Thursday, December 10, 2015

Teach Tolerance and Denounce Religious Bigotry

In all the media nastiness and hate, let's think about basic human rights and what God calls us to do in times filled with conflict and fear. Consider these two points:
  1. The Bible says, over and over and over again, "Fear not." 
  2. God is love, not hate. Jesus said to love even your enemies. Hate has no place in a Christian heart. No place whatsoever.
When we react out of fear, we are not honoring God. When we hate, we are not honoring God.

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen." 1 John 4:18-20

In the words of Ronald Reagan, "We must never remain silent in the face of bigotry. We must condemn those who seek to divide us. In all quarters and at all times, we must teach tolerance and denounce racism, anti-Semitism and all ethnic or religious bigotry wherever they exist as unacceptable evils. We have no place for haters in America – none, whatsoever."

No place for haters in America.

I am a Christian. Do not judge me by the actions of Westboro Baptist, the Ku Klux Klan, the Lord's Resistance Army, and other hate-filled organizations that call themselves Christian.

My neighbors are Muslim. Do not judge them by the actions of terrorists who call themselves Muslim.

I will not be silent in the face of bigotry. I will teach tolerance and renounce racism and bigotry in all forms. I will stand against the forces of hate and evil. I will love God with all my being, and love my neighbor as myself. Because that is the right thing to do...the thing that God wants us all to do.

Let's honor the light of peace, hope, joy, and love celebrated this Advent season and reflect that light to all God's children. Only then will we truly have peace on earth, goodwill toward all.

Heavenly Father, we ask that you strengthen the fearful, give hope to the hopeless, and fill us with your perfect love that we may be your agents in the world, driving out fear and hate as we spread your love to the ends of the earth. Amen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Bearing Burdens

Recently, I struck up a conversation with my Starbucks barista. Let's call him Bob. Bob and I are on a first-name basis, and he's quite the perfect person to be a barista...friendly, warm, kind, and a bit chatty. Just seeing him behind the counter makes me smile.

Parent-teacher conferences and appointments with the developmental pediatrician were on my mind, so I shared with Bob that our son has autism. Bob was so kind and shared his Christian perspective of love in the face of challenges. He also shared that his wife of many years suffers a number of challenges herself. He told me he'd been laid off a few years ago, just a bit too soon for him to retire, and that's why he worked at Starbucks.

As two caregivers brought together by a grande pumpkin spice latte, we understood each other and extended much-needed grace to each other in gentle words and kindness in Christ's name. I walked away from that moment lifted up and lighter. I hope Bob did, too.

Moments like this happen to me. A lot.

The world is full of us broken people who pull ourselves together in love for others, who know in our bones that we are loved by Love Itself, and who simply must spread that love around like double-fudge icing on a world that needs it.

Some days, though, life's exhausting. And that's why, when we're open and honest and real, these moments of kindness between and connection to others come to us as gifts straight from God.

We are not alone.

We are never alone.

God sends us others--in both small ways and large--to help us bear our burdens. Keep your head up and your heart open, and pay attention. Look for these gifts when they come to you; look for opportunities to give these gifts when you can.

And be grateful for each and every one.

Feel free to share a "gift moment" you've experienced. Who knows? You might give someone ideas!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

God Is Found

During Sunday worship, our congregation sang "How Can We Name a Love," and so much of this beautiful hymn by Brian Wren spoke to me. The last two lines of the first verse read:

Within our daily world, in every human face,
Love's echoes sound and God is found, hid in the commonplace.

Hid in the commonplace. That's were we find God. So often, we want the mountaintop experience, the voice from the burning bush, the whirlwind guiding us through the wilderness. But God shows up in our lives every day in the smile from a stranger, the banter of the barista, the gesture from another driver letting you go first at the intersection, the assistant returning your cart at the grocery store parking lot.

In looking for the whirlwind, we miss Love's echoes sounding quietly and consistently in our daily routine.

How might we feel if we mindfully awoke to life overfilled with Love unconfined to the mountaintop, but spilling out of commonplace moments of each and every day?

We might feel like sharing that love ourselves, reaching out in the commonplace, being the hands and feet and smile of Christ to others.

See the good. Be the good.

And life is good.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Broken and Blessed

The Japanese have a practice called kintsugi, or golden joinery. When a pottery piece breaks, it is repaired with lacquer mixed with gold or another precious metal. Thus, the broken places are highlighted and made beautiful.

God does this to us. He fills in our broken places with grace and mercy...and they become beautiful.

When I look back on my life, some of the most horrible things that happened have made me more beautiful: kinder, gentler, more forgiving, less judgmental. Isn't it amazing how God can do that in our lives? He is always working toward good, no matter how much evil we encounter in the world.

Today, reflect on how God has put you back together with gold. How can you use your gold-filled places as a witness to God's love with the world? Where are you still broken and resisting God's healing?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Render unto Caesar

As the political scene in the United States starts gearing up for the 2016 presidential elections, it's good for Christians to remember that Jesus told us to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and to render unto God that which is His.

Mike Slaughter and Chuck Gutenson put it better than I ever could so I'm sharing Rev. Slaughter's blog post, excerpted from their book Hijacked: responding to the partisan church divide.

What Happened to the Evangelical Church?

It breaks my heart to see Christians judging each other, turning on each other with viciousness and hateful speech, all in the name of politics. Jesus told us to love each other, and we're failing spectacularly as the divisive and ugly rhetoric of politics invades and infects our words to each other.

Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor, and treat your neighbor as you yourself want to be treated.

That's God's bottom line.

How will you keep God's bottom line this political season?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Building Up

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

What are your spiritual gifts*?

Are you using them?

If so, how can you use them more effectively?

If not, what steps do you need to take to let the Spirit move you?

These are questions we Christians should ask ourselves regularly, prayerfully, and in community. After all, spiritual gifts are those wonderful gifts given by the Holy Spirit specifically for service to the church. When we allow ourselves to engage fully, positively, and productively with our faith community, great things happen.

What happens, however, when there's a misfit between our spiritual gifts and our involvement in the church? Well, nothing good. And often, because we are in community, our personal missteps hurt the community as much as they hurt us.

God did not give me the gift of music, for instance. If I were to force my way into the choir, the director would do all she could to silence me, cover my voice with stronger, better voices that actually stay in tune. The dissonance caused by my caterwauling would disrupt the harmony.

It's a good thing I know and accept my vocal inadequacies and don't torment others with delusions of grandeur! During worship, I sit right behind the choir and sing softly so they drown me out...a lovely solution to my joyful noise.

Interestingly, our spiritual gifts change over time, though admittedly it's unlikely I'll miraculously start singing in tune. An activity that fills us with joy in one season of our lives might gradually become a drain on our energy. As we become empty and negative, our unhappiness infects others around us. We tear down rather than build up, we see only problems where there are solutions, we criticize when we should encourage.

My top two spiritual gifts are nurturing leadership and mercy...which makes my role as a Stephen Leader a good fit. I'm new to the role, though, and bound to make mistakes. In fact, I've already made several. Thankfully, the other leader, Zandra, has been doing this for years and has a way of reining in my puppyish enthusiasm that is gentle, kind, and positive. She builds me up. I always look forward to seeing her, to working with her, to learning from her.

God gives us people in our lives to grow us as Christians, to build us up. I am so grateful for Zandra, my pastor, and the others in my faith community who not only build me up but build others up as well.

Let our words give grace to those who hear them!

*If you are new to the idea of spiritual gifts or aren't quite sure what they are, you can get a nice overview here on the United Methodist Church website.  There's a link on that page to an online assessment to help determine your gifts, but that assessment is really just a start. Different churches and studies list different gifts...there's not really a single definitive list. I strongly encourage people to participate in a formal small-group study of gifts to get a deeper, more refined idea of what your gifts might be and help in deciding how to use them. Christian community is so important, and small groups are an excellent way of growing in faith!  

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Unanswerable Questions

A friend called me a few days ago to tell me that she lost a dear friend--a 40-something mother of young twin boys--to cancer. In her grief, my friend asked that unanswerable question: "Why?"

Why would a young mother die suddenly? Why did she have cancer in the first place? What possible good can come of out this?

My friend wanted words of wisdom. I don't know how wise they are, but this is what I've learned about grief and loss and the unfairness of life.

Sometimes, things don't make sense and never will. We don't understand. Cells grow out of control or a drunk gets behind the wheel or a heart stops or a foot slips or someone drowns or tectonic plates move or a person takes his or her own life. We want to explain these things away, comfort ourselves with cause, blame, anger. But really, sometimes, things just don't make sense. And they never will.

God doesn't make people sick or kill babies or young mothers or fathers or thousands of people in a terrorist attack or tsunami or concentration camp. God does not do these things. At least, this is what I believe as a good Methodist. Some Christians believe differently.

God does, however, welcome His children home when tragic things happen, and He provides ways for those left behind to turn tragedy into something good. A woman whose 16-year-old daughter died in a car accident opened a half-way house for teenage girls because God wanted her to take all that love for her daughter and help girls in need. I've written before how we see God every time a first responder rushes toward tragedy rather than away from it. God is there in the doctors' hands and nurses' kindness. He's there, even in the worst situations, trying to move us to do good.

I also know that this sucks for us. It takes time to heal and time to see good again. We need to give ourselves that time, to be kind and gentle with ourselves as we grieve, and we need to find people, or even one single person, who will listen to us as we work through our grief at our own pace and in our own time. If we don't find healing, we sink in bitterness. Tragedy--not God--wins.

That's what I know. It's not much, or even enough, but I cling to it as I cling to God.

It's just enough to get me through, and I sure hope it helps you, too.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Paying Attention

Psychologist Daniel Goleman, an expert on emotional intelligence, wrote, "The act of compassion begins with full attention."

Meditate on that for a moment.

"The act of compassion begins with full attention."

Compassion, which we can define as the empathetic desire to help someone who is troubled, requires us to see what the trouble is, to understand that trouble and how it affects a person, and to act if there's anything helpful we can do about it.

Who around you is suffering? How can you exercise your compassion attentively?

Very often, the answer to that second question is quite simple:

Compassion can be tough in a world that tells us the important things are big...big gestures, big words, big generosity. Silent support seems too little, too ordinary, too unimportant.

Truth is, we all appreciate it when someone really listens to us, pays attention, doesn't try to fix things or offer up suggestions for how we can make the pain go away. I've been struggling with headaches for several years now, more than likely the result of menopause.  It's been fascinating to watch people's response to my pain. Some email me 10-point lists of suggestions, and some tell me how their aunt's sister-in-law's cousin had the same thing and found instant relief by using a combination of aromatherapy and crystals to align her chakras. Others stick to suggesting medications or dietary changes.

Three years ago, I had no idea there were so many options for treating headaches.

I listen to most of the suggestions and weigh them against everything else I've tried, although the aromatherapy-and-crystals idea came from a total stranger who saw me looking at essential oils at the high-end grocery store. Aromatherapy can't hurt and might help, but crystals are against my religion. Otherwise, I appreciate the suggestions. Once you've exhausted medical options with your doctor, you'll try almost anything for relief.

The best thing that has come out of other people sharing their experiences with mid-life headaches has been the comforting assertion that they will go away. They will end. The change will be over. Hope is always useful! And through suggestions for treatment, I have found some things that truly provide relief.  

One friend, however, hasn't suggested a single remedy or treatment. All she's done is listen to me whine and complain about having tried ten different medications and oy vey nothing helps! She asks me always, "How's your head?" And gives me her quiet attention. She's my safe place. Her full and quiet attention helps me get over myself and laugh at the pain, which gives it a lot less power over my moods.

My husband George has been wonderful through all this, too. He doesn't take offense when I get grouchy; he simply ignores my mood and sympathizes with the pain. He's brought ideas for treatment from other people, googled for information, and generally been there in sickness. I appreciate his attentiveness more than I can say.

I am blessed with so many wonderful friends and family!

God blesses us to be a blessing to others. Many of my friends are dealing with far more tragic or difficult situations than headaches. Divorce, loss, cancer, mental illness, and caring for sick or dying loved ones...these people are suffering, and they need attention.

Matthew 25:35-40   For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
The act of compassion begins with full attention. It continues with love.

Who in your life needs your full attention? Do they need advice from you or do they need you to take the quiet, compassionate option of sitting beside them? Pay attention to the situation. Ask the person how you can help. Listen carefully to the answers.

What we do out of love and compassion--no matter how seemingly small or insignificant--we do to the glory of the One who died for us. So let's pay attention!

PS My own headaches are probably the result of muscle tension of "unknown" physiological origin (as opposed to psychological origin). I say it's the hormones, and so do a number of older ladies at my church who have been here, done this, and gotten over it. I'm treating with a combination of things (medications, massage, acupuncture, meditation, and well patches). If you're suffering from mid-life headaches, best wishes for finding relief that works. There certainly are a LOT of options out there.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Truth and Generalizations

Last fall, I fell into the weirdest exchange I've ever had at a military base hospital. For the record, I've had some bizarre experiences in base hospitals over the of the entertaining perks of military life, I suppose.

On that fall morning, I walked into the blood-draw room, which was packed with technicians and patients. Most of the patients had been fasting and were, like me, understandably grumpy and quietly impatient for their morning coffee. The techs, however, were deep in a lively discussion over science and religion.

One tech, an older man, declared, "I am a Christian who doesn't believe in evolution."

Oh, Lord, I prayed. What have I walked into? I haven't even had my coffee yet.

The tech tying the tourniquet around my arm looked up and said, "Well, I thought all Christians believe evolution is a lie."

Oh, Lord, I prayed, please give me the words.

"Excuse me," I said, reaching for the cross hanging around my neck with my free hand. The tech gave me his full attention. "Not all Christians think evolution is a lie. I am a Christian and see nothing inconsistent between what I read in the Bible and what science has to say about evolution or the big bang theory. And I'm not alone. Plenty of Christians respect science."

"Really?" he asked, appearing rather shocked.

"Really," I replied, putting as much confidence in my voice as I could.

"I had no idea. Thank you so much." He sounded sincere. I hope my words shifted his thinking just a bit.

How disconcerting to encounter the false generalization that Christians all think alike! The truth is, about the only thing all Christians believe is that Jesus is the Messiah...and I bet if you search hard enough in the fringe corners of our faith, you'll find heretical quibblers on that issue, too. Christianity has hundreds (some count thousands) of denominations, and even within a single denomination, you'll find numerous variations of belief.

Actually, within a single church congregation, you'll find huge differences of opinion, a reality that becomes obvious if you sit through a single church committee meeting.

And if this is true of Christianity, isn't it also true of other religions?

A few years ago, I invited some Mormon missionaries to share their faith with me because I knew how ignorant I was, despite having been bombarded with extensive media coverage of polygamists and child abusers. I recognize that the information we have on LOTS of issues comes filtered and packaged by a media with an agenda...and it isn't objective or thorough.

I found the missionaries to be thoughtful, kind, and knowledgeable about their faith. While nothing they said convinced me to convert, they taught me plenty about Mormonism, and for that I was thankful. I still don't know "everything" about the subject, but that's okay. At least I learned enough to overcome a simplistic, one-size-fits-all (and completely faulty) generalization.

But how often do we judge a group--religious or otherwise--because we've consumed a sensationalized, partial, or highly biased view presented by the media? Our friends? Our pastors? How often do we judge based on a single personal experience? How often is our judgment clouded by false generalizations and fear?

Given recent riots in Baltimore, the church shooting in Charleston, and the media spotlight on police prejudice and brutality, we need to be aware of how our opinion is being manipulated, how our fears are being played on. And most of all, we need to be very cautious in making broad generalizations based on limited evidence.

"That mass shooter was schizophrenic, so all people with schizophrenia are murderers and dangerous."

"Those terrorists were Muslim, so all Muslims are terrorists."

"Those Christians hate gay people, so all Christians hate gay people."

Faulty generalizations can be so very easy to make, so very strong once made, and so very wrong! It's human nature to want to know with certainty, and all of nature abhors a void. Are we filling our mental void with accurate, complete information?

Probably not.

My classical education taught me that we never, ever have all the information we need to see all the nuances of the big picture. Our perspective is limited, necessarily so. We cannot know everything, and our judgments should consequently be provisional, cautious, thoughtful. Paul describes our incomplete viewpoint as "looking through a glass darkly" and Proverbs tells us not to lean on our own understanding but to trust the Lord. God's got the big picture covered. We need to do our best with what's in front of us, what we can see.

With these limits to our understanding humbly in mind, let's try to moderate our more forceful opinions with the certain knowledge that we only see and know part of the issues and that our generalizations, like those of the medical technologist I encountered, might be completely wrong. May we do this in a spirit of love and compassion for ourselves and others that daily advances God's kingdom on earth.

For reflection: Have you been a victim of faulty generalizations How did that make you feel? How did you respond? What generalizations do you make? How might you learn a more nuanced view of those generalizations?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Lines in the Sand

Have you heard the one about the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan? It goes something like this:

A lawyer asks Jesus what he should do to have eternal life. Jesus asks him what the Law (which we call Scripture) says. The lawyer replies, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." Jesus applauds the lawyer for giving the right answer, but the lawyer then asks, "Who is my neighbor?" (Just like the lawyer in all of us...quibbling over definitions, looking for loopholes!)

To answer, Jesus tells the story of a man going from Jerusalem to Jericho who is attacked by robbers, beaten, stripped naked, and left for dead on the side of the road. A priest sees him and moves to the other side of the road, passing without helping. Then a Levite does the same. When a Samaritan sees this poor, beaten Jew, he responds in love, bandages his wounds, takes him to an inn nearby, and pays the innkeeper to care for the wounded man, promising to come back and check on him to be sure the innkeeper does the job right.

Jesus ends by asking the lawyer which man was a neighbor to the victim. "The one who showed him mercy," he replies. Then Jesus says, "Go and do likewise."

"Go and do likewise."

It's not a joke.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the hardest teachings Jesus gives us. Samaritans and Jews were mortal enemies, For a Samaritan to be the good guy in a story told by a Jew to a Jew...well, that was just unthinkable. That was a line in the sand that shouldn't be crossed.

Jesus crossed it.

In doing so, Jesus makes a bold point about the Law. The Jewish priests and Levites were leaders who had become overly preoccupied with the details of the Law relating to purity. If they stopped to help the man, they would be rendered impure by touching a possibly dead body or getting human blood on their hands or robes. They had forgotten about the most important Law of all, the Law upon which all the other laws were based, the Law that leads to eternal life: Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

That's the bottom line.

What did it matter if the priest and Levite were inconvenienced by weeks of ritual purification? Someone needed their help, a fellow Jew, one of their own, and they walked past him.

I think we all can use a few weeks of ritual purification now and then, no matter how inconvenient, but we are such selfish creatures. We put our own needs and convenience first, and turn a blind eye to the needs of those in the ditch. A few years ago, as I was walking with my husband, his sister, and her husband around the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, in search of dinner, I saw one of the many homeless people struggling to roll his wheel chair up a rather steep hill. The Spirit nudged me to offer help...but I kept walking.

When I stand before God, I will have to answer for that failure. Perhaps you know exactly the knot I get in my stomach when that memory hits me, the shame I feel for not answering that nudge, the knowledge that I failed God in this one small thing.

How must I be failing Him in even larger ways unconsciously, thoughtlessly, carelessly, every single day?

Yet God loves me anyway, forgives my sins, pours out blessings on me so that I may be a blessing to others. I don't deserve that sort of love. Not a bit. I fail every day, and He never quits loving me, and He never quits loving you, either.

When I feel that unbounded love--a love that erases all those lines in the sand we draw--I want to go and do likewise. I will fail, sometimes spectacularly, but I will keep trying. Winston Churchill said success is going from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm. When we get stuck, when we give into despair, when we lose our enthusiasm for loving and let not loving become a habit so ingrained we can't even see it...that's real failure.

Are we judging others, condemning them, separating ourselves from them because we don't want to get dirty? If we're honest, we probably have to answer yes. We do this, every one of us, because we have lines we won't cross in sharing our love. Some people won't love gays or homeless people or the mentally ill or potty mouths or Muslims or Christians of other denominations. Some people won't love the people who won't love gays or homeless people or the mentally ill or potty mouths or Muslims or Christians of other denominations.

We've all got lines we won't cross with love. When we are self-centered or afraid, the line we won't cross gets closer to us, and the circle where we love shrinks, and we push people outside the line, teaching the falsehood that God's love is conditional and contingent just like ours.

Jesus wants us to be like the good Samaritan, to be a neighbor to everyone, but it's just so hard. Perhaps daily we need to ask Him to push back our lines just a little bit, expand the circle where we love to be a bit more inclusive, a bit less comfortable and convenient, even if it means getting our hands dirty. If we keep doing this, an awesome thing happens: we pull more and more people closer to that Perfect Love...including ourselves. And the bigger our love gets, the more like Jesus we become.

Are you shining God's love out into the world or are you guarding it close to you, keeping it pure and unsullied by the touch of sinful neighbors in a sinful world? Where were the Samaritan's lines drawn? Where did he give his mercy?

Go and do likewise.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Noisy Gongs

Social media exploded in the wake of the SCOTUS decision on marriage equality. My Facebook feed filled quickly with lots of opinions, some expressed with kindness but many were not so kind. This didn't surprise me. More important, though, was the number of people who expressed how silenced they felt by the public discourse, how uncomfortable they felt expressing their own opinion for fear of provoking an avalanche of hate from "the other side."

We live in America. Freedom of speech is an inalienable right. Yet so many people feel alienated right now that it breaks my heart.

How we use our words matters. "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol."

Have your words added to the cacophony, the mud-slinging, the hate? It's so easy to get sucked into the trenches of this world; the battle lines seduce us with the sirens' song of power and righteousness and indignation: I'm right, you're wrong so screw you all the way to hell!

When we have to push others down to lift ourselves up, both sides lose.

Let's take a look at the entirety of I Corinthians 13, an oh-so-familiar passage that is forgotten oh-so-often in the times of conflict for which Paul wrote it. I invite you to read the words slowly, meditatively. Let them sink in.

13  If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

In this chapter, Paul addresses the subject of spiritual gifts. He's responding to conflict in the church at Corinth over which spiritual gifts are "best." Who is better? Who is right? Today's universal church in America seems a lot like Corinth in the first century, and Paul's message of love seems particularly relevant.

Consider verse 6: love "does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth." Many Christians feel that marriage equality for the LGBT community is wrongdoing based on their interpretation of the Bible. Many others feel that marriage equality is the truth of love in action based on their interpretation of the Bible. Both sides feel so strongly opinionated that love has been lost. The church is stuck in conflict.

Who is right? God only knows.

We see through a glass darkly, and we know only in part. I could share in excruciating detail why I support marriage equality. I could bring in scripture and personal experience and reason, like a good follower of John Wesley's Methodism. I could describe how my reading of the Bible leads me to support love in all things. I could share stories of my gay and lesbian friends, of my transgender niece, of love and acceptance and my conviction that God doesn't make mistakes.

But in the polarized environment of social media (which includes blogs like this one), those who disagree with me wouldn't listen. Those who agree with me would gather my words up, twist them into sticks with which to flog their opponents. This is the lesson social media teaches us. There is no conversation anymore. There is only yelling...the rhetoric of the closed fist. The rhetoric of trench digging. The rhetoric of military victory and defeat.

How do we talk with each other any more? Where has love gone? How do we bring it back?

Let's begin by striving for patience. For kindness. For humility. After all, none of us sees truth clearly. We could all be wrong in our opinions as we peer through the dim glass of our imperfection. At the last supper, Christ made very clear--with no equivocation or qualifications or loopholes of legal opinion--what His followers were to do in the world: love one another.

Love is the lesson Christ teaches us.

If we don't have love, we are nothing. Let all Christians be unified in sharing God's song of love in an age of noisy gongs and clanging symbols. Choose your words carefully, kindly, compassionately, constructively. The complete Kingdom Love will come. Let us choose to be a part of it.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Anger and Forgiveness

Many of us who have been victims of some wrong take years to forgive those who wronged us. Some of us never do forgive, and we hold onto anger and hate until they turn us bitter and eventually separate us from God.

As Christians, we are often taught to forgive as easily and quickly and generously as Jesus forgave those who crucified Him. In forgiving, we let go of anger and hate and a desire for revenge. We gain peace and the ability to move forward only when we let it go of these negative feelings. In this view, anger is always a sin.

I'm not so sure about this.

It's big news when victims of violent crimes forgive perpetrators of evil, as the families of the victims in Charleston have publicly done. I can't help but feel awe of their faith and their trust in God to do such a thing, and I am comforted that their words of peace will work against the public retaliation and vengeance that could all too easily spring from such a crime. They have gained peace for themselves and generated peace for their city. At least, I hope that's the case.

But in a world mired in sin, anger--but not hate--can be healthy and useful when it serves justice. Think of children who are always forgiven as soon as they do wrong. Do they ever understand what they've done? Do they learn, change, repent? We are stubborn in holding onto our sin, aren't we?

An important component of our faith journey is accepting just what sinners we are. In realizing the depth of our sin, we realize how dependent we are on Christ, who took our sins--and the sins of the world--onto Himself. Only in recognizing how sinful we are can we ask forgiveness from the One whose mercy and grace are infinite, and only then can we truly forgive those who trespass against us. The families in Charleston are clearly well along this path of spiritual growth.

Too-quick forgiveness, however, can send an unhealthy message to criminals. Dylann Roof has heard families of those precious people he murdered in cold blood tell him they forgive him. Already? Eventually, yes. But how can he understand what he has done, the horror of what he has perpetrated, the depth of his depravity and the hurt he has inflicted? How can he ask forgiveness and repent?

Forgiveness is a process, much like grief. Some people move quickly through it, and others take longer. But the dead are unaffected by their loved ones' grief while criminals are affected by their victims' forgiveness.

I worry that other victims of violence will feel that they must meet the same standard set by the families in Charleston...especially victims who are also persons of faith, who feel that they are "bad" Christians because they cannot forgive right away. A healthy and just anger can carry victims through the awfulness following a crime, the slowness of court systems, the unfair loopholes and caveats that allow the guilty to escape earthly punishment. It can help abused children survive their abuse.

Anger isn't always bad, especially when it is coupled with wisdom and self-control. Scripture even gives examples of God and Jesus being angry at wrongs committed. Here's what Adam Hamilton, United Methodist pastor and author of a wonderful book on forgiveness, has to say about this kind of anger:

"I think anger is a normal response to something horrible that someone has done...and that's actually healthy to have, to feel that. At some point you have to figure out, 'How do I let that go?'"
Anger, unlike hate, can be like fuel. When allowed a controlled burn for good purpose, anger can give energy and motivation to change. When it gets out of control and is coupled with hate, as recently happened in Baltimore, anger becomes an evil itself.
So righteous anger can be good as part of the process of forgiveness, but as Hamilton points out, you have to know when to let it go. The Dalai Lama once met an angry woman who had survived horrid child abuse at the hands of her father. He asked her, "Do you feel you have been angry long enough?" What a powerful and important question we all need to ask ourselves!
Wisdom comes from knowing when to let go of anger, when it has done the good it can do and now just holds a person back. Like a two-stage rocket system, we can use the anger to get free of the gravity of the situation, but eventually we need to let it go and use a different system for moving forward. God is our guide in the timing of letting go.
If you are experiencing anger toward someone who has done evil to you or your loved ones, don't panic or feel bad about yourself because you're angry. Invite God into that anger, and let Him direct your energies toward justice and ultimate healing for yourself and for those who wronged you. Fight hate and revenge, but let your anger be righteous and serve Him. Invite Him into that process of forgiveness.
And evil will be overcome.

Note: If you're struggling with forgiveness in any situation at all, I strongly recommend Adam Hamilton's book Forgiveness: Finding Peace through Letting Go. It's not a long read, but it is a powerful one.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Golden Rule

We like rules. We like to know what's expected in a complicated and messy life. Unfortunately, rules have a tendency to multiply exponentially: sometimes because they aren't always fair without caveats, and sometimes because we want all sorts of exceptions and loopholes. The rules themselves become complicated and messy, as those of us who do our own taxes know all too well!

Messy rules are not new. Just think how God gave His chosen people ten rules on stone tablets, and then He had to add a whole bunch more rules because applying those ten to real-world situations got complicated. What about how the Israelites needed to treat slaves? Cut their hair? Punish adulterers? Boil their meat? Divide their year?

Over time, rules multiplied, and keeping track of them all became a burden, not a blessing.

There are two signs of broken human systems...when the rules are never followed and when they are followed rigidly to the letter. Chaos arises from the first and cruelty from the second. We need the structure that rules give us as a culture and nation, but we also need to deploy checks and balances on that structure so that its rules don't become oppressive.

Recently, I realized just how hurt my son has been by the rules imposed by the Ohio State Board of Education. New rules, new curriculum, new testing.... Jack and other children with disabilities are getting lost in the chaos of it all. So many rules that apply fairly to typical students just don't work for children who have special needs, and the end result is that disabled students don't have a pathway to graduation in the state of Ohio right now.

When the rules become more important than people, bad things happen to the least of us.

Throughout Jesus' ministry, he faced a Jewish leadership mired in rules and neglectful of the least of the people. The Pharisees were using the rules to keep people out, to privilege a few, to protect their power, to keep themselves pure. They'd forgotten why the rules existed in the first bless God's people in healthy, life-giving ways. After Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, the Holy Spirit came down on Pentecost and filled the disciples with power...not of the law but of the Spirit.

Being led by the Spirit doesn't mean there are no rules to follow; it means that the rules are not imposed from outside of us but arise from the Spirit dwelling in us, a Spirit of love and compassion.

Think about that for a minute. It's a big idea, and it leads us to question how we know when we are being led by the Spirit and when our own will or our cultural values are leading us. Discernment is so much harder since God stopped appearing to us in burning bushes or a giant cloud! Fortunately, Jesus, God-made-flesh, gave us a guideline to follow:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

As a guide to behavior, this Golden Rule seem pretty straightforward. Would you want to be treated badly because of the color of your skin? Your religious affiliation? Your economic status? Your sexual orientation? Your tattoos? Your clothes?

So why do we treat others badly for these reasons?

Those prejudices have led and are still leading to violence and injustice in our own country and all over the world. And in religious practice today, too many Christians are guarding the temple doors like the Pharisees instead of inviting sinners in to participate in God's mercy and forgiveness.

In this season following Pentecost, let's reflect on ways we can make the rules we live by--from the laws of the land to the laws of our faith, family, and work--more Spirit-filled, more just, more reflective of God's kingdom of boundless love, mercy, compassion, and grace. Let us daily remind ourselves of the Golden Rule, and let the Spirit lead us accordingly.

For Reflection:
What unjust laws are you enforcing in your private life of work, family, friends, and church? Have you excluded someone or judged someone unfairly? Have you been on the receiving end of unjust rules that hurt you, made you pull away from God, or made you behave unjustly in return? How can you be a part of God's love in the world this week?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

His Mercy

The weekly Bible study I attend is nearing the end of Matthew, and as we're closing in on the betrayal, arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus, I am reminded once again how little we human beings deserve salvation. If one disciple responded to Jesus' arrest with violence, if all the disciples fled the garden at his arrest, if Peter denied Christ not once but three times, how can the basis of our salvation be our behavior?


Paul's letter to Titus reveals his understanding of the human condition. We want to control our lives and judge others, we want to puff up in pride, and we want all glory, laud, and honor for ourselves.

We want credit.

Christ didn't go to the cross because we are worthy of His sacrifice. He went because He loves us with a perfect love. When we experience that love and accept its truth by acknowledging Christ as our Savior, we are simultaneously aware of how undeserving we are and how abundantly blessed we are.

Our salvation isn't about us; it's about God's perfect love seen through Jesus Christ.

Of course, when we come to faith in Christ, we must let that abundant love flow into our words and deeds: faith without works is dead. But righteous works are the product of salvation, not the labor that earned it...and therefore, we should not boast.

Instead, let our lives humbly testify to His mercy and love.

Thanks be to God.

Recall a time in your life when you felt utterly aware of God's mercy for you. Reflect on that feeling of both being unworthy and simultaneously a beloved child of God. How can you tap into that gratitude for salvation and share it with others who are hurting or hungry in spirit, mind, and body? If you haven't felt God's mercy in this way, if you feel unworthy or unforgiveable, pray for understanding and talk to a pastor or Christian friend. No one is beyond God's mercy. No one.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Building Up and Giving Grace to Those Who Hear

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

Last week, I read an article from 2014 reporting research showing that strong, successful marriages have one thing in common: both spouses speak kindly and respectfully to each other...even when they disagree. In unhappy marriages or marriages that ended in divorce, one or both spouses speak unkindly, and their bodies show stress when talking with their spouse even when they seem to be calm on the outside. Their heart rate and blood flow are elevated and their sweat glands activate in preparation for a "fight or flight" response. This sort of conditioned response to another person--especially one you've vowed to honor and cherish--is extraordinarily unhealthy.

Scripture tells us repeatedly to use our words carefully and kindly. The book of Proverbs offers up numerous nuggets such as these three:
  • "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (15:1)
  • "Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body." (16:24).
  • "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits." (18:21).
With scientific evidence now proving Proverbs' assertion that our bodily health is damaged by unkindness in marriage (and most likely in all our close relationships), we have even more incentive to watch our words. Relating unkindly to a spouse or parent or child or roommate or coworker adds to your stress, which weakens your immune system, jeopardizes mental health, and can even shorten your life.

Given this, what possible advantage do we gain through unkindness?

Yet every single person speaks unkindly at some time. James 3:8 gives us a rather humbling condemnation of the tongue: " human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." Convicted. How many times have I resorted to aggressive or passive-aggressive comments? How many times have I expressed dissatisfaction or disapproval of a family member who isn't behaving the way I think he or she should? How many times have I had to apologize for words spoken thoughtlessly or hurtfully?

Ugh. Too often.

Matthew tells us that after the Pharisees criticized Jesus for allowing his disciples to eat without washing their hands, Jesus "called the people to him and said to them, 'Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person'" (15:10-11).

What applies to spoken words also applies to written words. That's one reason I haven't posted much lately. I've felt far too much frustration and anger, and have been tempted to vent publicly. I've started a number of posts, only to delete them when I realized how negative, how potentially hurtful or insulting they were. There's enough poisonous negativity on the internet these days, and Christ calls His followers to behave better than that. In Luke 6:45, Jesus says, "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks."

What does your heart produce abundantly: good or evil?  My own heart has been slipping lately toward evil.

Last Sunday's sermon at my church was delivered by a wise layperson in our congregation, and his words were abundantly good. Kirby recalled that wonderful feeling of starting a new job...the excitement and enthusiasm and commitment to learning how to do our best work. Over time, the newness and enthusiasm wear off, and we can get burned out, tired, distracted, and negative. Our faith life, Kirby said, is like that job. When we burn out and let petty stuff distract us, we turn away from God.

God doesn't leave us...we shut Him out.

As Kirby spoke, I saw the to-do lists, the worries, and the frustrations of the past year or so pop into my mind's eye, scrolling like junk code on a computer screen. I realized how acutely those stressors have been distracting me from God. Kirby pointed out that we need to be born again in the spirit not just once, but over and over, and I remembered that repentance isn't a one-time act...nobody is that perfect.

By intentionally recommitting to God when we are tired and negative, we can push out the evil of self-pity or hatefulness or anger, and let the Holy Spirit fill us again with enthusiasm and joy.

Kirby's message fell on fertile ground.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians that our words should build others up, and as a writer, I have needed to remind myself of this. I am drained and diminished when I use words to tear others down, to express anger or frustration. When my words are kind, spirit-filled, loving, patient, full of grace and mercy...that's when I build up others and also when my own spirit lifts and feels healthy and harmonious.

Aware of what my exhaustion and distraction have done, I humbly commit (once again) to sharing words of grace with you here.

With God's help, may it be so.

Are you tired today? Have you been filling up with negativity and worry and anger and frustration? Have you slipped into self-service instead of God's service? How can you reconnect with God, grow in your relationship with Jesus, open yourself to the Holy Spirit?

Friday, April 10, 2015

We Can't Save Anybody

A woman once said she knew she had saved at least two people by bringing them to Christ, but she wasn't sure that was enough to get her into heaven.

God keeps score? Is that what Easter tells us? Or is that what the world tells us?

The world tells us we have to achieve, we have to make the grade, we have to be somebody. We need a stellar curriculum vitae, we need to score more points than the other guy, we have to perform at the top of our game, fulfill our potential, summit the mountain...or we're nobody. If we live in the wrong neighborhood, have the wrong job, drive the wrong car, go to the wrong college, have the wrong major, wear the wrong clothes...we're nobody.

My earthly father once told me, "No one remembers who finishes second."

My heavenly father tells me, "My Son died for you."

The world told this woman she had to save a certain number of people--an unspecified quota--or she would burn in hell. Perhaps you've encountered this attitude of earned salvation yourself. Perhaps you are gay, or you got divorced, or you have a tattoo, or you don't belong to the right church, and someone made you feel ashamed and inadequate. A twelve-year-old girl once told my son he would go to hell because he wasn't in church every Sunday. My college roommate was told she would go to hell by her Pentecostal boyfriend because she was Catholic.

These judgments are based on what the world tells us, they incite fear and shame rather than trust or faith, and they work against God's glory.

God is the judge, and His mercy is boundless. Thanks be to God!

Easter teaches us that it's not our job to save anybody. That's God's job, and He already did it. When we start thinking we have to do something spectacular to earn our salvation or that salvation hinges on a particular prayer or practice or accomplishment we must perform...that's when we forget what Easter means.

God Self-Limited, in the form of Jesus, came to an earth so broken and sinful that it could never get itself out of the pit. But God loved us anyway. That love, that blood shed on the's done and cannot be undone. When we truly understand the depth and breadth of God's love for us, in our bones and hearts and heads, our only sensible reaction is gratitude and humility. We know we don't deserve to be loved so much. We will never deserve it. We can never earn it. And we can never expect others to earn it or deserve it, either.

God created us so He could love us and so we could love Him, each other, and ourselves.

That's the point: Love.

We aren't here to save other people. We are here to love everyone, to pour God's abundant love into the world and onto the hungry, the sad, the angry, the naked, the sick and hurt so that His love can feed, encourage, soothe, clothe, heal. And as people are fed, encouraged, soothed, clothed, and healed, they see God at work, the Spirit moves in their hearts, and they learn what Easter means for them.

We just have to be conduits for God's love. And as God is our witness, that is so very hard. It takes a lot of work to love some people, a lot of grace and mercy and forgiveness, and sometimes, we just don't have it in us. People will be so unlovable. You will be so unlovable. I will be so unlovable. We will always finish second to Jesus.

And that's just fine. We are, after all, Christ-followers. The best we can do is obey his new commandment, to love one another. By that, we glorify Him. By that, others will be drawn to Him.

We can't save anyone. We can only love them. The rest is up to God.

How have you encountered humans judging you in God's name? Did it lead you to God or separate you from Him? What led you to God? How were you brought to know your salvation? Who loved you all the way to faith?  How can you love others to faith? 

If you have doubts or shaky faith, know that we all do at times. Talk to your pastor or any pastor or Christian friend. If you meet with judgment, find someone else to be that conduit of love for you. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

He Lives!

Lent is now over (feel free to eat chocolate again), and today begins the Easter season...50 days to celebrate that He lives. Note the present tense. He lives. When people challenged Alfred H. Ackley on this point, he wrote a hymn as his answer. In case you're not familiar with "He Lives," the refrain goes like this:

He lives, He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart!

How will you celebrate this living Savior over the next 50 days? Will you let Him live in your heart, lead you through the stormy blast, see His hand of mercy, and hear His voice of cheer?

I hope you and I will both open our hearts to celebrate Easter for the whole season, and not pack it away with the Easter baskets and plastic eggs.

Happy Easter.

Friday, March 6, 2015


The story of Easter is complicated and weird. Just try explaining it to someone who knows nothing about Jesus or God. Your story might sound something like this:

Well, Jesus, who was God made flesh, rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, all humble, while people sang hosannas and waved palm branches because they thought he had come to over-throw their Roman oppressors, and then a few days later, he ticked off the Jewish leaders, so they had him arrested and tried by the Roman leader Pontius Pilate. The same crowd that had welcomed Jesus with hosannas a few days earlier now shouted to Pilate to crucify him. Crowds are fickle things, aren't they? Then, Jesus died in the most humiliating way the Romans had devised to save us all from our sins, and after he was buried in a borrowed tomb, he was resurrected and visited his followers a number of times before finally going back to heaven, until he comes again in the final days.

Yeah, that makes perfect sense.


Even people raised in the faith who celebrated Easter every year with rousing choruses of "Up From the Grave He Arose," struggle to make sense of this reckless, boundless act of love. The idea that God died for us, to cleanse us of our sins, makes sense when put into the context of the whole of the Bible, but how many Christians spend the time studying the full story to see the full scope of God's work that culminates in Jesus? That's a lifetime study, and no blog post can explain all that. I'm not even going to try.

What I do know, in the depths of my heart, is that Jesus was born for every one of us. He died for every one of us. And he had a message for us that gets repeated through John's gospel account of the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and its aftermath.

1. At the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus said: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:34-35

2. While hanging from the cross, "[W]hen Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, 'Woman, here is your son.' Then he said to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.' And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home." John 19:26-27

3. After his death, when he meets his disciples on a beach, he tells Peter three times: "Feed my lambs."

Love each other. Take care of each other. Sacrifice for each other as he sacrificed for all of us. That's the message Jesus wanted to make sure his disciples heard. God so loved the world that he poured love out onto the cross for us. When we accept that unimaginable, complete, and total love, we must pass it on. We can't dam up that kind of love in our overflows abundantly.

I wish this were the message of Lent.

Too often, Lent is about giving up chocolate or coffee or Facebook, as if something we can do will save us. Until recently in history, Lent coincided with a time of shortage and conservation of food, a time of hunkering down, doling out wrinkled apples from the cellar, an annual and necessary reduction of consumption while people awaited the early crops. It wasn't so much of a choice back in the day as it is now.

If you find those sorts of sacrifices helpful to prepare you for Easter, certainly don't let me deter you. We all get to the cross differently. But please don't stop with giving some luxury up.

To prepare us to celebrate that free and unearned gift at Easter, we should add something to the world that's starved for salvation. Let's feed the lambs, help our neighbors, love one another in ways that shout to the world that we follow The Lamb of God. During Lent, Jesus' example and words invite us to engage more deeply with his new commandment, to add to the love in the world, to move the world one step closer to kingdom life.

Is there a better season to recommit to sacrificial love all the days of our lives than Lent?

How are you feeding his lambs? Do you need to be more intentional in seeking out and caring for the hungry and those in need of love? Are you listening to the needs of others and responding in love? Pray during this season particularly for a heart like Jesus' heart, one that acts in love and shares the joy of salvation.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Different Practices

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. Romans 14:1-23

Have you ever experienced someone telling you that you're not doing Christianity right? Perhaps someone has told you that you read the Bible using the wrong translation or a wrong method of interpretation, or you worship wrongly because your church doesn't celebrate communion every week or because your church does celebrate communion every week. Perhaps you don't attend worship service often enough to meet someone's random attendance requirement or you do attend worship but not Sunday School. For shame! Perhaps it's because you drink wine or beer or liquor, or you utter the occasional (or not so occasional) cuss word.

Who, in fact, decides what is right and what is wrong in religious practice?

When it comes to religious practice, I think it's important to figure out what is helpful for us and what is not. If we were raised in a church that strictly forbade tattoos, for instance, we might look upon ink as a defacement of God's creation...or we might rebel against what we're taught, seeing it as just another form of self-expression. Does God really care about a little (or a lot of) ink when people are starving and enslaved and murdered?

I honestly have no idea how God feels about tattoos, nor do I care because I will never, ever have one myself. Needles! Ewww!! But certainly tattoos, as with any form of self-expression, can signal all sorts of things...good and bad. Concentration camp victims were tattooed with numbers on their arms; we can (I believe) safely assume that this was a bad thing done to them, not something that will damn them to hell. We had a baby sitter who had a Bible verse tattooed on her Greek, no less, which made it a talking point for her to share God's word. I doubt that sort of evangelism will keep her out of heaven. People with swastikas, satanic symbols, and hateful speech tattooed on them likely won't miss out on eternal glory just because they got tattoos, and if they repent of hate and turn to God in love, I think God's grace and mercy are powerful enough to wash clean the stain of sin.

My point: Religious practice is on the outside. God looks inside. If we want to be in right relationship with God, we should figure out those religious practices that keep our hearts focused on Him. These might differ from person to person, and we need to follow Paul's advice and not judge others for doing what it takes to strengthen their faith.

For me, one thing that keeps me growing in faith is regular Bible study in Christian community. I've been attending a weekly class for six years now, and it's transformed my thinking in so many ways, helped me to understand things I didn't understand before, and discover new things in scripture that I never knew or thought I knew but got totally wrong.

Years ago, I listened to a relative vent about Bibles. "People whose Bibles look new aren't good Christians," he said. "Real Christians mark up their Bibles. The more tattered the Bible, the stronger the faith!"

Hmm. Having grown up in the Methodist church, I was taught from a very early age that never, ever, under any circumstances should I mark in or write in my Bible. I should treat it with respect, never put other books or papers on top of it, and never, ever put it on the floor. All these things showed disrespect to God and His Word.

As a result, my main Bible, read and studied so intensively over the past six years, still looks relatively new. It's an Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha in the New Revised Standard Version translation with a soft, oxblood-red leather cover that's soft as butter and smells like a library. My mother gave it to me and had my name put on the front lower right corner in gold. I have other Bibles, but this is the one I use the most. It has the highest quality binding of all my Bibles and lays flat open whether I'm reading Genesis or Revelation.

The gold on the page edges retains its shimmer despite frequent thumbing, and the pages are crisp and clean, definitely unmarked. Okay, yes, there's some wear of that gold edging on the bottom corner where it's rubbed in my book bag, and the fine leather binding has worn a bit on the corners as well. The two ribbon book marks have picked up a bit of oil from sliding between my fingers. But by my Bible-defacing relative's standards, it's hardly been cracked open. By his standards, I'm not a Real Christian.

Who is right?

Does it matter?

Not according to Paul. Let not the one who marks up Scripture pass judgment on the one who does not, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who does not abstain. We are all weak in faith in some way or another. Whatever we do to bolster our faith, when we do it for love of God or our neighbor, He will be well pleased.

You are invited to share a time when your religious practice was criticized. How did you defend your practice? Did the criticism help you or hurt you or just make you realize we're all different? Do you judge others for their tattoos or type of worship or biblical interpretation? Are there times when that judgment is just?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Another New Year

"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature:
old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV

We crave newness. Unspoiled freshness. New car smell. Peeling the protective plastic off an electronic device. Puppy breath. Baby powder.

Newness feels...hopeful, promising, alive with possibility.

Newness hasn't made mistakes.


Newness hasn't been soiled by carelessness or ignorance or cruelty.


Newness feels perfect.

I'm the queen of new year's resolutions. I've resolved for years...and failed to follow through a lot of the time. The weight doesn't come off. I still lose patience too easily and too often. My house doesn't stay tidy and organized. It doesn't even start being tidy and organized.

These failures have lead me to rig my resolutions so I wouldn't fail by resolving to do things I already do. Yay, I learned  and created some things last year! Go, me! I won!

The newness we gain in Christ, however, is different. What does this mean..."if a man be in Christ"? Well, it means giving your life to Him, surrendering your sin to Him, opening your heart to be filled with His love and to let His love flow through our hearts and hands and into the world, where it will make other old, broken, hurting hearts new, whole, and healthy.

We don't make anything new. We are conduits of Christ's healing love and grace and mercy in a broken and soiled world.

The purpose of newness in Christ isn't a smaller waist or cleaner home. The purpose of newness in Christ is relationship with Him, seeing the world in His eyes, and relating to that world in a new way.

In Christ, we can do all things that are good and righteous.

How will you see the world through Christ's eyes? How will you be a path for His love to flow into the world? How will your new year's resolutions reflect your gratitude for His salvation, given to you unearned and unmerited, freely and abundantly?