Thursday, November 30, 2017

God of Creation

The miracles of God are miraculous precisely because they break through all that we know of the created world and somehow re-order something, somehow re-create something, somehow set straight something that was broken. No one can tell us how these things were done; no one but God knows. 

This is because God alone is God of Creation, and we are but mere men. 

When we let ourselves believe that the things that men do are God's miracles, we take every bit of the mystery out of it. As we saw yesterday, God no longer need be the God of Creation, but only the God of men, but it is worse even than that.

Because a man can tell you exactly how he did it. The man who designed the robotic legs that helped the paraplegic to walk again has filed a patent on them and included drawings and diagrams that show exactly how it was done. The single mother who pushes through despite all odds has journals and receipts and records of how it was that she got through the years. The scientist who one day develops the cure for cancer will know the chemical formula used to create it. These things are like a child playing with building blocks. He may make an incredible tower, but we would hardly say it is a miracle; he was given the blocks to begin with and can tell you precisely how he did it.

Contrast this with the miracles of God. No one knows how they were accomplished.

No one knows how water turns into wine just by being poured at the command of Jesus. No one knows how a little bit of spit and a little bit of mud, or even just a word, open the eyes of the blind. No one knows how telling a man to get up and walk does something for him that all his thoughts of walking have not done for himself. No one knows how a man stands in the center of the place of worship and stretches out his deformed hand, a hand that would not have stretched out at all just fifteen seconds before. No one knows how a bush burns, but does not burn up.

We cannot explain these things. We cannot take them into our labs and dissect them and discover them and tell you how they were done. We cannot do them ourselves. We just can't. They are beyond us. They are beyond our understanding. They are beyond our best science. 

It is as if the same child takes the same blocks and builds the same tower, and all of a sudden, window boxes with flowers appear. We can explain the tower, but we cannot explain the flowers; we had only given him blocks.

This is because God is the God of Creation. It is because everything lives or dies, grows or stagnates on His Word. 

It's the same thing we're looking at when we look at Creation. For as long as men have existed, they have been trying to explain the universe, but they cannot. They can tell you what it is made of, perhaps - atoms and quarks and a bunch of other scientificky things. They can tell you what bonds these small pieces together and holds them in place. They can expound upon the forces that act upon all of us and make certain things appear to work the way that they do. 

But they cannot tell you how this all happened. 

We are but children playing with blocks, wondering where the flowers have come from. 

That's why we cannot confuse the works of men with the works of God. It is why we must insist that miracles are not made by human hands, even under divine influence. God alone works miracles, for if they are not God's, then they are not truly miraculous. We could just as easily show you how they were done. 

That bothers some, I suppose, but it doesn't bother me. I love the idea of a God who works beyond what I can know, beyond what I can even imagine. I love a God who can take everything that I know about the world and make it, even just once, work differently. I love that millions, billions, trillions of jugs of water have been poured, but only those very few turned into wine. I love that a man who has thought a thousand times of walking need only be told once in order to actually do it. I love that of all of the countless loaves of bread that have ever been torn, only one fed more than five thousand. I love it. It reveals something about God that I could not know if He were not miraculous. 

He is, indeed, the God of Creation. 

Because of this, I can know that what He says is true: behold, He is making all things new. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

God of Men

The terrifying truth is this: if we allow ourselves to think of the things that men do as miracles, then it is not long at all before we need no God at all. 

Follow this - God used to do all kinds of incredible miracles in His Word. The blind saw, the lame walked, the deaf heard, the water was turned into wine. There was no doubt in anyone's minds that these were acts of God and that God was, indeed, Creator of All. He had to be, for only a Creator could re-create the world in such ways as to heal its brokennesses.

Today, we say that modern medicine, fashioned by men, is a miracle. We say that human perseverance is a miracle. We say that the things that men do are miracles, and that this is how God works His miracles today. Let's just assume for a minute that that is true (it's not, but let's assume that it is). The God that works these "miracles" doesn't have to be the Creator of anything; He just has to be the puller of men's strings. He's not an artist; He's a puppetmaster. 

That's far less than He tells us that He is. 

But that's all it takes for these "miracles." God doesn't have to break any metaphysical barriers. He doesn't have to re-create a fallen world. All He has to do is get men to do things according to His Will, and we'll call Him miraculous. 

Never mind that this is the very same God who gave us free will because He didn't want puppets; He wanted friends. 

Now, we take this God who is the God of men, and it doesn't take long before we stop seeing Him involved even with men. After all, if men are the ones working the miracles, then it doesn't really matter how or why. Some might continue to give credit to God, but we think that's probably just a nice sentiment. Instead, we're focused on how they actually did what they did, and we come to believe in all kinds of things like human ingenuity, human grit, or human reason. Notice something about these things? 

They're all human. No need for God at all. Why should there be?

You see, once we stop needing God to be the Creator of the universe in order to be God at all, we start to lose Him, and it doesn't take long before we let go altogether and fall into the abyss of human arrogance, human pride. It's the same sin His people have always committed, but to a far more dastardly degree. For much of their history, men have attempted to say that they do not need God because they have no need of a Creator of the universe. 

Today, men say that they do not need God because they have created the universe themselves. 

Don't you see how we got here? It's with ideas like these. It's with this slow creeping of our theology from God as He has revealed Himself to God as we acknowledge Him. It's with this subtle, slow shift by where we stop letting God tell us who He is and start telling Him who He is. It's with this rebellion where we stop listening to our creation in His image and start creating in our own image. And for awhile, we still call it sacred, but that doesn't last. It doesn't take long before we just start calling it "real." Whatever that means. 

Which is why we have to be careful, especially as Christians, not to fall into this trap. We have to insist that God is much more than just the God of men, the God who pulls our strings so that we do good and beautiful things in this world. Sometimes, by grace, we do good and beautiful things, and it's pretty cool.

But God is the One who does good and beautiful things in this world all on His own, consistently so. And it's miraculous.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

By Faith

It's easy to lose sight of the miraculous in a world in which some really cool things are happening every day - things like the blind seeing, the lame walking, the single mother toughing it out.

It's easy to lose sight of because when we see these things like happened in the Gospels, it's always because they are attached to some machine made by man. When we see a widow giving her last two mites, then still having enough, we say it's because she gave, not because God gave back to her. When we pour out the oil and it keeps coming, we say what a wonderful thing we have done, creating an ever-flowing fountain. And so it's easy to say that that God must be doing the miraculous these days through us.

But that is a dangerous and empty theology. It cheapens our faith and lessens our God if we simply believe that every good thing that happens in this world is a "miracle."

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, God told us from the very beginning that this world is good. He's never given up on that. Yet we say that anything good must be miraculous. That just can't be the case. Everything good is as God intended it to be. The more we say that good must be a miracle, the more we deny that creation is inherently good. And we forget what God created it to be.

Second, we simply cannot confuse the "pretty cool" with the "miraculous." Both have their place in Scripture, but they are vastly different places. "Miraculous" things happen because of a divine act of God that breaks through the metaphysical barriers of the created world and reorders something on the spot. "Miraculous" things happen because God decides that they should happen, and then God does them.

"Pretty cool" things happen because of the faith of men (and women) who are obedient to God's calling on their lives. "Pretty cool" things happen because we decide that we're going to buy into what God is doing, and we jump on board His plan.

It is in this second category that we must put the marvels of modern medicine and the other "pretty cool" things that we see every day in our world.

We don't have robotic legs to help the paralyzed walk because of some miracle, because God miraculously put it into some guy's mind and poof! There it was. We know because when God sets the lame to walking, they jump right up and pick up their mats. No robotic legs necessary. But we have robotic legs because God endowed some created creative mind to develop them, and that mind, in obedience, did what God had created it to do and offered this gift back to humanity. It's pretty cool, but it's not a miracle.

The blind are not walking around seeing because God miraculously healed them through advanced science. When God miraculously heals a blind man, the scales fall off His eyes. We...have to go in and cut those scales away. It's pretty cool, but it's not a miracle. It's made possible not because God broke through the metaphysical barriers of creation and made it possible, but because He inspired one of His created creatives to figure it out. And that created creative did, and then gave it back to humanity.

Look through the Scriptures. The Scriptures are full of both the miraculous and the pretty cool, but these are fundamentally different things. Pretty cool things are happening all the time because men and women choose to obey God, to follow His calling, and to participate in His plan. Miraculous things also happen, but these are because God chooses to burst onto the scene and make them happen.

Sometimes, of course, the miraculous happens because of the pretty cool. Take, for example, the opening of Paul's eyes. Paul, in obedience, goes to Ananias; Ananias, in obedience, places his hands on Paul. Both men are part of this really cool moment in which God is on full display. Then God, on full display, does the miraculous - restores sight to the blind. Ananias didn't give Paul his sight back; both men would tell you that plainly.

On the contrary, look at the way we respond to some of the headlines, even those of us who live by faith in this world. A man is in a terrible car accident and is paralyzed, begins to walk again with the help of artificial legs, and then he declares to the world that God miraculously gave him these incredible artificial legs in order to heal him.

Since when has God ever given anyone an artificial anything? That's not a miracle. It's pretty cool, but it's not a miracle. If it were a miracle, the man would have jumped up out of his hospital bed, tossed that little backless gown on the bed, and danced on out the door, proclaiming, "Byeeeeeee!"

See, the real danger here is not that we might fail to credit God for the pretty cool things that are happening. The real danger is that we eventually fail to require Him for the miraculous.

If the things that men are doing are "miracles," then it's just a matter of time before we no longer even need to acknowledge that men have done them by the power and gift of God. Men become our gods, since they are the ones doing the miracles.

And God? Well, God doesn't have to be anything special at all if we are satisfied to say that what men do is miraculous, even if it is so by the power of God. God is required only to be the God of men, not the God of creation. And once we make Him merely the God of men, we have lost something fundamental about Him.

More on that tomorrow.

Monday, November 27, 2017

On Miracles

There is no shortage of miracles in the Bible. In fact, as we've been looking at through the lens of healings in the Gospels, God's ability to do the miraculous is one of the primary reasons that persons, historically, turned to Him. 

Not so much any more, and I wonder if part of the reason for that is because we have lost our sense of what a miracle truly is.

This topic actually comes up a lot, even when persons are hesitant to use the word "miracle." Instead, they often say something like "what God does" or "God doing something." But not a miraculous something. Just a something. And an overwhelming voice within the Christian community has concluded that what God is doing today, He is doing more quietly than He did in the Bible.

God's "miracles" of today are clothed, they say, in modern medicine. Or in human grit. Or in some other kind of cloth where we would not quite recognize them if we did not believe that they were given by God's hand. 

They say, for example, that chemotherapy is a miracle. That God has enabled men to discover, create, modify, and utilize this incredible medicine that holds cancer at bay, at least for a little while, and even sends some scampering away for good. Which might be a miracle, I guess, unless you happen to be one of the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of persons for whom chemotherapy is not effective. Then, well...some miracle.

They say that it is a miracle that a single mother holds on and makes it through, raising good kids on her minimum-wage (or below-minimum-wage) waitressing job. That God has enabled her not to give up, but to find some reservoir of strength that pushes her through, no matter how hard her circumstances press in on her. Which might be a miracle, I guess, unless you happen to be one of the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of single mothers who doesn't make it through, whose children are taken away, whose apartment is rented out from under her. Then, well...some miracle. 

They say that it is a miracle that some kids finish high school at all, that some persons find love in this world, that the store happens to have one last item on the shelf that you were looking for when you were looking for it. They say that it's a miracle when you open your wallet and have just enough cash or when you forget to pick something up and come home only to find that you didn't really need it anyway.

They say, because they don't know what else to say, that God's miracles today are these quiet kinds of things, these everyday kinds of things that you'd have to know God to know that He was doing them.

And I say, well...some miracle.

There are a lot of problems, both theologically and practically, with thinking of these kinds of things as miracles. Serious problems. 

That doesn't mean - hear me now - that doesn't mean that these are not beautiful things. That doesn't mean that they are not incredible, wonderful things. That doesn't mean that they don't have God's hand all over them, that they have not been scrawled in His own handwriting. It doesn't mean that at all. 

It only means they are not miracles, and if we settle for thinking that they are, we are selling God short. Way short. 

It's no wonder we're not hearing the kinds of stories the Gospels are full of. We don't need them. 

We're perfectly content with far, far less. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Black Friday

Today is Black Friday, the day on which (as a number of memes accurately point out) Americans who were just yesterday thankful for all that they had rush out to greedily snatch up all that they can at incredible prices.

In all of the promotion and excitement and planning and scheming, most Americans have forgotten why this day is what it is. Most American don't know why it is called Black Friday. It doesn't even occur to them that this day was created not for them, but for the retailers - so-called Black because today is the day when the retailers balance their books and finally turn a profit for the year. 

But don't think for a moment that this is a post about American economics. Far from it. 

This is a post about the human heart.

Because what we've done with Black Friday is what we've done with just about everything else, including matters of faith and the heart and God and church and all that. The longer it's gone on, the longer we've participated in these kinds of things, the longer we've made them part of our routine, the more we have come to believe that they are all about us. 

When we go to church, let's just be honest, most of us are thinking about ourselves. We're thinking about what we get out of it. We're thinking about all that it means for us to be there. 

We're thinking about being part of a social club that gives us a certain measure of standing in our communities or looks good on our resumes or teaches us the insider lingo of some kind of elite group. We're thinking about the programs that are available to us and our children, just by being a part of it, and we celebrate things like preschool, Sunday school, and youth group that help us to raise our kids. We think about the worship that just sounds so good, the preaching that makes us feel good about ourselves, and the connections we make with other human beings that give us a resource to call upon when we need one.

When we think about God, we think about everything that we get out of Him. We think about how our sins (you know, those very few sins that we actually have, in comparison with so many others who sin more than we do and in full acknowledgement that God probably doesn't even care any more about most of our sins) and how they are forgiven. We think about how we get the chance to say some beautiful things because God taught them to us. We think about how we get this awesome opportunity to go to Heaven just because we go to church. And so on and so on and so on...

And some of this is good, I guess, or whatever. But it reveals something about the nature of our hearts as human beings, says something fundamental about who we are. 

Because just as we have lost sight of how Black Friday was created for the retailers, so, too, have we forgotten that faith was made for God.

We've forgotten how much God loves our presence in His assembly, how He rejoices over us when we come to Him. We've forgotten how much God loves breaking bread with us in Communion, how He is the One who instituted this sacrament in the first place. We've forgotten that when we worship, God loves the sounds of our voices even more than we do - even the voices that sing off-key. We have forgotten how God celebrates when His Word is proclaimed. 

We have gone to church to declare how much we love God, but we have forgotten somewhere just how much He loves us. We don't even give it a second thought.

Today, as happens every year on this day, many Americans will rush out and scoop up bargains that they think were made just for them, forgetting that today is a day for retailers who have set their eyes on the black. 

And then, on Sunday, as happens every Sunday, many Americans will straggle into church services that they think were made just for them, forgetting that Sunday (and all other days) is a day for God who poured Himself out in the red. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017


Today is a day where we in America pause to give thanks. For weeks, many of us have been talking about what we are thankful for, counting our blessings and naming all of the beautiful things in our lives. 

But that's not really what thankfulness is. 

Thankfulness is not a reaction that we should have to the circumstances or contents or contexts of our lives. It is not something we do in response to what this world, this life, or even our God, does for us. It is not a propositional exchange. 

Faithfulness is a state of being. 

It's this thing that comes welling up from somewhere deep inside of you, and it's as unshakable as the depth of your faith. It's just natural, it's the kind of thing that you'd have to either try really hard not to be or just neglect long enough that you forget that it's there. 

The very concept is difficult. It's hard because we spend so much of our lives in comparative thanks. On our best days, we're told we ought to be thankful that we have good days like these because others don't, and on our worst days, we're reminded to be thankful because others are having days much worse than ours. And we have learned to judge our thanks by what we have and what others don't have and what life looks like through just the right lens. 

That's not thankfulness. It's arrogance. It's doing whatever we have to do to think more highly of ourselves, then being thankful for the view from up here. 

When we read the Scriptures, there is certainly a theme of thanksgiving. God calls His people to live thankful lives. But not once does He tell them what they should be thankful for. Not once.

Not once does He say, "Be thankful, for you have it better than all the other nations. Be thankful, for I am your God and that's really good for you. Be thankful, for the land has produced great fruit this year for you. Be thankful, for you have enough on your table and your neighbor doesn't." It's not the way God goes about it. He just says we should be thankful. Not "for" anything, but because thankfulness is at the very core of who we are;

it is part of awe.

That's hard, I know. It's hard because it's so difficult to put into words that anyone can understand unless they already know it. But just because it's hard doesn't mean we tuck it away and settle for something less; this is essential. This is the very essence of who we are.

Thankfulness is part of that smallness that we feel when we stand in the greatness of God and His creation. It's part of the way that our hearts tingle a bit under the night sky, a million stars lit up over us and we, so big in our own britches, just a speck. It's part of that humility that just sort of settles in us when we realize that what we're doing is so much bigger than us, or when we read the pages of God's story and know that He's still writing it right now, with our names penciled in. It's part of that overwhelming sense that just drives us to our knees before the altar. Thankfulness is so much a part of the core of our very creation. We shouldn't have to be reminded to be thankful. We are thankful, by God's own design.

We just have to remember it. 

So today, as we we count our blessings and name all the beautiful things in our lives, let thankfulness be one of those beautiful things. Let it radiate through your entire being, permeate down to the depths of your core. Let that thread of thanksgiving that runs through all of creation weave its way through your very soul. 

There won't be words to speak. At least, I've never found any. But it's this most incredible feeling. For a moment, for just a moment, in real thankfulness, we touch Eden. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Big Deal

So what's the big deal? Why the emphasis on healing? 

It's simple, really. I've been reading in the Gospels and Acts a lot lately, and do you know the number one reason that persons came to Jesus and to the apostles? It wasn't to hear a fantastic message. It wasn't to hear Him/them stick it to the Pharisees. It wasn't to get miraculous bread broken into thousands of pieces. It wasn't to figure out how to live a good life, or even how to live a great life, or to inquire about the nature of the law and the covenant.

They didn't come for programs and potlucks. They didn't come for youth groups or Bible studies. They didn't come for mission trips and outreach. They didn't come for social standing or something good to put on their resumes. 

The number one reason that persons in the Bible came to Jesus and to the apostles was to be healed. 

Look at it. The Gospels are overwhelmingly healing-centered. Acts has healings scattered quite through it. What the people wanted more than anything else in all the world was to be healed by God. 

Not any more. 

There are a lot of reasons that persons come to church today. There are a lot of reasons that we read our Bibles, pray, fellowship, worship, whatever. There are a lot of reasons that we get involved in the stuff that our churches are doing, and our churches are doing a lot of good stuff. 

But we're not healing persons. 

We're not healing them, and they no longer expect us to. It's not what they're coming for.

Do you realize the magnitude of this? We have, somehow, in just a short 2,000 years, taken the thing that Jesus did most often...and stopped doing it. We have taken what He was known for...and made Him all about other things. Ask someone who walks into your church for the first time this week what Jesus does, and they'll tell you - I don't know. Like Heaven and stuff?

Ask a Christian what Jesus does, and they'll tell you - He redeems us. 

He redeems us! That's what we think Jesus is about. That's what we've made central to His being. 

Jesus came, lived, died, and lived again so that after you've put in your time in this horrible, terrible, crappy life that never gets any better, you can go to Heaven and forget about it. Jesus came, lived, died, and lived again so that your horrible, terrible, crappy life would mean something once it's over. I don't buy it. Not only do I not buy it; I don't see it. I don't see one example of a person in the Gospels running up to Jesus, or the apostles, and saying, "Lord! Please tell me that after I die, my life will have meaning!" 

No! They're running up to Him crying, "Lord, heal me!" 

And He does.

Do you get that? He heals them. Not only does He heal them, but He heals the next guy, too. And the next one. And the next one. And the next one. 

We are surrounded by persons who need Jesus. Not because they need to have eternal salvation or go to Heaven or repent of their sins or whatever, but because they need healed. And we're not healing them. 

Worse still, we're not giving them a Jesus who does, either. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Blink of an Eye

What's cool about healings in the Bible, whether they are performed by Jesus or by one of His disciples or by some other character in God's incredible story, is that they are complete and total and instantaneous.

A paralytic is carried on his mat to Jesus, dropped through a ceiling, then stands up and walks out of there like his legs haven't even atrophied. Just like that. Not only do his legs function, but they are also strong. 

A bleeding woman pushes her way through the crowd to Jesus, touches the edge of His robe, then clots. Just like that. Not only is she no longer unclean, but she's clean through and through.

A hunched over woman stands straight up without a groan. A man with a shriveled hand stretches it out and starts using it again. A deaf man hears the amazed whispers of the crowd. A demon-possessed man sits clothed and in his right mind.

A blind man cries out from the side of the road, and with just a word, sees again. Just like that. In the blink of an eye, darkness to light. And his vision is keen. 

That's not how we think about healing.

For us, healing is a process, not an event. We talk about healing, about all the work that it takes to get well. We talk about all the medications we have to take and how much rest we have to get and how many layers of new skin it will take to cover the wounds of the old flesh. We talk about the days it takes to get our strength back, the weeks it takes to recoup our energies, the years it takes to learn to trust our bodies again. 

We read the headlines and see the stories and watch the miraculous first feeble steps of the seriously-injured, an aide on each side of him as he gingerly rises to his feet. Healing! we say. Incredible! 


But it's what we think of when we think of healing. We think of the struggle. We think of the troubles. We think of the hard work and the sheer exhaustion.

I think the trouble is that we're pretty sure, just as the Pharisees were in Jesus's day, that healing is a "work." It's an effort. It's an energy. It's a task. It's not just something that happens.

It's not just a gift that we receive.

Oh, but it ought to be. Healing ought to be this wonderful, miraculous, incredible gift. It ought to be that we turn to Jesus, the way that men and women always turned to Jesus, and in the blink of an eye...darkness to light. Death to life. Broken to whole. Wounded to well. 

We ought to be crying out from the sides of the road, pushing through the crowds, dropping through the ceilings...and then walking right out of there like we haven't been lying on our mats for the past thirty years.

Because one of the absolute coolest things about Jesus and the healing that He gives us is that He doesn't just make us well; He makes us whole. He doesn't just make us able; He makes us strong. He doesn't just make us live; He makes us thrive. It's real healing. It's real, incredible, powerful, miraculous healing. 

And it's a gift. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

On the Sabbath

We may not be healing each other, but Jesus does. In fact, it's what He most often gets in trouble for in the Gospels - healing persons (which kind of makes you think maybe we're onto something; no healing, no trouble). It's really not that Jesus is healing persons that gets Him in trouble. Even the Pharisees can't reasonably claim they'd rather the blind man stay blind. No, what Jesus gets in trouble for is healing persons on the Sabbath. 

But He kind of has to.

He has to heal persons on the Sabbath because that's the only day that they're not hard at work trying to heal themselves. And if you want to make sure God gets the credit for doing something absolutely amazing, then you have to make sure that there's no way that persons can take the glory for it. 

Think about it - for six days a week, the afflicted are doing everything they can to either manage their affliction or cure it. Blind men are going around trying to make sure they've got all the supports that they need to make it through another week as blind men. The bleeding woman, we're told, exhausted all of her resources trying to find doctors who could make her well. You can bet that the man with the shriveled arm spent a lot of his time trying to figure out what to do about it and that the woman hunched over spent a lot of her time trying to stand up.

All of that stops on the Sabbath. Every bit of it. There's nothing to do for yourself on the Sabbath because there's no one to help you. Doctors aren't working. Pharmacies are closed. The markets are shut down. Persons are not walking through the streets, lest they mistakenly be taken for doing some kind of work. If you need something on the Sabbath, too bad. There's no one to help you, and you certainly can't help yourself. 

That's why when we see Jesus healing someone, we see Him healing them on the Sabbath. On the day of rest, there's no mistaking Who is really at work. 

Funny, isn't it? 

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. On the seventh day, He rested. And then Israel instituted the practice of the Sabbath to remember God's creative rest and to honor it. Even God doesn't work on the Sabbath. He's set the world in motion so that He doesn't have to.

Fast forward a few thousand years, and God's back at work on the Sabbath. It's the only day He can know for sure that He gets the glory. 

No longer is it that creation has been established to work for itself, to stay in motion, to keep going even while God rests. No. Now, God needs creatures to rest so that He can remind them of who He is. He is the One who makes things happen when there's absolutely nothing you could do for yourself. When there's nothing you can do but hold your breath and wait for the next chance to go back at it, God breathes His life back into you, and you're healed. 

Pretty cool, huh?

Friday, November 17, 2017

Gossips and Pharisees

No longer are we healing each other the way that the disciples healed the broken they encountered. No longer are we walking into worship with the wounded, or the formerly wounded. No, like so many of those who were not disciples, we're walking right past them on our way into worship, and then we're doing the most unspeakable of all things - 

We're talking about them.

We're talking about them with those who have come to worship with us, whether they come regularly or have come for the first time. Hey, did you see Joe this morning? Right outside the door, just like always. Begging for a handout. 

Poor guy, we conclude. It must be terrible to have to live life like that. And then, inevitably, someone asks what we mean by that, and we end up telling Joe's whole life story in our temples, as though we have some right to it. We do it without fear because Joe? Joe's stuck outside, and we know that he's not coming in. He's never going to hear the way that we talk about him.

Then, just for good measure, we put Joe on the prayer list. Not because we particularly think that God is going to do anything spectacular for Joe, but because it gives us permission to talk about him more and to pry into his life. Hey, Joe, we're praying for you! we say, although that's not at all what we're doing. We're not praying for Joe; we're praying about Joe. Just so that we can talk about him.

And the more that we pray about Joe, the more we begin to pray like Pharisees. No longer even praying about Joe, but starting to pray about ourselves. O Lord, we thank You so much from the very depths of our beings that we are not like Joe. We thank You that we are free to come in and out of Your worship, that we do not need to depend upon others, that we do not spend our lives begging at Your door, but come full in and receive Your glory...

And on and on and on it goes. And the longer we let ourselves pray about Joe, then pray about ourselves, then determine that we are so far better off than Joe in so many ways, the more we realize that Joe is still there. At the door. Begging. 

Poor guy, we conclude. His life just never changes. 

His life never gets better. His circumstances never change. Every day of worship, there he is, right at the door, begging for a handout. It doesn't take long before all the gossip that we've spoken and heard about Joe starts to get to us and our self-righteous prayers echo deeper and deeper into our empty hearts, and we find one day that we kind of despise Joe. Okay, we really despise Joe. We snub our noses at him, this guy who has spent his entire life at our doorstep without ever coming in. His life never changes. Why? Does he not want it to change?

All of a sudden, we're asking why Joe doesn't just do something better for himself. Why he doesn't at least move doorways. He's been at this one for a long time, and what has it gotten him? Nothing. Nothing at all. 

We never seem to realize that the reason that nothing in Joe's life has changed in the twenty years he's sat by our door is not Joe's fault; it's ours. We have walked right past him for twenty years, stepping over his outstretched legs and dancing around his outstretched hands on our way into worship, never once stopping to offer him what we have most abundantly - the healing power of God-made-flesh. Never once stopping to heal him. Never once stopping to speak the restoration of God into his broken life. 

Some kind of disciples we are. 



Thursday, November 16, 2017


Honest question: why aren't we healing each other? No, really, why are we not speaking life into one another and healing each other?

When Jesus sent His disciples out in pairs of two, He gave them the power and authority to heal all kinds of diseases, as well as the power to cast out demons. We're told only briefly the extent to which they did this, but we know that when they came back to Jesus at the designated time, they were jazzed up about all the amazing, beautiful, healing works they had been able to do in His name.

In the early chapters of Acts, we're told about Peter and John going to the Temple, the way that Peter and John had always gone to the Temple. And we're told about a paralyzed man who was at the Temple, the way that he was always at the Temple. The disciples came upon the man at the Beautiful Gate, the same gate where everyone always came upon the man, who was always begging for money. 

He was begging for money so frequently that he'd completely lost his sight for actual human beings. We know because it took a special plea from Peter for the man to even look up at him; he just wanted, and expected, a few little coins, enough to make it until the next Sabbath. Peter had to stop, speak to the man, instruct him to look up, wait for the man to get it and make eye contact. Just imagine a man so burdened by his brokenness that his shoulders are slumped, his eyes locked to the ground, his self-worth and self-respect battered by the storms of this world. It takes a lot to get a man like that to look up. It does. 

And then, Peter and John do the most unexpected thing. They tell the man, who they have just begged to look up at them, who they have just waited on to make eye contact, that they don't have any money to give him. Not a cent. Not a penny.

And then, they tell him something better: get up and walk. 

It's this beautiful moment, right? It's this incredibly beautiful moment where this man first reconnects with something human, both inside of himself and outside of himself, and then he finds himself on the receiving end of the healing power of Christ, God-in-flesh...Something Human. 

And then we...we walk right by each other. We walk right by each other on our way into the Temple. Pretending we don't see the man. Praying he doesn't see us. Walking right by his crumpled flesh as we go to worship God-made-flesh, Jesus Christ Himself, all while pretending that there's nothing that we, or our God, can do for this man.

Maybe it's good that the broken men and women that we walk right past don't look up at us any more. Maybe then they won't know how ashamed of ourselves we ought to be.

Because God gave us this incredible ability, in the power of His name, to heal one another. He gave us the power to make each other whole. He gave us the authority to say to one another, "Walk!" And we're not doing it. We're just not doing it.

They're right by the gate, right at the doorstep, right on the threshold of coming into worship with us, and we're not doing it. We're not healing them so that they can come.

I don't know about you, but I want to walk into worship with the wounded. I want to walk in with the paralyzed man right by my side. I want to walk in talking with the deaf man, who just minutes before couldn't hear me. I want to walk in with the blind man asking questions about what all the stained glass and tattered Bibles mean. I want to walk in with the demon-possessed, who shouts now in his own voice, Jesus! Son of God! I want to walk in with the whole.

That's what Jesus is about, isn't it? God-made-flesh so that our flesh could be somehow restored, somehow redeemed. God-made-flesh so that our flesh could be healed. Something Human about God because there is something so beautifully human about us in His very image. And it's not just Jesus. It's what His disciples were about, too. 

And we...claim to be disciples.

For the love of God, then, why are we not healing each other?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


The authority with which Jesus spoke, which did not come from men, was vastly different than the authority of the experts, which depended upon men to grant it. That does not mean, however, that every person who speaks without the authority granted by men is somehow divine.

Think about it. Some random guy you've never met comes off the street and starts talking about all of the things that he knows for sure, all of the things that he's confident in, and he tells you that these things would be great for you, too. He tells you how to live your life, what you should do next, and he speaks very highly of himself, making all kinds of claims about who he is. He speaks, whether or not you appear to give him any credibility for doing so, and he doesn't care what you think about him. Your first thought is not: this guy must be something special. 

Your first thought is: this guy must be "special." He's crazy!

I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that when it comes to Jesus, He can only be a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. And it the authority with which He spoke, the same authority that sets Him apart from the experts, that sets Him apart from the lunatics. Jesus was no madman.

He was no madman because He spoke with an authority that did not come from within Himself, either, which is the authority that lunatics depend on. They have delusions of grandiosity, thinking themselves greater than they actually are. Thinking that what they have to say is vastly important, even though the only voice telling them such a thing is the voice in their own heads. 

Jesus's authority is not this authority. It doesn't come from within Himself, even though by every measure, it very reasonably could have. He was, after all, God in the flesh. But He understood that unless His authority came from outside of Himself, He was no better than the madmen. 

That's why every time we see Him, He's trying to give His authority away. He's trying to make it clear that what He says does not come from Him, but from somewhere else. He's always referring His hearers back to His Father, that they can know for sure that He's really not crazy. 

But there's something else about His authority that stands out, and that is that He knows who - not what, but who - He's talking about.

The experts in Moses's Teachings knew what they were talking about; they knew the law forward and backward, inside and out. The experts tell you what you should do, no matter who you are, because it is the right thing to do, no matter what. Lunatics claim that what they are talking about is universal; it applies to everyone, without any specific consideration of who might be listening. The lunatic tells you that he's talking about you, but you don't recognize yourself in his language. Both of these groups are missing something essential in their authority, and that is intimate relationality.

Nothing really means anything unless it means something for you. That's the kind of radical authority that Jesus spoke with - it was an authority that truly understood the message and the audience and took them into account, specifically and intimately. 

When Jesus spoke about the law, He told persons what they should do. Not because it was the right thing to do, although it was, but because in doing it, they set themselves free from the burden of the law itself. It was meaningful for their lives, intimately. There was not a man among them who, when Jesus spoke, could honestly claim, "That doesn't apply to me." It applied to them! The groups He addressed at the Sermon on the Mount - those who mourn, those who thirst, those who ache, those who are persecuted - were not theoretical groups; they were the men and women on the mount. They weren't tucking these ideas in their back pockets for later, for some future day when they might mourn; they were mourning that day, and they knew it. When Jesus spoke about the persons, they recognized themselves. 

What the experts made propositional, Jesus made personal; what the lunatics made personal, Jesus made intimate. 

That's authority.

So unlike their experts. So unlike their madmen. 

So much like their Lord. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


What makes Jesus so unlike their experts in Moses's Teachings, and so unlike an expert at all, is the authority with which He teaches. 

That is not to say that their experts did not have authority; in fact, they did. If they had not had any authority, the people would not have much cared what they had to say. As it was, however, the people were ruled by the opinions of their experts - these were the men who decided what the law was, how the law was held, what happened in the Temple, who was faithful or unfaithful, who was clean or unclean. The people's lives were given over to them, at least their religious lives were, and that was not because they did not have any authority. Quite the contrary, it was because they did have some authority.

But there's a difference between the kind of authority that the experts had and the kind of authority that Jesus had. 

Experts, or any men for that matter, only have as much authority as we are willing to give them. The only reason their experts had any authority at all is because the people gave it to them. The people consented to being guided by their experts; they bestowed on them the authority to lead. It could have just as easily been other than that. The people could have recognized the knowledge that the experts had and still rejected them as guides. The people could have deemed their knowledge not knowledgeable at all and rejected them as experts. Then, they would have not had any authority at all, no matter how proudly they puffed themselves up on the street corners or how haughtily they walked the streets or how arrogantly they stood on Solomon's Porch. Until and unless the people gave them their authority, they had none at all.

This is not so with Jesus, and it is what makes His teaching so remarkable. So unlike their experts.

Jesus's authority does not come from the people. Nor is it the kind of pride, haughtiness, or arrogance that the experts afforded themselves in pursuit of it. Jesus speaks with a voice that declares that what He says is true, whether the people acknowledge it as true or not, and He speaks with a confidence that does not require affirmation. In other words, He doesn't care if the people believe Him or even like Him; none of what He does depends upon it. 

His authority is not given to Him by the people; it simply is.

As it should be from a Lord who says with His Father, simply, I Am.

That's what makes His teaching so radical. When the experts teach, they have to wait for the people to both "get it" and agree with them. Every time they open their mouths, it's propositional. They speak what they think they know, and they are affirmed only if the people as well come to know it and to recognize it as truth. Then, the affirmation is both of the teaching and of the teacher. 

When Jesus teaches, He doesn't wait for the people to get it. In fact, He often says that He knows they aren't going to get it, at least not right now, but that doesn't change the nature of His teaching. He's not teaching to gain some assent or approval. He's not teaching for the sake of the ideas or for the sake of His own acceptance or recognition. He's teaching for the sake of those who will hear Him. He's teaching for the people. 

So unlike their experts.

And teaching for their sake, they cannot be the ones to give Him any authority. They just can't. Human beings after the Fall are wired to affirm primarily what serves them, or what makes them happy, or what paints them in a good light. If Jesus's teachings are for them, and they are the ones who are supposed to give Him any authority, then He must be held to teaching them what they want to hear. That's not how the truth of God works. 

His authority comes from outside of them, and He's not seeking it in their audience. No. He's seeking their hearts, not their adoration. Only in this way can we know that He truly is what He claims to be, a Lord and Savior...not an expert. He simply is what He is, just as He always told us that He was. 

So we, not having to affirm Him, are free to love Him.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Unlike the Experts

When we think about Jesus, it's easy for us to think that He was truly the expert in all things holy. It was Jesus who knew best how to live. It was Jesus who understood best God's Word. It was Jesus who epitomized what a holy life looked like. Clearly, Jesus was the expert. 

But tucked away in Matthew 7 is this quiet little verse that turns our "expert" opinions on their heads. Just after Jesus finishes the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew says, "Unlike their experts in Moses' Teachings, he taught them with authority."

Unlike their experts...

Their experts were pretty good. Let's just be honest. Their experts knew the Scriptures inside and out; they could wax eloquent and quote at length the words that God had given them. They knew the law, all six hundred and something points of it, and they came from a long line of those who spent their time developing the finer points of Israelite theology. Faced with the toughest questions of life, they knew the answers as they were written, and they had devised both standards for living and burdens of proof from all that they knew. 

When their experts spoke, the people listened, hoping to gain more knowledge of the mysteries of God. When their experts challenged Jesus, the people listened, wanting to know how He would respond to their inquiries. These were not weak questions that their experts asked. Not by any means. In fact, it was probably only because of the Pharisaical emphasis on these points that the people knew them at all, which means that the people easily believed that these were the important questions.

They must have been; their experts seemed to think so.

And so the people were surrounded by their experts; these were the men who had shaped their faith for centuries. These are the men they turned to for truth, for guidance, for justice. These are the men who knew everything there was to know, and the people were sure of it. 

But here is a Man who is so unlike their experts.

Which raises the question - what is an expert, anyway?

An expert is someone who knows things. An expert is someone who possibly knows everything, or close to everything, that there is to know about a certain subject. An expert is someone who can explain the finest nuances of an idea, who can spout from memory the heart of the matter, who can talk circles around the common man (and he often does) on the area of his expertise. And in the case of the Pharisees, they were experts because they had been given the knowledge that they had. They had been chosen and groomed to be the experts. They had been trained and had studied to be the experts. 

Interestingly, they are the last set of experts that we see in the Scriptures. 

Interestingly...because there are at least twelve men (then eleven, then twelve again, and then perhaps a thirteenth) who had been chosen and groomed in the ways of Jesus Christ. There are at least twelve men (then eleven, then twelve again, and then perhaps a thirteenth) who had been given all knowledge of His story. There are least twelve men (then eleven, then twelve again, and then perhaps a thirteenth) who were the men by which this incredible Good News was to come into the world, and it is through their witness that a new movement was born - a movement called Christianity. 

And yet, not once in all of Scripture are these men called experts. Not once. Not once in all of Scripture is Jesus Himself called an expert, even though He clearly knew far more than the "experts" did. No, there was something about this Jesus and something about His disciples that was far, far different than what the people had known.

That something was "authority." 

It was on these grounds, Matthew says, that He was so unlike their experts. 

Friday, November 10, 2017


If you've been reading along this week you know by now that what we've been talking about is not the popular opinion. The ideas that we've been looking at are not politically correct (or whatever). A good number of those who have read these words are probably offended. 

Because it's all essentially unfathomable to our world. It's unfathomable that we should ever take a step back and continue to love someone, or even to consider someone still a human being, after the unthinkable has been done. We can't just go around dignifying those who have done the undignified. 

It's unfathomable that we should turn our backs on our systems, systems that we have invested a lot of our time, money, and energy into building just so in order that they might handle all of the problems that come from living together. We can't just throw our systems away, even if they don't work. 

It's unfathomable that we should advocate something like human being as the solution to human problems, that we should think that just being better at loving one another is going to take care of all of our problems. We can't just think that love is the answer. It's naive, the world tells us. 

But love is never naive.

And we're not talking here about holding hands, rainbows and unicorns, Kum-ba-yah sappy kinds of love that are matters of affection more than anything else. If that's the image you've got in your head, then you're right - that's never going to work.

We're talking about sacrificial love, the real kind of love that gets its hands and feet dirty, that sweats and bleeds and cries for one another. We're talking about a kind of love that gives the shirt off its back, that walks the extra mile, that prays for those who curse it.

We're talking about a kind of community that isn't just living next to one another, but is doing life together. That's what we're talking about.

It's unfathomable. It's unfathomable because we've invested so much in building our walls. We've invested so much in our fences. We've hung the curtains so that no one can see inside of our houses, and so that we don't have to look out and risk seeing inside of theirs. We've mastered the art of moving from one enclosed space to another to yet another so that we only ever see each other in passing, and we've said that's enough. 

We can't just throw all that beautiful isolation away for something so foolish as community. Have you seen the kinds of persons who live out there?

I have, and let me tell you something about them: they're hurting. 

They're hurting because men were never meant to be alone. It is the most horrible of all fates. From the very beginning, there was Adam, and Adam had literally the entire world at his fingertips, even more than we do today. He was responsible for naming all of the animals; he could walk in the garden alone; he could do whatever he pleased, all of creation was his. And still, God looked at Adam and said, "This is not good. This is no good at all." 

It is not good for man to be alone. 

And then we've come along and we've said that alone is great. Alone is the best. We've spent hundreds of years, thousands of years trying to perfect "alone." And then we wonder how it is that a man comes to feel so disconnected from the rest of society that he does the unthinkable. And then, irony of all ironies, we start to dig into his story and find out that he was "a loner." 

No, he wasn't a loner; he was alone. He was alone in a creation that is no good for a man who is alone.

When God tossed Adam and Eve out of the Garden, they were cursed. But no part of their curse took away their togetherness. If nothing else, they came closer together, cleaving harder to one another. Because this side of Eden, they realized how alone they were...and how terrible aloneness is.

We need one another. That's why God, again and again and again and again and again and again and again, tells us in His Word how important it is that we love each other. That's why God keeps telling us that we're a people, not persons. That's why God bases His entire story in community. We were meant to be doing this life together, all the more the more fallen it is.

This doesn't mean we live next to one another. It doesn't mean we lay our lives all out in a row, or even in a circle, and pretend that it's something. That's nothing at all. What this means is that we weave our lives together, one thread woven into the next into the next so that together, we are a beautiful tapestry of what it means to not be alone. 

And maybe you're one of those who are reading this thinking that'll never work, that "love" - or one anothering - isn't enough to "solve" this world's problems. That bringing a dangerous man into community is unfathomable, it's foolishness. 

But what if we didn't? What if we didn't bring a dangerous man into our community? What if...what if we brought him in before he was dangerous? What if the man that we pull into our circle, the man that we love, the man that we one just a man? What if we get to him before the world does, before his loneliness does, before his pain does, and what if we keep his troubles from getting to him at all? 

That's what we're talking about. We're talking about doing it better from the very beginning. We're not talking about a world where we got out and make friends with the "loners." We're talking about a community where there are no loners in the first place.

Because no one is alone. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017


The plan that Jesus gives us for engaging the atrocities of our world is simple: love one another. That's it. Really love one another. Be a community. Take an interest in each other. Become responsible for one another. Realize that we are all brothers and sisters on a journey together, and love one another.

It's simple, but it doesn't seem simple. Not to most of us. And that's because we have bought into one of the biggest myths that all our systems have sold us: that the world's problems need experts in the world's problems.

We've been told that there's nothing that we, as regular persons, can do about the most horrible things among us, except to refer those troubles to the experts we've trained in handling them. We've been told that there's nothing that we can do for the sick, so we stopped bringing each other soup. Instead, we offer to drive one another to the doctor. Or, at the very least, we ask if you've even called the doctor yet. 

We've been told that there's nothing we can do for the depressed, so we stopped sitting in pits with one another. We've been told that there's nothing we can do for the anxious, so we stopped reassuring one another. 

We've been told that there's nothing we can do for those struggling with trauma, that the problem is completely over our heads just because we have not been trained, so we stopped listening to the war stories.

We've been told that there's nothing we can do for loneliness, so we stopped offering invitations. We've been told that there's nothing we can do for anger, so we stopped opening the vents. We've been told that there's nothing we can do for grief, so we stopped carrying tissues. 

We've been told that there's nothing we can do for poverty, so we stopped investing in each other. We've been told that there's nothing we can do for addiction, so we stopped offering sober alternatives.

We've been told that there's nothing we can do for the hungry, so we stopped cooking. ...there's nothing we can do for the thirsty, so we stopped pouring. ...there's nothing we can do for the sick or in prison, so we stopped visiting. ...there's nothing we can do for the naked, so we stopped clothing.

And worst of all, we've been told that we shouldn't even try because all of these persons in the world that we can't do anything for are not regular persons like you and me; they're dangerous. We have been told that we're putting our very lives in jeopardy if we even try, so it's best not to even try and to just leave it to the "experts."

Then what we've done is gone and created systems to create more "experts," but we're creating experts in human problems, and that doesn't do us any good. It doesn't do us any good to understand the human problems if we fail, on the most fundamental level, to honor and dignify the human being experiencing the problem.

And we are still, every one of us, the "experts" in human being. 

Jesus Himself said so. He said, "Which of you, if your child asks for a fish, gives him a snake? Or if he asks for a snake, would give him a scorpion?" Which of you does not know the most basic thing about human being? 

The answer is none. Human being is what we do; it's who we are. 

It's so tempting for us to think that we need the experts, to think that all of these human problems are well over our heads, to take a step back and trust our systems to step in. But history bears out again and again that this isn't working. Our friends, neighbors, families, communities are falling through the cracks of our systems. And why? 

Because our systems are not the experts in human being. We are. 

Which brings us right back around to Jesus's plan: love one another. 

Love one another.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Bucking the System

When we read the headlines and see the tragic events that are taking place all over our world, and even when we are able to step back and see the real tragedies that lie behind the tragic events and recognize our failures, the natural inclination for many is to start immediately overhauling the system. It was the system that failed these persons. Therefore, we just have to fix the system. 

But that will never work.

It will never work because that's not the way that systems work. Systems are built on shifting sands, guided by human beings with certain preferences and interests. We can talk about equality all we want, but that's not really the way that we work. History bears out that every time we make a shift toward equality, what we really end up doing is creating a new class of the marginalized. And then, we use the power of our voices to convince the masses that the new marginalized somehow deserve it. 

Take what's happening with the current struggle over LGBTQ issues. We've been told that we're making a shift toward equality, that by allowing gay marriage and protecting gay status and creating opportunities for gay individuals and families, we have gained great ground in changing the system so that it is fair for all. But then, we see businesses, organizations, and events pulling out of cities and locations that support traditional understandings on these issues. This means that what we've done is shifted the marginalized from the LGBTQ community to the traditional community. And we say that this is okay because these communities are "backward," when it was not so long ago that our marginalization of LGBTQ communities was for precisely the same reason - they were "backward" - and we've just been told that was wrong. 

Or take Affirmative Action. In order to level the playing field between races, we instituted this policy that requires colleges, businesses, etc. to admit, hire, accept a specific number of racially-diverse individuals, to a certain percentage of their overall total. But in doing so, we have created an entirely new class of white individuals who are now marginalized because of their race. Let's say there are 100 spots and 25 of them are required to be racially diverse. Think about the white kid who is, say, number 82 in terms of qualifications. The only reason he doesn't get a spot is because of his race. So we looked at a problem where certain individuals were not getting offers because of their race...and our solution was to create a system where certain individuals do not get offers because of their race. And we say that this is okay. Maybe...unless you're that white kid.

By the way, we talk often about how wrong slavery and oppression were, but the same arguments we're using today against our newly marginalized categories in our shifted systems - they're backward, they're wrong, they're dangerous, they're hateful, whatever - are the same arguments we used to justify slavery and oppression in the first place. We said that the LGBTQ community was backward. We said that the Black community was dangerous. We've said that the Muslim community is hateful. All we have to do to justify marginalization at any level within our systems is to change our rhetoric so that it's clear, often by power or force or volume, that it's okay because these communities deserve to be marginalized.

So now, look at what we're talking about with mental health in light of some of the tragic events that we're seeing in our headlines. When mental health as a field was first beginning, we said that these persons were dangerous, that we, as a society, had to be on the lookout for them and do whatever it took to protect ourselves from them. So we built institutions and locked persons away for being weird, strange, or crazy, often for the duration of their lives. Then, we decided that was inhumane, we developed the field of psychology and counseling quite a bit, and we figured out a way for them to live among us. Now, we're talking about how we need to change our system so that these individuals no longer "fall through the cracks." How, exactly, are we supposed to do that without re-marginalizing the very population that we've been fighting for years to equalize? Or marginalizing an entirely different population, either along with or in place of this one? 

We either shift the system to be tougher on mental health issues, thus recreating the atrocities of the past where we felt justified in denying the rights of individuals based on the threat we believed that they pose to us. And we tell ourselves that this is okay because it is for our own protection, never mind what service or disservice it does to these individuals. 

OR, as is the popular debate at times like these, we create an entirely new class of marginalized by imposing more restrictions on gun access and forcing law-abiding citizens who don't pose a threat to us at all to give up their rights because others have abused them. And we tell ourselves that this is okay because, again, we're just protecting ourselves. We're protecting ourselves by taking away others' rights to protect themselves in a way that we don't approve of. ....we'll just call them "backward" and "dangerous" and that will make it okay. 

Changing systems never works. All it does is lead us to commit the same atrocities in the other direction and then justify them by the same rhetoric that we're using to reject the original atrocity. All it does is lead us to redefine who is "us" and who is "them" and essentially change sides of the field like it's half time. And then ten, twenty, thirty years from now, we're right back where we started, with the new marginalized crying out about the inherent injustice of it all and us undertaking new reforms to shift the sands once again, leveling one part of the playing field at the expense of another and creating yet another class of marginalized, to which we will have to respond in another ten, twenty, or thirty years. 

Thankfully, this isn't our only option. And that's good because clearly, it's not our best option. We don't have to concern ourselves with the systems of this world. We don't have to spend our lives futilely pushing the sands around. And, I should add, as Christians, we are not called to. I've written before, recently, about how Jesus never called us to change the systems of this world. He never called us to shape them, even according to our Christian inclinations. Jesus never asked His followers, including you and me, to go out and create a world of "equality" or "justice" or whatever the cool buzzword is that we're using these days. 

No, Jesus had something totally different in mind. And if we'd listen to Him, we'd stand our best chance of engaging this world's tragedies long before they become this world's headlines. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


By the way, the same thing happened in Indiana this past weekend, although it's not all over the national headlines. Probably because no "innocent" lives were taken.

A rural Indiana SWAT team was engaged in a 31-hour standoff with a man who had blockaded himself in his own home with his wife and child as hostages. The man was known to have PTSD and a history of battery charges, likely stemming from the demons that haunted him. After 31 hours, the police executed the man through a window of his house when he stood in sight for just long enough, and then, there was an outcry of what a tragedy the whole thing was.

Yes. But this situation was a tragedy before the police took that fatal shot. It was a tragedy before the SWAT team arrived on the scene. It was a tragedy before that man took his wife and child hostage. It was a tragedy before it was "tragic." 

Because, you see, sometime before we all became aware of this tragedy, this man's innocent life was already taken from him. It was stolen away by the PTSD that afflicted him so powerfully that he did not even feel safe in his own home, probably not even in his own skin. 

We celebrate the rescue of the woman and child. We do. And we should. We praise the police for protecting "innocent" lives, for doing what they had to do to make sure that these two persons were safe. We do. And we should. We think it's such a tragedy that it came to this at all. We do. And we should. 

But the real tragedy is that none of us recognized the tragedy that was already unfolding before these tragic events. The real tragedy is that we, as a society, as a community, as brothers and sisters, failed to save this innocent life before it "had" to be taken. 

That's the real tragedy.

Unfortunately, the truth is that before these men become "the faces of evil," plastered all over the headlines, scorned on social media, spit on by their communities, and willfully forgotten, they were faceless in our communities, and we simply missed them. We neglected them. We failed them. 

And then, we scream, How could you?

How could you....

All those innocent lives...

...this innocent life. This innocent life that we never even noticed. And why? Because it wasn't tragic enough. It wasn't a tragedy until it became tragic. 

By then, it was too late. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Unlovable

Once again, our headlines tell the story of the unthinkable - a man with a gun walked into a Sunday morning church service and opened fire, killing many. Once again, we find ourselves talking about the innocent - the men, women, and children who died by gunfire yesterday morning. Once again, our talk is off by one - 

the unlovable.

When these kinds of things happen, the rhetoric is very quick to follow. This morning, knowing the shooter's history, we're not talking about guns as much (we're still talking about guns; we can't seem to help ourselves); we're talking about mental illness. We're talking about how terrible it is that this man fell through the system, that we weren't able to get to him and give him the help that he needed. 

Just think of all the innocent lives we could have saved if our mental health care system were better.

And, of course, we're talking about the lives of the churchgoers. We're talking about the lives of the ones who "didn't have to die." We're talking about those whose blood was spilled in that place. But we're not talking about the one whose pain was poured out there.

We're not talking about the man who pulled the trigger and what we could have done for him. We're not talking about how we failed him, how we should have done more to save him. We're not talking about how our system failed his quality of life, his relationships, his loved ones, his pain. We're not talking about him as if he is a casualty of our failed system, even though he now lies both dead and defamed. 

Oh, no, we're not talking about him. He doesn't count. 

He doesn't count because he's the unlovable monster who perpetrated this atrocity. He doesn't count because he's the unlovable monster who thought that a small church full of quiet persons and jubilant children was the best place to pour out his pain. He doesn't count because he's the unlovable monster who never could get his own life under control so thought it permissible, for some reason, to take the lives of others. Oh, no, we can't talk about this unlovable monster. 

But think of all the innocent lives we could have saved.

Think about this man's innocent life. 

Think about the life that this man could have had if he hadn't fallen through the cracks of our system, the same system that we're saying should have saved those churchgoers. Yes, maybe, but that system should have saved this man. That system should have given him his life long before he even considered taking the lives of others. That system should have recognized his hopes, his dreams, his frailty and determined that this was a man worth fighting for, long before we ever had to consider how hard we fought for the lives of the "innocent." 

This man, too, was once innocent. In fact, right up until the moment that he pulled that trigger, he was innocent, a tragic victim of his own broken story. Why is there not more outrage that we did not fight for his life? 

It's heartbreaking how easily we cast others aside until and unless they become a problem for us. It's horrible how easily we neglect other human beings until they do something inhumane, and then we cast them aside forever, not worthy to be human any more. No longer mattering. No longer counting. 

We know because our body counts are always off by one - the unlovable. 

And, forgive me, but I always wonder in times like these what would have happened if we'd loved him. Not for the sake of those in that church yesterday morning (may God's love and peace wrap around them and comfort them), but for the sake of the one who came bursting in, for God so loved him, too. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Heed the Call

This week, we've been looking at some of the ways that persons came to Jesus in the Gospels. It would be foolish here not to say a few words about those who came because they were called.

Of course, we're talking about the disciples when we talk about those who were called by Jesus. Simon and Andrew were out fishing when Jesus called them. They dropped their nets and followed Him. James and John were fishing, as well. They dropped their nets, left their father, and followed him. Matthew was sitting in his tax collecting booth, probably actively swindling some poor Jew out of more than he truly owed, when Jesus called him. He left mid-scam, dropped his profits, and followed the Prophet. 

These stories are very familiar to us. But in addition to the twelve disciples that Jesus called, He called at least two others in the Gospels, and their stories are important for our understanding, as well.

He called the rich young ruler after the man tried to boast about his own faithfulness. The young man, who had kept all of the commandments since he was little, needed just one more thing: to come where Jesus was calling him to come. And he couldn't do it. Well, he wouldn't do it. The cost, in his opinion, was too high, and it was not a price he was willing to pay.

Jesus calls another man in the heart of the Gospel of Luke, but this man says he cannot come. He's got other things he needs to do first. Jesus tells him that's not good enough, but it turns out that's not good enough for the man. He doesn't come. Interestingly, however, two others in this scene say that they'll come. They, too, have things they need to do first, and Jesus tells them, as well, that those things are not that important, so it's not clear whether or not these men actually came, but they were willing, even though it was the other guy who was actually called. 

It's kind of a mess, but these stories tell us some pretty clear things about what it means to be called by Jesus. First, Jesus calls sinners, even when they are actively in the middle of sinning. Second, Jesus calls those who are pretty sure they don't need Jesus to call them. Third, Jesus calls those who are just busy doing their thing, living quiet, normal lives of whatever it is that they do. These are important ideas because we so often look around at those who want to come to Jesus, and we try to figure out if they are worthy or not. We look at the sinner, the arrogant, the unremarkable, and it's easy for us to say that Jesus is not really for them. That they have no business coming to Him. 

But Jesus reminds us that they have every business coming to Him. They come because they have been called.

Another important point in these stories is that sometimes, those who have not been called come because someone else has been called. Jesus called one man in the story in Luke, and three responded. The man called did not come, but two others showed up and said they would go (even though we don't know whether they did or not). This means that when your pastor says that you need to invite someone to come to church with you, you should probably invite someone to come to church with you. Some are going to come to Jesus just because they know someone who has been called.

So we've seen a lot of different ways that persons came to Jesus in the Gospels this week, and there are more. But these are enough to get us started rethinking what it means to us when someone comes to Jesus. We have certain expectations, but really, we shouldn't. There are all kinds of things happening here.

Some walk right up and, humbling themselves, are accepted and healed. Some walk right up and, boasting of themselves, are rejected and dismissed. Some are brought to Jesus by caring friends and family who know what He can offer them, and they are rewarded for their loved ones' faith. Some are found by Jesus in the course of just living their regular lives and are transformed. And some are called, even by name, and either come or do not come. 

And not one, we might add, not one story in all the Gospels tells us of  a grievous sinner who comes crawling on his knees, clothes torn, tears streaming down his face, head bowed, crying out "unclean! unclean!" the way we so often want the horrible, evil, wicked sinners in our churches to come. Not. one.