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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bones

Yahweh took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of Yahweh to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. 
Ezekiel 37:1-2

Have you been there? To the valley of dry bones?  Have you gazed out upon what you thought would be verdant life, only to see shriveled dreams, dust and ashes?  Has the thing you cherished, the vision you held dear, evaporated before your very eyes?

The spirit of discouragement is a powerful thing.  As Christians, we deal in intangibles.  How does one measure a soul?  How do you determine success or failure when you are operating in the realm of discipleship? Often, God does not bring growth in a linear fashion, but instead, in fits and starts.  And often, all too often, we pour time, energy, love, and hopes into something that seems to whither before our eyes.  In that moment, staring at a valley of bones (or an empty room, a rebellious teenager, a marriage in shambles) we hear a voice whisper “you have failed.”

Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”
“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”
Ezekiel 37:3

Let me tell myself you something important.  When you are doing kingdom work, it is not  your responsibility to make something succeed.  You cannot do it.  We cannot white knuckle a fledgling ministry into succeeding.  We cannot convince someone to come to Jesus by a winsome argument.  You cannot cure societies ills by gritting your teeth and working that much harder.

That’s God’s job.

He may do it.  Or he may not.

So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.
Ezekiel 37:7-8

This is our job.  Speaking the message.  Obedience.  Simply to take the next step.  It is God who puts the bones back together.  We humans are such silly, all or nothing creatures.  We either take on too much- trying to make water into wine through our own machinations, or we sit back and do nothing- saying that we are waiting on God to provide. The answer lies in the middle.  We must find the balance.

If God has planted a dream in your heart, or given you the responsibility to shepherd a ministry, your job is obedience.  To do the next thing.  It is only when we are faithful in our small tasks, that God brings forth the miracle.  When God tells us to speak, we must speak.  When he calls us to act, we do it. It is human hands and human voices God uses to change this world.

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”
So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.
Ezekiel 37:9-10

So often, we are expecting God to do mighty things.  Heal the terminally ill.  Take a small church plant and grow it into a mega church.  Convert the jihadist.  He does that.  But he also does so much more than the grand acts.  Much of God’s work is invisible, small, mundane, and ever so much more powerful than the miraculous.  The majority of Christendom has not been created by supernatural acts, but by the faithful obedience of generations of believers.  It is the faithfulness of God’s children to live into their gifts and to offer their lives to God that has sustained our faith and transformed our world.  God creates the seeds that grow into flourishing crops.  But he allows us to plant them.

I don’t know what mountain you are staring at today.  I don’t know the vision God has birthed in your heart.  But what I do know, is that in order for that dream to happen, two ingredients are required.  God’s power, and your obedience.  Bearing the fruit is not your task.  But planting the seed is.  And if you are hearing that whisper in your ear, the one who has told you that you have failed, that you aren’t good enough, remember the valley of dry bones.  Sometimes one act of obedience, one whisper of prophecy, is all that is required to resurrect those bones into life.

yours to carry

Something has bothered me deeply about the national discourse on Robin William’s death.  So much so that I didn’t want to write this post, because I didn’t want to use his name in vain.  I didn’t don’t want to use his death for my purposes.  I am not going to reference it any more in this post… but here is what I have to say.  His death isn’t about you.  It’s not yours.  It belongs to him.  And his family.

When something terrible happens to someone famous, we all have reactions.  We have opinions.  We have memories of the person, ways their life touched us or affected ours.  But the truth is, we didn’t know them.  They aren’t real to us.  We see glimpses, roles played, the public persona, not the person inside.  And so the loss of that person, while sad, isn’t world ending.  When something like this happens, and the world is captivated by the loss, the lingering public discourse always hurts me.  I can’t bring myself to click on the articles.  I don’t want to know the gory details, hear what the talking heads think, see the Top 10 Lists of best movie roles, their 14 best Golden Globe outfits, etc etc etc.  The truth is, this was a person.  They have friends.  A family.  Children.  And I can’t imagine losing someone I love desperately, and having to hear the rest of the world discuss them over the water cooler.

The same thing happens at our nation’s major tragedies.  I hate to see the reporters swarming a school shooting.  I refuse to read the profiles of the shooters.  I just don’t want to know.  Why?  Because in my mind, this person’s motivation was to become known.  They want the world to know their name.  To be captivated by their actions, their monstrosities.  When I refuse to click on the link, I refuse to reward the acts of terror.  We have to face it.  We have a celebrity culture.  We are watching the glitterati 24 hours a day.  In our country, to be important is to be famous.  To know about the comings and goings of the famous gives us something in common, something to talk about.  A seat at the table.

But here is the problem with that… we don’t actually have that in common.  We are just outsiders, looking in on someone else’s life, someone else’s tragedy.  The heartbreak of the people on the news is not ours to carry.  We can’t bring them a meal, show up at the wake, sit with them while they cry… we aren’t a part of their life.  We are just gawking at them from the other side of the screen.

In a way, I believe that the best ministry we can have to those people is privacy.  Give them the space and the room to mourn.  Show support and empathy, but hold the spectacle.  Stop the discourse.  This tragedy isn’t an issue, it’s a life.  A person.  A person in pain- not that uncommon.  We spend our lives surrounded by hurting people.  People whose lives we can impact.  Stories we can carry with us.  These are the people that need our presence, our ministry, our attention.  Have an opinion on depression?  Suicide?  How much time have you spent walking alongside someone who has been depressed?  Sat with people who have been robbed of loved ones by suicide?  These people are yours to carry.  Engage with them, engage with your world.  Instead of blogging, commenting, or tweeting about these issues, it’s time for us to get our hands dirty.  To invite our neighbors, friends, and coworkers into our lives and communities, and to do life with those in pain.  We can talk about suicide until we are blue in the face, but no amount of awareness, no pithy statement is going to stop this epidemic.  That hope lies within the context of relationship; it lies in face to face conversations; meals spent together; loving faces to witness the darkness of the pit.

That’s how Jesus did his ministry- not in public announcements, press releases, or blog posts (parchment posts?) but in living life with a group of people.  The disciples lives were transformed during nights around the campfire, fish roasting on a spit.  Jesus was deeply involved his people, and those people in turn, transformed the world.  It’s easier to stand at a distance and voice our opinions… but the reality is that nothing changes this way.  Dive in… engage… be present. Be with the people you are with, not the people you watch from afar.