Relevant Christian Celebrates 6 Years!

Relevant Christian posted it’s first post on February 26th, 2007 entitled Rebel, or Progressive Thinker?, and at today’s count, have had over 316 posts, well over 261,000 visitors, and 1,890 published comments.

The purpose behind Relevant Christian was born out of a growing uneasiness about the state of Christianity, and a desire to start people thinking, or maybe even start a conversation. While it was not our purposeful intention to be controversial, we have at times, definitely succeeded in being so.

Our most popular post to date, “What Does the Bible Say About Tattoos?”, has been viewed 115,910 times, and was written by a very good friend and pastor Timmy Gibson.

We have had the pleasure of having some great contributors to Relevant Christian, and I would like to say thank you to those who have contributed (no pun intended) to the success of Relevant Christian.

Timmy Gibson
Joe Martino
Bill Reichart
Dave Anderson
Chris Elrod
Justin Heibert
Joel Johnson
Tracey Eldridge
Heather
Shane Anderson
Stephen McDonald

…oh yeah….Me and one or two others that I may have neglected to mention…and of course those that have written guest posts from time to time….Thank You!

It has been an exciting journey…so far!

One Lost Lamb

good shepherdHave been thinking about the parable of the shepherd who left the 99 to search for the ONE lost lamb. I think there are beautiful truths still left uncovered in this passage. What did the lamb do to be saved? Did he repent? If so, what led him to repentance?

Here’s what I am seeing….First he did NOTHING except run away, put himself in danger, risk starvation and loneliness. In this story, the only action I see in on the part of the Savior (Shepherd). The Shepherd left the 99 and searched for the one. The Shepherd picked him up. The Shepherd lay him across His shoulders. The Shepherd rejoiced at finding him. Sooo, again…what exactly did the lamb do??? The lamb did nothing except surrender to being carried. Nothing but submit to the strong but gentle grip of the Shepherd. Nothing but let go of the restlessness that had driven him to wander in the first place. The lamb did nothing except perhaps nuzzle in close enough to smell the familiar sweet scent of his Savior and hear His heartbeat racing with the flutter of excitement at finding His precious lamb!

And I ask you, is it not THAT very love so freely given, without merit or good works, that leads all of us to repentance?? Is it not in the sweet moment of relishing in the safety and warmth of the gentle grip of our Savior that leads us to regret our actions? Is it not in that moment when His love for us is realized that we want to make changes and start anew??
Roman 2:4

Treating People Like Jesus

McDonalds really seems to be at the crossroads of American life. Rich and poor gather under the golden arches for cheap food that is quick and tasty. Their slogan could just as easily be, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to eat cheap.” I’ve seen business suits and birthday suits at McDonalds, it attracts everyone.

English: The official logo.
English: The official logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was at a discipling group today at one of our local McDonalds. While I was waiting for the group members to show up, I had someone join me at my table and he proceeded to hand me a couple of napkins and some hand sanitizing wipes. I (without looking up from my book) said thanks and kept reading. He handed out more napkins and wipes to the surrounding tables before returning to sit down next to me. When he noticed that I didn’t use the napkin as a coaster, he felt the need to pick up my cup and do it for me.

That got my attention and I knew this guy was serious about wanting to have some company, so I put my book down and waited for what was next. In our next few minutes together (about 15) here are the topics we covered:

  • Getting an ID from the government
  • Police
  • Colorado
  • Colorado’s nice residents
  • Kansas
  • Looooosiana
  • New York and New Jersey (he was born in both places)
  • California
  • Missouri
  • Colorado’s nice residents
  • Texas
  • The DMV
  • And how nice everyone in Colorado.

The two most repeated phrases of our conversation were, “You know?” (I didn’t, which got me in trouble on a number of occasions) and, “It’s just such a pain in the ass.” (I pretended to know).

You can probably tell by now that something wasn’t well with my new acquaintance, and the longer he sat across from me the more potent the smell of alcohol became. He was out of it enough that after my discipling group (an hour and a half long) I saw him again having a conversation with a bird statue a few blocks down (yes conversation, not monologue).

He even drew me a picture.

Towards the end of our time together he began to berate and yell at another customer as he was leaving McDonald’s because the guy at my table was convinced that he was the governor of Colorado and couldn’t figure out why he didn’t want to have a conversation with him.

Since the moment we first began to talk I had a nudge to engage his guy and talk to him. I kept hearing in my mind, “Treat this guy like Jesus.” Which of course meant that I would need to act like Jesus.

How do you extend grace, fellowship and company to someone that drunk, disoriented and out of it all together? I had Matthew 25 running through my head:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”

I knew that this is a guy loved and created in the image of God. I needed to treat him as such, but thinking about it and doing it are two different things. Given his current state it was going to be even harder. Here are some things I thought about that I think are helpful. I, in no way, think I was perfect and don’t think I’ve covered everything well. I’ve got room to grow and hope that God continues to shape me so I do better next time. Here are three things I think we need to practice better.

  1. Talk to them. There were several people that either blew off his presence or mocked him. A couple of tables snickered and pointed fingers as he talked. Engaging him and talking to him validates his humanity. Even in an inebriated state he needs to be treated humanely.
  2. Offer help. When he was talking about going to the DMV, he showed me the address he needed to go. I offered to help him find it. Though I was met with an angry outburst (because he knew the way), the point is that we should offer to go the extra step. Spend voluntary time with him.
  3. Offer to pray. This is an opportunity I’m ashamed to say that I missed. Part of it was because I barely got a word it, but most of it was because I wasn’t assertive enough. I could have offered to pray with him and his struggle to get to the DMV.

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Please comment below and add to the list. What other suggestions do you have?

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To Be Known So Well

image

To be known so well by God, is a comforting and terrifying thing.

To think that He knows me so well…sees even the deepest recesses of my soul, all of my inconsistencies and failings…yet loves me so passionately deep, limitless, and boundless, is unfathomable.

To know that His mercy and Grace is equally the same as His love…brings such joy to the heart of this sinner.

Knowing that it is by such love, that His Grace is my hearts salvation, brings me peace.

Though my finite mind cannot concieve the thought of His infinite love, I will forever be thankful for His love for me!

Grace is…

Let’s be honest with one another. Do we really understand grace?

The trend, it seems to me, is that we are saved by grace and then it’s all up to us. That is, God does the initial work of ‘saving’ us and then we do the maintenance on our own. I suppose we might pay lip service every now and again to the work of the Spirit. I’m not persuaded that I am any closer to the truth of grace. I still try too hard to be holy not because I love God but because I really want to impress God. Really. Don’t we all want to hear God say, “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into your master’s joy today”? Grace is someone else’s reconstruction project and not my maintenance project.

Maybe I want to hear that because I want God to be impressed at how in control I am of my situation. I’m not too particularly concerned to be dependent. I like control and being in charge. I certainly do not want to cede control to anyone. Lately I have found myself in a place where I have no control. I’m about one meal away from having to go to the local food pantry and beg. I’m about one drink away from falling off the wagon I have been on since 1991. I’m about one missed day of work away from not making the mortgage. Grace is someone else in control besides me.

I want to be close to God and yet right now I am about as far away from him as a human on earth can be from one who came near. On the other hand, I am closer to him than I have ever been. It’s oxymoronic, but true and it has nothing to do with me. I’m not so good at hiding, and God is so very good at finding. Grace is someone else finding me and not me making myself known.

I don’t understand grace. Maybe I should quit trying and just enjoy it. Or Swim in it. Or blame it. Run to it. Run from it. Eat it. Drink it. Put it in my pocket. Fly it like a kite. Grace is someone else’s idea of sustenance not mine.

I read this short essay tonight. Well, it’s not really an essay. It’s more like a blog post—a good one: short, sweet, and memorable. It’s called Refrigerator People and the Unfair Grace of God. Here’s a clip:

The One I serve is the Author of wildly beautiful, unfair grace.  He permits me to pray for people the world dismisses with a few well-placed words.  Dirtbags.  Scum of the earth.  Criminals.  Crazy people.  You know, the ones who “deserve it” when the going gets rough.  He invites me to dare to believe He’s big enough to redeem even these…and that He longs to do exactly that.  As I join Him in the conversation about them, He shows me much about their brokenness and their beauty…and much about mine as well.

The beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.  My prayer today is that every person on my fridge and on my heart will accept the unfair grace of God, and know freedom in this life.  I long to meet them on the other side, and celebrate with them the magnitude of that grace.

Grace will always be unfair. I’m undone. We are all undone by the God of grace because none of us can stand before him, read off our list of credentials, and hope to get in with a pat on the back and a smile. But we can expect to ‘get in’ when we are nothing more before God than who we are because of God. That is, when we make no effort whatsoever to impress him aside from just accepting what he offers in the form of grace, empty vessels holding up empty hands that have been lifted up by his strength that we hope he fills (faith?). Grace is God being pleased with us because he wants to and not because he has to.

I think some Christians put way too much stock in impressing God than they do in being impressed by God. Grace is God loving us because he can, not us loving him because we can’t.

I don’t really think I understand grace. I think the minute we think we do is the minute we will probably die because how can God afford for that message to be shared with the buildings full of Christians who think they are impressing God by being in church on Sundays and putting their trinkets into the passing plates and eating stale bread and warm juice? Jesus said it best, though, didn’t he: “It’s not the well who need a doctor, but the sick.”

He also said something like, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” I know for a fact this verse angers people in the church more than any other verse in the Bible because there is not one of us who would dare admit that we are blind. We see all too well which is exactly why we make a wreck of the church. We see all too well which is exactly why the church, some churches anyhow, has become a museum for relics to be admired, dusted, and preserved instead of a distribution center of grace and goods; a feeding trough for the hungry and helpless; a hospital for the beaten and broken; a truck-stop for the weary and worn out. The church should be a pair binoculars or a telescope or reading glasses instead of a mirror. Grace is something we look through not something we look at.

That’s what grace does. It changes our perspective and shifts our gaze. Grace is someone else’s vision and not our own.

I know that’s what upsets people about grace: We prefer to look at ourselves. Grace demands that we do not. Grace demands–yes demands–that we cast our nets wide, and empty. Grace demands that we haul in the catch someone else has provided.

Grace forces us into the uncomfortable position of having to consider someone else which, interestingly enough, is kind of what God did in Jesus.

And grace is unfair to a fault. Newton should have written that song: His unfair Grace, how disturbing the sound, that saves so many like me…

The ones we think deserve the most hell are the ones God invites to the wedding supper; the ones we think will most certainly be under wrath are the very ones being saved; and the ones we hope suffer the worst are the very ones God is in the process of healing the most. And we don’t like it because we know that Scripture says such people are under wrath and, thus, deserve to be. We understand not the mysteries and secrets of how the Kingdom works and grows and produces–nor why God happens to invite to and secure in his salvation the most wretched and ugly among us.

I’m not making predictions for God’s grace because I don’t understand it any more than anyone else. If I did, I would be dead. Grace is someone else seeing me as I am and not me seeing myself as I should be.

Grace is unfair because grace is the business end of God’s dealings with sinners—sinners of all kinds, and not just the ones we think God should deal with, like ourselves. I don’t deserve God’s grace any more than anyone else but I’ll gladly take what he gives.

I’m happy to let God be God. I’m happy to let God save the way God saves. I’m happy to let God save those God saves.

I’m happy that salvation is the work of Jesus, not me. I’m happy it’s about grace and nothing else.

Confessions of a Frustrated (Christian) Preacher, pt 3

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

“I am thinking of grace. I am thinking of the power beyond all power, the power that holds all things in manifestation, and I am thinking of this power as ultimately a Christ-making power, which is to say a power that makes Christs, which is to say a power that works through the drab and hubbub of our lives to make Christs of us before we’re done or else, for our sakes, graciously to destroy us. In neither case, needless to say, is the process to be thought of as painless” (Frederick Buechner, The Alphabet of Grace, 11).

I’m taking a slight risk with this post, but I believe in order for you, the reader, to fully understand why I have arrived at my current understanding of Christian faith that it is necessary for you understand a little bit of the journey that I have taken in ‘ministry.’ At the end of the last post, I told you I would be taking a short detour in this series of posts. (Actually, I said I was going to share with you about my last paid position in this installment. I’ll save that four part 4.)
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My first paid position, after graduation in 1995, was in a small town in the hills of West Virginia. The church was small, and very family oriented. By that I hardly mean they were interested in ‘families’ (I should have figured that out when one of the elders asked me during my interview, “Do you plan on having any more children?”) What I means is that if you weren’t a member of the 4 or 5 families that owned that church, you really had no chance of surviving life in that town, let alone the church.

The church, comprised of 25-35 people were more loyal to the grumpy old man from Maryland who owned a house next door to the parsonage and another next to the church building. He was, after all, a far bigger contributor of cash to the church than I was—as that same elder told me in a board meeting one time, “He has no say so in this church but if he wants to give us his money we are darn well gonna take it.” He could afford to buy loyalty; I could not.

Well, it didn’t take long for a 25 year old man who thought he could save the world with the Gospel to get bored of preaching to 20 people a week, visiting them every other day and being blamed for the ‘lack of church growth.’ So to supplement my ambition and income (I was raking in a stellar $250 per week back then; we also had another baby on the way) I took a job with the local ‘committee on aging’ and served as a ‘homemaker’ to elderly people (most of whom were not affiliated with any church at all). In this position, I helped clean houses, prepare meals, grocery shop, run errands, give baths, change adult diapers, shave grown men, and clean up everything imaginable among other things. It was a challenging work, but, and here’s the kicker, I could do it. I never would have thought I could do such a thing, but I did. When I left that church after a year and a half or so, I was more distraught about leaving my clients.

No one in the church really had any problem with me doing that work but once I realized the church work was over I knew that I could not keep my family in that town. We were outsiders and always would be.
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After a ten month lay-off from ministry, during which time I worked as a general laborer and a restaurant manager and served in a variety of capacities at my home church, I was led back into ministry. Back to West Virginia, but a little closer to my home territory. I worked very hard at this church for about the first year and a half and then a friend who belonged to the church needed some help with his business. He owned a local cab service. He needed a driver. So in my spare time I decided to drive some cab for my friend, a member of the church.

I met all sorts of people doing this job from local drunks, to jockeys who worked at the local track, to homeless transients, to strippers who worked at the local clubs. It was after meeting one of these strippers, and making reference to her in a sermon preached the following Sunday, that the proverbial feces hit the fan. I distinctly remember the words of one of the board members, “This cab driving stuff has to stop.” Well, I certainly couldn’t see why. Most 28 year-olds do have trouble seeing beyond themselves. Still, it was my ‘spare’ time. I suspect, and I could be wrong (although I doubt I am), that much of the problem was the nature of the people I was cabbing from place to place. You know, the preacher of a reputable church shouldn’t be seen driving people from and to bars; he shouldn’t be seen with strippers in the front seat of his cab; and he shouldn’t be supplementing his income by hanging out with such shady characters. The children might see.

And good christian people of scruple and sensibilities don’t appreciate hearing the word ‘whore’ from the pulpit even if that is what Rahab and the stripper both were. I know what happened to Rahab and how her story ended. I have no idea what happened to the stripper because I was eventually forced to resign the church and the cab and never saw her again.

I loved the people I drove around in that beat-up old car. I doubt any of them cared a lick about my faith or the fact that I was a preacher. One guy, a fella I’ll call Chuck, was actually quite a theologian. He just wanted nothing to do with the church and everything to do with the bar. Seems he was treated better at the bar. I was treated better by the strippers and drunks and homeless. Go figure. They wanted me; the church did not. They don’t care if a preacher drives the cab that gets them home, but the church sure minded if the preacher did.
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It’s a funny thing about churches. We are very careful to protect our own interests. Don’t misunderstand me. I was younger then and far too easily provoked. When something happened that I didn’t think was just (like telling me what I could and could not do on my free time or telling me that the money of an angry old man was more important than my family) I complained, often loudly, about it. Patience is an acquired virtue. What I learned is that a preacher is always the outsider (unless he has started the church and grown it under his own leadership ideas) and never, I mean never, has any leg to stand on in such situations. The itinerant preacher who is hired by a local congregation is on his own.

He is shackled by a paycheck and by a parsonage. In these two ways, the local congregation holds all the power. The preacher is always expendable and, since he lives in a parsonage, can always leave ‘and find another church.’ It’s quite a lot more difficult than you might imagine—especially for preachers who are hired by locally independent congregations with no hierarchy or diocese to rely on in such situations. I have broken free from the shackle of the parsonage. It’s only a matter of time before I break free from the shackle of the paycheck.

What has happened though is rather simple: God’s grace got hold of me. It’s not that I don’t care about the people ‘in the church’; on the contrary, I do! What I do mean is that I have found that being among ‘those people’ is where I want to be. Helping. Serving. Loving. Sharing. Giving. Listening. Giving them rides. Changing their diapers. Giving them a bath. Cooking them a spam loaf. Feeding the 50 puppies that live under their front porch. Wiping blood, food, and puke off their face on Monday since they had spent the weekend drinking. Like Paul, God’s grace got hold of me and it was not without effect. In fact, the effects are still being fleshed out every single day, with each person I meet. If grace doesn’t change us, then it is not grace we have experienced. We might have gotten religion, but I doubt seriously we have encountered the same grace that Paul encountered, the grace that took hold of him.

What I have learned is this: my ministry is not in the church but in the world. While this has been happening, that is, while I have been realizing it, these words of Mark concerning the life of Jesus have been becoming more and more real to me:

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:13-17)

Yes, there are a lot of sick people in the church, but there are even more in the world. Frankly, I’d rather spend my time with people who need and want help than with those who don’t want it and believe in their hearts they don’t need it.

“The whores all seem to love him, and the drunks propose a toast.”–Rich Mullins

Previous Posts in this Series:
Confessions of a Frustrated (Christian) Preacher, 1
Confessions of a Frustrated (Christian) Preacher, 2

People or things referenced in this post:
Frederick Buechner
Strippers
West Virginia
Rich Mullins

The Love of God

The Love of God in Christ

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

“But Paul’s vision of God’s love, rising here like the sun on a clear summer’s morning, shines through all the detail that has gone before…God’s love has done everything we could need, everything we shall need. As Paul continued to explore the meaning of the reconciliation that has taken place between God and human beings, he delves down deep into the depths of what God had to do to bring it about….When we look at Jesus, the Messiah, we are looking at the one who embodies God’s own love, God’s love-in-action.” (NT Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans, pt 1 chapters 1-8, 86)

Paul has spent a great deal of space telling the world, telling the church at Rome, telling anyone who would listen exactly how terrible is the predicament of man. It is bad. One might say that if it was bad in Paul’s day, it might be worse now. I doubt it. All bad such as Paul is speaking of is relative to the age. That’s not to say bad is relative, it is to say that the nature of the depravity is relative to the age. I agree with many who think that there is something terribly amiss in this world, in our culture, and in the church in general. I am not so pessimistic to think it is beyond redemption-in fact, I think that might have something to do with Jesus and why he came in the first place.

That’s what I love about Romans 5:6-11. If one were to read Romans and suddenly stop at the end of Romans 4, one might be left despairing and hopeless although, to be sure, Paul has dropped hints and given us glimpses of the beauty of what God has been planning for humanity such as chapter 3:23-24: “…for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” And perhaps also this in chapter 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into the grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” But these hints in these places are hints. Here in Romans 5:6-11, Paul blows the lid off the whole thing: Here’s what God did despite all that I have written about in the previous paragraphs! And we are stunned. We are stupefied. We are knocked down; thrown for a loop. Our entire world is shattered by these few sentences concerning God and his actions.

How can we not be bowled over by such statements? How can any single one of us, any of us, read such passages of Scripture as this and think that it means anything but what it says at face value? In the midst of all the wrath, in the midst of all the sin, in the midst of all the hate we have for God, in the midst of all the pride and boasting, in the midst of all the immorality, lying tongues, open grave throats, in the midst of all the convoluted ways we have chosen to live precisely because of our free-will-there is God. There is God! Standing at the dawn with his arms opened wide welcoming home all those who lived in the manner Paul described in chapter 1 is the God who loves. There is God! I don’t know about you, but when I read how God demonstrates his love (which leads me to understand how he really, truly feels about me) I am stunned into silence, humbled, humiliated; wrecked.

At just the right time God did the most inconceivable thing: No eye had seen, no ear had heard, no one could even imagine what God had planned for us; many still find it impossible to believe. Yet God was not even willing just to say ‘I love you.’ For God it was not enough to give lip-service to his great love for us: He demonstrated it. He made it visible. He made it concrete. He put his love on display for all to see. He so loved the world that he didn’t bother to ask anything of us. He so loved the world that he sent, essentially, himself. Paul will later express this love as such: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (8:31-32)

Have any of us plumbed the depths of love this God has for his rebellious children? (Ephesians 3)

Is it possible to read Romans 5:6-11 and be anything but overwhelmed? Is it possible to read these verses and be anything but destroyed, thrown down, overwhelmed, unraveled and undone? Is it possible to consider that God loves us quite in spite of ourselves and be anything but humiliated and humbled? And so Paul can rightly ask in these verses: If God loved us this much while we were yet sinners, then ‘how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life?’ Or if God demonstrated his love for us while we were yet rebellious, then how much more ‘having been justified by his blood, shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!’

I’ve been thinking about these verses because it seems to me that this God is rather amazing. Paul hasn’t written, in these particular verses, about the pride of men. He has written about how utterly confounding is this God who loves and forgives and heals and justifies and resurrects despite the worst man has to offer. “You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”

So there it is again: Hope! Forgiveness! Healing! The love of God towards a people who are decidedly against him. He continues, time and time again, to astound us and reverse all our conceptions of himself. We hate, and he loves us. We run away, he chases after us. We curse, he blesses us. We sin, he forgives us. We deny he exists, he shows Himself in Jesus. We kill him, he Resurrects! We can’t really make out this God can we? We cannot really, truly comprehend a God who goes out of his way to make himself real to us, who so desires that we be his people and that he be our God that he will be crucified to make the point and to make it possible, who is so wildly in love with us that he himself will deal with our sins instead of asking us to. He makes a way where no way exists. He creates a people where none is. He extends mercy where there is none.

I’ve been thinking about this God who loves us quite in spite of ourselves. I’ve been thinking about this God who loves us. I’ve been thinking about this God who thought it necessary to demonstrate his love to us, and did so in the flesh; in Jesus. If there is anything that dispels pride in humans, it is this amazing God who loves; the God of grace. This is the God we need to preach and share and adore. This is the God who saved us in Christ.

The best irony there is is that God loves us. In spite of all the worst that Paul wrote we are, in spite of all the devastation we manage to conjure up because of sin, in spite of our creative habit of inventing new ways to die and kill and run away from God-in spite of it all: He still loves us. The Hound of Heaven dogs our every step and won’t relent; pressing in on every side.

Dare we imagine a God, dare we submit to a God-this God of the Bible, fully come in Jesus Christ? Dare we love such a God who dared to love us?

Soli Deo Gloria!

Abortion and Grace

“For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God…” Paul to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 23

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…” John the Apostle, chapter the third, 16th verse.

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I read a blog post yesterday that angered me. It pointed to a great problem, a great sin, then it stopped. It offered the reader nothing by way of a solution to the great problem, the great sin. I’d like to begin, sort of, where that post began and then finish that post by adding what was forgotten.

  • It is wrong to steal.
  • It is wrong to have gay sex.
  • It is wrong to lie.
  • It is wrong to cheat.
  • It is wrong to fornicate.
  • It is wrong to commit adultery.
  • It is wrong to be racist.
  • It is wrong to get drunk.
  • It is wrong to be gluttonous.
  • It is wrong to murder.
  • It is wrong to get an abortion.
  • It is wrong to lust.
  • It is wrong to lie about the preacher.
  • It is wrong to abuse your spouse or children.
  • It is wrong to worship idols.
  • It is wrong kidnap.
  • It is wrong to disobey your parents.
  • It is wrong to swindle.
  • It is wrong to be greedy.
  • It is wrong to rape.

Yes. Yes. I could go on and on and on. The post I have in mind was discussing abortion and it’s offensiveness. I agree with the post I read: Abortion is a heinous, despicable, vile, disgusting offense. Those things mentioned above are wrong too; they are sin. There is no debating this in my mind or in Scripture for that matter.

But abortion is not the unforgivable sin. Never has been. Never will be. In the crazy economy of the kingdom of God, a person could have 490 abortions in one day and repent and God, in his mercy and grace, would forgive that person because of Jesus Christ. I mean, why wouldn’t he since he expects us to do nothing less? I don’t think God expects people to do things that he himself isn’t willing to do. Thus, forgiveness.

Abortion is not an unforgivable sin.

None of the things I mentioned is the or an unforgivable sin.

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We have ample evidence in our world of all the things that are wrong with us and all the things we do badly and all the sin we have committed and all the idols we have worshiped and all the judgment we have invited into our lives and all the times we have crucified Christ all over again and again and again…

We have sufficient testimony to all the grievous destruction that our sin has wrought upon this earth.

We have enough people pointing out the sin that plagues the United States of America and Russia and England and Brazil and Antarctica and, well, you get the point.

But Jesus did not tell us to go around moralizing did he? (This is not rhetorical.)

I’m not even sure he told us to go around pointing out sin, although, when the Gospel is properly preached I think that sin will necessarily be a part of the discussion. After all, it is terribly difficult to call folks to repentance if some mention of sin has not happened.

Jesus did tell us to go and preach the good news, the Gospel. (Luke 9:1-2, and 6, among others). We have good news! We are told to preach good news! Why did he tell us to preach good news? Could it be that there are enough others preaching the bad news?

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“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.–Jesus, as recorded by the evangelist Matthew 11:27-29

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I want to find 100,000 ways to say: God forgives you in and because of Jesus Christ. I hate writing this post because some might conclude that I am not opposed to abortion, or that I think there are no consequences to our behavior, but that would be to miss my point. I am very opposed to abortion, but I also realize that people sin, do wrong, make mistakes and have otherwise poor judgment, and that it was the sick, weak, broken, hurting, desperate sinners, like me, like them, that Christ came to save, redeem, ransom, and atone for.

Jesus didn’t come to condemn; why do we think he has assigned us that role?

The author of the post in question did a great job pointing out a great sin, but the problem with the post is simple: While it gave us a great picture of a moralized America where everyone plays in an orchestra or knits flags and worships at the throne of conservative politicians, it did nothing to offer a solution to the real problem of sin. It’s a powerful picture, but it is not necessarily one Christ has drawn. It is a terrible problem, but there was no solution offered. What’s the point of ranting about the problem when there is no solution offered at all?

We didn’t get a picture of the Kingdom of God where forgiveness is free and we receive grace as a man filling a cup under a waterfall.*  We got a picture of a moralized America where there is condemnation for every perpetrator, but no hope whatsoever. If an expectant single-mother or a suddenly pregnant husband and wife swimming in debt is debating her/their pregnancy right now and read that post, she/they would be left despairing and hopeless; feeling nothing but condemnation.

The author would have us condemn all who have had abortions and reject them as mere weak Americans who lack courage and are interested only in their bank balance and credit card statements. Christ would welcome them into his kingdom as the very ones he came to save precisely because they are greedy, murderous, and lack the intestinal fortitude to be self-controlled–because they are sinners!

So here I offer what the post in question did not offer: Hope. It’s easy to condemn; much harder to think and believe that God is foolish enough to forgive us rebels just because he can and wants to.

If you have ever had an abortion or over-spent on your credit cards, if you have filed bankruptcy because you have no self-control, if you are a coward, if you are hopeless and think you are running on empty, if you have no where to go and you think you are out of options–there’s hope! There’s grace! There’s forgiveness of your sins! Christ has payed the price for your sins. There’s Good News! Christ has not rejected you. There’s still hope! There’s still a message of peace and forgiveness to you because of Jesus. Christ will take away your guilt. Christ will heal your wounds. Christ will save you from the hopeless, endless cycle of condemnation and death.

You can join us, all us sinners here, all us imperfect, unkempt, undone, depressed, forgiven-by-God sinners here. We welcome you to join in the story that Christ is writing and has written. We welcome you to taste and see that His Grace is Good. We welcome you to be forgiven in the Name of Jesus.

“…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” The same Paul, to the same Romans, chapter 3, verse 24.

“…For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” the same John the Apostle, the same third chapter, the 17th verse.

On the Wayness

I’d like to share a thought or two on the subject of Christian Unity. I am a preacher by calling, and as such, lately, I have been preaching a series of sermons to my congregation on this ever so strange idea of Christian Unity or as I prefer to call it, essential oneness. I have been preaching this series of sermons because my congregation has been going through some difficult times lately and we needed to be reminded of what Scripture says about our oneness in Christ.

It’s no small thing for a church to be one in heart, mind, and ambition. If you think about what Christ did when he brought us together it is really quite remarkable. He pulls people together who are different races (although we all belong to the human race), people of different colors, people of different nationalities, people from different religious backgrounds, people from differing social backgrounds (‘rich’ and ‘poor’), men, woman, young, old–the list could go on–and he throws us all into one great big bag that he calls ‘church’ and says: “Find a way to make it work.” Find a way to make it work?!? Seriously? Seriously.

Jesus knew, knows, what he is doing; doesn’t he? I mean, no two people come into the church with the same history or motivation or even theological ideas. For that matter, no two people ever even retain those original theological ideas. As few as 10 years ago, I would never have considered an Anglican preacher to be among my best of friends–simply because of theological ideas. You know what, today I can; and I am glad for it. The problem we have, I think, is that we in the church are far too concerned about the baggage that people carry with them after they become Christians. We sort of seem to think they ought to drop it all right away and get on board the Jesus train. When it takes longer, we get frustrated, irritated, angry, and begin to lack patience; love might slip.

That is, we think that people need to be remade into our image. You know what I mean, right?

That’s when problems creep into the church–when we forget to love. So we believe things like this:

  • Those people who are not maturing at the same rate as I am are bothersome.
  • Those people who are not thinking like I am theologically are weaklings.
  • Those people who do not see things the way I see them are troublemakers.

We think that anyone who is not ‘like me’ is, clearly, not a Christian at all. Or worse. You know what the problem with all this is? We are not being remade in the image of other human beings! That’s the glory of it all! I don’t have to stack up against other humans, because they are not the template; they are not the standard; they are not the goal. Jesus is. Paul wrote in Colossians 3 that we are being recreated in the image of our creator who is Jesus. And none of us is there yet. We are all still on the way. Only those who fail to recognize this ‘on-the-wayness’ lack the courage to be patient with others.

So, then, what does all this have to do with unity in the body of Christ? Well, consider these words from Paul’s pen to the Ephesian church:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train
and gave gifts to men.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Be patient with others. Be humble–they may be more advanced than you think. Work at unity in the body. It won’t be easy: work at it. And here’s the thing, if we have a proper view of ourselves (humility) and a proper view of others (patience and bearing with them) then working at unity in the body will be our goal. But if we are not working at maintaining peace, then are we working at war? Even a casual indifference (not working towards unity) is an example of not working at maintaining unity in the body. We must work at unity in the Body of Christ. Work. We cannot afford to not work for peace in the Body because if we don’t work at it war will break out among us.

Growing up is the goal: the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Along with self-sacrificing efforts at unity comes maturity in Christ as we are patient with one another and understand that God has apportioned his grace to us. Unity in the body and maturity in the individual somehow go hand in hand. Then there’s that grace word again! It’s so intrusive isn’t it? So how do we ‘make it work’?

It’s not complicated. He says three times: Bear with one another in Love. Speak the truth in Love. Build up the Body in Love. Do you think we can overstate the case for how much we must love in the Body of Christ? Do we have enough room to love? Can we humble ourselves and love? For the sake of the essential oneness of the Body of Christ can we love one another? Can we recognize that all of us are ‘on the way’ and none of us has arrived?

dg

Can a Christian be Homosexual?

At another blog I write for, I made a post today where I bounced off some ideas that were posted by a man who is a homosexual and a Jesus follower. Wesley Hill wrote a beautiful essay about the struggles he encounters as one who finds himself living in both worlds (he is celibate though).

Hill wrote:

I am drawn to these haunting confessions of Auden’s because I, too, am a homosexual Christian. Since puberty, I’ve been conscious of an exclusive attraction to persons of my own sex. Though I have never been in a gay relationship as Auden was, I have also never experienced the “healing” or transformation of my sexual orientation that some formerly gay Christians profess to have received. But I remain a Christian, a follower of Jesus.

The following paragraphs are the conclusion to the essay I posted across the way.

First, what are we supposed to do as Christians? Can we change people? Is it our job to change people? Can the blind lead the blind? Can the sinner cure the sin? Or can we, or shouldn’t we, love people and let Jesus do the curing and healing? Isn’t it better to recognize that we are all sinners, all in the same boat, all helpless without Jesus? What becomes of me when I think that I can solve the sins of others with the same tactics that were used to solve mine (as if they are solved!)? Do we not all take different paths in Jesus before we are fully healed? Truth of the matter is this: We won’t be like him, no matter how healed we are in this life, until we see him (1 John 3:2).

Second, yes, the Bible says ‘repent’ and ‘leave your life of sin.’ (The Bible even says that ‘that is what some of you were’ with the meaning that ‘that is not what you are now.’) But ironically, or not, these commands are never rescinded. We are called to them over and over again every day. We are called to abandon the flesh every day: take up your cross, deny yourself, follow me. We win. We lose. We succeed. We fail.  Jesus is not so naive to think we will not fail. If he was, I suppose there would be no need for grace, would there? If Jesus commands me and you, people who are incapable of forgiving once, to forgive 70*7, do we think he does any less for the person who struggles to live in the paradox that is Romans 7:14-25? We are not Christian perfectionists if we believe in the Bible’s teachings about grace. I don’t believe Jesus expects us to be.

Third, can a person be a homosexual-Christian? Well, ask yourself: Can a person be a (___)-Christian? It’s not a matter of practice, but a matter of identifying our weakness and living by faith that God’s grace is sufficient even when we fail, and continue to fail over and over again, and precisely because we fail. The question is not ‘How much can I sin before I am no longer considered by God to be a Christian?’ The question is, ‘Will I continue to trust in Jesus, put my faith in Jesus, trust that His grace is sufficient even when I fail? Will I trust God to forgive me? Will I continue to seek His face?’ Frankly, I think it takes a great deal of courage to confess our sins and live by faith. It takes a great deal of honesty to come before the Lord day in and day out confessing sins. But you see, this is what Jesus said too, isn’t it? It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick (Mark 2:17). It was the man who hid his face and beat his breast that went home justified before God when he prayed (Luke 18:9-14). It was the blind man who had his eyes opened (John 9:41). I think if we are not hyphenated Christians then perhaps we are not Christians at all.

I don’t happen to believe we will ever escape the duel identity of sinner/saint until the day when Christ comes and renews all things. We will always be hyphenated Christians until we see Christ in his fullness and He changes us. So I don’t think the point is that we need to try to imagine what the other person is like before we try to offer up solutions or ‘fix’ them because I don’t happen to think we have the necessary skill set required (i.e. miraculous powers) to fix anyone in the first place. What we have is love. (Only love?) What we have is grace. So we don’t need to imagine anything at all; we shouldn’t offer up any short or long term fixes. What we must do is consider Christ crucified and what we, each one of us, struggles with on our own sin before the hyphen.

Self-examination goes a long way towards not only being able to love others, but also towards practicing continuously loving others. Jesus didn’t tell us to fix people. He told us to love people. We can point in the right direction, but it seems awfully presumptuous to think that we have the solution to anyone’s problems. Living with a hyphen is the Christian’s way of visibly living in and trusting in God’s all sufficient grace.

Stop by Hill’s post. It is worth the read.

dg