When love and judgment meet

So – like most of you, I have had a ground-level view of 2017-era America. In fact, I have been paying particularly close attention… Say what you want, but it’s not pretty y’all. 

The public discourse in the media, on Facebook, even in the legislature sounds like the backseat of my car when my two preschoolers are hangry. (i.e. what my car sounds like on my way home from work every. single. day. ) 

People are upset. Opinions are flying. And my brothers and sisters in Christ, myself included, aren’t holding back. And even though I have feelings (FEELINGS) about what is going on, the thing that bothers me the most is that I don’t believe that any of this is how Jesus would handle this. Christ saw his fair share of controversy. Of corrupt government. Of abhorrent behavior and outright racism. And yet each person he met seemed singular in his attention. Not stereotyped into groups. Not categorized by race or color or orientation or belief. Each person was precious and worthy of his full attention. 

And if that’s just not what I am seeing today. In fact, to confess, that’s just not how I am behaving today. 

So here goes… 

to my brothers and sisters of color, God loves you. Deeply. He created you to be exactly who you are intentionally and joyfully. (Ps. 139) his active desire for this world is to see love and justice roll like water, to break down barriers, to see his children sit together and peace, love, and equality.  Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

to my precious fellow children of God who are immigrants, refugees, strangers in a strange land, God loves you. Jesus himself was a refugee. His people wandered for centuries in a land that was not their home. God has a heart for setting the lonely in families. (Ps. 68) he wants to shelter you under the feathers of his wings. (Ps. 91)  Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

To my beloved family members who LBGTQ, questioning, or somewhere in between, God loves you. You are made in the image of the Most High God, and that God defines himself as Love. Your ability to love and the love you give and receive to the world is a reflection of His nature.  His thoughts for you outnumber the grains of sand on the seashore. (Ps 139) God rejoices over you with singing (Zeph 3). Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

To my dear siblings who feel marginalized, silenced, overlooked, God loves you. You are not forgotten, you are not abandoned. God perceives your thoughts from afar. (Ps 139) He knows your days, he says that to Him, you are a priceless treasure. (1 Pet. 2) remember – it was to you the angel armies appeared to announce the coming of our Savior. 

And to my fellow believers, my spiritual family, I pray that you know deep in your bones how wildly loved you are. 

-But-

I hope that you also remember that none of us, not one, are righteous. That if we were able to measure up to God’s standard on our own accord, there would have been no need for Christ to come and die. I hope that you remember your own awakening to this kingdom of faith, and realize that it was the voice of love, and not the voice of condemnation or fear, that drew you in. It is my conviction that the Kingdom of God would be much more close at hand if we His children encountered the world with an attitude of radical love, not condemnation.

Yes, I agree, sin is sin. Yet it seems lately more convenient to concern ourselves with the specks in the eyes of others. What planks hinder our vision today? Could it be that our preoccupation with legislating morality is actually hurting the kingdom cause? 

Jesus showed outright love and compassion to those the world condemned. The adulterous. The woman at the well. Zacchaeus. The thieves on the cross. He reserved his condemnation for the Pharisees, the moneychangers in the temple. Those who benefited from his grace yet did not extend said grace to others. 

I will admit – I have no answers. I do not actually know what Jesus would do if he lived in America today. But I have read the Bible. A few times. And much more than a rulebook, the Bible is a love story. And in this book, we are not the mighty hero. We are in the damsel in distress. Needing a rescue. Drowning in a flood of our own making. The thought of which reminds me to end with this: to my fellow Christians…

Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

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I Like Big Buts…

 

Psalm 13
O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?

    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
    Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

The words of this Psalm seem so tender to me.  I can think of months… years… when my prayers sounded just like this.  Hard times find us all.  And when we are in the midst of them, it seems as if God is so very far away, that he has forgotten us.  Psalms of Lament (like Psalm 13) make up almost 1/3 of the Psalms in the Bible.  Clearly, God wants us to know that it is ok to come to Him with our pain.  To cry out in the midst of the situation, to bemoan the hard place you have found yourself in.

I love that we serve a God that gives us permission to be in pain. I love that we serve a God big enough to handle our heartbreak, our fears, even our selfish concerns.  I love that in the Psalms, He models for us what it looks like to lay yourself out before God, exactly how you are.  No artifice, no pretending.

However, in the times I have spent in this place, I have noticed that I can become myopic.  We get so stuck on our story and our situation that we lose the greater picture.  Our prayers become smaller, and, eventually, lose focus on God and become completely focused on ourselves.

It is in this, too, that the Psalms of Lament can be our example.  Because, in their formula, there is always a common thread…

a big BUT.

But I will trust in your unfailing love.  I will rejoice because you have rescued me.  I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me.  

Remember.  The Psalmist is still in the midst of the pain.  There is no rescue in sight.  And still, the ‘but’ remains.  In the midst of the darkness, he is affirming what he knows to be true.  That we serve a powerful God.  One who loves us with unfailing love.  He celebrates a rescue that seems far away and still incomplete.  He chooses to sing of the Lord’s goodness in the midst of the darkness.

That’s one pretty big but.

What is the difference between a lament and a complaint?

That is a question that was posed in my Sunday School class a few weeks ago.  And, truly, I think that the primary difference is the presence of a but.  We can lament, while still affirming God’s sovereignty.  We can mourn, while still acknowledging a Plan that is at work.

When we complain, we forget to remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness, and we get lost in our own pain.  We are limited by our own perspective. Our story ceases to be The Story, but becomes our own story, smaller, diminished.  We don’t choose to believe in the redemption that is coming, both for us as individuals, but also us as a People of God.

Buts are important.  Crucial even.

 

 I like big buts.  And I cannot lie.

My Dark Secret Story

As Christians, we have this whole set of practices embedded in our culture that seem pretty bizarrstorye if we step back and look at them.  Things like… fake cussing.  “Holy Toledo,”  “Mother of Pearl,” “No effing way,” and, worst of all, “Bless Her Heart.”

We sing in groups.  In what other area of your life to adults get together once a week and sing?  Don’t get me wrong- I love it, but, outside the church (and community chorus) it’s not a normal activity.

Then there are the essential parts of our faith.  Things sacred and beautiful to us, but probably seem bizarre to outsiders.  Baptism (dumping cold water on babies).  Communion (eating bread and juice and talking about eating the Body and Blood of Christ).  Confession (telling our deepest darkest secrets to our friends).

As part of my job, I recruit one person from my church to share their faith story with the high schoolers monthly.  I am always surprised to hear how many people don’t feel as if they have a story to tell.  I hear over and over that their story is boring.  That they never really did anything ‘worth’ giving a testimony about.

We seem to have a misunderstanding in the church.  We believe that unless you have some horrid history to share, that you don’t have a story to tell.  If you weren’t a former alcoholic, scam artist, or motorcycle gang member, then you don’t have a testimony others want to hear.

In terms of testimonies, my story is pretty basic.  Sure, I made some boneheaded decisions as a teenager.  I got my heart broken a few times.  I wrestled with forgiveness.  But all in all, my story is pretty vanilla.  But here is the thing- it is my story, which makes it precious.  As I tell my high schoolers each month, the reason we tell our faith stories is to remind ourselves that God is doing something in the lives of everyone we see, including our own.  The more of other’s stories we hear, the better we are able to recognize the love story God is telling in our own lives.

Here is the truth.  No matter how boring our story may seem to us, it is actually epic.  Here is how your story goes:

You were lost.  Unredeemed.  Guilty and sentenced to death.  Living a life utterly without hope.

And a hero came.

He swept you off your feet.  Loved you without fear.  Delighted in the things that make you utterly unique.  Reminded you of your worth and your beauty.  And then, this lover of yours did the unthinkable.

He dove in front of the train.  He sacrificed his life, without a second thought, took your punishment upon himself, so that you were rescued.  Because of His sacrifice, you have a second chance at life.

Your faith story is SO much less about you, and MORE about Jesus, than you could ever imagine.  And because of that, we all have a story to tell.  One of the greatest love stories of all time.  One that includes drama, suspense, tragedy and triumph.  And your story is yours alone.

So you don’t have a shameful, dark past to tell?  So what?  You still have so much to share.  And your testimony can be told forwards as well as backwards.  What adventures are you living now, as you walk hand in hand with your Savior?  If you think your story is boring, stir it up!  See what adventures you can live today, next week, in your next decade!

 

life is made for living.

One of my friends and chief encouragestree shared this passage with me today, and every bit of it rang true.  In fact, I think the truth of this passage goes beyond being an artist, and touches upon our humanity.  There is something in you, your individuality, your uniqueness, that has never been seen on earth before, and never will be again.  The world is better, richer, for your being here.  Our lives are small, our days seem unremarkable, and yet the stories we tell wihtin these lives are endlessly rich and varied.  What are you making of your life, today?  What story are you telling?  Is is one of adventure and whimsy, or do you find yourself trudging through your days, not allowing yourself to be interrupted in the course of your life by the act of living?
Is joy part of your story?  Or is your inner critic muting your ability to laugh, to risk, to wonder?  The world suffers when we cease to be ourselves, and just become the sum of our activities.
I needed this reminder today.  Did you?