Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Broken Church

Let’s stop and take a minute to think about what it means to accept all within the church. Today in church, a girl with three small boys was there. I have chatted with her a few times, and she just started coming in the last few weeks. As we were chatting, she must have said at least four swear words in the five minutes we were talking. Was it surprising to me? Somewhat, but not for the reasons most people would assume.

It does not surprise me that she swore at church. I honestly did not even bat an eye. I was more thankful that she felt comfortable enough with me, as a new friend, to completely be herself in church. She did not feel like she had to be perfect to be there, have her life all together, or pretend to be someone else. She was comfortable coming to church broken, hurting, and in all her wounded glory. And there is glory in that.

When did the Church become a place that people feel they need to have it all together, to be a part of it? I have heard from other people that say, “Oh, I can’t go to the gym until I loose ten pounds.” That is ridiculous! We go to the gym to lose weight, not the other way around. People have a similar attitude with sin. They think they are not permitted in church unless they are not sinning anymore, and it is sad to me that people think that. Church people pretend to have it all together, and do not share their struggles and heartaches unless they have already come through them. Often their testimonies are all about things that have happened in the past, that God has brought them through, but can we start testifying as we are going through them? God is still good when we are broken. He is still Holy while we are hurting, and He is still God when we do not feel His presence.

Let us start sharing our brokenness more than we share our victories… perhaps people would then feel more comfortable coming to the Church in those broken times. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Evil, Sin, Suffering, and Redemption.

Last night, tragedy happened at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Twelve people were shot, many injured and in critical condition, and countless others left emotionally scarred and torn from their daily lives. In moments like this, people ask God why. They wonder why God lets bad people live in the world, that would one day decide to shoot innocent people who have done nothing more than just go see a movie. We live in a country that is significantly removed from violence in our daily lives, and many view it as a form of entertainment to watch on television. It happens to other people, but not us.
But when it happens to us, we wonder what God is thinking. We wonder why the God; who is by definition, Love, lets innocent people become victims of evil. If this God that we worship is really oh, so powerful, why does He not just stop it from happening? Does He really care at all about us, our lives, and our children’s lives?
I have to premise all of this discussion on admitting that I, too, a pastor’s wife and Christian for many years, have asked these questions as well. I am now on the path to becoming a pastor myself, and there are times I still wonder. I am not going to offer all the answers here; I would just like to offer a few thoughts about what Christians typically say in this instance. We have many little cliché’s that we attempt to put on these situations, Band-Aids that we think may help, but really they just leave the person that is literally torn from the world that they knew, further away from going to the Almighty Comforter for comfort and peace.

    1. “It’s all a part of God’s plan.” Really? God’s plan is for evil to reign in this world, and for people to die unjustly, unfairly, and completely innocent? Babies get murdered, raped, and worse each and every day, and that’s a part of God’s plan? This is not the God I serve. Psalm 5:5 states, “Therefore, the proud may not stand in your presence, for you hate all who do evil.” God does not use evil people for His purpose. He brings life from evil situations, because He is God, but He does not create or use evil for His will.

     2. “I am so thankful God protected me.” Um… what about all those people that God did not protect? Did they do something bad today? Did God decide not to like them? Evil is meaningless, random, senseless, and useless. God does not protect some and let others be killed. It’s just not how it works. 

There are probably more out there, but I think I will keep it to these ones, since they seem to be the most popular. You see, God can bring life from death, light from darkness, but God is Light. God is Love, He is nothing but goodness. Suffering and evil cannot, and will not ever come from God. Suffering and evil is the product of sin in this world, because we chose to go our own way. God does not will sin; He allows sin because He wants us to choose to have a relationship with Him.
Through giving us the ability to choose Him, He also gave us the ability to create suffering for others. Because, inherently, sin is having a broken relationship with God and with others. Suffering happens because of the choices that humans have made to remain in sin. And even if we have chosen differently, the sin of other people ripples out to affect each and every one of us, in ways too numerous for us to count, for generations upon generations. All of humanity is still living in the effects of sin on the world.
Through the power of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, we can claim new life and victory over sin, but we are still going to feel the effects from the sin of those around us. It is just a part of living in the broken world we live in, and there is not a Godly reason for it. It just is, because we make bad choices. We choose to sin.
So, there are two points I am going to make. People do not need to hear that it will all be okay, that it’s all God’s plan, and that God protected some to the detriment of others. What they need to hear is that there is no real reason for why it was them and not someone else. They need to know that there is no purpose for evil, no meaning behind sin, and no point in darkness. But there is new life in Christ, and Christ knows what it means to suffer; He understands how it feels to cry out to God and ask, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” Those moments are real, they happen, and do not be afraid to shout them.
But in those broken moments, when death and darkness seem that they have won, there is new hope in the light of the Resurrection. New beginnings, new hope, new peace, new joy, new love; in the goodness of the everlasting life of those reborn into the life of Jesus Christ. We are cleansed by the blood, but we are redeemed by the Resurrection. And in that life, suffering holds no sway. It holds no grip, and it holds no power.
Let us live in the hope of the Resurrection, the Light of the Living God, and the power of the Holy Spirit that lives, moves, and breathes among us. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Giving, and being poor.

When I think of what it means to be poor, I think of how I grew up, and the childhood through which I lived. I very rarely slept on anything other than a bare mattress as a kid, remember many Christmases where toys were brought to our door, and living on boxes of Raisin Bran cereal for weeks on end because a huge box of it was given to us by the local food pantry. Most the time I didn’t have shoes to wear, all the clothing I needed, or very many toys, but does it bother me now that I missed out on those things? Not really. The ability to live compassionately for those who are impoverished keeps me from feeling that way.

This is not a story about “look how far I have come, and now I am rich!”  I do not really care for that kind of story, because I do not think that kind of story interests God very much. No matter how much or how little I have, every last part of it is Gods, and I will find ways to give to others and be generous regardless of my personal status of wealth. The more I have in my life, the more God impresses upon me that I need to give back. It is all just stuff, after all.

Have I given as much as I think I should give? Not all the time. I feel guilty because I feel like my life is so busy, so crazy with scheduling, church activities, and children’s school activities that I do not really have time to help anyone else. This really makes me sad, and when I find the opportunity to give, I do.
When all is said and done, how are we all living out God’s calling to serve and love the poor and widowed? I pray that every one of us never settles for doing as little as we can… I pray we attempt to do more than what we ever thought possible. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Now for my next post… I have been thinking and thinking about what it means to live a Holy life. The New Testament calls us to “be perfect, as I am perfect,” (Matthew 5:48), and so many of us have a hard time living up to that standard. We think of perfection in human terms, as in, never sinning anymore, being happy all the time, and having everything. But I am here to tell you that is not God’s definition of perfection. We cannot be perfect (Holy) as God is Holy, but we can reach Holiness in this life. If it was an unattainable goal that we just attempt to live up to, then why do it at all?

Just as I pointed out in the blog post yesterday, Jesus tells us the two greatest commandments are to love God and love others. As I have been reading in the book, The Story of God, by Michael Lodahl, he points out that the great theologian John Wesley was essentially saying “the holiness of loving God with our whole beings and loving our neighbors as ourselves. It is a perfection “in love” that dealt not with abstract or legalistic ideas of absolute perfection, but with the relative perfection of relations to God and neighbors “perfected” by love,” (26).

So, can we be perfect and Holy in the way Wesley points out? I believe so. Does that make it easy, uncomplicated, or something that happens overnight? No. It takes each and every day, pointedly calling on the Lord’s power, through the Holy Spirit, to reach to the inmost parts of our being and changing us from within. This is the transformational work of the Spirit that God has given to us on this earth to love Him and love others. This kind of love seeks to reconcile all hurts, absorb all pain, and live in community with those we might not necessarily like, but seek to love and support them in their Holiness journey.

Let us seek to include those we disagree with, love those who seem unlovable, and protect those weaker than ourselves so that we too, can live the glorious calling of our Lord Jesus Christ to take the Gospel to the entire world.

How do you show love to those you do not like? Who have hurt you beyond reason? 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I was at the gym this morning doing my weekly Zumba routine, when I noticed the shirt that my instructor was wearing. It was kind of hard not to notice, since it was florescent pink with silver letters. On it, it said “LOVE YOUR LIFE”, in big bold letters. And in the middle of shakin’ it to a bass beat, the thought occurred to me, how do we present the Gospel to a generation that wants to enjoy life, live it to the fullest, and not escape from it?

In generations past, Christianity has always presented the Gospel and Salvation as an escape from life. We live our lives just to get through, it is miserable, we do not really want to be here, and we are told to take as many people with us as we can, so we are not responsible for them burning in hell. Sound familiar? And, to top it all off, if we do well on earth and take lots of people with us, we get a bigger mansion in heaven.

And heaven is the lap of luxury that we have never lived in. It is riches beyond imagining, food so delicious without a pound added to our frames, and whatever else we personally think is amazing. (For me, it is a quiet reading spot under a tree with a perfect 72 degrees).

But what if we already have all these things? What if, we have never lived in poverty, never been abused, mistreated, or neglected, and have never wanted for anything? What if, life is pretty  good? Would the Gospel really be appealing when there is nothing we want to escape from?

Most of the Christian world see’s people like Joel Osteen and we knock him for basically being a motivational speaker, who never preaches about sin or hell. I am definitely not saying those things are not a part of the Gospel, they are, but they are not the reason for the Gospel. Over and over again the Word tells us to live Holy lives, saved and redeemed by the power of God. God did not give us life to live in the expectation of escaping from it! He gave us life to love, live, and serve others. In fact, the first two commandments tell us to do this very thing! “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself,” Matthew 22:37-40. If life is to be lived in love for God and love for others, where is the escape in that?

How do we offer a Gospel based on loving God and loving others, with salvation from sin and hell being an added bonus, instead of the reason for Salvation?