Monday, August 12, 2013

We're Known by our Love. Period. John 13:34-35

Jesus says something a bit hard to hear in John 13:34-35: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (ESV)

It's hard to hear because we know we don't love well, so we immediately shrink back and wonder if there isn't some OTHER way to demonstrate that we're His!

And what are we taught in church? Bible study, good theology, morality, condemnation of wrong-doers, prayer, and how to 'be good'. Some of that is great stuff, of course, but if we major in those things and do not love, as Paul writes in 1 Cor. 13:1....we have missed the mark. Badly. We've merely taken the gospel of grace and turned it into another religion. Another system of knowing and doing the right things so that God will bless us and love us. That is not the gospel. Indeed, the true gospel is that even when we do NOT know the right things and indeed do all the wrong things, God still loves us. Crazy, but true. (There's a book title!) And when you think about it, how do you teach someone to love, anyway? How do I teach you to fall in love? It's the most important thing any of us have to learn, but it can't be taught easily.'s the problem: This is the mark that Jesus uses. Arghhh. Now what?

Interestingly, reading the Bible as I enjoy reading what's NOT there, we discover something. Sometimes we get in such a hurry, and grow so familiar with passages that we just rush by and don't stop to soak. By reading what's NOT in a passage, we can often get a lot of light on what we do see there. So what's NOT in this passage?

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you know your Bibles.
By this....if you have good theology.
By this....if you are moral.
By this....if you condemn the immoral.
By this....if you elect conservatives.
By this....if you study my Word.
By this....if you pray without ceasing.
By this....if you serve until you're exhausted.
By this....if you don't swear, smoke, drink, or dance except at weddings.
By this....if you tell everyone you meet about me.

It is only: ....if you have love for one another. Jesus' words. Off His lips. Could have said a lot of other things, but picked this.

So what do we do? We need to sit at Jesus' feet and ask Him to teach us to love...both Him and others. And to receive love, both His and others'! We need to major in compassion, listening to others' stories so that we can understand why they're the way they are, and allow our own hearts to be broken over all the brokenness in everyone else.  I've found that that's the easiest way to love: by listening as others tell the stories of their journeys. Once you know someone's story, you really cannot help but love them.

And when we love, when we allow our hearts to be moved by others, we have the heart of Jesus. How smart we are, or how moral, or how loud...these things do not matter.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Simple Faith—Genesis 15:5-6 (Why the Modern Church is Dead Wrong)

There's a  very short little passage that's held up by the Apostle Paul in Romans 4 as the example of faith.

And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:5-6, ESV)
As I reflect on this, I'm concluding that nearly everything I've been taught about "Christianity" is just dead wrong. Dead because people are truly dying in shame and condemnation, not knowing that they have been taught men's religion instead of the true gospel of grace. And that their performance ability to somehow 'be good' is not what matters; it's God moving in to make them good that matters.
I imagine a conversation between Abraham and modern Church Bob (CB) that might go something like this:
Abe: "You're not going to believe this..."
CB: "What?"
Abe: "I was just sitting around last night, and God called me out here, told me to count the stars, and as I began, He interrupted me and told me I'd have that many kids. I said, "OK," and He told me that I was RIGHTEOUS! Just like that."
CB: "Uh huh. Really. (pauses) How do you know it was Him?"
Abe: "Well, He said so."
CB: "Yeah, well, I've heard that before. Do you have any confirmation?"
Abe: "Well, it's kinda early for that, don't you think?"
CB: "Right. Is there anyone else that agrees with you to confirm it?"
Abe: "You're the first one I've told. I haven't even told Sarah...I figure she's gonna laugh at me."
CB: "No kidding. Well, does what He said line up with Scripture?"
Abe: "That hasn't been written yet, you know. Moses hasn't even been born yet. But I am taking notes for later."
CB: "OK. I'm not feeling real good about this. Have you repented of your sins?"
Abe: "Well, apparently, since He declared me righteous."
CB: "Do you even understand what's occurred? We need to sign you up for our Formations class. It starts next Wed. night."
Abe: "I don't know if I'll have time for that. I have a feeling we're moving soon..."
CB: "You don't have time? That's not a good sign. You have to make time. Well, have you prayed about all this?"
Abe: "Not unless you count the "Ok.""
CB: "Have you given anything yet? Or signed up to serve somewhere yet?"
Abe: "Given what? Serving...well, I thought I was serving Him now. I don't understand...."
CB: "Exactly. You don't understand. You don't have the first clue what any of this means, haven't done one thing to demonstrate that any of it's true, haven't forsaken anything, and frankly, I don't even see anything different in you today than I did yesterday except that you didn't offer me coffee this morning. And you expect me to believe you?"
And there's our modern dilemma. Well-meaning folks, who want our best and who want God's best, have misunderstood our salvation. We believe that we first get it by faith, but we then believe we better start busting our butts in order to keep it.
I think that when God says, You're Righteous, the conversation is over. It doesn't depend on we who are not able, it depends on Him who is able. Now we merely live out who He says we are, with Him in us and walking with us. He'll get us where He's taking us. No matter what. He says so. End of conversation. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

End of a Journal

As I concluded a journal that began on notepads at Bonnie's the Sunday morning after Ben's death a year and eight months and eight days ago, I went back and read the first two weeks' entries. I'd not done that before, knowing that they would be too raw to handle yet, and might just lead me back into darkness and despair. But I'm shocked by a number of things.

I'm shocked at how much I've healed.
I'm shocked at how strong my faith appeared to be.
I'm shocked at how the early lessons I learned remain with me.

Those lessons: God, too, knew our pain. He suffered as well, and His memories of that suffering surely remain even now, even while knowing that Jesus' suffering ended. Pain remains. He also made the trade. He traded His own Son for us. I would have never made that trade, yet He did. That deepens my understanding of the depth of His love for us. He protects us even as we walk through the Valley of Death. He does not keep us from walking through that valley, but He is with us when we do. And He has healed Jill and held us together, and guarded Rachael's heart. And indeed, everything has changed forever.

Thank you for giving us the faith to take the road of trusting you ever more deeply—of not letting the enemy have any victory, of determination to hang onto you and to overcome and to believe in a great ending, to have our eyes now always on Paradise.

We keep fighting.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Rope and the Well

Dark encompassed me
Still surrounded me
The smell of death
The feel of cold
No way out
No way up
The bottom of a well.

I cried out for help
And heard nothing
I felt the walls
For something, anything
But nothing.
I was lost
And alone

And then
I felt it
A woosh, a swish
Cut the air.
I felt around again
And it brushed my face
I reached out in fear
In the dark
Not knowing.
A rope.

I look up
From where?
From who?
I can see nothing.
This is the moment of Desperation.
There is no other way.
No other hope.
No other escape.
I take the rope.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Words without Hugs—1 Cor. 13:1-2

Many of us walk into church broken beyond words. Our hearts are tender, our spirits soft, our feet barely shuffling as we stumble in to hear words of encouragement and hope. Some are a few weeks, months, or perhaps years from an event that took their breath away. It was not 'merely a flesh wound'. We lean into God like never before, and then something happens. An event, another bit of bad news, something that wrenches our hearts again, that can't be and won't be overcome, and we're back into the pit of despair, crying out (mostly silently) for help, hoping that someone will notice, will care, will give us a hug. 

I've often wondered and been angry and convicted at Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 13:1-2. The Love Chapter. The one spoken at every wedding in the 70's, until we were sick of it. And who is Paul to tell me that all my words and knowledge, all the gifts of God, all the work is worthless without love? I had a small group leader 'challenge' me on that once. We say 'challenge' in church when we mean confront/yell at/castigate/condemn. And I felt all those...because he was right. It didn't change me much, other than knowing that I wasn't terribly loving as I 'challenged' people.

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (ESV)

Look at these verses. If I speak literally the words of angels, which come directly from the lips of God Himself, but don't love, I'm a gong. If I can prophesy because God has enlightened me, if I know everything there is to know about God and can explain it, if I have that faith Jesus described and can actually move the mountains around, but I don't love, catch this: I am nothing. Not that I have nothing. But I am nothing. Sharp words of condemnation (oops, 'challenge') indeed.

When we come around others, we need to be desperately aware of their wounds and brokenness. If we have not experienced any of our own (yet), we need to be still around those who have and listen and learn from them, until our hearts are broken over their brokenness. And only then, do we have the right and privilege to speak. Think of Jesus. If you're God and you finally show up on this rock, wouldn't you have some rather harsh things to say to this rebellious people? Wouldn't you zap just a few? And yet He speaks gently, softly, with hugs, except to the teachers who should know better. He gathers the wounded up out of the dust of the street and embraces them, and then teaches them. This from the One who really does know everything and has an answer for everything. So He also knows:

Words don't matter much at times like these, but hugs do. Hug first, second, and third. Then, if you must, speak.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Video That Tells The Story

So many of us have suffered deep wounds, have grown confused, and even a bit hopeless of ever finding the life that Jesus promised. This video tells that story of taking us out of misery to the abundant life.

Credit for the amazing video editing to Brian Beatty of Kaizen Creative, a true warrior brother.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A One Sentence Story

I've been thinking about how I'd write God's Story, after Matthew Luhn, Head of Story for Pixar, visited last weekend at our church. Matthew talks about the controlling idea, which is summing up your story in one sentence. How would you write God's Story, how would you sum it up in one sentence? It forces us to grab the main idea, edit down, and make it compelling.

Here's mine (creatively said):

God set a star in the sky, the star fell, and He reached down, picked it up and placed it back into the sky.

How might you put it?

Thursday, February 7, 2013



Where do they go, these drops


As they splash down from above.

How do they ever get home?

You see them

Each one

Kept in a bottle

For what?

Are they precious to you

The tears of your child?

As a heart that's been broken

Cries out for Dad.

Will the sun return

Or will I wash away?

Can the rain dry up

And not be rain?