Here you will find a monthly message from Pastor Bill Wade.
Sometimes you just need to hear a different voice. (Kinda like that time Venus Flytrap explained the structure of an atom to a ghetto kid on WKRP in Cincinnati - I know, I know, I’m dating myself. Look it up on YouTube.) I watched recently two interviews involving my favorite bands that brought fresh voices to me about Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves.
First, I watched a wide-ranging interview with U2 about the 30th anniversary of arguably their greatest album, The Joshua Tree. I’ve always admired Bono’s heart and his passion, but I don’t always agree with him politically. For example, I’ve had a hard time understanding why he - and so many others - don’t acknowledge that out-of-control illegal immigration can be problematic. When the interviewer asked the band why they thought this album was so embraced by Americans, Bono replied [http://www.u2.com/media/player/1275/1, starting at 18:11]:
The Irish more than most see America as a kind of promised land… We’re open to this idea that [America] is more than just a country; it’s an idea… Ireland is a great country, New Zealand is a great country, but they’re not ideas… I felt I personally became like an annoying fan of this mythic America, where the liner notes of the country - like the “Declaration of Independence” - I would follow America into the bathroom and quote the liner notes, saying, “What’s happened to you? This is who you are; you’re not living up to who you are…”
Bono talks about a song called “American Soul” on their upcoming album that has a lyric: “It's not a place, this country is to me a thought/ It offers grace for every welcome that is sought.”
He quotes Ronald Reagan from his famous City Shining on a Hill speech: “If there has to be walls, those walls will have doors and those doors will be open…” Finally, Bono concludes, “The principles are best expressed on the bottom of the Statue of Liberty: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’ That’s what America is, and that’s why we love them.”
Hearing Bono gush over America - the ideas of freedom and welcome - finally helped me to understand a different perspective on immigration. When he hears the wall-builders, all he hears is anti-welcome. Listening to him, I felt like I finally understood his viewpoint better. My response is: where are the people on the right who say, “We’re pro-immigration; we’re just pro wise-immigration”? And where are the people on the left who say, “We welcome all who want to immigrate into our country and to embrace our foundational, constitutional ideals of freedom”?
A second interview was a panel discussion on race, religion and reconciliation moderated by Jon Foreman, the lead singer for the band Switchfoot. During the interview a Christian hip hop artist named Propaganda suggested that God-and-country has replaced God-and-neighbor. In the parable about the Good Samaritan when Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus went to a person from another nation, a person that they had racist feelings towards. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKn-AG2SbiU, starting about 17min]. He’s right! In our culture - our evangelical, Christian, American culture - we sometimes act like God wants us to protect our country and our culture more than we want to love our neighbor.
I know this is too short of a forum to discuss these topics satisfactorily, but they are important topics. And the surprising part is this: these are Gospel-related topics! We’ve stopped listening to the perspectives of people we disagree with politically, and as a result the Church is losing it’s voice in our culture. I wonder what would happen if we, as representatives of Jesus in this broken, messed-up, and volatile world, proved ourselves to be neighbors by listening to some fresh voices and by loving our neighbors - even the ones we don’t understand?
In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one… (Ephesians 6:16)
I just watched the movie Star Trek Beyond for the second time. The bad guys attack the good guys with thousands - perhaps millions - of tiny, pointy, drone spaceships. Their effectiveness is not in their power or weapons, but in their number. There are simply too many of the swarming “bees” to defend against - especially when each craft is willing to crash into it’s target for massive cumulative damage.
I’ve always assumed that the flaming darts of the evil one are the times when my faith is challenged by enormous questions: an atheist asserts that a “God” who allows suffering could not possibly be good or powerful, or an evolutionist mocks my belief in human beings being designed with dignity by a loving Creator. I’d better be ready to give an answer to the big faith-challenging questions like these! But I’m starting to think that the flaming darts are more like those nasty little “bee” drones. It’s not the big, powerful challenges that tend to harm our faith so much as the relentless little stings. Someone recently pointed out to me that in Ephesians 4:17 - 6:9 no less than 32 flaming darts can be identified:
sensuality, greed, every kind of impurity, falsehood, sinful anger, holding onto anger, stealing by being lazy, corrupting talk, not speaking to build others up, bitterness, wrath, clamor, slander, malice, unkindness, not tenderhearted, unforgiveness, filthiness, foolish talk, crude joking, sexually immoral, impure, covetous, unfruitful works of darkness, drunk with wine, self-centered, wives not submitting to husbands, husbands not loving wives, disobedience toward parents, harsh discipline on children, dishonoring masters, disrespecting servants…
So many of those flaming darts crash into us with relentless consistency that they wear us down. How can we fight off the relentless small attacks from Satan, the world, and our flesh?
This is where we need to rethink what it means to wield the shield of faith. Let’s look at just one verse for now: (Romans 13:12) The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. We focus on the “cast off” and the “put on” parts - and we should. But how often do we think about - and believe! - that “the night is far gone” - already? We are no longer walking through the darkness of a sin-controlled life! If we belong to Jesus, things are different. We are different! Captain Kirk defeated the drones with a little help from the Beastie Boys (I guess you’ll have to watch the movie to see how). We defeat all the flaming darts because we now have the Holy Spirit of Christ living in our hearts. The fight is relentless, but the battle is won by faith in Christ - consistent, attentive, relentless faith in Christ. Are those flaming darts getting to you, or are you holding up the shield that Jesus gave you?
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
I have this little saying that I tell my children, especially in the summer, when I hear one of them whine about being bored. In typical Dad-fashion, I respond with the sage wisdom of: “You’re not bored; you’re boring!” I hope that they hear the intended humor in my eye-roll-worthy proverb, as I suggest they explore the endless opportunities of books, games, or playing outside. But what if escaping boredom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? What if it’s closer to the truth that we just aren’t bored enough?
I read an article recently by Dr. Derek Halvorson, president of Covenant College titled “In Praise of Boredom” [The View, Spring 2017]. He quoted a University of Virginia and Harvard joint research project that found that “participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think… and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts.” Wow, those people really do not like being bored! But we’re not really all that different. How often do we check Instagram or play a quick round of Candy Crush or Mahjong on our smart phone when the store checkout line is taking too long? We could spend that time actually having a polite conversation with the salesperson. The fact is, we have trained ourselves to respond to the slightest hint of boredom with… distraction.
One of my favorite songs by the group Twenty One Pilots is called “Car Radio”. The song that tells the melancholy story of a time when the singer had his car broken into and someone stole his radio. So, now he finds himself forced to drive around in… uncomfortable quietness. He sings:
There's no hiding for me / I'm forced to deal with what I feel
There is no distraction to mask what is real / I could pull the steering wheel
I have these thoughts, so often I ought / To replace that slot with what I once bought
'Cause somebody stole my car radio / And now I just sit in silence…
(If you’ve never heard the song, look it up - it’s got a creative, weird edge to it, but it’s brilliant.) If you personally do not feel a high sense of discomfort with being left alone with nothing but your own thoughts, then realize that many in our culture do. We are a people of distraction. Perhaps the problem is that we have lost the ability to wait. In Psalm 27:14 it’s not enough to tell us once to wait for the Lord, we have to be told twice! And then, in Psalm 37:7 we’re instructed: Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…
How often do you work be still and wait patiently into your daily routine? Maybe we need to train ourselves to be okay with a little boredom. Maybe our children would benefit from a little boredom now and then too. How much would our children love it if mom or dad just sat with them for a while and did nothing… together! Maybe we’d regain a little bit of the art of conversation again, or maybe - just maybe - we’d find that God shows up when we stop crowding Him out with all the things that distract us. It’s summertime - enjoy a little boredom!
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth… For we are God’s fellow workers.
You are God’s field… (1 Corinthians 3:6–9)
Our 3rd - 5th graders just finished planting the garden next to the church building to raise produce for our local food pantry. The process of growing plants seems to be one of God’s favorite illustrations in the Bible. One of the lessons we learn from gardening is the glory of monotony (which is probably why I’m not a better gardener). We don’t like waiting. Or doing the same things over-and-over again. Or… waiting. (How grumpy do we get when we try to load a web page and it doesn’t appear fully on our screen in 0.2 seconds flat?)
One way we can learn to glory in monotony is to realize that in some ways we are the planted, and in some ways we are the planters. God loves to plant things and to watch them grow - it’s one of His core character traits. G. K. Chesterton once wrote:
Because children have abounding vitality… they always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. [quoted in Zack Eswine, The Imperfect Pastor, p. 85]
God says to us every morning, “Do it again: Go to work. Finish that homework assignment. Balance the checkbook. Forgive your neighbor (for the umpteenth time). Pull the weeds. Do the dishes. Forgive your neighbor (for the umpteenth time plus one)…” One of our tasks as a human being is to endure through the monotony of life and keep on producing for God’s glory. Doesn’t it feel good to hear God say to us: I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary (Revelation 2:3)? Keep planting; the work is worth the monotony.
But the Gospel is not complete if it’s all about planting and trying to keep up with God. Before we ever pick up a garden spade, we remember that we ourselves have been planted. God gave us life, Christ replanted us in His own vineyard with new life, and the Holy Spirit causes us to grow to maturity. But even being a plant takes patience. Samuel Rutherford wrote when he was practically imprisoned for his faith: “The Great Master Gardener, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in a wonderful providence with his own hand, planted me here, where by his grace, in this part of his vineyard, I grow; and here I will abide till the great master of the vineyard think fit to transplant me.” [Eswine, 86] That’s the attitude we long for: contentment over restlessness. We are planted by a loving Gardener who knows what He is doing; surely we can trust in His plan to plant us where we belong and to grow us into what we are meant to become.
As members of the church we are both God’s field and planters in God’s field. So let’s work and wait, proclaim the Gospel and pray for Gospel fruit - and trust that God has a plan to use us to grow His church for His glory.
April 2, 2017