiracy drew me out of what I would call a “holy discontent” with Christmas status-quo that had become a deep cynicism.
I knew what I was against….kinda….but I didn’t know what I was for.
The process continues.

What meaningful practices have you found for you and yours?

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Afterword: Memorial Day

I’ve been having a bit of a conversation with some others on my Facebook page about the previous post here.  It was suggested that my intent in what I originally said was to “put America down.”  I spelled out my basic position as clearly as possible in response to that suggestion.  I quote it below as an addendum of sorts, a “going further” from the starting point of my initial comments to get down a little closer to the nuts and bolts of what I believe and how that affects America’s place in my thinking.

On this point of whether my words were intended to “put America down,” my response is the following.

Memorial Day is an American holiday (root meaning, “holy day,” set-apart) among others official (Veteran’s Day and Independence Day) and unofficial (Flag Day, Pearl Harbor, D-Day, etc) where a specific story is told that goes a bit like this,

“America is a free country. It is a free country because men and women have fought and died to make and keep it free, and it will only remain free as long as this continues to take place. Their gift to us is sacred, and it is our obligation to honor them, and our country, with shows of loyalty. Freedom isn’t free.”

As a Christian, speaking bluntly, I have huge, huge problems with this story. As a result, I believe it is the responsibility of all Christians, and specifically Christian leaders, on or close to these dates where this story is told, to tell an alternate story, one more like this.

“America is one of many countries. It has good qualities that deserve to be reflected on. We value freedom, but any “freedom” that requires demeaning or killing someone else to attain it is not freedom, but slavery to hatred and selfishness. Jesus taught and gave us the example of freedom: that we are free to love without boundary or thought of our own safety, that, yes, “Greater love has no-one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends,” but we don’t forget the next sentence, “And you are my friends if you do what I command.” And Jesus commanded us and showed us that we love and give our lives for our friends and enemies. America’s gift of its children to warfare is not sacred, but a tragedy. We should not spit on or disrespect soldiers for their commitments, but we should not worship militarism either. America is not exceptional, it is not the center of what God is doing in the world, and it has been a mixed bag of blessing and curse for our world. Pledge allegiance to Jesus and his kingdom, not an earthly kingdom. Now go, and speak and act accordingly.”

Unfortunately, where I’m from, and all over America, Christians show that America is most important to them by bringing all the American images into their worship; the soldier, the flag, the patriotic songs, the prayers for success, the belief that America is exceptional and righteous and good. Bluntly, this is IDOLATRY, which is the most heinous sin any of God’s creation can commit. We wrap God, Jesus, and Christianity in an American flag and think that’s ok.

So, do I go out of my way to “put America down”? I don’t think it’s the only thing I do, and if I “put America down,” I most often trumpet the beautiful vision of God’s kingdom that transcends ethnic, social, and national boundaries to include everyone committed to obeying him. Now THAT’S an exceptional group of folks!

Steadfast…

My breath prayer for the day comes from Psalm 57 in today’s daily lectionary;

My heart is steadfast, O God
my heart is steadfast.

I do not embody the fullness of truth in my living,
I am still wandering in the wilderness of doubt and confusion.

My heart is steadfast, O God
my heart is steadfast.

I so easily am tempted to self-righteousness
when I find the joy of obedience to you.
I can slide into a self-satisfaction,
believing that knowing the truth and practicing it more fully
somehow means that I possess the truth
and that I have become fundamentally different than others.

My heart is steadfast, O God
my heart is steadfast.

It is SO HARD to hope,
because hope is not wishing for something to happen,
it is not passively anticipating an event to occur.
No,
Hope is worked toward,
requires energy, time, intellect, muscles.
Hope is fostered through contributing meaningfully to society and world.
Hope is fostered when the darkness seems to overcome our small efforts,
when others laugh at us, consider us absurd relics of another era, or hopelessly idealistic dreamers,
it is then that we confront them in our small way
with our relentless efforts to seek your hope.

My heart is steadfast, O God
my heart is steadfast.

This day and every day,
may I be gripped by the hope of your kingdom.
Gripped
So captured by that hope that I work, and dream, and work,
so captured that I embrace the pain,
the pain of the deep darkness of our existence,
the darkness that threatens to overwhelm.
So captured that I reject using the tools of darkness as part of a desire to end the darkness;
tools like violence, self-righteousness, legalism, and cheap grace,
and instead embrace the supposed insanity of sacrificial love, of peaceableness,
of primarily embracing those on the margins rather than seeking the big solutions of the powerful.

My heart is steadfast, O God
my heart is steadfast.

Ensnare me in your kingdom, Lord.
Hem me in in front and behind.
So capture my heart that nothing can shake me from the joy of your vision for your world,
to believe that heaven is not reserved for somewhere over there,
but that your dream is for heaven to come here,
for people that are so heavenly-minded that we can’t help but invest all of who we are in your creation.

My heart is steadfast, O God
my heart is steadfast.

Morning thoughts on Wednesday, Nov 18th

PSALM 147:1-11

Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.
The Lord lifts up the downtrodden;
he casts the wicked to the ground.

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre.
He covers the heavens with clouds,
prepares rain for the earth,
makes grass grow on the hills.
He gives to the animals their food,
and to the young ravens when they cry.

His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;
but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love
.

As I heard these words from the daily lectionary in our house morning prayers, my mind immediately shifted to a couple key issues I am often occupied with these days. The first is my ever-expanding understanding of God’s purposes with His creation, and the second is the role I am to play in participating in God’s purposes.

So, first things first.  This Psalm stands among many other testaments to God’s care in the Scriptures.  While the Psalms are prayers and not necessarily theologically correct or truthful to the purposes of God all the time, their poetry and artistic beauty illustrates the truth through a different method than simple statements.

Psalm 147 has become one of my favorites.

The Psalm begins with God’s intimate care for His people.  He binds up the broken-hearted, lovingly cares for their wounds.

The Psalm progresses immediately to the big-picture; that this intimate God also created the stars, those massive heavenly bodies in this expansive universe.  “Great is the Lord, and abundant in power.”

The Psalm swings back to the intimate, communicating God’s care for the downtrodden; He is aware of their circumstance, and is not ok with the status quo of oppression. This powerful God who created all things is not an American liberal in the sky; hating that things happen outside his plan, yet unwilling to do much more than wring his hands or carry a protest sign.  This God will destroy the wicked; they will face consequences at some point.  He is intolerant to wickedness, and working to bring healing and dignity.

Then the Psalm deals with the big picture and the intimate at the same time.  He prepare rain, makes grass grow, gives food to His creation, not just creating but sustaining it.  And this powerful God is not impressed foremost with the power and strength of His creation, whether it be the rippling muscles and raw power of the horse or the swiftness of the human runner.  No, the Lord foremost takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. I find this distinction to be powerful to reflect on.

This God is all-powerful, wants us to aspire after and imitate His character, yet wants us to “know our place” as well. There is a great tension in the Scriptures on this point; we are to shape our world the way God wants, yet we are to do it as radically humble, non-violent, suffering-love people.  God reserves the right to break the wicked, but we love them and give our lives for them unconditionally; even as we long for justice to be done. Spoken of negatively, we could say, “How hard this task is, and seemingly impossible!”  Spoken of positively, we could say, “How worthy a goal to devote our lives to, how all-embracing and all-consuming a task!”  To speak then of conversion as a one-time experience, or to use terminology like “got saved” as a past-tense event is to do a great disservice to the life of returning to God and being a responsible, joy-filled disciple of Jesus.

…and it is on this matter that I shift to the second issue I’m occupied with these days, which is the meaning our role as human beings to participate well in God’s creation.  We touched on this point specifically in our house church gathering on Sunday, and God’s people run into this point nearly every time they gather, discuss, and consider questions of larger significance.  It is the unacknowledged elephant in the room almost every gathering I’ve been a part of.  Most times it’s expressed as this;

“God has a plan and a purpose for his creation that he will carry out, and it’s my responsibility to be ok with that, to stop striving and let myself be a part of God’s plan that He’s going to carry out anyways.” Does anyone else hear that basic message in their gatherings?

We human beings are good at striving; we strive for possessions, we strive for comfort, we strive for power, we strive for emotional highs (whether from drugs or experiences), we strive for intimacy yet strive for it elsewhere when it becomes inconvenient.  Most of what human beings strive for is not a positive thing.  It seems that persons aware of this problem often live in reaction to this, and propose that the solution is to cease striving and accept.  To quit chafing at the bit and be content.  And like all over-reactions, there is some truth in this; we should spend time accepting, seeking contentment, and resting.  But what is the net result of the overreaction?  A people are created who believe striving itself is bad, who think the utmost of spirituality is to submit, to embrace.  I used to think this too, and with good reason.  Religious leaders would highlight verses like the above in Psalm 147 that “(God’s) understanding is beyond measure” or Isaiah 55 and “My ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thoughts,” or the book of Job, which is a testament to the limits of human understanding.  The basic sense of the book is expressed in Job 40 and the interplay between God and Job,

The LORD said to Job:
“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!”

Then Job answered the LORD :
“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer—
twice, but I will say no more.”

All of these Biblical passages are important. They remind us that we are not God, that we are not free to do whatever we wish, that the journey to healthy humanity begins with submission and obedience to a Being much more powerful than we who has sovereignty over our lives.

Yet the religious leaders of my life either outright lived in ignorance of passages with different variations or were aware of them and chose to mute their voice. In doing this, they removed them from my knowing unless I was willing to read and ask questions of the Scriptures myself, which I was not willing to do at that point.

But over time, I got to know passages like Genesis 18, where Abraham negotiates with God to respond in certain ways according to the actions of the people of Sodom.  He does this by appealing to God’s righteous character that may be besmirched among humanity by their observing his devastating action.  I got to know about characters like Elijah and Jeremiah and Isaiah and Ezekiel who, instead of simply ceasing to strive when in relationship with God, simply cast their striving in a different direction.  They altered their goals and dreams to fit those of their Creator and found their world shifting around them; whether they found success or became unwanted persons because they didn’t fit in anymore with their old groups.  I looked at the wider context of the above-quoted Isaiah passage and found that the teaching there is for the wicked and the evil to abandon their old thoughts and embrace new ones, worthy ones, and that abundant life would flow from such a commitment.  So far from God wanting us to passively accept what we think are His ways, He wants to be invest the totality of who we are in something different.

And maybe the capstone of this much different perspective comes in Exodus 32 when Moses comes down off the mountain and observes that the people of Israel had grown impatient and begun worshiping a golden calf.  The interplay between himself and  God is interesting;

“I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. “O LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’ ”

Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”

It seems like when God’s creation lives in depraved rebellion, God (acting alone because no one will join Him) shoots a little loose from the hip, so to speak.  God is more willing to use the destructive qualities He possesses to awaken his creation to the destructiveness of their ways.  But when someone choose to join Him, not just becoming mindless obeyers but really entering into relationship with Him, God alters His ways to be more relational, more healing, more patient.

What I’m saying is this; It seems that God has built into his purposes that He will act in direct relationship with the human beings He has made in his image.  When these humans forsake that calling and actively oppose Him, He will strike us down (whether in the short or long term).  When these humans cease striving against Him, even if we become benign persons who see our primary role as persons who just nod at what happens and say, “That is God at work in ways I don’t understand,”  God kind of prefers that, though the lack of an all-encompassing desire leads to lukewarmness (either with the person or succeeding generations).  Passivity will be a midpoint from active rebellion to active obedience.  But God’s highest purpose is that we would trade in our former, darkened, depraved strivings for new, enlightened, redeemed strivings. And that when we transcend striving against and benign obedience into active justice-seeking, He will reward our efforts by more actively working through us to redeem His creation.

What kind of spirituality is in your community? By and large, I think, most communities I know advocate the passive acceptance of “God’s will” as the proper sort of spirituality to seek after in this life.  But I just don’t see passive acceptance of the ways things are to be the primary method of the righteous in the Bible.  I see active pursuit of the true, the just, and the right. And that pathway involves agitating against the present order to transform it into its intended state.

And that pathway even includes questioning and cajoling God, which God not only doesn’t reject, but in fact embraces, appreciates, and acts in response to.  He may need to punch us in the mouth from time to time when we get too uppity and forget who we are, but He loves the activity, the striving, the justice-seeking.

“The LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.”

A worthy pursuit. This God has me in His grip, and is beginning to consume me, leading me to place every thought and action captive to the grand question of whether it fits the vision of His kingdom coming and His will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

No, I’m sorry, but no…

On August 29th, 2008, Barack Obama said in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention:

“America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise – that American promise – and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess. Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.”

I heard that speech in its entirety.  It was, by and large, a pretty decent one.  But to the section I’ve quoted above, I have to say, “No, Barack.  I’m sorry, but no.”

Your speech was full of good, solid thinking on the problems of America and some solutions we can strive for together.  But I was deeply saddened at your last few sentences.  I’m not knocking the American promise; we can work together as people for the good of this country.  But Barack, the American promise is not the hope that we confess.  You claim to be a Christian, a claim that should not be made lightly, and Christians are held accountable to the Scripture that roots us as a people.  Last I checked, in that Scripture you quoted a little bit of, Jesus is the hope that we confess, and his global kingdom is the goal we progress towards as people, not America.

Barack, you have shown a balanced, principled approach to leadership in this country.  But in pursuit of being “balanced,” you have either allowed your discipleship to be co-opted by your political interests or you have presented yourself as someone without any serious, totalizing commitment to Christ that might make you look foolish in the eyes of others.  Whether this is a method or the real thing, Barack, Jesus expects more out of you, and it saddens and angers God when we place other things or commitments in the place only he can occupy.

And Barack, one more thing.  I know you have to say “God bless America” or you’ll be written off as a unpatriotic heretic.  Another one of those hurdles you have to jump through to be elected in this country. But please, in your politics and in your speech, will you represent the larger blessing we pursue, the one that reads “God bless the world”?  Clearly, America is not God’s kingdom, but there is a Biblical commitment among those who are blessed (in this case with material things); they are blessed to be a blessing.  Blessed to have a genuine concern for all the world’s citizens and all the rest of God’s creation; the kind of concern that leads us beyond America an into the major global moral issues of our day.  Please talk about/exemplify that, Barack.

 

On September 3rd, 2008 at the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney said:

Just like you, there has never been a day when I was not proud to be an American. We inherited the greatest nation in the history of the earth. It is our burden and privilege to preserve it, to renew its spirit so that its noble past is prologue to its glorious future. To this we are all dedicated and I firmly believe, by the providence of the Almighty, that we will succeed. President McCain and Vice President Palin will keep America as it has always been – the hope of the Earth. Thank you, and God bless America.

I also listened to his whole speech.  I can’t say much good about his larger message, but especially in the above quotation, I was horrified and now must say, “No Mitt.  I’m sorry, but no.”

America is not and has not ever been the hope of the Earth.  As a disciple of Jesus, I firmly reject your statement.  In the incredible, beautiful letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul makes a powerful statement.  It is  may not come with the weight of an entire army behind it, nor will it come with economic might, but it is the truth nonetheless.  Here is Paul’s confession;

“For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing hymns to your name.” Again, it says,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and sing praises to him, all you peoples.” And again, Isaiah says,
The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
the Gentiles will hope in him
.”

Mitt, you’re a Gentile like me, so this passage is addressed to us.  It seems that the prophet Isaiah proclaimed that Jesus rules over the nations, and that the Gentiles (joining with the Jewish people) will hope in him.  So no, Mitt, America is not the hope of the earth.

And Mitt, isn’t it a little myopic of you to make the claim that America always has been the hope of the earth?  Are you aware that America has only existed for 232 years?  And if you’re looking beyond the relatively short existence of America to make a larger claim, are you trying to say that all of history has anticipated the rise of the American nation so that it may, finally, have hope?  Mitt, forgive me for being direct, but that’s, frankly, deluded, not to mention deeply vain.

I would encourage you, Mitt, to read a story of someone else that got a little too big for his own britches, trusted a little too much in his own power, believed that every other nation had anticipated his people’s rise. His name (a little confusing to pronounce) was Nebuchadnezzar.  For all intents and purposes, his kingdom was the most powerful around.  People quaked in their boots when they heard ol’ King Neb was coming.  King Neb had a dream, though, a disturbing one. You can read about it in the prophetic book of Daniel, chapter 4.  The dream was about a great and beautiful tree. In King Neb’s words,

“Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the beasts of the field found shelter, and the birds of the air lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.”

Pretty amazing tree, right?  But in the King’s dream, the tree was cut down by a certain “holy messenger.”  It disturbed the King, so he asked one of his royal advisors, Daniel (or Belteshazzar), what it meant.  Daniel had some bad news.  Forgive me for quoting his whole answer, Mitt, but I doubt you’ll go to read the chapter, being that you’re more interested in attacking liberals than in seeking the Scriptural truth.  Here’s Daniel’s words.

“My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the beasts of the field, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds of the air- you, O king, are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.”

Does that sound a little like America, Mitt?  I’m going to bold the parts you might like to reflect on for a bit. Daniel continues;

“You, O king, saw a messenger, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live like the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.’

“This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

Mitt, I’m not sure if you caught that.  Not only did King Neb get the reminder that he wasn’t the Grand Kahuna (or “the hope of the earth,” in your words), but Daniel reminded him of a social reality; good governance that God blesses is that which is “kind to the oppressed.”  In addition to recognizing who’s the real hope of the Earth, if you’re able to look past your political buzzwords that flush the faces of partisan hacks, America’s material prosperity is intended to flow from us outwards in a conscious commitment to the oppressed.  

Here’s a couple good questions, Mitt.

Who are the oppressed in our world?  

Who or what is oppressing them?

And how are these people reacting in order to gain a voice in the world?  

These are compelling questions that may lead you to dis-ease with your confident pronouncements.

I’m sorry about ranting a bit here, Barack and Mitt (well, not really).  

You see, I’m tired of politicians invoking the name of God while essentially spitting in his face as they do whatever they want.  I know that’s not just the politicians’ problem; heck, it’s a general global one.  But I’m about to the end of my rope with you guys, and profoundly dissatisfied with how American politics has descended into a conversation I could imagine with first-graders in my local elementary school.  

“You’re stupid.”  
“No, you’re stupid.”
“You have a fat nose and you’re poor.”  
(The other kids’ varied responses  “Ooooo” “Oh no you didn’t!”  Some laughing, others appalled).  

Barack, you’ve shown a commitment to attempting to rise above this stuff, and so far you’ve done an OK job.  I hope you keep to that.

In closing, I will say that I hope that both of you understand why I don’t expect a whole lot out of you, with the present state of things being what it is.

Memorial Day thoughts…

In the words of Mark Driscoll, “I will lean over the plate and take one for the team on this.”  I shared these thoughts this past Sunday at the beginning of our worship gathering.  I wrestled and wrestled with it for days before, but I decided to go ahead and be courageous for the sake of God’s kingdom.  I may post the (rough) audio here in the next couple days so you can hear how I spoke these words.  I welcome feedback.

 

We will not be focusing on the cultural holiday of Memorial Day in worship today, and I want to tell you why.

The kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God are not the same.  The kingdom of the United States is a kingdom of the world with different purposes than the kingdom of God, and it is not the center of what God is doing in the world.  Now I’m not isolating the United States as being the only nation that is not the center of what God is doing in the world, because every kingdom of this world, all around the world, is not equal to the kingdom of God.  If we are willing to look beyond our cultural and national boundaries to the world as God sees it, we come to an understanding very quickly that the people group God is most concerned about in the world are His faithful people.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he wrote, (11-13, 19-22)

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ… Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

We are fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.  If we are fellow citizens as disciples of Jesus, what are we citizens of?  (Israel, not the modern kind, but the faithful people of God; God’s kingdom).  We are centrally citizens of God’s kingdom.  And when we read today Paul writing to Gentiles who are no longer foreigners and strangers, but united as citizens of one kingdom, who is he writing to?  (those all over the world who have become disciples of Jesus, people who now are fellow citizens of the same nation, the same people).

What that means practically is that Christians in South Africa are not South African Christians, but just Christians living in South Africa, those in Britain are not British Christians, but Christians living in Britain, those in the United States are not American Christians, but Christians living in the United States, and those living in China are not Chinese Christians, but Christians living in China.  In all of these places, their primary citizenship is not the country they live in, but the kingdom of God’s people.

This is not something we can argue over.  It is not an opinion, it is fact.  And everyone here should know how careful I am when I speak to say most of what I say is my perspective on the truth.  But this is not my perspective.  It is the truth.  If we are Christians, we are primarily citizens of God’s global kingdom.

And all of these countries have their own cultural holidays, and all of the Christians living in those countries have to be able to separate between which holidays to focus on and which not to.   In regards to Memorial Day, if we’re asking whether God has ever used the United States in military action to accomplish his purposes, the answer is yes.  But the same answer would be given to all the other countries across the world as well.  If we’re asking, has the United States in military action ever committed evil acts? The answer is yes.  And the same answer would be given to all the other countries across the world as well.

What should be troubling to us is the blank check that many Christians in America give to military action.  We are all over the board in this room on whether military action is ever justified to accomplish God’s purposes, and when we wrestle with this question, our perspectives must be rooted in the Scriptures.  But one thing we all can agree on is that military action is not justified in all circumstances at all times. If it is true that the unjust loss of life has taken place at the military’s hands, which it is, the military has acted in opposition then to the kingdom of God.

As we discern which cultural holidays to focus on a bit and which not, this is a consideration that should guide our worship.  We are members of a global kingdom that does not see boundaries the way other persons do; we do not fragment the world into little pieces like other people do.  We are different.  We are Christians.

This is why Memorial Day is not appropriate for Christian worship because it focuses on America at the exclusion of the rest of the world.  Because America is not the center of God’s world, it is not appropriate for it to be the focus of our worship.