Dear Pastor, This Sunday, Be A Prophet, Not Polite

Dear Pastor,

I was a pastor for 14 years. I know the pressure to uphold the status quo. To appease your tithing units and board. To refrain from controversy and politics. To keep on schedule with your sermon series.

But you must speak up. You must remember who you are speaking about.
Jesus was a refugee and revolutionary. He disturbed and offended the religious institution. He threatened the current political leaders who oppressed the vulnerable. You don’t get hung on a cross for telling people to be polite to each other. Mr. Rogers wasn’t crucified, but Jesus was. His message was not family friendly.

Because, if you don’t speak up, you’ll have to face the blank stares.
Of young people all over your congregation wondering if faith is relevant. Hoping Christianity makes a difference. Pleading for you to share about a God they had hoped still cares. Wondering if God is designated only for Sunday morning or is He also at the airport with the protestors the night before.

If you don’t speak up, you’ll be neutering the subversive, sacrificial, radical love of God for the marginalized, oppressed, and vulnerable. Grace will be less amazing but your church will be less offensive. I don’t think you can have both.

Dear Pastor, this Sunday you have a choice.
Jesus can be a projection or a projectile.(1)
He can become a projection of what comforts your congregation. He can be a special song, an offering, and a three point sermon. He can be “I’m fine.” and “How about that weather?” He can be compliments and coffee bars. He can be budgets and board meetings.

Or Jesus can become a projectile. He can come smashing into our preconceived ideas of ourselves, the other, and power structures. He can offend and disrupt us. He can shatter our realities and dare us to die to ourselves so that we may live. He can announce yet again, “You’ve heard it said, but now I tell you…” He can change us and return in us. He can surprise us and shock us. He can be a lion who will never be tamed. He can make us artists and activists. He can be everything you signed up for in the first place and more.

You must speak up.
Because He speaks to you.
Through the refugees being detained right now in airports.
Through the immigrants fearful of deportation.
Through the Muslim Americans lying awake tonight, wondering what’s next.

 

Dear Pastor, will you answer His call this Sunday?

 “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” -Matt. 25:35

 

  1. Projection and projectile is an idea of Peter Rollins. Check out his books. I’m currently reading The Divine Magician.

Beyond Rules: Condoning, Holiness, And Other Excuses

A couple days ago we were making a run to Home Depot for a tarp. I was in a hurry because I wanted to stack the firewood and cover it before the Hawks game. Sawyer noticed a homeless man on the corner as I zoomed past. He asked if we could stop and give him one of these packets we have in our trunk. I quickly shot his request down because after all, Go Hawks, right?

After a very specific look from Laura, I turned around and Sawyer handed out the packet. Compassion won despite my best (or worst) excuse. These excuses to withhold compassion are often about being busy or inconvenienced or insecure. They pop up like convenient road blocks which force me to return to my safe and comfortable home.

But I’ve never found excuses for withholding compassion in the Bible.

“I don’t want to condone their actions”
For starters, someone cannot state this without an inflated sense of importance. God does not need you or I. He chooses to use us like my five year old helps me stack fire wood. I could have gotten it done a lot faster without him, but I like his lil giggle as he sends small chunks of wood whizzing by my face. We laughed a lot together, I got a couple bruises, and we made a memory. That was the point. His usefulness was not.

Secondly, I have no doubt those spending time with Jesus often walked away assuming he condoned their actions. You don’t get the reputation of a “drunk and a glutton” a “friend of tax collectors and sinners” without people feeling really really comfortable around you. He was okay with being misunderstood. Otherwise, you don’t tell a bunch of confusing stories to communicate deep spiritual truths. Sometimes I wonder if it’s only love when we risk being misunderstood. For Jesus, it seemed generosity was always a higher priority than morality. Do your rules keep you from compassion?

“Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” -Mark 10:20,21

 

“Well isn’t Jesus holy?”
I’m glad you asked. Yes, but lets understand holiness. Holiness is often only understood as a separation from sin. We forget, it’s also a separation for sinners. Holiness has purpose. Morality for moral sake(1) leaves us self-righteous and ineffective. We are lights on a hill, the salt of the earth. Jesus was sinless for sinners. This is why the Bible can claim he never sinned and yet gravitated to the worst of sinners.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

-Matt. 22:36-40

Did you catch that? All the law and the prophets, all the rules “hang” on this! Every rule we follow is held up by the strong peg of love. If we remove loving others and loving God, all our rules fall to the floor. All of my excuses tumble down. My invitation is to love others, not love how holy I look. Sometimes I wonder if it’s only love when we’re a lil’ reckless. At the very least, I don’t think I’m loving well unless I wonder if I’ve gone too far. A story of a shepherd who left 99 sheep to chase after only one reminds me of this.(2) If I’m following Jesus, then I’ll offend more religious people than non-religious people. Does your holiness keep you from sinners rather than sin?

Stop making excuses.
Risk being misunderstood.
Be holy as he is holy. (2)

 

Further one liners I didn’t know how to fit in:
“They deserve it.” is contrary to Jesus.
Not bringing a gift to the wedding doesn’t make you a christian, it makes you cheap.
The sick are not impressed by what a doctor can withhold.

  1. I wrote much more on this, here
  2. Luke 15
  3. 1 Peter 1:15

Beyond Rules: Where The Crosswalks End

I walk the boys to school every morning. They are good at following the rule of only crossing the street at the crosswalks. However, there’s only so many of those. We often have to cross the street without a crosswalk, like crossing the street at the end of our culd-de-sac. They can’t get to school without it. Every morning, they’ll wait for me, we look both ways, and we cross together.

I see the rules in the Bible like crosswalks. They’re comforting because I have clear boundaries and priorities. They make navigating certain roads in life safer. In moments of decision, I can trust these Biblical rules to get me home.

However, there are so many rules in the Bible. It only takes me so far.

I’ve heard people state, “All I need is the Bible”, but those people also happen to have a fairly shallow existence. They haven’t ventured out very far from home.  Their answers are often trite because their questions aren’t compelling. They’ve stayed within the culd-e-sac of their church and friends who agree with them and never dared travel where the crosswalks end. They are often characterized by where they don’t go rather than where they dream of going next. I fear they’ve learned to trust the rules, but not the guide.

Jesus answered, “I am the way… -John 14:6

When Jesus stated this, he was not merely saying he will tell us the way, or he will provide the way in a large book someday that will collect dust on your shelf somewhere. Jesus is making the audacious claim that he is the way. Jesus is the map. We read him. We follow him to places beyond the crosswalks.

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. -John 16:13

Traveling beyond the crosswalks means I can get convicted about all sorts of things. I can hear God in all kinds of areas. For example, I’ve recently started charging my phone in the bathroom at night. I didn’t like how my phone was the last thing I looked at before I went to bed and the first thing I looked at when I woke up. It seem to make me feel less human. Now, I’m rediscovering that time with Jesus. We’ve had some sweet moments together at night and in the morning.

Now tell me where that is in the Bible? Where does the Bible talk about our cell phones? Imagine if I only followed the rules in the Bible and stopped where the crosswalks end, I would have never made this important change.

Or what about Laura and I feeling moved to have our next vehicle be an electric car? Or setting aside money for date nights? Or Laura starting her wellness career coaching? Or our long awaited practicalpremarital.com to help engaged couples learn how to love each other better? These are decisions well beyond crosswalks. We’re in uncharted lands. We’re trying to stay close to the guide so we don’t get lost. Sure, it’s a little dangerous, but we’ve never felt more alive. Life is an adventure out here. God could do anything! Who knows what’s next?

I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. -John 10:10

Have you grown tired of the crosswalks? They can only take you so far. There’s a whole world out there to explore. There’s so much to see and do! The guide would like to expand your capacity to love, your imagination to give, and your passion to serve.

Grab his hand, and go. Who knows where he may take you?

Stick with me, I’m gonna try to write a second part on this tomorrow. We have much more to talk about.

 

The Cross Is Not Manipulative

I’m triggered by manipulative people. I’ll get really mad, really fast, if I sense someone is manipulating me. I know my own propensity toward being manipulative as well. It’s why I was so attracted to Laura. She’s a strong woman I knew would never allow me to treat her the way I feared.

My least favorite form of manipulation is the person who plays the victim. They continually position themselves so you feel indebted to them. They gain power in the relationship by others feeling sorry for them. They can control you if they can get you to feel partly responsible for their situation. You may know a manipulative person like this if you find yourself apologizing a lot around them.

Distance yourself from these kind of manipulators. You will never have a healthy relationship while they continue to play the victim.

Sadly, I spent years of Christianity seeing Jesus this way.
I’d hear people up front say things like, “He died for you so you can live for him.”
Jesus was the eternal victim and I was forever indebted to him.
I was responsible for him dying.
I apologized around him all the time. I even had this fear that if I forgot to say sorry for a sin, he would hold that sin against me and I’d end up in hell.

No wonder people distance themselves from God. Perhaps they’re looking for healthier kinds of relationships. I have friends who have abandoned their faith because they became weary of being manipulated and were tired of saying sorry. Some of the most manipulative people on the planet are pastors and they feed off their congregations guilt. It’s awful.

I’m guessing you’re tired as well.
Me too.
So very tired.(1)

The cross is not a victim’s ploy, it is a grand gesture of love.

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” -John 15:13

Jesus is not manipulative. If he was, he would not have chosen to die as a common criminal which was largely forgotten or unseen by the world. He would not have dared to be weak, homeless, misunderstood, and rejected. He would not have said things like, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) Free men and women are not indebted, they are in love.

And this is what the cross has become to me. It means I don’t have to live indebted and uneasy. I’m done apologizing to God all the time, there’s far better things to talk about. Jesus did not merely pay for my sin, he destroyed the entire economic system of payment. The currency and banks of sin have been destroyed. My “sorry” is now silly. I’m free! Really, really free! Even when I distanced myself from him, I was free. Even when I flipped off God and thought the whole thing was dumb, the cross still stood. My response to this love does not determine the reality of this love. I am just loved. Period. That’s why Jesus said with his dying breathe, “It is finished.”(2)

This love is not controlling, it’s compelling.(3) It invites me into healthier relationships with others. I no longer hold the wrongs of others against them. I do not seek some sort of payment because like I said, that economic system is in ruins. I just forgive. I let it go. I pray blessings on my enemies. I freely give, because I have freely received.(4) Relationships with others get healthier because God has demonstrated what a healthy relationship looks like with me.

Have you distanced yourself from God?
I get it and I don’t blame you. I think you were just seeking after something healthier. You were protecting yourself from dysfunction.

The cross is better than that.
If God is like Jesus we’re going to be okay.
You’re invited, not indebted.

 

  1. These are not the words of a manipulator.
    “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” -Matt. 11:28-30
  2. John 19:30
  3. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. -2 Cor. 5:14
  4. Matthew 10:8