Monday, August 16, 2010

Inciting: I

The following is the first section of a series discussing grace and the implications of it. I want this to be more of a discussion than we usually have. This is not a claim that what is said here is the end-all-be-all rather we want to kick around how this is playing out across the church universal.


Recently I was re-watching The Matrix and was struck again by some of the conversations that take place. When Morpheus and Neo sit down and Neo is given the choice between his present realities and to know “the wool that has been pulled over your eyes your entire life”. Morpheus says something to the effect of, “You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” This may be the best scene to summarize what is happening in the church as whole right now.

Unlike Neo, I know what is wrong. Jesus is messing me up. Challenging me that I am to take his message entirely seriously.

I have thought that maybe others were noticing it too, much akin to the story of the emperor with no clothes; however, there are many who are simply oblivious to this. In a word, it is the lack of love. It is a lack of grace.

In a recent meeting- regarding youth ministry- someone summarized my thoughts for me like this, “I believe what he [Devin] is saying is that we gave people fairy tales and myths to entertain them as children, then moral teachings to conform them as teens, and when they get to their 20’s and 30’s we tell them that it is a relationship. And they either didn’t come back or don’t believe us because we already lied twice.” That meeting did not go well.

Sometimes I wonder if we really want to be like Jesus. Really? The guy is a terrible houseguest, runs off potential followers (the rich young ruler), and insults the religious establishment continuously. We say that we would like to follow his example and obey his commands- but many times disagree what that looks like.

What did Jesus command, just to clarify? When the teacher of the law is asked, he responds; “To the love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.” So the law is the law of love… not the Old Testament. Chapter five in the letter to the Galatians also addresses this in discussing the fruit of the Spirit. The verse ends with “against such things there is no law”. There is no law against loving God and loving your fellow humans.

Furthermore, we are assuming a great deal in stating that need to keep some list of man-made rules. Romans 8:1-2 states, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." … So do we have to figure out a new group of rules to keep? Or do we simply embrace the simplicity of the fact there is no longer any condemnation for the violation of the law, through and because of the blood of Jesus Christ?

It may be so hard for us to embrace this reality because there is then removed measurable achievements of thinking we “conquered” this sin or another and not viewing sin as our former selves in entirety. We are baptized fully into Christ- not one sin at a time. Victory over sin occurs because Jesus forgave you and there is no longer anything standing between you and Him.

It occurred to me that the law of the Spirit of life is the superseding law. It is higher than the law of sin and death. That's why Galatians says no other law comes against the fruit of the Spirit. It is the law of love you are speaking about and it is higher than any other law.

Even examples we could pull of “leadership expectations” (e.g. the letter to Timothy) we should examine. When Paul pens that letter to Timothy he has been walking with Timothy for 15 years. Paul planted the churches he is handing off to his protégé. The standards that Paul lays out are spoken out of relationship, of intimate knowledge, of love of both Timothy and those churches. To apply just the rules in Timothy to the church universal is to lose the principle that Paul is speaking to his spiritual son out of relationship.

So let me know what you think of Part I. Where would you like to see this conversation go?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You Always Find What You Are Looking For

"When will we acknowledge that we don't have it all together and happily accept the gift of grace? When will we grasp the thrilling truth of Paul, 'Someone is reckoned as upright not by practicing the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ.' Galatians 2:16"
-The Ragamuffin Gospel pg. 139

We all have struggles. While visiting Toronto and working with various missions the struggles were obvious: homelessness, starvation, drug addiction, alcoholism, and hopelessness. When my group came back they were excited to do similar activities in our downtown area and I affirmed that... with an addendum. We are the local church, called to serve our local area. The population of a suburb does not have any less of this disease than a downtown area- their symptoms are different and maybe even worse. Many cannot or will not change without hitting rock bottom and how do you hit rock bottom in the midst of upper-middle class careers, amiable marriages, nice homes, coffee shops, and well-policed streets? I do not envy the poor's position in the world but Jesus said, "You are blessed when you are at the end of your rope." (The Message)

I neared the end of my rope this last year in the midst of months of unemployment and relocation. Fortunately, we had family to support us, take us in, and give us opportunities. But it was humbling and evaluating all the same. It was during this time I had my "conversion to optimism". My wife handed me an article from my favorite magazine that asked the reader to name five famous cynics and- even if you could- name what the contributed to society outside of critiquing another person's work and heart.

Not long ago an article was published in a major paper documenting the effort's of a friend of mine to bring the story of Jesus into places that don't usual hear that Story... or even if they have heard think it wasn't meant for them. The story made it's way to college where some seminary and undergraduate students- before a class started- were vocally condemning my friend's efforts. Unfortunately- for this group of students- a professor stood in the back of the classroom listening. When class started he asked a series of questions, "Is what is being done really un-Christian? Do any of them know this person? Or have attended when the Story was being told? Have any of them done ANYTHING outside of be a student that works in classrooms and on theories? Have any of them had THEIR hearts torn apart by people they don't know?" ... and then he dismissed the class for the day.

A family member of mine were sitting across each other at lunch just the other day. He said sometimes "young guys" want to do things in the church that "just won't work or aren't practical". I asked him what he meant (since he is- seriously- one of the smartest people I know) because it seems like as I watch things like and TOMS those are idealistic, impractical, and unreasonable. That the entire premise of what the Rabbi calls us to is unreasonable. "That's a great point he said."

What I want to say is this: we can be cynical, angry, or apathetic but we are only going to get out what we put in. You will find hopelessness as you look for it. You will find unchangeable people as you look for them. You will find bitterness as you look for injustice. Don't give up hope- and I am preaching to myself here- keep your head up, believe that people can change, that things can improve, that joy is found in each moment of the day. You will find those things are you look for them too.

... or don't and join the legion of nameless, hopeless, and joyless cynics who will not mark the world. Your choice.

I'm making mine.

Monday, August 02, 2010

That's Too Much Freedom

Freedom is still a shocking thing. People usual believe grace and freedom for either themselves or others more. What I mean is that you fall into one of two camps: the first believes that God loves and forgives them more easily than other people; the second believes that God more easily forgives others than themselves.

When I was in college there was a guy named Mike who lived in my dorm freshman year. Mike was one of the resident assistants who were meant as mentors, guides, and rule enforcers. Many times I found him in his room, on his knees, praying to God. At the time I struggled mightily with lust and pornography and found Mike's heart something to aspire to and another way for me to feel that I wasn't quite where I should be as a follower of the Rabbi. Guilt.

A few years from that I worked at a church where- during one of my first staff meetings- the senior pastor had us meet in prayer once a month and we would pray for hours. I secretly dreaded it and felt like a like a heathen who couldn't concentrate during a two-hour prayer vigil at 23 years old. Guilt.

Not long ago a good friend of mine- after years of ministry with a holiness denomination had a near-breakdown and went to a counselor. After only a couple of sessions the counselor observed that much of his stress came from the fact that he, "believed in grace for others so much more easily than himself". Guilt.

Because so often we want believe that others are, in fact, much better people than ourselves. Their thought lives, actions, words, language, and motives are purer and further along in maturity...

Or perhaps we struggle the other direction. Some of us believe that because of the code we hold that others- especially those far from God- are not really as good as us. We have done the right things the right way- even and especially when we did not want to- and because others do not hold to our code they just are not as good as us (I mean if we were super honest about it). They just aren't as sensitive to spiritual conviction, authority, or scriptural reading.

Maybe my most disturbing conversation about all of this was between me and another pastor. As we discussed issues facing evangelicals over the next years I observed, "What if we just told people that if it's okay by what is biblical and what Jesus says and does then they can as well?"

My friend looked at me with the straightest of faces and said, "That would give people too much freedom."

The offense of the news of Jesus is two-fold: one, the claim Jesus is the only way your sin gets taken care of; and two, that- in many respects- the wild freedom of truth that claims the amount of "good" or "bad" you do simply doesn't matter when it comes to the issue of salvation.

Grace is offensive and unsafe. The workers in the field who worked for one hour and those who worked for the whole day both were payed the same wage. It isn't fair, thank God. How can we claim anything else?