May 24, 2011

All for One

I'm writing today at Internet Cafe Devotions. I wrote this before the Presbyterian Church USA decision, so it's even more timely now. I hope you'll join me there. Plus the Cafe is having a big summer giveaway!

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)

When I was younger, my best friend (a cat lover) and I (a dog lover) would often argue which made superior pets: cats or dogs. No matter how many times we went round and round, we always ended up exactly where we started—each of us firmly entrenched in our original positions, wondering how the other could be so blind to what was so obvious. We felt sure that the other was…well…wrong.

Rivalries seem to be built into the fibers of our beings.
Republican vs. Democrat
Mars vs. Venus
Yankees vs. Red Sox

We’re not shy to promote our points of view. When we encounter rivals the exchange might be good-natured or a bit more “heated.” In the end we’re usually confident our thinking is right and the other person is…well…wrong.

But what happens when we bring this rivalry and single-minded thinking into the Church? It has certainly led to a lot of us vs. them in the body of Christ.
Evangelical vs. mainline denominations
Catholic vs. Protestant
Traditional vs. contemporary

According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, what started as one unified Church has become over 33,000 Christian denominations worldwide and over 6,000 in the United States alone. Churches have split over every conceivable point of pride, passion, practice and preference. It seems a lot of believers think plenty of others are…well…wrong.

I’m passionate about my faith, but I can be single-minded. While I’ve experienced the Church in ways far bigger than the four walls of my home church, I still hold points of view that I think are right. I might not have God in a box, but he’s certainly in a fenced yard. Read more . . .

May 19, 2011

I Do...All Over Again

Twenty-one years ago Dan and I stood before family, friends and God and promised our forevers to each other. The service was beautiful. The May day was picture-perfect. Every carefully planned detail fell into place. Joy bubbled over. It was the Best. Day. Ever.

Not once during our engagement or our twenty-one years of marriage have I questioned, regretted or second-guessed my decision to marry Dan. I have always had full confidence that he was “the one.” It’s a confidence we both share. And it’s been an anchor that has kept us from crashing on the rocks during stormy seas.

I know many whose marriages aren’t safe, secure or supportive places. I thank God for the assurance that has made my marriage a safe harbor. I know it’s a gift.

Believe me in two decades of togetherness Dan and I have had our struggles. But no matter what the issue, as we’d muddle through we’d find ourselves right back where we started twenty-one years ago—of one mind and one heart. What separated us has never been greater than what joined us.

Today marriage is an endangered species. Divorce is so common we accept and even expect it as a by-product of marriage. This morning I read that the divorce rate has actually gone down. Good news, I thought. Until I read on and discovered that this is primarily because more couples are choosing to live together rather than get married.

“’Til death do us part” seems like an old-fashioned notion—so out of touch with the realities of today. But I believe in marriage more strongly today than I did two decades ago.

Something incredible happened in the Garden of Eden. God created man, and it was good. God created woman to be with man, and joined them in marriage—and it was very good. Man and woman together. It was God’s design from the beginning. Two flesh, united as one.

We are better together.

Marriage isn’t easy. It’s not always fun. It’s often ugly and messy. Too often I offer my worst—my most impatient, frustrated, critical and controlling self. But I’m a work in progress and so is Dan. Where there is love, there is forgiveness.

So, today I celebrate my marriage and my traveling companion on the adventure. Dan introduced me to a “buck-up-little-camper” attitude which isn’t just good advice on the trails, but in the trials as well. Together we’ve traveled through the peaks and valleys of life before children, parenthood, self-employment, home improvements, finances and relationships. We’ve explored, hiked, biked and backpacked some spectacular places together.

But the most wonderful journey so far is the one of faith we travel, now that we’ve both chosen Jesus to be our Guide. As God continues to enter our marriage I feel our best adventures are yet to come—in the ministry, in the mission field, in fellowship or wherever God leads.

Today I pause to reminisce and reflect, and to reaffirm before God: “Dan, I do. Until death do us part.”

May 13, 2011

What Are We Doing With It?

I’m sitting on my deck enjoying perfect spring weather and savoring doctor-prescribed downtime as I recuperate from knee surgery. I’m working on my tan, and enjoying the sounds of birds and the breeze rustling the leaves. Thoughts of conflict and controversy are far from my peaceful mind.

That is, they were . . . until I read an article announcing THE decision. And now I find myself stepping out of my safe shelter into the storm that rages around me, not wanting to but feeling I must.

On Tuesday The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to allow the ordination of openly gay and lesbian ministers. They actually removed phrasing in the constitution that required those ordained to live “either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman” or in “chastity in singleness.” So now living together outside marriage is also acceptable. My church is Presbyterian so this issue hits close to home.

Some of the dearest to my heart are gay. This isn’t about loving or hating homosexuals. This is about God’s truth. Truth revealed since the beginning of time. Truth that is unchanging from generation to generation.

Today it’s about gay clergy. Yesterday it was about divorce, pre-marital sex or abortion. Tomorrow it will be something else.

Our society is increasingly tolerant of just about every lifestyle and personal choice—“If it works for you, who am I to disagree.” It’s difficult--and incredibly unpopular--to draw a line in the sand between acceptable/unacceptable, moral/immoral and right/wrong because every issue is gray, debatable and filled with nuance.

But, truth is not relative. We don’t get to make it up, change it or alter it based on our experiences, culture and opinions. Not today. Not two thousand years ago. And not in 10,000 years.

Look at the red letters in the Bible. Jesus didn’t deal in nuance. His teachings were tough then and they’re tough now. He didn’t come to the world to win a popularity contest, He came to win souls for the kingdom of heaven. But He didn’t mince words, sugarcoat his message, worry about building self-esteem or fear being labeled as “intolerant.” He spoke the straight, unvarnished truth.

And it's unsettling and hard to hear. "For the word of God...penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12) Many who heard Jesus got angry and defensive and rejected the truth. But some allowed the truth to penetrate their hearts. 

Like the apostle Paul. In one dramatic encounter Jesus transformed his heart from zealous murderer to on-fire Christian. As a result Paul devoted his life to spreading the Good News. However his faithful adherence to the gospel message brought lots of misery and pain. He was ridiculed, slandered, beaten, flogged, stoned, arrested and more. Even after he was stoned, dragged outside Lystra and left for dead, Paul got up and went back into the city. Did he allow popular opinion to softpedal the truth God wrote on his heart? Never.
“. . . but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.” (1 The 2:4-6)

Today many churches and Christians are unwilling to take the same stand as Paul did. In an effort to stay relevant, popular, attractive, profitable or whatever, churches have taken the teeth out of the gospel message. They've tamed the Lion of Judah and turned Him into a pussycat. 

The body of Christ is supposed to stand out in the world. We are supposed to look differently, act differently and believe differently. But instead of the church transforming the world, the world is transforming the church. In A Call to Anguish, David Wilkerson said, "And I look at the whole religious scene today and all I see are the inventions and ministries of man and flesh. It’s mostly powerless. It has no impact on the world. And I see more of the world coming into the church and impacting the church, rather than the church impacting the world."  

A recent study by the Barna Group showed that Christians in the United States are virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the population. We give as much, volunteer as much and even get divorced as everyone else. We don’t stand out, we blend in. How can this be?

Jesus gave us a gospel message that is radical, revolutionary and life-changing. For heaven’s sake, what are we doing with it?

May 6, 2011

Do You Get It?

Yesterday morning I was at a Bible study with some women. The topic of conversation turned to salvation: What is is? What does it mean? And how do you receive it?
The leader presented the salvation message as it appears in the Bible. Even though many of the women have been coming to this study for a year or more, some of them still have trouble letting go of the idea that "good" people go to heaven and "bad" people don't. They don't see themselves and their sin as "not that bad" in comparison with others. Certainly not in comparison to a murderer's at any rate.

"I don't get it," one woman confessed.

Having been in Haiti and the prison, I've seen stark contrasts to my own life. My conclusion is that living a safe, comfortable, suburban lifestyle might be desirable, but it is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to receiving the gospel message of Jesus. Our perceived goodness gets in the way of our "getting it."

One thing that has removed the blinders from my eyes and truly shown me the meaning of grace has been worshipping with the inmates in the prison. These guys get it. They're "bad" guys and they know it. They know they've messed up and they need help fixing their lives. They know they need forgiveness. And this knowledge allows them to passionately embrace God's gift of salvation through Jesus.

In a way I think they have it easier because their sin and brokenness is more visible. There's no escaping it. It's easier to see their need for grace.

I've heard many Christians claim they are "better" than people in prison. Well, I have met ex-convicts who burn with the passion of Jesus and whose lives are totally committed to serving Him. I met a murderer who I wanted to stand closer to just so some of the grace that poured through him would spill on to me. I have seen how the transforming power of the Holy Spirit can turn around an addict who society discarded into into a life of beauty.

The hard truth is that we are all wretched:
"There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God." (Romans 3:11)
"All the right things we have done are like filthy pieces of cloth." (Isaiah 64:6-7)

There is no one holy, not one.
Our sin is every bit as offensive to God as a criminal's. It was my sin that put Jesus on the cross. And yours. And the gang member's. And the murderer's. It's a hard pill to swallow.

But, accepting this sober truth doesn't bring condemnation, it brings freedom. Freedom to see ourselves with new eyes. Freedom to accept the gift of grace that Jesus offers. Freedom to allow the Spirit of God to work in our life. "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:17)

Are you good?

Or do you get it?