Sunday, December 6, 2015

In A World Spinning Out Of Control

As we come into this Christmas season with all of its sparkle and glitz, it’s hard not to be distracted by everything that’s going on. There are parties to attend, out of town family members to prepare for, and shopping to finish. Our stress and anxiety levels increase with each passing day on the December calendar. And yet, in the midst of it all, we are reminded that God came down two thousand years ago. He descended into our anxiousness and weariness to make everything sad untrue.

When Jesus was laid in that manger long, long ago, it was not in the midst of a world set right. It was in the midst of a world spinning out of control. The Old Testament closes with prophet after prophet begging people to turn back to the Lord. They had forgotten their first Love. The New Testament opens with the birth of our Savior, but in the midst, King Herod is looking to destroy him. It was chaos and mayhem. Although we don’t have the same circumstances, we feel the same chaos at this time of year. We are preoccupied, busy, and distracted.

Thankfully, in the midst of our mayhem, God descends in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Prince of Peace comes to settle our cold and wayward hearts. He comes to serve our weary souls. “Christ became a servant” that we “might glorify God for his mercy.”

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."



Friday, December 4, 2015

The Good News of Hanukkah

Hanukkah begins this weekend. 

As a Midwesterner [insert: white, Kansas born, middle-class, Oscar Meyer-eating, hometown parade-going girl], I knew little about the Jewish culture and faith until I moved to south Florida over twenty years ago. I needed to know though. I'm glad I know. I am grateful for my Jewish brothers and sisters and for their voices, history, and culture. I'm thankful for my Jewish friends who navigate an oftentimes difficult road between their familial roots of Judaism and the faith that has grabbed and secured their hearts in Christ. Some would argue the two can't coincide. And yet, In Christ they do. Jesus makes a way for Christians to be Christians regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, politics, history, or family. It is in this unity of the gospel that we find depth of meaning written across the pages of history.

What follows is a personal story - I would call it a story of triumph. Interesting way to describe it you might say. However, I believe it is a fitting way to describe my friend's journey - one that brings her back to the gospel and reassures her that she can simultaneously claim her humanity (her Jewish"ness") and proclaim her faith. To deny either would be to deny the gospel. 

Read along as she visits the good news through the eyes of her people, but more importantly, through the lens of the Gospel.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I am Jewish and I am a Christian.

I was raised in a Jewish home, with Jewish parents and grandparents. I went to a Jewish school and lived in a Jewish community. I heard the full Gospel for the very first time when I was 29, over twenty years ago. A year and a half after that, I professed Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

Integrating my Jewish background into my Christian faith is an ongoing process. The New Testament states that...

God is the same yesterday, today and forever... 

which got me thinking about God in the context of Jewish history.

I received a card that said, “May the Miracle of Hanukkah fill the season with wonder and joy." This challenged me to consider the miracle of Hanukkah and what God did as it relates to His character and the Gospel.

The account of Hanukkah takes place in the years between the Old and New Testament, in a time when Israel is taken over by the Assyrian-Greek Empire. There was extreme strife and rampant idolatry. Antiochus lV outlawed the Jewish religion and the worship of the one true God. The Assyrian Army desecrated and ravaged the Temple, the focal point of Jewish life and worship. They traveled through the country slaughtering all those who refused to worship their gods. A priest, Mattathias rallied a small band of men, the Maccabees, to eventually defeat the Assyrians.

Jewish tradition tells that when they began to restore the Temple, and light the Lampstand for the Holy Place, there was not enough oil to keep the lamp burning continually, as prescribed in the Torah. The miracle, according to the Rabbis is that a small amount of oil lasted eight days until new oil was produced. Thus, Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days, lighting candles each day.

The story of Hanukkah is inspiring on many levels. It is about the victory of light over darkness, the small and weak over the strong and mighty. It celebrates the tradition that supernaturally a little was sufficient when much was required. Hanukkah is rich with history - history that puts God and His divine power on full display.

What exactly did God do?

He kept His promises. He honored His everlasting covenant with his chosen people. He brought glory to His name in keeping that Covenant. He displayed His sovereignty and power for all to see. He used a small band of men to bring about His grand plan.

God did what He always does.
He came down.

He condescended into our brokenness and corruption, because our resources are always inadequate.


In the darkness that became the Festival of Lights, He came down to rescue His children.

He came into the muck and mess of political, social, and cultural upheaval to save the fickle, faithless and confused.

He came in a time and space when His chosen people were breaking His Law.

He freed His children whether they were trying to follow His ways or not.

In His unconditional, relentless love and grace He delivered His own.

He is the same, yesterday, today and forever.

In love, the very substance of the Triune God clothed in human flesh through the power of the Holy Spirit condescended and entered our broken world to become one of us, and one with us.
This is the Gospel.

It's Good News.

I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
-Luke 2:10

(This article was written by my friend Debby Viveros - she lives with her family in south Florida where she teaches and tutors. Debby is learning that the gospel speaks to every part of our humanity.)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Saint Augustine - We Are The Half-Dead, Wounded But Consoled

The Good Samaritan (1849)
Eugène Delacroix
There are people, ungrateful towards grace, who attribute much to our poor and wounded nature. It is true that man when he was created was given great strength of will, but by sinning he lost it. He fell into death. The robbers left him on the road half-dead. 

A passing Samaritan lifted him onto his beast of burden. He is still undergoing treatment. 

You will remember, beloved, the man half-dead who was wounded by robbers on the road, how he is consoled, receiving oil and wine for his wounds. His sins, it is true, were already forgiven; and yet his sickness is cured in the inn. The inn, if you can recognize it, is the Church. 

While in the inn, let us submit to treatment; let us not boast of health while we are still weak. 

Say to your soul, say this: you are still in this life, the flesh is still weak; even after complete forgiveness [in baptism] you were prescribed prayer as a remedy; you still have to say, until your sickness is cured, 'Forgive us our tresspasses.' 






Saturday, October 3, 2015

Pray for Long Island, Bahamas

There is nothing quite like the threat of a natural disaster to bring people together. I have vivid memories of Hurricane Wilma and the destruction left in it's wake. We walked away with a roof over our heads, damaged, but still there. It's hard for me to fathom the devastation my family and friends are dealing with in Long Island. 175 mph winds. What?!? 

I remember going outside after Wilma passed - fearful of what I would see. Among the debris, I saw neighbors. Neighbors helping neighbors. Neighbors sharing food. Neighbors talking and laughing and lifting. I pray that for the people of Long Island. In times of disaster, people come together. I am sure that's what's happening right now in Long Island. 

As I sit here helpless today, not knowing what to do, I thought - I can do something. It's not much, but it is something. 

Friends, some of you might be able to help, some can pray, others can share. We can't all do everything, but we can do something.


I know more pictures and more news will pour in today and tomorrow and in the days and weeks to come. I'm hoping for the best, but I've seen the preliminary pictures and video, and it's not good.

I'm grateful for the gentle breeze and low humidity that Joaquin brought to Ft. Lauderdale, FL, but that's about it. In Long Island, family and friends are in the midst of trying to put their lives back together. 

For that, they need the gospel. For that, they need the overflowing love of the Rescuer, Jesus. For that they need the help, hearts, and hands of his people.



Here are some specific ways to help if you can:

$20      Water – 5 gallons
$25      1 pair of shoes
$50      Clothing (dress, or pants and shirt)
$75      One school uniform with shoes
$100    Basic kitchen supplies
$110    Gasoline/diesel – 20 gallons
$125    Food – One week’s worth for two people
$150    One roof tarp
$200    Chainsaw
$250    Small generator
$500    School room supplies (to get one classroom up and running)
$750    Basic medical supplies for small clinic
$1000  Roof repair
$2000  Roof replacement


Hop over to GoFundMe to give a gift. Anything helps. Prayers are appreciated.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Deconstructing My Religion - A Look At What's Left When It All Falls Apart

What do you do when a puzzle crumbles? Of course, you pick up the pieces and try to reassemble it. But, what happens when you discover that you're missing some sections? Where did they go?

I'm looking for pieces. Trying to put back together what fell apart.

I'm not sure what I'll find. 

Maybe the journey is the answer...




We were the typical suburban "Easter/Christmas" church family, and we looked the part. All dressed up with shiny shoes and navy blazers, we were the picture of normalcy and godliness. Only problem was we weren't...normal or godly. Oh, that's not to say we were any worse than other families visiting church on Easter morning. I now know that none of us measure up. 

Normal is merely a word in a dictionary that has no real bearing on how people function in a fallen world. 

Fast forward thirty years. I've written about how God saved me while I was minding my own business in the pew of our local Methodist church. I was quickly immersed into Christian culture, Bible studies, and homeschooling. I studied how to become a Proverbs 31 woman and felt responsible for all things godly in our home - including making sure my husband came to know God (the truth was, our marriage was falling apart). Several years later we moved to another church and it was there where I learned that grace alone through faith alone, saves. The Bible became the means by which I was set free as opposed to merely being an instruction manual on how to live a Christian life. However, the left-overs of my religious rule-keeping had left its mark on me and on my marriage. A few crash and burns came knocking at my door. The most recent explosion was not necessarily the worst one, however, it was one that affected my entire family, and we are still experiencing the aftershocks. I'm not even sure I can properly articulate it.

Having left behind a fundamentalist approach to my faith, I welcomed the good news of the gospel. Jesus came to set me free. He forgave all my sin. As a result, my striving to be anything other than forgiven was now over. Liberty was all in all. I sat under the teaching of law/gospel theology, and it was soothing to my soul. I needed those years to strip away the lies that had whispered to me, "Do this and God will love you."

A little over a year ago, it all changed, again. I say again, because I'd been down that road before. The road where all the sign posts that once read, "This is the way, walk in it", were now blurry and difficult to make out.

Once upon a time you had it all beautifully sorted out. Then you didn't. 
- Sarah Bessey

My pastor told me my theology was wrong. I was fired from my church. I lost my bearings and started questioning everything. All that I left behind from fundamentalism and all I knew about the freedom of the gospel - neither one had the power to steady my wobbliness. Everything familiar was stripped away. My church, pastor, community, and friends. My entire faith world was shattered into a million pieces. Where do you turn? How do you go on? What is true? What was real? Was it all just a joke? It's been over a year since we've been to church. I have not spoken with a pastor since that time. I reached out to a couple of pastors I knew from social media, but it's social media. Local care is what I really needed. Where do you go? Who can you trust? My husband and I listened to church on-line for a while but we eventually walked away from all things "churchy." The beach has become a sanctuary of sorts for us.

It's good to contemplate life sitting at the edge of vastness.

It's comforting to see that the sun rose once again.

It's reassuring to know that Someone is in control of the story.


Now what? Well, I'm adjusting to ongoing places of change. Change in priorities. Change in routines. Change in income. Change in my family. Change with friends. 

There's another thing I'm getting comfortable with too. 

Calling a thing what it is. 

The reality of getting older. The betrayal of friends. The difficulty of relationships. The awareness of doubts and questions. The harshness of life.

In all of this rearranging, I feel like it's time for some deconstructing. Here, definitions are helpful.

de·con·struct
ˌdēkənˈstrəkt/
verb

reduce (something) to its constituent parts in order to reinterpret it.


How do I reduce my religion to its constituent parts? How do I go about reinterpreting it? It all sounds very technical. So, I think I'll start at the beginning. What is religion? In other words, what components make up this thing called religion?

religion
 re·li·gion \ri-ˈli-jən\
noun

: the belief in a god or in a group of gods
: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used   to worship a god or a group of gods
: an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group


According to the definition provided via Merriam Webster, religion is made up of a couple of things:
  1. Religion is belief. 
  2. Region is a system (of belief that enables worship including activities and/or ceremonies I take part in.)
The first part is easy for me. I believe in the God of the Bible, three in one. I still believe that I believe. 

The second part seems pretty simple too. Because I am not currently involved in any organized ceremony or activity that enables worship, my religion is, at its basic form, belief. That's why it's such a relief to me when I read about the crowds who came to Jesus and asked, "What must we do to be doing the works of God?" Jesus replied, "Believe in him whom he has sent."

Jesus boiled down his expectation of what it means to be a Christian to one word - believe.

Whatever else people try to get me to believe, I'm realizing more and more that it's not about my ability to rightly divide the word of God. It's not about my diagnosing and appropriately applying law or gospel. It's not about getting theology wrong or being let in or kept out of any one's Christian club. It's not about labels or arguments or popularity or platform.

Maybe I'm oversimplifying this deconstruction process. I thought it would be more complicated to get at. Truth is, it's not all that complicated. Churches, denominations, Bible versions and Bible studies, books, ministries, missions, and all things Christian, boil down to one word. Jesus said, believe.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Check out a few resources I've found helpful along the way:
Jon Hollingsworth - Author of Runaway Radical
I LOST MY RELIGION IN SOUTH SUDAN - An essay by Paul Dunk
searching for sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans

Coming up next, What about faith? 

Monday, August 3, 2015

When Friendships Die

Where do friendships go when they die?

Who picks up the shattered shards of brokenness?

What is the point of loving and losing a friend?

Because really, it all seems a waste. A barren land of pain, regret, and betrayal.

I've walked this rugged path - more than once. What was lush and green is now dry and deserted.

The theme song from Friends plays in my mind...

I'll be there for you
(When the rain starts to pour)
I'll be there for you
(Like I've been there before)
I'll be there for you
('Cause you're there for me too)

The song goes on to say,

So no one told you life was gonna be this way.

Maybe they did try to tell me and I wasn't listening. I didn't see it coming. I never expected the pain and agony of broken relationships. Oh, there were the childhood breakups. The squabbles over boys or toys, or some random something that caused a petty fight signaling the loss of what was probably a superficial friendship anyway.

Then, there was the other friendship.

The one built on like-mindedness, shared convictions, unspoken words, and best friend secrets...

...the one where belly laughs about nothing and tears over everything planted deep roots. 

Their broad branches of love provided shelter in the midst of life's storms. Their canopy of care stretched out to lend relieving shade.

And then...

...it happened.

Out of nowhere a violence occurred. Damaged roots and broken branches. Debris everywhere.

I have experienced one too many broken relationships.

No one told me it would be like this.

I don't remember anyone sitting me down to explain that someday my best friend would walk out of my life...just like that. Or, that I would walk out of my best friend's life...just like that.

There doesn't seem to be a good explanation for any of it. There doesn't seem to be one reason I can point to.

Some say, "People are in your life for a season and that season may just be over." Yeah, not so comforting is it? I never found it that helpful either. Because I need to grieve. I want to mourn. There is emptiness and void left, and I'm trying to fill it back up so it won't hurt so much but I'm having trouble. I'm desperate to make the pain go away.

But it doesn't go away. It may dissipate, but the dull ache is there...always.

And the question lingers...

...why?

I would be lying if I said I've stopped asking why. I still do. I long to know the reason for the heartache and misery.

But more and more I know that my own capacity to love is stained. It falters and fails. And, I know that's true of other people. It's not that we don't want to be faithful friends and true companions. But life creeps in and relationships get strained. We listen to lies all day long - from the world and the enemy, both trying to rip apart any shred of goodness. I don't understand much. I still shake my fist for answers. But all it does is leave me in a heap without answers, until all I can do is confess. Confess the Truth.

A friend loves at all times (Prov 17:17).

I used to read this familiar Proverb and think, I have friends like that...and I'm a friend like that. But now I see the brilliance captured in those simple words. There is one, a friend, who loves at all times. It's not you and it's not me. 

There is only One who could ever love at all times. He's a friend, friend of sinners.

The love-capable savior who came for love-incapable people like me. 

This is the friendship that can never change. It is borne out of death.

The friend our hearts long for died for us, and in so doing, gives us a friendship that will never die.




Saturday, July 4, 2015

Refuge

I grew up in Kansas. Which means tornadoes. I hate tornadoes.

One stormy night, my dad rushed into my bedroom and swooped me out of my bed. Our family made a mad dash to the neighbor's house - the only home in our community with a basement. Hunkered down in the dank dark basement, we waited. All the while the whipping howling wind ripped through our small town. The minutes seemed like hours and the hours like days. We waited for the darkness to pass, for the light to come.

That's how I feel sometimes. Waiting for it to be over. I go down. I stoop low. I cover my head and I tremble.

My heart pounds...

...waiting for it to end. Waiting for the sun to come out.

I am that petrified little girl cowering in the basement.

"Is it over", I squeak? "Can I come out now", I whisper?

The problem with being in the basement is that you can't see what's going on outside. There is no way to tell if the darkness has passed. Is it safe to come out? Ever so cautiously someone climbs the stairs to peer outside. Do you do that? I do. In the midst of a difficult time I'm hesitant to go outside. I want to be sure it's completely over before I venture out again. It's not safe out there I tell myself. I'll wait inside until I'm sure it's over.

When life smacks you in the face and you have to hunker down and wait, everything goes dark. Vision is hindered and fear creeps in. When will it end? When will it be safe?

But the thing about life is that the storm never really ends.

Spend some time on this earth and you begin to realize it's not about getting over the storms. It's about weathering them. 

I tend to hide, I'm not so good at weathering.

Back in the basement we notice the sirens have stopped. It's over. But, the crackling transistor radio warns caution even in the midst of the aftermath. It's a mess out there...be careful.

It never really goes away - the threats, the suffering, the fear, and imminent danger. You don't know what's around the corner, what's developing on the radar. Have you lost a loved one? Has your marriage fallen apart? Did you lose your job, your health, your savings?

I've come to know suffering and difficulty more than I care to. And the more I know about it the less I can explain it. More questions than answers.

My husband encourages me...

...trust God.


I say it a lot these days - it's not so much that I'm trusting God as it is God's loving me. He hangs on in the middle of life's storms - he knows my palms are sweaty and my hand is slipping.

In the midst I think I hear a sound.

It's hard to make out...

...but it sounds like refuge.




Friday, July 3, 2015

Help For When I Am Weak




We're all just walking each other home.” 
― Ram Dass



One of my favorite distractions while I'm running is people-watching. I love to see others out walking their dog, taking a stroll, or cycling. It's a human connection I guess.

I see them almost every evening. The sweetest elderly couple, side by side. They walk, and they talk...

...and they encourage.

Her with those neon shoes and him with his white v-neck tee. They don't stop, regardless of how they might be feeling. I am sure at their age there are more bones creaking and muscles aching, but they keep on going...

...and encouraging.
I notice their smiles first. When I get close enough they do things like fist pumps and thumbs up and cheer. All the while, they're smiling. Although they're probably in their eighties and weaker and more fragile than ever, they encourage me. I'm usually wearing headphones so it's hard to make out what they say each time, but I imagine them shouting "Good job! You're looking good! Go, go, go!" I always get a second wind after that, and wonder if their walk is just an opportunity to encourage others.

I have a friend. She's from Kansas too. 

She's a great teacher and it's no wonder her kids scored the highest this year. 


She is an incessant encourager. It doesn't matter what it is, she always has encouraging words for me. We were at the beach the other day and I felt like a swimsuit model. She said I looked "amaaazing." Of course, in my mind I am. 


She also encouraged my writing. She helped me gain some focus with exciting and energizing ideas. She challenged me to set a goal by offering tons of complimentary reassurances. She even volunteered to cheer me on (read: hold me accountable). She is officially my Chief Kickstarter...

I'm so grateful for all this fist pumping, and not just because I believe it's something we all need, but because I've felt weak this past year.

My bff and my running encouragers have both steadied me a bit...

...bolstered my wobbly legs.

I think God is like that. I imagine him at the finish line, towel around his neck, pumping his fists at me. With my ear buds on I make believe he's cheering and shouting, "Well done Lori, you are good and you've been faithful. I knew it all along!"

Come to think of it, it's not make believe at all...

His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. 
- Matt. 25:21

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Silencing Others Is Anti-Gospel

****UPDATED****

Since publishing this post I have had a change of heart. I still stand by what I've written - whole-heatedly - and now more than ever because I have heard from so many of you who are experiencing what I've written about. What has changed is a reference I made regarding what another blogger wrote. Although I did not link to or name that person, they knew who the comment referred to and they were deeply hurt. For that I am truly sorry. It was not my intent to hurt anyone which is why I've removed the reference. I believe my post stands fine without it.

That fellow blogger and I have had good conversation since the post was published. Hurt was expressed and I'm glad because it gave me an opportunity to apologize, and ask for forgiveness. I was saddened by the hurt I caused. I appreciated the discussion we had in which we continued to disagree but pursued love in the midst. We may not have done it perfectly, but we pursued it. And that is enough.

I also apologize to those of you reading this. I am truly sorry if I hurt you with my reference. Please forgive me.

I have said before and I continue to beat this drum - disagreement and love are not mutually exclusive. As Christians especially, love can stand smack dab in the middle of disagreement. I wish I was better at it. I want to love more, shout less.

Thanks for reading.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I see a disturbing trend surfacing in light of the announcement regarding Tullian Tchividjian's adulterous relationship. Simply put, those who are of the grace and law/gospel camp are urging forgiveness and grace in the face of his sin. I hope everyone would agree it is an appropriate response. However, there are two points that seem to be at odds for the law/gospel believer.

No Condemnation

The first point argues that theologically, there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Actually, it's not their argument, it's what the Bible says. And I agree. Paul declared that amazing truth in Romans 8 and it has served to set people free from that time until this day, and no doubt, will serve as the key to unlock prison doors until that day.

Does Forgiveness of Sin = Silence?

The second point, and this is where it gets sticky, says that on the basis of grace, only forgiveness and grace can be a valid response. This means that anyone who articulates anything other than a message of forgiveness is condemned to be self-righteous, anti-law/gospel, legalistic, unsupportive, judgmental, and unloving. The result? People get silenced. People get shouted down. The very gospel of freedom that's proclaimed is the very gospel used to intimidate and instill fear in those who have something else to say. I've personally experienced defensiveness and silencing as a result of simply urging caution in the absence of having all the facts. The misleading truth espoused is that forgiveness and grace cannot coexist with honesty and reflection. I say honesty because the truth is the truth. If you sin, you are a sinner (all of us). If you are dependent on alcohol, you are an alcoholic. If you committed adultery, you are an adulterer. Anyone who makes a truth-telling statement is not anti-anything necessarily, they are just telling the truth.

If the gospel we proclaim is used to silence people, it's not the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

It's a man-built religious prison used to incarcerate those who disagree with you.

Truth-Telling

If the gospel represents anything, it represents truth-telling. The gospel reminds us of our sin before God and man (the truth), and refreshes us with the good news of the forgiveness of sin as a result of a crucified Savior (also truth).

The gospel is the relief-giving antidote to the pressures of this life found in the very One who is Truth himself.

The list of those silenced by the church is long...very long. It may have happened to you - it's happened to me, and it goes like this. In order to dictate the world around me, I must silence anyone who is messing up whatever it is I'm clinging to that keeps my life going. Pride, power, control, reputation and even fear drive our need to silence others.

Image result for silencing people
{google images}
I believe this is very dangerous territory. When Christians call for silence from other Christians, or anyone for that matter, isn't that a form of bullying itself?

No one wants to be silenced. As far as I know, we still have freedom of speech. But for the Christian, it goes even farther than freedom of speech. Are we free? Yes. Free from the penalty and the guilt of sin. But free for what? The Bible says we are now free to love. But if our love extends only to those we agree with it's not love, it's favoritism. Love extended to all in the midst of disagreement is love.



Our Need To Silence Other Voices

I think that what troubles me most about this trend is the absolute need to silence. It reveals one telling truth.

We try to silence what we fear most.

And, what we fear most is anyone or anything that puts what we love at risk. It reveals idols. The need to silence is driven by the fear that what we idolize will be ripped from our lives.

Good News

So, here's some good news in the midst of all this talk of bullying. There has ever only been one person who is not a bully.

Friend of bullies, Lover of silencers, Voice of the silenced and oppressed, Jesus comes in the midst of our completely whacked-out intentions, messed up theologies, and all our defensive and offensive maneuverings to say, I love you. 

He calls to each of us to stand down, put down, and lay down all of our efforts to fight for what's "right" and to justify ourselves before mere men. We can end the defense of not just our own righteousness, but the righteousness of others too. It's not ours to keep, defend, or give, anyway.

We can rest knowing that we get to be the focus of the only One who truly protects, perfectly justifies, and sacrificially defends us all.



Friday, June 19, 2015

They Teach Me. And It's Good.


My bff's.

Neither one is white.

I remember someone saying we need to be color blind.

I disagree.

When I see my friends I'm not color blind...

...I see their color and I love it.

Here's what I want...

...to see in vivid technicolor."



read more...

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Trauma Scene Calls For First Responders Equipped With Grace


Maybe we need to reassess what's going on in our churches. Maybe, if we looked at each dramatic situation as a need for triage we would respond differently. 

Instead of a problem to solve, a policy to be reinforced, or a behavior needing modification, maybe we can look and say - there are real people who need a real physician to bind up real wounds.

Emergency surgery is what's needed.

What if we had a team - a team of first responders. The ones who rush to the scene of the accident armed with nothing but grace...

...carrying loads of love and compassion

How different would the damage be? Instead of making things worse by withholding triage and pressing on wounds, we could stop the bleeding, bind up afflictions and ease suffering.

The recent headlines of The Village Church struck a cord with so many because abuse in the church has become commonplace - either because of the sheer reality of what's taking place or because we hear about it more thanks to social media. Either way, people have grown weary of the ugliness of it all. The leaders at TVC responded - but their response was not triage. It was more like an ambush. More explosions, more carnage, more destruction. A lot of people got hurt. Not just the ones involved, but the watching thousands and thousands who find that their faith has worn thin.

Since then, a miracle has happened. There have been apologies, sincere and tearful. There have been conversations, real listening and hearing. Time and sacrifice made to make things right.

An ambulance of grace responded and they set up triage and set out to bind up wounds. 

I applaud this response and I know it was not easy. [Read: Dear Church - Please Admit It When You're Wrong] How do you comprehend the change that took place in the hearts of all involved? We will never know the full and weighty impact of what happened as a result of TVC's apology and their admission of wrongdoing. In a world where defense is usually the first responder, grace is refreshing, breathtaking, and the only thing powerful enough to heal the broken.

Churches, pastors, and leaders are entrusted with authority and influence. People come to their hospital.

They're not OK people needing good advice. They're broken people desperate for grace.

They have come to the one place that should be dispensing it freely. They have looked to the world and the world doesn't have it to give.

TVC is not perfect. No church is. And personally, this does not get me any closer to going back to church for now. But, it does give hope. It is possible that change is in our midst.

The church needs to lose the image of the big powerful bully on the block and take back the picture of a shepherd carrying its sheep...going to find the lost one, washing the feet of the confused, dejected, sad and sinful, and, plunging beneath the cleansing stream as grace-needing, love-thirsting souls themselves.

 TVC has given us a picture of what love looks like and how grace operates.

There is hope.

*******I wrote those words this morning, and then I stopped. I stopped to listen to TVC sermon of May 31st*******

...and then I cried.

The pastor said,

I'm asking you on behalf of the elders, will you forgive us?

We've failed to walk in that with you, and you have borne the brunt of our foolishness.

I cried some more.

Will you forgive us where we've failed to recognize you as the victim and didn't empathize deeply with your situation?

More tears.

I realized I had been writing this post from my head - reporting on a story really. But what happened next surprised me. My heart was touched. I'm sorry, will you forgive me...well...it melted a little piece of my hardened heart. I imagined he was talking to me...and it changed me. For the first time in over a year I believe...a little...just a bit.

I don't think the hurting world needs to be diagnosed for law and gospel.

I think the hurting world needs a caravan of ambulances driving hard, fast, and headlong into hurt, pain, and wounds that need binding. 

The need is great for first responders who throw caution to the wind and react with love, compassion, and kindness not self-protection, public relations, and policy.

Maybe this ambulance of healing grace would bind a wound for you today:

I'm asking you on behalf of the elders, will you forgive us? There are some of you who are not just members, but you've borne the brunt of our lack of love, care, compassion, mercy. Those are acts that are built into the role of elder. We've failed to walk in that with you, and you have borne the brunt of our foolishness...
...For you, I'm not asking you to forgive us of mistakes. I'm asking you to forgive us of our sins...First, will you forgive us where our counsel turned into control? Second, will you forgive us where we've failed to recognize the limits and scope of our authority? Third, will you forgive us where we allowed our policies and processes to blind us to your pain, confusion, and frustration? Fourthly, will you forgive us where we acted transactionally rather than tenderly? Lastly, will you forgive us where we've failed to recognize you as the victim and didn't empathize deeply with your situation...
...As I've walked through these five specific statements of seeking forgiveness from you, if you find yourself, your situation, your story under one of those, will you come in and let us own that? I know that might sound like a terrifying proposition to you. Here's what I would lay before you. Whatever you need to do to feel comfortable, you set the rules...
...I have felt embarrassed and frustrated and brokenhearted because we have failed you, and we have wounded some of you, and we have not lived up to what God has called us to live up to in his Word. - Matt Chandler, Sr. Pastor The Village Church [full sermon transcript here]

peace.


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Who's Minding The Shop Anyway?


Do You Have Room In Your Heart?

We could all agree there are some pretty lame Christian sayings out there. I sometimes wonder how in the world we fall for them. You've probably heard this popular quote, "God helps those who help themselves."

It's not in the bible.

In fact, it contradicts the entire storyline of the bible. 

Think about it, if you could help yourself you wouldn't need God. The truth is, God helps those who can't help themselves. Remember, you were dead? Dead in your sin until God raised you?

There are hundreds of sayings that we hear and take for granted, but they're just not true. And, they have nothing to do with the gospel. Here's another favorite of ours - we hear it a lot at Christmas. You have probably been asked this by many a preacher from the pulpit on Christmas eve. "Have you made room for Jesus?", or, "We're all innkeepers, will you let Jesus in?" The misleading teaching says that we are all innkeepers and we get to decide if there's room for Jesus.

While this thinking is quite popular,

it's not the storyline of the Bible either.

To put ourselves in the position of the innkeeper with the discernment and power to let Jesus in or keep him out, completely disregards God's sovereignty, his onewayness, and his ability to overpower our weak and petty motivations.

It reduces the gospel to a moralistic road map that any of us can follow if we so choose. 


Honestly, when given the choice would you have chosen Jesus?

Even now, do you choose Jesus? I'm not talking about desire. I'm talking about doing. Does the way you spend your time, resources and talents reflect choosing Jesus over the things of this world? Uh, yeah...me neither.

We are more like the innkeepers who respond, "There is no room in the inn, move along."

I heard these words this morning:

I'm not going to church.
I'm not praying.
I'm not reading the bible.

Not my words. Someone else out there...

I was grateful for the honesty. No mask. No pretense. No holier than thou blah blah blah. No yada yada yada about how they went through a painful time and now they're good to go.

Just gut-wrenching honesty...

...if you listen closely, you might hear something else...

...there is no vacancy.


Do you feel like that? I do. I feel like I don't have room for him or all of the religious baggage that comes along with the Jesus road trip.

But here's the deal. 

Jesus is not standing around waiting for me to post a vacancy sign on my heart. 

He's not anxious about whether I will let him in because the truth is, Jesus doesn't need a room. Jesus is the room. That is astounding good news. Especially from where I'm sitting these days.

But it gets better. All that religious baggage I think he moves in with? Not true. Jesus travels light. In fact, all by himself.

Jesus Didn't Need An RV 

One reason all of this matters is that I don't have to be anxious about whether or not Jesus will go find somewhere else more inviting to stay. In other words, If I'm not "making room for Jesus" he is not waiving good-bye and moving on. 

At some point this whole analogy breaks down, but the crucial point is, 

I belong to Jesus, 

and nothing I do or think or say can ever change that. 

His love for me and for you is bigger, more mysterious, and beyond anything we can understand right now. So, if you're going through a rough time, if you have doubts you just can't resolve for the moment, if you have questions no one can answer, it's o.k. Don't stress. Jesus isn't.

There's one more reason this is a big deal. The more we come to understand the truth that Jesus doesn't come with any baggage, the more we will grasp the true gospel. He had no home to welcome his birth. Jesus traveled with no place to lay his head. No donkeys loaded down with his belongings. He didn't show up with a bell man delivering trunks of wares. Jesus didn't have an RV. 

Nothing.

That's what Jesus travels with.

Which mean no rule books, no secret codes, no exams or homework, no court orders, no questionnaires, no membership guidelines, no entrance requirements, no clubs. There is no denomination, systematic theology, church discipline manual, or seminary ethics course needed.


He comes and He never leaves - regardless of your "youness."

peace.



Tuesday, June 2, 2015

We Are [NOT] All Josh Duggar


I understand the theology behind the statement, We are all the Duggars. It's the theology that maintains the biblical truth that we all fall short of the glory of God. We are all sinners.

I agree wholeheartedly that we are all sinners...

...sinners saved by grace.

That means we are simultaneously sinner and saint. We are clothed in Christ's righteousness, yet still living in a fallen world. Because I am sinner and saint I still struggle with sin on this earth, but because of Jesus and his death I am free from not only the penalty of sin but the guilt associated with sin. I am not free from the presence of sin, but on that day I will be free of sin fully, finally, and forever. I am thankful my sin has no bearing on my relationship with God because of what Christ has done for me.

I also agree that the church has, for far too long, had an us and them mentality which says sin is outside not inside the church.


It is high time we confess to a watching world the truth that the definition of a Christian is saved by God's grace, not saved by our goodness.

Here's what's nagging at me.

While the statement that lumps all of us into one big mosh-pit of child molesters may sound true, I don't believe it is true.

I am not a child molester. It's not self-righteousness to say that, it's just the truth. I have never had thoughts of molesting children. I would argue that there are many others like me who have never thought of repeatedly sexually assaulting children.

Janet Mefferd made this clear when she said,

"We all struggle with various sins, but we struggle with different sins, and one size does not fit all."

Like Josh Duggar, are we all sinners? Yes.

Are we all child molesters? No.

One last thought. Focusing on theology in situations where abuse has taken place - physical, mental, sexual or spiritual, can have its place in the conversation. However, I have seen that all too often it becomes an academic exercise to explain abuse with doctrinal principles. While that can be helpful, it can lack compassion and miss the point. Theology can sometimes talk past people, and as a result, become void of compassion and love.

The real point is the abuse and its victims. 

They are the point now.

I don't think we can err too much on the side of victims when it comes to abuse. How far would we go to restore a heart and soul ravaged at the hands of another? 

The gospel reminds us that Jesus went to the depths of hell and back again for each precious one.




Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dear Church - Please Admit It When You're Wrong

I have resisted every urge to weigh in on recent abuses taking place in the church. I would like to publicly state for the record that, I wholeheartedly and without reservation, stand with the victims. I hear the comments by some who say that what we see on the Internet is not true and there is more to the story. While I am sure there is more to the story, I do believe a lot of what I've read because they are actual documents, not hearsayWhile there are some leaders willing to stand on the side of victims, it saddens me that there are not more leaders in the evangelical world willing to speak up.

It is possible to be "for the church" and "stand with victims" at the same time. 

They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I would argue that Jesus did just that. He stood against the power hungry religious monopoly choosing instead to stand with the least of these. And yet, he was not against the church, in fact he ordained the church. He was the architect and its chief cornerstone. But I digress...

There are so many issues to address but I'm going to focus on one in particular. I continue to be amazed at how Christian organizations and churches position, posture, and protect themselves in the midst of wrongdoing. When a scandal breaks, what generally follows is a firestorm of defense. Many have written about the challenges a victim faces when finally deciding to come out with the truth. It is a harrowing ordeal that takes immense courage and involves grievous pain and suffering all over again. I tend to believe that the majority of abused individuals would not speak up if their stories were not true. [For resources and information about abuse check out GRACE - Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian EnvironmentIf churches and Christian organizations remain unwilling to come clean and admit their part in abuse situations (everything from sexual abuse to spiritual abuse), they must be willing to accept their part in the crisis of faith that victims usually experience as a result. Healing begins by way of honesty - on both sides. When denial of wrongdoing is at play, continued pain and withdrawal is sure to follow. 

Now more than ever we need people willing to stand up.
  • Stand up to leaders in your organization advising you not to. 
  • Stand up to a budget that needs to be met. 
  • Stand up to your reputation and risk losing it.
  • Stand up to your pride that's fighting for itself. 
  • Stand up and don't back down.
I plead with you, if you are a church or a Christian organization, follow these three simple steps. I say simple but make no mistake, they will be hard. Rest in the truth that Jesus stands for you.

1. Admit wrongdoing

As I said, this is simple not easy. To admit wrongdoing is to put it all on the line. It swallows pride, it takes a back seat, and puts everything ahead of itself. If the gospel is true there is freedom awaiting those who confess wrongdoing. We expect it of our kids. We want it in our marriages and relationships. You're free. Free to give up and give in. Free to be last and least. If what's stopping you from confessing is some sort of legal action that could be taken against your church or organization as a result, refer to #3.

2. Apologize for actions
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Apologies often include that little annoying word but. However, what signals a true apology is the absence of but. Psychology Today gets it right when they say, "A true apology does not include the word 'but' (“I’m sorry, but …”). 'But' automatically cancels out an apology and nearly always introduces a criticism or excuse." Sadly, apologies from the Christian world are few and far between - here is one example from a recent headline.

3. Accept consequences
This last step is not necessarily something you do, it's something that will happen as a result of coming clean. You may lose members and attendees. You risk losing your reputation. You could lose money, donors, support. You may lose partnerships. You'll likely lose credibility. There may even be legal ramifications. If there is anything to do here, it's probably the difficult decision to continue steadfastly in your commitment to owning wrongdoing. You've admitted, you've apologized, and now you need to stay focused amidst temptation to recant, to soften the apology, to add a but. 

We need the church to stop with the public relations program.
We need the church to take the lead.
We need the church to be honest.
We need the church to make loving your people more important than idolizing your authority.

The consequences you might face will never compare to the consequences of abuse that a victim faces. Church, be the church. Stand for those Jesus stood for. The least, the forgotten, the beat up, and the ones with no voice. Be encouraged - Jesus says to you, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you." 

Friday, May 29, 2015

One Destructive Violent Act


It's easy to praise God when babies are born.

When a loved one dies, it's not so easy.

Not to say that the pain doesn't subside eventually. It does. But in the moment it is devastating, with suffering at every turn.

It's hard to understand a happy clappy response to death. Well-meaning Christians offer pat answers like, "They're in a better place."

True as that may be, we're not in a better place. We are left with the devastation and fallout - kids to feed and to put through school, a mortgage to pay, no life insurance, and a future filled with grief and uncertainty.

Illness, divorce, abuse, parenting challenges, the list goes on and on. All fraught with the same components of suffering. I'm not comparing the death of a loved one with divorce, but I am saying they both bring with them suffering and excruciating pain.

Death deals a painful blow and it is no respecter of persons.

Have you faced the pain and challenge associated with a child in the throes of addiction? Have you encountered debilitating illness with one of your parents? Have you suffered abuse at the hands of another? For all these ways and more, we die. A piece of us dies. Death. We all face it.

Death.

No respecter of persons.

We know that Jesus conquered death on the cross. We know that he crushed the head of the serpent and dealt death its final blow. But it's hard to comprehend the devastation that battle brought. Because often, we settle into God's sovereignty. You know, the pillow we can lay our weary heads upon (Spurgeon). We don't realize the violence it involved. We don't see the suffering Servant in all his power.

We forget that when the veil was torn it was not the century who ripped it. It was not the disciples or his mother.

torn011It was the destructive power of God who sees death and reacts violently.

His son's death was painful.

No psalm of praise arose from the cross.

Instead, a cry of surrender resounded amidst unbelief.

Jesus crucified?

My loved one dead?

My marriage ripped apart?

My kid on drugs?

Aging parents?



No song of praise.

Only cries of surrender sound forth.

Only lament over the death of dreams and the realities of this hard life.

When God's violent and destructing power breaks in, the darkness trembles, and so do we. 

When people say they praise God in the midst of destruction, I'm more likely to believe they are trembling just below the surface. What I have found is that breathing humans shake in the wake of suffering. We may head know God is sovereign. But we heart know that suffering hurts.

Only relief?

Only light in the dark?

The violence of the veil. What looked like destruction, was indeed that. The destruction of death. Not just physical death. But our pain too. Light broke through. A ray shone forth.

On those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

Friend, shake and tremble...

...don't be afraid.

Shake and tremble in the Light.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Jesus Died For An Arrogant, Unsubmissive, Loudmouthed And Flat Out Disobedient Bride

I read some things this morning that frustrate me a bit. It was an essay on God's design for marriage and gender roles. Written by a man, it focused on women and their submission in the context of marriage. A couple things stood out to me.

First, the article pointed to the example of one particular woman's love for and submission to her husband by saying it was so faithful that the Lord raised up generations after her that would call her blessed. He then points to a biblical woman, Sarah. Although she had difficulty, he notes that what set her apart was the fact that she adorned herself with a gentle and quiet spirit by submitting to her husband.

To be clear, it was not Sarah's love and faithfulness at play here. 

You may recall that Sarah laughed at God. Sarah schemed with her hubby to sidetrack God and take matters into her own hands. Sarah was mean to Hagar and resented her involvement with her husband (who wouldn't?!?). Not exactly a picture of love and faithfulness.

Isn't it interesting that Jesus, the only One who ever submitted perfectly, died not for the submissive wife. He loved and died for an arrogant, unsubmissive and flat out disobedient and loudmouthed bride, so that, generations would be raised up and be named, blessed.

Second, noting 1 Peter 3, the essay asks, "Have you ever noticed that women who place their identity in external appearances tend to be loud?" I'm not sure I have a category for this interpretation of that passage. Suffice to say that the equation does not add up...on many levels. I wonder if the same holds true for men? This observation is quite frankly, embarrassing. If we were talking face to face I may just have shouted that, which may or may not be an indication of where I place my identity.

Finally, in a sad (but all too common) interpretation of 1 Peter 3, the essay declares that by your submission, you can guarantee your salvation and will be called one of Sarah's children. This statement contradicts the entire narrative of the Bible which is, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). 

Whoever believes has eternal life. 

The article also maintains that it would not be surprising if one day, when the saints are gathered together before the Lord, there is a large group of women standing next to Sarah, for in the midst of their marital hardships they trusted that the Lord would vindicate them. However, the article left out multitudes of other women.

Standing next to Sarah will be all the other women (not just wives) who doubted, laughed, mocked, distrusted, schemed, resented, hated, and lied.

Standing next to Sarah will be women who couldn't muster up what the world expected of them, couldn't believe the things the church wanted them to believe, couldn't trust anymore because of shattered dreams, couldn't stand up anymore because of the heavy burdens placed on their back.

In fact, some may not be standing. They may be on their knees weeping, Weeping that it's all over. Weeping that the striving has ceased. I know the bible says no more tears, but tears are divine. God catches every one. Tears demonstrate the most human and raw emotion possible. Tears brought us near. Tears will usher us in.

Standing next to Sarah will be every single woman who by no accomplishment of their own faith, was loved by the only faithful One. 



Saturday, May 23, 2015

Jesus Alone Saves

(*A couple of disclaimers. First, I chose to put this in one post instead of a series. Be forewarned, it's long. Second, as with everything I write, this is my story. I'm no expert. I write my experiences and hopefully they somehow (not always neatly) point to Jesus. I understand it may not be your experience and that's o.k. I appreciate different journeys, stories, and faith experiences. In fact, I would say I need them. I need your differences. I need to know that there is way forward despite our differences. I want to learn how love prevails.)


Paul Loved Those In His Care

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Sometimes Paul spoke with endearing words and an affirming tone. He longed to see the congregations he left behind. They were his beloved and he missed them desperately. In the book of Philippians Paul says, "I yearn for you," "I thank my God for you." Clearly, strong words expressing a strong love.

However, if you read the book of Galatians it's not quite the same feel. The book opens up with Paul's standard greeting. "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

Then, he cuts to the chase.

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--which is really no gospel at all."

He continues, "O foolish Galatians!"

At one point it is as if he catches himself in mid-sentence to say, "I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you."

But then he keeps going...

"I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!"

"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another."

Paul never shied away from calling it like it is.

Imagine if your pastor wrote you a letter like that today. It might go like this, "What the heck are you doing? You believed, and now you are deserting what I taught you and relying on your good deeds to earn you points with God. I wish that whoever is influencing you would cut um, well, *cough* *cough*, cut their balls off. Now, get back to the business of the Gospel because that is why Jesus came. To set you free, not so you could sin more, but so you could love more."

Paul wrote to the church in Galatia to remind them of Jesus.

What distracts me from Jesus? What prompts my heart with promises of freedom that only lead to slavery? What bright shiny object has me locked up in chains again? What theology, cult, or club sidetracked me? What beckons me back onto the slave block?

Having begun by the Spirit, am I now being perfected by the flesh?

Forgiveness Of Sins Brings Freedom

It is easy to believe that I, one who "gets grace" and understands Law/Gospel - that I am the "right" one. It has been easy for me to sink into the acceptance preached and the grace taught. Because, who knew? I never knew. So I set out to preach no other gospel. To boast in nothing else. Except, my boasting was in doctrine. My claims were about theology. Sure Jesus was thrown in there. But all along, I was peddling something that had no power. You may be angry when you hear me say that Law/Gospel has no power. But it's true. Law/Gospel is a theology, a set of doctrines void of power. It is a hermeneutic principle, a theological distinction, an approach to understanding the whole of scripture (see Wikipedia, and The Law and The Gospel by Michael Horton). 

When the God of the universe chose to reveal his Son Jesus to me and open my eyes to the freedom he brought when he died for me, he gave me power from on high. He loved me. But His love for me was not dependent on my understanding of Law/Gospel, reformational teachings, or grace. In fact, I understood nothing because I was blind. I was dead.

Yes, I have known freedom from understanding Law/Gospel. I've taught it, and I embrace it, especially now in days of confusion and doubt. But I see clearly, now more than ever, the truth that a doctrine can't save me. Truths prescribed and subscribed to, can't raise dead people. Jesus raises dead people. Jesus sets captives free.




The ACE hotel is easy to spot due to this sign on its roof (Photo: Lauren Coleman)
{photo credit: Lauren Coleman/travelskills.com}


Jesus Alone Saves

Does knowing the Law/Gospel paradigm give me a lens with which to read my Bible? Yes. But, it does not have the power to take a person who is dead in their sins and raise them to newness of life. Paul said it best, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3).

Reliance on a hermeneutic or doctrine is not the same thing as reliance on Jesus. Only when I can say...

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;

...can I really be free.

Nothing in my hand I bring...not doctrine, not a hermeneutic principle, not my denominational set of beliefs...simply to the cross I cling.

So, I found I was crushed by the very thing that was meant to set me free because that very thing was doctrine, not Jesus. I was clinging to theology which had no power to rescue my free fall, no power to transform my broken heart. I replaced Jesus with a lens. I used a lens to look at Jesus instead of looking at Jesus with my own eyes.

While using the Law/Gospel lens with which to view scripture I found I was not beholding the Lamb who took away my sins. 

Paul reminds me what is important. Jesus. The one who died for my sins in accordance with the Scriptures.

Why Does This Matter?

First
, I find it an important discussion because of the renewed interest in the Law/Gospel hermeneutic. It has been used powerfully in the lives of many, my own included. However, the following observations are critical in order for me to "keep the main thing, the main thing."

· The Law/Gospel hermeneutic is not the Gospel.
· The Law/Gospel hermeneutic is not power unto salvation.
· A Law/Gospel understanding is not required for saving faith.

Faith rides many trains. The vehicle God uses to deliver faith is the word ("So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17), but the word is carried in many different boxcars. Believers for centuries past and for centuries to come will know the saving grace of the Lord Jesus apart from knowing and understanding the Gospel through a Law/Gospel hermeneutic.

Second, it's an important discussion because clinging to a theology can often produce tribalism. I noticed it in my own thinking. One of the reasons Paul was concerned about "another gospel" seeping into the churches he wrote to was because of the pride it produced. Any gospel apart from the Gospel of Jesus Christ leads to pride and is evidenced by a lack of love toward others. When you add anything to Jesus, the Gospel becomes void and powerless. Reliance is now placed on the "plus something" and it can lead to boasting in self. A sense of superiority seeps in, and condescension, mockery, and disdain follow. In other words, those who have "so great a knowledge" assume they are better off than those who have no knowledge of it. I believed [wrongly] that I had superior knowledge and insider information.

I found that instead of becoming more approachable, I was actually becoming less approachable. My doctrine kept some people at arms length because it was my doctrine (clinging to my rightness) that drove my heart, not Jesus. Lovelessness comes from clinging to my "rightness." Lovelessness does not come from beholding the Lamb who takes away sin.

I admit to falling into the thinking that said I’m right and you’re wrong. I failed to love my neighbor as I protested their views, their doctrines, and their teachings. Funny thing though, eventually I was put out for not believing "right theology." When placed outside the camp, my eyes opened. I began to see, maybe for the very first time, the beauty of Jesus for losers and last ones, for the abused and the forgotten, for the not wanted and the not part of.

I am exactly who Jesus rescues. He went outside the camp to find me.

Jesus marched out and said, “She’s mine.” 

You may have the same story. If so, a doctrine did not march out to your rescue. Jesus, very God, died to save you. He alone, almighty in power, came down to save you. He does that for all of us.

A Personal Reflection

I did not grow up in the church. God saved me when I was forty. I was not looking. My husband and I went to church so our son could earn a religion merit badge for Boy Scouts (another conversation for another day). That’s when Love broke in. Four weeks later, I left church different than when I went in. God raised my dead body and made me a new creation. Did I know what grace was? No. Did I know what the Gospel was? No. Did I understand Law/Gospel? No. I had never heard those words before. 

Love, It's What There's Just Too Little Of

All of this is messing with me a bit. I’m asking a lot of questions now. How did Jesus get buried underneath a hermeneutic? How is it that such good news can be used to separate, not unite?

To be sure, it’s nothing new. Down through the centuries doctrine has divided the Christian community. And isn't that the real problem? Divisions? Quarreling? In-fighting and back-biting? All of it, lacking love? Find Christians clinging to doctrine and you will find divisions and quarreling nearby. It would seem however, that those who have truth, who have Jesus, who know we love because he first loved us, it seems to me we would be the most gracious, the most loving, the least bothered when someone doesn't agree with us. If we all believe in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we can instead, warm our hearts by that love-fueled fire. If we all believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived as a human, died for our sins, was raised from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of God, ruling and reigning and praying for us, we can agree together that there’s no other Gospel. There is no other Love that’s greater than the love of the Father for his beloved which fuels love for one another, so that we can...

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...stoke the same flames of righteousness, faith, love, and life that spiral up from the ashes of our death. 

...like the no-named preacher in Revelation (Rev. 5:5), point others to the slain Lamb. 

...point to the one with all authority – not because he slays, but in his own slaying, becomes the Redemption for a people from every tribe and language and people and nation (probably people that don’t agree on everything.) 

If the gospel I am preaching causes me to love more, it’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If the gospel I am preaching causes me to mock, condemn, judge or ostracize, it has nothing to do with Jesus. If the gospel I am preaching causes fear or anxiety, it’s not from Jesus. If the gospel I preach pits one against another, I have gone off track. 

Maybe a look at what the beloved disciple John wrote would help reorient my wayward heart. He tells us these things in an effort to melt our hearts, to remind us that in the midst of suffering we can know we have an Advocate who loves us. He wants us to know that because love is from God and is God, our only hope for loving others is knowing so great a Love for ourselves. He writes so we may know,

Beloved,

Love is from God. God is love. God was made manifest among us - God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that you or I have loved God...

...but that Jesus loves me...

...but that Jesus loves you.