5.21.2012

The In-Between Places

Here are just a few facts about me. I grew up as the oldest of four siblings in Kansas City, MO. I attended Central Bible College in Springfield, MO, where I met the love of my life. In our thirteen years together, we have walked through some very deep waters, but came out loving Jesus and each other more. We have one son, Evan, who turned two about two months ago. We believe him to be the answer to many, many prayers, and the fulfillment of God's promise to us for a son.
If I were to use two words that I think characterize my life, I think they would be authenticity and hope. Hebrews 12 tells us that we are surrounded by a "cloud of witnesses"--the folks who have walked the ancient road long before us. But, some of these folks were less than perfect. Included among them are Abraham and Sarah, who both sought to bring about God's plan for their lives using their own resources and efforts. We also find Moses (Heb. 11:23), the man who murdered an Egyptian. Then there is Samson, who had a weakness for beautiful women that cost him the very presence of God in his life. The list goes onto include Rehab, a prostitute who had heard about the works of God and chose to believe him for her own life; Gideon, who was so frightened, he was found by the angel of the Lord hiding in a barrel; and finally, David, the adulterer and murderer.


The point here is that those who have walked the ancient road walked imperfectly; they exercised poor judgment, exhibited inexcusable behavior and were outright rebellious. Things aren't much different today. We all walk that road with areas of deep shame and brokenness; some of it because of our own poor choices and some of it because of the sins committed against us. I believe that for God's people to walk and live in freedom, there must be a level of authenticity about who we are and the hang ups in our lives that hold our hearts captive. Scripture reminds us that it is the truth that sets us free and that Jesus himself is Truth. So, Jesus and his work at the cross are the only things that will set us free, but first we must be honest about our desperate need for his work. The cross demands that we stand in truth, exchanging our shame and brokenness for the hope of Christ.


Scripture tells us that "hope deferred makes the heart sick" (Prov. 13:12). Living without hope is the antithesis of the cross. For one to live hopeless is to live without the power of the cross. This is where the community of faith comes in; we hold on to hope and believe God for those in our community who have been brave enough to confess their sin, but still feel the weight of shame and brokenness. We pledge to be a safe place; we take seriously our responsibility to hold one another accountable and up in prayer until the day comes (and it will come) that they are able to walk freely from the "stuff" that has had them entangled.


I believe with every fiber of my being that this nothing the work of the cross can't do, undo, fix, break, heal or restore. I believe that as men and women confess the things that hold them hostage, they will begin to experience freedom the comes only from standing in the shadow of the cross. I also believe that for this to happen, the body of Christ must express the same love that has been expressed to us in Christ to those who are broken and lost. We love them, pray for them, encourage them, and believe the God of the Bible to act on their behalf--noticeably and mightily.


So, when it comes down to it, the legacy I want to leave for those who will follow me are deeply loving those whom God has put in my life and holding fast to hope for those who are in the "in between" places.

1.13.2012

Tell the Truth


In all of our Evangelical rhetoric clamoring for morality and “holiness”, there seems to be one aspect in particular that tends to be ignored : the truth. By this I am not referring to the the claims of Christianity compared to those of Islam, Buddhism, or any other religious group. I am talking about speaking honestly about the vices that we struggle against in the secret places. While we rant and rave about politicians and Christian leaders whose personal failures are exposed and played out before the whole world in the media, we conveniently overlook (or hide) the skeletons hidden in the dark closets of our own lives.
For all of our protests against those who interpret Scripture as non-literal or question its authority, we seem all to eager to overlook those passages that call us to the same level of accountability we expect from others. When we look at passages such as James 5:13-19, we hail v. 16b which says, “…the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (NIV), but all too conveniently disregard the rest of the passage. As it happens, in this particular section James urges believers to pray for a number of reasons: first, if they are in trouble; second, if they have joy; third, if they are sick in body, and finally for confession of sin and the restoration of those within the community of faith. Yet, for many Evangelical Christians it’s as if the exhortation to confess our sins isn’t even there. Alternatively, we are quick cast judgment and retaliate against those who openly reveal an ongoing battle with their own humanity. We demean them from our pulpits and in some cases, even dismiss them from leadership to make an example of them, saying to those in our congregations that sin is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. In many instances, we isolate and abandon those under our care during a time when we are most needed in an effort to send the message that God does not tolerate sin nor should we. While the intention might be to “glorify God,” our actions and attitudes do anything but when we inflict further harm on people by refusing them access to the cross and community.
James paints a very different picture of things ought to go. One definitely gets the sense that James recognizes the difficulties that arise when people come together to form a body of like values and faith by giving instruction on how to live and worship together in wisdom and peace. They are to value and esteem one another by not showing favoritism based on material possessions and to be humble and patient in their relationships with other members of the community. They also are to pray for and encourage one another to adhere to the truths that define them as Christ followers. James even goes so far as to tell his audience to “confess their sins” to each other, not for the purpose of separating sheep from the goats, but to restore all of those involved.
There is a part of me that wonders if we have missed James’ message, making the Church a place where confession carries with it the fear of redress and exile. I have to wonder would it look like if we extended grace to one another, making room for the lucid admission of personal shortcomings and the healing that accompanies it to flow freely? What might it look like if every member of the Body were honest about the battles we face, anticipating the prayers, encouragement and yes, even accountability of others in our circle of faith?
What if leaders and parishioners alike told the naked truth about their struggle with unbridled passions and allowed others to hold them accountable in the spirit of grace and mercy? We are all adulterers, idolaters, addicts, prone to gossip and gluttony. Every one of us has a human nature that wrestles with lust, hatred, anger and unforgiveness. How different might the Church look if we refused to isolate others who admit what is true of all of us: we’re all terrible, nasty sinners loved by God and saved by grace?
How would “church” look if, instead of putting a big red “A” on anyone that doesn’t look or act in a way we find appropriate, the church actually became a safe place to authentically and transparently follow Jesus without the fear of being shamed or rejected? What if we all admitted that every one of us has baggage and is in need of the the healing that comes with confession and including others in our struggle to overcome the things that entangle us? What if we stopped bashing and accusing gays, feminists, pro-lifers and anyone else we disagree with in the pulpit long enough to make known the mercy of Christ and the power of the Cross that is available to anyone who asks?
What if, even for a moment, we all just told the truth?