grace

I Vote Everyday. What Am I Voting For?

I just took down a Facebook post from an hour ago. I was rather straight-forward about my growing frustration with our political reality. After a few comments I realized my desire to “voice” my heart to defend people who have been disrespected, marginalized and even dehumanized was tangled up in a seemingly no-win debate among people - who really care about our country. Because my desire wasn't to begin a political conversation, creating side-taking banter about candidates or partisan preferences, I deleted my post.

Then, I decided to post what's really key to me. What I’d most like to say - in a political conversation or not. This certainly isn’t complete, but this is my heart…

Room at the Table

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I think I’ve always grown up hearing that people matter. At least most people. 

I’m pretty sure the people I attended church with, the leaders and pastors in my life wouldn’t say “most people.” They’d say all people matter. It’s just that the language I heard (and I used) and the approaches I watched (and I participated in) didn’t always reflect that every person matters to God…and to us.

When I was a kid, what I heard went something like this…

  • “They practice a false faith.”
  • “Their doctrinal system is wrong.”
  • “They are sinful.”
  • “They are lost.”
  • “They are hell-bound.”
  • “They. They. They.”

It was always “they.” And we were “us.” Us and them. Higher and lower. In and out

There were lists of taboo “sins” that separated them from us. These “sins” were apparently rotten, stinking “fruit,” that allowed us to judge whether someone was in or out. 

  • Their filthy language.
  • Their gay lifestyle.
  • Their smoking, drinking and chewing and going with girls who do.
  • Their lack of church service attendance.
  • Their movie or TV choices.
  • The list goes on...

I don’t think anyone in my church experience would ever have said that “they” don’t matter. But the focus was too often on what separated them from us. Their choices, their lifestyles, their language, their sexual orientation, their appearance… all the stuff that was used to judge whether they were in or out. 

So, they were out.

For a good number of years now, I've been journeying through this challenge of "us" and "them." And I’ve been confronting my “us-isms;" the subtle, but profoundly disrespecting and devaluing ways I've "othered" people who I saw as different from me. It's been one thing to acknowledge that "people matter;" quite another to celebrate that every human being bears the image of the Divine. And they do. It's the opening declaration in the human story and all of scripture echoes it.

People matter because they bear the image of the Divine

Every person. Every. Person.

  • Every ethnicity. 
  • Every sexual orientation.
  • Every economic class.
  • Every neighbor.
  • Every person without a home.
  • Every person struggling with a mental illness.
  • Every person whose lifestyle, choices, behaviors, language and relationships are different than mine, than yours. 

Every person bears the image of the Divine. And that’s why they matter. 

Notice the two lists above. One list places LGBTQ on a "sin" list. The latter list recognizes characteristics about human beings. The first list makes it easy to judge people and justify their exclusion based on behavior. The second list acknowledges that every person is an image-bearer of God.

I have dear LGBTQ friends who have been rejected by their parents, pastors and churches. Over and over and over. They've not been merely misunderstood; they've been mistreated. They've not been merely questioned; they've been sequestered. They've not been merely dismissed; but dehumanized. I've wept and ached with my friends. I've apologized on behalf of any Christian - or any person - who has disrespected and denied their dignity. 

These friends help me follow Jesus because of his image in them, his likeness in the way they love others, forgive others, sacrifice their time and energy, and give themselves to the transformative work of LOVE, of Jesus in our world. They are beautiful souls. Amazing friends. 

In his inaugural synagogue reading of the Old Testament (Luke 4), Jesus pointedly announces himself as the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy regarding the One who would come "to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And then he follows this "good news" with stories from their history, stories of their revered prophets who crossed religious boundaries, defied sacred practices by including tribes long rejected by his audience. Because... all people matter to God; all people are created in God's image.

Through his life on earth, Jesus shows us what it looks like to live and love as image-bearers: beautiful, fully human beings. Jesus’ invitation calls us to awaken to what is already most true about us - all of us. His call is to live into our already core identity as image-bearers. 

Here's another challenge in understanding Jesus' life and message. As we read the Bible to understand his kingdom, we each come to the scriptures with biases and approaches that are used - in part - to substantiate the biases we already hold. But the more I read the Bible, the more I’m challenged that I’ve missed the point way too often. Over too many years I had ignored context. I had dismissed cultural realities. I had not always done the work to try to understand this ancient text. And because of this, I had missed Jesus’ radical, all-inclusive invitation - not to a church or a religion or a doctrinal system - but to his Table of belonging as family. 

Over the past several years I’ve had to wrestle with honest questions like…

  • Is doing the next “right” thing always the most “loving” thing?
  • Are there times when the traditional understanding of “right” should be challenged, even overturned?
  • Have I talked about how much people matter, but used a lens of “othering” to differentiate myself as somehow better?
  • Have I accurately understood biblical context and language and intent regarding homosexuality and marriage?
  • Can I read science and scripture side by side without setting aside my faith - regardless how the creation of the universe happened (and is still happening)?
  • How do I surrender to the Mystery and Grace of God?
  • How do I practice the kind of message and lifestyle I see in Jesus?
  • What do I do with Jesus’ declaration that there are people we’ve rejected from our "tribe" - and it’s counter to his kingdom?

Maybe you're asking similar questions. Maybe you're wrestling with what it means to be part of a kingdom that is inclusive. Maybe you're wondering...As we learn to follow Jesus together - rich, poor, straight, LGBTQ, believers, doubters, young, old, steeped in religion, no religion at all - how will we not only put out a “welcome” mat, but how will we offer a chair of belonging at the Table. How will we lead and serve and love...together? 

This past weekend my friend and pastor, Jason Miller, spoke eloquently and bravely about sexuality and scripture and our practice. He challenged our faith community with this: As we differ in our understanding of a historical, traditional view of marriage or a progressive view of marriage... how will we experience and practice unity? How will we allow Jesus to be the basis and center of our faith and community? 

This three-word phrase: Because People Matter is actually a complete sentence. There’s a period at the end, not a comma.

Let's love, Because People Matter.

Period.

(Check out the Sacred Conversation: Sexuality message here)

Stop Your Target Practice

I love it when people begin to discover that they are loved by God. I especially love it when they move from understanding how much they matter to God, to seeing that other people really matter too. They matter as treasures God created. They matter to that person who's just discovered God's grace. It's beautiful.

It's disappointing though, when followers of Christ begin to see their friends as walking targets, a bull's eye target to faith-wrestle to their knees, so they can be "saved." People can tell when the friendship is motivated by pure love that is curious, genuinely interested and invested. And, people can tell when the "friendship" is about completing a soul-saving objective. When that happens...

Right Where You Are.

A common mantra in the Church about God’s love goes like this: “God loves you right where you are, but too much to leave you there.” I’ve said it too. It’s true. 

Sometimes I wonder if our mantra risks communicating an unwillingness to love people right where they are. 

I talk to others a lot about accepting people right where they are. It’s at the core of the guest services training I do with churches and organizations. It’s what I teach. And yet, I’m embarrassed that I am still learning...

What's Your Label?

I didn't meet the guy who drives this Jaguar convertible. But he picked up this label somewhere - and then paid to announce it to everyone. At least everyone who sees his ride.

It's interesting - the labels we wear. Some we give to ourselves. Many we take on from someone else. 

  • Successful. Failure. Incapable. High Capacity. 
  • Skinny. Fat. Attractive. Ugly. 
  • Leader. Crowd-follower. Independent. Stubborn.
  • Rude. Sweet. Professional. Normal. Real.

I don't know where you picked up the label or labels you most naturally wear - ...

The Gospel. Scandalous Grace.

There's a reason we affirm and sing the phrase "amazing grace." But it's almost unbelievable how unamazingly we treat grace. The Gospel Grace. God's grace.

What's so amazing about grace is that it is absolutely scandalous. It's not reasonable. It's not fair. It's supernatural.

  • An adulterous king is declared to be "a man after God's own heart." 
  • A man who gave his wife up as his sister for sexual relations with another man was "the father of many nations."
  • A prostitute makes it

Discipleship & the Story of Two Sons

We're weeks away from launching a new disciple-making initiative at Granger Community Church. We're ramping up for a life-long journey of new normal, not merely a three-semester classroom of teaching. We're currently training guides who'll journey with others, extending grace, understanding, and encouragement. 

I helped with the training last week and my assistant, Julie, reminded me of the story of "the Prodigal Son" (as we church peeps tend to call it). It's a beautiful and challenging picture that helps us in our role of guiding, helping, coaching others with whom we journey.  

I had a college professor who taught that the parables of Jesus had one and one point only. It was wrong to try to read too much into the details of Jesus' stories. Take the ever-popular story of "the prodigal son". Point: God the Father is a forgiving, unconditional loving God. According to my prof, the story's elder son character was merely added in to round out a great story. I think he may have missed a point or two in the parable.

Original Sin vs. Original Grace | Part 3

I began this article a couple days ago, so if you're just tuning in, you may want to read Part 2 and Part 1 first (I'd start with Part 1).

Growth is process for all of us. Just look around you. It's spring; time for new birth. Blind, helpless birds wait open-mouthed for mama to provide food. Ducklings waddle in mass, following eagerly, learning to find food. Nature's newborn are immature. 

We're no different.

If we’re willing to honestly reflect on the incremental nature of our growth, we’ll have to admit that it’s taken a very long time to really accept and practice some areas of “next steps” that we’ve known cognitively for…well, a long time. If we’re honest, we’ll learn more tomorrow, next month, next year and the year after that. We’re not yet who we’re going to be.

When we’re honest about our own experiences, we realize

Original Grace vs. Original Sin | Part 2

I began this article yesterday, so if you're just hopping in, scroll down or use this link to read Part 1.

You know that little "x" that says "you are here" on the directional map at the mall? It's the "x" that identifies where you're standing at the moment, so you can navigate your way to a destination - whether it be your car or favorite store. t's true at the mall and it's true in life.

Everyone has an “x” that defines where he or she is.

nd we all arrived there through a journey. Maybe the journey seemed somehow unintentional or perhaps it was methodically plotted. Either way, a series of many steps has landed us where we are. 

It’s amazing that the scriptures are so filled with themes of journey and story, and yet we often fail to see the value of journey in someone else’s life. It’s easy to expect that once people have heard the truth, the only thing left to do is to obey. After all, Jesus said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). So they think, “You want to be free, you want to live life to the full? Then hear the truth and obey. Period.”

But it’s seldom that simple.

Original Grace vs Original Sin | Part 1

I’ve been wrestling lately with the crap inside of me. My own broken places. The effects of shame that rear up to suck me back into a hole of “you’re not good enough.” I’ve fought with my own besetting sin and the distractions that are triggers for me.

I’ve witnessed my sister going through the painful process of chemotherapy. I’ve read text reports of a family member’s baby fighting for his life. I’ve read the devastating reports and watched the wreckage video of tornadoes in Oklahoma. And I’ve read the tweets and heard the rhetoric of Christians pointing to the "justice" of God. His punishment for sin. I’m sick about the suffering and fed up with the judgment of people who speak for God.

Pharisees, Denney's, & Discipleship

Larry Osborne, senior pastor at Northcoast Church challenged the audience of shake-up-the-norm church planters to be cautious of the risk of becoming accidental Pharisees.

He noted that in our exuberance to rush to the front of the Jesus-line, we easily begin to look behind us at those who aren’t where we are and we judge and despise them. We risk projecting the conviction on our own heart as judgment on people who aren’t where we are.

We forget that we had to learn. We deny

Peter, Jesus... and Me

I'm realizing again just how much I relate to the Peter of the New Testament. I try to put myself in the story of the Bible, try to embrace the eternal message of the divine... and the human (that the divine created). Peter makes it easy for me. I so connect to his classic scenes.

When I read about Peter it’s easy for me to see… 

a man with his foot in his mouth;

his mouth in everyone’s ear;

and someone else’s ear in his hand!

And it’s pretty much true…look at him:    

  • After a considerable amount of time with Jesus, Peter’s still interrupting teaching time with requests in Matthew 15, like, “explain the parable to us”. Followed by Jesus’ first closing his eyes, moving from despair to smile to a nasal laugh, before cupping his face in his hands and asking, “Are you still so dull?”
  • In Luke 12, he leans over

A Muddy Christian Worldview: Us vs. Them

I'm still on the west coast enjoying the sight line of palm trees against a blue sky. I could really get used to this. As I've enjoyed the local scene, I've visited a number of churches in the past couple days. Even here in sunny L.A. the teaching in local churches can still be annoying - even damaging.

This past Saturday evening a cool website led me to an apparent relevant, progressive church who happened to give their platform to a guest professor from a nearby, well-known, evangelical college. I think it was a mistake.

Although this church was innovating ways to open dialog in their personal relationships with friends within their culture, this guest speaker managed to present a paradigm that threatened their voice of grace

Life-Sucking Silos, Part 2

In Part 1 of "Life Sucking Silos" I outlined a few primary ways we focus our staff and volunteer leaders on the main thing, preventing silo ministries or teams who operate as stand-alone entities within the local church (read it here).

 

Don't worry about relationships; focus on ministry. Don't take the time to get to know people. There are goals to accomplish, souls to serve. Who has time for relationships?

  • Fail to build relationship with your leaders and you'll have a

A Muddy Christian Worldview: Us vs. Them

I'm still on the west coast enjoying the sight line of palm trees against a blue sky. I could really get used to this. As I've enjoyed the local scene, I've visited a number of churches in the past couple days. Even here in sunny L.A. the teaching in local churches can still be annoying - even damaging.

This past Saturday evening a cool website led me to an apparent relevant, progressive church who happened to give their platform to a guest professor from a nearby, well-known, evangelical college. I think it was a mistake.

Breakfast Barricades

I live in northern Indiana in the path of the snow belt from Lake Michigan. We call it Lake Effect. I think that's intended to remind us that we get to enjoy the water and beaches of the great lake... when it's warm. I bring all that up to say that when it finally starts getting warmer, we Hoosiers find ourselves in the path of the department of transportation - fixing pot holes. Some days I prefer the snow.

Today was one such day. This morning on my way to a breakfast meeting I approached the main thoroughfare out of my neighborhood and discovered

Still Crazy After All These Years

This is my bride, Laura, of 31 years. No, today isn't our anniversary. But, I'm celebrating her anyway. We met 35 years ago in high school. I had my eye on her for a couple of years, but she was beyond me. No way she'd want to date me. She was a good friend of my sister, so I finally avoided all risk and begged my sister to tell me what Laura thought of me. Would she go out with me?

Like I said, that was a couple decades or more ago.

Today, we're best friends and passionate lovers (with each other!). Here are 27 reasons I'm proud and grateful to be your husband, Love: