Archive for the 'grace' Category

How often do we think that we are more worthy of God’s grace than the next person? While I was reading Jerry’s last post this song came to mind…

from the album “Scenic Routes” (Music and lyrics by Terry Taylor)

Politicians, morticians, Philistines, homophobes Skinheads, Dead heads, tax evaders, street kids Alcoholics, workaholics, wise guys, dim wits Blue collars, white collars, war mongers, peace nicks

Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God

Suicidals, rock idols, shut-ins, drop outs Friendless, homeless, penniless and depressed Presidents, residents, foreigners and aliens Dissidents, feminists, xenophobes and chauvinists

Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God

Evolutionists, creationists, perverts, slum lords Dead-beats, athletes, Protestants and Catholics Housewives, neophytes, pro-choice, pro-life Misogynists, monogamists, philanthropists, blacks and whites

Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God

Police, obese, lawyers, and government Sex offenders, tax collectors, war vets, rejects Atheists, Scientists, racists, sadists Biographers, photographers, artists, pornographers

Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God

Gays and lesbians, demagogues and thesbians The disabled, preachers, doctors and teachers Meat eaters, wife beaters, judges and jurys Long hair, no hair, everybody everywhere!

Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God

The Lost Dogs – ‘the society for the musically humane’ Copyright… 1992 Brainstorm Artists, Intl. Records Produced By Terry Taylor, Gene Eugene, Derri Daugherty and Mike Roe

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“For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God…” Paul to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 23

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…” John the Apostle, chapter the third, 16th verse.

Today, my attention was drawn to this post at a certain ‘that which is not to be named’ blog. It is a serious blog post. It is seriously depressing. And it is seriously stupid.

There I said it: It is stupid. I’m sorry. I feel badly about writing it, but there is simply no other way to express my outrage and heart-brokenness.

I know that is harsh and mean and if anyone from ‘that side’ bothers to comment on this post they will most certainly point out that I ‘missed the point’ or that I am ‘ignorant of the facts’ or that I am ‘a stupid non-Christian who is so unconcerned about abortion and the plight of the unborn that I ought to be defrocked (even though I was never frocked to begin with) and run out of the church to the tune of tar, feathers, pitchforks, torches and labeled anathema.’ To be sure, ‘they’ will probably point out that Jesus does not approve of what I am about to write in this post because Jesus hates abortion.

There I said it: The post is stupid.

I am willing to run the risk that I might be labeled by others in order to point out the sheer stupidity of the post mentioned above.

Did I mention the post is stupid? It has been a long, long time since I read something so incredibly insensitive at a blog claiming to be a voice for the Kingdom of God. I’m sorry. I’m desperately trying to be objective and compassionate. Can’t. Can’t. Can’t. I have read the post four or five times now trying, searching, scanning for hope and I just cannot find it. The most hope we can expect out of this post is that we might enjoy some ‘hauntingly beautiful hymn-like‘ music. If an expectant single-mother or a suddenly pregnant husband and wife swimming in debt is debating her/their pregnancy right now read that post, she/they would be left despairing and hopeless; feeling nothing but condemnation.

There is nothing about the Gospel. Nothing about the hope of Christ. Nothing about the penal substitutionary atonement death of Jesus. Nothing about forgiveness of sins. Nothing about grace. Nothing about repentance. Nothing about the new heavens and new earth. Nothing about resurrection. For someone who writes so passionately, so wonderfully about the damnable offense that is abortion, I just cannot believe that there is no mention of hope for forgiveness. No mention of reconciliation. No mention of peace in Christ. No reconciliation. No ransom. No redemption. No substitution. Just condemnation. *Shakes head.*

For someone who so frequently castigates preachers and churches and bloggers for not including a (the) message of the Gospel, I cannot believe the best there is to offer in that particular post is that we might get some good music out of it at the end of the day. No mention whatsoever of how people who have had abortions can be forgiven and changed by the work of Christ Jesus. (As if a purely moralized America is equivalent to the Kingdom of God.)


I’d like to begin by noting a few things for the careful reader of and Analysis. You may not agree entirely, but I’ll bet we are close. What I’d like to do, is offer the invitation here, at and Analysis, that was not offered at SOL. I begin, however, elsewhere:

  • It is wrong to steal.
  • It is wrong to have gay sex.
  • It is wrong to lie.
  • It is wrong to cheat.
  • It is wrong to fornicate.
  • It is wrong to commit adultery.
  • It is wrong to be racist.
  • It is wrong to get drunk.
  • It is wrong to be gluttonous.
  • It is wrong to murder.
  • It is wrong to get an abortion.
  • It is wrong to lust.
  • It is wrong to lie about the preacher.
  • It is wrong to abuse your spouse or children.
  • It is wrong to worship idols.
  • It is wrong kidnap.
  • It is wrong to disobey your parents.
  • It is wrong to swindle.
  • It is wrong to be greedy.
  • It is wrong to rape.

Yes. Yes. I could go on and on and on. I agree with the post at SOL: Abortion is a heinous, despicable, vile, disgusting offense. I don’t know anyone here who disagrees with that assessment. Those things mentioned above are wrong; they are sin, abortion included.

But it is not the unforgivable sin. Never has been. Never will be. In the crazy economy of the kingdom of God, a person could have 490 abortions in one day and repent and God, in his mercy and grace, would forgive that person because of Jesus Christ. I mean, why wouldn’t he since he expects us to do nothing less? I don’t think God expects people to do things that he himself isn’t willing to do. Thus, forgiveness.

Abortion is not an unforgivable sin.

None of the things I mentioned is the or an unforgivable sin.


Friends, we have ample evidence in our world of all the things that are wrong with us and all the things we do badly and all the sin we have committed and all the idols we have worshiped and all the judgment we have invited into our lives and all the times we have crucified Christ all over again and again and again…

We have sufficient testimony to all the grievous destruction that our sin has wrought upon this earth.

We have enough people pointing out the sin that plagues the United States of America and Russia and England and Brazil and Antarctica and, well, you get the point.

Jesus did not tell us to go around moralizing did he? (This is not rhetorical.)

I’m not even sure he told us to go around pointing out sin, although, when the Gospel is properly preached I think that sin will necessarily be a part of the discussion. After all, it is terribly difficult to call folks to repentance if some mention of sin has not happened.

Jesus did tell us to go and preach the good news, the Gospel. “…He gave them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick…So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the Good News and healing people everywhere” (Luke 9:12, 6).

We have good news! We are told to preach good news! Where’s the Good News in the SOL post? A musical legacy? For one who spends a lot of time criticizing the lack of Gospel in churches and pulpits, the post is decidedly barren of any hope and Gospel. Shall we merely criticize and condemn those who have had abortions or shall we offer them the hope of Christ Crucified and Resurrected?


Is there any hope for those who were the subject of the SOL post?

I hate to write this post, but the bottom line is that I have decided that I will make it my life’s ambition to teach the grace of God every chance I get. I want to find 100,000 ways to say: God forgives you in and because of Jesus Christ. I hate writing this post because some might conclude that I am not opposed to abortion, but that would be to miss my point. I am very opposed to abortion, but I also realize that people sin and that it was the sick, weak, broken, hurting, desperate sinners, like me, whom Christ came to save, redeem, ransom, and atone for.

Jesus didn’t come to condemn; why do we think he has assigned us that role?

The author of the SOL post did a great job pointing out a great sin, but the problem with the post is simple: She gave us a great picture of a moralized America where everyone plays in an orchestra or knits flags and worships at the throne of conservative politicians. It’s a powerful picture, but it is not necessarily one Christ has drawn. It is a terrible problem, but there was no solution offered. What’s the point of ranting about the problem when there is no solution offered at all?

She didn’t give us a picture of the Kingdom of God. She gave us a picture of her moralized America where there is condemnation for every perpetrator and no hope whatsoever.

The author would have us condemn all who have had abortions and reject them as mere weak Americans who lack courage and are interested only in their bank balance and credit card statements. Christ would welcome them into his kingdom as the very ones he came to save precisely because they are greedy, murderous, and lack the intestinal fortitude to be self-controlled–because they are sinners! Well, of course they are. That’s normally what happens when people do not know or have rejected Christ.

So here I offer what the author of Slice did not offer: Hope. If you have ever had an abortion or over-spent on your credit cards, if you have filed bankruptcy because you have no self-control, if you are a coward, if you are hopeless and think you are running on empty, if you have no where to go and you think you are out of options–there’s hope. There’s grace. There’s forgiveness of your sins. Christ has payed the price for your sins. There’s Good News! Christ has not rejected you. There’s still hope! There’s still a message of peace and forgiveness to you because of Jesus. Christ will take away your guilt. Christ will heal your wounds. Christ will save you from the hopeless, endless cycle of condemnation and death.

You can join us, all us sinners here, all us imperfect, unkempt, undone, depressed, forgiven-by-God sinners here. We welcome you to join in the story that Christ is writing and has written. We welcome you to taste and see that His Grace is Good. We welcome you to be forgiven in the Name of Jesus.

“…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” The same Paul, to the same Romans, chapter 3, verse 24.

“…For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” the same John the Apostle, the same third chapter, the 17th verse.

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NOTE: This is a post I published last night on my personal blog.  I had decided to only publish it there (where my readers tend to be almost exclusively the friendly type), but since then I’ve had a few responses and some additional life events which have led me to change my mind.

One event, in particular, tipped my change of mind – I found out that a friend of mine from college took his life a few weeks ago.  I don’t know if depression was a factor, but from what details I could find, it appeared to be that way (which it is in a high % of adult suicides).  As such, I decided to post this here on .Info, as the readership is much wider, and the chance of someone going through something similar is greater – and one of the most important things to learn is that you’re not alone, and that you need to talk to others when you’re going through something like this…



sad doggieI know I’ve mentioned this in the past, but I don’t think I’ve ever centered an article on it. For (at least) the past ten years or so, I’ve struggled with seasonal depression that (almost like clockwork) hits like a wave during February/March, sometimes lingering on into April. Over the years, I’ve found different ways of dealing with it, though I just really wish it would go away.

The Feeling of Depression

In trying to describe how it feels when it comes on, it is like I am no longer able to process any strong emotions. I know how to act like I’m feeling them (ex-theatre major), but it’s just not there. I’m also fairly sure that if you’re close enough to look me in the eye, you might pick up that I’m faking it, but I try to prevent that from happening.

Imagine that you’ve got wool gloves taped to your hands, steamed eyeglasses, ear muffs, a mostly-functional nose-clip, and cotton-mouth. Now, imagine walking around like that 24/7 for about a month or two. Now, apply that to your emotions, and you might be getting the idea.

You wish you could feel, and you try to feel, but no matter how much you act like you feel, the feeling just doesn’t come. Time slows down to a crawl, which just leads to impatience and frustration, which slows it down all the more. You wonder if it is unresolved (or non-convicted) sin in your life, usually convinced that it is. If anyone’s to blame, it’s got to be you, you think…

Some Additional Down-Sides

This looks how I sometimes feelOne of the downsides of this feeling is that guilt tends to pile up pretty quickly – no matter what you do. You really don’t want to tell anyone how you feel, because you know it will bring them down – and you don’t want to be a downer to everyone else. (FYI: This is probably the fourth draft of this article, and I’m still not sure I’ll hit “Publish”.)

You’re also not really looking for an outpouring of sympathy, especially if you realize (as I do) how good you’ve got life – a wife, four kids, two dogs, a good job, a great church family, some talent at what you enjoy doing. And as you realize how good you have it, your guilt at feeling depressed just compounds the feeling. In your head, you are greatly troubled by the plight of those less fortunate, your heart bleeds for them, but the feeling of powerlessness frustrates you all the more.

You feel lonely, even if you’re surrounded by people, and all the more guilty if someone figures you out. Because you’re feeling so impatient with the passing of time, you tend to feel distant and you likely are somewhat irritable or aloof when people talk to you, even though you might feel on the verge of tears (since it would be such a relief if they actually would flow w/o any help from you).

One thing I’ve learned from those much wiser than me, who I’ve let in on this secret, is that probably the most important thing to your healing is just naming it and telling someone else about it. Before I did this, I found myself doing and saying things that I knew were wrong/insensitive/risky just to see if I could somehow force myself to feel.

If I could only get someone to yell at me, I might respond in kind and actually feel angry! But that doesn’t work. It only makes others mad and you, and drives you deeper down.

If I could only get someone to love me more, I might feel it break through. But that only lead to frustration, strained relationships and a loss of love.

If I could only escape into my own world, I might love it there. But that only leads to more loneliness and isolation.

If I could only increase the risk & excitement in my life, I might actually feel deeply excited. But it only hurts the ones I love and risks things that ought not be risked.

If I could only end it all… but that’s not a good solution, either. It would just be selfishness and an expansion of the callousness I come to feel. (For the record, kind reader, I was only there once, before I began to heal).

“If I could only” … only leads to more pain, more lonliness, and more loss of feeling.

So what has worked?

For me, admitting it to those close to me has brought a sense of relief. By talking to them about it, we become closer. They don’t always say the right things, or helpful things, but in the process, you start to learn that you’re not unloved.

Rich's feetFinding others who struggle with depression has been a boon to me, because you start to learn that you’re not alone – even if you might feel like it. (If I do publish this, it will likely be so that if someone out there also feels like this, they’ll know they’re not alone.) That feeling of having a kindred spirit doesn’t necessarily make the feeling (or lack of feeling) go away, but it makes bearing it a little lighter.

Admitting it to God (sometimes harder than admitting it to friends) is hard, and giving it to Him (when I’ve been able to do it, which I don’t think has happened yet here in 2009) allows you to become close, but it’s oh, so scary. So scary. At least for me. That loss of control? I want to own it, and I don’t want to give it up. It’s just not always in me to let it go. It’s the gap between knowing what’s good for you and being able to do what’s good for you. Kind of like following the doc’s advice to exercise more and eat less.

In some ways, I am reminded of Rich Mullins’ paraphrase of Psalm 139 -

Where could I go, where could I run
Even if I found the strength to fly
And if I rose on the wings of the dawn
And crashed through the corner of the sky
If I sailed past the edge of the sea
Even if I made my bed in Hell
Still there You would find me

‘Cause nothing is beyond You
You stand beyond the reach
Of our vain imaginations
Our misguided piety
The heavens stretch to hold You
And deep cries out to deep
Singing that nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You

Time cannot contain You
You fill eternity
Sin can never stain You
Death has lost its sting

And I cannot explain the way You came to love me
Except to say that nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You

If I should shrink back from the light
So I can sink into the dark
If I take cover and I close my eyes
Even then You would see my heart

And You’d cut through all my pain and rage
The darkness is not dark to You
And night’s as bright as day

Nothing is beyond You
You stand beyond the reach
Of our vain imaginations
Our misguided piety
The heavens stretch to hold You
And deep cries out to deep
Singing that nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You

And time cannot contain You
You fill eternity
Sin can never stain You
And death has lost its sting

And I cannot explain the way You came to love me
Except to say that nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You

It’s a Process

Some of you who’ve known me for years know that I used to do a bit of composing, and that I’d play the piano for hours a day. I still keep up well enough to play for my church community’s worship each week, but it’s been years since I’ve been able to write music. It’s like a switch flipped some time ago, and even in the good times, that well of feeling from which I pulled tunes, tears and tomes of lyrics was boarded over.

I don’t know if it will ever be un-boarded, but I have learned to be thankful with what I have, to love those who love me, and to care about those who don’t.

But I still, so often, truly feel powerless.

The one area that has ignited that spark I once felt comes from the sense of injustice I feel when I see Christian brothers and sisters attacked unjustly, particularly by those within the church (who ought to know better). It is that spark that led me to approach some other writers with similar feelings about this injustice and to start doing something about it.

In some ways, this experience has reminded me of Galatians 6:

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.

It is a balance – being gentle with those struggling with pain and sin, and helping them to carry their burden. Not thinking too much of yourself. Avoiding comparisons with how someone does it so much better than you do (or the opposite). And, over time, learning to carry your load, so that you can help others carry theirs.


This year, in some ways, is better than other years – I recognize the feeling, and I’ve been able to be open about it. I’ve actually felt like writing about it, and I’m contemplating (for real) hitting “publish” (and if you’re reading this, I must have done so).

The numbness came, right on schedule, in February, but it was not as bad as before after speaking a little bit about it at the Great Banquet at my church. It’s funny, but a crisis at work happened about the same time, and I received a lot of positive feedback for maintaining a level head in the crisis. So, I can actually count this struggle as something beneficial when the time is right, I guess.

The full wave hit last week, right when my wife was leaving to help care for her mother (who broke her knee – please pray for her!) out in Colorado. But I talked to her about it, and she’s been calling me to encourage me.

I’ve written about it – and at least imagined publishing it – hoping I might be able to help someone else, and that, in doing so, I might feel healing in return.

I’m still working on giving it up to God. And to be completely frank, it is not going really well. I know I need to, but I don’t really know what it looks like, and I’ve forgotten (I think) how it feels to do so.

When my daughter, Aria, had open heart surgery 9 years ago, God granted me a sense of peace that it was all in His hands. I knew there was not a thing I could do, so it was all going to be up to Him to take care of. And I felt at peace.

But when I’m the ‘patient’, I can’t/won’t give it up to the Great Physician with any ease. I’ve got bottomless pools of “blame” and “the need for control” that are so hard to swim across without drowning. Can He take care of it? I’m sure He can.

Do I have enough humility – will I be able to deal with the loss of pride – to not take care of this on my own?

I hope so.

But I’m just not there yet…

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As I was driving into work this morning, I pulled up Charlie Hall’s September through November album on my Ipod, and I was brought back to the evening I was in attendance when he was doing this tour a few years ago.  The one thing that I remember most vividly was that his keyboard player read a meditation on Isaiah 9 that just blew me away.  I know that Isaiah 9 is a passage we normally associate with Christmas, but I think it’s even more applicable now as we are in the Lenten season heading toward Easter.  The following is the meditation piece just captures the heart of the Gospel in a way that is simply beautiful.   It was written by Joshua Banner (I hope that is the correct link), whom I sadly know little about.  Anyway, I hope it’s a blessing to you.

Meditation on Isaiah 9
by Joshua Banner

Unto us a child is born
unto all of us
unto the widow
unto the homeless
the addict
the AIDS patient
unto us the football captain
and the drag queen
unto us the politician
the factory blue collar
us the single mother
the crack baby
and unto us the affluent suburbanite
unto us the Goth
the hippie
the rocker
the alternative and underground
unto us in Hollywood and on Madison Avenue
and unto all of us in between
unto us in the gutters of Calcutta
unto the Muslim
and the Jew
the Buddhist
the Krishna and the Hindu
unto us the fatherless
unto the heavenly fatherless

For unto us a child is born
a son is given
and a secret revolution begun.
This is what the prophets had been preparing for.

They said his name would be,
“Most Beautiful Wisdom”
“the Highest of Heaven’s Secrets”

his name would be
“the God who continually bends over backwards for you”
“the God who gets down on his hands and knees”
“the God who would become silly and mis-understood”
“the God who would be mocked- – the God whose name
would be taken in vain.”

He would be called
“the God of underdogs”

“the God of the powerless and unspiritual”

“the God of those who cannot pray or fast”

And there would be no end to him and his
underdog weaklings or their secret
there would be no end even
while the nations continue to rage on
even as ethnos rises against ethnos
even as valleys are filled with dead bones
and rivers run with blood
even as violence runs through our streets
and schools and hearts
covering us like a thick fog
Even in this dark land of weak people
the God who bends over backwards
will shine forth like a great light
as the dawning of a new day
letting his secret spread forth with healing and joy.

Drop the mirror and let it shatter
Crush the hourglass and stop the clocks ticking
stand still
hold your breath
your wildest dreams.
Sell everything and buy the farm
Come with me, cover your eyes and hold out your hands
stop your weeping
stop your groans
the fast is over.

Let the celebration begin
the father has come
He has sent his son
Unto us He has been born
even unto us.

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I linked to the three blog posts you will read about in this post by hopping over to Twenty-Two Words. I was intrigued by Piper’s title: Imagine What it’s Like to be Both Homosexual and Christian Before Offering a Fix. Well, most of us will probably say: I’ve never thought of it that way. I don’t think Piper is saying we should sit back on our comfortably Christian couches and fantasize about homosexual acts. I do think what he is saying is: How do you live, knowing you are a sinner who struggles with your own pet issue, and a Christian too? How do you live with the contradiction? How do you live as a hyphenated Christian? How do you live with the paradox? At minimum, Piper is suggesting that such a paradox is possible in the church. On this point, I believe he is correct.

Do you ask people for solutions to your voyeurism? Do you ask people for solutions to your alcoholism? Do you ask people for solutions to your pride? Do you ask people for solutions to your lust? Do you ask people for solutions to your anger? Your hatred? Your racism? Your greed? Your gluttony? And when you get answers, do you take offense at the happy, Sunday-School, answers that sound something like: “Oh, just look to Jesus and it will all go away. Then you will be all better.” If you don’t, I think you should. The struggle goes much deeper and oftentimes we are ‘out in the wilderness’ facing the devil. The nights are long; the food scarce; the temptations great. Jesus is the right direction, but sometimes we cry, “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachtani.” Sometimes we are frightfully alone.


Imagine what it’s like to be both racist and a Christian before offering a fix to a racist. Imagine what it’s like to be both greedy and a Christian before offering a fix to a greedy person. Imagine what it’s like to be both egomaniac and Christian before offering a fix to an arrogant person. Imagine, if you dare, replacing the word ‘homosexual’ with ‘adulterer’ or ‘drug addict’ or ‘compulsive gambler.’ However, this may not do. Misty Irons writes:

But the downside of “homosexuality is just like any other sin” is that this naturally leads people to say to someone like Wesley, “Well then, why can’t you deal with your sin the way I do? Pray for victory, seek God’s face, put off the old man and put on the new. And why do you ‘need’ love from the church body over this? Isn’t the love of God in Christ sufficient for you? And aren’t you being defeatist by calling yourself a Homosexual Christian? I don’t identify with my sin by calling myself an Angry Christian or a Lying Christian.”

For this reason, I have never completely agreed with the “homosexuality is like any other sin” approach. Among those desires and compusions [sic.] that we call sin, I believe homosexuality belongs in a unique category of its own. And while it often helps to understand the involuntary nature of homosexual attraction by comparing it with lust, anger, covetousness, and so forth, at the same time it is critical to understand homosexuality as more a condition than merely a desire or compulsion. “Condition” as in: we are all born into this world in a fallen condition in Adam, which no human effort is going to alter prior to the bodily resurrection [sic.] (Misty Irons)

Do the patented, thoroughly biblical answers work? Is it enough to pray? Is it enough to seek God’s face? Is it enough to be caught up in worship? Does this make all the cares, worries, struggles, and fears go away? Does it end your loneliness? You know as well as I do that it ends them for a day or two or less and then you are right back at it again: lusting, drinking, watching; sinning. Tell me, how do we live in victory when we know we are habitual failures? Her solution?

If every straight person were to stop for five minutes and truly consider the extent to which their own heterosexual orientation has permeated every aspect of the way they have been thinking, feeling and relating to the world since the second grade, and then imagine what it would be like to struggle to suppress every aspect of their heterosexuality all day, every day for years on end, no one would be asking homosexuals questions like, “Why can’t you get a grip on your loneliness?” “Can’t you ever get over labeling yourself ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’?” “Why can’t you just turn to God for love?”

Instead more people would be saying, “Tell me what it’s like to be you.” “What can I do to help you make it through today?” “Do you have a free evening to go grab a burger with me?” (Misty Irons)

Read the rest of this entry »

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A First Sunday of Lent Reflection

“When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:17)

I like to wonder sometimes exactly what life was like ‘inside the narratives.’ Man, I have been reading these stories in the Bible since I learned how to read. Trouble with me is that I have never spent a day outside the church. There’s never been a doubt. That’s not to say I didn’t wander at times-for large swaths of time. It is to say, however, that ‘church’ has always been my life. I knew, or at least had inklings, that I would be a preacher from a very early age of my life (like around the age of 6 or 7 when I ‘preached’ to my school bus driver one day after another student got all excited about finding a dollar bill on the floor.) So I like to wonder and wander. I stay near the center, but like one of our bloggers here says, I try to stay close enough to the edge to matter.

I mean it must have been crazy living in those days and experiencing what they experienced. Who can understand it? All of the sudden a man walks up to John the Baptist and asks to be baptized. The next day John points at him and says, “Behold the Lamb of God!” which is something closer to, “Hey, you people, you people, wake the hell up and look at the One God has provided! Shake yourselves out of your stupor and Look at this One among you! If you can believe it, if you can accept it: The Lamb of God!” I’m sure not a few laughed a serious belly laugh that day. If the eleven could stand on the mountain with Jesus after his death, burial, and resurrection and doubt what they saw then imagine how it must have been for those that day when John simply said, “Behold!”

“They worshiped…some doubted.” Doubted. Indeed. They worshiped; some doubted. Yet none were excluded, all were commissioned. And Jesus, perhaps not ironically, didn’t condemn them for doubting.

Commenting on the book The Resurrection of the Body LaVonne Neff writes, “This, I think, is the book’s chief charm: it re-creates some of the bewilderment people surely felt in Jerusalem during the weeks following Jesus’ crucifixion.” Bewilderment? That’s an understatement. She titled her book review “Giving Up Certainty for Lent.” When I first saw it I thought, “Ha!” Then I wondered, “Do I have the courage to give up certainty…forever…until at last my eyes behold him?”

But you know what? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Struggling mightily to overcome something inside that has stirred up all sorts of strange feelings and ideas. And I cannot (overcome it). It’s that perpetual ‘what if?’ I don’t like it because, and this is the truth: I don’t have the courage to doubt. I like certainty, knowing. I like the world devoid of doubt. I don’t like uncertainty. I don’t like thinking: Oh my God, what if I am wrong? What if my wrong is too much? What if I am not right enough? Of course, this is where grace comes in and rescues us. It doesn’t matter how hard I try to outrun grace. I can’t. I. Can’t.

You know how much courage it must have taken for those disciples standing right next to the resurrected Jesus to worship and doubt? Sadly, we have made it the job of theologians and preachers and apologists to work hard, ever so hard, to go about erasing all those doubts instead of creating a space where that worship and those doubts are held in tension. We feel like we need to fill the void that exists between worship and doubt. Jesus said, “You believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” What he didn’t say is, “Blessed are those who have the courage to eliminate all doubts in order to believe” (John 13:29). But Jesus also said, “Stop doubting and believe” (John 13:27). Yet, Matthew 28:17 evidently occurs after this exhortation. I’m not interested in the nature of or the reason for their doubt. All I know is that Matthew had the courage to tell us that even those theological behemoths had the courage to doubt–standing right next to Jesus no doubt.

William Willimon wryly notes, “God is proved only by God’s speaking, not through natural theology arguments of God’s existence. Since the unbeliever lacks the one requisite for true knowledge, that is, faith, there is no wonder why apologetics, which tries to get around the need for faith, doesn’t work. Where God fails to convince the unbeliever, there is little that we can do to convince” (Conversations with Barth on Preaching, 178). That’s not all. It gets worse, far worse:

“The only means we have of making sense of the gospel is Christ. Apologetics tends to speak and reason as if the cross and resurrection of Christ were incidental to comprehension of what we have to say, as if Christian claims can be comprehensible even if one rejects the Christian world. In other words, if we ever devised an effective apologetics that enabled us to present the Christian faith without recourse to a God who speaks for himself, then all we would have done is, through our apologetics, convinced people that there is no God who speaks. To put it in another way, apologetics is a sort of backhanded way of saying that what we believe about God is not really true. We have no weapon to defend Christ; he can only defend himself. We have no weapon to defend Christ; he can only defend himself. We have no ‘knock down’ arguments for Christ; he himself is the only argument” (Conversations, 178)

What? Not one? Upon what shall I base my, uh, belief then? Faith? Pshaw! Thus the door is open to doubt. And doubt opens the door to faith. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” and “the righteous one will live by faith.”

I have a confession to make: I wish I had that kind of faith. That is, I wish I had the courage to doubt. I wish I had the intestinal fortitude to doubt, say, the literal reading of certain books of the Bible. Part of the ongoing experiment that God undertook when he called me was to lead me to the sort of faith that gives me the courage to doubt. In this I have discovered why I went from being an avid reader and cheerleader for certain blogs to fierce opponent: that which is based upon absolute certainty is not based on faith; that which has all the answers has not asked enough questions, let alone the right questions; that which knows and sees beyond doubt cannot be that which lives by faith or perhaps has passed on from this world already. Only that which is found in confusion, perplexity and doubt can truly be said to be that which is by faith. It’s like believing in bodily resurrection and still having the courage to be cremated. It’s like believing in bodily resurrection, being cremated, and still having the courage to have your ashes scattered in the wind.

I guess even that kind of faith has courage to face death doesn’t it?

You know where certainty comes from though, right? It comes from fear: Bold, unashamed, unmitigated fear. It comes from the sort of fear that actually prevents us from growing. It is the sort of fear that stagnates us, leaves us on the plateau of certainty. Fear is, I’m convinced, the catalyst for works righteousness and the complete abandonment of faith as life and grace as salvation. Fear believes it is saved because of certainty. Faith believes it is saved in spite of doubts.

Doubts don’t arise from fear, but faith. I’m not talking about the sort of doubt that leads to apostasy or blasphemy. I’m talking about the sort of doubt that can only lead to faith. I’m talking about the sort of faith that doesn’t resort to mere apologetics but is willing to live in the place between worship and doubt, between seeing and not seeing, between wisdom and foolishness, between weakness and strength.

I have a confession to make. God is leading me there and the journey is not easy and not without resistance from me. I like certainty. I like answers. I like knowing. I told someone in a thread the other day, “I’m not confused at all.” Well, that was a lie I told to cover up all sorts of fears, not to cover up all sorts of doubts. I wish now I hadn’t said that. Doubt is not sin. Doubt doesn’t necessarily lead to death, but perhaps it does lead to a deeper faith in the One who overcomes death.

God is leading me to a place where I don’t have to be right. He is leading me to a place where I can be wrong. He is leading me to the place where He is, to Jesus. Being courageous enough to doubt, to live in uncertainty, to not know all the answers, is the courage to live in His grace and find it sufficient. Doubt, then, is the catalyst for salvation by grace, and grace alone.

You could say I lost my faith in science and progress
You could say I lost my belief in the holy church
You could say I lost my sense of direction
You could say all of this and worse but

If I ever lose my faith in you
There’d be nothing left for me to do.

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One of the reasons I am convinced that the ADM’s of the blogosphere are not, have not, and cannot be ministers in any useful sense (such as located, local church ministry) is because of the very nature of the ‘work’ they do. So at the Boar’s Head Tavern, Paul McCain wrote:

But it got me to thinking. Where is the line between pathological negativity and the necessary identification of error? And it got me to thinking, when am I so caught up in finding wrong that I miss what is right [my emphasis]

People who are ‘in’ ministry simply cannot engage in the nefarious ‘work’ of unbridled criticism. Why? Because those who are ‘in’ ministry know all too well the rigors of the ministry. Why? Because those ‘in’ ministry understand all too well how much the criticism hurts and, to be sure, how much of it is nonsense and simply untrue. Why? Because those called to ministry had better have a profound working theology of grace.

I think it is tremendously important to keep ministry in perspective because ministry done by ‘ministers.’ Ministers, those who are of that un-hallowed club of so-called professional clergy, are necessarily weak, fragile, broken, and nervous people. Did you catch that? People. I think it is this ‘person’ aspect that is altogether forgotten when it comes to preachers of the Gospel. Preachers, or ‘ministers’, are simply forbidden, however subtly, to be human.

Ministers are not allowed to make mistakes, lose their temper, have bad days, or sin. Ministers are called upon by congregations to be the most legalistic bunch of Christians there is. Preachers are expected to live by the rules and die by the rules; preach the rules; expound the rules. (Sadly, most preachers are not allowed to actually enforce the rules and when they do, well…use your imagination.) When preachers start talking about grace, asking for grace, or offering grace that’s when congregations, and ADM’s, start getting really antsy.

Ministers are the leaders, so we’re told, and if they fail somehow, preach a bad sermon, be at all emotional, or discouraged…well, we can’t have that because ‘we’ might lose those folks who visited the church on Sunday. It’s much better for the preacher to be fake and have those visitors think everything is alright than for the preacher to be real and risk that they might go to the church down the road. Personally speaking, the dehumanizing of humans who preach is one of the most insidious of all the services provided by the ADM’s of the church, both those in the blogosphere and those in the pew.

A blog friend of mine, Jason Goroncy, posted an absolutely brilliant post at his blog the other day titled: The Scandal of Weak Leadership: A Sermon on 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10. I think you should read it and be encouraged, especially if you stand week after week in any kind of pulpit. In the post, Jason wrote:

This is the sort of ad that I can imagine the church in Corinth writing. How disappointed they must have been when they got Paul! He was not the eloquent speaker for which they had hoped. Instead of providing the ’strong’ leadership they wanted, he treated them with gentleness. And while he was prepared to teach about spiritual gifts, he hardly ever talked about his own ’spiritual’ experiences, even less gloat about them. And rather than mixing with the influential, he insulted them. Even worse – he would not take their money!

Instead of getting Arnold Schwarzenegger or Napoleon or Takaroa, in Paul the Corinthians were given a weak, sick, persecuted, afflicted and bruised human being. And then to add insult to injury, Paul had the audacity to tell them that his weakness was actually proof that he was genuine!  [Are you kidding me?--jerry]


And as for that mysterious ‘thorn in the flesh’, who knows? The commentators have a field day here: Paul had a theological opponent; Paul had an unbelieving wife; Paul had poor eyesight; Paul had homosexual urges; Paul had malaria – all of which are possibilities, but must remain speculations. Whatever it was, and however much Paul at times wished it removed, it served as a constant reminder to him that the integrity and effectiveness of his ministry would rest not on his worthiness or credentials but on God’s grace.

There’s that word again: Grace! Jason’s paragraph that follows the above quote is simply beyond words in its brilliance. Here’s a snippet: “Here is grace’s way – that God has a deliberate policy of positive discrimination towards nobodies, that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor and that the earth will be inherited by the meek.”  Yet the ADM’s of the blogosphere and pew continue to believe that weakness is just that: weakness. They refuse to see weakness for what it is: God’s grace.

I love God’s grace. It is no mystery to me any longer why last year I was able to take one seminary class and it was Doctrine of Grace. It is one thing to know grace. It is something else entirely to experience it, believe it, and conduct oneself in accordance with what one has believed and experienced. In my estimation, there are some people in the world of blogs who simply have not experienced or believed God’s grace. I’m convinced of it. Furthermore, they simply do not understand that in their fervor to protect God’s orthodoxy, they are destroying the ones called to proclaim it.

I wonder who is really held captive?

The coup de grace, where power-criticism is finally silenced, comes at the end when Jason quotes from Henri Nouwen, (*sarcasm* alert) which I know automatically disqualifies the sermon as orthodox and legitimate. Still, it is worth repeating and perhaps committing to memory:

The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross … Here we touch the most important quality of Christian leadership in the future. It is not a leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest … To come to Christ is to come to the crucified and risen One. The life-giving apostle embodies in himself the crucifixion of Jesus in the sufferings and struggles he endures as he is faithful and obedient to his Lord. So Paul preaches the crucified and risen Jesus, and he embodies the dying of Jesus in his struggles to further point to the Savior. His message is about the cross and his life is cruciform, shaped to look like the cross … I leave you with the image of the leader with outstretched hands, who chooses a life of downward mobility. It is the image of the praying leader, the vulnerable leader, and the trusting leader. May that image fill your hearts with hope, courage, and confidence. [Henri J.M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (New York: Crossroad, 1989), 62-3, 70, 73.]

So be encouraged you who preach or you who find yourself at the barrel end of an ADM AK-47. You are in good company. I send this blog post out to all those who have found themselves the subject of negative or critical or downright hateful blog posts this week. I send it out to all those who have no voice of their own or who cannot defend themselves or choose not to. I also thank Jason for writing this sermon and preaching it.

And finally, a word to the ADM’s of the church, both in blogs and pews, learn about God’s grace. I promise it will free you from that nagging, persistent feeling you have that your ‘ministry’ is to stand guard at the door of God’s throne room in order to prevent any weak, sinful, decrepit loser from finding God’s grace time and time again. It will free you to be so caught up beholding what is right that you won’t even have time to look for what is wrong.

Soli Deo Gloria!!

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