Prologue

ufosummerMy friend Tony once challenged me to only speak of spirituality that you can attach a story to.  It was a calling to not merely be a theorist, but a practitioner of faith.  It was an invitation to get brutally honest about where I am on my spiritual journey.  After all, you can’t figure out where you’re going until you know where you are.  I guess, these next bit of ramblings are a sort of landmark.  It’s where I am now, for better or worse, but I most likely will not stay there long.  Hell, there’s a good chance I’ll disagree with myself in a few years.  I am not aiming to articulate some exhaustive and exact idea of faith.  Instead, I offer a messy, incomplete story open to misinterpretation.

I think faith is like an old tapestry constantly being handed down over thousands of years.  Some people spend a lifetime pulling the loose threads on the outskirts of faith until the whole tapestry unravels.  They boast of their complex examination but sadly have nothing more than a pile of thread to offer another.  Others spend their time excusing and even apologizing for the tattered piece of art.  Instead, they offer shallow answers to comfort their crowd but the tapestry was never meant to be a blanket.

I’ve decided to allow the tapestry to speak for itself.  I think faith makes the most sense with loose ends.  I’m not afraid to say, “I don’t know”.  I think doubt makes a great dance partner with faith.  After all, I’ve noticed any good piece of art leaves us with more questions than answers.

Also, I think I’m in good company.  See, I’ve found that most of the people that listened to Jesus talk about faith walked away with doubt, questions, and uncertainty. However, many of those same people would worship him as God.  What if a prerequisite for worship is we don’t completely know what’s going on?  What if Jesus is more interested in trust than certainty?  What if the old tapestry was meant to have loose ends? 

This is a story of 14 years as a vocational pastor.  This is about the good, bad, and ugly of the church.  This is about studying the original languages of the Bible while not caring about others.  This is about hypocrisy and grace.  This is two steps forward and one step back.   Most importantly, this is about the beautiful tapestry that is Jesus.  This is my landmark.  Seems like a good enough place to start.

1. Why Love Makes Us Nervous

1280--Are-You-Sort-Of-A-Loser-Dont-Worry,-It-Means-Youre-Probably-Really-CreativeI was talking to a Christian pastor a few months ago and he was asking about my theology.  Which, just a side note, anytime someone asks about your “theology” usually means they think you’re wrong and want to show you how they’re right.  Doesn’t that sound like a fun conversation to be a part of?  Anywho, I began with sharing that I think God is love, at which point he quickly interrupted me by saying, “But God is also just, and holy, and…”  Well you get the picture.  Sigh.

I’ve noticed for some reason, many religious people are nervous with the idea that God is love.  It’s like they assume you’re not saying something else or they want to add on a bunch of other amendments of their own or something.  However, here it is in black and white in the Bible.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. -1 John 4:8

Notice it doesn’t say “God is loving”.  That would mean it’s a part of who he is and he can be loving just as easily as he can be hungry.  God is more.  He is the entire definition of love.  His whole being and character demonstrate the completeness of love.  If he were to not love, he would not be God.

This is important because it helps me trust him.  Honestly, I wouldn’t trust any other kind of God.  I can’t trust the God that’s out to get me, or the God that’s just putting up with me, or the religious one with all the amendments.  If we’re really talking about meaning, faith, and eternity here, then I’m sorry, God has to be love.

That’s why he makes us nervous.

A few years back, Laura and I were in counseling.  The church I was pastoring was circling the drain and her career was taking off.  She is ferociously independent and ambitious and I was feeling insecure and like a failure.  You could see why we needed some help.  One particular counseling session we started arguing about dishes and the kids and finances.  It was starting to get heated and the counselor looked at me and gently asked, “What’s the real question Kyle?”

I quickly fired back, “Well, she’s not being supportive.”  Then I launched back into the dishes / kids / finances argument.  We went on for a few more minutes until our wise counselor asked again quietly.  “Kyle, what’s the real question you have for Laura?”

It was then I blurted out, “I’m scared you’re going to leave me!  Okay!  Because you’re better than me!”  I then turned to her with tears in my eyes and asked,  “Are you going to leave me?!”

The room fell silent as we all sat staring at the bomb I dropped in the middle of the room.  I remember feeling naked and horribly vulnerable.  I had handed Laura the power to destroy me.

You know that’s why God being love makes us nervous right?  If he were anything else, we could remain in control.  If he were out to get us we could hate him.  If he were just putting up with us we could resent him.  If he were the religious one with all the amendments we could work the system.  It’s terrifying really, if you think about it,  God being love.  It moves us closer and closer to the real questions of life that we work so hard to avoid.  It’s a nightmare to lose control.  No wonder some people prop themselves up on being right.  That’s far less risky than the alternative.  No wonder religious people stick to denominational distinctives and culture wars.  After all, if we put ourselves out there and ask the real question, God could, well, leave the room.

I wanted to start here because while there are some that get nervous and cling to control at hearing God is love, there are also some with a different reaction.  Just like there are some that get invited to a party but never come, there are others that don’t deserve to be there in the first place.(1)  See, there are some, at hearing God is love, stop what they’re doing and look you dead in the eye.  Emotion floods their eyes, and hope rattles their voice as they ask, “Really?!  I had always hoped that he was!  Are you serious?  He really is love?  Please, please, can you tell me more?”

This is written to those kind of people.  I hope you don’t deserve to be at the party either.

Now we’re getting to some real questions.

1.  Luke 14:15-24

2. Taking It Personally

breakup-quotes-hd-wallpaper-18I used to think sin was all that fun stuff God is keeping from us.  He was like the cosmic killjoy just dangling things in front of us, wondering how we’ll respond.  After all, he’s out to get me and waiting for me to screw up.  I kept having trouble reconciling that thinking with Jesus who had a reputation for being a drunk and glutton.(1)  You don’t get that kind of rep being the prudish, judgy guy with your arms crossed in the corner of a party.

Eventually, I started seeing sin as that stuff that makes me awful and evil and ugly.  His son acted as a sort of cosmic Purel allowing God to get within vicinity of me.  God was merely putting up with me while I bumbled through this life.  I could almost see him rolling his eyes and sigh every time I’d mess up like a tired babysitter cleaning up spilled spaghettios for the fifth time that night.  But again, I had trouble reconciling that picture of God with Jesus who enjoyed, liked, and even preferred spending time with the worst of sinners.  It was one of the main reasons he got himself killed.  The religious hated that this “holy man” felt at home with sinners.

My view of sin started to shift again after I cheated on Laura.  Her and I were dating toward the end of college.  I didn’t know a thing about boundaries or what a healthy relationship with a girl looked like.  My life was like a city whose walls were reduced to rubble.(2)  Honestly, it was just a matter of time.

I remember the night Laura came over to my apartment and I told her what happened.  I was sitting on the carpet and weeping at her feet.  I remember the embarrassment of answering her questions and the pain of realizing I wasn’t this “Godly man” I was trying to impress her by these past few months.  Most of all, I’ll never forget the look on her face.  It was a look of deep excruciating loss and betrayal.  In her eyes was a tremendous sorrow and even mourning.

Trust had died.

Since that day, I look at sin much more personally.  I believe it effects God in a visceral and intimate way.  I think he experiences the hurt of betrayal and the effects of trust broken.  With the cosmic killjoy God, he becomes a cop on the side of the road that I slow down for while passing and then go back to speeding the moment I’m at a safe distance.  Some people keep God at a safe distance their whole life for this reason.  With the cosmic Purel God, I can keep this arrangement to a contractual agreement.  God becomes a vending machine I insert a prayer to and out pops forgiveness.  Some people go to church their whole lives for this very reason.

My favorite story in the Bible is about the time Peter and Jesus go on a walk along the beach.(3)  Peter had just sinned royally and Jesus’ response is intriguing.  He gently asks Peter during that walk, “Do you love me?”  Of all the things to say as a response to sin.  I would have expected, “I told you so!” from the cosmic killjoy or “How are you going to fix this?” from the cosmic Purel.  But “Do you love me?”  Talk about the real question.  The humility and vulnerability of that question.  I can almost see the pain and betrayal in his eyes.  I’m sure everything in Peter wanted to run back to the cop or vending machine images.  This is getting scary close.  Yet, Jesus leans in closer and whispers again, “Do you love me?”

And that is the question, isn’t it?  It’s the question of every human being that has ever lived, including Jesus himself.  It’s the cry of humanity.  God dared to make things terrifyingly personal.  In his eyes was the same loss and betrayal as Laura and countless others.  God refuses to keep us at a safe distance or reduce things to some impersonal agreement.  He shoves aside our cop and vending machine images and is willing to make himself vulnerable and open to an even worse rejection.

Perhaps now would be a good time to pause.  I’d like to spend a few moments on the carpet and at his feet.  I want to allow that question to wash over me.  I want to resist the other images I try to make him into. I want to look him in his eyes.  I’d like to finally get honest no matter how painful.  Most of all, I want to answer him.

What will be your answer today?

1.  Luke 7:34.  Also, take a look at all the times the rejected, marginalized, and oppressed felt at liberty to interrupt and approach Jesus.  You don’t act that way around someone unless they were radically approachable, gentle, and even whimsical.
2.  Proverbs 25:28  Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.
3.  John 21