I’ve moved!

First off I want to thank everyone who has been reading this blog.  The interactions I have had with people has helped me in my own learning.  So thank you for coming, reading, and commenting.

we-have-moved-thumb-600x644Due to the amount of traffic my blog has been receiving lately, I am moving my blog to www.natepyle.com.  If you are a subscriber to this blog, I would love for you to follow the link and subscribe to my new blog.  You can do so through email subscription by clicking this link (or input your information on the form on the front page of my new blog) or through the RSS feed there.  Please stop on over, check it out, subscribe and let’s keep the conversation going!

Thanks!

Anticipating Advent

I’ll admit it.  In the past I have been somewhat of a scrooge when it comes to Christmas.  My scroogeness was born out of all the trendy things to dislike Christmas for: over-commerclization, consumerism, Christmas cards, untangling lights to put on a tree, and mall parking lots.  I was a part of the crowd shouting to focus on ourselves on the meaning of Christmas.  Not the FoxNews crowd, but the cool – but not hipster cool – Christians who wanted nothing but Jesus and the incarnation at Christmas.

And then I had a child.

It is hard to be a scrooge when your two and a half year old is enamored by the entire season.  Luke, in a way that is capturing my imagination, is eagerly anticipating Christmas morning.  But not for the reasons most would expect.  At the beginning of Advent we gave Luke a nativity scene he could play with.  And play he has!  It is almost a daily activity to have conversations with the different figures.  I am usually the angel and he is Mary and I have to tell her she will have a child.

After explaining all the different figures, we took the baby and wrapped him in a present and placed him under the tree.  If you ask Luke if he excited for Christmas he will tell you he is.  And the reason?

“We get to unwrap baby Jesus!”

I dare you to be a scrooge in the face of that.

But it has me wondering, “Do we all anticipate Christmas morning with that level of expectation?”  The mystery of the incarnation of the Word should stir our hearts and minds.  The Christ child changes everything.  In putting on flesh and dwelling among us, God affirms his declaration that the creation is “very good.”  If the creation is very good, then that means eating is good, drinking is good, hugging is good, laughter is good, singing songs is good, giving gifts out of love is good…Christmas is very good.

But I wonder, have we been caught focusing on the past?  Has our celebration of the incarnation taken away from our anticipation for the future?

Reading the Old Testament prophets reveals an expectation that the Messiah would usher in the Kingdom of God.  They used pictures like beating swords into plowshares and everyone resting in the shade of their own fig tree (Isaiah 2 and Micah 4).  Redemption and restoration were common themes in their hope for the future.  Paul picked up on this in Philippians 3 when he anticipates the day in which are lowly bodies are transformed into a body like the glorious resurrected body of Jesus.  John shared the hope of the Old Testament prophets and Paul in his Revelation when he envisions the new heaven and new earth, where “there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”  This is the anticipated coming Kingdom of God.

In Acts 1 the disciples were wondering if Jesus would finally restore the kingdom to Israel.  Jesus proceeded to tell them that the kingdom of coming, but it wouldn’t come like the thought or when they thought, but it was coming.  After he ascended, the angels told the disciples that Jesus would one day return and at that time the kingdom would be established.  Many debate when that will be and what it will look like, but that is a secondary point.  The main point is simple: Jesus is coming back!

There was a first advent, Christmas.  As good as that advent was, there is better, fuller, richer advent, Jesus coming back.

So this Christmas, embrace everything.  Eat good food.  Have deep conversations.  Drink deeply of moments with friends and family.  Give good gifts.  Decorate the house.  Laugh together.  Take pictures.  Celebrate well.  Anticipate goodness.

Because Christ came.

And he is coming.

Can God really be kept out?

Recently I have noticed many who profess to be Christians crying out that God has been, or is being, removed from the public square.  From the comments of Bill O’Reilly, Mike Huckabee, or the Facebook posts stating that God would love to stop school violence but, unfortunately, he’s not allowed in school (never mind the fallacy of that statement) I fear we have substituted the Lion of Judah for a house cat who needs to be given permission to get on the kitchen counter.  And the one who gives permission seems to be the government.  Tell me, on whose shoulders does the government rest (Isaiah 9:6)?  And who gives the government its authority (Romans 13:1)?

A god who has to be given permission by the government is not a god over the government, but under the government.  And a god under the government isn’t a god whom the government serves, but rather a god who serves the government.  I’m sorry, but the God of the Bible is not a God who serves the government.  He is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and the Prince of Peace.

So why would God be unable to enter the school?

Does God only go where we ask him to?  

My guess is the Ninevites weren’t begging God to show up and let them repent.  Nor were the money changes asking Jesus to come into the Temple courtyard.  Or the Pharisees and religious leaders for that matter.  Reading the Bible we see God continually show up where he was not asked to.  The incarnation of the Word of God boldly proclaims that we can’t keep God from showing up.  He will come to where we are, like it or not.  To find us.  To rescue us.  To offer us life.  To redeem and restore us.

The obvious objection to this line of thinking is, “Where was he at Sandy Hook or any of the other tragedies that occur?”

I don’t know.  And that is what makes faith in the face of tragedy difficult.  Faith, in those moments, becomes a choice.  A choice to chose life over death.  A choice to work for justice and beauty.  A choice to look for the good gifts in the midst of hard circumstances.

Faith is a constant choice to believe that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.

And I wonder, maybe it isn’t that God didn’t show up.  Maybe it is that we, the people of God, didn’t.  You know, those in whom the Spirit of God dwells.  Those who are called sons and daughters of God.  Those who are heirs to the same power that resurrected Jesus from the dead.  Maybe we sat idly by, distancing ourselves from any responsibility for the condition of the land by bemoaning and pointing fingers at those who want God removed from the various public squares all the while ignoring the fact that they can’t keep us out.  

It may seem like a small thing.  Me showing up.  I’m not God.  But it is no small thing for the people of God to show up as the people of God.  Jesus said, “And lo, I am with you to the end of the age.”  If we believe that then guess what?

If we go to the school, then Jesus is there with us.

If we sit with the homeless, then Jesus is there with us.

If we listen to the mentally ill, then Jesus is there with us.

If we go where God is not wanted, then Jesus is there with us.

And not just with us in a feel-good sort of way, but he is with us as we bring his shalom (peace, harmony, justice) to this place or to this person.  What if we believed that?  What if we didn’t just cognitively understand that, but what if we believed it to the degree that we lived that?  How might the world be different?

Might we experience the shalom of God more?

Maybe people would stop wondering where God was because they would know where he was.

He was the one looking them in the eye, holding their hand…the one with them.

Sandy Hook Deserves Our Honesty

Aside

It is difficult to put words to the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. As a father, I cannot imagine what these parents and families are going through. There is a thought that breaks my heart: No doubt, there are homes with presents under a tree that will never be opened. Our thoughts and our prayers rightly go out to all those affected.

I am saddened by what happened. But today I am mourning the loss of empathy in our society. I, like many, followed the events of yesterday on social media. Hours was all it took for people to climb on top of their soap boxes and feel the need to connect this tragedy to a heart felt cause. I’m not saying those issues aren’t important, I am lamenting our ability as a society to “mourn with those who mourn.”

I think our inability to enter empathetically into the suffering of another comes, not from our preoccupation with our particular causes, but from our emotional immaturity. It might be right to label it as our emotional ignorance. I wonder, in the face of so many posts about gun control, mental health, violent video games, and the media if we really know how we felt yesterday.

Did the person who posted about guns not being the real issue understand their post as an anxious response to indescribable evil?

Did the mental health advocate see their response as an effort to negate the choice of another by labeling it as a disease?

Did the media hater recognize their desire for a scapegoat?

My Facebook and Twitter feed filled with people blaming this or blaming that or making the case as to why we shouldn’t blame that, but very few (if any) stated the most common emotion we all felt: fear. Deep down I believe all of us felt fear.

Because that could have been our children.

It could have been our son.

It could have been our neighbor.

It could have been our town.

It could have been me.

I wonder how we might respond if we moved towards our fear rather than shroud it in a brazen opinion about what may or may not be the reason for evil. Evil exists. And people make evil choices. We can try and figure out what makes a person do what they do all we want but we will never eradicate evil. No amount of legislation, medication, or anything else is going to change the broken nature of a human being. My wish, is that in the face of evil, we as a society could be authentic about what we are really feeling. Because maybe if we admitted that anyone who could walk into a school and shoot children scares us, then we might be able to embrace our humanity enough to embrace another. Maybe our mourning for others would really be mourning. Maybe we would really show compassion. Maybe grace might be extended. Maybe people would feel cared for because they wouldn’t have to wonder if they are being used by some cause. Maybe our authenticity would lead to a genuine care for each other. Maybe in saying how we really felt we would see what we would really hope for.

Maybe this might happen less.

So, for the sake of authenticity, how did you feel yesterday?

Political Idolatry

Please read this post about political idolatry.  It says much of what I have felt for some time.

If our counterfeit god is threatened in any way, our response is complete panic. We do not say, ‘What a shame, how difficult,’ but rather ‘This is the end! There’s no hope!’

 

This may be a reason why so many people now respond to U.S. political trends in such an extreme way. When either party wins an election, a certain percentage of the losing side talks openly about leaving the country. They become agitated and fearful for the future. They have put the kind of hope in their political leaders and policies that once was reserved for God and the work of the gospel. When their political leaders are out of power, they experience a death. They believe that if their policies and people are not in power, everything will fall apart. They refuse to admit how much agreement they actually have with the other party, and instead focus on the points of disagreement. The points of contention overshadow everything else, and a poisonous environment is created.

Read the rest here.

Nate Pyle:

Here are some great thoughts from a good friend of mine on confession.

Originally posted on Drew Pop:

I am part of a faith tradition (the Reformed Church in America) that embraces liturgy.  Although we officially encourage freedom within that liturgical framework, we also believe that worship should take a certain form.  That form includes a time of “Confession and Assurance.”  In a typical worship order, you might find this series of elements:

Call to Confession (e.g., Hebrews 10:19-22)
Prayer of Confession (perhaps from a penitential Psalm)
Words of Assurance (maybe 1 Peter 2:24)

It’s a wonderful rhythm in that it reminds us of our need for grace and how God has already granted that grace.  In short, it is a way of reminding ourselves, each and every week, of the Gospel.

And it is for this reason that the next movement in our order of worship is usually the Passing of Christ’s Peace.  Having experienced the Gospel all over again, we have…

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Reframing our stories

 

Note:  This is adapted from a sermon I preached titled Reframed.

I am more convinced than ever that my life is to be about making disciples.  I believe all of us who say we follow Jesus are not just meant to be church attendees, but we are called to be people who follow so closely to Jesus that we are covered in the dust kicked up by his feet.  We are to be disciples.

As disciples, we are to make disciples.  It is the last command we were given by Jesus.  Go and make disciples.

That’s where it gets a bit hairy.  Just for fun, try this experiment.  Go into your church and start asking people how you make a disciple.  And don’t ask the pastor or a staff person.  Ask someone sitting next to you.  “How do you make a disciple?”  For even more fun, make sure you them how they specifically are making disciples.

Make sure to pass the peace after that.  They will probably need it.

For most of us the idea of making a disciple is daunting for two reasons: 1) We have never been truly discipled and so we don’t have a clue as to what it looks like and 2) We think we are disqualified.

Being disqualified could mean two things.  First, it could mean that we believe we don’t have the right certification to make disciples.  Each of us probably have some mental model about what that certification is.  It might be a seminary degree, or a Bible college degree, or at bare minimum a certification from an eight week Wednesday night class we took at church.  Whatever it might be, in order to make disciples you need this.

Or being disqualified may mean there is something in our past we believe disqualifies us from being a person who can disciple others.  I believe many of us have this belief.

In Philippians 3:13 Paul says, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  On the outset, this doesn’t seem like such a difficult passage.  In fact, if we have spent anytime in church or in the Christian subculture, we have probably won a prize playing Bibleopoly with this verse stenciled on it…or at least heard this verse dozens of times.

That doesn’t mean it is easy or simple.

After all, do you have things in your past you regret?  And when I say regret, I am not talking about the unadvised late night trip to Taco Bell that you regretted the whole next day.  I’m talking about something your truly regret.  Something you wished wasn’t there.

Do you have something in your past that you would even say was disastrous?

Ever done anything destructive in a relationship?

If your human, you should have answered yes.  We all do.  Some of us have more regrets.  But we all have them.  Now do this.  Those things you regret, those things you see as disastrous, just forget them.  Forget them and press on.  Get on with your life and leave it behind.  It’s a new day!  Get out and live with no more regrets!

How’s that working out for you?

Do you think Paul is really telling us to forget what is behind us?  Let me ask you this, do you think Paul forgot what was behind him?  Paul, who used to be Saul, was an early persecutor of the church.  His life mission was to find people who followed Jesus and put them in prison or kill them.  He oversaw the stoning of Stephen.  He went to the high priest and asked him to enact a law that allowed him to go into Damascus and bring back refugees who were fleeing his persecution.  He literally hunted men and women down because they believed in the Gospel of Jesus.

Do you think Paul forgot all that?

Of course not!  So how could he say what he said?  I believe Paul could say that he was forgetting what was behind him, not because of anything Paul had mastered or some self-disciplining technique he learned, but because Paul deeply believed the Gospel.

In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul writes, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace was not without effect.”  When Paul says this he is seeing his story, which includes all of his past, through the frame of the gospel.  If it wasn’t for the regrets, the horrendous, destructive things he had done then God’s grace on his life would not have been as profound.  For Paul, the things he hates about his past are the same things that make the gospel so sweet.

The gospel screams to the ends of the universe that your past does not define you, but the cross of Christ and the words, “You are my son.  You are my daughter,” define you.

So many of us have heard the words, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” but yet continually feel condemned.  Maybe the reason is we have never let our pasts be reframed by the gospel and so, every time we think of our past we heap condemnation on ourselves.  The gospel frees us of that.  Because if God can extend grace to a murderous, hateful man like Paul, he can extend grace to anyone.

This is the gospel.  It is the power to reframe our stories.  We, then, need to allow grace to reframe our regrets, foibles, disasters and screw-ups.  When we allow our stories to be reframed by the gospel is tells the world a very important message:

God is still working.

How has/is God reframing your story?  Please share, and let’s tell the world God is still working.

Living by Difficult Words

I’ve just had my first viral post. Well, it wasn’t really viral, but when you normally get 30-40 hits per post and you suddenly get 3000+, it feels viral. Admittedly, watching the numbers creep and trying to track where all the people came from has been fun. It has also been quite humbling. But what has been really fun and interesting is finally getting comments on a post. Not that I haven’t gotten them before, but the quantity and range of these comments was much greater. This is what I have wanted for this blog.

I started the blog to continue my learning. I have been learning, for a long time but especially recently, that as I follow Jesus I have more questions and more of a need for a place to sort out my thoughts. My thought in starting the blog was to create space for me, and hopefully others, to do just that.

As I have read the comments and interacted with people on this blog and other social networking sites I have become painfully aware of how intimate American Christianity has become with civil religion.

This isn’t new information. For a long time I have seen churches decide to make good, moral citizens over and above disciples of Jesus. Yes, at times those things are the colored middle portion of the Venn diagram. But at other times they are extremely different. When we say God is the God of the nations, when we say that there is neither Jew, nor Greek, barbican or Scythian, we are saying God is bigger than the nation-state. I have heard many Christians say, “Our citizenship is heaven,” but their actions have betrayed them.

During the events of the last couple of weeks, I wish I would have seen Christians await their “Savior from there” as much as they waited for a chicken sandwich.

I wish we would fight for the kingdom of God on earth as it is heaven as much as we fight for our rights to free speech.

I can’t get away from the difficult words Jesus taught us to live by. “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” These words, along with the Golden Rule found in Matthew 7:12, seriously make me wonder, “What does it look like for us as Christians to stand up for our rights?

And even more thought provoking, “Should we?”

Even my gut wants to smack me up side the head and yell, “Do you know what you are saying?!” I do. Honestly I do. And it scares me. But when I read the words of Paul when he says the he counts it all joy to lose everything for Christ and that he wants to share in the sufferings of Christ to become like him I just have to ask myself, “Do I?”

Do we?

I don’t know.

What do you think? What does it look like for Christians to stand up for our rights? Should we? Let’s talk.

A Counterintuitive Response to Chick-Fil-A

I know that I am late coming to the party, but it has taken me a while to really formulate my thoughts.  When the uproar regarding Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy became national news, I payed little attention.  It’s not that I don’t care about the issue of marriage and homosexuality, I do, but it isn’t something that is going to elicit a passionate response from me.  I realize this means people on both sides of the issue will find me naive or not taking a stand for the things that are right (the authority of scripture on one side, and civil rights on the other), but I’m more interested in people than issues.  No, that is not semantics because when I say “people” I mean individuals, and dealing with individuals who have stories forces me to hold my beliefs in tension with my love for the person.  Pure doctrine apart from the love for a specific individual can be a blunt sword used to maim many.

No, the reason that I haven’t jumped into the fray is because I haven’t really figured out what I really thought.  There were a couple of blogs that were helpful.  Barnabas Piper’s warning about the secondary messages Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day could send articulated something I was feeling, but couldn’t put words to.  Rachel Held Evans, in her blog, urged Christians on both sides to watch the speech and reaction to those who disagree with us, lest we hurt our integrity to the gospel.  These, and other articles, said things better than I could, but still left me desiring something when it comes to how we might respond to this day.

And then the cliche question came to mind, “What would Jesus do?”

Would Jesus wait in line to buy his juicy chicken sandwich and waffle fries?

Would he boycott the restaurant chain and call its president a bigot?

Or might he take an option none of us expect in order to dispel the escalating demonization present in this debate?

I’ve noticed that much of what either side of this debate does is in reaction to what the other side has done.  So Dan Cathy says he believes Biblical marriage is defined as marriage between a man and woman.  This, along with money he has given to groups who support his beliefs, upsets those who hold a differing opinion so they react by boycotting the restaurant and, in some cases, saying they won’t let the restaurant in their city.  This provokes those who side with Cathy to go out like a ravenous army to eat chicken and waffle fries, and on the cycle goes.

How did eating or not eating chicken sandwiches become a theological act?  When Jesus said, “Go and make disciples, teaching them everything I have commanded you,” was he intending us to stand in line for 75 minutes for a chicken sandwich?  Or boycott?

Or is it possible that what we witnessed today had more to do with escalating reactions against those who disagree with us, and had little had do with the Bible, marriage or homosexuality?

It’s the same thing we see on the playground.  One kid bumps another kid, who pushes the kid who bumped him, who shoves the kid back, who hits the kid, who punches the kids, who tackles the kid and we have a full blown fight.  It’s the USA and the Soviets threatening to blow the other to kingdom come so both build more bombs capable of even more destruction.  It’s the campaign that smears the opponent, who smears back and on and on to the point that voters only know the negative of each candidate instead of what they really are about.  Escalating demonization is the modus operandi of our culture and I fail to see how today was any different.

I realize people will think I fail to see the importance of their side of the issue.  I get that.  But I also think it doesn’t matter.  We may have the right stance on the issue, but our reaction to people who disagree with us is just as important.  The US thought its stance was right in terms of dealing with the Soviets, but their reaction was to build more bombs.  Which led the Soviets to build more bombs, which led to, you guessed it, more bombs!  But what if one side, either the US or the Soviets, said, “Enough is enough,” and stopped building bombs?  Might we have less nuclear weapons in the world today?

To stop escalating reactions against others one side must be willing to lay down their arms against the other side.  That seems counterintuitive and a sure fire recipe for defeat, but it is the only way.  And guess what?  The gospel is completely counterintuitive!

That Jesus would tell Peter to put away his sword is counterintuitive.  That Jesus would tell us to pray for our enemies and do good to those who persecute us is counterintuitive.  To carry the cloak of a soldier farther than required is counterintuitive.  Giving away things just because you have two of them is counterintuitive.  We could go on and on.  Much of the teaching of Jesus is counterintuitive to how we believe the world works.

That doesn’t mean we give up what we believe.  It simply means we stop reacting to the other side in such a way that it begets more reaction.  It slows down the rhetoric.  It stems the tide of regrettable, unhelpful behavior.

In order for both sides to be able to converse and constructively handle their differences, one side is going to have to lay down their “arms” and say, “No more.”  I believe, and this is where it gets hard, that side should be those who profess to follow Jesus.  Because that’s what it means to be a minister of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20) in the midst of a situation that continually escalates.  Again, that doesn’t mean a concession of beliefs or an affirmation of behavior.  It simply means we react to those who oppose us or our beliefs in a manner consistent of the one we say we follow.  Jesus willingly laid down is life in the name of reconciliation.  Does that mean he compromised his beliefs?  Of course not!  Refusing to participate in an exercise of escalating demonization doesn’t mean you never take a stand for what you believe in, it means you won’t react in such a way that it encourages escalation.

When I look at Jesus and how he responds to those who question his healing on the sabbath, or his response to those who bring the woman caught in adultery before him, or arrest him, or spit and mock him it makes me think: In the face of escalating reactions, that’s what Jesus would do.

Have you ever been truly understood?

Check out my guest post at the Faithwalking blog HERE.
I’m also beginning to see how much I assume as a listener.  I assume I understand what the person is trying to communicate.  So I don’t ask follow up questions.  I assume they know that I know what they are talking about and therefore feel heard.  But that assumption is pretty arrogant.  It is pretty arrogant to think that I understand what they are trying to communicate without being clear about it.  And even if I am right about what they are trying to communicate, it is pretty unkind if I don’t show them that I hear them.  This is an area that I have been working on.  I have really been trying to understand people.  My need for ongoing growth really shows up when I vibrate (get anxious).  In one of the spontaneous conversations I had this week I vibrated and went right back to old habits.  I got competitive which means that I listened to attack and defend.
Even in all that, I can honestly say that I am a better listener.  Just a couple weeks ago my wife and I had a couple over to our house.  They had a matter they needed help sorting out and my wife and I were helping them through it.  After the couple left, my wife and I sat in our living room and “debriefed” the conversation.  At the end of our conversation I asked her, “What did you notice about how you and I worked together?”  Her response is still something I am proud of.  She said, “I notice that you ask more questions than before.”