Of street preachers and racing semis

Vigilant Christian

I’ve seen this meme posted over the recent past by more than a few well-meaning Christians. And, it got me to thinking: Is this really how we, as believers, see ourselves? How we see the world? How we see God’s judgment?

If so…that’s really sad!

First of all, how stereotypical is it to have the Jesus guy on the side of the road with a bullhorn and a placard. I mean really? How apocalyptic street preacher can you get?

Secondly, why a semi? Is God supposed to be driving? Is Jesus? What do you see through the windshield? What’s His mindset? What’s His facial expression as He approaches this guy? Do you see glee? Satisfaction? Sadness? And, if sadness, why? Is that truly God’s face we’re seeing through the glass, or might it be a reflection of our own?

But my main thought was this: Why isn’t street preacher dropping his bullhorn, throwing off his placard, AND GOING OUT TO GET THE GUY!!??? Continue reading Of street preachers and racing semis

The World is Watching: but what is it seeing? (and do we care?)

19jxqlI read a quote not long ago by the author Rachel Held Evans from her recent book Searching for Sunday. It said this:

So many people fit right into church until… the divorce, the diagnosis, the miscarriage, the depression, someone comes out, someone asks a question, an uncomfortable truth is spoken out loud. And what they find is when they bring their pain or their doubt or their uncomfortable truth to church, someone immediately grabs it out of their hands to try to fix it, to try to make it go away. Bible verses are quoted. Assurances are given. Plans with ten steps and measurable results are made. With good intentions tinged with fear, Christians scour their inventory for a cure.
But, there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome. The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relational. It takes time. It is inefficient, like a meandering river. Rarely does healing follow a straight or well-lit path. Rarely does it conform to our expectations or resolve in a timely manner. Walking with someone through grief, or through the process of reconciliation, requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route.

This got me thinking. In the past, I’ve been accused of this odd thing called “hypergrace”, of going overboard in such hot button areas as “acceptance” and “inclusion”. And at first, it was an accusation I backpedaled from. For longer than I care to admit.

But now? Now I gladly welcome the accusation.

Yes, I practice hypergrace: I take this whole “love thy neighbor” thing seriously.

My overriding motivation for this is the feeling that there should be one place, one place, where all of us who are sick, wounded, hurt, grieved, addicted, neglected, alone, bullied, unwanted, or unloved, should feel safe, heard, cared for, and made holy.

That place is in God’s house.
But here’s the rub…

The Old Testament made clear that God’s house was the tabernacle, then the temple, which today would mean the church building, the synagogue, the worship center. But, on this side of the cross, Jesus has taken this so much further.

On this side of the cross, we have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer [we] who live, but it is Christ who lives in [us] (Gal 2:2). Further, the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Rom 5:5(b)). All of that (and many more) means this: God’s house is now inside of us. Scripture calls this “indwelling.”

Just as on the sermon on the mount, Christ narrowed the gap and eliminated any misperceived wiggle room on what the people of Israel knew of the law, so too is He doing the same now, with us, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There’s no wiggle room in the greatest commandment. No “love others when…” No “love others if…” No “love others as long as…”

It’s love others. Period.

Evans went on to write:

 But, the modern-day church doesn’t like to wander or wait. The modern-day church likes results. Convinced the gospel is a product we’ve got to sell to an increasingly shrinking market, we like our people to function as walking advertisements: happy, put-together, finished – proof that this Jesus stuff works! ‘The world is watching,’ Christians like to say, ‘so let’s be on our best behavior and quickly hide the mess. Let’s throw up some before-and-after shots and roll the flashy footage of our miracle product blanching out every sign of dirt, hiding every sign of disease.
But, if the world is watching, we might as well tell the truth. And the truth is the church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace.

As she says, “the world is watching”. And though we may think, I’m not concerned by what the world thinks, I’m not concerned about how I’m perceived, it reminds me of a scene from The Newsroom I watched not too long ago between the main character, Will McAvoy, and a member of the Occupy Wall Street movement that he’d belittled on prime time only the day before (caution: language):

Will:  Your movement sucks, Shelly.
Shelly:  I’m sure it looks that way from the outside.
Will (with an exasperated sigh):  And right there is your problem, ’cause who the f**k cares what it looks like from the inside?

Yes, I can hear it now; Jesus cares what it looks like from the inside. But, Jesus also cares that “the inside” should include everyone. And isn’t it our role as His followers to make “the inside” so appealing that no one wants to be left outside? Let me ask a question: How’s that been working for us so far? Personally, I believe it’s been a role we’ve failed at. Miserably. For hundreds of years. And isn’t the definition of insanity to do something over and over again in hopes of a different result?

Maybe it’s time for an entirely new conversation. Maybe even an entirely different course of action.

Maybe, instead of telling people what they need, we should ask them what they need. Get down in the muck—into their muck—hip deep, armed with only a shovel and a compassionate heart. To get our hands dirty in this messy, long, intentional, heart-wringing, gut-wrenching process called relationship. To be invited in, instead of feeling the need to bust the door down with a cross and a Bible.

What would it actually be like? Invited to share in these burdens of grief, pain, hurt, or anger: These things that all of us feel, that the world feels, that they live, that they experience? Would it be a surprise to find that many of these things have been caused by us? By believers? By religion? Often through our own misguided sense of need, or fear, or ego?

Only when our faces are sweat soaked and filthy, our hands calloused and bloody with the back breaking work of intentional relationship, will we even know if the world is ready for anything that we may have to offer.

Yes, Jesus cares what it looks like from the inside. But He also cares what the inside of the world looks like. And wouldn’t it be more effective, more real, more authentic, to dive in and change the world from the inside out?

Though it may be more effective, it won’t be a quick fix, and I think that’s our biggest fear if we turn and face the world. It’s not a simple “say this prayer” theology. And it certainly isn’t as convenient as “love the sinner, hate the sin”. It was never intended to be. Jesus never said that anyway.

What Jesus gave us was good news of great joy. At least it should be. But I’m not seeing a lot of “good” in our message, or a lot of “joy” in its delivery, or in our walking it out.

I suppose the question comes down to this: What will we receive for our actions here on earth, and for the relationships we choose to form in the world? Matthew 25:21? Or, John 11:35?

I know my answer, but I invite you to wrestle with yours.

AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER: These Threads of Faith

Evolve - smallPREORDER These Threads of Faith: A journey of finding my way back to God HERE! Available in e-book starting August 30

This is easily the most difficult thing I have ever written…

This was the thought that kept cropping up as I was writing the first drafts for what would eventually become this book. I also came to embrace the oxymoronic quality of that sentiment, “easily the most difficult.”

These pages aren’t filled with a random array of made-up characters. This is me. These are my thoughts, my experiences, and my feelings, written under the umbrella of God’s story. This is authentic and real stuff here, and being this transparent has definitely been a challenge.

Let’s face it, none of us have our s**t together. I’ve raised my share of hell in the past. But, this is not some “I’m not perfect, I’m just forgiven” bumper sticker ideology that I’m spewing (and which I can’t stand anyway). Being a Christ follower has simply become a vital part of who I am, and at this point in my life, I can’t imagine what or who I might be without Him. And no, it’s not a case that I would be off-the-rails crazy or down-the-cesspool evil. It’s more like I can’t imagine who I would be without my wife, or my kids, or the friends I have coffee with every Saturday morning. My relationship with Christ is one that I value and cherish, one that I’ve learned and grown from, and one that I’ve come to honor and respect.

But how do I put all that into words? Into something that someone else may read, and say, “Yeah, me too,” which is my ultimate goal in writing this book? Why would I bother to put so much of myself out there, laying bare a few of my more personal stories, opening myself up for criticism and judgment by attempting to explain myself, my journey, and my beliefs?

Well, one answer came from the most unlikely of places, summed up by an uncredited meme I saw on Facebook: I don’t share my thoughts because I think it will change the minds of those who think differently. I share my thoughts to show the people who already think like me that they’re not alone.

This book is my attempt to share my thoughts, to tell you that you’re not alone, to possibly give you an answer to an unasked question by giving you an understanding of who I am, why I believe as I do, and how I identify with this banner I live under called Christianity. All in the hope that it might help you understand yourself a little better, your beliefs, and, above all, these amazing things called faith and grace that we so often miss through the convoluted haze of religion.

Fair warning, though: It also may open up an entirely new Pandora’s box of other questions!

I can’t help but think that might be a good thing.

PREORDER These Threads of Faith: A journey of finding my way back to God HERE

“With an Open Hand”

cropped-change.jpgAll of our possessions, all of our abilities, all of our opportunities as well as the circumstances and people who cross our life path, are there for a reason. Each of them are ingredients in this rolling, boiling cauldron of stew we call life. We are given ample opportunities to use these ingredients, adding and subtracting in any combination we like. With them we can glorify God. We can bless others. We can use them for personal gain. Or, we could even miss them completely. The more we are “in tune” to these circumstances, abilities, and opportunities, the more we come to see and recognize them. I would place our understanding of faith and belief in that boiling cauldron as well, even though this comes with great responsibility, and great risk.

It reminds me of hearing a pastor one time speaking about a posture of holding all that he had been given throughout life with an open hand. That God is the one who provides, and we should feel a response to this provision as being open to the prompting to use, or even lose, what He has graciously given us. I know, it seems like a grandiose version of “the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away” but I think the analogy stands.

Does that mean I am saying we should hold our faith and beliefs in such a grasp? With an open hand? Willing to risk rejection of them? To risk having them shaped and morphed and changed by age, wisdom, and experience? To risk losing them completely? Yes, I believe we should. And I have to smile a bit as I say that, because even this stance has evoked gasps of righteous indignation from certain circles of faithful believers. “How can you say that you only hold on loosely to your faith in God?” they ask. And the answer is simple: because this stance is something I feel led by the Spirit to embrace. I know that one day I will stand at the foot of the cross and give an account for each direction I chose to take along my path, as well as for what my heart held dear and what it was willing to hold loosely. This includes my faith.

Yes, I believe part of holding our faith with open hands means the possibility of losing it altogether. In fact, this needs to be an option for faith to truly be alive and vital within any of us.

Is it scary? Yes.

Is it unsafe? Definitely.

Faith is not an easy walk. Faith is scary. Faith isn’t safe.

The world isn’t safe. It will certainly try to challenge our beliefs and understandings. And the Lord may often allow these challenges in order to stretch, grow, and strengthen us—and our faith—as we journey further along life’s path in the world. This allowance is not out of some sense of meanness, anger, or indifference. Quite the contrary, and I think this is key. God’s use of these troubling circumstances shows an incredible amount of love and faith on His part. You see, we are called to have faith in Him for the simple reason that He has faith in us! I believe He is actually rooting for us. Encouraging us. Cheering us on surrounded by a vast chorus of angels, singing, shouting, and doing the wave! For us!

Why?

Because He knows we can do it. We can overcome. We can weather through. That this is what we were designed for. Not to be constantly battered by the storms of life, but to show God’s glory within the storm. To rely on Him, and on those He surrounds us with. Within each circumstance, we are the ones who get to choose whether it be a test to strengthen our faith, or a challenge to abandon our faith and walk away.
~ excerpt from These Threads of Faith, pg. 22

The spiritual life and random musings of a part-time novelist and Spiritual Drifter…"the trouble is not with the law, for the law is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human…"

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