Tag Archives: Love

Seeing Jesus

7 Feb

A couple months ago, I met Jesus face to face.  Before you get the wrong idea, you should know that this was not a vision or prophetic experience.  On the contrary, I encountered the Spirit of Christ in the actions of another person.  This encounter was so profound, that it continues to minister to me, and I’d like to share that story.

Last semester I took Greek with a professor named Brad Johnson.  With the exception of learning the Aorist tense, it was a fairly pleasant and refining experience I feel better for having.  When the day of the final came, my worst seminary nightmare occurred.  A snow storm started in Louisville around 4am.  My final was schedule for 8 am.  Normally, my commute is an hour and forty-five minutes.  I left at 5:45am, in an attempt to give myself some extra time to get to school.  However, the weather was so treacherous that it took me three hours to get to school.  If you’re doing the math, you will have calculated that I was 45 minutes late to a timed final exam. 

 I’d found out I was pregnant the day before, so I hadn’t studied as much as I initially intended to anyway, and now I’d lost almost half the amount of time allotted to take this exam.  Let’s face it- I was in a panic. I’d pulled over to email my prof about the weather conditions early on, but I had no idea if he’d received such an early morning message.  My anxiety was on a steady increase.  By the time I reached Lexington, I was so upset that I started crying… and continued to cry all the way into Wilmore.   After parking, I jogged from the car to the classroom.  I had no idea that I was about to encounter holy love in a tangible way.

When I walked through the door, I picked a seat in the back of the room, and frantically began looking for my pencil and whatnot.  Before I even sat down, my professor was at my side.  He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I got your message, but I didn’t email you back because I didn’t want you to be tempted to read it while you were driving. Don’t worry about being late.  Before you start the test, go take a walk.  Get a drink of water.  Calm yourself down.  It will be waiting for you when you’re ready.”  He said all of this with a gentle smile.  I know it sounds like a small gesture, but for me it was HUGE.  I’d spent the morning in a state of panic, but when I got there Brad was full of nothing but grace. When I went into the hallway, I was so overwhelmed by his generosity that I started crying again.  I knew that I had just experienced the love and mercy of Jesus at work in the life of another.  Before this experience, I’d known Brad to be a person of authentic faith, but afterwards, I realized what a holy person of God he truly is.  He showed compassion and mercy, when he didn’t have to.  He even gave me the full amount of time to take my test, sacrificing his own time for my sake.  

As much as I’d like to keep praising Brad for his behavior, I know in my heart that it wasn’t really Brad.  It was Christ, at work in Brad.  And when I left that day, I felt inspired by his example, but mostly I marveled at God’s transformative work inside us simple people.  If the Holy Spirit can exude from my professor, the Holy Spirit can also exude from me.  If Christ’s face can be seen in the gentle smile of a compassionate person, his face can also been seen in mine.  God really does make people holy.  The Spirit of Christ really does envelop willing hearts.  God really does meet us in our need (and everywhere else for that matter). And I really did encounter Jesus that day.

Thanks be to God.

 

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A Love-Hate Relationship With the Church

17 Sep

There are some things I have a love-hate relationship with.  For example, I really love to eat pizza and ice cream, but I hate what they do to my thighs.  I really hate vacuuming my house, but I love the way it looks when I’m all done.  I think those instances are fairly typical, and not especially problematic for my life with Jesus.  However, there are some “love-hate” relationships that I’m finding God is less okay with.  One such relationship is with the church.

 

Everywhere I look, I encounter yet another critique of the American church.  In fact, I can’t discuss the church with anyone without hearing about how off-course we’ve gotten. And believe me, it isn’t just the “other people” who are guilty of this.  I have just as many complaints about North American Christianity as the next post-modern.   Sometimes I feel like my entire generation is overwhelmed with an intense sense of dissatisfaction with the church.  More often than not, I share in that dissatisfaction.  The church in American is overrun with consumerism, nationalism, and sin.  Our reputation with people outside the faith is terrible, but not for the reasons it ought to be.  Early Christians were despised by the ruling populace because they advocated a way of life which went against the forces of empire at every turn.  Somewhere along the way, sadly, Christianity took hold of the empire, so that the two have become inseparable.  The world no longer hates us because we refuse to worship Caesar, advocate peace over war, or fight for the humane treatment of the marginalized.  The world hates us because we’re pushy in the political realm, homophobic, judgmental, hypocritical, and old-fashioned (this information was taken from Unchristian by David Kinnimen and the Barna Group).  As an “insider,” I have been deeply discouraged (and often frustrated) by the lack of discipleship and mission within our churches- not to mention the inordinate amount hatefulness that can be unleashed when conflict arises.

 

All over North America, believers are calling out in the prophetic voice, and naming the sins of the Church.  I thank God for such prophets because these messages are necessary for the sanctification of the church.  However, I’m beginning to sense that this generation of prophets (of which I feel apart), is also treading in dangerous waters.   We’re on the precipice of doing great harm to the body of Christ.  You see, all this sin-naming has fostered more than a righteous anger or holy discontent.

 

I think it’s making us love the church less.

 

To be clear, I get it.  I get the frustration and the dissatisfaction.  I also long to be part of a community that reflects Scripture in every way.  But calling out all the ways the church fails, isn’t enough to precipitate change. After all, the dissatisfaction of other people (many of whom look, dress and worship differently) is rarely sufficient motivation to evaluate or change our own ways.  Thus, we aren’t going to change the church, unless we give people a good reason to.  Those of us in leadership are going to have to step up and show people what church can be.  Yes, we must name the sins.  BUT it is equally imperative that we present another way of life- where the church is fully surrendered to the love of God and fellow humans. 

 

In order to do that, we have to be surrendered to God’s love ourselves.  That means we have to love- and I mean REALLY love -the church, regardless of how messy it is right now.  After all, how much grace and mercy does God extend to each of us in our messy walk with him?  God’s grace in my life isn’t even quantifiable, and so I suspect that our grace towards those in the church should be just as long-suffering. 

I know, first-hand, that this kind of love is ridiculously difficult.  But I also know that loving the poor, the addicted, the imprisoned, the atheist, and the terrorists isn’t enough. 

 

We also have to love the people of God who don’t seem to get what God is all about.

 

We have to love the cranky person who calls every Monday to complain about the sermon, the bulletin, the song choices, the temperature, or the color of the carpet.

 

We have to love the missions committee who would never dream of stepping foot inside a homeless shelter.

 

We have to love the people who think contemporary music is just entertainment, along with those who think hymns are outdated.

 

We have to love the republican who questions the salvation of democrats, and the democrat who thinks republicans are all fascists.

 

We have to love the people whose addiction is alcohol, or porn, or shopping, or gossip- because we know all addictions are an attempt to fill voids which God has yet to be welcomed into.

 

We have to love the church, despite its immense flaws, because that’s the way God loves us.  The body of Christ is sick.  We’ve lost our way, and we’re in serious danger of completely losing sight of the radical discipleship to which Jesus has called us.  But the church will never change unless we give her something more than a bad report card or an angry blog post.  We’ve got to love her, sin and all.  And in that love we will convey a message- a call- to another way of life; where Jesus is Lord and we are all more like him.

Reflections on the Marriage Equality Debate

4 Apr

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The debate about marriage equality has been heated in the USA for some time now, and it has naturally worked its way into the church.  Lines have been drawn in the sand.  The denominations which affirm the LGBT lifestyle are insisting they’re the only ones who love people (and are therefore in the right), while the other denominations are shouting back that they’re the biblical ones (and are therefore in the right).  Although I applaud the bravery of people who are willing to put their opinions into the mainstream- even unpopular opinions- it seems to me that the majority of Christians who have entered this debate have started from the wrong place.  The result has been a culture war in which everyone is a loser.

I would like to humbly suggest that we- as a church- consider two things before we make any statements about the rightness or wrongness of marriage equality.

First, I think we should ask ourselves:  Are my words being motivated by love for a person?  I don’t think it’s enough to say, “I am motivated by my love for the Bible”, or “I love the institution of church”(while it’s certainly good to love them both).  Jesus has called us to love God above all else, but also to imitate his actions and love other humans the way Jesus has loved us.  Almost everyone I know would respond, “Yes, of course I love people who are gay and lesbian.”  In fact, I don’t personally associate with anyone who would say otherwise (at least not openly), but the recent events on social media have led me to believe that many of my brothers and sister in Christ do not love individuals who are LGBT.  I don’t say that because some disagree with the lifestyle- that’s a valid position.  I say that because we seem to have forgotten a very important truth.  “That homosexual” is more than his sexual orientation.  His name is Ted.  He has two parents who he loves beyond words, a little brother who adores him, a degree in accounting, and a good job.  Ted really likes jazz music and his favorite book is O Cry the Beloved Country.  In his spare time, Ted grows tomatoes in his backyard and goes fishing with his favorite uncle.  Ted is a person.  What’s more, Ted is a human being who has been made in the image of God and is the beloved of God Almighty.  The minute we separate a human being from the image and love of God, we are in error and sin.

Perhaps it would be helpful, for those of us who wish to enter into this debate, to first know a person who identifies as LGBT.  I can tell you, I am writing this post with fear and trepidation because of the four gay people in my life who I love deeply.  I don’t love them because they’re gay- as if I’m trying to fill a quota- and I don’t love them in spite of being gay.  I love them because they are human beings, made in the image of God, and they happen to be really cool, funny, smart and brave individuals.  My love for them has shaped the way I approach this subject.  It has forced me to consider every single word and evaluate whether or not I am motivated by a holy love for people.

This same reproach can go the other directions.  Many of my brothers and sisters have come out as adamant supporters of marriage equality.  Their love for LGBT folks is evident, but their love for the community of faith is not.  Before we rail against someone else’s theological position, we must also stop and consider whether or not we are motivated by love for Christ and his bride.  The messages we have to share- whatever they may be- will never be heard until the message is seasoned with love.

Secondly, I think there is a passage of Scripture we- as the church- should revisit. 

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—  not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.  But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside. “’Expel the wicked person from among you.’”

– 1 Cor. 5:9-13 (bold mine)

Paul is a huge advocate for accountability and church discipline.  This passage is written in the context where Paul addresses some sexual immorality within the church.  Very often, my friends on the LGBT side will throw out the “judge not” texts.  Those texts hold true, but do not negate the role of accountability amongst believers.  We are called to both grow in holiness and assist our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same.  Therefore, it is biblical and good for those within the church to hold other believers accountable, provided we are equal opportunity critiquers when it comes to sin.  A pastor I met recently named Kevin had some good words on this topic.  He shared with me that everyone comes into the faith at different places in their spiritual walks.  That’s a given.  Some people will progress faster than others.  He told me he is less concerned with where they are in the journey of sanctification than the direction they are facing.  If we are walking with the Lord and facing Christ, then the Holy Spirit will do the Holy Spirit’s job of sanctifying.  Our role in this process is to gently correct and encourage each other to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading.  Here is a link to a video by Dr. Ben Witherington III on this question for the believers.  I agree with his conclusions for the church.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMHXH_xERL8

However, Paul makes it clear in this passage that he is not in the business of “judging” or holding those outside the church accountable.  God will handle that according to his perfect judgment and unfailing love.  It is not my job to be the morality police.  The whole premise that those who are outside the faith can/should be expected to live up to Christian standards of holiness is flawed to begin with because no one is capable of doing that. It is only through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that we are made righteous.   Some people will point to John the Baptist’s rebuke of King Herod as justification for “calling out” the sin in government.  However, Herod was a Jewish King who was supposed to be leading God’s people according to God’s standard (Torah).   John was rebuking another member of the covenant community not an outsider.  I’m afraid I must hold to the same conclusion as Paul.  “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church…? God will judge those outside.” God is perfectly capable of handling the eternal implications of every choice humans make- and I’d prefer to leave that job in God’s capable hands.

I know I will have upset some people with this post.  Some will think I crossed a line and others will think I haven’t gone far enough.  Honestly, my intention is not to upset anyone.  I desire unity within the body of Christ, but I am also deeply saddened by the fact that the gay couple at Panera chose to move their table when they realized I was reading the Bible.  Something is terribly amiss when Christians are known for their hatred of a sin rather than their love for human beings made in God’s image.  It’s breaking my heart- and I can’t help but think it breaks God’s too.