Thursday, June 23, 2016

Better to Post Late than not Post At All

I’m not real consistent in posting things on my blog. I blog, often on my own time, then post things when I feel like it. Part of the reason is that people have used those things I’ve posted against me. So I’m careful. 

But I’ve been struck by the things people post on Facebook and on blogs these days. I appreciate honesty and openness but I’m not so sure being that honest and open on a public venue is all that helpful. Same thing with Tweeting. Sometimes its fun to know what people are thinking, or doing, right at a given moment. But sometimes it crosses a line—a big line. A golf commentator once noted a Jordon Spieth tweet that was marginally inappropriate and said, “Well, he’ll learn to not to do that….” 

So below you’ll find a bunch of posts from a while back. Many of them posted on a church web site where I worked and just didn’t post them on my personal site. Some of them are dated. But I’d rather post late than not at all and I’d rather post late than post to regret it. More to come!

The Great Divorce--A Hellish Drama

I went to see the CS Lewis play, The Great Divorce, a while back. The play was off Broadway and in a very small theatre. What a production. It was amazing. If you’ve never read the book, consider it. It’s the story of a bus ride from hell to heaven. At the gates of heaven, each of the bus riders are given the opportunity to get into heaven, but all but one ultimately choose hell. I’ve read it over and over again. Lewis isn’t making a theological statement in the book. If you are reading it with that in mind, you are missing the point. But the characters at heaven’s gates are all very provocative!

For example: One of the characters was a grumbler. The actor walked across the stage mumbling and grumbling. The words cascaded from her lips like water over a water falls. Grumble grumble grumble. Over and over. Lewis used the character to highlight what happens when one becomes the qualities that get us into hell. He notes in the book, “The whole difficulty of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing. ….It begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it, again. But [here Lewis warns us through the character, speaking in the book] there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.”

Do you see what he’s saying? There may come a time when sin literally consumes us. It’s become so much apart of us, that it is us and when that happens, its hell. Hell is the by-product of what sin does to us—we become dehumanized and less of what we’ve been created to be to the point where we eternally disintegrate. Sobering!! The whole idea of hell as flames of fire is a metaphor for the eternal, non ending, disintegration of a human soul. Biblically it is searing heat and fire. It is outer darkness and isolation.  We never become what we were created to become: its utter, complete, and entire hopelessness. Lewis seeks to communicate that in the book.

After it was all done, we went out to dinner and discussed which character was most compelling. It made for good conversation. Read the book. The play was put on by The Fellowship of the Performing Arts which is a theatrical company committed to sharing theatre from a Christian worldview. The play, The Great Divorce, had taken several years to perfect and has gotten some great reviews. Max McClean, the founder, came out after the performance and took questions. There were three actors who played sixteen roles!! Honestly, living in NYC has its benefits when it comes to the arts. It was an amazing experience. 

The Gift of Self Awareness

Our two oldest daughters paid Jan and I a tremendous compliment the other day. They said that we’d given them the gift of self-awareness. By that they meant that we’ve taken the time to do adequate self-reflection and, as a result, to make personal and marital changes necessary to grow. This has resulted in changes they have noticed.

I couldn’t help wondering what some of those changes were. I’m almost afraid to ask. But I know that while we perceive ourselves one way, others perception of us reflects more reality than we want to admit. Sometimes others perceptions are certainly wrong. But more often than not, there is some truth in what they see and say about us. So even if what they see or say is just partially correct, it’s still partially correct. What’s most uncomfortable in trying to become self-aware is that others are more than willing to make sure you are aware of your problems, and very unwilling to become aware of their own. It’s frustrating. After thirty years of ministry, I’ve got boat loads of stories about this.

A friend of mine calls this whole awareness thing, “Looking beneath the iceburg.” He says we have to ask ourselves honestly and frequently, “Why do I think that, why did I do that, why do I feel that?” Dan Allendar once said feelings are the window to the soul. They tell us a lot about ourselves. But so do our actions. Do we take the time to actually consider these things? More often than not, I don’t think so. It’s terrifying to discover that some of what I don’t like in others, is actually part of who I am myself. Some of the people who are the least understanding of others, are the most demanding that others understand them. They are also, in my experience, the most least aware. Does that make sense? That’s a lot of “most leasts” and it can be confusing.

Here are three ways to become more self aware: (1) Be willing to risk asking, “Why do I think, act, and feel the way I do?” Then take the time to ponder it. (2) Take others negative reactivity and gracious responses to you seriously. Even if people’s reaction, or kind words, are flawed, they can tell you something. (3) Run to Jesus work on the cross. Let the cross determine the depth of his love for you and the resurrection his capability to answer your prayer. You are loved by the king of the universe! If you have the acolades of the king, why worry about the critique of the paupers! His dying love can give you the courage to be more self-aware and make changes as necessary. (4) Be patient with yourself, it's a life long journey. Enjoy it. Celebrate and acknowledge both strengths and weaknesses.

Death and a Wager

Jan and I are on a Hunger Games marathon. I am not much of a movie guy, but the last several days we’ve been watching the series. It culminates this fall with the final of four films. I’ve been struck once again by something philosopher Charles Taylor is reported to have said in his book on secularism. It goes kind of like this, “This is the first time in human history that God has not been a part of people’s lives.” Amazing!

But then back to the Hunger Games. “I wish we were all dead,” said one character in the movie. “Really?” I thought to myself. “Dead?! Then what? Eternity!" But if you die, and go into the ground, like any other animal, and that’s it, as one friend said to me, sure! Death is a great way out of pain; a great way to flee from trouble. But what if death is more like a portal than a dead end street?

I think Pascal’s wager is a decent reason to believe there is more to life than this life. The wager goes something like this, “If you believe, and God exists, you gain everything. If you disbelieve, and God exists, you lose everything.” (You can find his description of the wager in his book Penses) That’s very simplistic but incredibly compelling since a true believer not only rejects sin with all its ugly implications, but accepts righteousness with all its corresponding beauty. In other words, you truly do gain everything if you follow Christ. Christianity, if not lived out for the glory of God and the good of others, isn’t Christianity. There should be no such thing as a self absorbed, selfish Christian.

The wager, despite some arguments to the contrary, makes sense to me and to many others. But we in the west don’t think that way. Everything is about today, about our safety and ease, about money and possessions and the good life. So at the first sign of trouble, we question God. It makes me wonder. Do I live as if there is only today? Do I live as if the only real solution to my pain is the silence and peace of death, and that’s it? Am I selfish and self-absorbed?

It’s Thanksgiving this week (obviously I wrote this before posting it), but there are millions of Syrian refugees pouring into Europe who don’t think they have much to be thankful for. Islamic Terrorists live to hurt, maim, and destroy. They are Nazi’s with turbans! But if we are followers of Christ, this is not new territory. The first century Romans, if you got on the wrong side of them, weren’t exactly the most hospitable people in the world. The early church thrived in spite of it. Perhaps we can do the same again. But our motivation must be their motivation; Gods beauty, Gods glory, Gods goodness, and Gods revelation of himself in the person and work of Christ, and the hope of eternal life. Death is not the end. This must be the motivation for our philanthropy or witness or even our living out of the Christian life. If the motivating factor is guilt, like it is for so much of modern evangelicalism, I think our philanthropy and godliness will fall flat on its face with the first sign of trouble. As C.S. Lewis said in chapter 10 of Mere Christianity, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. …It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven you will get earth ‘thrown in.’ Aim at earth, you will get neither.” At any rate, the Hunger Games are making me think. I’ll catch the end of the story this week. Those are my thoughts for now.

A Syrian Opportunity

A few months ago I spent a Friday evening with a friend watching the horrific events of the terrorist attacks unfold in Paris. It wasn’t what we’d planned to do! And like many, I read the papers and watched television in the days that followed as people in the west attempted to come to grips with the reality of what happened.

The immediate response of many governors was to exclude Syrian refugees. “I’m not interested in accepting refugees from Syria,” Gov. Charlie Baker is quoted as saying. According to the NY Times, twenty five Republican Governors vowed to block the entry of Syrian refugees into their states citing the safety of Americans being at stake. I’d like to suggest another way forward.

First, a close family friend who works with refugees informed me that the process of getting refugees into the US from Syria is long and complex. It can take up to two years. Its unlikely that the rigor of the process will fail to provide the needed security from Jihadists.

Second, according to my friend, the real threat from Syrian refugees, or any refugees from an Islamic background for that matter, is more likely to come from the xenophobic reaction of those in the States who are prejudice and fearful. People who have high hopes of a different life in America may get angry and discouraged and be more likely to radicalize in reaction to the bigotry they experience. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. But it was an interesting perspective. Here’s a thought:

I think this is an opportunity for Christians to be radical themselves, but in a very different way from the Muslim radicals. Instead of excluding refugees, why not welcome them into our community? Why not invite them into our homes and into our lives? Hospitality shown to the stranger and the alien is certainly one of the things that’s characterized Christians over the centuries.

Last fall, I spent time with a family that owns a coffee shop in West Philadelphia. They also board five students from Saudi Arabia. The hospitality, grace, and love shown to the Muslim men that I met, and in one case ate with, was extraordinary. While our government must respond wisely to the threat of terrorism on American soil, I think the Christian community can also respond with generosity and grace to those refugees who are fleeing the very terrorism they are suspected of creating. In the early 1980’s the church responded in fear to the AIDS epidemic and, in many cases, lost the opportunity to minister to the Gay community. Perhaps we have a new opportunity to bring people to Christ and serve humankind as we consider the potential influx of Syrian refugees into the US over the next few years. Just a thought.

We Cannot Have God on Our Terms

Several years ago I read The Dark Night of the Soul written by a Catholic monk named John of the Cross. It had a significant impact on my life as John made it clear that there were times in a Christian’s spiritual life that could not be understood. Times of pain, confusion, and sorrow are the anvil on which God teaches us to love Him for himself, not for the good gifts he gives us. Others like Pascal, Augustine and modern day protestants like A.W. Tozer say the same thing. Eugene Peterson puts it in these words in the Forward to the book Mansions of the Heart by Tom Ashbrook, “We cannot have God on our terms, domesticated to our requirements, reduced to our ideas of what we think God should be doing.” A mature Christian will love God for Gods sake, for his beauty’s sake, for his glory’s sake. We don’t love God because he does what we want. We love God because he’s God, period! For this reason, a life of prayer—prayer being giving attention to God in every part of our lives (cf. 1 Thes 5:17)—rooted in our absolute acceptance by God because of Christ’s work on the cross, is fertile ground for spiritual maturity. We can wrestle, argue, and dialogue with God about failures, successes, and our future knowing that whatever happens, as confusing as it may be, doesn’t happen in a outside of God’s awareness and for God’s glory. It teaches us to love Him for His sake, and nothing more.

What's the Deal with God?

“You do your part, I’ll do mine.” That's the deal we make with God. “I’ll be a good guy. I’ll come to church. I’ll give money. I’ll serve you but in the end, you need to come through for me too. And if you don’t?! Well then, the deals off. I’ll marry someone who’s not a Christian, or sleep around, or cheat, or just quit coming to church and serving you, and talking about you, and giving, and being nice, or being cooperative or …..” That’s the deal Christians often make with God. There is only one problem; God doesn’t make deals like that.

A god who makes deals is not the God who says to us, “Take up your cross and follow me.” That’s not the God who says, “I will not yield my glory to another.” Any one can give God glory, and be happy, and follow Christ as a result of an easy life. A pagan can say, “Wow, I’m happy I’m not sick with cancer, have a great spouse, make a lot of money, got over that relational hickup, etc, etc, etc.” It’s quite another thing to keep your relationship with God intact after you’ve been raped or sexually molested, or after your spouse has died when your 35 and left you with three kids, or your family rejects you for your faith, or you lose your job, or you are sued for some accident and it puts your life on a downward spiral, or you are rejected at school because you’re a Christian, or your kids go sideways on you even after you’ve done a decent job raising them, or you were honest and got in trouble while someone else cheated and got away with it, or whatever. See what I mean? Then the deal with God becomes another thing altogether. Then it gets really personal. Because now, Christ isn’t being followed because he’s making life easy but simply because he’s Christ, because he’s God, because he’s glorious and beautiful and lovely.

When you live for Christ without the deal, when you say, “Thy will be done,” not “My will be done,” then God really gets the glory. When you, as an act of faith, obey or serve or give, even when its hard and hurts, then whatever happens to you, as you submit and surrender to him, he gets glory, he gets honor and he gets praise. He gets to be God and he’s shown for who is really is in the eyes of those who watch your life. And in the long haul, who knows, life may work out differently than you ever imagined.

On the cross Jesus showed us what true submission and surrender is. In the Passion event, Jesus let God the Father be God the Father. In the garden of  Gethsemane Jesus asked the Father to let the events of the passion pass from him, “Father, let this cup pass from me,” he requested. But in the end, his deal with the Father was what it had been all along: “I can only do what I see the Father doing” (John 5:19). In other words, the Father has the final say. God is not a negotiator. Let’s all consider saying, “Regardless of what happens, despite it all, thy will be done!”


“Why’d I say that?” I thought to myself. I’d been in a conversation with someone, a friend, and found myself reacting to something they’d said. It happened so fast it was almost automatic. In other words, the terms they used, their tone of voice, their body language, facial expressions, and the way it was said was like the pushing of a button. With that button pushed, there was an automatic reaction that was, well—automatic. It was almost like it was programmed. My father in law worked for IBM and was an electronic engineer. “Computers only do what you tell them to do,” he once told while I was complaining about my computer not working right. In other words, “It’s not to computers fault for doing what you told it to do, Dave!” I didn’t want to hear that but it was true. Within reason, the same is true of our reactivity.

Reactivity, and the corresponding fight, flight, or freeze responses often associated with it, have historical precedent in our lives. In other words, they are virtually programmed into our psyche through our family of origin, life experiences, or just plain human frailty. James and John’s response to the Samaritan village that rejected Jesus is a case of reactivity, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to consume them?!!” they asked. “Good heavens no!!” Was Jesus response [Miles paraphrase]. “I don’t do things like that, and neither should you.” Their reactivity to being rejected by Gentiles was tied into their Jewishness and the cultural climate of the day. The same is true for us.

Why do we react when a parent or a spouse or a friend or an enemy states an obvious opinion as if it was fact? Why do we react when a coworker blames us for something we know we didn’t do? Why do we react when our expectations, even those that are really unrealistic, aren’t met? Why do we react when people don’t act or think the way we think they should act or think? Why do we react when others do stuff that is problematic for us when we’ve never told them its problematic for us?

In reality, reactivity tells us something about ourselves. Here’s what I think: reactivity tells us that something other than God is being used to validate our worth, significance, prestige or reputation. In short, reactivity flows from idolatry. And idolatry flows from the sense that something other than God will give me joy, happiness or life. Merle Jordon in his book, Taking on the Gods, says “Essentially, persons are created in the image of God and only in being true to that inner self, linked with God, will emotional and spiritual well-being flow. When a person takes his or her identity from that which is less that the Ultimate Source of Being, then the sense of self is distorted. Various defenses [emphasis mine] and emotional and physical symptoms may appear over time which are covert modes of communicating that one is out of touch with one’s true self and with the true God.” (pg. 24)

Truthfully, we all do this. Some of us are just more overt about it than others. We may react by quietly stewing for weeks over some perceived slight. Or we may explode or become caustic or gossip or trash another person behind their back. All of this tells us more about ourselves than we are often willing to admit.


I recently finished a biography on Roger Williams entitled, Roger Williams: Creation of the American Soul. Williams was a Puritan who lived during the tumultuous times of the early to mid-17th century in both England and the American colonies. I also recently listened to a biographical sermon, by John Piper, on Paul Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress. These two men were contemporaries. Williams moved to the colonies in America and went on to become the progenitor of the Separation of Church and State and the author of numerous books. He was thrown out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for believing in religious liberty in spite of the fact that he was a Calvinist like everyone else. Bunyan remained in England, became a pastor, and went through the roller coaster ride of Cromwell’s rule and the reintroduction of the monarchy after Charles I was beheaded. He was imprisoned for twelve years because he refused to give up preaching Baptist doctrine, during which he wrote his auto biography entitled Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners and he started writing Pilgrims Progress.

What struck me about these two men were the incredible hardships they faced to live out their Christian faith. Bunyan pastored his church from prison for twelve years. Williams lost everything he had. Religious freedom as we know it, didn’t really exist. You could lose your head for not showing allegiance to the Book of Common Prayer in England. You could lose your livelihood, or be murdered, for believing in religious liberty in early New England.
Both the book and the message were quite convicting. Today in America, Christianity is practiced with relative ease. We deal with budgets and buildings, constitutions and contemporary music, name changes, vision statements, and web sites. These are all important subjects at our church right now. I’ve spent an enormous amount of time talking about them in various churches. But the fact that we can even give energy to these matters is because of the religious freedom we have in this country. It’s not the same elsewhere. 

Today, Christians all over the globe are being killed and persecuted for their belief in Christ. The hardships they experience are incalculable. We debate the changing of our constitution. They debate angry mobs intent on killing them. We get wounded over perceived personal slights on the part of another person. They are physically wounded just for being a Christian. The following is a true story of how one Christian community in an unnamed country decided to address the hardship of persecution:

“So what do we do when the police come to take our lives?” asked a young man and his wife during a meeting in … 2010. An older man answered from his own experience, “Well, this is what I say when this happens to me. I tell them, ‘You are not taking my life. I am giving my life for you, and I hope you will come to know my Lord Jesus Christ so that we can be together in heaven some day.’” The young men and women in the room nodded their heads in agreement and said, “Okay, that is what we’ll say."
What kind of faith creates that kind of response? What do they believe about God to have the courage to stand up for truth like that, while at the same time accepting the hardship, and possible death, that goes with it? The Psalmist gives us the answer: “You are good and what you do is good. Teach me your decrees” (Ps 119:68). And again, “Our God is in heaven, he does whatever pleases him” (Ps 115:3). God has a purpose for you, and for me. That may involve deep pain and suffering or it may not. But we know that in his absolute sovereignty he is infinitely good, so we accept what comes our way with all the confusion, mystery, and pain that accompanies it. Perhaps those I’ve identified in this blog understood one more thing necessary to deal with hardship! On the cross Jesus was unjustly condemned to death as part of God the Father’s plan to redeem us to himself. We deserved the cross. Jesus did not. We deserve hell. Jesus came from heaven to save us from it. So while we may not understand all the hardship in our lives, we know that God is not immune to it, having experienced it himself in the person of Jesus. So we take comfort and continue to live in faith despite the hardship realizing that God, in his sovereign will, allows it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Three Kinds of People

One of the more prolific thinkers of the twentieth century is CS Lewis. I have a small book of his entitled Present Concerns which is a collection of essays he’d written over the years for various publications. One essay in particular caught my attention. It’s called “Three Kinds of People.” In that essay Lewis unpacks what I think is a critical distinction today for those from religious and non-religious backgrounds. In short, it's a critical distinction all of us need to keep in mind, especially those of us who live and work in a religiously secular (my own odd sounding phrase) culture like New England. (I can’t say for sure, but it seems to me that even the non-religious people here seem to have religious roots).

 At any rate, Lewis says that first, there are those people who live for their own sake and pleasure. We would call those non-religious people or irreligious people. Regardless of what you call them, or how you describe them, they are people who live any way they want. They simply don’t care for God or religion or spiritual things. In many cases, spiritual things aren’t even on their radar. There are more of these people around than you might think. Philosopher Charles Taylor has noted that this is the first time in human history when one can live one’s entire life without any sense of the transcendent. 
Then, according to Lewis, there are those people who live with a sense that there is a greater claim on their lives—God’s claim. We’ll call these religious people. But more often than not, they surrender to that claim like a man surrenders to paying taxes. They do it because they have to but then, who wants to pay taxes?! Consequently their faith is as sterile as tax day. It’s there, but they hope that having done their due diligence, and paid what they owe to God, there will be enough of life left over for them to have some fun. 

And then finally, according to Lewis, there is a third type of person. This is the person who doesn’t feel that the will of God limits their will, but it is their will. Unlike the non-religious and religious persons, they don’t live for themselves but for God; for Christ. They do what they do for Gods sake, for his beauty’s sake, for his glory’s sake. For them to live is Christ, says Lewis. 

This is a critical distinction for those who are followers of Christ, or for those who seek to know what it means to be a follower of Christ. Christianity isn’t about working hard to merit Gods blessing. That’s a tax payer mindset. Christianity is living a life of faith based on the hard work done for us on the cross by Christ. We don’t merit God’s grace. We don’t earn God’s grace. We receive God’s grace. There is no other world religion like this. None, so far as I can tell!! And when that is your mind set, the resulting joy and delight that flows from it is palpable. The motivation for obedience and worship is beauty and delight. It’s the duty of beauty, or the duty of delight, as one person calls it. So what kind of person are you?

What We Need is More Prayer!!! Really???

I got the email just a few days ago. A friend of mine, a missionary, was challenging his readers to prayer. “There has never been a revival without the concentrated prayers of God’s people,” he wrote. His impassioned plea for prayer was convicting--and exhausting. “Oh great,” I thought. “Another thing I have to do.”

From the early church to the Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards to the more recent ministry of Concerts of Prayer, there is little doubt that prayer plays a huge role in the work God does in a church or community. I believe it. I’ve seen it work. I’ve been part of it. I promote it. When we first moved to NYC in 1985 the church in the city seemed stagnant and flat. That's not to say there was nothing happening. It just didn’t seem to be happening to any great degree. In 1987 a prayer movement began amongst pastors and leaders from the various boroughs. It started in the church where I was a staff pastor. I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. What has happened to the Church in the city since then is truly amazing. There have been hundreds of church plants, a good deal of social justice initiatives, and the city is a nicer place to live for almost everyone. I’m no church historian, but I really believe prayer was at least part of the catalyst.

But here’s the caveat: when prayer is seen as just another thing we do to achieve church growth, success, or our goals, then we’re missing the boat. Prayer brings us into presence of God. What we want in prayer is God himself, not just Gods gifts or Gods blessing. I’m all for prayer and I want us to pray more as a congregation, but what I want more than prayer is God. I want Cornerstone church to be a God saturated church where Jesus is exalted every single day of every single week, and especially on Sundays. When we want Jesus, and God, and God’s ways, we’ll be driven to pray. “Oh God, be gracious to us, we long for you,” says Isaiah the prophet (Isa 33:2).

So its true that I want to be a praying person and my churches to be praying churches. But more than that, I believe that we’ll become a praying church when we become a God saturated church. The more we love the God who sent his son to die for us, the more we’ll want him and we’ll join Isaiah’s cry, “…we long for you!” Long for God and the prayer that connects you to him—and drives revivals and movements of his Spirit—will become easier, more intense, more frequent, and more focused.


“Silence!” I can’t remember the movie where the character boomed out that famous line (must have been tough to memorize) but its in my mind. I’m sure its been said more than once. Silence.

Every day I try to take five minutes of silence….at least. Some people take way more. I’m good with five. But that silence allows me to shut out the external noise that comes from the busyness of life. I’ll literally do that three times a day. Morning, noon, and night though the noon and night times of stillness are more stillness than absolute silence. Silence.

It’s in that stillness where my “to do” list is clarified and my real priorities take shape. When I’m silent I’m not trying to think about a “to do” list, though thoughts creep in. I’m not trying to think about anything. I’m just trying to be silent. For me, I’ll offer one or two word prayers, “Come Holy Spirit” or “Come Lord Jesus.” Silence.

I need the silence. I value the silence. I get up and run in the morning and sometimes its just silent. I like it. I enjoy golf because its silent and peaceful. Surfing is wonderful early in the morning because outside of the waves crashing, its silent. There’s not horns honking or jets flying overhead. Silence.

“Be still and know that I’m God” says the Psalmist. In a culture where God has become trivial, where he does not matter, my silence and the two word prayers that accompany it remind me that he does. There have been times where I’ve ended sermons in silence. I just ask people to be still then we don’t say anything for a minute. Silence.

Ever been so stunned by something you can’t say anything? You are just mute! Silence forces me to see that Gods like that. Awesome. Powerful. Holy. Just. When he really speaks, even the most loquacious person alive will be silent. Silence.

What Do You Really Want?

Scott Saul’s little book, Jesus Outside the Lines, has captured my imagination. Scott Saul is a Presbyterian Pastor in Nashville. Towards the end of the book Saul describes the inner struggle people have when it comes to obedience, a struggle that is often rooted in failure to obtain personal fulfillment and satisfaction. Our western culture tells us that we deserve to get all that that life can give. We deserve to be happy, fulfilled, and satisfied. It’s as if life owes us the best it offers. And if what makes us happy and fulfilled isn’t obtained, or achieved the way we want, then we think something’s wrong.

This mindset is tied to the radical individualism of the west. Other cultures don’t feel same. The will of the group, or family, is more important than the individual’s wants or needs. But to us in the west, we want it all, and often live in such a way to get it, even if getting it crosses God’s moral or ethical lines. So for example, if we don’t have enough money, we’ll cheat to get more. If we don’t get the love we want, we’ll have an affair. If you read the tabloids, that seems to be the American way.

Of course life rarely delivers all the goods. Dreams are shattered. Hopes go unfulfilled. Goals aren’t achieved. We don’t get into the school we want. We don’t get the job or the type of spouse we hoped for. We don’t have the money or material possessions or success we desire. Failure to obtain these things can easily discourage us and make us wonder if God cares. Worse yet, it may tempt us to obtain those things ways contradictory to what God wants—our holiness!

What’s the remedy? Back to Scott Saul’s little book. Towards the end he tells the story of a Puritan who’d been stripped of everything but a piece of bread and a glass of water. In 17th century England, that kind of punishment was normal for religious outsiders like the Puritans. The Puritan’s response is classic, “What? All this and Jesus, too?” Do you see what he was saying?

What will make us truly happy? It’s not getting what we want. It’s getting what we were created to have, and what we really need—God himself. “Whom have I in heaven but you?!! And earth has nothing I desire besides you,” cries the Psalmist (Ps 73:25). Regardless of life’s circumstances, the long term worst case scenario for the believer is that we’ll inherit a wealth that will never spoil, perish or fade. That wealth is Jesus. So regardless of the twists and turns we experience in life, anchor your happiness and your satisfaction in his provision for you through his life, death and resurrection on your behalf. Your happiness, over the long haul, is rooted solely in him. Everything else will fade away. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Gay Marriage--A Response

A year ago nearly to the day, the Supreme Court effectively made gay marriage the law of the land. By one vote, the justices determined that thousands of years of history would be set aside for our 21st century western understanding of truth and wisdom. The idea that two members of the same sex could be legitimately married has, until the last 30-40 years, not even been considered an option. This should give pause even to those who are pro gay marriage. States like California, Massachusetts and New York were ahead of the national curve, but the court’s decision sealed the reality that the North American understanding of marriage would be irrevocably challenged, and perhaps changed for good.

People from conservative Jewish, Islamic, and Christian backgrounds were/are justifiably concerned, and in some cases outraged. The reactivity on the part of those in the Christian community was at times confusing. For example, Kim Davis, a clerical worker in Indiana made national news when she refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Davis has been married four times and has two kids out of wedlock. Some feel she has no right to impose her biblical morality on others. On another note, in the Pope’s recent visit to the States, he made the front page of the New York Times Online when he hugged an openly gay man. In a recent subway advertisement, I noticed a picture of the Pope with the tag line noting his refusal to be judgmental towards gays. Of all the things the Pope said, while in the States, why highlight that? Our cultural agenda seems intent on moving towards the normalization of a gay lifestyle and orientation.

I recently read an article in Leadership Journal entitled “Consistent Sexual Sacrifice.” The author, an Anglican pastor named Kevin Miller, told the story of an interaction he had with a woman at a wedding reception over gay marriage. Upon telling her he was a pastor the following conversation took place:

“Oh, your’re that group that hates gays.”…. So I said, ‘No, in our church, we have many people who feel same-sex attraction.”
“Oh,” she said looking puzzled. “What do you do with them?”
“We walk alongside them,” I said. They’ve come to us and said, ‘Help me walk the way of Jesus.’ And they know that for many of them their longings will remain and that means a life of celebacy.”
“But what you’re asking of them—isn’t that unfair?”
I said, “It’s hard. I don’t minimize that. But the way of Jesus is hard for everyone. We tell our heterosexual singles, ‘You’ve got to stop sleeping with your girlfriend or your boyfriend.’ We tell a married man, ‘I don’t care how alive you feel around that new person at work; you’ve got to stay faithful to your wife.’ We tell our folks caught up in pornography, ‘Come to our support group, where you’ll admit to other people how much power this has over you.’”

He went on to note that as a pastor he did not try to foster consistent sexual sacrifice in the church in order to convince people outside to become Christians. We can’t convince people who don’t want to be convinced. As P.T. Forsythe put it, ‘No reason of a man can justify God in a world like this. He must justify himself, and he did so in the cross of his Son.’ Scott Saul in his book Jesus Outside the Lines, puts it best when describing the surrender that same sex attracted men and women make to faithful obedience in the area of sexual purity. “…. it is a surrender that each of them has considered worthwhile, not because Jesus is a roadblock to love but because Jesus is love itself.” (pg. 144)

So what is our response to be as the church? Here’s what I suggest: We need to be welcoming and encouraging in terms of the commitment on the part of all believers to sexual purity. Biblically speaking, sex and marriage, between a man and a woman, go hand in hand. Sex and sexual activity outside of marriage which includes pornography, sex between and a man and a woman, or sex between two men, or between two women, are not God’s best for us. In fact, sex outside of marriage period, is a low view of sex.

Never the less, the church should be the place where all are welcomed regardless of what they struggle with. Let’s have an exalted view of sex and an exalted view of marriage. Let’s not focus on gay marriage but on making marriage, between a man and woman, everything God wants it to become. And let’s commit to relax, and avoid the shrill argumentation that has accompanied this debate, even among Christians. It will go a long way towards human flourishing and peace, in our community.