Letting Love

Letting Love

“We are created by love, to live in love, for the sake of love…By worshiping efficiency, the human race has achieved the highest left of efficiency in history, but how much have we grown in love?” (Gerald May, quoted in John Eldredge, Waking the Dead, 48)

I’m thinking about this love—and especially as this love relates to the church; to Christians. Commenting on 1 John 5:1, author Morris Womack writes:

“If love is one of the familial traits in God’s family, then each of his children will love God and love the brothers and the sisters in God’s family. You cannot love God without loving your brother. You cannot have one without the other. John reminds us that the way for us to become children of God is (1) by loving God; and (2) by carrying out his commands…[T]he conclusion we expect is: therefore if you love God you will love your fellow Christian.” (College Press NIV Commentary, Morris Womack, 1, 2, &; 3 John, 116-117)

And yet…and yet…Eldredge asks, “Why is it so easy to get angry at, or to resent, or simply to grow indifferent toward the very people we once loved?” (Waking the Dead, 113). John made it perfectly clear in his letter, “…everyone who loves the father loves his child as well…This is how we know that we love the children of God of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands” (1 John 5:1b-2).

Why is love so difficult for us? I mean, as I read blogs and the comment sections of blogs I am led to believe that the family of God is one great big, gigantic dysfunctional family. Why? Because we can’t and don’t and won’t love our brothers in Christ—no matter that we are commanded to. But it is one thing to lament the lack of love and quite another to offer solutions. It is one thing to see others as the stumbling block (“I can’t love them”) and quite another to see ourselves as the stumbling block (“I won’t love them.”) I wonder which is worse.

Ah, therein is my problem. I have no solutions. I don’t know how to convince people that they not only should love their brothers and sisters but that they can. That seems to be what grace does in our lives. That is, enables us to do something, love, that previously we could not do and would not do. I don’t know how to convince myself that I should love. Hey, sometimes it is hard to get over hurt. It is one thing to want love to win and quite another to go out of my way to make certain that is a reality.

Someone else wrote: “Brotherly love is proof of love of God; but the reverse is also true.” (Smalley, 268) Ouch. That hurts. Brotherly love, love God, love people. It makes my head hurt thinking about the various peoples that God calls me to love and the various peoples that God, by virtue of his command, calls to love even me. I can’t imagine the horror some people experience when they read in the Scripture that they are, by virtue of their new birth in Christ, obligated to love so-and-so; or me. I am probably more amazed at the people who have willingly, sacrificially, unconditionally, without an agenda loved me; warts and all that is. Yet I complain when I am commanded to love so-and-so.

Eugene Peterson wrote in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places:

“A primary task of the community of Jesus is to maintain this lifelong cultivation of love in all the messiness of its families, neighborhoods, congregations, and missions. Love is intricate, demanding, glorious, deeply human, and God-honoring, but—and here’s the thing—never a finished product, never an accomplishment, always flawed in some degree or other. So why define our identity in terms that can never be satisfied? There are so many easier ways to give meaning and significance to our human condition: giving assent to a creed or keeping a prescribed moral code are the most common in congregations.” (313)

Don’t you think that is too much pressure? Quite frankly it would be much easier if we did have a set of rules that would measure our success; indeed, many think we do. But the Scripture is rather clear that the measure of our success is determined by our love for one another and in no other way. There’s an easy way and the right way. The easy way is rules; the right way is love. And Peterson is right: love is never a finished project or product. There is always some obstacle we have to overcome along the way. Love always wins when we are brave enough to love.

I don’t think I’m searching for anything out of the ordinary, although, to be sure, love is out of the ordinary. It is not what we are accustomed to in this life. So when we get involved with the Jesus life we are shocked that this is what we are called to do. Love one another. Love one another. A new command I give you, Love one another. Jesus said it three times on the night he was betrayed. Three times! I suppose that shocked his disciples that night. Love one another. Pshaw! What sort of kingdom is going to grow, overcome the world, and remain when the cornerstone of that kingdom is love for another?

I’m not looking for anything out of the ordinary, although love does not come naturally to us. To love the people of God causes us all sorts of revulsion and convulsions and indigestion. Yet that command is not rescinded: Love one another is what Jesus left us with. He could have said any of a billion different things is the ‘new command’ he was giving us. And yet…and yet…our story, his story, is defined by love. No matter how complicated it becomes the command never changes: Love one another. Jesus either had a sense of humor or he was serious. Could be both. But while not excluding the former, I am inclined toward the latter.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. If anyone one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18).

Yeah, right. That’s going to work.

Advertisements

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.)
____________________

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.
_______________________

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.
________________________

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.

______________________________

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.

_______________________________

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?

___________________________

“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

____________________________

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

We All Need Heroes

I was listening to one of my favorite bands, Foo Fighters, and their song My Hero came on…also one of my favorites…mainly because of the meaning of the song…that ordinary people can be heroic.

Everyone needs a hero. Someone to look up to. Someone to inspire you.

My Dad was my hero. He wasn’t afraid to take chances. He wasn’t afraid to put his heart out there. He wasn’t afraid to risk it all…and he did…a few times. He loved deeply. He loved unconditionally. He loved everyone. To me, he was the truest picture of Jesus Christ.

That picture was forever etched on my memory on the day of his funeral, when there were literally hundreds of people crammed into the little chapel to pay their respects to the man that had “touched their lives”, as many stopped to tell me.

He left a legacy. The legacy of a hero…an ordinary man, willing to do extraordinary things.

My Dad was my hero. He was the reason I turned to Christ. Because he lived his life in a way that when people saw him, they saw Christ.

Who is your hero?