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.

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?

Stepping on toes ...

This is what I read today in Mark Labberton’s book, The Dangerous Act of Worship:

“At a worship service I attended a couple of years ago, my attention was drawn to the enthusiastic worship leader. He opened our time with prayer, asking God to meet us … Then he turned to face forward, standing just in front of the first row of worshipers with his eyes closed and the band playing. He lifted his hands to God and offered a joyful noise to the Lord.

That’s when I really took notice, for as he sang … he kept stepping all over the feet of the people behind him. Not just once or twice, but repeatedly … he kept ‘tromping in the Spirit.’  No apology. No sign of acknowledgement.

He was just praising God while oblivious to his neighbor.

This illustration metaphorically and practically depicts a significant part of our problem [with worship.]

I have no doubt the worship leader would say that what he was doing was unintentional … He was just so caught up in his own experience of worship that he lost track of others.

In worship, he lost his neighbor. That’s exactly the problem.

For all of our apparent passion about God, in the end, much of our worship seems to mostly be about us. We presume we can worship in a way that will find God but lose track of our neighbor.

Yet it was this very pattern in Israel’s worship life that brought God’s judgment.

Biblical worship that finds God will also find our neighbor.”

Have you ever thought about this?

Does your worship help you find your neighbor?

Or do you worship God, all the while figuratively stepping on your neighbor’s toes?

 

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.

God is for the poor?

I taught yesterday at one of our satellite venues.

I stated that the way the incarnation happened demonstrates (as does almost all of Jesus’ life) that God's heart, as Philip Yancey writes, tilts toward the underdog.

I shared the Scripture from Isaiah that Jesus read in Luke chapter 4 as he inaugurated his earthly ministry where he announces that God has anointed him to:

“… preach good news to the poor,

to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

recovery of sight for the blind

to set the oppressed free …”

After the service, a woman approached me quite vigorously as I tried to sneak out to get home to my family and my warm and comfortable home.

She looked me right in the eye and said,

“I have a question for you:

If God is for the poor, like you said he is, why am I still poor?

Why doesn’t my car start?

Why does my heat get shut off and no one seems to care?

If God is for the poor, why doesn’t he help me?”

“Um,” I said … “I don’t know the answer to your question. God never promised to make you ‘not poor’ but he sure promises to be with you, no matter what.”

Cheezy smile … hoping this answer will appease.

“Well, that is no help to me,” she said.

“I just want to know why I am still poor if you say Jesus came to give me good news. Where is my good news?”

When I got home I told Chuck that Jesus had confronted me about how smoothly words about God’s concern for the poor had dribbled out of my middle-class mouth from the pulpit.

I am still unsettled.

How would you have answered Jesus had he asked you this question in his “distressing disguise?”

Because it's my blog ...

Because it's my blog... I can post this.

Please, no matter what your theological views, read it...

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/parents-lgbt

It feels a bit like it ties in with my posting of the Barna survey on how many Christians follow the teachings of the Pharisees over the teachings of Jesus.

Again, I am not saying this is an easy issue.

But we should pay attention to the pain.

Such pain...

 

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)

If you seek God alone ...

 

 

If you seek God alone, then that which is from God in others will come alive, whether or not you can see it.

Jesus sees what is of God in others, even if it is still hidden as a tiny seed.

This is the gospel you must proclaim.

Preach it simply.

Jesus values each person; he sees their dignity as God created them.

He came to rid every person of shame and self-contempt, of the feeling that they are nothing and can do nothing, the feeling that they have ruined everything and nothing can change that, the feeling that all is hopeless.

(Christoph Frederick Blumhardt)

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")

I stood at attention ...

I am so shocked and saddened by the death of 9 saints from a South Carolina church.

Such hatred.

Such sadness.

Such a waste of beautiful human life.

I listened to the relatives of these victims speak at the bond hearing for the young murderer.

And I stood at attention in my kitchen as I heard their agonized voices whisper words of forgiveness to this young man who was so filled with hate and ignorance... And who shot old ladies, and a state senator and pastor, at a simple Bible study.

After the relatives were done speaking, one reporter asked a commentator what his reaction was to these amazing comments, and he said:

"Their minister (who was one of the men killed) did an amazing job pastoring these folks. These people responded to hatred in the name and the power and in the way of Jesus, the great forgiver and reconciler."

I smiled, even in the midst of my tears.

So, so, so right.

I continued to stand in attention (and reverence) in my kitchen for quite some time... just pondering these responses in my heart.

Oh, that I would have this kind of response in the face of earth-shattering hatred.

Jesus, make me like them...

If Jesus broke rules ...

When I mow the lawn,

I think.

Sometimes this is good.

Sometimes it is boring.

Sometimes I am fascinated by what my mind drifts toward.

Today,

this is what I pondered:

Jesus often "broke the rules"

in order to heal or love

a person.

For instance,

He broke the Sabbath laws 

in order to heal a man with a withered hand.

He broke the purity laws

in order to touch and heal a woman 

bleeding for 12 years.

He broke other purity laws

to touch and heal a leper.

He broke laws about stoning adulterers

in order to save a woman

and demonstrate to those who judged her

that all of us deserve a good stoning.

He broke ceremonial laws

to eat with and love sinners.

He did this stuff all the time,

much to the chagrin of the religious leaders.

If Jesus broke rules to love people,

why do many of his followers think it is our job

to love rules and break people?

I think this is a good question to ponder...

I hope you will ponder with me,

whether you are mowing your lawn,

or not.

Truth at your kitchen table ...

The world of the church, throughout history,

has tended to be a "man's world."

In many places, it still is.

And yet, even in the early church

there were whispers...

names mentioned...

women who led,

taught,

funded,

were at the center of,

Jesus' ministry,

and the start of the church.

As one who teaches,

some would say, preaches...

(and happens to be a woman)

it has been an interesting ride.

Fifteen years

of serving God

in this unexpected way.

And as I take a look behind me

at the amazing young women God is using

all over the world,

but especially in my little neck of the woods,

I cheer.

I came across this poem the other day

and post it as a hat-tip to my fellow

"kitchen table theologians."

God sees you,

and he cheers, too.

Laywoman

Were you a man and single,

the Jesuits would have you in a trice.

But you are a man's wife, 

lovely hair coarse and wild as a Morgan's tail,

on each hip a fine son, and one on your shoulders.

Your bent for theology is more startling

than your renegade humor, 

your ease on a good horse, fast and wild as he can be.

You are no cut-out saint.

Bus-stop apologist, 

training your eye for truth at your kitchen table,

turning worn pages in the weary night

as your tea grows cold.

The day has come for your kind.

Venerable Jenn,

you are better than you know,

stirring the oatmeal,

reading Aquinas,

shoveling the snow.

(by Nancy A. Henry)

 

 

The Donald and the Pope ...

Tonight I am pondering

the stark contrast

between Donald Trump

and Pope Francis.

Not even thinking politically...

just paying attention to words,

and deeds,

and tone, and 

any resemblance to Jesus.

Any sense of compassion...

Any sense of appropriate humility...

Any sense of mercy and love and kindness...

Any sense of concern for the poor and lonely and left behind...

As I watched the Pope drive away from Andrews Airforce Base 

in a little,

simple,

non-flashy,

Italian Fiat...

big grin on his face,

I grinned right back at the TV.

If a person's countenance tells us anything

about the state of their soul,

I'm thinking the "win" 

goes to the Pope on

this little thought competition 

I am having

tonight

about which of these

two men

most resemble 

the Jesus

they both claim to follow.

A journey of ease ...

I have been thinking a lot

about the refugees...

Syrian...

Afghani...

Eritrean...

Iraqui...

Moms, Dads, babies, little boys washed up on the shore

Desperate. Frightened. Traumatized. Sometimes dead...

I cannot even imagine what life would be like

if I had to leave my home, my country, my comfort

simply to save my life.

When I hear politicians say,

"Americans just want to win again."

I wonder...

in what way

do we think we are not winning every single day?

In our homes.

In our freedom.

In our grocery stores.

In our cars.

In our coffee shops.

In our safe beds.

So much "winning" we have

become numb to it.

And somehow end up calling it "losing."

I don't get it.

I love this poem called Sojourn.

It reminds me that when we talk about our times in the "desert,"

it has a distinctly different meaning 

from real life in real desert

in a real effort

to stay alive.

Sojourn

We are high up in the sky
flying over the Sahara,
eating ice cream the color
of the sand below.
We are encapsulated from it.
We have transcended it.
We do not have to plod through
its extremes with chafed skin
and parched mouths while staring
at the endlessness ahead of us.
We know a journey of ease,
exempt from the experience
this desert has exacted
since the dawn of time.
Our deserts are different now.

(Joel Kurtz)

Today, when you wake up

in your warm bed,

with warm water

and warm coffee,

would you pray for those who

haven't been "warm"

in years?

And would you please,

please,

understand that if ever a group of people have won,

it is

us.

Love in action ...

Jesus said that above all else...

above ALL ELSE,

people will know we are his followers

by the way we love.

How are we doing with that these days?

I love how Fyodor Dostoyevsky puts it in his book

The Brothers Karamazov:

"Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing

compared with love in dreams.

Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action,

rapidly performed and

in the sight of all.

Men will even give their lives if only the ordeal

does not last long but is soon over,

with all looking on and applauding

as though on stage.

But active love is

labor

and

fortitude..."

What might it look like right now, 

today,

for you to begin

to put Jesus' kind of 

sacrificial

love 

into

action?

 

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