Liquor stores and sanctuaries

There’s no shortage of Christian advice out there on how to deal with the crisis. Some of the best is from NT Wright, one of most compelling Christian scholars today. His essay in Time last week, adapted from his upcoming book, God and the Pandemic, is worth a read.

Wright says that for the last 300 years in the global west, religion has been reduced to a private matter: “what someone does with their solitude.” Given this assumption, it’s not much of a leap to conclude that worship should have no place in public life. Hence, liquor stores are deemed “essential,” while “ancient, prayer-soaked sanctuaries” are off-limits.

If religion is simply a human construction, a system of thought like philosophy, or a guide for better living like Chicken Soup for the Soul, then churches ought to be on an equal footing with liquor stores. Both are human constructions where you go for escape.

But this Sunday, Christians observe Pentecost, the day when God poured out the Holy Spirit on the early believers.

If it really happened, and I believe it did, it means that faith cannot be a private matter. The Holy Spirit is in and through everything. People who tell you to “keep your faith to yourself” are proselytizing for their own religion. 

Religion may be a human construction, but the Christian faith is God’s construction.

Sure, many systems of Christian thought have sprung up over the centuries, but the Christian faith is not primarily a religion. Christianity is following the living God who really is loose in the world.

The living God can be found in liquor stores and sanctuaries. Neither will contain him. Tom Wright knows why:   

Church buildings are not an escape from the world, but a bridgehead into the world. A proper theology of “sacred space” ought to see buildings for public worship as advance signs of the time when God’s glory will fill all creation. Christians should therefore celebrate every way in which the living Lord whom they worship in church buildings is out and about, bringing healing and hope far beyond the visible limits of church property.

Jesus does not need church buildings for his work to go forward. Part of the answer to the question, “Where is God in the pandemic?” must be, “Out there on the front line, suffering and dying to bring healing and hope.”

Dude Perfect

Their videos have been viewed 11 billion times. Their YouTube channel has 51 million subscribers, making it one of the top ten channels on YouTube

Who are they? Sports stars? Hollywood celebrities? Social media influencers?

They’re five former roommates at Texas A&M who hung out together for Christian fellowship.

About ten years ago they put up a basketball hoop in their backyard and started filming each other making trick shots. Within days, their first video had been seen 200,000 times. They had a dream of taking their newfound passion to a wider online audience, but doing so would mean leaving promising jobs and require an enormous leap of faith. Parents and friends helped them write a business plan and create a professional website. They asked friends to help with their goal of creating a video with a million views, and their friends were happy to help, subscribing to their channel and sharing the video with others.

Did I mention they are followers of Jesus Christ?

Even if you’ve never heard of “Dude Perfect” (In their first video, one of them lined up the camera for a shot and said, “Dude, perfect.”) you’ve likely seen clips of them shooting hoops off skyscrapers. I discovered them this week watching TV with my granddaughters. There’s nothing cerebral about their videos, but they are completely clean.

And their passion, creativity, joy, and love for each other are contagious. 

Many Christians bemoan the media age; some still refuse to go online. No doubt, there is a lot of dark content out there.

This week we mark the Ascension, the day when the risen Jesus returned to God in heaven. If the birth of Jesus was God’s greatest act of God reaching out to humanity, the Ascension was humanity’s greatest act of reaching back to God. In Jesus, humanity was joined to God, and Jesus was no longer limited by time and space. Because of the Ascension, Jesus would now be everywhere in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Because of the Ascension, the infinite passion, joy, creativity, and love of God are available to Christians in every aspect of life, and in every time and place.

There are an infinite number of ways to bring glory to God.

Why should five guys making trick shots have all the fun?

Arlington Lady

Back in 1948, Gladys Vandenberg, the wife of the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, noticed funerals taking place in Arlington National Cemetery with no family, and with only a military chaplain present. She organized her friends to start attending the services, and later formed a group from the Officer’s Wives Club known as the Arlington Ladies. In the years that followed, the other services formed similar groups. Today, every servicemember who is laid to rest at Arlington has someone present to represent the “family” of that branch of service. The Arlington Lady writes each family a note of condolence, from herself and on behalf of all the members of the service.

From 1997 to 1999, I commanded the Air Force ceremonial unit in Washington, DC, and for most of the that time, my wife Jana was an Arlington Lady. She didn’t think she could do it at first; she thought the emotional toll would be too great. But she ended up serving one day a month, attending all the Air Force funerals that day, perhaps four or five.

Instead of being something she couldn’t do, it became something she couldn’t miss. Asked to describe the experience, Jana said simply, “It was an honor.”

During the current crisis, funerals have been postponed and loved ones have been laid to rest alone.

There’s something enormously sad and poignant about this.

Jesus weeps at this.

Thank God that Jesus walks with us through this, and that our loved ones rest in his arms.

And because of the resurrection, none of us need ultimately be alone.

How Jesus caught people

I just read the book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith, by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield.

Everyone should read this, but you should especially read it if you’re a Christian who understands that sharing your faith is an important part of your life.

Butterfield was a tenured professor at Syracuse University and a leader in LGBTQ causes. She came to faith in spite of the condemnation she’d experienced from church people. 

What started her on her journey was a pastor who lived near the university who responded thoughtfully to a column she had written critical of Christians. This led to a friendship that developed over several years.

During that time, the pastor never even invited her to church.

But he did invite her into his home.

And he was interested in her.

Church can seem complex. Doctrine can be puzzling. Denominational controversies are discouraging. Sharing faith can seem daunting. Sadly, too many Christians can be condemning.

This Sunday, I’m preaching on one of my favorite passages, the beautiful story from John 21 of how the risen Jesus did evangelism. He met his friends where they were working. He made a simple suggestion. He didn’t condemn. He gave them something to eat. 

That’s how Jesus caught people.