Together ...

Do you ever read a passage from Scripture that feels like you've never read it before?

I am making my way through 1 Corinthians and landed on a very familiar section this morning...

Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for God's temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

I have been trained to read that passage from an individual point of view. I am God's temple. God's Spirit dwells in me.  I have always approached this whole topic from the perspective of me, a singular individual.

But you know what?

It is not about me. It is about us.

Read the last part again... "God's temple is sacred and you together are that temple.

What a beautiful reminder this morning (out of the blue!) of the beauty of God's people... together, we are the place where God's Spirit dwells.

And we should be careful to not destroy or damage that temple... We should treat it as sacred.

Certainly puts a new twist on the church, doesn't it?

There is no one but us ...

In the Old Testament, a trio of people are often cited as deserving special protections from God and God’s people … The fatherless, the widow, the orphan. Often, the foreigner is added to this list.

God knew these people were at risk in the society of the Old Testament … at risk to be marginalized, neglected, oppressed, victimized, even killed.

And so God commanded his people to take special care of these particular people in their midst. He gave special commandments, even made special rules that protected them, gave them chances to enter mainstream society again, helped them escape the noose of generational poverty, protected them from oppression and violence.

And these rules spoke to God’s people and said, “I care for this group of people in a special way, and if you follow me, you must care for them, too!”

Who are the marginalized among us today?

Might they not fit into this same descriptive trio (or quartet)? The fatherless, the widow, the orphan, the foreigner.

It matters not your political persuasion, if you are a follower of God, you are to live in such a way that you protect the marginalized, speak up for them, watch out for them, care for them, serve them, give to them, pray for them.

Often, when confronted with the marginalized in our midst, we hope for someone else to help them.

Annie Dillard addresses this common deferral of responsibility:

There is no one but us. There is no one to send, not a clean hand or a pure heart on the face of the earth or in the earth --- only us … unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and uninvolved. But there is no one but us. There has never been.”

There is no one but us.

Why Judge?

I have often wondered how the church, which was founded on amazing grace, became a place of judgment for people struggling with sin.

Which is really all of us, if you think about it.

 Here is a thought:

I think the church moves toward judgment of those outside our walls because it is much easier to judge others than it is to love, and to submit our own darkness to the transforming ways of God.

And so we judge. Despite what the Scriptures tell us is our main job.

Paul says that love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:10)

He says that the only thing that really counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6)

The writer of 1 John says:

“We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:19-21)

Jesus said:

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:35)

(Not to mention his summary of the greatest commandment … love God, love neighbor.)

We, by the nature of who we are as followers of Christ, are first of all called to love.

Here is a little section of 1 Corinthians that I am not sure many of us have even heard before:

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.”(1 Corinthians 5:12-13)

Far easier to judge than to love…

I think Paul knew that.

I often ponder what might happen if the church became known again as a place of great love and grace, rather than a place that makes hurting, broken people feel worse than ever about themselves.

God's Mission ...

I remember sitting in a class listening to people answer the question, “What is God’s mission in the world?”

To be honest, I was really disappointed by the answers.

They were almost all kind of individualistic in nature.

Many of them were violent and kind of “end-times” oriented … the idea that all God cared about was getting a bunch of individuals into heaven before he blew the rest of the world to bits.

There were no answers that seemed big enough to be God’s, you know?

My heart and soul were uninspired.

And so I went searching, both in the Bible and from great thinkers: Where could I find a richer, deeper, truer understanding about what God’s mission is in this messed up world?

I went back to one of the modern day classics, NT Wright’s book, Simply Christian, which many compare to CS Lewis’ classic, Mere Christianity.

Here’s how Wright spells out God’s mission:

“Christianity is about the belief that the Living God, in fulfillment of his promises and as the climax of the story of Israel, has accomplished all this – the finding, saving, the giving of new life – in Jesus. He has done it.

With Jesus, God’s rescue operation has been put into effect once and for all. A great door has swung open in the cosmos which can never again be shut. It’s the door to the prison where we’ve been keep chained up.

We are offered freedom: freedom to experience God’s rescue for ourselves, to go through the open door and explore the new world to which we now have access.

In particular, we are all invited – summoned, actually – to discover, through following Jesus, that this new world is indeed a place of justice, spirituality, relationship and beauty, and that we are not only to enjoy it as such but to work at bringing it to birth on earth as in heaven.

In listening to Jesus, we discover whose voice it is that has echoed around the hearts and minds of the human race all along.”

Now that … that motivates me!

What do you believe in?

As I listen to conversations between Christians, and as I pay attention to some of the arguments amongst Christian groups of various kinds played out for the world to see on social media (um, is this wise?) I have found myself wondering …

Do we believe more in our own beliefs than we do in Jesus?

It sure seems like we do.

Fighting over what we believe about women…

Fighting over what we believe about very specific doctrines…

Fighting over what we believe about sexuality…

Fighting over what we believe the true definition of “biblical” is…

Fighting over politics …

And the list goes on…

I have found myself wishing we did a bit more fighting over Jesus, to be honest.

Martin Luther nails it:

“Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God, your functional savior.”

At times, you would think our beliefs have become our “god,” our “functional savior.” We cling to them more tightly than almost anything else … it seems our very faith hinges upon them. We seem to want to fight to the death for them.

Do we believe more in our own beliefs than we do in Jesus?

Do we?

Worship ...

Tonight our A Way of Life class is discussing the chapter from the first manual on worship.

This reminded me that I have Mark Labberton’s book “The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice” on my shelf. So I opened it up and started to read …

Whoa...

I am going to share some of his thoughts over the next few days.

Expect to be disturbed, but in a good way.

Labberton is the new President at Fuller Seminary and I have loved everything I have seen from him. He has a huge heart for Jesus, for the church, and for the radical demands of the Gospel.

Here are some of his opening thoughts:

“When worship is our response to the One who alone is worthy of it – Jesus – then our lives are on their way to being turned inside out. Every dimension of self-centered living becomes endangered as we come to share God’s self-giving heart.

Worship exposes our cultural and even spiritual complacency toward a world of suffering and injustice.

In Jesus Christ, we are called into a new kind of living. Through the grace of worship, God applies the necessary antidote to what we assume is merely human – our selfishness.

Worship sets us free from ourselves to be free for God and God’s purposes in the world.

The dangerous act of worshipping God in Jesus Christ necessarily draws us into the heart of God and sends us out to embody it, especially toward the poor, the forgotten and the oppressed.”

Well now … Do you think his definition of worship might be just a tad bigger than ours?

Meanness ...

I wrote yesterday about the power of kindness.

Today, I want to write about the power of meanness.

While roaming the halls of the hospital where my son was recovering, I overheard a patient spouting the most mean-spirited, vile opinions about immigrants to a custodian who was cleaning his room. I believe the custodian was of Hispanic origin.

Later, as Will and I chatted with a young nurse in charge of the floor, she let us know that this same patient had yelled and screamed at her for 15 minutes that same day.

Two days later, I heard him yelling at the woman who brought him his food, telling her how terrible the food was and letting her know not to bring him his dinner; he was going to get his food elsewhere.

Now, I don’t know this patient’s situation. I don’t know his history. I don’t know anything about his story.

But this I do know: it seems as if our nation has become meaner.

Our radio hosts are mean.

Many of our news channels and reporters are mean.

For Lord’s sake, the political ads over the last few months were much meaner than they were factual or helpful.

People at church can sometimes be really, really mean.

It seems as if even Christians have decided that if we believe we are right about something – something cultural, or theological or political – then we have every right to be mean about it.

When we behave this way, Dallas Willard calls us  “righteously mean Christians.”

Ugh.

In the same measure that kindness is beautiful, meanness is ugly.

Just a few words from Philippians 2:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.

Shine, my friends … shine!

Advent ...

What might Advent look like to the world if the church settled into a season of "expectant waiting" rather than a season of "frenzied running?"

 

I saw it ...

Two years ago we went to South Africa to visit my daughter who was studying at the University of Cape Town.

The natural beauty was jaw-dropping.

The culture was rich and fascinating.

The food was drool-worthy.

But the spirit of the place was something I had never felt before.

There was a vague sense of dread in the air. Everything felt a tad unsafe. Unsettled. Unmoored. Festering.

The bed and breakfast at which we stayed had multiple locked, gated entries.

Razor wire was everywhere.

We had to buzz in to a really nice restaurant … the neighborhood was too dangerous to have an unlocked entrance.

My daughter’s home had a security guard. If she was at the library late at night, she always called a car to drive her home.

On a wine tour just outside a township, we got stuck in a traffic jam and armed guards showed up on the edges of the highway, protecting us from possible car-jacking.

This was South Africa 20 years after the horror of apartheid.

“The sins of the fathers …” is what I kept thinking of.

To see black and brown people living in shanty towns that spread as far as the eye could see, while white people lived in relative luxury … well, it was just shocking.

But it should be no more shocking to me than living here. I guess sometimes you have to travel to begin to see your own situation with new eyes.

I read these statistics this week and they brought me to my knees for my brothers and sisters in this country:

“The US incarcerates a higher proportion of blacks than apartheid South Africa did.”

“In America, the black-white wealth gap today is greater than it was in South Africa in 1970 at the peak of apartheid.”

It was Christians who brought apartheid to South Africa. They thought God condoned it; even mandated it.

As a Christian in America today, I wonder what role I might be playing in the pain and suffering of my neighbors.

Of all the questions I might ask myself these days, this might be one of the most important.

Merry Christmas ...

A little break from the Sabbath writing …

Today at church a couple I love told me about a new song that basically states if a store doesn’t have a Merry Christmas sign in their window, Christians shouldn’t shop there.

They were excited about the song and wanted to share it with me.

Now, listen … this is a great couple.

But on this issue, I think they are missing the mark and I (very kindly and quietly) told them I disagreed with what this song was saying.

I wonder where we got this idea … that the way we “witness” to the world around us is to be rude and demanding and arrogant.

Nowhere in the Scriptures does it say, “Go and demand that your culture practice Christian holidays the way you want them to.”

Nowhere does it say, “Go and demand your own way, and thus attract the world.”

Nowhere does it say, “Go and force your faith on people … they’ll love it!”

But the Scriptures do say … Love… Love those who love you. But especially love those who don’t love you. Actually love your enemy.

They do say … Be completely humble, and gentle.

They do say … Be kind. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who persecute you.

They do say … As far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.

So I say … go into any and every store, regardless of the sign on the window, and as you interact with those inside, be loving, kind, grateful and full of grace.

And kindly, gently, humbly wish everyone a Merry Christmas on your way out …

Drunk on grace ...

Grace, my friends … grace!

Robert Capon writes:

“The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism

 … a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof GRACE –

 bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture,

 one sip of which could convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.

 The word of the Gospel – after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps –

 suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that

 the saved were home before they started.”

Oh, isn’t that good news, my friends?

Will you live in that truth today?

It is not up to you or to me … thank you, Jesus!

Exactly the opposite ...

So, I am reading a book called "One-Way Love" by Tullian Tchividjian, who happens to be Billy Graham's grandson.

It is a powerful book on grace.

This morning I read about how Tullian was kicked out of his home by his parents when he was 16.

To say he was a bit of a rebel is an understatement.

But he tells a story about how he used to wear earrings, and how it drove his parents crazy.

People then ask him, "Well, how did your grandparents respond? How did Billy and Ruth Graham treat you during your rebellious phase?"

This is what Tullian writes:

"They treated me exactly the opposite of how I deserved to be treated. 

For example, I wore earrings back in those days... It used to drive my parents nuts.

Every time my grandmother - Ruth Graham - came down to visit, she would bring me a fresh set of earrings to wear!

They were always funny.

At Christmastime, she would bring me ornament earrings and make me put them in and take a picture.

At Thanksgiving, she brought fork and knife earrings, and she took a picture.

She made light of it. 

She wasn't making fun of me.

She was saying, 'This isn't a big deal He's going to grow out of it.'

It may sound pretty trivial, but it meant the world to me.

Everyone else was on my case, and instead of giving me one more thing to rebel against, my grandparents drew me closer."

Beautiful...

How did Billy and Ruth Graham treat their rebellious grandson?

Exactly the opposite of how he deserved to be treated.

Meaning, they treated him like God treats all of us.

Oh, there you are ...

As I've noted before, I regularly attend a yoga class.

And I regularly put my mat down in one specific spot.

I always put my mat there, right next to the teacher, in the hopes some of her beautiful energy will transfer itself over to me. Plus, I always need to sneak a peek at her so I know what I am supposed to do.

But on Monday night I arrived late to the class so I had to put my mat in a different spot.

The class was crowded and it felt weird to be out of place.

As the class began, the instructor came around with some lemon essential oil that she places in our hands to help "wake up our senses" before class. Usually, she is completely silent as she does this.

But, as she bent down to put the oil in my palm, she whispered these words:

"Oh, there you are..."

She saw me.

She knew I was in a different spot.

But she found me, nonetheless, and she let me know that she saw me; that I mattered.

She sounded happy and relieved to see me, to find me, to know where I was in the room.

I cannot even describe what those 4 words did for my soul.

I was looked for. I was seen. I was known. I was appreciated. It mattered that I was there.

This is one of the truest essences of "blessing" someone -- simply to see them and to be delighted.

And then to express that delight to the person somehow.

Reminds me of my favorite biblical blessing:

"The Lord bless you and keep you,

the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;

the Lord turn his face toward you

and give you peace." (Numbers 6:24-26)

Who can you bless today?

All you have to do is look for them, see them, and say something as simple as, "Oh, there you are..."

One beggar ...

"Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread." (DT Niles)

God is not a man ...

Heard this Gungor song on Spotify yesterday and thought I'd share it here...

Just enough in it to potentially offend many...

Which is what Jesus often did.

And, remember who he offended most?

Those in power.

Those in religious power.

Those who thought they were "in."

Those who thought they knew who were "out."

See what you think. It is a catchy little song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WybvhRu9KU

God is not a man
God is not a white man
God is not a man sitting on a cloud

God cannot be bought
God will not be boxed in
God will not be owned by religion

but God is Love, 
God is Love,
and He loves everyone
God is Love,
God is Love, 
and He loves everyone

God is not a man
God is not an old man
and God does not belong to Republicans

God is not a flag
not even American
and God does not depend on a government

but God is good, 
God is good,
and He loves everyone
God is good,
God is good, 
and He loves everyone...

athiests and charlatans,
and communists and lesbians,
and even ol' Pat Robertson
Oh God, He loves us all
Catholic or Protestant,
terrorist or president,
everybody, everybody loved, loved, loved, oh

God is Love
God is Love
and He loves everyone

stop the hating, please just stop the hating now

'cause God is Love


The antithesis of grace ...

"How did the word evangelical become the antithesis of grace?"

(Michael Gerson - George W. Bush's speechwriter)

Our fatal love affair ...

I am reading Robert Capon's strange and beautiful book called "Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace." Like I said it is strange and beautiful. It is not for the faint of heart.

Capon is an Episcopal priest. He says this is his most important piece of writing ever.

Just a tiny sample from his opening chapter:

"I said grace cannot prevail until law is dead, until moralizing is out of the game.

The precise phrase should be, until our fatal love affair with the law is over -

until, finally and for good, our lifelong certainty that someone is keeping score 

has run out of steam and collapsed."

I cannot tell you how many conversations I have with folks from my church

who still believe, as they have always believed, as they have been taught to believe...

that "Someone is keeping score,"

that the "Someone" who is keeping score is God,

and that they are dreadfully, woefully, coming up short.

How can the church help our people get over their "fatal love affair with the law?"

How can I get over my own "fatal love affair with the law?"

A church which is bruised ...

"I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has

been out on the streets,

rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined

and from clinging to its own security...

More than by fear of going astray,

my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up

within structures which give us a false sense of security,

within rules which make us harsh judges,

within habits which make us feel safe,

while at our door people are starving

and Jesus does not tire of saying to us,

'Give them something to eat.'"

(Pope Francis)

The shoulders of a homeless man ....

"The hope of the whole world rests on the shoulders of a homeless man."

(lyrics from Rich Mullins' song about Jesus called "You Did Not Have a Home")