Tag Archives: Jesus

Yes, the Church Definitely Stinks! Letter to an (Absent but Vocal) Church Critic

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[In response to a Facebook post about the sad, sin-plagued state of the church today.  Names have been withheld, changed, or translated into Common Eldarin & Westron to avoid offense.] 

My response:  Guilty.As.Charged. 

Is the capital “C” Church, and are all the many, many individual churches, populated by sometime cantankerous, grumpy, judgmental people?  Yes, absolutely; guilty as charged.  Do those same people fall short of biblical expectations for life and service?  You betcha! 

Should those facts make me stay away?  Better yet, should those facts make me stay away and then target those in the camp with explosive-laden complaint drones?  Well… 

There are a million reasons not to be connected with a local church or regularly in worship.  I’ve heard them all and, in moments of personal honesty, I’ve used some of them myself.  At the top of the list: many of the people you find there.  One seminary wag said it:  “Ministry is great, except for the people.”  Or, as a former parishioner of mine put it so eloquently, “I love God’s church; it’s God’s people I can’t stand!” 

There are a million reasons not to be in worship regularly.  But there is one overriding reason to be there:  God says so.  So, from a simple “obedience” perspective (for those of you concerned about the disobedient people in the church), I think you’d need to deal with that.  The Writer of Hebrews says, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24,25). 

But, in the purity of the power of a relationship with the Heavenly Father, that’s not what moves me to be among God’s people, in church.  I don’t “have” to go; I “get” to go…and there are light years difference between those two things. 

The God who loves me wants me to hang out with Him AND He wants me to regularly hang out with those other people He loves…not so that we can all show off how much better than the rest of humanity we are, but to worship Him and adore Him and face our need for His grace and power to accomplish His purposes.  “Apart from me you can do nothing,” Jesus said…nothing

The church is not a beauty contest, it’s a “Critical Care Unit” — “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  That’s true before people come to know Christ and, sadly, still true after we come to know Christ.  This side of heaven we are still plagued by sin. 

Is the Bible full of calls to be better?  Certainly.  But that “betterment” is not a self-help effort.  It’s an “only Jesus can make this possible” effort.  And the very second we start to compare “betterment” we are in serious, serious trouble.  “Do not judge,” Jesus said, “Do not judge.” 

I think a wise church leader friend of mine is right: many in the church over the years have thought they were going to a spiritual Lowe’s to pick up the tools to be able to become better people (Let’s Build Something!).  When, in fact, worship is about God, not the life “score card” of the person sitting next to me–nor even my own spiritual “batting average.”  I don’t have to go; I get to go.  And, when I do go, I get to worship the God who loves this broken sinner.  And (and here’s the key point in this particular ramble): I get to hang out with others just like me who know they’re broken and who are partnering with each other and the Living God to experience grace such that we might show grace to each other and to the rest of the world. 

Do we get that right?  Sometimes…ok, maybe rarely…perhaps hardly ever…but when we do, it’s a wondrous thing to behold…and it’s worth every second of church-based stupidity I’ve ever experienced.  And trust me, as a pastor, I have seen, heard, felt, and been bashed by more of that stupidity than anyone observing from the sidelines will ever know. 

And…by the way…I do know that many have been egregiously wounded by those in the church…wounded by those who thought they knew better…or perhaps even wounded by those who did know better but couldn’t “speak the truth in love.”  This is not to diminish any of those hurts and pains.  It is to say, with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).  And, if we think we can have Jesus (Simply Jesus) without the pains, travails, and (yes) joys of the church, then I think we miss the entire tenor of the New Testament’s witness about the church. 

Winston Churchill, in commenting on the frailties of democracy, once remarked: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise.  Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those others…”  The same could likely be said of the church:  “No one pretends that the church is perfect or all wise.  It’s the worst form of Christian gathering, except for all the others.” 

To a more “Christianly Correct” audience, perhaps it would be better for us to hear Billy Graham’s pithily profound observation: “There’s no such thing as a perfect church; if you think you’ve found a perfect church, don’t join it–you’ll ruin it.”  

I regularly hearken back to John Newton’s, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost but now am found; was blind but now I see.” 

What do I see? Not how much better I can perform now, but how much I desperately need the power of God every day.  What do I see?  That grace is not a onetime proposition, but the constant outpouring of undeserving love on this weary and wary sinner.  Where do I see that best?  With and among God’s people…in worship…even when they’re cantankerous, grumpy, and judgmental. 

Before you discard the church, friend…remember that the church was (and is still) God’s idea (Matthew 16:17-19).  Standing on the outside looking in and lobbing verbal grenades?  Well, that’s someone else’s idea.


Penciled In

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I was a young Air Force officer, likely insufferable and most certainly highly enamored with my own early success.  I was moving on up; on the “fast track” (though early promotions were not yet possible at my career stage).  I had been moved into a job reserved for more senior officers and had hit the ground running–inflicting upon all my “innovative” ideas for brazen success in that new job. 

My new boss (last name: Sullivan; we called him “Sully” long before the advent of the big, blue monster), would sit at his desk with an increasingly bemused look on his face as he observed the undeniable evidence of my embrace of the Myth of Indispensability.  I was fully and firmly convinced that the Air Force, nay the entire Military Establishment, could not move forward without my genius.  Mystifying it was and puzzling too, how the Air Force had survived lo those many, many years without me. 

Sully took me to lunch one day; he even bought the meal.  After we consumed our burgers, he looked me in the eye and said words so profound in their impact that I repeat them to myself each and every day.  Sully stared straight on at me, his words cutting right to my mind and heart and said, “You know, Howard, we’re all just penciled in.” 

Of course that was in the days when pencils had not been replaced by the ubiquitous keyboards and people actually wrote things out by hand, in pencil, with the option of erasing their efforts if they ran afoul of wisdom or common sense or just plain accuracy.  “Penciled in,” Sully had said, meaning I could be erased and replaced at any moment. 

I was taken aback as Sully succeeded in his mission: to debunk the Myth of Indispensability I had created about myself and replace it with an eye toward excellence tempered by humility.  We’re all just penciled in. 

These days, of course, the metaphor might be lost on the “What’s a pencil?” generation.  So maybe we should instead say that we’re all Snapchat fodder; visible for mere moments and then gone in a screen wipe. 

The Bible gets at this in the Book of James.  James calls us “mist(s) that appear for a little while and then vanish” (4:14).  Is James denigrating the species?  Kicking dirt in the face of God’s greatest creative efforts?  No, James is just reminding us that we are all penciled in.  Our own endeavors, as impressive as they might seem, and even our very earthly existence, all have expiration dates.  We will be, in this life, surpassed and replaced–likely when we least expect it.  The energy that we expend will be caught up with us when we “vanish.” 

James (in context) intends this as encouragement to do our best with an eye ever towards God’s good pleasure.  It doesn’t make us lazy (or ought not); it helps squash our personal Myth of Indispensability and move forward, in Christ, in the pursuit of excellence, tempered by humility. 

Sully was so very right; even now, when I ponder how exceptional I am (just ask me), his words clang and bang loudly in my mind. 

We’re all just penciled in.  Jesus is the only Indispensable One; He is the Alpha and the Omega; He is the One to whom we look as we pursue excellence on His behalf, tempered by humility. 

We’re all just penciled in. 

© All rights reserved.  Scripture quotations from the NIV. 


Circling for a Landing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Do all dogs do this?  All the ones I’ve ever had did.  They would approach their favorite landing spot…pillow…dog bed…my bed (sigh)…and they would begin the process.  They would circle and tramp and circle and tramp and circle and tramp until they finally plopped and curled into a compact and comfortable ball of fur.  They would then look up at you with “that look” (furtive, raised eyebrows)–the look that said, “I am comfortably ensconced now…DO.NOT.BOTHER.ME.  I will let you know when I need feeding or walking or other service from you.” 

The Doberman would exhale with a canine harrumph.  The Dalmatian would tuck her nose tightly under her foreleg.  The Dane would sprawl…legs cast about in random compass headings…occupying acreage that was the envy of small countries (This is true; I have the ambassadorial complaints on file).

It was clear to anyone who observed: the pooches had arrived at max comfort and would not move until some biological necessity or some rude human required such movement.

And I have to confess that part of me grew wistful as I observed this dogified pursuit of comfort…landing “just so” on a perfectly prepared perch…not a care in the world…the essence of serenity.  Makes me want to run out and get one of those deluxe doggie beds.  You know the kind…it’s advertised in the “mall in the sky” magazine that you browse when you fly.  Those doggone beds have comfort-dialed mattresses, separate dining rooms, and spare rollout doggie cots for when the in-laws visit.

Supreme comfort…the pinnacle of pup aspirations.  And, I am afraid, often the pinnacle of people’s aspirations as well.  There have been so many conversations with Christians who have punctuated the dialogue with a note about (or insistence upon) comfort.  “I’m just not comfortable with that,” or, “I’m looking for a place where I can be comfortable.”

My usual mental response:  “Well…the mattress store is just down the street, why don’t you try there?”  My preferred verbal response:  “Are you out of your EVER.LOVING.MIND?!?”  No, not really… 

My actual verbal response is usually something like this:  “I don’t think Christ followers are called to comfort; I think were called to radical obedience and I think that radical obedience often implies a decided lack of comfort.”  Then, upon completion of the mandatory and reflexive eye roll, my conversation partner will usually “ease on down the road”–often muttering something about me needing to get a grip on reality.

To be sure, the Bible mandates the giving and receiving of comfort on the part of God’s people (see Isaiah 40:1 or listen to Handel’s rendering of same).

But the Bible’s comfort is not a pursuit of the pain-free, cushioned, doggie-bed life–nor is it a ministerial call to provide such for God’s people.  The Bible’s comfort is all about experiencing the fullness of the God’s presence in the middle of the hard stuff of life. 

Paul was most eloquent in this regard in 2 Corinthians, Chapter 1.  He says that we who have struggled are called to reach out and comfort those who have had a life struggle that resembles ours…by dispensing the comfort we ourselves received from the very hand of God.  This is not a “making my life easy” proposition; this is a full immersion in the fabric of life and ministry that Jesus called “abundant” but which is not usually marked by luxury or an absence of challenging personal circumstances.  Sadly, advocacy for this is near quixotic in our day and time.

My experience (for what it’s worth):  the most growth, the most fulfilling times of life and ministry, the deepest relationships forged, were all in the midst (don’t you love it when I speak KJV?) of the most decidedly “uncomfortable” times. 

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort”

(2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

© All rights reserved.  Scripture quotations from the NIV.


Circling for a Landing

Do all dogs do this?  All the ones I’ve ever had did.  They would approach their favorite landing spot…pillow…dog bed…my bed (sigh)…and they would begin the process.  They would circle and tramp and circle and tramp and circle and tramp until they finally plopped and curled into a compact and comfortable ball of fur.  They would then look up at you with “that look” (furtive, raised eyebrows)–the look that said, “I am comfortably ensconced now…DO.NOT.BOTHER.ME.  I will let you know when I need feeding or walking or other service from you.” 

The Doberman would exhale with a canine harrumph.  The Dalmatian would tuck her nose tightly under her foreleg.  The Dane would sprawl…legs cast about in random compass headings…occupying acreage that was the envy of small countries (This is true; I have the ambassadorial complaints on file).

It was clear to anyone who observed: the pooches had arrived at max comfort and would not move until some biological necessity or some rude human required such movement.

And I have to confess that part of me grew wistful as I observed this dogified pursuit of comfort…landing “just so” on a perfectly prepared perch…not a care in the world…the essence of serenity.  Makes me want to run out and get one of those deluxe doggie beds.  You know the kind…it’s advertised in the “mall in the sky” magazine that you browse when you fly.  Those doggone beds have comfort-dialed mattresses, separate dining rooms, and spare roll out doggie cots for when the in-laws visit.

Supreme comfort…the pinnacle of pup aspirations.  And, I am afraid, often the pinnacle of people’s aspirations as well.  There have been so many conversations with Christians who have punctuated the dialogue with a note about (or insistence upon) comfort.  “I’m just not comfortable with that,” or, “I’m looking for a place where I can be comfortable.”

My usual mental response:  “Well…the mattress store is just down the street, why don’t you try there?”  My preferred verbal response:  “Are you out of your EVER.LOVING.MIND?!?”  No, not really… 

My actual verbal response is usually something like this:  “I don’t think Christ followers are called to comfort; I think were called to radical obedience and I think that radical obedience often implies a decided lack of comfort.”  Then, upon completion of the mandatory and reflexive eye roll, my conversation partner will usually “ease on down the road”–often muttering something about me needing to get a grip on reality.

To be sure, the Bible mandates the giving and receiving of comfort on the part of God’s people (see Isaiah 40:1 or listen to Handel’s rendering of same).

But the Bible’s comfort is not a pursuit of the pain-free, cushioned, doggie-bed life–nor is it a ministerial call to provide such for God’s people.  The Bible’s comfort is all about experiencing the fullness of the God’s presence in the middle of the hard stuff of life. 

Paul was most eloquent in this regard in 2 Corinthians, Chapter 1.  He says that we who have struggled are called to reach out and comfort those who have had a life struggle that resembles ours…by dispensing the comfort we ourselves received from the very hand of God.  This is not a “making my life easy” proposition; this is a full immersion in the fabric of life that Jesus called “abundant” but which is not usually marked by luxury or an absence of challenging personal circumstances.  Sadly, advocacy for this is near quixotic in our day and time.

My experience (for what it’s worth):  the most growth, the most fulfilling times of life and ministry, the deepest relationships forged, were all in the midst (don’t you love it when I speak KJV?) of the most decidedly “uncomfortable” times. 

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort” 

(2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

© All rights reserved.  Scripture quotations from the NIV.

 

 

 


Betsy Was My First

Betsy was my first.  She rolled over me like a hurricane; because she was, well…a hurricane.  Did you think something different?  Shame. 

I was a kid living with my family in a mobile home in Biloxi, Mississippi.  You can call it a trailer if you want, but it was home to us.  My Dad was in the Air Force and we lived in a mobile home park near the base. 

But then we heard Betsy was coming to town.  Since she was my first (hurricane…minds out of the gutter, please) I didn’t really know what to expect.  Then my parents announced that we were going to stay with some friends who lived in sturdier housing on the Air Force base.  [Brick houses are apparently harder for hurricanes to spot and toss than mobile homes…which must have giant bullseyes painted on top of them to alert incoming storms.] 

So we went to the base and sheltered in our friends’ house and felt/saw/heard the hurricane roll over the top of us.  Betsy was thunderously deafening and marvelous in her might.  Trees bent; dogs flew by ala Toto of Oz fame (just kidding…I didn’t see any dogs fly by, but I’m sure they could have); anything not battened down (hatch or otherwise) took off to decorate the darkened sky (and the occasional tree). 

Miraculously, the storm softened and then stopped.  One minute it was lambasting us with its might and, in the next few minutes, it was a whisper of its former self.  All us kids who were confined to quarters asked if we could go outside but we were told, “No!”  “Why?” (the question all kids learn first and never relinquish). 

Because, we heard, it was only the eye of the storm passing over us.  A mysterious oasis of serenity in motion with the direction of the storm that, for a few moments, provided a deep calm…an opportunity to assess preliminary damage and regroup.  Then Betsy emerged again…on the other side of the eye…and inflicted her steady battery of meteorological mischief.  And then she was gone. 

Back to the mobile home park we went; assessing the damage to our home (minimal) and marveling at the way Betsy had decided to upend other trailers and be so arbitrary with her mischief.  

I am not the first Christian to hope for respite in the middle of storms nor the first to comment on such.  And not all life storms follow the somewhat predictable paths of hurricanes.  But I do look for the “eye.” 

I think I keep getting confused, though.  I often think that the eye is a set of settled circumstances somehow immune from the destructive power of gale force winds–a sturdy brick home instead of a trailer.  I keep thinking that jobs or homes or churches or other people will be that calming center when the weather hits hard.  I fall for the “myth of the stable state” and keep thinking that just around the corner is the kind of settled, storm-free existence for which I long.

I keep forgetting that the “eye of the storm” is not a circumstance; it’s a person–Jesus.  Jesus can calm the storms…BUT (yes, all caps on purpose)…most often…He seems to call us to Himself for calming within the storm.  In a hurricane, the storm moves in its directions of vagary; but the “eye” moves too.  And…from within the eye…you can see the destructive power literally rain down around you…and yet be surefooted…right there in the middle of the storm…until the storm subsides. 

I know it’s crazy…and I don’t advocate seeking out a storm to test this theory.  But next time the storm hits:  crazy life, tragedy in the family, disappointments with fellow saints (do not get me started), illness, whatever…run to Jesus.  The “eye” is not a plan or a place; the “eye” is the Great “I AM.”  The “eye” is Jesus.  He will move you through the storm; He will track the safest path; He will dry the rain of tears; He will clear the debris; He will let you see your way through (the way is almost always through…not out…not around…but through). 

Betsy was my first…but not my last. 

“In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

© All rights reserved.  Scripture quotations from the NIV.


On the Mat

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They were all so very glad to see me; it kind of took me by surprise.  Normally my “Hug Block” is fully operational (I have a list of those who can get through…and it’s a very, very small list).  I remember one time, years ago, an adorable little girl ran my way, arms outstretched in the classic “I love you a lot and I want you to pick me up” posture, only to hit the hug block protective shield about five feet away from me, come to a (yes, literal) screeching halt, look up at me with bewilderment dripping from her face, turn and slink away.

But this day the entire Hug Block mechanism experienced an epic fail.  People were breaking through left and right.  For a moment I thought I had transmogrified into some Brad Pitt lookalike, but then I caught my reflection in a car window and it was the same old lumpy, dumpy, baldy, blobby me.  One person (I am not making this up) genuflected and kissed my hand.  They were all truly happy to see me!

I am a bit of a self-deprecator.  I tend to minimize me, myself, and I.  The simple truth is that I am on the inner edge of the introvert spectrometer and will usually downplay and just “aw shucks” the congratulatory moments that come my way.  It’s simply how I am wired (or, I guess, not wired?).

Anyway, this bunch was genuinely happy to see me (if not, they deserve a group Oscar for “Best Performance by a Cast Doing Pretense”).

Wow!  What church is that?  I am going to drop everything and make my way there so that I can feel welcomed and valued too.  They really have the Welcome Mat out at that place!  Jesus must be tickled to hang out with that gang!  The Holy Spirit must be dancing His way through hearts and minds!  Get me that address, website, Facebook page, Twitter handle, or whatever…just get me to that place! 

Not so fast…it wasn’t a church…wasn’t even church-like.  It was a group of folks connected to a place of secular employment.  It was…hold your breath…a place in “The World” (cue dark, suspenseful music).  And yet I walked away from that place more affirmed in my spirit than I often feel in the Body of Christ.

Now…I know what you’re thinking…I’ve been stopping in the wrong highways and bi-ways in the Body of Christ.  Maybe my Google Maps have been set to the wrong destinations.  Maybe Siri took my request for a, “Church that loves,” and heard “chokes and shoves” and sent me to those places.  Siri is a little off like that sometimes.

But, to be honest (By the way, does that phrase “to be honest” bother anyone else?  Does that mean everything said up to that point is suspect?  Somehow less than honest?), most churches struggle with the Welcome Mat.  We get used to each other or critical of each other for wearing plaid (or some other character flaw) and we let go of the enthusiasm that should mark our times together.  We are submerged in the mire of our struggles and we forget that others struggle too.  Or we let five minutes of chit chat about the baseball team (though they do need to get their act together) substitute for genuine connection in the Body of Christ…the Church Family.  Or we hand off the notion of Welcome to those “gifted in the area of hospitality” who have signed up to be Greeters or operate the Information Booth.

Don’t get me wrong, there are always pockets of saints in every place of worship who have the aroma of encouragement about them–people in every congregation who see past the facades and into the souls of men and women and boys and girls–people who can always run past the Hug Block.  I am blessed to know many of them and “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!”  But most of the rest of us can’t seem to find the Welcome Mat–at least not regularly.  It’s a shame, really.

“When you see him again, hale and hearty, how you’ll rejoice and how relieved I’ll be. Give him a grand welcome, a joyful embrace! People like him deserve the best you can give” (Philippians 2:28-29).

© All rights reserved.  Scripture quotation from The Message.

 


Carrion Drivers a.k.a. Parking Lot Vultures

You’ve seen them; you may even be one…you know…the car driver in search of the perfect spot in the lot.  The one who will circle the lot for an hour to snag the spot just outside the drug store door so they can run that five minute errand.  The one who will “stand their ground” hovering adjacent to the spot being vacated by the previous parker; giving the “Death Stare” to any nabob utterly foolish enough to think that they were there first and that somehow they were entitled (by the parking lot squatters laws) to the about-to-be-emptied space.  

I was (in a land far away and long ago) ready to park in a spot at a Taco Bell restaurant when some Carrion Driver dispatched his diminutive son to STAND IN THE PARKING SPACE and therefore claim it as his own.  Fleeting moment wise, I did ponder the possibility of running the little, OshKosh B’gosh-bedecked animated parking cone down to emphasize that the spot was ACTUALLY MINE…but then, with my son in the car, I thought, perhaps, that would not demonstrate the most Christian response to life’s little irritants. 

Then, just last week, there was the little old lady from Pasadena (“Go, Granny Go!”) who blocked my wife’s exit from our parking space just so she (Granny) could claim it before anyone else did.  The trouble was, said little old lady WAS BLOCKING OUR WAY OUT so that not even she could gain access to the coveted spot.  It was a complete parking blockade:  we could not get out; she could not get in; no other car could maneuver around us to get anywhere at all.  I wondered what she was thinking and then I wondered why I wondered what she was thinking because she was clearly not thinking at all. 

Anyone who doubts the reality of original sin or the extent of same should spend a few minutes in parking lot observation mode.  There, unscripted (“spontaneous and unrehearsed”), the persistence of our perniciousness plays out for all the world to see. 

And that’s another thing: (with a special warning for those prone to auto nose picking…not, you know, automatic nose picking, but nose picking in the auto)…when you are in your car, other people can see exactly what you are doing.  There is no Klingon cloaking device; when you gloat to yourself and pump your fist in the air with glee because you pounced on the parking space…We.Can.See.You. 

Enough you Carrion Drivers…you Parking Lot Vultures…give it up already.  There are acres of parking available just a few yards away.  Studies on the psychology of driving abound.  Numerous theories float out there in the “PhD-sphere” on what motivates us to act so selfishly and stupidly when we get behind the wheel.  I don’t know how much truth is in any of them; I do know that, when we pursue a parking space as if it’s a divinely bestowed right, no good can result.  Our anger can burst forth like a ripe pimple…and nobody wants that. [Please hold your “Eewws” and “Yucks” until the end of the blog post.]

I once asked a fellow driver [name withheld lest I have to go into Witness Protection] if he OR she (notice my clever disguise of the driver’s gender) would have responded in a church parking lot to Parking Lot Vultures in the manner he OR she (see, consistency in my gender masking) reacted out there in the mall parking lot.  I did not get a response; well, I did get a glare which is, technically, a response (of the non-verbal but borderline-lethal-anyway kind). 

Gentle is the way; generous is the way; being slow to become angry is the way.  How can we say that Jesus–author of the call to meekness and mercy–is our Lord if we seek lordship of the parking space?  Or lordship of anything else for that matter. 

I have to go now; my parking space just opened up…why do people take so long to put the car in reverse?  Can they not see that I am waiting here?  I am VERY late for my Parking Lot Vultures Anonymous meeting. 

© All Rights Reserved.  Scripture Quotations from the NIV.


Working the GPA

It was one quarter of Hebrew that did me in.  I don’t know which excuse to camp on:  that it was an 8:00 a.m. class and I had to drive 84 miles to get there or that the prof was a mediocre adjunct (or a combination of those two things).  Or maybe (here’s a thought) it was just plain old me being lazy and not doing the requisite work…but no…wait; that couldn’t be it.  Could it?

Anyway…it was one quarter of Hebrew that did me in.  Up until that point my seminary GPA (you know, Grade.Point.Average) had been cruising in the stratosphere.  And, since self-aggrandizing pride is a not very Christian thing to have, let’s just say I was…aw…the heck with it: THRILLED!  I was on my way to a semblance of academic notoriety and a possible award and all kinds of recognition that seemed (at the time) like it would have meant a great deal.

But that one quarter of Hebrew did me in.  It tanked my GPA.  Dropped me from the stratosphere to a mere 3.76 (I knew you were lusting after the actual number; so I complied).  That was back in the day when all you could earn for a GPA was a 4.0 (I don’t know how the “new math” allows for some GPAs to now exceed 4.0, but they are out there…weird…and just somehow wrong).

And that 3.76 made me miss the academic award by (hats off to Maxwell Smart) “thaaat much” (I know, outdated cultural reference; look it up; or maybe Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway will make another “Get Smart” movie [that would be fun!]).  The guy in front of me at seminary had a 3.8 something or some such nonsense.

I worked really hard for that number.  Lots of hours studying and juggling other responsibilities.  I worked really hard for that number and then I missed, by “thaaat much.”  It’s the way of the GPA world.  We can’t all be 4.0s all of the time.  Or, if we are, we are haunted by the time when we will inevitably encounter something out of our 4.0 reach…some endeavor other than the one in which we excel…some endeavor when someone else will steal the show and the award and walk away with “our” prize.

We live in a GPA world.  Everything about us is assessed and graded.  On those days when we make the grade, we feel OK…or maybe even spectacular…for a moment.  But then we know we have to get up the next day and try to trek into 4.0 territory again.

We live in a GPA world.  Most every encounter…with the school…at the job…with the family…with our friends…has a “graded” component.  Something that tells us we have to work really, really, really (yes, three reallys) hard.  Performance fuels our forward progress.  Performance saturates our souls.  Performance haunts us with the inevitability of missing the mark.  Because we will…miss the mark.

We are human; we are finite; we are less capable than we think.  Even if we are caught up in momentary acclaim; we know we will miss the mark.

And…when it comes to our relationship with God…we are sunk.  Even though we may work our hardest to earn the right to stand with Him and before Him, we know that our hardest is not enough.  The best that we ever do is inevitably tainted…and it’s certainly not 4.0.

And here’s the thing:  God is looking for 4.0s.  His abhorrence of sin stain means that He can only dwell in the presence of the 4.0s.  In the moment we ponder that idea; in the moment that idea reaches the core of our soul, we know we are sunk.  Because we know that a 4.0 by God’s standards is well beyond our reach.  Even a 3.9999 won’t do if 4.0 is the standard.

But what if you could, in all openness and honesty, submit someone else’s transcript rather than your own?  What if you could say to the “admissions committee” that you have a 4.0?   What if both they and you knew that it wasn’t your 4.0 but they were willing to accept it anyway?  Wouldn’t that be great news?  Wouldn’t that be the best news ever?  Wouldn’t that mean we could relax and savor a relationship with God?  Wouldn’t that mean we could pour ourselves into our work and our relationships and our recreation with the giddiness that comes with a lack of performance pressure?

Wouldn’t that mean everything?  Wouldn’t it?

Well you can.  Substitute someone else’s transcript, that is.  Jesus made the grade.  He always was a 4.0; He always will be a 4.0; and…if you trust in Him and His performance, then all the Heavenly Father ever sees when He looks at you is a 4.0.

If you are outside a connection with God, then let Jesus make the grade for you.  It’s a little humbling to admit that you will never consistently maintain a “life” 4.0, but once you do there’s a transcript with your name on it that has Jesus’ grade.  There’s no “good enough,” there is only “perfect” and only Jesus has reached that.  Let Him submit his transcript for you.  Just look at His grades:   Love…4.0; Forgiveness…4.0; Mercy…4.0; Grace…4.0; Everything…4.0.

If you’re inside; if you have a relationship with God through Christ, then you can quit trying to “make the grade” as a series of self-propelled, spirit-sapping efforts, “I sure hope God is happy with me today” kind of works.

Because…and here’s another thing…rather than making us lazy ingrates; substituting Jesus’ GPA for ours means that we are free to pursue an excellence of gratitude rather than an excellence of servitude…a pursuit that leaves us energized and “good tired” rather than exhausted and ever fearful that we cannot…will not make the grade.

I’ve always wanted a 4.0; I think I will take the one that Jesus earned and offers to submit on my behalf.  Then I can quit working the GPA and be freed to rest in Christ and be energized to pursue that excellence fueled by gratitude.

It was that one quarter of Hebrew that did me in.

© All rights reserved.  Scripture quotations from the NIV.

 


2D Lives in a 3D World

I don’t remember the first 3D movie I saw.  It may have been Avatar with its floating and iridescent “Seeds of the Sacred Tree.”  It may have been another film; memory fails.

I do remember the last 3D movie I saw:  Captain America: Winter Soldier.  It was, in a couple of words, great fun (in a “you’re an adult you should have outgrown it by now” Marvel Comics kind of way).  Swashbuckling of the 21st Century sort, complete with high flight action and down to earth yet over-the-top, nobody could do that, 3D hand-to-hand combat.  An elevator car as a mixed martial arts arena, who knew?  And, yes, I still have my specially branded Captain America 3D glasses.  

I have also seen movies in 2D that had corresponding 3D releases and I can distinctly recall saying to myself, “This must be way better in 3D.”  You can, if you’re carefully observant, spot scenes in a 2D movie where 3D can make the difference between “ho hum” and “wow!” 

In order to see a 3D movie, you have to wear the glasses.  You have to put on the device intended to make the movie come alive; otherwise you get blurred and indistinct action.  You miss the depth, movement, life, and reach.  You miss the movements behind the movements.  You miss intricacy in the life layering.  You miss what the creator of the film intends; you just miss. 

This is Maundy Thursday–from the Latin “mandatum”–a command to remember.  The day in the Christian calendar set aside to honor Jesus’ words by remembering His last celebration of the Passover meal until He returns to gather His people–His Kingdom people–and take them home to be with Him. 

The week for Jesus and His disciples had been a whirl: Exuberant response to Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, tossed money tables and wisdom-drenched teaching in the Temple. Then on to this day which would turn so quickly from the intimacy of Paschal dinner to arrest, “mockery” trials, conviction, and rejection by a frenzied crowd (whirled into its death chants by “leaders” clinging to positional prerogative).  Whips, scourging, thorns, nails, a cross, death–hideous death. 

Everybody missed what Jesus was up to that week.  Certainly the disciples reveled in the early acclamation.  But this?  Death? 

They were living 2D lives in God’s 3D world.  They had not “put on” the device intended to make them see the 3D depth and distinctiveness of this world as Jesus had made it.  Sure, they had the Scriptures, but in a 2D way, they had only seen what they had wanted to see: a Savior who would powerfully show the Romans to the exit and make way for a new era of Israelite glory.  They missed the death, the man of sorrows who takes up our infirmities; they had missed; they couldn’t see properly. 

Then Jesus clears their vision with His loved-fueled, 3D move.  He compels them to see every dimension of the Scriptures’ teaching about Him and His mission by acting it out–there on a hill, in that 3D, blood dripping down a cross way.  God loves us; he reaches to us in our 2D limitations and draws Himself to us with this repulsive, redemptive act: He dies for us. 

We must need “put on” Christ now (Romans 13:14).  If we have any chance of seeing things in ourselves or things in this world the way they were intended to be seen, we must embrace this horrific act–this cross–this death–this life given that we might live.  We must know Him in order to see life as it is designed to be: “life to the full.” 

To be sure, even if we put on Christ and get our 3D glasses, they will inevitably be smudged and scratched by our profligacy in sin.  Even in our 3D glasses fit for this world, we see “dimly” a “poor reflection” (1 Corinthians 13:12). 

But think of the wonder of this: living a life seeing as God intends for us to see.  Seeing ourselves as much loved creations of the King of the Universe.  Seeing our daily need for empowerment by the very Spirit of Christ to make our way in this world.  Seeing our capacity to invite our friends and acquaintances to shed the blurry vagueness of the 2D life and trade it for the vibrancy of the 3D life. 

Wouldn’t you rather be done with bumping and blundering in 2D fashion?  Wouldn’t you rather live a 3D life? 

© All rights reserved.  Scripture from the NIV, Zondervan. 


Backup Camera!

Backup Camera! 

You have to say it like Lucy Wilde says “Lipstick Taser!” in Despicable Me 2 …all falsetto…with genuine glee packed into it:  “Backup Camera!”  Wait…you haven’t seen Despicable Me 2?  That’s just, well, despicable.  Ask your kids…they’ll tell you. 

I mentioned in a previous blog that I recently leased a car.  This car has a Backup Camera.  It’s very exciting to be able to see areas that were previously blind spots when backing up.  There, in a dash-mounted panoramic display: everything that is behind the car, below the back end of the car, and to the immediate left and right rear…previously hidden spots in my “backup life” are now revealed.  They are revealed in a way that helps me avoid danger and revealed in a way that helps make new choices and head in new directions (or just slam on the brakes if need be).  Backup Camera! 

Backing up the car is not the only place I have blind spots.  I have blind spots in my relational and spiritual spheres as well.  There are things about me and the way I interact with others that I cannot see or, that I (ummm…) choose not to see: blind spots. 

You want to know what they are, don’t you?  Alright…here are a few…I’m not warm and fuzzy so sometimes I don’t see those moments when a simply dispensed hug will do.  I hate legalism (the imposition of human rules about what constitutes anything Christian) so sometimes I miss the hurt in the legalists’ eyes–the hurt that fuels the rampage.  I have blind spots associated with my wife and my kids and my grandkids so I sometimes don’t see their humanity in the midst of my perception of their wonderfulness (because they are, indeed, wonderful…I have pictures). 

And…well, I think that’s enough.  I have blind spots.  But we all have blind spots, don’t we.  The first blind spot might even be a blind spot about our blind spots.  Psychologists would call this a “deficiency in self-awareness.”  The Bible would call it “thinking more highly (read blindly) of ourselves than we ought” when instead we need “sober judgment” (Romans 12:3). 

Jesus had a famous encounter with someone and his blind spot.  You remember the story.  The rich man (the “ruler”) who ran to Jesus (Mark 10) desperate to know what he needed to do to “inherit eternal life.”  Jesus cites representative commandments to impress the breadth of commitment required for the Kingdom.  And, perhaps with a tentative hope, the man thinks that maybe, just maybe, he’s in; you can hear the breathlessness, “All these I have kept…” 

But the rich ruler had a blind spot–it was his wealth.  He had (apparently) impressive religious credentials.  So impressive were his external, religious performance credentials that Jesus didn’t even challenge them.  Jesus sees the man’s compelling sincerity and (here’s an “aha” moment), because Jesus loves this earnest man, He shines a revelatory light on the ruler’s blind spot: his stash of cash.  The ruler was a man of great wealth. 

So here’s a thing:  Jesus is not trying to trample the man’s self-esteem or be “judgmental” in the silly “don’t tell the emperor he has no clothes on” kind of way that our culture uses that word.  Jesus points the man to his blind spot because Jesus cares most deeply for this man and it is Jesus’ very care that moves Him to help this man see his need for more than some coins in a bag. 

At the moment of the blind spot revelation, the man now had a choice–act on the newly seen truth about his blind spot or turn away.  Sadly for him and for Jesus (and perplexing for the disciples who observed), the man turns away.  Though he was now aware of his blind spot, the man was stuck in a place that prevented him from fully embracing the way of the One who is The Way.  The ruler’s blind spot disabled his ability to see that Jesus had so much more to give. 

We all have blind spots; we all have things about ourselves that we will miss unless someone who loves us points to them and says, ever so gently, that we’re missing something.  We all need the Backup Camera to help us avoid those danger zones we’d otherwise just plain miss.  We’re all in need of faithful and believing friends to help us see those blind spots. 

Don’t get me wrong…this is not the random, “Let me tell you how badly you stink,” that passes for “accountability” in some circles.  This is the genuine caring of those most invested in us and our Christian life that carefully points out the blind spot and takes our hand to help us find the way out. 

Say it with me, just like Lucy Wilde, “Backup Camera!” 

Get one installed today.

© All rights reserved.  Scripture from the NIV, Zondervan.

 


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