Tearing Down the Important Statues

Perhaps more than the statues themselves, the opinions about statues need to be torn down. The concrete or steel or whatever they are made of when placed along a street or in a park are not nearly as offensive as the stuff that comes out of us regarding them. Keep them or preserve them, it’s all about the heart.

Things that are offensive, especially inanimate objects, don’t have to be. It’s a choice. The security that comes with knowing who you are and being grounded in that identity affords the peace of no opinion. Being grounded in who God calls you and focused on where He is calling you leaves no margin for the distraction of pigeon stands.

Rising up to defend those same objects isn’t anybody’s eternal destiny. The hearts and souls of those that are offended, separated or alienated is in the balance. Every issue is about people and how they are impacted on one side or the other of the divide. Hard stands either way prevents connection, which prevents relationship, which frustrates the point.

Again, this is for Christ followers. If you aren’t a follower of Jesus, none of what I am saying has any weight or bearing. If you are, however, then the invitation to follow Him is at the cost of your need to have opinions on everything but Him. He calls us to care about what He cares about and what He cares about is relationship. Relationship with Him, relationship with each other and relationship with a world needing His hope and grace.

It’s imperative that we maintain First things first while intentionally resisting distractions that pull us towards any seconds. Second things are an enemy of the One thing. Being right, persuasive, passionate or opinionated about second stuff at the cost of gracefully portraying First stuff forfeits relational opportunities that might have eternal implications.

We can care about second stuff, just not much. We can be right about the extras, but we can’t compete to win where there is no lasting victory. Eternal glory is available here and now as heaven and earth collide and the Kingdom of God is revealed. That revelation, however, is not in the competition surrounding issues that divide and don’t unite.

Smelled like . . . Victory

In some ways, I felt like I was visiting an old friend yesterday. I was invited to speak at local organization whose mission is to reach “the drug addict, the alcoholic, the criminally-minded, and the reject of society.” It had been a while since I got to meet and minister to men that were in these kinds of circumstances and, in many ways, it was like a breath of fresh air.

Want to find authentic? Engage people who don’t have any need to fake it any longer. They don’t pretend to be “blessed and highly favored” when they show up at church. They are desperate for God to be real in their lives and in their circumstances. They have played out the alternatives and experienced the consequences and are done. Something has to change.

I loved sharing with and receiving from these men. I taught and gave away a few books, but what I got back was better. The life that rose up from within exceeded anything that I offered.

In Matthew 25, Jesus told us, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

So, according to Jesus, I was invited to meet with Him yesterday. I got to interact with Jesus and He looked like hungry, thirsty recovering addicts and convicts in need of hope and transformation.

I am a professional Christian. I am a pastor and elder at a local church and am the Executive Director at a ministry. That means that I have responsibilities which include everything from speaking to spreadsheets and strategy. The business of ministry is necessary to sustain the viability of ministry. While I am thankful for what I am called to, it can also present problems and pressures like every other thing we call “work.”

It’s the interaction with the people where Jesus tells us He is residing that is pure in offering the breath of life. The benefit to the minister matches the offering to the hungry. I left full of life and love and reminded of why I do what I do. It’s not for the budgets and programs, but for the hope in the promises.

Jesus changes everything and if we’ll serve Him in places where He tells us to find Him, we’ll bring a benefit to the seekers we find there. We’ll get a glimpse of Who we seek in the middle of that service and we’ll be better from what we give away.

Shades of Comparison Leave Us in the Dark

My path to vocational ministry is non-traditional.  Leading up to this transition in my occupation, I worked previously as an Army officer, business manager and owner as well as an attorney at law.  When I first practiced law, my primary focus was in the sphere of criminal defense.  The bulk of that criminal defense practice was representing court-appointed clients.  These were folks charged with a crime who couldn’t afford an attorney.

In those days when I talked about work or now when I tell stories about that time, some people have a noticeable reaction.  They make a face, however subtle, that indicates they can’t pay attention to the details because they are distracted by the arrangement.  “How could you represent those people? They aren’t Christians, and you are, so how could you represent them?”  Many times, it’s just the look, but sometimes it’s explicitly asked.  Church polite, of course, but asked just the same.

By contrast, one day walking out of the courthouse I called my wife and told her, “I can’t believe more Christians don’t choose the practice of law as their place of calling.”  After all, I reasoned, where else are you in a position where broken, desperate people come to you asking for your counsel and assistance?  Where else is light so necessary than in the darkest places of society?

Working closely with those whose lives were in peril of being consumed by darkness gave me a greater appreciation for light.  We all need some realization of darkness to remind us of the Light within.  We also need some realization of darkness to remind us of the darkness within.  The degree of separation between “them” and “us” is less than you might imagine.  A twist here and a turn there in life’s circumstances can lead people into situations both unplanned for and undesired.

The overlap in working with “church folks” and court-appointed folks is more similar than you might think, as well.  Sure, most of the church folks in the relatively privileged suburbs present themselves better than the accused of the court-appointed criminal justice system.  The underlying human condition, however, is just as dark.  People are people.

Here, however, is the biggest difference: Those accused and convicted of crimes realize the urgency and near hopelessness of their condition.  They know they need help.  They know they’re messed up and more often than not are desperate for any glimmer of hope.  The socially acceptable, comfortable Christians often think they have things figured out.  They rationalize that Jesus loves them regardless, and nobody (they hope) knows about their “indiscretions.”  And after all, their flaws aren’t as “bad” as the indigent criminal; likely not even perceived to be as bad as the rumors they’ve heard – and helped spread – about the guy across the pew.

Dark is dark and pretending it’s light by shades of comparison cheapens the grace of Jesus Christ.  He didn’t die for us to be judgmental by comparison or dismissive of the heart in need of redemption.  He wants to transform us from glory to glory, but we can’t go to the next glory believing the glory we’ve already experienced somehow jumped us ahead to a place of superiority.

– From “Transforming the Prodigal Soul” available here

Faith, Hope and Love Packaged to Be Delivered

I am going to speak at in another town this weekend and my friend that is hosting me sent me an article about the recent suicide of a local 14-year old. He tells me that there has been an epidemic of teens choosing this route of hopelessness and the local medical examiner has expressed helplessness.

The world around us is in desperate need of hope. Even when the end result isn’t as catastrophic as teenage suicide, the opt out for many is from a lack of hope. People opt out of families, faith and community as they find no meaning or purpose. They have no context of why to fuel the what of their lives. With time, the despair outpaces the dreams.

The church is not immune to this limiting perspective as programs and ceremonies don’t fuel and fill the believer. Belief is tended by action and connection. Belief won’t breathe in a vacuum. The church is intended to be a living breathing organism where the body functions in a way that supports the rest of the body. Then, the whole and healthy body is in motion to impact and change the world around it.

The impact and change isn’t by political victory or moral declaration; it’s by love and service. With love and service, people can see grace and hope.

  • The Father is love; it’s Who He is and it’s what He does. As His kids, we mimic the heart of the Father. From that representation, we are able to carry the nature of the Son; grace and hope.
  • Jesus comes to reach out with grace, not waiting on the perfection of people to decide whether or not they are included. He met me (and you) where I was; we are commissioned to do the same.
  • Holy Spirit breathes life into the Body; giving comfort and insight to encourage and direct. Holy Spirit is wind; subtle yet certain. We get to agree with Holy Spirit as we live a life on mission, seeking His direction and needing His comfort as we agree with Him into places of discomfort.

God is Spirit and invisible and His Spirit is within the visible us. We are the delivery mechanism. The supernatural is expressed naturally. We carry the love, hope, grace, comfort and invitation of the Lord with a heart to serve others to show them the otherwise invisible, theoretical idea of God. He is real and He is here; in you and in me. Show Him and share Him with somebody today. They need the glimpse, and so do you.

Reading the Writing of Law and Grace

If you look close enough at any of us, there is evidence against us. We’ve all done stuff that’s contrary to the intention of our design. If we were under the pressure of the burden of keeping the law, we could all be dragged out into the public square for persecution.

That’s what happened when Jesus was presented with a lady who had been caught in the act of adultery. There was compelling, albeit awkward, evidence of her guilt. The people who accused her brought her to Jesus to give Him a chance to defend her. It was a losing case, for Him, they figured as the law was clear and the evidence was sufficient.

When I was practicing law, I defended people who had broken a law all of the time. People, mostly Christian people, asked me (still do, sometimes) how I could morally support the decision to be an advocate for the immoral. It’s easy. Jesus is our advocate and we did “it” in some form or fashion. The case is airtight against us, but He doesn’t turn from us.

In this case where the woman was caught in adultery, His method of defending her was peculiar. He stooped down and wrote in the dirt. Then, He stooped down and wrote in the dirt a second time. In the middle of His stooping and writing, He allowed for anyone that was without sin to begin the punishment of stoning by throwing the first rock. Nobody could, and the old men slipped away first because they had sinned the most.

Jesus wrote in the dirt as a primary tactic in His defense of the woman. While it seems strange, it was actually necessary in the fulfillment of Jesus’ purpose. God had written in the earth with His finger previously and here He was doing it, again. The first time was when He wrote the Ten Commandments. He actually wrote them twice as Moses broke the first set. Now, here He is writing in the earth again. Twice, just like the first time.

The first time God wrote in the earth, He wrote the law. The second time, He wrote grace. Jesus came to satisfy the law for us since we can’t, just like the old men couldn’t. Our perspectives of God and people, starting with ourselves, are reflected what we are writing. We are either writing law or grace and we are only able to write what we receive, first. Realizing that we are not unlike the women allows us to receive grace and it allowed me to defend other people who did “it,” too, just like I have.

Easter Is Freedom and Life

It’s Easter weekend and churches everywhere are scurrying around to make things just right for the big crowds. Pastors prepare sermons meant to captivate the casual attendee with the hopes of an eternal impact. People show up this one weekend in an effort to check the box to be right with God somehow. The formula of Easter, however, can’t match or meet the fullness of Jesus.

Jesus started talking about Easter early on in His ministry and for the first time in John 3, when He said, “And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.”

He referenced a story from Numbers 21 where Moses was instructed by God to build a model of a snake on a pole because people were dying from their rebellion. God gave them life if and when they were able to lift their eyes off of their circumstances and look at the snake on the pole. Jesus would bring eternal life in a similar way; He would hang on a pole (a Cross) and if people would look to Him, they would have eternal life.

The snake on the pole, is what Moses brings and that is the law. Jesus, however fulfills the law for us with grace and truth. (John 1:17)

Many of us continue to operate out of the law even if we say we believe in Jesus. We think if we do the right things, we’ll get the right results and find the right favor. Our good intentions leave us staring at a snake on a pole instead of receiving the resurrection of Jesus to fulfill the law within us.

Easter is about the risen Christ who went to the Cross to pay the price of our rebellion. If we’ll receive the sacrifice of His offering, we won’t have to perform compared to the rules anymore. We get to receive His abundant life within us to be put on display through us. It will cost us everything, but it’s better than staring at a snake on a stick.