love

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)

Discipleship as Story: A Shared Journey of What It Is to Be Fully Human

I’ve been to India twice now. On both occasions I took in a trip to Agra to visit the Red Fort and the famed Taj Mahal. I was traveling with my family on the second tour and wanted them to experience all I had in my first Eastern adventure. 

You see, my first tour was with a native travel guide who completely immersed herself in the history and legacy of her country. She told stories about the people and events that had inhabited the sites as though she had experienced them herself. She was connected with the story. She told it as if it was her own. I listened with keen interest, hung on every word. I was invited into her world, her history, her life. I not felt I knew her country and her heritage; I believed I knew her. 

Eager for my wife and daughter to experience the same riveting interaction, we embarked on the two-hour ride to Agra from New Deli. My eagerness waned as…

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...

How to Give a Care

We use this word, care, easily and often throughout the day.

  • “Do you care if I have a cookie?”
  • “I don’t give a care.”
  • “I care, just not enough to do anything about it.”
  • “I care for you.”
  • “Be careful!”
  • “He should be under a doctor’s care.”
  • "I don't care."

Care is defined as a noun: the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something; serious attention or consideration applied to doing something correctly or to avoid damage or risk. It’s also a verb: feel concern or interest; attach importance to something; look after and provide for the needs of.

Maybe it’s just as easy to miss actually caring for someone as it is to say, “I don’t care for...

Care is Intentional

What if you could learn...

  • how to listen - not only to words, but to someone's heart?
  • how to leverage your own brokenness in order to step with love into the brokenness of someone else?
  • to journey with someone whose shame is binding, confusing and masking their true identity?
  • to avoid some of the ridiculous...

One Agenda. Only One.

It’s curious to me how many end goals, expected outcomes… or agendas we attach to caring for someone. 

With sincere hearts we create agendas from a sense of obligation, responsibility… even calling. We mean well. We feel an obligation to be helpful. We feel responsible to lead people to hope. We feel called to rescue and deliver. But too often our agendas for an expected outcome get in the way of what we’re actually trying to do

Made in the Image of LOVE

I often feel like I’m supposed to have the spiritual stuff of life all figured out. I think I mostly feel that expectation from other people; after all, I am a clergy-card-carrying pastor. That doesn’t mean every person expects this of me. I do plenty of projecting onto unsuspecting, even anonymous, people, assuming I know what they’re thinking. Turns out, what I do have figured out is that I’m still a work in process. But I digress. 

I don’t have all the “spiritual” stuff figured out.

  • Like, the problem of evil. Why?
  • God’s take on the notion of “original sin.”
  • Why God heals some people and not others. Or does he?
  • Why God protects some people from certain death in the face of danger and allows others to die. Or does he?
  • What it means to be made in God’s image. 

God’s image. There’s a “spiritual stuff” question. You and I…created in God’s image. Really? Just what might that mean? There are many explanations about what it means to be image-bearers of almighty God. Among those explanations are the following…

    I Don't Want to Stay Where I Am

    This past week was a staycation during "spring" break. You know what I mean. Don’t spend the money you would on a trip away. Lay low. Sleep in. Get projects done around the yard and house. Watch more TV and movies. Drink more. Coffee.

    I did lay low. I didn’t sleep in – at all. I got some chores done, but no projects to speak of. Yes, The Voice is headed into final competition and Designated Survivor still has Keifer Sutherland in the Oval Office. So, I enjoyed my normal TV viewing with my wife, Laura (and relished lunch with her nearly every day). And I absolutely drank more coffee. More coffee in various coffee shops, not just a cup at home. I tried new flavors in new places with the same special people in my life.

    But the week wasn’t about being lazy while taking in abundant portions of caffeine.

    I’ve read...

    The Lens of Awareness

    My wife, Laura, and I shared breakfast at "our" Starbucks this past Friday just before I headed for the airport. As I kissed her goodbye, I looked into her stunning eyes and reminded her: "I'm so thankful you're here...that you are alive." She responded with the same heart-felt expression of gratitude about me. 

    And we both knew exactly the journey that led to this depth of thankfulness we share...

    Grateful You Were Born

    I reminded Laura shortly after midnight - November 15, her birthday - that I am so grateful she was born. I'm a better person because God created her. Clearly.

    Just hours before I'd sat in the living room with a dear lady and her family and friends, talking about the wonderful memories of her 32 years of marriage to her man. He'd died suddenly of a heart attack just the night before. 

    We don't get any guarantees. Every day is a gift. 

    Next week Laura and I will celebrate 32 years of marriage. I hope we have at least 32 more. But, we get no guarantees. 

    So, I'll tell Laura again tomorrow "I'm so glad you were born." I'm grateful...

    • for her courage. She's

    Stepping off the Stage

     This isn't news: I'm a recovering Pharisee. That is, I'm a long-time "wrapped-in-religion people-pleaser." If you don't quite understand me yet, that means that too often in my life my motivation for most anything has come from trying to make others happy with me. Approval. Acceptance. Smiles. "Isn't he awesome?" kind of stuff.

    Sick, I know. I lived that way for more years than I want to admit. So I won't. But I did.  

    For years I dismissed myself from Jesus' audience of Pharisees. After all I wasn't putting on a show. I wasn't making a big production out of my serving or leading or caring for people. But if I'm waiting for accolades or bothered by the lack of them, well... welcome to my stage.

    Truth is, I am still tempted to live out of that paradigm... that identity. 

    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

    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

    People I Want on My Guest Services Team | #10 - Missional People

    Alas, the end of this list: People I Want on My Guest Services Team. I'm sure this list could be longer than a Top 10; maybe 20, 30 or even 100. But you see the period of time just ten characteristics took to post.

    However, we have arrived. Number 10:

    • Missional People: people who reach out to those who are seeking God

    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