Tuesday, February 25, 2014

No "...and then..."

I attended the Liberate Conference in Fort Lauderdale a few days ago.  I found myself having mixed feelings when this conference about the gospel at times felt similar to the trade shows that I have attended for work.  I know that that is just me and is a by product of all Conferences of any kind, of course.   You can take Man's work out of the Gospel but you can't really take the works of Man out of the Gospel Conference.

I also couldn't help but think, when looking at the One Way Love banner, that someone unfamiliar with the idea that this is emphasizing God, who is at the giving end of the arrow....might see this as an arrow pointing TO what is most important....us and the conference and the power and greatness of what we are accomplishing here.


And that is something that I took from several speakers at the conference, such as Dave Zahl and Tullian.  Even our "getting the Gospel" is food for accomplishment hungry humans to satiate our "I've got it now" mentality. 

I need to listen to the talks again, because my memory is so poor, but I remember that my radar went on high when I heard it recognized that we can and probably are, even here, using Grace as a tool to find more self-justification.  While there were some words of Evangelical Fire-lighting for getting a more profound walk with God...I got the sense that some speakers really wanted to move the Gospel far away from the billowing smoke of the work-factory.  To present God's Help for us as complete, finished, necessary and as deep-reaching as the most needy of us can possibly bury ourselves in helplessness and failure.  Good News for me.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Jack Miller was a friend of my parents.  He was, of course more than that, but that is my connection to him.  My only memory of him is a visit when he was at our house and I walked from our back porch towards the sliding doors and slammed into the glass door which I completely didn't see.  It is possible that was not Jack Miller but someone else, but I am going with that memory.

I heard Jack Miller tell a story on an old cassette tape from the 70's that I since lost and regret not having.  It was a great illustration to me about my lack of control over my own choices, desires and compulsions.  I told this story at the first AA meeting I chaired with little response other than someone saying "I didn't get that story", so hopefully it goes better here.

Jack's wife, Rose Marie, had a sister who was mentally retarded.  She owned a pet bird that had escaped from its cage and was flying around the house.  In her efforts to catch her bird, Jack watched her slowly approach the bird, hands extended.  When she had inched her way close to the bird, about two feet away, she would suddenly lunge at the bird...missing it as it flew away from her premature capture attempt.  Finally Jack intervened, having seen what the mistake was, he was certain that he would be successful in not doing the same thing.  He waited until the bird landed and settled down.  Slowly he approached the bird with his hands extended and on the tape Jack says "...and when I got about two feet away from the bird, do you know what I felt?  An irresistible urge to lunge!"  And then he laughed.

It is quite amazing how we feel that if we only knew what to do, if we had the knowledge, we could then do it.  We make choices all of the time and it is the most common thing in the world to believe that we have complete freedom in our choices.  We don't seem to recognize the vast influences that actually affect our ability to choose things.  All kinds of compulsions and desires drive our lives and decisions, compulsions that make mastering ourselves to be something that is, in reality, quite elusive.  Admitting that we are, in so many ways, very helpless and powerless is always the beginning point of diverting our focus from ourselves and our own power...to something outside of ourselves and a greater power. 

And it is important to see that this help is not a tool to becoming the "best that we can be"...we need more than a tool, we need the carpenter himself.  It is a simple cry of help from someone who has realized that they need rescue.  Not teaching, not a workout program, not a list of rules to follow, not a new diet, not the power of positive thinking...but rescue that comes in the form that the rescuer determines, not us.  Drowning people don't instruct their lifeguards, they simple reach out their hands in weakness.  In a very real way, we live our lives as that drowning person...always reaching out, always needing rescue, always looking outside of ourselves for those things that we don't possess.



Saturday, January 11, 2014

Would You Want Me in Charge?

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32

I am not an expert on 'the Kingdom of God'.  I am guessing you aren't either.  But whenever I hear a Christian refer to the Kingdom of God certain things seem to be repeated frequently that are similar to other things Christians seem to always say and do.

First, when they talk about it, it always seems that the Kingdom is a set of blueprints and we are the construction workers.  Ok.  Once again it seems that God has given us what we need, the blueprints, the tools....and now we are given the task of getting it done.  God sits by passively, perhaps playing with stars and galaxies while assuming we will get things done.  I can just imagine the piece of crap we will be living in if this is the case, we all know that relative who thinks he can build things that when he offers to build your addition to your house, you cringe and change the subject.

 Secondly, the Kingdom is referred to by Christians as though it is a private club that has members who must meet certain requirements.  This is actually true.  You must be righteous because the Kingdom is not a place where sin abounds.  And once again, God provides.  The Gospel gives us the righteousness we don't have (because we are poor) and so God can say only the righteous enter the Kingdom and that the Kingdom is for the poor at the same time because we are both.  We are poor and given the riches of God in Christ.  Once again, He gives, we receive...undeservedly.

Third, the Kingdom, when described by Christians, always seems like something that is ruled by us.  We never say that, but you would never know otherwise.  Mostly it is used to make subtle judgments upon the lazy workers around us who clearly need to be reminded that they need to start pulling their weight.  "This Kingdom isn't going to build itself, you know", and by saying that I am interested in building the Kingdom...I have just implied that I am pulling my weight.  Therefore, as the self-proclaimed hardest worker, I slip naturally into the role of management and overseer.  After all, this is how things work in the rest of my world, why should this not be the same?

But the problem with these perspectives is that God seems to see the Kingdom as a gift, telling us that we 'inherit' the Kingdom.  Like the Gospel, we receive God's work on our behalf...like the work of His Son...on the Cross...for all of our sins.  God is giving what He has wrought to those who don't deserve it and couldn't do it for themselves.

Now think about anyone who gives someone a gift who has been talking about the gift, the specifics of what they want, how it should look, what color it should be, what kind of batteries it should use, what model it should be and what it shouldn't be because that version got a bad review...suddenly you don't feel like such a gift giver do you?  You feel like an assistant who has been given instruction to get something for the person who is in charge.

The bottom line is that we receive from God an inheritance.  Something He built that is rightfully His, He scandalously shares with us who don't deserve it.  If anyone should complain, Jesus should...after all...He IS the rightful heir of any Kingdom God has built...and yet He not only joyfully shares it with us, but apparently puts up with our ridiculously self-centered concepts about what it is and who builds it. 

I know that I am guilty of wanting to rule my life and have God do things my way, but maybe the gift of the Kingdom is that God is on the throne where He should be...and thank God for that, because while I might want to rule things my way...nothing scares me more than the idea of YOU running things, because I know that YOU don't have the first clue as to what you're doing.  And to be honest, you're kind of mean.  It goes something like this...

Me [a scared look on my face with my hand to my ear]  Ooooh, oh Christian.  Do you hear that?
    Christian: What?
Me: If you listen very, very carefully.............. you can actually hear my skin crawling!

And that thought gratefully makes me want God back on the throne where He belongs...ruling His Kingdom that He gives to His goofball children that He loves.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Hey, I'm Still Taking A Shower Here!!!!

Love leads to love.  Grace leads to grace.  Forgiveness leads to forgiveness.   Then why am I still not filled with love, grace and forgiveness?

There are some really amazing things to say about the Gospel and how grace produces things in the life of a Christian.  The description of what grace does to the human heart in contrast to what judgment does I think is right on the mark and true.  But...I have to say but to grace, yes....but...I still don't look much like what I should look like.  I still harbor resentments and anger about things that have hurt me.  I still know that the forgiveness I have given people goes only so deep.  I still doubt that God really cares instead of living as though I am fully loved and that the cross means everything.  I still get depressed.  I still desire things that I know are wrong.  I still find angry thoughts hiding inside of own self-justification for them.  I still think I deserve better.  I still judge other people, especially other Christians.  In other words, I haven't moved very high up a ladder of any kind.  Does this nullify grace?  Is the Gospel just without power in my life?  Am I only able to get grace to the degree I believe it? 

Well, I'd like to say something spiritual that resolves the continuing dilemma that is my life, but I think this is the way that it is.  I still suffer under all of these things of my human nature, because I am still me.  I think I will still be me until I die.  I think grace is a flow that goes in my direction, like a cleansing shower...and I take that shower until it's over.  I don't get to leave the shower because I am finished until that day comes. 

That doesn't mean I am not forgiven, it means I still need forgiveness.  That doesn't mean I am not loved, I am just not the source of love.  That doesn't mean I don't receive grace, it just means I don't stop needing grace.   It means that I am still not ok, but I am ok at the same time.  In other words, it is ok to not be ok.  That is the power of grace, that I live both needing a shower and cleansed at the same time.  I know, it's strange...but doesn't that make sense?  Do you see the world and people around you really living up to the billing of who they should be?  Maybe you do, I don't know...but I don't see that in myself and I don't see it in the world.

I do, however, see signs of it in the world.  Small, shiny little glimpses of how and what should be. Fleeting at best, teasing hope but also creating a frustrating longing because it all seems just out of reach.  It isn't here yet the way it is going to be...the way we can expect it to be someday, yes, but shouldn't expect it to be now. 

AA has a very simple but true saying.  Expectations are pre-meditated resentments.  This works so well in conjunction with the promises of grace.  My expectation is that grace should produce grace...but when it doesn't, my expectation causes all kinds of resentment and judgment for the lack of grace in the world.  But if grace is one way and never stops being necessary and isn't a tool to use but a free shower for the dirty...then instead of expecting, we should only keep showering.  Maybe the expectation should be that we all are dirty and need the one-way flow of grace...and end with that.  It could be that the ending with that is when grace starts to show...but please, don't expect too much from me...I'm still taking a shower.


Friday, December 13, 2013

"Uhhh...these aren't....credit cards...."

This classic scene with John Candy and Steve Martin illustrates how we think things work in our relationship with God.  We must bring something of value to the table.  Maybe when we come to Christ our pockets are empty, but afterwards we must bring something of value.  I would suggest we do bring something of value...the righteousness of Christ which is like the ultimate credit card that pays any debt necessary.  But it only works if your own pockets are empty.  So in this scene, John Candy and Steve Martin needed to have completely empty pockets, no burnt credit cards , no crumpled bills and no watches, neither expensive designer watches nor a calculating Casio. 

Moral of the story?  Your efforts to be good have no value here sir...I'm gonna have to say Goodnight.