Castles in the Sand

When the waters rise, will our castles remain?

Pastor speaking on a platform

I had a brief but engaging conversation the other day about the challenge of being a pastor and remaining apolitical. Essentially, the goal is to teach about Jesus and how to follow Him without encroaching on people’s political stances, since Christ followers line up across the political spectrum.

On its surface, I support this. Jesus did not spark a political uprising (although that threat was used to try to justify a need to kill Him), and I’ve written about the problem when Christians place their efforts into politics.

Unfortunately for that effort, it’s too late. We can’t try to live in a world where Christianity is apolitical because Christians have already made it political. To be honest, that’s been the case in America going back generations (e.g. using the Bible to support slavery), but it’s played an even greater role in recent decades with the “Moral Majority” and similar movements.

Christianity has become so politicized that messages from the pulpit are (whether intentionally or not) interpreted as triggers to support or denigrate one side or the other. This often happens with comparisons of how we “should stand out from the world.” That statement is absolutely true and aligns with the words of Jesus, and pastors usually include a few examples in that statement. The problem is that they often include the ones that pretty much every “Christian” will agree with while leaving out any that the audience might find controversial (regardless of Jesus’ words and actions on the subject).

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Selfie with man and woman in front of Notre Dame Cathedral

One year ago, Kelli and I were in the midst of a three-week, once-in-a-lifetime trip throughout much of western Europe. We crammed as much as we could into a nonstop adventure, and it was truly amazing.

One of the many highlights for me was visiting some of the most famous and beautiful churches in the world, some as many as 1,000 years old. I love old buildings, and especially old places of worship, so pretty much every time we passed an old church (which was constantly; they’re seemingly on every street corner), I made us wander inside.

Exactly one year ago today, we were in Paris. That meant the chance to see Notre Dame, and it was everything I could have dreamed it would be. We toured the cathedral itself but didn’t have time that day to climb the steps to the top of the bell towers. Luckily, we were able to do that on the final day of our trip after returning to Paris for our flight home.

As everyone knows, tragedy struck Notre Dame just a few months later. Heroic efforts by the Paris firefighters saved the structure from complete destruction, but it will be many years before it is restored and reopened. Immediately, people from across the world pledged donations to the restoration of the church, with figures topping $1 billion.

Closer to home, Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Tacoma has stood along I-5 since the freeway was built (the church has been there for nearly 100 years). While that history cannot compare with the churches of Europe, it is still a gorgeous landmark and part of the city’s history. But recently, it’s fallen into disrepair, and it’s currently closed to the public. Authorities estimate at least $2.5 million in repairs just to get it functional to reopen, and $18 million to provide the full renovation it needs. Church and community members are banding together to see if they can raise the funds and save it from destruction.

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Baseball jersey back with 34 and Hernandez

Saturday evening I attended a baseball game in Seattle and watched my beloved Mariners lose.

Nothing about that sentence is notable, as I’ve attended many games and been tortured by my devotion to the Mariners throughout my life as they’ve lost far more than they’ve won. In fact, Saturday’s game felt more like a home game for the visiting Toronto Blue Jays due to the sheer volume (both in terms of attendance and sound) of fans making their way south from Canada to support their team.

What was notable, and the reason I chose to attend the game, was the man who stood on the mound for the Mariners at the start of the game. Returning for the first time since spending several months on the injured list, Felix Hernandez pitched for the Mariners.

Even that fact would not be particularly notable – aside from his injury keeping him out of the rotation lately – as Felix (we’re on a first-name basis) has spent 15 seasons pitching for the Mariners. Most of that time, he’s been their ace and one of the dominant pitchers in all of baseball.

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Silhouette of hands raised with the word "Jesus" in the background

I think this is one of the underlying issues with the claim that America is a Christian nation and/or the desire to make it one. We can’t agree on what it means to be a Christian.

As anyone who has read many of my posts by now will know, I grew up firmly in the conservative evangelical church community. I have pastors in my family, we volunteered at church, and I spent 13 years in AWANA earning all the way up to the Citation award (the highest one).

I don’t say that to brag (although at one point in my life, I very much did); I say it to create context for where I’m coming from. I grew up knowing that being a Christian meant asking Jesus to be your personal Lord and Savior. That’s all it took. Super simple.

Except that’s not true. Because I remember participating in many conversations with friends and family members about people from other church backgrounds and communities who might think they’re Christians, but they weren’t “real Christians.” This was usually referenced on an individual basis, but in some cases included entire denominations/communities that were either outright not included or maybe included with some level of skepticism (let’s be real, they’re probably not included, but we can’t be sure).

Various examples of these people included Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, plus some varying degree of Lutheranism, Anglican, Presbyterian, and more. Oh, and most definitely “anyone who places a ‘D’ next to their name.” That was an absolute: you cannot put a ‘D’ next to your name and be Christian.

It was quite the exclusive Christianity, but then again, Jesus told us that the gate and road that lead to life are narrow, and only a few find them (Matthew 7:14). And, of course, we were and are part of that few. The next verses in Matthew right after that point to recognizing a tree by its fruit, so we would point to our exceptional fruit (carefully crafted to look as beautiful as possible and hide any blemishes that might bring shame upon us).

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Silhouette of a pastor delivering a sermon

Jesus’ closest disciples spent three years in close quarters with him, and they still got most everything wrong much of the time.

It’s kind of entertaining (not to mention reassuring) to see just how bold Peter will be as he says something completely missing Jesus’ entire point. Thankfully, Jesus always corrected him and provided clarity. Of course, that never stopped Peter from doing pretty much the same thing again.

I reference this for two reasons:

  1. None of us has everything right. And even if somehow we did at one point, our human nature would mean that we inevitably screw it up at some point soon. These people literally followed Jesus everywhere He went, clung to every word, physically witnessed His teachings and deeds, and still made all kinds of mistakes. If that happened to them, none of us is above reproach.
  2. Leadership is vital to ensure followers don’t get off track. Jesus modeled a perfect expression of what we are to be both in word and deed. Those closest to Him witnessed it first hand and still made mistakes. In those times, He was prompt to call them out (sometimes aggressively – Matthew 16:23) to ensure they did not get too far off.

In light of those statements and our current culture, I have a simple question: where is our evangelical Christian leadership?

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Handgun in holster on American flag

In the midst of even more tragic massacres of human life, debates about gun control always return to the forefront. So today, I’d like to take a look at the Second Amendment and consider how its text lines up with the arguments facing our culture.

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Aside from some strange comma and capitalization use (by our modern writing standards), these 27 words form two pretty simple statements. First, a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state. Second, because of the first statement, the people’s right to bear arms shall not be infringed.

So we have two statements, with the second dependent on the first. But here’s our problem today: we no longer operate in our country with a well-regulated militia. The founding fathers saw permanent military structures as tools of corrupt governments. Since military is only necessary in times of war, the nation should have a well-regulated militia made up of the citizens who will come together when needed to fight wars on behalf of the nation. In times of peace, the militia disbands and people go home.

That’s how the continental army formed for the Revolutionary War; we won our independence from England using militia (and the help of the French). But we don’t do that anymore. Now in an interconnected world of constant conflict, we have the largest military force on the planet operating 24/7. This presents two problems for the Second Amendment and its intent.

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