Sunday, May 25, 2014

God's Love In The Midst Of Our Need To Be Right

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” ― Augustine of Hippo

It seems that the last few months have, more than ever before, brought a tidal wave of bad behavior across the internet, specifically among those who profess Christ. It's hard to know who to believe, what to think and whose side to take. I'm not referring to any one specific brouhaha, however, the most recent has been the TGC/Tullian Tchividjian disagreement. Let me just say for the record, I am not taking sides. Both "sides" if you will, have accomplished great things for the Kingdom that I believe God had prepared in advance (Eph. 2:10). That is not what this is about. Rather, this is about our need to be right. This has to do with our incessant desire to walk away the victor at all costs, especially in front of a watching world.

I would argue that in most cases the problem stems from a person's need to be right. When we are intent to maintain a "my way or the high way" posture we can be sure that we are clinging more to the need to be right and less to the God who loves us in the midst of our need to be right. Our responses tend to involve casting out those we disagree with rather than pursuing a grace filled relationship. We don't realize that we can disagree while respecting and honoring our brothers and sisters. We have forgotten how to approach one another in honest and open debate without the mudslinging that seems so prevalent.

Shouting people down and hurling passive-aggressive accusations only serve to stoke the fire of disunity.

Priest and author Brennan Manning notes:

“If we maintain the open-mindedness of children, we challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own. We listen to people in other denominations and religions. We don't find demons in those with whom we disagree. We don't cozy up to people who mouth our jargon. If we are open, we rarely resort to either-or: either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both-and, fully aware that God's truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition.” The Ragamuffin Gospel 

I think he gets it right...

I know what you're thinking. This is crazy talk, especially for those of us from the reformed tradition and specifically those of us who cling to law and gospel to interpret the grace message of the Bible. Hear me out.

Is our doctrine and our theology really what we want to cling to and fight for to the point of failing at love?

Admittedly, this is scary. We are so convinced that our way is the only way. We fear that if we loosen our grip we will lose control sending everything to hell in a hand-basket. Manning reminds us that "God's truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition." God is bigger than our theology, our doxology and our methodology. God is bigger than our convictions, our distinctions and our affections.

God is more gracious, generous and lavish than any of us dare imagine.

"But the father said to his slaves, `Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate" (Luke 15:22-24). This passage is true for us and for those with differing opinions, with differing theology and from different denominations.We are lost, every one of us. But God, being rich in mercy didn't just find us - although that would have been enough. He clothed us as royalty. He put a ring on our finger, all the while lavishly celebrating, singing and dancing because what was lost has been found. It's the best news ever.

God continues to sing, dance and throw beautiful royal robes over each one of our attempts to prove ourselves right.

Think about it, while we are shouting people down, God is shouting a celebration in the midst - for you and for me.

Martin Luther offers refreshing comments on his own approach to staying the course, even amid the strong voices of the pious in his day:

"In short, I will preach it [the Word], teach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything."
From Luther’s Invocavit Sermon 2 (March 1522)

May we strive to do the same by turning from force and compulsion and turning to God's eternal and gracious promises.

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zeph. 3:17

Saturday, May 17, 2014

In Whose Image?

Have you ever encountered someone who made you feel like you weren't the person they thought you should be and that the way you were living your life did not fit their interpretation of what a Christian should do? How did that make you feel? If you are honest, it made you feel awful. Did it make you want to spend more time with that person? Unless you’re a masochist, probably not.

How is it that we have come to believe our job as a Christian is to tell other Christians how to live out their Christianity?

Listen, there is only one image you need to be conformed to.

There is a lot of good advice out there. Take it. It’s helpful. However, all of the “How to Be a Better Christian” job descriptions are simply food for the birds. Instead, listen to your Father in Heaven:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Rom. 8:29

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Cor. 3:18

Sunday, May 4, 2014

This Is #Messy

Let's just call this a lab. If you remember back to your school days in science class, part of your instruction involved a lab class. This was the class we all looked forward to because rather than sitting and listening to a lecture we actually got to get in and get our hands dirty (and goof off). We mixed potions and caught things on fire. Things blew up and spilled over and generally made a huge mess before we were done. But, that's how we learned. It's how we progressed through the course - and hopefully we came out on the other end a bit more knowledgeable than when we came in.

Life is like one long lab class. We are rarely sitting in on lectures. We're usually in the thick of it, living out the actual experiment. 

Things get messy, spill over and blow up. 

But here's the deal. If you are in a science lab class and something spills over, it doesn't do a whole lot of good to quietly wipe up the mess and pretend like nothing happened. If no one knows something went wrong you will never learn. The solution will elude you because you would rather look good and capable rather than admit disaster. The same is true in the lab of life. When explosions happen our natural instinct is to smooth things over, clean ourselves up and put our best foot forward. The problem is we deny reality and set aside opportunities for learning, healing and encouragement.

So, why all this talk about labs and science and explosions? 

I am convinced that honesty about ourselves before God, with ourselves and with others is a pathway to mending broken hearts.

With that in mind, I am embarking on a specific lab experiment during this phase of my life. It's not pretty. It is hard. 

Gut-wrenching for me. 

Things have exploded. There might be more explosions. You see, it is one thing to give advice on explosions, it is a far different matter altogether when you are living one. I have been tempted to withdraw and isolate. I still may do that. But, for this moment I am persuaded to write about it. Process it. "Lean in to it" as the popular phrase goes. 

There you have it...

well, not all of it. 

This is just a first attempt to begin the experiment. To lay some foundation for the weeks and months to come. Somewhere in my story, you might find you can relate. 

The details may be different but I know that human pain, disappointment and heartache are universal.

The only hope any of us have is found in the gospel. Although...I'll admit right here and now...

...believing that is practically impossible. Although it's what I have believed for quite a while, it's hard to confess these days. Sometimes I think I spouted it out because I had rehearsed it so often. I have confessed the gospel (and passionately) so many times to friends and strangers alike that it just spills out with little effort. Maybe that's part of the problem. I'm so used to talking about it that it has become all too familiar, far off and for other people. 

I don't know, I am just thinking out loud. That's what a lot of this is going to be - thinking out loud. If you don't mind raw and real questioning then join me for a front row seat...

at messiness

at heartache

at doubt 

at risk-taking

at daring God

at fist-shaking

at walking away

Like I said, it's messy. But it's real. 


Welcome. Pull up a chair.

"God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand. I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking. You know when I leave and when I get back; I’m never out of your sight. You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence."
Psalm 139:1-4 MSG