Ships Passing in the Night Ain’t Biblical

“Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.’” John 4:10

We have a saying in our family, “You know who your friends are because they ask you how you’re doing and then stick around to listen.”

It’s easy to say that we value people, that we appreciate them. There is intrinsic value, placed by God, in everyone. But do are interactions with people reveal it?

There’s another saying that we use in our home, “Who are you going to be ‘Jesus with skin on’ for today?” It comes from the story of a young child that was frightened by a particularly intense lightning storm. Several times the child crawled into bed with her parents in the middle of the night in tears. Each time the parents reassured the tot that Jesus did not give her the spirit of fear. Finally, when child and parents had all reached their limit of sleep deprived frustration, the father said, “Just go back to sleep; Jesus is with you.” To this, with tears streaming down her cheeks, and with wisdom beyond her years, the youngster said, “Yeh, but I need someone with skin on!”

The obvious lesson for our family is, “who are you going to minister to today?” It’s a reminder of the cliche’, “You’re the only Jesus someone will meet today.”

But let’s look at it from another perspective. Who has God placed a gift in for you, today? Who is going to ask you for something today, who is going to make a demand on you, that is actually “Jesus with skin on?”

Almost certainly someone, perhaps someone barely an acquaintance, is going to cross my path. It might go something like this…

While walking down the street I recognize someone, but can’t quite place the name. I’m sure that I’ve seen them before…church! That’s it, they’re from church. Bible study, I think. Oh, yeh. They’re the one that never seems to have a job. They’re always asking for prayer. I wonder, “Why can’t they get a job? They must be lazy and not trying very hard”

I begin to look for a chance to cross the street, but it’s too late, I’ve caught their eye.

I nod and say, “Hi.”

They respond with the guy chin, “Good morning.”

Being sure not to slow my gate I ask, “How are you, today?”

“Fine, and you?”

“Great, it’s good to see you, again.”

My steps quicken and I move on.

It’s easy to look at this scenario and wonder what blessing I missed bestowing on “what’s-his-name.” But let’s look at it from another perspective. What blessing did I miss that “what’s-his-name” had for me?

Sure, it would have been a blessing for me to bless him. But that’s so predictable. It might even border on self-righteous and arrogant. It assumes that he wouldn’t have a blessing for me. If I had truly known, and believed, the gift of God in that other person perhaps he would have been a “cool drink of water” (Prov. 25:25) for me.

Maybe, just maybe, they would’ve had a word of encouragement for me. Maybe today would have been the day they told me of the answered prayer. Stopping long enough to speak with even “the least of these” is believing in the intrinsic value God has in each other.

Who am I going to discover God in today?

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Fences, Bridges and THE UNKNOWN GOD

“Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘Men of Athens!  I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.’”Acts 17:22-23

Theologically, Paul had very little in common with the “Men of Athens.”  Even before his conversion he would have been a stranger, both literally and figuratively, in this place.  Actually, as Saul the self-righteous, his goal would have been completely different.  Saul’s goal would have been to build fences.  Paul’s mission was to build bridges.

To my knowledge, Scripture rarely uses the word goal in describing God’s love for people.  Goal is rarely used to describe God’s people’s relationship to each other or to the persons around them.  In fact, I struggle to find the word goal in a relational context at all.  On the other hand, building bridges, building relationships, is a theme repeated throughout The Bible.  Once a goal is achieved, one moves onto a new goal.  In contrast, once a bridge is built, then a connection is made.  Bridges traverse chasms, overcome obstacles, provide for exchange, maintain connections.

Paul’s mission was to build bridges, not fences.  More accurately, Paul’s commission was to build bridges.  A commission is the “authority to act for, in behalf, or in place of another; a task or matter entrusted to one as an agent for another.”1  Paul understood that he was an agent for another, for The Other, for THE UNKNOWN GOD.

In order to build a bridge, a mutual starting point must be found.  A point of relationship, if you will; a point mutually beneficial to both sides.  In some cases, someone must cross over from one side to the other side to begin the building process.

ENTER: Paul.

In self-righteousness Paul could have built a fence, “You goofy Men of Athens.  You have it all wrong.  There aren’t many God’s.  Your religiousness is foolish.  There’s only One God and I’m here to tell you how wrong you have it and how to get right with Him.  Listen up.”

But, a fence wasn’t needed.  Frankly, a fence would have been superfluous.  Who would ever waste time building a fence to separate two parcels of land already separated by a river?  If anything, lands separated by water need bridges, not fences.

Unfortunately, we often build fences when God has commissioned us to build bridges on His behalf, for His Name’s sake.  But if anything, we’re already separated from each other.  Schedules, geography, culture, conflicts have already separated us.  It’s not fences that we need, it’s bridges.

Back to Paul.  God needed someone to go across “the river” and find some common ground to build the bridge.  The Men of Athens didn’t even know that they needed a bridge.  Paul found the common ground to start.  He found a place to begin.  He didn’t start by pointing out what they had “wrong.”  He began by learning what they had “right.”

Who’s world am I commissioned to cross over to?  And when I get there, what common ground am I going to purposefully search for?  What point of agreement am I going to find so that a bridge can be built?  Which differences will I appreciate so that I can introduce them to their UNKNOWN GOD?  The God that I know and knows me.  The God that wants all to know Him.

1. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/commission

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The Passion of the Christ and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

If we understand that Jesus was fully, completely human and fully, completely God, then it can sometimes be easy to discount His death as a sacrifice.  By that I mean, Jesus, as God, knew that He would be resurrected following His death.  From our human perspective death is an overwhelming prospect, even if we understand that there is life afterward.  Heck, many of us aren’t willing to delay gratification long enough to pass up the super-sized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in the check out line at Walmart.  But on occasion, as we stare blankly at the delicious morsels that are food of the gods, we summon up the fortitude to deny the impulsive self and sacrifice a fleeting moment of peanut buttery goodness.  In that moment we say, “If this peanut butter cup should pass my lips but Father let it be your will.”

To an eternal being three days of death is similar, maybe not even as significant.  Three days in comparison to eternity is less meaningful than a speck of dust floating on wisps of light streaming through a window.  With that mindset, it’s easy to dismiss Jesus’ sacrifice of death as trivial; “What’s the big deal? He’s God.  To Him, giving up life for three days is easier than me giving up those peanut butter cups.” (OK, I’ve gotta stop dwelling on the Reese’s.    The sacrifice is getting unbearable.)

“But what about the horror of crucifixion? Aren’t you forgetting the agony of being beaten and whipped by the guards?”

Sure, sure from our human perspective those atrocities are almost unthinkable, particularly to our twenty first century sensibilities.  As horrendous and graphic as Mel Gibson’s depiction was, the reality of crucifixion is far worse. But again, viewed from the perspective of the Almighty they don’t even register a blip on the radar of eternity.

No, to reduce the cup from which Jesus drank to mere human suffering is cheap.  Jesus, as God, understood what we could never comprehend.  And just a sliver of understanding would have been more than we could survive.  He understood that there is no earthly description for the horrors of my sin.  Not for one minute would I be able to bear the weight of my own sin.  Should I have ever fully understood the horror of my sin I would have been annihilated, disappearing in what C.S. Lewis describes in The Great Divorce as “an acrid smelling puff of smoke.”  In fact, that is exactly what I was before the saving grace of Jesus, annihilated.  I was less than an acrid smelling puff of smoke.

And not only did Jesus bear the weight of my sins, He bore the weight of the sins of everyone that was, is and will be.  Does that sound familiar?  It’s the inverse corollary of “I Am.”  It would take the Alpha and Omega to overwhelm my sin and the sins that were, are and will be.

And while I was still just an acrid smelling puff of smoke occupying less than just a fleeting moment, while the very smell of my presence was still repugnant “Christ died for me.”  When I deserved exactly what I had coming to me Jesus didn’t simply save me from it, He took if for me.  As ferocious as the attacks were on His person, He bore spiritual horrors beyond description so that I, that we, might have life beyond imagination.

That’s why worship.

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Winning the Battle, Losing the War. Really?!

As I read twitter posts from Christians it becomes apparent that we “Christ-followers” have lost the ability to win graciously.  I rarely write about current events.  I don’t intentionally avoid being topical and, even though I usually start my posts with a verse from the Bible, I certainly don’t consider my writing expository.  But the current twitter debate concerning same sex marriages distresses me.

Many of the posts by those over 40 years old ring with “nana nana, boo boo.”  They make sure to point out that a majority of states either ban or remain tacit on the subject of same sex marriages.  Others brag about “being right” along with undertones of “God loves us better than He loves you.”  Really?  If a vote goes against my position does that mean that God loves me less?  The Bible describes God’s love for me, and you, as infinite.  My limited understanding of math is that you can neither add to nor take away from infinite.

This  whole thing reminds me of the Buffalo Bills during their Superbowl years.  The Bills of the late Eighties and early Nineties did very little celebrating in the end zone.  Their philosophy under coach Marv Levy was that end zone celebrations were for teams that didn’t score often.

If you haven’t read all the way to the end of the Bible, or at least skipped ahead, I’m about to ruin the climax for you (*spoiler alert).  Not only has the touchdown already been scored, the game has already been won.  Jesus great lesson for us is to be gracious winners.  He certainly was.  If anyone had the privilege of an end zone dance it was Jesus.  He could have jigged it up and spiked a fish…er, football, on the shore when He told Peter to cast his nets on the other side.  Over and over Jesus had opportunity to say “I told you so,” but instead recognized that His Kingdom is not about being right, it’s about being reconciled.  In fact, the only time that I find Him coming close to saying “I told you so” is when He describes Heaven that is being prepared for us, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you…” (John 4:2).  That hardly seems like a victory dance.

It is true that we Christians are known mostly by what we are against.  I believe that’s because we celebrate more about temporal victories than we do about the Ultimate Victory.  We’ve already won.  Rubbing people’s noses in it just reveals us to be petty.

But there’s another distressing aspect to the twitter posts that I’ve been reading.  Many of these come from those under 40 and they concern “winning a battle, but losing the war.”  Really?  Loosing the war?  Again, spoiler alert.  The war is over.  While it is correct that we didn’t win the war, it is also correct that Jesus did.  At the point that we start lamenting losing the war we begin to give Satan a foothold to convince others that the outcome is still in question.

I believe that much of this thought process comes from the culture that surrounds us depicting life as a battle between good and evil.  It’s a Star Wars mentality.  Concerning ourselves with whether we need to concede ground in order to win the war is what lead to ten out of twelve spies convincing the rest of Israel not to taking the land God already had promised them.  My fear is that many Christians love their friends, but don’t love them enough to confront sin.  God wants everyone to be saved (I Timothy 2:4).  The aversion to confronting sin is denying the power of God to see everyone saved.  Do I think that everyone will go to heaven?  Hardly.  But if it’s God’s desire, then I want it to be my desire.

It is true that Christians have lost the culture war (please read “Stop Shooting the Prisoners”).  However, I’m afraid that we’re in danger of not rescuing the prisoners.  I’m afraid that when we don’t build relationships that are strong enough to withstand confrontation, and then actually confront, then we’re simply helping someone feel good about themselves until the inevitable happens.

My fear is that we’ve lost either the ability to love in confrontation or the ability to confront in love.  And this is a dilemma that will perplex Christians until we no longer see “through a glass, darkly.”  Funny, that phrase is in the “Love Chapter.”  Hmm…

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Love 41 – Where Receiving is Giving

“Blessed is he who considers the poor; The LORD will deliver him in time of trouble. The LORD will preserve him and keep him alive, and he will be blessed on the earth; You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies. The LORD will strengthen him on his bed of illness; You will sustain him on his sickbed.” Psalm 41:1-3

It’s been quite a while since I posted something in the Insurgent Love series.  Learning about Love 41 has brought me back home, so to speak.  Oh, and Mother’s Day is coming up (you’ll understand why I mention Mothers’ Day in a few minutes).

Love 41 is a for profit apparel and jewelry company…  ”Wait!  What? C’mon, Joe!  You’ve wandered from the straight and narrow, you capitalist pig.”

Hang on, hang on.  Let me finish…Love 41 is a for profit apparel and jewelry company whose “profits from [their] business will support programs working to get children off the streets [of Rowanda] and out of the dumps and putting them in school. Our vision is to get vulnerable women out of prostitution and into a sewing program or beauty school so they can earn a living and feed their children without needing to sell their bodies.  We desperately want to get older boys into vocational programs so they too, can have a future.”

Suzette Munson, founder of Love 41 and wife of Dave Munson (saddlebackleather.com) talks of her experience on a trip to Rowanda…

“We saw men that lost their entire family and bore the scars of unconscionable acts of torture.  Our [adopted] son Athanase was one of these people. His parents were killed when he was 3 years old and he bears a scar on his forehead of his near death experience. At age 3, he began his life on the streets, alone and with no one to care for him. At the age of 4 he began sniffing glue and at the age of 8 he was already in and out of jails. His home was often the city dump.”

Boom! Insurgent love.  Getting behind the lines of both capitalism and rampant poverty and genocide and tragedy and starvation and…

Something else that caught my eye is that Love 41 isn’t reinventing the wheel.  Suzette looked for where God is already at work and got on board.

“Love 41 is currently working through Africa New Life Ministries www.anlm.org since they’re already loving people in significant ways. ANLM has their financial books wide open and is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability www.ecfa.org where they audit their books.”

Check out the whole story at http://www.love41.com/love-41-story. And buy something for Mom, too.  Mom will love it both for what she receives and for what Love 41 gives.

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