Tag Archives: mercy

Some Assembly Required

some-assembly-required-mainThere are word combinations in the English language that I love:  “Pepperoni, Sausage, Extra Cheese,” hovers near the top of the list. 

There are word combinations in the English language that I despise:  “While you are up, can you…?”  Note to readers…waiting until I am up to have me satisfy your whims is not adorable; it’s annoying.  But I stray from the topic at hand. 

Because there is one word combination in the English language that makes me want to heave (as in, you know, projectile vomiting).  I am not talking about the mildly upset stomach followed by the quasi-catch-in-the-throat-near-miss vomit.  No, I am talking about solar system departure trajectory, full on, don’t-get-in-the-way-or-you’ll-be-knocked-down-and-covered-with-gastric-juices-for-life vomit. 

What words, you ask (so as to never utter them in my presence), might generate such a depraved, visceral (literally) response?  Here they are…mark them down…do not say them to me:  “SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED.” 

Now, I know that there are genuine he men and she women whose day is made more delightful by put-it-together-yourself-because-they-were-too-lazy-to-do-it-at-the-factory projects.  My hat is off to them (actually, my hat was off anyway, but I needed a handy cliché). 

Seriously, I know some ace project people who are both genuinely good at what they do and whose hearts thump with delight at the mere prospect of such projects.  You probably know some people like that too.  You may even be one.  You know who you are…you are barely on step one of the current project and yet you have already cast your eye on the next project.  God bless you. 

But…I am not a “SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED” kind of person.  This whacked me again when I was beginning to put together a chair.  Why I was putting the chair together is a post for another day.  But there I was, through no fault of my own, taking the chair pieces out of the boxes so as to lay them out and have each piece handy for the assembly. 

Unpacking the pieces is what got me riled up.  The pieces were each heavily fortified with nuclear detonation proof plastic and then sealed with THAT KIND of tape.  The kind of tape that will not detape itself…until you have tried to cut it with every sharp object at hand…and then cut your hand…until the tape finally yields only to reveal the INNER PLASTIC and TAPE. 

And this was my thought in that moment:  wouldn’t it have been easier just to assemble the stinking chair?!?  I mean, rather than wrap each little piece in multiple shrouds of bomb proof tape and plastic, wouldn’t it be simpler to just assemble the stinking chair?!?  [I know, I have said “stinking” twice…it’s for, you know, emphasis.] 

Of course the mere unwrapping of all the pieces is followed by the preliminary reading of the assembly instructions.  You have seen these instructions.  They are cobbled together by people whose first language is, indeed, English, but who have such demented minds that they use Google Translate to render the instructions through the entire list of available languages in the app before re-rendering the instructions in English. 

That process takes a sentence like, “Identify the four hex nuts and lay them side-by-side,” and transmogrifies it into something like, “Put your left hand in, take your left hand out, put your left hand in and then you shake the nearest dog’s tail until the dog eats the turnips left over from the guillotine.”  [This is not hyperbole; you know it’s true.] 

You have to read the instructions so many times that you forget why you started reading them in the first place.  And then you remember:  SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED. 

I so loathe those words…unless, of course, unless…they are about me.  Because I know that I am a horrible mess of a work in progress and I am so very grateful that Jesus has decided to work in me (and sometimes…rarely, but sometimes, through me).  I thank God that His work in me is not dependent upon my ability to bring it about. 

Oh sure, I read the instructions (His are plain enough) and I do my best to follow along.  But then I remember that it is God who is at work in me to accomplish His purposes. 

And the very funny thing is…He delights in the project–He’s one of those project types.  The Master Carpenter who labored over His neighbors’ household needs, is now at work to perfect His strength right here…in the middle of me.  

I, of course, am very much more complicated than a chair that comes in a box.  Presuming that I slog my way through the instructions, stick with the project, find that runaway bolt that must have rolled into the heater vent (again!), and connect all the connections…the chair will be assembled.  It will stay that way; it won’t try to disassemble itself.  But I will…try to disassemble myself, that is. 

And Jesus starts again…with me…putting me back aright and pouring out His compassion while I am in the very process of self-disassembly.  Oh, great love!  Oh, great mercy!  Oh, great power!  Oh, great patience! 

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

 © All rights reserved.  Scripture quotations from the NIV.


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

sinners-wanted-001

[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.


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.


Of Sin & Consequences & Scooter Scars

I was at a seminar or conference somewhere; I don’t remember where.  What I do remember is that one of my favorite speakers was there; in fact, he’s the reason I decided to attend said conference.  Chuck Swindoll has, since the time I became a follower of Jesus, one of my favorites.  He is wise; he communicates with depth and relevance; and he is completely down to earth.  WYSIWYG in computer geek speak:  what you see is what you get.

On this particular occasion, Chuck was reflecting on the fact that he was a little older and that, as he had aged, he had come to realize that he held fewer and fewer things as rock solid absolutes.  Don’t misunderstand, he was not denying the verities of the faith; he was simply admitting that the determined certainty of youth had given way to a maturing recognition that we are not often as right as we think we are. 

In the context of teaching or preaching communication, he was identifying with those who sometimes say, “Well, I’m not as dogmatic about that as I used to be.”  Again, rest assured, the crux of Christianity is safe in Chuck’s hands; he was just, in a word or two (my words), being a little more humble and a little less strident than we often tend to be when we are younger.

I’ve thought about that approach a lot as I have, ahem, matured (not aged–there is an important distinction).  I ponder, from time to time, those things that I hold as rock solid basics.  And here’s one that I see with increasing clarity as time pulls me along:  I am a sinner.  Sinless perfection advocates to the contrary; I realize that the longer I am around, the more I see that sin ravages me and those around me.  Calvin was, I believe, right on this score.  Down to the depths of my DNA, I am a sinner.  In every crevice of my mind lurks the enticement (and anticipation of willful participation) to sin.  I sin most when I think I’ve gotten “past” some particular besetting sin; only to find that it jumps me like a thug on the street–crippling my relational capacity, derailing my work, and banishing the joy from my life.  I am a sinner.

What’s surprising to me, though, is how often I am still taken aback by the fact that my sin has consequences.  How my tendency to pride precludes me from hearing wisdom from others.  How my tendency to selfishness blinds me to the joy of giving.  How my capacity for criticism carves its way through the hearts and minds of others, diminishing their selves and their own capacity for goodness and grace.  Consequences.  “The wages of sin is death,” we are told.  But we (at least I) don’t often see that death comes in degrees and that every time I sin, I am an instrument of mortality to myself and others.

To be sure I know the reality of the grace of God in my life.  In fact, the enormity of my sin compels me to find refuge in the mercy of Jesus and His work on the cross.  “The wages of sin is death,” Paul says, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).  However, I am more and more aware of the deep and lasting impact of my sin and the consequences that so quickly flow from my sinful decisions.

I was visiting family.  One of my nieces had a Razor Scooter–one of those mini-wheeled things that kids so use to dart and bob and weave through suburban streets.  I decided to take the scooter for a spin.  I went down the hill adjacent to the house, quickly gaining speed (make that:  QUICKLY GAINING SPEED!).  I realized almost immediately that I had not asked a key question:  How do you stop this thing?  So, barreling down the street, confident that I was breaking the sound barrier (How do I know I was breaking the sound barrier?  I could not hear my own screams), I decided there was only one way to stop:  I would head to the side of the street and tumble into the grass.  This was a superior idea, except that my advance team had failed to clear the pebbles from the side of the street.  I hit the pebbles, went down into a skin scraping slide and wound up (actually wound down, face down, that is) mere inches from the soft safety of the grass. 

Monkey down.  I say monkey down because I was wearing my monkey boxer shorts that morning and my first thought (honestly) was that, if I had to go to the hospital, the medical team would not take my wounds seriously because of the monkeys.  I mean, who would?  And my mother would have been right…the first diagnostic procedure in the emergency room is the Underwear Check.

Fortunately I did not have to go the hospital.  My wife and brother tended my wounds (BUT THEY DID LAUGH AT THE MONKEYS).  I still have scars on my hand though–I call them the scooter scars.  They remind me that my choices have consequences.  They remind me that I am a sinner.  They remind me that I desperately need the grace of God at work in my life.  They remind me that, as I (ahem), yes, age, I resonate more completely with the words of the Apostle Paul:  “What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:24,25).

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


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