Tag: grace (page 1 of 5)

A Selfie Gospel?

Living an authentic Christian life is just hard, isn’t it?

In a world of curated shiny “selfies” we want to be honest about our own mess and love others well in the midst of theirs. We don’t want to be the fakey judgey plastic Christians, banging others over the head with our Bibles, ignoring our own sin.

In the past few years I think there have been some brave, articulate Christians who have modeled vulnerability and authenticity well. It’s been a much-needed corrective to a Christian culture that just wants to show happy-clappy to the world and use the sword of Truth as a weapon of mass destruction.

These truth-tellers have been detailed and explicit about their mess, and God’s love, but sometimes I feel we’re in danger overcompensating – of making an idol out of authenticity and stopping short of truly grieving it as sin.

It seems like it has become more noble to talk about our sin than actually repent of it.

A pastor stands up or a writer writes “real” –  confessing motives, actions, thoughts, words – a heart that is darker than we’d guess.

We’re like, “Wow! That is so great! He is sooooo AUTHENTIC!!

We applaud their courageous honesty and breathe a sigh of relief. “Phew! I’m not the only one”, we think.

When we feel safe to show our rough edges, our failures, our missteps; we may celebrate grace. Yay! There’s NOTHING we can do to be holy, or good enough. I’m ok, you’re ok.

But have we translated Jesus’ acceptance of us right where we are, into an endorsement of whatever feels good to our culture? Has his patience in our minds morphed into tolerance of everything?

Does it mean we ignore God’s grief over our sin, or the price that He paid to rescue us, or the dreams that He has for our growth in character that is like Him?

Has “authentic” become code for celebrating sin under the guise of “Jesus is Love so it’s all good”?

Has love become all comfort and no cost?

Do we think someone loves us only if they endorse our behavior?

Here’s what I’ve been thinking… We get into trouble when we omit God from any Gospel equation.

You may say, “Well, duh!” but think about how inclined we are to do this.

Truth – Grace = Gospel – God  (pharisaical)

Grace – Truth = Gospel – God  (self-centered)

Both omit God from the equation.

 Do you take the kindness of God for granted? Do you see His patience and tolerance as signs that He is a pushover when it comes to sin? How could you not know that His kindness is guiding our hearts to turn away from distractions and habitual sin to walk a new path? Romans 2:4 The Voice

Clearly I’m not the only one thinking about this.

And…

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The church is where we as the broken and beloved come to receive grace and forgiveness, to place ourselves in God’s hands for His refining and redemptive work. This is not easy stuff! I’m thankful for grace AND truth… grateful that we’re on the way together.

 

Theology Sound Bytes & Boundary Marker Christianity

Awhile ago I tweeted a link to an article that I thought was insightful and discerning. I didn’t agree with everything the author said. I didn’t disagree with everything. But it really made me think.

The article raised some questions about the theology of another writer and speaker who is tremendously gifted and has brought some loving correction to the church, but she is also edgy and unorthodox.  I thought it was helpful, so I passed it along.

Immediately after I put up the link to this article I got a response from one person who was relieved that I was “for” orthodoxy, and another person who was mad that I was “against” this author!  In addition I was “followed” by a group called something like “stampouthomophobia” (which had nothing to do with the article)! I just thought the article had some interesting points to consider as we all try to lead examined lives!

As John Ortberg says, we are consumed with a boundary marker Christianity – who’s in and who’s out.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about…We are all so sensitive about appearing to endorse sin, and afraid of affirming someone who’s theology isn’t EXACTLY spot on (in our eyes) that we miss the opportunity to build bridges where we can.

Theology does not lend itself well to 140 characters. The mystery and nuance of God can’t be summed up in a sound byte, or in a 500 word article. 

We were made for relationship, for theology fleshed out. What if instead of an overhead slam, our goal was to keep the tennis ball in play – to rally back and forth with respect and affirmation?

Our public discourse would be immediately improved if we didn’t assume everyone with a different political view to us was morally inferior. Sam Allbery

If we believe all truth is God’s truth (and I do), why am I afraid of affirming it in someone who is different than me?

What would happen if we majored on what we agree on rather than on what divides us?

What would happen if we affirm truth wherever we see it, even when it comes out of the mouth of a Muslim, or a transvestite or a communist?!

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This isn’t something to take lightly. In Matthew 10:16 Jesus warns us “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

We are also cautioned to “test the spirits to see if they are from God.” (1 John 4:1)

But when we look at Jesus we see that He isn’t blind to the sin in the life of others, but also affirms their courage. In Luke 7, a woman who has lived a sinful life comes to the home where Jesus is having dinner and pours perfume on Jesus’ feet. When others criticize her, Jesus says,

Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown.”

Those “inside the boundary markers”, with all the right words weren’t endorsed, but the otherwise “outside the boundary markers” woman was affirmed for the one thing she did that was true and right.

My wise, 86 year old aunt sent me a quote from her church the other day:

“He who realizes his sinfulness, who knows through personal experience the weakness of human nature, its inclination towards evil, that person will be quick to forgive his neighbor, pardon his neighbors offenses and will refrain from arrogant condemnation of the sins of others”  

What I feel like Jesus is impressing on me is the challenge to draw people in instead of finding ways to say they’re out. What do you think?

When You Need More Than Christmas Cookies

The other day I made Christmas cookies.

And by that I mean I made Jeans Bars, so named because they’re guaranteed to make your jeans tight.  Yeah.  I know, I know… Danger Will Robinson!

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But, it got me to thinking about the food I need far more than Christmas cookies.

And the God who has given to all of us who are hungry and thirsty for that “more”…

At church the other night we had communion.

I watched as a man guided his plump, smiley wife to the front.  Her eyes bright and expectant as a child’s.  Her blond curls tousled.

But, standing before the bread and “wine” offered to her, the confusion of Alzheimer’s transformed her face.  Take?  Eat?  What?  Her husband guided her hand to take the bread.  He gently helped her dunk it in the juice.

Yes.  Jesus.  For you.  It’s ok.

Sometimes the Gospel is just hard for me to understand.  Hard to believe.  Hard to accept.  

Like a child, I need that reassurance.

Yes, it’s really for you!  Yes, it’s really all forgiven. Yes, God delights in you.  It’s ok.

Another time, in another place, a friend of mine was in line for communion.  Hungry.  The woman in front of her stopped and started stacking piece upon piece of bread in her hand.  Apparently feeling the need for more of the lavish grace that Jesus offers.

My friend was startled and concerned at this rather bizarre behavior and lack of rule-following.  She thought, “What if there’s not enough for everyone?”

But there was.  There always is.

Sometimes I need to be reminded grace breaks all the rules.  And that I’m more needy than I know.  But Jesus is always enough.  His is not a snack, but a feast that saves me.

Another friend, a powerful, wealthy, young businessman, dying of a brain tumor came to understand that deep need, that deep hunger for the eternal.  He was broken to the point of utter dependence on Jesus.

Eventually he couldn’t speak clearly.  He was unable to use the right side of his body, arm, & hand…But still, he wanted to serve communion as he had many times when he was “healthy.”

And so, another came alongside, and they stood at the front of the church, one man holding the other up,  and both leaning on Jesus as together, they offered life to all who would come.

A physical picture of the the spiritual brokenness of all of us.

And as I came down the aisle to receive communion from my dying friend, I came as sister, also dying from my brokenness, to Jesus who offers more than Christmas cookies.

Christmas cookies.  A sacred reminder to me today of the “more” of eternity.

Do you have “pictures” like these of times when the truth of what Jesus offers has become more real to you?

Who and Whose is Your Church?

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You can just barely see me in the second row of this picture, taken at church yesterday. We celebrated the 60th anniversary of when believers first gathered on this corner of Minnesota in the midst of a farmland.

Outside the sanctuary more people – families with littles gathered around tables to participate with wiggle room. And outside the building, Minnesota couldn’t decide whether to be all blustery clouds, or sun-shiny. The weather reflected the many seasons we’ve experienced here.

As we worshipped, I cried because the picture above may look like a crowd to you, but we’ve been here 27 years, so it’s not a crowd. It’s a family of people with amazing stories of God’s love and redemption.

I turned and looked up to see my long-haired friend in the front row of the balcony who first rode up to church on his Harley, found love and acceptance and never looked back.

I was hugged by a teary woman I had prayed for a few months ago with alcohol on her breath at 9 a.m. She said “I’m making it.” referring to her recovery.

I laughed with the people who had been our first neighbors, whose kids created forts with ours, and came to Jesus through a backyard Bible study I hosted.

I met the new wife of a widower my age, and I watched a young widow pitch in as a volunteer for the bbq after worship.

As I stood talking, a 7 year old friend came and silently leaned up against me for a brief hug.

I cuddled babies belonging to young couples who were just engaged or newly married when I gathered them together as a small community 5 years ago.

Looking across the sanctuary I saw people we’ve done life with – 4th of July gatherings, weddings, births, New Year’s welcoming, and funerals. Together.

Among the folks gathered yesterday were also those who have hurt my feelings. Those who I’ve had to ask forgiveness. Some who have been critical. Others who have gossiped, including me.

This is the church.

I love Jesus. And I love the Church. But the Church isn’t Jesus.

We’re all a mess and we’ll let each other down from time to time.

We are both humble and proud.

Generous and selfish.

Open-handed and controlling.

Inclusive and exclusive.

Gracious and legalistic.

Brave and fearful.

But we keep showing up, because the grace of Jesus is why we’re here in the first place. 

We’re works in progress all.

In addition to the people I’ve named, I know there are some who are just watchers. Maybe wounded. Maybe shamed. Maybe feeling they don’t fit in. They stand on the edges. They slip out early. I try to look for them and take them by the hand and gently pull them in, but they’re slippery and they may not be ready.

If you’re a watcher, I understand. There was a season when I was a watcher too and the church just felt too dangerous. But I’d encourage you with this. It isn’t the church we trust in. It’s Jesus.

Yesterday I cried as I always do when we sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness”

We as a church are going to blow it, but it’s His faithfulness that carries us, that picks us up, that mends our broken hearts, that redeems our relationships and knits us together in love and forgiveness. And so we keep showing up together at 70th street and 100 with “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”

 

 

 

Fitbit Faith

For my birthday I received the absolutely delightful gift of a Fitbit from a dear friend.

I LOVE it! John says they designed this little gadget with type A, goal-setting, competitive, rule-followers like me in mind.

This magical wristband tracks your activity, sleep, and may even make your breakfast for you (I’m still looking into that).

At least 10,000 steps a day is the target. John just shakes his head and laughs when I jump up and start walking in circles around the kitchen island after my wrist has tingled and a prompt has reminded me I have 75 more steps to go in order to make 250 for the hour. Whatever…It works for me.

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But I’ve found this little motivational marvel has some lessons for my faith as well as my physical fitness.

  • Things are not always what they seem. Facing the facts is life-giving. Before I had hard data, I assumed some activities were more beneficial than they actually are, and I discounted some that turn out to be valuable. In the realm of the spirit, Satan is the father of lies and will always be distorting, distracting, and discouraging. This is why it is so important for us to “bring every thought captive” to the Truth of God’s Word.
  • Intention is crucial. No one drifts into fitness and no one drifts into spiritual maturity. Discipline pays off. Every tiny step of obedience adds up. Evennnnnnntually it will pay off on the scale physically, but more importantly discipline pays off in spiritual transformation over time.
  • Intention CAN become legalism. I have been known to run up and down stairs at 11:30 at night just to get in my last hundred steps if it’s been a slow day. I’m such a rule-follower that I need to be careful that I’m more about the big picture than the letter of the law. When a goal, or a task (no matter how good) becomes more important than loving the person in front of me, I need a reset. I also need to be willing to LET IT GOOOOOO. God, our loving Father is all about grace, not shame.

As helpful as this might be for me, writer Chris Rogers points out that Spiritual discipline is more romance than formula.  Whatever is going to stir us to greater depths of love and devotion to Jesus is where we need to take our steps. Are you with me?!

Bubble Wrap and 3 Ways we Respond to Criticism

Back from Africa Friday afternoon with lots to process and amazing experiences meeting many heroes. Daughter Maggie, and son-in-law Austin arrived Saturday so I’m thankful for the summer blog sabbatical and the space to be present. I’m reposting some thoughts from a few years ago today that started with a text from Maggie.

IMG_2565This was a text I received from daughter Maggie awhile ago:

This afternoon a man from the DC Legislature and Regulatory Services in the office next door reprimanded me for playing with bubble wrap too loudly.

BTW, You raised me.” 

Hmmm…Really.

This text raises so many questions.

The Jesus-y way people used to say this back in the day was “I rebuke thee!”  And it came with flames of fire, and lightning bolts.  Like Jason Bourne, Bruce Lee, and 007 doing their super hero moves in a whirlwind smack down of high kicks, karate chops, back flips and flying tackles.

Rebuking seems like the biblical free clobber card although these days it often comes under the guise of “doing a Matthew 18:15”.  If we’re honest, sometimes I think we can enjoy being the clobberer (or imagining it), but as the clobberee we usually we feel like we’re picking ourselves up off the matt, bruised and bloody after being called out.

A few weeks ago I was corrected loudly and publicly for a mistake I made.  Then later in the day I was scolded for something I wrote.  It felt like Simon Cowell had told me he had never heard anyone with less talent.  On national t.v.  Want-to-crawl-in-a-hole-pain-full.

We Christians don’t like making mistakes.  It feels so, you know…ungodly.

Once in awhile critique comes wrapped in love from those close to us, like Mr. Rogers putting his arm around us and gently saying “You messed up, but it’s ok.  We all do.  You’re still a part of the neighborhood.”

But more often it comes from a stranger and it feels like Mark Driscoll has put us on his “Jesus hates you” hit list.

All this bubble wrap stuff has made me think about the ways we usually respond to criticism or correction.

1.  We hold hoard it like an 80 year old grandma saving plastic baggies to reuse.  We let it define us.  Maggie could see herself forever as the “Bubble Wrap Bimbo.”  Let it drown out any affirmation.  Research shows that it typically takes 4 positive interactions with someone to offset one negative one.  We’re giving reprimands a lot of power!  Maggie might so focus on the rebuke that she’d miss the three other compliments on her creative bubble dance moves, her cat-like reflexes, and her innovative use of trash.

2.  We rebuke the rebuker.  Replay the conversation in our heads complete with witty original comebacks.  In these scenarios we always emerge righteous and are able to do an end-zone victory dance with moves like Victor Cruz in the Super Bowl while the other person begs forgiveness for being  SO wrong about us.  Victim turned Victor.

3.  We look for the truth, learn from it, and move on.  Borrrrring, you say?  Yeah, and it’s about as easy for me as competitors on the Amazing Race, sifting through the mud to come up with the prized Japanese frog.  But I’ve seen it done so I know it’s possible.

What might a redemptive text from Maggie to Regulatory Guy look like?

RG, Sorry the noise bothered u.  It was thoughtless of me not 2 tone it down, but bubble wrap is joy in plastic!  Next time I’ll invite u 2 join us in the dance.  Have a great day! 😉

Just recently Mark Batterson tweeted, “Criticism, even unfair criticism, can be a blessing in disguise. It keeps you humble.”                                                                              Great.  Thanks.  Yea for humility.

I’m trying.  End zone victory dance fantasies aside, my prayer this morning was, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.  Help me to hear the words of truth in each criticism aimed at me.  Let my words of correction always be few and seasoned with grace.”

What’s your most common reaction to criticism?  How do you handle it?

Is it Possible to Fail at Communion?

It’s Memorial Day and I’ve been missing my girls! Here’s a post from a few years ago when Maggie was single and she and Katy were living together in D.C. 

“We’re at church and Maggie is having a meltdown.  

We just got a full page of single-spaced instructions on how to take communion here.  She’s sure she’s gonna make a mistake and wreck everything.” 

I got this text with the accompanying picture from our daughter Katy who was visiting a new church with Maggie in D.C. where they are living together.

Then last week we were visiting them, and arrived right after their second visit to this church.  Communion is served every week and again, they were full of energy recounting their communion experience.

With great animation and hand gestures they said, “Everyone has to walk down to the front of the sanctuary, following the diagram and then it’s like a communion smorgasbord with 89,000 choices you have to make!”

On the fly!  

In front of PEOPLE!  

While thinking about JESUS!

Drink or dip, wine or juice, gluten free wafer or bread

With all these choices, Katy mistakenly ate her bread before dipping, then drank from cup she thought was wine but was grape juice.  Communion fail.

How can anyone reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s abundant grace when they’re worrying about DOING the wrong thing to celebrate it?

According to Maggie, “You’ve really gotta work for communion at this place!”  Ironic isn’t it?  Work to receive grace?

A friend of hers suggested she might want to do a couple of practice run-throughs before she came back again.

We were laughing at this experience, but I couldn’t help think of a friend of mine who had been in line to take communion once and watched as the girl in front of her systematically plucked piece after piece of the cut squares of bread off the serving plate and stacked them on top of each other in her hand.

My friend thought, “She can’t do that!  You’re only supposed to take ONE!  That’s not the way it’s done! Where are the communion police when you need them??”

Then it was like the Lord tapped her on the shoulder and said “This is what this meal is all about – lavish grace without limit.  Offered at great cost, but free for the taking.”

We’re all beggars in need of bread, but perhaps this woman had a deeper sense of how desperately she depended on Jesus’ forgiveness.

Anyway, all this has got me thinking about our awareness of our own sinfulness and need for grace, whether we follow the directions for taking communion right or not.

The good news is that the only way to fail at communion is to not accept it as a gift that we desperately need.

Have you ever stressed over taking communion?  Is communion conducive to paying attention to God’s work in your life?                                                                                      Have you ever made a “mistake” taking communion?

What to do With Critics You’d Really Like to Take Out

When someone criticizes me or my husband John I think, “Oh, how thoughtful. They clearly love us. They have examined the plank in their own eye and are now graciously pointing out the itsy bitsy teeny tiny spec in ours. That is sooooooo lovely!”

Kind of like surreptitiously motioning to a friend that they have a smudge of ketchup in the corner of their mouth while they’re eating  – you know…in a way that doesn’t embarrass them.

Or maybe not. Maybe I stew and think how very unfair life is, and that thing they said I said isn’t what I meant at all, and Come ON already!

Maybe I conduct imaginary conversations in my head where I have witty putdowns and “Ha HA! Take THAT’s!”

Maybe I pray that all the critics would be exiled to Bolivia and that Donald Trump would build a wall so that they can’t get back in. Continue reading

Why I Don’t Like Lent

Last week was Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  I was in Florida and John was in Thailand when he wrote this in an email:

Can I let you in on a secret?  I’m so much more a Christmas guy than an Easter person; I know it sounds sacrilegious, but I love THAT part of the story, cuz of the hope and the joy (and the presents)… And the absence of all that ‘sin talk’ and the beatings, trials abandonments and crosses.

There’s a little scene where the two unlikely heroes of the Lord of the Rings, Sam and Frodo, are hiding and near death, and Sam says, “Do you think think they’ll ever tell our adventure, Mr. Frodo?… ‘Maybe Sam, but this is the part where the children will say, skip this part, Dad, I don’t like this chapter.‘”  I know how Frodo feels, on Ash Wednesday.

My response? Me too, me too, me too!

Lent is the part of the story that is ugly and messy and requires humility and self-examination and I’d really rather avoid both thank you very much. Continue reading

Everyday Grace and the Fingerprints of God

Daughters Katy and Maggie and son-in-law Austin have gone back to the coasts – D.C. and San Francisco.

It finally snowed here in Minnesota (righting a cosmic wrong).

Christmas is over and I’m feeling the let-down. I’m sitting by the fire in our kitchen at dusk with a cup of hot chocolate as I write this.  Maggie insists I call it hot chocolate instead of cocoa.  No idea why.

The Christmas decorations are packed away til next year.  Ornaments made with chubby hands and glue of love.  Unusual baubles brought from far flung places.  Decorations marking special times.

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As I pack up Christmas I feel so conflicted…

I love and hate this time of year.

I hate it that it’s the end of my favorite season.  The end of twinkle lights and anticipation, shining stars and awe-struck shepherds.  Putting things away is such a mark of endings, while Jesus is the celebration of new beginnings that I love.

Jesus.  Every-day grace and fresh starts.  Every day.  Not just at Christmas and not just at New Years.

As I’m taking down decorations and wrapping up the creche I get to thinking there’s really no way to pack Jesus away.

I think of this Frederick Buechner quote: Continue reading

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