Archive for the ‘grace’ Category

[Note: I wrote this for Easter Sunday, 2007. The week before, while preaching the sermon, I had suffered a massive attack of a kidney stone. It completely incapacitate me. I was in so much pain I was unable to finish the sermon and the rest of the week I merely laid around on the couch unable to do anything. I was going through some files tonight and came across it. It seems I am still learning this lesson.]

You see, I learned this past week that the world can in fact go on without me. I knew that intellectually—I’m not so completely full of myself to think otherwise—but practically, in the real world, I think there are times when I am certain that if I don’t go to my office to work, or show up at the cafeteria to monitor, or travel here or travel there, or go to this meeting, or carry my guitar, or a song, or a Bible, or go to a Scout meeting, or a Soccer meeting, or do all the jobs for little league that no one else will do, that the world will simply fall to pieces. But wonder of wonders, I can lay on the couch for four days and the world did not stop, explode, or disintegrate. Life goes on in spite of my best efforts. I felt helpless, quite, and I was perhaps a bit disjointed that the world did not stop because I had to. But it did not. Last week, I had to learn to be helpless. It’s not a fun way to be or an easy lesson to learn. I don’t like being helpless and I like even less being a burden: But isn’t ‘burden’ the best description of us there is? I had to learn this week to be helpless and accept being a burden.

And isn’t that just the point of the cross? Well of course, tell us about the Resurrection, you bloomin' idiot! Today is Resurrection Sunday, not Good Friday. Even, more, isn’t that quite the point of resurrection? Isn’t it there, in the twin and singular event of the greatest tragedy the world could perpetuate, that we most learn about helplessness? Isn’t it there we become children all over again? Isn’t it there that our legs are broken beneath us and we unlearn how to walk and forever crawl? But how can that ever mean anything if we do not, in fact, learn helplessness, learn that the world doesn’t need us, learn that it is in Christ and not us that the world holds together, learn that it is Christ who is the Author and Perfector of our Faith, learn that He is the Trailblazer, learn that He is the One who has promised to finish in us what He has started?

Helplessness! Pshaw! I’m not about being helpless. I’m about self-sufficiency. I’m the alpha male! I’m about working it all out without doctors, without pills, without my wife, without you, and sadly, too sometimes, without God. It’s a hopeless confession to make and, once again, I am ashamed that I have to admit it. But it’s true. It pains me to confess it but confess it I must. I’m about as anti-doctor as it gets and yet in this last week I have spent more of my money on doctors and pills for myself than I have in the last five, maybe 10 years of my life. Making up ground I suppose, catching up on lost time I suppose. I scoff at the notion that I need help, that I cannot get done what needs to be done, that I need anyone’s help at all. This past week disabused me of any such notion. No, on the contrary, I am helpless. And if I am that helpless when it comes to myself and work, then how helpless must I be when it comes to my salvation? If ‘God did not spare his own Son’ speaks of the foundation of my salvation, then how helpless must I truly be?

In this Kingdom of God it is necessary that we learn to be helpless. It’s a dirty word, to be sure. And I don’t like saying it. But when you are on the floor crying like a baby from a pain that you know you cannot control and you are calling out to God for mercy, when this happens, you begin to realize that there is more wrong than you alone, you at all, can handle. It is then that you raise your eyes to heaven, dew drenched as you are, like Nebuchadnezzar, and you ask for God to do for you what you know you cannot do yourself. Helplessness helps us to learn that holy fear that apart from God’s grace we are simply doomed. Helplessness is our pass to enter in and partake of the death of Christ. Become like little children he said. Become helpless.

Become dead because the only way to be resurrected is to first be dead.

71q989m262LTitle: Vanishing Grace

Author: Philip Yancey

Publisher: Zondervan

Year: 2014

Pages: 298

[Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of Vanishing Grace via BookLook Bloggers program. I was in no way compensated or asked to write a positive review. I was asked only to be honest and fair in my review which I was. Thanks for stopping by and reading.]

I think the first Philip Yancey book I read was The Jesus I Never Knew and when I read it I was simply blown away. Along the way, I have read just about everything Yancey has published in book form and even used one or two of his video series' in Bible studies.

Yancey's work has been a blessing to me not only because of the work he himself has done but because of the work he has introduced to me through his writing. He introduced me to Annie Dillard and Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Walker Percy. He introduced me to GK Chesterton and Thomas Merton and Dr Paul Brand. There have been others, yes, and Philip Yancey has had a way of making these authors and artists seem like old friends–like I am sitting in my living room with a fireplace and a glass of wine enjoying their company and conversation.

Vanishing Grace follows Yancey's standard model and if I hadn't read What's So Amazing About Grace many years ago this book might have impressed me more. The problem, as I see it, is that there's not really all that much about it that is new. That's not to say the book is merely a mirror of the former book as much as it is to say that I have read enough of Yancey's work to be able to say that I've been there, and I've done that. I've read his criticisms of the church, he doubts about faith, and his enthusiasm for artists and activists. New packaging; same story.

Yancey explores things in the book that at some level irritate him about the church. And the truth is, if all I ever read about the church was Yancey's experiences as a young man growing up in a southern Fundamentalist kind of congregation, I suppose I would hate church too (not that Yancey hates the church, but that he struggles mightily against some of the more challenging aspects of it). I have my issues with the church: after serving a church for nearly ten years and buying a house with their blessing, I was asked to resign. That was five or so years ago and I have largely let go of it because in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter. There's a sense in which I wonder if Yancey has ever let go of those negative experiences of his youth or if they continue to color the way he sees things in the church. After reading so many of Yancey's books, I'm kind of bored reading about how terrible the church was when he grew up in the south.

The book does what Yancey does: he explores the church, the world, and himself. Maybe not always in that order, but always with a keen attention to detail. As per usual, Yancey is a very well read individual–now he even begins to explore internet resources like blogs. Nevertheless, he always comes back to his favorites: O'Connor, Volf, Weil, and others. I liked that he also interacted, at some level, with some newer folks: Keller, Collins, N.T. Wright, and Eugene Peterson. He touches base with all the big name evolutionists we would expect: Dawkins, Hawking, Hitchens, and Gould. And of course he interacts with the Bible and some of the ancient commentators on the Bible.

I am certain that a lot of people in the world have a lot of problems with the church–Yancey not least among them. Throughout the book he identifies and labels the church's faults. He then goes on to highlight several ways, in each category he explores, how the church–or at least people who are somewhat loosely affiliated with the church–is going out of its way to buck the trend of gracelessness so evident in churches like the one in which Yancey grew up. I think it is difficult to come face to face with our sin and Yancey certainly pulls no punches when it comes to brutal honesty about the failures and faults of the church. But if, as Yancey rightly notes, "Jesus turned over the mission to his followers" (98; one of only 3 or 4 places I underlined in the book), the what are we to expect? He goes on to note that he struggles with the 'ascension' of Jesus (99) because it was the 'ascension that turned loosed that company of motley pilgrims known collectively as the church.'

And here I admit that Yancey's consternation is somewhat flummoxing to me. If Jesus set us (the church) free, then what are we to expect but that the church, made up of humans–albeit redeemed humans!–is going to foul things up every now and again? The ascension isn't about Jesus floating up to heaven on a cloud. It is kings who ascend to a throne and Jesus is no different. Jesus, ascended to the right hand of God, now rules from the right hand of God, seated. There's more. In the Revelation, Jesus is described as one who 'walks among the lampstands' (where the lampstands represent the church). Jesus ascended. Jesus among the lampstands. It's not so much that Jesus has set us free–that is, to run around without any help or guidance or direction or oversight or discipline. At this point Yancey kind of loses me because I'm not sure if he a) doesn't understand what ascension means or b) chooses to ignore what it really means. There is no Christianity without the church.

Yancey remains one of the finest journalists and storytellers the world knows and for this I appreciate his work. I think Yancey would tell his readers that the church has a lot to offer and that, ultimately, the church is a good thing. But I think he might also tell people to proceed with caution. I think he might also tell his readers that even though the church is a good thing perhaps working as a church outside of the church is a better thing. His distrust of the church is somewhat apparent, but his praise of those who do Jesus things while belonging to the church only tangentially is also quite apparent. Take that for what it's worth. At the end of the day, Yancey has written a book that even for my criticisms was hard to put down. I was always awaiting the next anecdote and the next quote and every now and again he perks up with childlike wonder at the changes that Jesus brought into a person's life. This is when Yancey is at his best.

I'll end with a quote from Chesterton that Yancey includes in his book that to my mind is one of the best things he wrote: "Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who new the way out of the grave" (158). Although, to be sure, I think the renewal he speaks of must include words and deeds. I think the words need to be more full of grace and less of hate and I think the deeds need to be, well, more.

4/5 Stars

PS-I am still not a huge fan of the way Yancey writes his notes. I'd prefer endnotes with numbers, but that's a small thing.

I am a Christian. I am a preacher–I just don't actually have a pulpit right now or a church or a Word from the Lord. It's not always easy–being a Christian, that is. I'm not always honest–which means that sometimes I am a hypocrite. I am not a strong-always-faithful-kind of guy. I am a weak-my-grace-is-sufficient-for-you-kind of Christian. I have to be because otherwise I would have nothing. I've learned that I cannot trust myself no matter how much effort I exert. I am far too easily amused and far too easily distracted.

It's been about five and a half years since I was removed from the pulpit of the church I served nearly 10 years.

There's a large part of me that is glad Mark Driscoll quit Mars Hill. It's about as large as the part of me that was glad when Rob Bell quit the other Mars Hill. Here's why. Aside from a small blip every now and again, I don't have to hear about Mars Hill, Rob Bell, and some of the silly things he used to say in his efforts to be relevant or controversial or emergent or whatever his shtick of the week was. I'm hoping the same results occur now that Mark Driscoll has quit Mars Hill, Seattle. Frankly, I am hopeful he will just go away and live off the fat of the money he made during his time in Seattle for a little while, learn some humility, repent of his sins, and return someday to be used by the Lord.

This is what I genuinely hope for him. I hope he will start again. Maybe I hope that because I hope maybe someday also to start again. The desert can be an arid place.

I should be clearer about why I'm writing this because someone might misunderstand me and think that this is about a personal animosity or personal dislike or that I'm just another blogger looking for google-love or whatever. I'm not. Really, I don't care. My real issue is that what the church really needs is for the celebrity preacher to just go away. Seriously. Just. Go. Away. Stop trying to go nationwide. Stop trying to make the nation your parish. Stop trying to dominate the airwaves with your sermons. Stop trying to take over the world of publishing with your books. Be content with your small parish or congregation and work in the field the Lord gives you. Make disciples. Preach the Word in season and out of season. Do the work of an evangelist. Don't be afraid to be small and unnoticed outside your community.

Stop trying to be a celebrity.

This is the inevitable result of one preacher trying to take faith nationwide–a task I'm not even sure Jesus tried to do. "I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel" I recall him saying and while his eventual goal and result is 'all authority in heaven and earth' belonging to himself, I think it is safe to say that Jesus stayed with his mission to work in the fields God had called him to and he then entrusted others to carry on his work. He had other sheep, but he trusted that others would be faithful and bring them in to the fold.

An example from Driscoll himself is a book I have sitting on a shelf right next to me where I'm typing. I have owned this book since it was published Photoin 2010. It's the only Mark Driscoll book I own or will ever own. And here's the kicker, I've never even read it. I haven't even inscribed my name on the inside of the cover, near the spine, as I do with all my books. I'm not even sure why it is this close to where I am studying. I have no use for it precisely because on the cover it says, "What Christians Should Believe." I have no use for the word should. (I think this book was a book club choice once and it came before I responded to the card. I'm not sure why I own it.) But the point is this: who is Mark Driscoll to tell anyone what they should believe? Who am I to tell anyone what they should believe? Who is any Christian to make such nationwide, worldwide claims about faith in Jesus? (My point here is that I'm not defending Driscoll or excusing him personally. That is, I'm not necessarily a fan, but he's a brother in Christ and a companion in preaching.)

It's my opinion that Driscoll simply got too big for his britches. But he's only one example of many who could be pointed to. Many, many of these celebrity preachers end up all the same so I don't think Driscoll is any worse or any better than any other celebrity preacher who starts off with good intentions, is blessed by the Lord, allows it to go to his head, creates a scandal, resigns in humiliation, and goes away. I am hopeful, frankly, that Driscoll stays away. I hope he learns something from his sins. I hope the Lord restores him someday and he finds a way to start preaching the Gospel again.

I am happy that another celebrity preacher has quit. I'm not happy about the way it happened and I think there are a lot of bloggers and celebrity christian writers who will have to answer some day for the things they said about Mark. I'm glad Mark is no longer at Mars Hill because I happen to think he has more to offer and I do not believe for a minute that Jesus is finished with him; I hope he's not. I hope Mark comes back full of humility, full of grace, full of mercy, full of love, and full of gratitude for what God gave him for so many years.

I hope that because I hope that for myself too.

I can feel this way because I am a preacher too and I understand what it means to lose a pulpit, to lose God's trust, to have your faith shaken. To be sure, I was no celebrity preacher. I was not famous and never will be, but there is a part of me that understands what happens when a preacher forgets to depend upon the Lord and starts depending upon his own ability or prowess or popularity or skill. It is easy to forget the Lord in the pulpit even though the words are as holy and gospel infused as the Scriptures themselves. Sometimes preachers forget who they are and what they are called to do because the task at hand is so vital and eventually it ends up going to their heads that maybe, just maybe, the Lord is using them somehow in his scheme.

And maybe it's the Lord's intention to give them time to remember. Mark Driscoll might never remember. I pray he does.

Many are rejoicing over Driscoll's resignation. I'm not one of them. I understand all too well this pain and shame; the loneliness he may well have to endure for a while. Perhaps now that he is gone those angry bloggers and writers and critics careers too will come to a screeching halt–maybe now they won't have so much cannon fodder, maybe now the Lord can rebuke them too. Maybe they too can give up their dream of being nationwide and just go away. Maybe now that their whipping boy is gone, they can shut up and stop bringing an even worse shame to the body of Christ with their hyper-critical and hateful spirits.

We all have to learn. We all have to remember. Sadly some of us have to do these things are a far bigger stage than others which is exactly why we need less celebrity preachers. Leave the grand stage to Jesus. Exalt him; not yourself.

And come back faithful.

The boysI tried to secretly take this picture of the boys this morning. I think Samuel knew I was taking it and was trying to hide, scootch backwards so he wouldn't be included. I got him anyhow. I'm good like that.

This is a picture of my three sons in worship this morning.

I didn't like worship this morning. It wasn't anything personal against anyone and there wasn't anything necessarily wrong with it. It just didn't work for me.

It started when we watched a movie in Sunday school. Nothing wrong with a movie. It's just not what I had hoped for.

I didn't like that we watched a slide show to begin the corporate worship. Nothing wrong with watching a slide show, but the one we watched was accompanied by a song from the 60's or 70's ('He's my Brother'). I literally cringed when it started playing.

I didn't like the organ music that started the worship, played during the worship at certain points, and ended the worship. There's nothing wrong with organ music. It's great at a ball game! There's nothing wrong with the people who played the organ. They did a great job. But it was not my thing.

I didn't like the songs that we sang this morning at all. I looked it up, because I had time, and here's what I found (I figured that's why all those indices are in the back of the hymnal.) The author's of our song service:

  • Jesus Saves, author born in 1829, died 1907
  • Old Rugged Cross, author born 1873, died 1958
  • O Zion Haste, author born 1835, died 1923
  • Just as I am, author born 1789, died 1871

And on top of that, we only sang two verses of Old Rugged Cross. There's not a thing wrong with any of these songs, but there's a part of me that wonders if these songs are still relevant–to anyone.

I had also flipped through the Christian Standard (during the organ recital) and learned things from 50 different people–the same people that the Christian Standard always (!) refers to because they are mega-church preachers, authors, or other super Christians. I couldn't even enjoy that precisely because the articles were drawn from the same pool of people that Standard Publishing always draws from. They are great people. They have important things to say. And I have nothing against them. But good grief can we interview some new people for God's sake? (And don't even get me started on the fact that not a single African-American man was interviewed for the piece. 50 different people. Not one black man among them. Sad.)

I struggled to 'come to terms' with what I was hearing and seeing and doing and reading. I struggled to sing. I thought maybe I had missed the Holy Spirit today. I struggled to get in tune with the sermon and the songs. It felt so old and routine. I thought maybe my worship angst was getting in the way…and then something happened. I saw my dad up front among the leadership. Then I heard my younger brother offer prayer for offering. I thought maybe the drought was being deluged. Then we sang two of those songs and I was kind of right back to square one.

Then something else happened. I looked to my left and saw those three young men in the picture above–my sons. I saw those three boys and my eyes melted. I saw my three sons partake of communion with me for the first time in at least 3 years. My heart swelled and the Holy Spirit did speak to me. He reminded me of his grace. I saw my three sons–right there in that blue church pew. Paying attention. Listening. Respecting. Worshiping. Present.

And then I was able to come to terms with the fact that our worship practices this morning reminded me of something from the 1970s or 80s–something that was, again in practice, highly irrelevant to me and to my sons. But relevancy isn't the sum value of worship, and worship isn't necessarily the sum value of our attendance at sunday gatherings. Sometimes attendance in worship is more about what God gives us and less about what we bring him.

Something bigger was taking place this morning. In a sense, God wanted me to take my eyes off of everything else–to sort of 'zone-out'–and have an intense focus. When all the distractions of songs and slides and sermons were gone, I saw my sons. And then I saw Jesus. Right there. In my sons. His grace flooded me, and tears flooded my eyes. I tried to hide it, just like Samuel tried to hide from my picture, but Samuel, with his keen eye, caught me.I felt his hand upon my back. I tell you it was the touch of God.

This morning helped me understand that even if my heart isn't into what's going on around me, even if I'm not fully engaged, there's still something going on inside me–something I didn't initiate, something I cannot control, and something I may not understand. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but what I saw this morning was simply the grace of God. I saw my sons, my beautiful sons.

Those three boys are proof of God's grace–their presence proof that God's grace is bigger than any sin I may commit. I can sing anything knowing that.

Once upon a midnight dreary, I was enrolled in seminary. I had to write a paper once concerning whether or not Jesus ever said anything political. I don't remember everything I wrote but I do remember being marked down a grade because it was my opinion that Jesus had very little to say about politics.

I suppose by now I might change my mind. He probably said a lot. He probably said more than I really care to think about right now. I think if Jesus did say something about politics it is something that most people really will not want to hear. The liberal thinks Jesus said something that justifies their liberal social agenda. The conservative thinks Jesus said something that justifies their conservative social agenda. If we use Scripture to justify a political point of view then we have missed the point of reading Scripture altogether.

I think Jesus said something about the Kingdom of God and anything he said about politics, and how they are used, must be found somewhere within the matrix of God's Kingdom. I think we must also be careful because Jesus spoke to a particular and peculiar political situation. He did not, to be sure, say anything specifically about American politics, American politicians, or the American political machine. There's a lot of folks who think Jesus had something to say about America, but he didn't. Not specifically anyhow. But if he did say something in general, I think he warned his followers that we ought to tread lightly and not be found holding hands with those in power.

Jesus had lots of things to say about the Kingdom of God though.

So I got to thinking tonight and went on a mini-facebook rant, posting mini-screed after mini-screed to my wall. (Mostly I do things like this to aggravate people, but tonight I was kind of being serious because I'm kind of getting sick of the attitudes of many of my conservative Christian friends. Jesus did say something to them, something about humility or being humble or being last or something.) The point here, then, is to post a few of those mini-screeds.

I think if Christians really, really, really want to see the world changed for the better, kind of a redeeming the time sort of thing, then it would be better if we aligned ourselves with Love instead of a particular political party.

[Comment: Jesus gave us one command: Love. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love God. Love one another. That's pretty much it in a nutshell. What bothers me is that more people seem to get this who aren't christians than who are. I think that should bother people; a lot.]

I think if Christians really, really, really aligned themselves with Jesus, then we would have the same opinion of both sides of the political aisle because in truth, neither conservatives nor liberals have in mind the things of Jesus. I'll go a step further and suggest that they don't have your best interests in mind either. Politics is about one thing and one thing only: power. And the Gospel of Jesus is the power we already possess and the only power we need.

[Comment: In my opinion, way, way, way too many Christians think that our salvation comes from electing socially and fiscally conservative politicians. I disagree. I happen to be a socially and fiscally conservative Jesus follower, but that is not where our hope is found. We are not a people of power and we do not need those in power for protection and/or salvation. We belong to Jesus. He is our King. He is our love. He is our God who came to bring us back to Him. David Crowder wrote those last three lines. All I'm saying is that dialogue is fine. Opinion is fine. Belief is fine. But don't for a minute think that dialogue, opinion, and belief in or with a political party is going to keep you safe. It's dog eat dog in politics and Christians are very tiny dogs.]

Funny thing is that I often find it is those who are politically liberal or religiously agnostic who tolerate my ideas more than my conservative friends.

[Comment: I don't even care anymore. I don't even try. I like a good debate, but I have long since given up the idea that I will lead anyone to Jesus just because I have more arguments against evolution than they have for it. I figure if God wanted it to be so clear, he could have made it clearer himself. These political and scientific arguments are great fun, but really amount to nothing in the grand scheme of things. Let's talk about things that really matter–like life, and love, and happiness (that's from Audio Adrenaline.) Down at the bottom of a person, I want to know they are into Jesus. They can sort out their political and scientific angst in their own time and with God. None of this means we have to agree with one another. Jesus didn't say: A new command I give you: Agree with one another. No. No. No. Jesus said, verbally and demonstratively, Love. That's all. Just Love. ]

The Resurrection of Jesus is God's demonstration of Power and if Christians think we need something more or other then we have not truly understood the Gospel of Jesus yet. The greatest among you will be the least. The first shall be last.

[Comment: At the heart of the matter is that we now live in a church that reflects the US constitution and not the Bible. I'm sorry to say it. The church is stagnant–and mega churches prove nothing otherwise. I know from first hand experience how churches treat people–and they do so because of power. Churches like power just as much as the politicians with whom they align themselves. And our daily commentary on world events is not Jesus or Scripture, but talk radio hosts whose use of Scripture is offensive and appalling. What's worse is that Christians buy into it: lock, stock, and barrel. We think because it's conservative, it's right. We think because it's liberal, it's wrong. Seriously, who cares? Let's talk about something like fixing the world because we love Jesus or because he loves us. Let's talk about what real power is and where real power comes from. Let's talk about love. Let's talk about something like how we as Christians can be Jesus to the thousands of people who are illegally entering this country each day. What can we do to alleviate some or all of their burden? Let's talk about how that Jesus Resurrection Power can make this earth shake.]

So you see I am a little out there tonight. It's not about being contrary. It's about thinking through what the Bible really, really, really says and means. It's about being a Jesus follower first and an American second. America is great. I have no desire to live anywhere else, well, maybe Paris for a year or so, but other than Paris, Venice, and Berlin, I'm all about America the beautiful.

But I'm more about Jesus.

Christians need to give serious thought to where their loyalties lie and to whom they belong. Faith is about trusting that God knows better what's going on than we do and that that's OK. We don't have to be in the know about everything. We don't have to be on the supposed right side of everything. Key to our discipleship is God's grace: no one will be saved because they dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's. We are saved only by grace. No one will be saved because they had the right political opinion or because they hobnobbed with all the right political power mongers. Grace. That's all.

In other words, I don't think Jesus gives a rip what your politics are. I do think he pays attention to your motivations when it comes to politics though–that is, where your faith is, how you use politics, etc. He knows your heart. That's what he is concerned with each moment of each day. Your heart. Many of us would do well to be liberated from the notion that our political persuasion will somehow persuade Jesus.

Perhaps some of you will find this short note a bit unpalatable and un-American. I hope you find it both. I have a lot of different kinds of FB friends, liberals & conservatives, christians & humanists, atheists & theists, men & women, and so on. What continues to amaze me is that it is my christian friends who offend me the most. Don't get me wrong, I love them all the same, but let me ask a question: What if Jesus treated us the way some Christians are treating immigrants–legal and illegal?

Oh I get it: "It's unfair to all those immigrants who went through the process legally and followed all the steps to become citizens of this country legally."

I keep hearing that word: legal (and any and all permutations of it). Legal.

Since when are christians legalists? Isn't that the whole point of God's grace? Isn't it the entire point that we did absolutely nothing to become his children? And yet we are outraged that people want to become children of this nation–by whatever means necessary?

What if Jesus said, "You didn't follow all the rules to become my son or daughter. You didn't have faith on this day. You didn't eat communion on that day. You didn't read your Bible. You didn't pray your prayers. You weren't baptized the correct way. Therefore, you cannot come in to my country."

What if that's what Jesus said to us?

And yet my Christian friends are saying the same thing to so-called illegal immigrants: you didn't follow all the rules; therefore, you cannot come in to our country.

Since when are Christians legalists?

I know, I know. Someone's great-granddaddy fought in some war many years ago and migrated here legally and therefore that ought to be the paradigm for everyone who comes here. It's unfair to my great-granddaddy who suffered and bled all over this land. Sure it is. I agree.

But since when are Christians about what is fair and not fair? Since when has God *ever* said to us: I'm going to give you what you deserve?

What if christians, instead of acting like those politicians for whom these so-called illegal immigrants are nothing more than a political sledgehammer, started to demonstrate unconditional, welcoming, unashamed love and compassion?

But what about all the diseases they carry with them? So.

But what about all their drugs? So.

But what about terrorism? So. 

But what about our job? Our economy? So.

Since when do christians put their hope, faith, and security in the ability of a government to eradicate disease, drugs, and fear? When was the last time you or I went without a meal? Or shelter? Or clothing?

The very fact that we are living and breathing is unfair. We are waging the wrong war because the Bible says that our enemy is not 'flesh and blood': "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12, ESV).

People are the very people God wants to save. Maybe this their only chance to ever hear about Jesus. Or, truth be told, maybe they are bringing more Jesus with them than we currently have here ourselves?

In making immigrants–mostly the illegal ones–the enemy, we are losing the mandate we have from Jesus which is, very simply, to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Are there people who are using this for means of political expediency? Yes: Republicans and Democrats are both using the situation of immigration to secure their power. Make no mistake about it: neither the conservatives nor the liberals have the interests of Jesus–or you for that matter–in mind. They have only their own power in mind: securing it for many years and lording it over you.

Christians have this silly notion that because someone is a gifted speaker that it means they are our friend. Don't be fooled people: the powers that be are only and always friends of themselves and power. They do not and never have had your interests in mind.

Since when are Christians motivated by the power of those in power? We have one King. Period.

So what's all this about? Well, I think the tone of our conversation needs to be changed. None of us know what will happen tomorrow. You think your place is secure because you live in America? You think that because you are older you will never have to leave the security of your country and become and 'illegal' immigrant? Ask yourself, would you want to be treated the way you are treating people?

You think because you have a house or a business or a job that you will never be faced with the prospect of losing your home? Renee and I waited 17.5 years to buy our first house. It was gone in less than 4 years. You think you are secure? You think you can't lose all? Then what will you, christian, do when you have to beg, borrow, or steal in order to provide for your children? 

We used to be called a Christian nation, but we are not anymore. And it's not because atheists and liberals have 'taken over the nation'. It's because Christians have failed to embrace the Jesus of the Bible and have instead created one in our own image–one that is based on worldly notions of power and wears the name 'conservative' or 'liberal.'

Maybe we christians should ere on the side of mercy. We too, says the Bible, are strangers and aliens and exiles in this world: "Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without know it."

But even better: "Once you were not a people, but now you are a people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us" (1 Peter 2:10-12).

Pray for the many people who continue to enter this country legally and illegally. Try to get past all the political rhetoric and remember that they are people and that the US *is* a great place to live. Maybe in coming here they will hear the gospel of hope and be blessed in Jesus. We don't have to change anyone but ourselves and maybe their hope begins by seeing Christians who are not afraid of them, hating them, or angry at them but instead welcoming of them and loving them. Maybe God's plan in their being here is bigger than our notions of politics and economics. Think about it.

And do so without an agenda. Love God; love people. Remember, at one time we were illegals in God's Country. Be glad he did not treat you the way many Christians are treating those who are coming here.

Grace. "It's a name for a girl" (U2). Grace falls all over us and colors us clean. Grace marks as children of the living God. Grace prevails upon us when we have no clue who we are, what we are doing, or where we are going. Grace guides, teaches, sustains, and reveals to us the mystery of God. All we need to know is found in grace–charis.

And why not? While all the other gods of this world demand from us, Jesus gives to us. Grace enlivens the heart and enlightens the eyes. Grace creates space inside of the void of our selfish and survivalist existence and then fills the vacuum. Then slowly it begins to expand like a universe and what started as a mere pinpoint of light eventually has expanded into a galaxy full of light and life within us. We are consumed. We are lost and found again in grace. We are destroyed and made by Grace.

Grace is our peace. Grace is a thought we can never lose, yet we can never track it down. We can scarcely pin down and yet it never lets us go. Never let me go. Never let us go. Let your grace conquer the abyss of wickedness that swims and swirls in our hearts and minds. Dear Father replace our inclination to evil with a bent towards your mercy and love and forgiveness.

Grace like rain. Grace like a waterfall. Grace like an ocean. These are all ways various artists have spoken or sung about grace. It's always about drowning, being overwhelmed by a fluid density that we cannot stand up under: we are lost, we are drown, we are suffocated, we are consumed and of us there is nothing left when grace is finished. Can we overstate the case for grace? Can we condense grace to a single point? Can we contain grace or keep it from expanding in our lives until it replaces all of us we hate and even bleeds into the lives of others? I think not.

If grace once infects us, we can neither contain nor control its growth. It grows and spreads with a rapidity we cannot imagine or believe. We cannot stand before the flood, the rushing tidal wave of forgiveness, mercy and love. Once we see it, it's too late. Grace utterly wrecks and makes us less useful to the world of self-interests and more useful to the ministry of Jesus.

And we cannot stand before God any longer without fear and trembling once grace has taken over our lives. So with reckless abandon we hurl ourselves and are ourselves hurled into a broken world where the Father invites us to trust and believe and hope despite all that speaks against such things. We are asked to live as though his grace is all we will ever need–it is sufficient–and that it will somehow sustain us now and forever come hell or high water.

We need grace just to live in grace.

I'm spending the month of May reading through the entire New Testament and I am now finished with the book of Acts (actually finished a couple of days ago). When I was reading it I came to chapters 13-16 where I saw something I had either not noticed or not paid attention to in past readings: grace. See it with me: 13:43, Paul and Barnabas urged the church to 'continue in the grace of God'; 14:3, Paul and Barnabas 'spoke boldly for the Lord who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders'; 14:26, we learn Paul and Barnabas went back to Antioch where they had been 'committed to grace of God'; 15:11, 'We believe it is through the grace of the Lord Jesus that we are saved…'; 15:40, Paul and Silas were 'commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.'

I like that they are not ordained into 'ministry' but to grace. They are not committed to missions but to grace. They are not commended to good works but to grace. They are not preaching growth, but grace. Their message is not of self-improvement, but grace. They are not to continue in spiritual disciplines, but in grace. Maybe one of the reasons we see our message so often confirmed by mere growth instead of by signs and wonders is because we preach a message other than grace? (14:3). This is a serious church problem: we preach more for results than we do for God to come among us and shred us with his power. I have little use for results, and we live in a results oriented church culture. And often we use the book of Acts to prove it when we point to times when God added 3000 to their number, or the number grew to 5000, and things like that.

What we fail to remember is that God was moving among them and empowering them. I think it's because they preached grace not because they were looking for results. There was no strategy for growth, no delineation of demographics, no plan for prosperity–it was just the clear, intentional, and deliberate preaching of the Gospel of God's grace to people who were broken and beaten down by life and by a religion that afforded no room for error or reconciliation. I think we do much the same in today's church. Our message is not one of 'comfort, comfort for my people', it's one of follow all the rules and you get to go to heaven.

I swear half the time people in churches do not even know what they are getting saved from or for so consumed are they with the mere idea of some vague notion of heaven. But grace–grace is always a fresh message, always a word of power, and always a welcome sermon to a people broken and beaten down in this world by sin, poverty, suffering, and hurt. Grace is a balm for our pain and how can we preach anything less in this world?

I've been reading this book called The Myth of the Spoiled Child by Alfie Kohn. I'll be reviewing it on this blog soon so I won't spoil much with this post, except to say that if what Kohn is saying is true, and at this juncture of my reading I'm leaning towards that particular assessment, then I may well have to reinvent myself as a teacher of students with disabilities. If what he has written is true, maybe more parents, teachers, and administrative specialists in schools ought also to read it; slowly.

The thing about life is that we are always at a juncture of knowing and learning. There are many folks among us who stand at said junctures and say something ridiculous like, "Well, I know; therefore, I need not learn." They are making a commitment to stasis, to static. Everything is fixed, nothing will change. Everything is stable and there is no upsetting that balance.

Others stand at the same juncture and say something lucid like, "Well, here I am. I'm not sure. I'm uncertain. I do not know. Teach me." These folks are making a commitment to a certain level of functional chaos; to imbalance. Everything is fair game, there is no balance. These folks have made a lifelong commitment to learning which necessarily means they are willing to change–at any given moment, on any given subject.

It used to be said, it might still be said, that it is a woman's prerogative to change her mind. I think it is a human beings' obligation to change our minds, our hearts, our lives, our views, our entire being. What would the world be like if we were born with a set of beliefs or values or ideas and those were the only beliefs, values or ideas we ever had? What if we lived in a world where learning was nothing more than the compulsory memorization of meaningless points of historical trivia? What if criminals were sentenced to summary execution which was summarily carried out and were never, ever given the chance to change?

This leads me to question the very nature of education. Is education merely about learning facts and dates and numbers? Or is education about learning to think in such a way that our minds might actually be changed and our lives irrevocably altered? What is change? Who is to say what change is and what it means? Who is to say how much change is required or how much effort should be invested in making changes? Who is to say what standard should be applied to measure whether change has occurred or not? It's all very confusing and rather unpleasant to think about this late.

Yet, I am rethinking everything I have learned about what it means to educate and, perhaps more importantly, what it means to be a teacher; what it means to be a human; what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Maybe I have those in the wrong order.

Every now and then I get inspired to walk. Walking is fun when the walk is long and slow and perhaps accompanied by some music. Other times there are birds to listen to or streams to walk through. One time I was walking down a long country road near my house and some cows, thankfully on the other side of a fence, were eyeing me up and making some rather aggressive cow sounds as they sauntered in my direction. On the way back past the cows I made sure I was in a slow jog–on the other side of the road.

I figure I started walking around the age of one. If I'm accurate, then I have been standing and walking for about 42 and a half years. That's a long time to be walking and I can recall more than one occasion when my feet or ankles or legs in general betrayed me and I fell flat on my face or my behind. Falling is a lot less graceful than walking, but walking requires a lot less grace than falling. We can walk all day and find ourselves oblivious to our needs. Frankly, maybe, we are only aware of our deep need for grace when we fall. That said, we have to fall in order to see the need which means that we necessarily have to forget, for a mere moment, how to walk.

I've been walking for 42.5 years, how can I possibly forget how to walk? Yet we do.

Walking is a beautiful thing. I like watching animals walk because–I don't know if you have ever noticed–animals rarely fall. The are about as steady as it comes–maybe because they walk on four legs–and they often walk in places where human beings can scarcely imagine. Maybe humans are inclined to such disaster precisely because we are in need of so much grace. Maybe we should feel badly for people who are rock-steady on their feet, who never fall, who never need grace.

Maybe the proclivity to fall is God's or evolution's built-in measure to constantly, or at least occasionally, remind us that we need help, that we need grace.

I had a conversation the other day with a very important person in my life. I was concerned about walking. My point to this person went something like this: 'What does it say about me and my work if I ask for help?' The response was pure genius and I suspected that the Lord had opened this person's mouth and spoke directly to my heart. It went like this: 'What does it say about you if you do not [ask for help]?'

Last night I learned a very important lesson. I learned that it is OK to need help walking. Better, I learned that didn't even know I had fallen. I learned that even something that comes to us so naturally, so fluently, so beautifully can, sometimes, require just a little extra help. 

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“We are born not to prosper but to be redeemed.”

PT Forsyth, The Justification of God 54

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?

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians)

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!

“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.

Today, my attention was drawn to this post at a certain ‘that which is not to be named’ blog. It is a serious blog post. It is seriously depressing. And it is seriously stupid. (I’m sorry if you had the unfortunate ‘pleasure’ of reading it. I wish I didn’t have to link to it, but you may need context for my words.)

There I said it: It is stupid. I’m sorry. I feel badly about writing it, but there is simply no other way to express my outrage and heart-brokenness.

I know that is harsh and mean and if anyone from ‘that side’ bothers to comment on this post they will most certainly point out that I ‘missed the point’ or that I am ‘ignorant of the facts’ or that I am ‘a stupid non-Christian who is so unconcerned about abortion and the plight of the unborn that I ought to be defrocked (even though I was never frocked to begin with) and run out of the church to the tune of tar, feathers, pitchforks, torches and labeled anathema.’ To be sure, ‘they’ will probably point out that Jesus does not approve of what I am about to write in this post because Jesus hates abortion.

There I said it: The post is stupid.

I am willing to run the risk that I might be labeled by others in order to point out the sheer stupidity of the post mentioned above.

Did I mention the post is stupid? It has been a long, long time since I read something so incredibly insensitive at a blog claiming to be a voice for the Kingdom of God. I’m sorry. I’m desperately trying to be objective and compassionate. Can’t. Can’t. Can’t. I have read the post four or five times now trying, searching, scanning for hope and I just cannot find it. The most hope we can expect out of this post is that we might enjoy some ‘hauntingly beautiful hymn-like‘ music. If an expectant single-mother or a suddenly pregnant husband and wife swimming in debt is debating her/their pregnancy right now read that post, she/they would be left despairing and hopeless; feeling nothing but condemnation.

There is nothing about the Gospel. Nothing about the hope of Christ. Nothing about the penal substitutionary atonement death of Jesus. Nothing about forgiveness of sins. Nothing about grace. Nothing about repentance. Nothing about the new heavens and new earth. Nothing about resurrection. For someone who writes so passionately, so wonderfully about the damnable offense that is abortion, I just cannot believe that there is no mention of hope for forgiveness. No mention of reconciliation. No mention of peace in Christ. No reconciliation. No ransom. No redemption. No substitution. Just condemnation. *Shakes head.*

For someone who so frequently castigates preachers and churches and bloggers for not including a (the) message of the Gospel, I cannot believe the best there is to offer in that particular post is that we might get some good music out of it at the end of the day. No mention whatsoever of how people who have had abortions can be forgiven and changed by the work of Christ Jesus. (As if a purely moralized America is equivalent to the Kingdom of God.)

______________________________

I’d like to begin by noting a few things for the careful reader of this blog. You may not agree entirely, but I’ll bet we are close. What I’d like to do, is offer the invitation here, at Life Under the Blue Sky, that was not offered at SOL. I begin, however, elsewhere:

  • 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 arrogant.
  • It is wrong to be prideful.
  • 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 gossip.
  • 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. I agree with the post at SOL: Abortion is a heinous, despicable, vile, disgusting offense. I don’t know anyone here who disagrees with that assessment. Those things mentioned above are wrong; they are sin, abortion included.

But it 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.

_______________________________

Friends, 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.

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. “…He gave them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick…So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the Good News and healing people everywhere” (Luke 9:12, 6).

We have good news! We are told to preach good news! Where’s the Good News in the SOL post? A musical legacy? For one who spends a lot of time criticizing the lack of Gospel in churches and pulpits, the post is decidedly barren of any hope and Gospel. Shall we merely criticize and condemn those who have had abortions or shall we offer them the hope of Christ Crucified and Resurrected?

___________________________

Is there any hope for those who were the subject of the SOL post?

I hate to write this post, but the bottom line is that I have decided that I will make it my life’s ambition to teach the grace of God every chance I get. 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, but that would be to miss my point. I am very opposed to abortion, but I also realize that people sin and that it was the sick, weak, broken, hurting, desperate sinners, like me, whom 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 SOL post did a great job pointing out a great sin, but the problem with the post is simple: She 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’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?

She didn’t give us a picture of the Kingdom of God. She gave us a picture of her moralized America where there is condemnation for every perpetrator and no hope whatsoever.

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! Well, of course they are. That’s normally what happens when people do not know or have rejected Christ.

So here I offer what the author of Slice did not offer: Hope. 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.

[This is the text of the sermon I preached at the wedding of some dear friends. I trust they will not be angry that I have published the sermon here for others to benefit from. I admit that I took some liberties with my application of Isaiah 6, but not too many. I also confess to sneaking in a reference to David Crowder*Band song lyrics. I hope Crowder doesn’t mind. Be blessed. jerry]

Marriage, Holiness and Grace

1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

As far as I can tell, the Bible doesn’t have much to say, relatively speaking, about weddings or marriage specifically. I suppose our concept of marriage and weddings is somewhat foreign to Scripture. To be sure, God did say that for this reason a man would leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife. And, furthermore, Jesus did perform his first miracle, changing water into wine, at a wedding banquet. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that in the book of Revelation the consummation of the church’s life and history is described in terms of a wedding between a man and a woman.

As images for the relationship between God and His people, Christ and the Church, marriage is an appropriate metaphor. It describes at once the beauty of intimacy, the glory of fidelity, the joy of friendship, and the grandeur of love. It at once shows us a picture of protection and comfort. We can speak on these things all day long if we like, but I’d like to talk about two other ideas that are married to the marriage and I think demonstrated for us here in Isaiah 6—a text that you may not normally associate with marriage and weddings.

These things might not normally be thought of in marriage. They might seem givens. They might seem irrelevant. They might seem out of date, but I believe that in a marriage that is blessed by Christ they will be evident and courageously practiced.

The first is holiness. I firmly believe that at the heart of marriage—given to us at the beginning by God—is about holiness. Most people get married in today’s world because they fully hope and expect to be happy forever. I’m not suggesting we should get married with the expectation of being unhappy as if unhappiness will make us holier. That’s not what I’m suggesting at all. But I am suggesting that in the divine economy, marriage is far more about your holiness in the Lord than it is about your happiness in each other.

This is why so many marriages fail, Christian and not-Christian alike.

It seems to me that after 17 ½ years of marriage I have had to learn that someone else matters in this world far more than I do and that as such there were aspects of me that were ugly, terribly ugly. We see that in the presence of God—our true selves, our true ambition. Marriage has a unique way of teaching us that we are not quite as important as we, in our own eyes, presumed. Marriage has a way of opening our eyes to the truth about ourselves.

To love someone else more than the self is, I believe, part of the essence of holiness. That doesn’t fully capture it, but it approaches it. Holiness means that we begin to shake off those parts of us that are imperfect, unrefined, and completely self-absorbed that we may give our whole self to another. Holiness means that we begin, actually, to be made complete. To be made holy means that we are at some level incomplete.

Marriage begins to make us whole—which is not to suggest that marriage is the only way to be made whole—but only to suggest that in marriage we are made whole.

Isaiah came into the presence of a holy God and was undone. I think as you wed today in the presence of God you are taking your first steps to being undone. Holiness is about God remaking what is broken and making you wholly alive, wholly other (as you two become one flesh), and whole.

This is what Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing of the water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Not to make her happy; but to make her holy.

The second is grace. Isaiah came into the presence of a Holy God and instead of that Holy God striking him dead, that Holy God cleansed him and made him pure.

If misconceptions about holiness and happiness cause the downfall of many marriages, lack of grace causes the downfall of most and the rest. We have created a culture where the sin of Genesis 3 and the blame of Genesis 3 have triumphed over the grace of Genesis 3. In other words: we find it much easier to sin and to blame than we do to assume responsibility and to forgive. Much of this has to do with pride. Marriage has a way of breaking down pride. Grace and forgiveness go a long way to humbling the arrogant and deepening the well of grace we can dispense to others. Marriage is a lifetime of grace and forgiveness.

You know, one of the things that bugs me about my own marriage is that it seems I am the one who always has to say I’m sorry. It seems that when there is an argument or a fight or a disagreement I am always the one who has to go to Renee and say, “I am sorry; will you forgive me?” I don’t know why that is. Oh, wait, yes I do. I am nearly always wrong. Seriously. A temper tantrum here, a harsh word there, a snide remark instead of a loving brush, and inconsiderate avoidance instead of a compassionate caress, or a selfish consumption of time instead of a generous display of affection.

But this has taught me about Christ, because I can honestly say that there is nothing that Renee hasn’t forgiven me. She has spared no amount of grace. She has reserved no amount of mercy. She has retained no right to double-jeopardy. She has always received my apologies with grace and kisses, with affection and quiet rebuke. Marriage is humbling. She has, time and time again, shown me the necessary grace to allow our marriage to grow in holiness. Time and time again, because of her grace, I have been undone.

If I put the burden of holiness in the marriage on the man, then I put the burden of grace upon the woman. I think this is why Paul told wives to ‘submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which is the Savior.” It is no secret, and I have bared my heart, that men are often in far more need of grace than women when it comes to marriage. Paul’s words here do not mean ‘be a doormat.’ They mean, be a savior; demonstrate grace; come under his care and protection; be an instrument of grace. If the husband protects the wife through holiness, the wife protects the husband through grace.

The man confronted with his burden, ‘woe is me,’ he cries. And there, in the marriage, he finds grace and salvation even as Isaiah found grace and salvation even as the church finds grace and salvation, even as you will find grace and salvation.

So I charge you today not with wishy-washy sentiments about the bliss and joys of marriage. Marriage is hard work. Holiness does not come in a day; it is a lifetime project. Grace is not a one time coupon; it is an every day project. I charge you today in the presence of God and these witnesses: [Man], protect and perfect holiness in your marriage. [Woman], proffer and practice grace in your marriage.

If you keep holiness and grace before you, you will constantly be undone. But if you keep them before you, what will happen to your love? Even though you are undone, your love with prosper, Christ will truly be honored, and you will become the One. When holiness and grace collide, it is a beautiful collision.

May all your collisions be for the glory of God.

As People Moved Eastward
Genesis 11, Luke 10

The first time we read of man moving ‘eastward’ it was in Genesis 3 and in direct relation to the curse which was a direct result of the sin. The eastward march continued with Cain who ‘went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden’ (4:16). Here, a few chapters later, and a significant narrative distance removed from the flood, man’s march continued, ‘As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.’

God drove Adam and Eve east, and seems to have done so with Cain. Here in chapter 11 it appears that man’s eastward march seems to be under his own power. And not only is man ‘moving’ eastward, but now he is ‘settling’ in the east; a place geographically ‘out of the Lord’s presence.’ I don’t see anything here that suggests God is behind man’s eastward pilgrimage. I guess it is fair and safe to conclude that perhaps man is simply starting to feel far more comfortable in the east, away from God’s presence, away from Eden.

I’ve often wondered if Adam ever sat outside the Garden of Eden staring at the flashing sword as it flashed back and forth and sighed with regret. I wonder if he ever tried an end-around or tried to out-flank the flashing sword and sneak back inside the Garden.

It’s that word ‘settled’ that has me rather unsettled. I think that is the author’s way of saying that the people made a permanent residence away from God. Thus, they start building a tower. I have had this Sunday school image in my head forever that they were trying to build a sort of stairway to heaven or maybe a stairway from heaven. Maybe they wanted to climb up or maybe they wanted God climb down. Then I got to thinking, dangerous I know, what if that tower were more like a watchtower built to keep watch and make sure God wasn’t coming? What if the tower wasn’t so much an attempt at salvation as it was an attempt to keep guard against God moving in or against God destroying them with another flood?

I know they wanted to make a name for themselves and not be scattered over the whole earth, but what does that mean to us? Maybe they were simply marshaling their forces and efforts and power against the prospect of God moving in and outflanking them?

Frankly that seems to make a lot better sense to me. They were moving east, settling east, building a watchtower, trying to make a name for themselves, and prevent scattering—these aren’t people who were building a tower to climb to heaven or bring God down, these are people doing everything they can do to war against God. Bricks and mortar suggest permanence and defense. They were building defenses. Against whom? I suggest at this point their enemy had become God. They were no longer running: they were fighting. They were fortifying, building defenses.

These are a people who had come to see God as the enemy. That is a long way from Eden.

But what is perhaps the worst part of this, at least as far as the English translations are concerned, is this: ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.’ Do I hear God saying that he, at least in a sense, feared what man could do when united together in such an effort? Well, of course a God who has the power to confuse language and accomplish the very thing man feared (‘scattering’, see vs 4 & 8 ) is not a God who fears man. Rather, it seems to me that what God is doing here is preventing this united, unified effort against himself. I suspect that this is actually a picture of grace at some level.

And no matter how far east they moved, no matter how impressive their fortifications against him, no matter how unified their efforts they cannot thwart God or hide from him. They cannot, as it were, win. Or, maybe we look at it this way: No matter how much they waged war against him, no matter how much they tried to defend themselves against him, he was still gracious enough to come down among them. He still cared about them. He still heard them. He still saw them. Instead of waging war against them, he demonstrated grace. He came down among them

Isn’t that like God?

It’s the same sort of picture we see of God in Luke 10 if we imagine ourselves to be the man in the ditch (as suggested by William Willimon). God climbs into the ditch and rescues us: “The one who had mercy on him” (Luke 10:37).

Or, Jesus in Luke 10 does this: He sends out seventy-two others to go out ahead of him and gather those who had been scattered. Tell them, he said, “The kingdom of God has come near you” (Luke 10:9). In Genesis 11, God came down. In Luke 10, the Kingdom was near. Isn’t it like God: The further we move away, the more he chases after us?

The further eastward we wander, the more defenses we build up against him, the more he chases after us. He pursues us. He comes down, destroys all that we build against him. He comes down, and breaks all united fronts. We can stand against him. Our best efforts against him are nothing. He laughs at our efforts against him because he is not the one sending us east any longer. Now he is gathering to himself. Now his kingdom has come near.

As people moved eastward, God went with them. They tried to run away, he was already there. That’s grace.