Tag Archives: grace

Remind Me

A few weeks back, I wrote a song — something I haven’t done in quite some time — based on a similar theme coming to me from several angles.

I had been reading “Accidental Saints” by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor I had seen popping up on my YouTube feed. I don’t agree with everything she has to say, or how she chooses to say it… but when she starts talking about the grace and love of God, she is so on point.

Additionally, I had been playing keys for worship at a few churches, and singing songs like “Who You Say I Am” or listening to songs like Lauren Daigle’s perfect “You Say” which capture the theme of our identity in Christ.

Contrast that with the reality that I know how messed up I am and how often I blow it, how often I miss the mark, how often all my striving or all my lazy giving up just isn’t enough. And yet God’s love is there, even in the midst of my abject failure.

I thought of a great picture I saw where an artist captured the constant sense of “I should be doing X” whenever I am doing Y. I should be blogging, so I blog… but then I think I should be getting my work stuff done, so I get on that… but then I think I should be going outside and getting fit, so I do… but then I realize I should be at home spending time with my family, so I do… but then I remember I meant to write more of my book, so I do… but as I’m writing, I realize I don’t get enough sleep, so I go to bed early, but then I wake up and realize I should have been blogging…

It’s easy to dwell on all the voices in life that whisper ‘should’ and tsk-tsk every time I don’t. It’s easy to constantly reach for the next thing and the seemingly better thing and miss all the good things going on around me. It’s easy to think my worth is found in what I do and what people think or how many likes or shares or retweets I get (and thus it’s easy to despair when I don’t see those).

In those times… heck, at all times, I need Someone to remind me of what’s true.

Remind me of Your mercy, remind me of Your grace

Given to the undeserving, who are welcome in this place.

Remind me of Your patience for the weary and the faint,

Remind me of Your favor toward us sinners You call saints.

 

Keep me in that place of awe and wonder

Where the power of Your grace still pulls me under

Awash in Your mercy, lost in the thought

That the very One who died for is the One my soul fought

Yet You heal and restore me, the sinner that You sought

And transformed in Your glory, the life that You bought

With the blood You poured out for me, my sins have been washed

And exchanged for Your righteousness there upon the cross…

 

Remind me of Your promise, and of Your faithfulness.

Remind me that nothing I do will make You love me less.

Remind me of Your calling, and what You called me for.

Remind me that nothing I do will make You love me more.

Remind me of Your favor toward us sinners You adore

Remind me who You are

Remind me who You say I am

Right Privilege

It’s another Sunday morning… with another service in a nice church building where sunlight streams in through the stained-glass or colored-plastic windows…

A crowd of people shuffles in, some awkwardly mingling, others choosing spots for solitude, while some popular praise song plays through the speakers.

The band has another set of songs we’re about to play, with a lot of familiar words like “amazing” and “unfailing” and references to the usual miracles, et cetera, and so on.

Another sermon is prepped, with another take on a well-known passage, with a few solid points, some clever anecdotes or cultural references, and maybe a decent invitation to respond. It’s the Good News or whatever… but more like the Good Olds, because we’ve heard it all before.

Oh, it’s Communion Sunday too, so there’s another stack of serving trays with another round of thumb-sized disposable plastic cups of grape juice and another batch of white fibrous wafers.

Another week in the house of God.

Not just any god… THAT God. You know the One… the “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life john three sixteen” God.

Yep.

The first song on the list is “This is Amazing Grace” by… well, I didn’t check, but no one’s going to care. It’s upbeat. It’s a perfect
“get the blood pumping” song. It’s familiar to the congregation. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and all that.

The second song is “Do It Again” from Elevation Worship. Some people probably don’t like it because Steven Furtick says some questionable things, and good on them, because you should test all things and throw out anything that isn’t one hundred percent of God. But it’s a song about how “Your promise still stands, great is Your faithfulness” and that sort of thing, and that’s pretty good. Reminds me of the old hymn and stuff.

The third song is “Broken Vessels (Amazing Grace)” with its pretentious two titles thing going on. Artsy songwriters know that two titles means the song has depth. As the second title implies, the John Newton refrain figures in, with only the 900th alteration to the melody, 890 of which are probably Chris Tomlin songs.

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound that I’m not going to bother typing because we both know you know the words and stopped reading already.”

Sermon is preached. Elements are distributed. Do this in remembrance of Me. Sing the closing song. The Lord bless you and keep you. You’re dismissed.

Church services as spiritual shampoo: lather, rinse, repeat a week later.

They say familiarity breeds contempt, but I think familiarity breeds complacency and presumption. It feels like we’re singing, “This is the same old grace… this is expected love…”

We might as well be, if we’re just going through the motions because ‘this is what Christians do.’

In preparing for this particular service, I thought about how ho-hum my heart can get about the Gospel. Growing up in church, being a part of worship teams for years, there’s a risk that I am so accustomed to the good news that it’s no longer good nor new. It’s just “what it is.”

In Luke 7, Jesus has dinner with some religious leaders as they’re trying to sort out who this upstart is and what is He really preaching. A woman with a bad reputation bursts into the scene, falls at His feet, weeps over her sinful state, washes His feet with her tears, and wipes His feet with her hair… and all the while, the
religious folk are like, “Dude, doesn’t He know what kind of nasty skank is touching Him?”

Jesus talks about two debtors, both of whom had their debts forgiven. One owed twenty bucks, the other five hundred. (Yeah, I’m paraphrasing. If you’re getting hung up on “well actually He said” then I implore you to stick with me and consider my point, not the particular unimportant details.)

“Which one do you think would be more grateful,” Jesus asks. Well duh, obviously the person who owed five hundred. Jesus agrees, and explains that “whoever has been forgiven much, loves much.” He also calls out the religious folk, as usual, and reaches out to the outcast, as usual.

(In fact, it strikes me that the forgiveness goes in reverse compared to what Jesus describes. He forgives the woman AFTER she expresses all this passionate brokenness and worship.)

I think on any given Sunday, I tend to come in feeling fat, dumb, and happy spiritually – if I’m feeling anything spiritual at all. Most often, I’m probably just distracted and ready to get on with the rest of the day. I’m so used to the fact that God loves us, and has a plan to prosper us, and works all things together for our good, and… yeah,
all those promises that still stand, according to the song. I don’t need to know what they are or think about them, I’ll just sing that they still stand, and that’s pretty good, right?

No.

Paul calls me out when he writes to the Ephesians (Eph 2:1-4) and says, “Hey, remember? You were DEAD in your trespasses and sins, walking or even being carried along with the current of the world,
under the power of darkness. We all lived according to the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling our desires, being in our very nature children of wrath, doomed to punishment.”

Remember?

“BUT GOD, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love…”

We’ve been bought out of slavery, saved from condemnation, given a new life and a new hope, all our garbage and filth and sin exchanged for the pure, clean, stainless, righteousness of Christ before God… and yet all those words sound like more of the same-old.

Without getting too political, I think of the concept of “white privilege” and discussions of race relations. I don’t come from a culture that has a strong, recent history of slavery or past prejudice
affecting my current situation. I’ve got it pretty good where I live… both culturally and spiritually.

How often do I show up to church and enjoy my “Right Privilege” as a
Christian? Am I so accustomed to the message of the Gospel that it’s no longer amazing? Just kind of accepted, just assumed? Is the grace of God expected? Is the love God shows deserved? If I’m honest with myself, is that where I’m at?

Is it even a thought in our minds that the God of the Universe made provision for us, coming down to intervene in our wayward path, redirecting us from the course of sin and death on which we walked? Is that something we consider, or something we’ve heard so many times that our reaction and reception becomes empty and hollow?

“I love you.” Yeah yeah I know.

“I love you.” Right.

“I love you.” Got it.

“I love you.” Haha, are you just going to keep saying that?

“But I love you.” I mean, as well you should.

“But I love you.” But we kind of knew that already. That’s who You
are, isn’t it? God IS love. It says so.

We act like our grace is earned and no response is required. That’s
woefully mistaken.

“I love you.”  Ugh. Thanks, but I’m busy. I’ll get back to you.

How about same time next week?

Sometimes By Step

I promised to look at some Rich Mullins songs I love the most, as a Wednesday “Worship” thing.

I thought about putting these out on Sunday, because, hey, they’re worship and spiritual and churchy and all that.

But Rich Mullins was hardly churchy, and that’s kind of the point. Plus, while some of his songs spoke to me on Sundays, more often than not, his words and music were what I needed in the day-to-day of the work-week, in the midst of choices and struggles and frustrations and delights.

“Sometimes By Step” is one of those songs that I heard growing up–we’d sing the pretty Praise & Worship style chorus in church. Then I heard the whole song, and was shocked that there were all these powerful words in the verses. I felt robbed unawares, denied something powerful and true years earlier–missing out without even knowing something was missing.

This version shows Rich speaking about the profound nature of God’s tasteless love for us. I won’t do it injustice by trying to recap it. Please listen and hear him out, reflect on the love revealed in Christ’s sacrifice which is for <strong>all</strong>, not just for the so-called deserving or worthy.

In the first verse, Rich sings that “there was so much work left to do, but so much You’d already done.” And that so captures my despair at my failures, coupled with my joy at the hope of God’s grace at work in me.

The second verse hits my heart even harder. To think that a star Abraham saw was lit for me… to recognize that when I feel I don’t fit in, that might be by God’s design… and to remember even though I fall and struggle in the journey, I’m never beyond the outstretched grip of God’s grace.

That gives me a powerful reason to declare “Oh God, You are my God, and I will ever praise You!”

Rich Mullins Was Aptly Named

A few days ago (before I went on this short work trip away from home), my wife and I finally watched Ragamuffin – the life story of Rich Mullins’ ministry and struggles fitting in to the Christian music industry.

She pointed out that Rich Mullins’ name is appropriate: a guy who’s always mulling over the deep and rich things of God’s love, the practical expressions of it that get lost in religious structures and routines.

I know as a newly-recommitted Christian, Rich Mullins’ songs challenged me and pushed me to go farther and deeper in my faith, to be authentic and to think about what it really meant to pursue Christ.

For days since watching the film, I’ve had one of my favorites of his songs stuck in my head: If I Stand.

The chorus really captures a simple passion that it would all be about Him and not about me:

If I stand, let me stand on the promise that You will pull me through

And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace that first brought me to You

If I sing, let me sing for the joy that has born in me these songs

And if I weep, let it be as a man who is longing for his home.

In the verses, he points out how the “stuff of earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to the Giver of all good things.” As I write this, I just finished reading through Psalm 4, which includes the phrase, “How long will you love what is worthless?” (v.2)

I love a lot of arguably worthless pursuits. Or I’ll say I engage in a lot of pursuits of debatable value. I can make a case for the “good” that may come out of them. But it rings hollow.

Songs like “If I Stand” refocus me and get me centered back on Christ. But that’s just one of the awesome songs Rich wrote, just one topic on which it felt like he spoke and sang directly to my soul. So for a while I’m going to post a song a week, starting Wednesday, and briefly share my thoughts or why the song means so much to me.

Here’s If I Stand, recorded live. (I had to see him actually playing piano, because I don’t want to believe he can intentionally hit all those keys. He also makes a mistake in this, so you know he’s human.)

Frozen: Love Worth Dying For

Yesterday I posted (link) this blog about the hidden message some religious people see in Disney’s blockbuster movie Frozen. When we see culture changing all around us, it can be scary. And when we’re scared, we start looking for what we fear, and see it around every corner. Like I said yesterday, I don’t think “homophobia” is the right word. We don’t fear homosexuals. We fear change.

At the end, I promised to share my take on the positive message of the movie. So if you haven’t seen the movie yet (and why haven’t you?) then you can expect some spoilers ahead.

Quick recap if you haven’t seen it:

The gist of the story is that Princess Elsa was born with a magic ability to manipulate ice. As a child she uses this to bring joy to her little sister, Princess Anna. (pronounced ‘Ah-na,’ mind you. My kids correct me all the time.)

Elsa accidentally injures Anna, and everyone decides it would be best to hide these powers away until Elsa can control them. So she grows up repeating a mantra of “conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show.” Her powers grow stronger, and her fears rise accordingly. To protect others, she keeps everyone away, including young Anna, who doesn’t understand why “we used to be best buddies, and now we’re not.”

At Queen Elsa’s coronation, her powers are revealed and she flees. When everything goes wrong, the whole kingdom falls under a bitter winter, buried in snow and ice. Villains attempt to kill Elsa to end the crisis. And Elsa once again injures Anna by accident, putting a shard of ice into Anna’s heart that will eventually freeze her solid.

Only an act of true love can thaw the ice and save Anna, so she chases after the man she loves, hoping a kiss from him will save the day.

This leads to a climax, where Anna is stumbling through a storm to reach Kristof (her beau) and Elsa is being stalked by the villain who stands ready to kill her. Suddenly Anna sees Elsa in danger, and jumps in the way of the villain’s blade, freezing solid in the process. Everyone is sad, until Anna’s heart thaws out. “An act of true love will thaw the frozen heart,” they recall.

The kingdom is saved, the sisters bond, everyone’s happy except the villains, and credits roll.

A lot of people note that this movie is not the typical Disney “Prince Charming saves the Princess” story. No princes save the day here. Even Kristof, Anna’s love interest, is not a pivotal hero but more her faithful companion and support. In other words, the whole movie seems to say to young girls, “You don’t need a man to complete you.” I think that’s a wholesome message in a culture that loves to emphasize the need for romantic and sexual relationships.

Elsa has powers and puts them to use for good. Anna has the power of determination and love, and she overcomes adversity in pursuit of her goals. Both characters are depicted as strong, resourceful women who face their difficulties and imperfections with fierce devotion and integrity. That’s also a great message for our young women (and men).

There’s also the “Let It Go” theme of not hiding away our creativity or passion. Someone (see yesterday’s blog post) might think it’s “the homosexual agenda” encouraging people to come out of the closet, and I suppose that’s a valid application. But it’s only one of many. I have writer friends who have hidden away their work, afraid of critique or even being open enough to share it with another. I know artists who draw amazing things you’d never see because they’ll never show you. Musicians and vocalists with skills to blow me away often hide their talents in the ground. Young people sometimes conceal their hobbies, interests, and exceptional abilities, because their passion is something their peers might deride. Frozen is a film that says “We need you to let that go and let everyone see it, because we need your talents in the world.”

And that’s not even the main thrust of the movie. Let’s look for a moment at the conflict at the climax.

The first thing I see is sacrificial love. Anna leaps in front of the villain’s sword, an action that will almost certainly result in great injury if not death. Anna does this without hesitation. The only thing that protects her is that she freezes solid at that very moment, something she couldn’t anticipate.

Second, Anna’s actions reveal selfless love. At this point, Anna and Olaf are convinced she needs a kiss from Kristof, the guy that truly loves her, to cure the freezing condition Elsa’s ice shard caused. Anna is mere steps away from Kristof when she sees Elsa in danger. Anna gives up her kiss to come to her sister’s defense.

Third, this is arguably an expression of undeserved love. Elsa is an icy witch to Anna throughout the majority of the movie, and Anna doesn’t know why. Their bond is broken. The sisterly love seems one-sided. On top of that, Elsa’s the one who accidentally shot Anna in the heart. Anna has every reason to be distant, but instead hurls herself into the path of the sword.

Olaf, unlikely Christ figure.
Olaf, unlikely Christ figure.

Oddly enough, it’s Olaf the Snowman who speaks this theme aloud. When Anna is shivering in the castle, Olaf starts the fire in the fireplace to warm Anna and keep her alive, even though it means he might melt. Anna sees this and panics for her friend, who responds, “Some people are worth melting for.”

That’s my take on Frozen. It’s a message of sacrificial, selfless love to the undeserving. Reminds me of a story about Someone else I hold dear.

Tomorrow, I have some thoughts about the supposed need for a romantic relationship in a story, and why the non-troversy about Elsa is so frustrating to me.

Where Were You?

One of my atheist friends on FB shared a powerful and challenging picture.

It's a challenging question, but "the problem of suffering" is not my point today.
It’s a challenging question, but “the problem of suffering” is not my point today.

The obvious question is, “Where’s God in the despair and devastation that affects so many in the world? And why do we think God is concerned with petty details of our lives while we ignore human tragedy?”

Here’s a bit of an answer to that.

For a few weeks in a row, I’ve been playing the keys for our church band. It’s something I love to do, because 1) I’m good at it, 2) I enjoy it, and 3) helping the congregation worship is exciting. The practice and the early showtime to get ready for two Sunday services means a bit of extra effort during the week. Sunday becomes a long day, almost a day of “work” when everything in me wants a weekend to relax before returning to the office grind on Monday.

The joy of being part of something greater in the band is well worth the hard work. The impact of seeing people abandoned in worship is even more fulfilling. It’s pretty awesome.

But this Sunday, I was reminded how small my focus can be.

We had a guest from India, a missionary who has lived most of his life as an offering for the benefit of others. He shared some powerful stories of how difficult circumstances have brought about tremendous change in the churches of India and in their relationship to their own culture. He talked about God’s heart for the widow and the orphan, and how the Church-at-large has been able to positively touch the lives of those the Indian caste system considers untouchable.

Then he recounted the unexpected events which led to the start of an unconventional ministry. About 15 years ago, one of his associates happened to lead a group of believers into a red light district in their city. The response from the “working women” was overwhelming. But more than commitments and conversions, these women sought assistance that the Christians were not prepared to provide.

The women were victims of human trafficking and the sex trade. They were not in their situation by choice, nor were they free to leave. But they brought out their daughters, small children and infants living in the brothels. The women begged, “Can you take my child away to a safe place? If she stays here, she will grow up as a slave and will be treated the way we have been. Please help us. Please take our children out of here.”

That day, 37 children were brought out of the red light district, and the missionaries started a makeshift shelter with no plan and no idea how to proceed. All they had was the firm conviction that this act of compassion was what God would desire of them.

Soon, they learned the extent of the slavery in the sex trade around them. They learned that in the city there were perhaps two thousand more children just like those they rescued. They discovered that across the country, there are approximately one million young women and children connected to the sex trade as slaves or victims. Their mission focus changed in a flash from simply “reaching the nation” to extending a hand to those in such deplorable conditions.

15 years later, Project Rescue is spread over 6 nations ministering to thousands of victims. At first they tried to buy some of the women out of these brothels, but very quickly saw that the money was going to bring in more young girls. So now, they reach out a hand to HIV positive women and children, providing shelter and recovery, or providing compassion and care to those not yet freed. They have established churches outside the traditional comfort zones of Western Christianity, and they hold Bible studies right in the midst of the red light district. They’ve taken in women who have been mentally and emotionally shattered by daily sexual brutality and physical abuse. Those women are learning job skills and getting new opportunities to escape the hell they’ve known most of their lives.

The small amount of money given by some in our church provides for many of the needs of this ministry and others like it around the world. A mere $20 bought a cheap t-shirt advertising the project website, but that money also paid for the expense of putting one of these women through a college program. I sat overwhelmed next to my teenage daughter, considering that there are a million more young women just as precious and valuable as her, who are suffering abuse and abandonment.

There are a million girls in India not much different from my daughter who are in terrible situations and desperate need.
There are a million girls in India not much different from my daughter who are in terrible situations and desperate need.

I didn’t have much at the moment, but giving up a $20 bill meant impacting someone’s life around the world in a positive way. The deep need and the vast challenge posed by international sex slavery is beyond me, beyond my church, beyond a logical approach or easy fix. But we must respond as best as we are able, for religious reasons or for simple human compassion.

I was reminded of my time on a medical mission in a rural area of the Philippines, and the poverty and need that I witnessed first-hand. I thought of the streets of Thailand, and the desperation I saw there. I remember the homeless in California and Okinawa, and my wife’s efforts to provide food and warmth where we could.

Some of my atheist friends have discussed this with me in the past. “Why do these missionaries have to go do all this with the religion sales pitch? Why not just do it for the sake of helping out?”

Maybe they’re right. Maybe I shouldn’t need a book to tell me to love others as I love myself or to do for them what I’d want done for me if our situation was reversed. Perhaps I shouldn’t need the excuse that “God said to go.”

Then I look for the massive efforts of atheists and agnostics to reach the poor and needy around the world, and I find them severely lacking. There are organizations, yes. There are people far more compassionate than me, no doubt. But there is not an effort on the scale of the charity work being done by churches around the world to reach into the darkness and pull a hurting soul into the light of day.

Jesus taught that His people would be judged based on their response to Him:

“I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.”  (Matthew 25, MSG)

They ask, “Where were You? When did we see You? When did we do this?” He responds, “Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.

And the converse is true. When we’re the ones doing the overlooking, when we’re turning our eyes from the need and ignoring them, He says we’re ignoring Him.

Should I need this reminder, this solemn warning? I suppose not. But the point is that I am interested in being a part of reaching the overlooked and ignored with practical love that meets their real needs. Can we help everyone and rescue all who suffer? No. But we’ll try, and we’ll reach as many as we can.

When people are suffering, I’m not surprised by the question of “Where was God?” But when people are suffering, for those not doing anything to help, don’t be surprised when I ask “Where were you?”

Non-Traditional Family

“We’re fighting for the traditional family, the mainstream marriage, the moral foundation of our society. We can’t permit marriage to be redefined by anyone’s agenda, so we’ve got to fight to protect the fundamental building blocks of society.”  — any randomly selected opponent of gay marriage

This is the "For People Like Me" liferaft. Find your own.
This is the “For People Like Me” liferaft. Find your own.

Our church is going through a series called “Healthy” as we try to discover how the Bible applies to a holistic, holy and whole life. Sunday’s sermon was about conflict, and healthy ways of dealing with it in order to maintain and strengthen our relationships with those around us.

Relationships are messy, difficult, and absolutely necessary. Community is hard work, but it’s essential. And in the context of building community and developing a sense of “family” in the church, the pastor spoke about the current status of families in America.

Consider these numbers:

1 in 2 children live in a single-parent family at some point.

1 in 3 are born to unmarried parents.

1 in 4 kids live with only one parent.

1 in 8 were born to a teenage mother.

1 in 25 children have neither parent in their lives.

68% of children in America live in non-traditional families.

These stats got me thinking…

How “traditional” are so-called traditional families?

What exactly are we working to defend when we protest gay marriage? What point are Christians making when they gloat over a homosexual dying of AIDS as “the due reward for their sin”? What good is being done for society as the church-in-general fights against this one issue?

The usual justification is that we must stand for traditional marriage and traditional families. I’ll refer you back to those stats. Traditional marriage is pretty well gone in America, just like Leave It To Beaver and black-and-white TV. This isn’t what “the gays” are doing to marriage. This is what all of us traditional heterosexuals have done to it.

Men who are little more than sperm donors skip out on their responsibilities, leaving the child-bearing and child-rearing to the single mom or teenage mother. In our rabid defense of traditional marriage, are we chasing down single mothers and telling them that their exhaustion and sacrifices are the “due penalty of sin” they committed? God forbid! I don’t think even Westboro stoops that low.

Selfishness drives spouses apart, and lust disguised as love excuses divorce and remarriage. But we don’t hold up signs and chant slogans at the woman on her third husband, or the man with a new “younger model” spouse who leaves behind an ex-wife and some children. Sure, we probably judge them like good religious folk are supposed to… can’t let them get away thinking they’re ok, after all. Gotta heap on the condemnation with dirty looks and cold distance in church.

But we’re not picketing them or campaigning for laws banning remarriage. We’re not railing about the destruction of our moral fabric at the hands of every non-traditional heterosexual couple.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: maybe we’re past the point where “traditional” really matters.

I mean, it’s nice to think about, of course, in the same way that it’s great my kids like to watch Beaver and I Love Lucy. We think fondly of tradition for good reason. But tradition isn’t what we see in the world around us, and we need to stop fighting to make it so.

When the Titanic hits the iceberg and starts taking on water, when the design flaws are exposed and the ship is going down, it’s a bit late to go to the shipwright and tell him how wrong all his plans were. There’s no point drawing up new blueprints or editing the old ones to fix what went wrong. Really, after a certain point, baling water is no longer an issue either. The problem is past that point.

The ship is sinking. Stop laying blame and start handing out life-jackets.

When we practice water survival for the military aircraft I fly on, latching on to the other survivors is one of the first steps we take once we’re in the water. Then we work together to get to a life raft.

What if the Church-at-large stopped picketing the design flaws in our society and stopped pointing at those floating and flailing in the water? What if we made it our mission to latch on to people in need, to cling to them with arms of love instead of looks of judgment?

What if we admit the ship has taken too much water and just focus on handing out the life-jackets, grabbing hold of the reaching hands that want help? Maybe we can start working together to find and build places of refuge where we can minister to people’s needs. Maybe we can show love and acceptance as the very first and ideally the very best non-traditional family out there – without changing our morals, but without using them as weapons, either.

There’s no room on a life raft for a picket sign.

Playing Favorites

Happy Labor Day in America. It’s time for a

Monday Morning Snack

There was reclining on  Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples,  whom Jesus loved. – John 13:23 NASB

OM NOM NOM
Goes best with a cup of steaming coffee.
Coffee not included in price of purchase.

If you ever want to learn how to make things fair in life, have more than one child.

It seems no matter how hard we try, one of our four children is always wondering why he or she has it worse than everybody else, and why some sibling gets it so easy.

“My chores are the worst!”

“She got to play the XBox for a long time!”

“He got to go to his friend’s house, why can’t I?”

“IT’S NOT FAIR!”

I don’t feel too bad. If Jesus’ own disciples bickered and accused Him of playing favorites, then I figure this is a normal fact of life.

In the Gospel of John, the writer (John… shocking, I know) uses the phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved” five times to refer to himself.

Maybe it was humility; he didn’t want to write his name in the account, like “me me me, look at me.” But it kind of comes across to my ears as a proud statement. “I’m the favorite. I’m the one He loves. Neenur neenur neenur, you’re just plain ol’ Peter.

But maybe this phrase is neither humble nor proud.

Maybe it’s a statement of a wonderful and incredible fact.

John understood. He really got it. John’s the one who later writes all about love in the church (read 1st John). He’s the one who emphasizes over and over again that Christ’s followers are “beloved of God” – and he even uses “beloved” as the collective title for his readers.

Beloved means dear to the heart, favored, favorite one. To call myself beloved of God speaks of confidence about His love, security and certainty that “He likes me… He really, really likes me.”

That’s not arrogant, either.

It is arrogant when we add “more than you” either consciously or unconsciously. It is arrogant if we presume to add “but not you” when we think of some group we don’t like. It’s foolish for us to think God should limit His love to suit our desires.

But we can confidently say that we are beloved of God, dear to His heart, favored and special to Him.

Why?

Because He said so.

You’re His “prized possession” and “special treasure.” You are recipients of “great love lavished on us” by God, an unconquerable and inseparable love.

It pains my heart when my wife apologizes or worries needlessly whenever I seem frustrated or upset by anything. It hurts when my children say they are afraid to admit a bad decision for fear that “Daddy might get upset.” That tells me that I have not fully communicated to them the unchanging and unconditional love in my heart. They don’t understand that each of them is my absolute favorite. Each of them holds captive the full measure of my love. So, in my imperfection, I must work to communicate that more clearly.

God, on the other hand, has communicated His love. He has told you that you are His beloved, you are His treasure, you are the one He loves. When He plays favorites, we all win.

Say to yourself, “I am the one He loves.”

Chew on that for a bit.

Morning Snack #2

35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? – Romans 8:35-36 NASB

OM NOM NOM
Fig Newtestaments, maybe?

I’m thinking of this verse, pondering the greatness of the love of Christ, and remembering the past/present/future style of the first Morning Snack.

There’s nothing in my past that can disqualify me.

“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…” Romans 5:8 (and here’s the passage in the Message).

“…anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone…” 2nd Corinthians 5:17 (MSG)

If God showed us such love when we were His enemies, cut off from Him by our sins… what makes me think He’s going to not accept me now that I belong to Him?

There’s nothing in my present that can separate me.

“I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5 (NASB, but here’s the Message again)

“I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” Galatians 2:20 (here in context)

You can’t get un-crucified. There’s no take-backs. If you came to Christ, He is in you, and God has a “No Return” policy.

There’s nothing in my future that can overwhelm me.

“In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NASB)

“Greater is he who is in you than he that is in the world.” 1st John 4:4 (NASB).

God grants us grace that trains us to say, “No” to sin and He limits the strength of the temptations and trials we face.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. – Romans 8:38-39. 

Think of the Children

I’m usually a pretty calm person, especially when it comes to dealing with other people. It takes a lot for someone to really get under my skin.

I do have my moments. Technology that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to, for example, is like turning on a flamethrower in my chest. (I’m looking at you, Microsoft products, with all the ways you try to ‘help’ me by complicating the simplest tasks.)

My dog peeing everywhere, just brazen and unashamed. Yeah, that gets me ‘perturbed.’

But mostly, I keep calm and drink my coffee.

One thing that does get on my nerves is when people spew venom in the name of Christ.

I really hate it when they use children as their excuse.

I really, really hate it when they look right past their own faults to point at the faults of others.

You can’t expect mercy for your sins while proclaiming judgment on everyone else’s.

(I probably hate that because I’m often guilty of that myself.)

So… at some point or other I got signed up for a “defend marriage as one man and one woman” page on Facebook. I only recently noticed some of the stuff they post in pursuit of their cause.

I’ve gotten into it with the faceless individual(s) behind the page. Every now and then, someone says something completely asinine, and I feel compelled to share a reasonable voice with a logical counterpoint to the ignorance. It would be one thing if people were having thoughtful discussions and clarifying how their beliefs intersect with government and freedom and tolerance and all that. Most everyone I know is willing to admit we may not all agree, but we can disagree in a civil manner and hopefully all learn something from the debate.

Not everyone seems so inclined.

This little tragedy of grammar and graphics got posted on my wall today:

I’m not posting this because I agree with the image. First off, I can’t agree with incorrect word choice and terrible cut-and-paste graphics…

I don’t know why, but I happened to read the ten comments on the picture.

It was like a religious frat party, with people giving each other textual fist bumps by reminding everyone about God’s original plan for marriage and how sad it would be when the child eventually says, “I wish I had a father.” Someone ridiculed the smiling faces, conveying the tragic nature of this hypothetical union and its dangerous impact on the child’s development. Someone simply responded with, “Oh, barf!!!!!”

I’ll leave aside the fact that there are children being raised by gay couples around the world and not all of them are collapsing under the burden of self-loathing or grief. Both sides will point to various “experts” with studies that “prove” that gay couples raising children is “no harm done” OR there is irreparable damage. Whatever. Let’s just agree that there are a lot of kids out there who are going to grow up with two mommies or daddies (yes, this is a proper time to use the plural ‘daddies’).

And they’ll be just fine.

There was one voice of reason, who made the outrageous and satanic comment that “Making fun of gays is not going to help. This is a serious issue and a heated debate which deserves a thoughtful response. Insulting people is only going to burn bridges.”

One voice out of ten.

You can’t hear my sigh, but trust me, it’s a long one. (My wife can attest to this.)

The response from the page?

“We don’t believe putting adult lusts above the needs of children deserves consideration.”

Those dirty gays, sacrificing the souls of impressionable young kids on the altar of desire! /sarcasm

Full disclosure: I’m Christian, if you didn’t get that yet. I believe what the Bible says, though I understand a lot of it comes down to interpretation and theological debate. And the Bible seems to clearly identify homosexual activity as a sin.

But that’s not all it addresses.

What do I mean by that? I’ll let my response on Facebook to that picture speak for itself:

“Putting adult lusts above the needs of children is terrible, but people do it all the time. It’s just their sins are heterosexual. Or perhaps just gluttony, or alcoholism. Maybe it’s simple neglect. Maybe even it’s how some parents worship their work or ministry by devoting all their time and attention to those things while forsaking their responsibilities to their children.

“Maybe it’s the arrogance of adult Christians who forget that they’re looking down on the needs of some children out there, children who think they’re gay, who know they’re different from most everyone else, who absolutely know without any doubt that the Church is the very last place they’ll find love or acceptance (and I don’t mean acceptance of sin, but acceptance of them as a human being worthy of Christ’s sacrificial love expressed through us).

“Maybe our need to communicate how disgusting homosexuality is gets in the way of God’s desire to communicate to THEM how incredibly powerful and merciful and life-changing His love is, and maybe it gets in the way of His desire to communicate to us that in His holy sight all our sin is just as repulsive and ‘barf-worthy’ as theirs. ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’ doesn’t mean much if we don’t do it.”
I don’t want to abuse God’s mercy or call sin ‘righteous.’ That’s not within my purview.

I haven’t torn out any passages in my Bible that claim homosexuality is a sin.

The difference is that I’m paying attention to the rest of the passages too.