Every follower a Sacrament…

635266LargeEarly this morning, I walked into a hosptial room…surrounded by a loving family was the small bundle of a baby.  What should have been a room filled with smiles and joy was rather immersed in contemplation and watchful sadness.  It was not a tense situation, don't get me wrong.  The room had the air of hope but also had been saturated with a life-altering reality – the baby was stillborn.  Instead of anticipating days and moments of life, the mom and dad and their extended family were embracing the wrap of swaddling clothes that encapsuled a lifeless, their lifeless, child.  I looked at little Olivia and I didn't see those newborn's eyes that are searching, trying to make sense of their new world…I didn't heart the groans, coos, and squeaks that normally accompany such joy-filled seconds of new life.  What I beheld was that of a lifeless body…that "look" that is unmistable – death.  

As I walked into the room, I thought to myself, "why am I here?"  What possibly could I bring to this situation and to this grieving couple and family?  What words of hope?  What action of love?  What presence is needed?  As you might imagine, it is at moments like these that a follower of Jesus depends on only one thing – the love and grace of God.  It dawned on me as I crossed the threshold of the room that I was going to have the honor, the humility soaked, spiritually called and priviledged honor, of being a "means of grace" to this couple and to these moments of their lives.  Yes, it occurred to me as it has escaped my consciousnness and awarness before that I was brining something into that room that was definitely of God's heart – His presence, His mercy, His love, and the potentiality of transformation and hope.  No, it wasn't about me…it was about what God wanted to do through me…to tell you the truth, I didn't even know how and what the Spirit was going to do…all I knew is that I had the awesome responsibility and call to be His means of grace and hope in those moments.  

That brings me to the "bigger picture" that is the subject of this post.  Ok – so here's some things I've been thinking about…I've been teaching a bit on the sacraments while I've been helping families prepare their children for the receiving of communion in worship.  Yeah, for some of you, you have no idea what I'm talking about…but that's OK.  Let me school you for a moment:

A classic definition of a Sacrament is this (straight out of Martin Luther's Catechism, mind you):

A Sacrament is a sacred act – instituted by God Himself; containing certain visible means connected with His Word; by which God offers, gives and seals unto us the forgiveness of sins…essentially a sacrament is a means of grace"  

Also, another quote on the means of grace (these from the Book of Concord – yeah, look that up too if you need to, the BOC is a collection of confessional documents that provided and provide the doctrinal framework the historical Lutheran expression of Christianity) "a means of grace is a way God creates faith, bring about conversion, justification and sanctification."

Again, from a historical perpsective, there have been debates denominationally on how many sacraments there are and what specific acts are defined as sacramental (or if sacramental theology even is relevant because in some denominations, it is not).  Even so, I've come to the conclusion, after having a plethora of conversations and debates over the years, that I am not only one who proactively embraces this whole notion and deep theology of how God reveals Himself sacramentally to the world through and in the acts of ekklesia (that being the gathered faith community, i.e. baptism, communion and the Word of God) but also that those who follow Jesus, in other words, the WE of the Body of Christ are sacraments.

Oh, I know that there may be a few naysayers out there…so hear me out.  Look again at the definition of sacrament – realize that God created you and me…that not only has God created us but God is always the initial "mover" in terms of a relationship with us.  In other words, the only reason we can know and love God is that God is the one who made the first move…He INITIATED and INSTITUED our relationship.  Ephesians reminds us that we are "chosen" and called by God…established in a new identity because of new life in Jesus.  In fact, the whole Body of Christ idea…the whole discipleship thing…the whole mission and purpose of living our lives in and through His Spirit?  God's idea!  So, we are instituted by God…secondly we, as people who love and follow Jesus, are a visible means that God uses to communicate the truth of His Word.  In other words, when you think of "visible means", you think of the word, "incarnation."  Jesus Himself was the incarnation of God's love, will, purpose and heart for His world.  Jesus was God with skin in the "game" of the world…He was God made flesh and He who "moved into the neighborhood."  Now, through the Holy Spirit, who is the contemporary "incarnation" of the presence of the Lord?  You guessed it…we are!  God is alive in and through us…we are the "temple of the Lord"…we are the hands and feets of Jesus today.  WE are the Body of Christ in the world…that isn't just some mysterious, mystical definition but His Word made truth and made real in our lives.  So, second sacramental issue spoken to…how about the third?  Have you ever read about us being "God's ambassadors (2 Cor. 5)?"  I bet you have…we are agents of reconsilation…we offer the love that Jesus gave to us to others…we love because He first loved us.  We love "one another as I (Jesus) have loved."  We forgive each other…extend God's healing hand through prayer…oh, the list goes on and on.

Just to underscore…read about the sacraments sometime – they are "outward signs which have God's command and promise" – isn't that what our identity is to be all about as followers and lovers and children of God?  "The chief thing about sacraments is God's Word" – isn't it true, that this Kingdom deal isn't about you and me but really all about Jesus, the Living Word?  "Sign of the covenant of grace" – aren't we called as followers of Jesus to embody God's covenant?  Light and salt to the world…a city set on a hill…go and do likewise…those are words of Jesus given to challenge and encourage you and me to bear His Word and will into our world.  I don't know…I don't want to make TOO BIG of a deal of this, but it is making more sense to me as I go along.  I don't think God uses only a handful of means to communicate and reveal His grace to the world…He uses a multitude of expressions of Himself and His love through people who are part of His Body…you and me.  I underscore, this doesn't mean that WE do the actual work…we just bear the presence of the ONE whose work has been, is being and is going to be done in our lives.  Jesus is the one who saves, justifies, and sanctifies…His work alone.  

So, I've been coming to this conclusion…we are a means of grace.  In fact, the more you think about, the more sense it makes.  The classic definition of a sacrament actually helps you and me (if we are followers of Jesus) to embrace our God given purpose and call…we are "sent" to the world to "go and make disicples."  We are a means of God's grace in and through our mission…in that way, every follower is a sacrament…every person who loves Jesus that which is poured out, broken, bringing the washing of new life that only comes through Jesus into the presence of the relationships in which we have been blessed.  

How's that for clarifying who we are in Jesus?  We (as the gathered community of faith) not only handle the means of grace, we ARE a means of grace!  Every follower a "sacrament"…I don't know, it seems to work for me.  

Airing our faith community’s “laundry”…

The “UP, OUT and IN” of Peace @ MonroeBe-Live

Sometimes,  I simply have to share what's going on in our faith community @ Peace @ Monroe.  Many of you know that Vicky and I have been a part of this community for over a year…it has been a challenging, exciting, relationally fulfilling and fun year.  Along the way, the Spirit has brought us into a collaborative effort (a "wiki" experience) where we are discussing as a community about how the Spirit is leading us into our future as people who are following Jesus.  This picture "summarizes" some of the simplicity of how we are envisioning our lives together…this picture gives you a glimpse of what our life and identity "look" like as we attempt to be faithful to the command of our Lord to "make disciples" (in addition to deepening our own sense of discipleship in our own lives).  So, why do this?  Just "airing it out"…giving you an opportunity to see, pray for, and encourage us along our path.  This isn't necessarily original…you see, originality in a faith community's life (at least  in terms of purpose and mission) is not necessarily called for…we attempt to be faithful to what Jesus has already spelled out.  So, if you want to take a peek at how I'm defining the steps of faith and community life that we are attempting to live, the floor is open!

The “UP” Value – Communion/Worship/Believing/Love God – represents those things that help us connect with God – we would normally define this area of our life together as a faith community that encompasses those activities and practices that deepen devotional living, a passionate love of God, and provides the “fuel” (that being, that which feeds the heart and spirit of those who follow Jesus to live with and for Him on a day to day basis) of discipleship…for example, prayer, worship, the sacraments, scripture reading, biblical teaching and encouragement, all in a miraculous, Holy Spirit enabled environment that make up our communal connection to God and help us reinforce our identity in Christ and train and equip us for faithful and reproductive/redemptive living.  This is the realm of the “attractional”, in other words, people in our community and throughout our lives are interested in how we as a faith community “do” this aspect of our lives together…it is the most public of what we “do” as a congregation of disciples of Jesus. This value holds dearly what our lives would that look like if we were to love our God with all our mind, heart, strength (relationship, is it deepening), transformation (how are you changing), responsiveness (are you listening).

The “Out” Value – Mission/Blessing/Go-being Sent/Make Disciples – this realm is the realm of blessing others in the name and love of Jesus.   It is the “pure religion” that is defined in the words of James.   We attempt to love others and serve others (and watching people’s lives transform), blessing people (the tangible touch of God – peace of God – shalom – on every part of your life).  Most local churches/congregations do this INSTITUTIONALLY (overseas programs, for example, Haiti Mission, Papua New Guinea, Preschools, etc.) which has a tendency to excuse us as individual disciples from the personal where every disciple is on a mission (some mission is OK to be institutional – but the real question is, “how do we make mission personal for everyone?).  When we hear the call of Jesus to “Love others” we challenge ourselves to ask what would that look like in real life (authenticity, respect, involvement, service) – living as Kingdom people in relationship with people locally and globally.  This is a distinct OTHERNESS – and includes those aspects of our life together that focus on people outside of our faith community. This is also deliberate “disciple-making” process.  When Jesus said to “go, and make disciples”, we ask through this value,  “what would that look like?”   How do we continue to discern in whom do you see God working; how do we engage them, invite them into relationship, establish them in discipleship and spiritual formation, and invite them to reproduce (to partner with the Holy Spirit in disciple-making).

The “In” Value – Inclusive community/Relationship/Disciple-making – Jesus was radical in hospitality and INCLUSIVITY and he empowered a movement that was known for its love and the power of community.  In fact, the words, “see how they love each other” was uttered by outsiders (the New Testament says that in Antioch people saw a community that really acted like a real community, in loving, transformed relationships).  This is a “John 13 reality” where Jesus says, “love one another as I have loved you.”  This is a value that includes the purposes of building God-honoring community and relationships where Christ followers have the opportunity to encourage each other and challenge each other to grow to be all that Jesus calls each of us to be.

This is a deliberate “disciple-making” process.  When Jesus said to “go, and make disciples”, we ask through this value,  “what would that look like?”   How do we continue to discern in whom do you see God working; how do we engage them, invite them into relationship, establish them in discipleship and spiritual formation, and invite them to reproduce (to partner with the Holy Spirit in disciple-making).  This is the distinct TOGETHERNESS value – and it includes those things that we do together that shape our lives together – where we love other people, “do life” with other people, team with others to get involved in Body Life (see Romans 12, 1 Corinithians 12 and Ephesians 4).

John Fischer on a Leadership paradigm that is WORTH incarnating…

Cropped-the-catch-web-idea-5Leadership paradigm worth emulating = "People who are truly effective to minister are ordinary sinners like you and me, not superstars or spiritual giants or sterling examples of moral perfection. In fact, hand the baton to any of the latter and just wait for the fall. The bigger the impression, the bigger the crash. The people you want to lead you are people who have already crashed and found the secret of adequacy and real strength is Christ in them… in spite of them. Indeed, the real "successful" leaders are those who feel that crash daily in some form and are not afraid to show that. That is what keeps them realizing God's power in their lives and what also sends a message to everyone around them that it is Christ and not them that we are all following."  John Fischer (really, if you haven't subscribed to John's daily email, do it now!)

Just when you think you can’t be shocked any longer…

AttentionThis story caught my attention…if you know me, you can imagine why!  The issue is not just about the sexual identity preference of one little boy…this is an issue that is deeper, more shocking, very pervasive, and extremely alarming as each of us has a front row seat to the deterioration of any moral fabric in culture.  

Let me say, culture is not obligated to have a moral foundation…culture is what we make of it. In other words, culture is a reflection of the people, social institutions and messages (that soak all the senses) that make up its complex matrix.  If anything, a story like this is a clear presentation of how far the "internal moral compass" or even the "external, majority rules/political correctedness" launch pad for moral deliberation has steered our culture from any degree of "righteousness."  

The truth is, I even hesitated a bit using a word like "righteousness" (see below for more) because it implies that there IS a moral standard that transcends reality…in fact, THE moral standard is ultimate reality, i.e. God.  You see, if you adhere to an understanding of God and align yourself with that relational truth, you have moral accountability and have to deal with the questions of how life was designed, how are our decisions reflecting that relationship with God, what would God have to say about our life decisions, etc.  IF you don't have any sense of moral accountability except that which makes YOU "feel" good or, in other words, that which only reflects personal preference, you have (what we are seeing played out in culture) moral anarchy.  I really believe that many in our culture would like just that – moral anarchy.  But that is what you get when you mix a distorted view of freedom and the deification of the individual…you have a responsibility-less society which no rudder for moral choices except that which pleases the whims of individuals and their preferences.  Stay "tuned" as we contemplate more of culture in life to come…

By the way, my "simple" way of defining "righteousness" = right relationship and right lifestyle that reflects or is an authentic implication of that "right" relationship.  In other words in Kingdom of God context/Christ-honoring, righteousness comes from God and as we live that gift in our life, we live in righteousness…we are always challenged to live out a righteousness that comes as gift from God and is a refection of His new life within us.   

Peace @ Monroe…one year and counting

Happy-1st-birthdayThis past Sunday morning marked a full year in sharing Kingdom and Disciple living with the Peace @ Monroe faith community.  I often like to joke that a bit over a year ago, I had no idea where Monroe even was on a map.  And Washington?  Why even go there unless you like to swim…and you don't even need a pool to do it…just stand around.  Anyway, the journey with our new friends, in a wonderful, small community like Monroe (in the 1000's NOT millions) and in a faith community that IS truly seeking Jesus and attempting to take faithful steps of being and making disciples has been miraculous. Vicky and I feel loved…we feel like the winds of the Spirit are blowing and we are excited and antipating learning and growing more in trusting God and joining Him in new ways.  Peace really is more like a "big" home church (if you get my drift).  It is authentically Peace…it includes real people with real stories of living day by day trusting God.  There's nothing overtly "flashy" about our faith community…we, in many respects, are just like a big family…we allow people to be who God created them to be.  We encourage each other in our gifts and abilities that have been so graciously given by God…from Teyo playing trumpet on Sunday morning to ladies taking their first steps in facilitating bible studies…from kids running around daily at Little Doves Preschool to groups of people meeting in local restaurants for food and personal encouragement to one another…from those long and wonderfully relational coffee hours after our worship experiences to the encouragement we are giving each other to live for the Lord, trust His Spirit and look for the movement of God in our community and attempt to join Him in those moments as we live the "reign" of the Lord in and through all our relationships in Monroe..it's all authentically Peace.  For some reason that I haven't put my finger on yet (you know, that compulsive need for academic definition), I've been more of myself at the core of my true identity more in the last year than in many of the past years of my life.  I don't feel the need to be anything more than who God as created me to be and I do and live out of that sense of being.  Oh, I'm still driven more than I probably need to be…I still have that good ole perfectionistic, obsessive-compulsive, CEO leadership style, placator-driven persona that I have to put to death daily…but the freedom to do that is easier to embrace day by day.  I wish I had the picture of trophy that some of the leaders in our faith community had made for me to post today…all I can tell you is that it was given for "a highly average year."  In many respects, after a good laugh and a moment or two of a deep sense of satisfaction and joy, that pretty much captures the spirit of this place and these people.  Yep, one year and counting…and I still wonder, actually refreshingly so, what is God up to?  More to come…

Working on a thesis to a book I want to write…

Disciple.Main_1 I've been kicking around writing a book for a while…I've got tons of ideas but nothing overwhelmingly compelling, you know, the type of thesis or idea that emboldens your heart and "has to get out."  Add that to a crazy life schedule and it is definitely NOT the perfect storm for writing.  Evens so, I've been thinking and praying about what to do with how I'm growing and what I'm learning and how to continue to put these lessons down in a format where I can share them with others as a fellow who is on a common journey of living and experiencing God's kingdom.  

The issue I've been thinking about has to do with being a disciple – so, after a few days of doing some exploration…some investigation and research, here's where I'm landing.  This may be enough to jump into the book waters…it may not.  But for now, here are some of the thoughts I'm working with in terms of this issue:

Discipleship as Journey

Phil. 1:6 – “He who began a good work in you, will be faithful to complete it”

Phil. 2:12 – “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling…”

2 Peter 3:8 – “one day is like a 1000 years and a 1000 years are like one day”

Thesis – Discipleship is essentially and definitely defined as “following Jesus”.  Discipleship is more of a journey than a destination.  It is a journey of grace, mercy, love and power through the Holy Spirit.  It is a journey that closely accompanies the “ups and downs” of a person’s emotional and chronological maturity.  To say that spiritual formation or growing “maturity” as a disciple “trumps” one's normal development would unfairly thrust a person into adhering to a performance based maturity paradigm.  A disciple never “arrives”…the gospels are a story of disciples being called, responding to that call, and engaging in a journey of discovery and discovering more of the “new and abundant life” that comes in and through Jesus.  Discipleship is a journey that is specifically Jesus dependent…it is a move from immaturity to a growing maturity (that can be observed and monitored as it is “lived” out in one’s life).  Discipleship cannot be reduced to a list of spiritual benchmarks.  Even so, many people continue to describe discipleship as a list of “to do’s” that eventually reveal a performance based discipleship paradigm.  

  • Being a disciple occurs in the context of our REAL lives…we experience physiological development (we have bodies); we experience emotional and relational development (we are inherently “image based” beings – multi-faceted, spiritual, emotional, complexities that are a reflection of the God in whose image we were created); we are fragile and have life experiences that can derail us in our growth and development; frequently change/transformation occurs following times of “wilderness” (i.e. emotional, relational, or situational breakdown); we are connected with other life “systems” that require us to change.  Frequently, each “breakdown” in life throws us or propels us to embrace issues and developmental realities that have occurred in our past.  In other words, we return to “younger” or “less mature” stages in life as we process life’s challenges.  That’s why growing spiritual maturity/discipleship can never been seen as a linear process…it is a journey filled with joys, sorrows, victories and defeats…it is not an ascending into perfection program but rather a lifestyle of dependence upon a loving and transformative God in whose life we have discovered our true identity.

“In, through, over and above so-called normal development the human spirit surges, struggles, sustains, submerges, and reemerges with the newness of life.  Those who have seen spiritual transformation in its wondrous and joyful intention to transcend linear expectations and repeatedly reconfigure life’s set patterns, yet without loss of continuity in selfhood, have little difficulty in recognizing and accepting the analogy between this and the rebirth of life after death according to God’s promise of resurrection and redemption for all creation beyond time and history…in actuality, human development is never experienced as a cycle or a sequence, it often feels more like a few decades of searching, finding, and losing an uncertain fulfillment…when the longing for that intimacy is satisfied by the spiritual presence of Christ, the face of God…a lifetime is an unfinished act of God’s love….as each life unfolds, gets torn open, stripped of its survival techniques and its passing pleasures…it appears from under the surface that we have been created for nothing less than the pure love of God…”  James Loder, Logic of the Spirit

Human life unfolds over time – clocks, calendars, “to-do” lists, benchmarks of spiritual performance and maturity “lists” cannot supply a definitive framework for spiritual formation.

To state it another way – the Holy Spirit causes transformation of a disciple’s life IN THE REAL LIFE of the disciple.  New life and our new identity IN JESUS takes shape over time but does not necessarily “trump” the God’s creative process and the miracle of human development embedded into each unique individual.  God is in the sanctification business yet that work is NOT a linear work…it is best described as a journey…a circuitous journey that closely parallels the ups/downs of one’s growing, emotional maturity.  Can a “miracle” of growth that astounds one’s emotional development occur?  Yes, most definitely.  Even so, spiritual formation appears to be closely related to how a person grows and develops emotionally and psychologically during the duration of their lives. 

Significant questions – what can we realistically expect out of a person’s growth as a disciple?  What transformation potentiality is there at any given emotional development stage?  Could it be that we are expecting something to happen in one’s spiritual, discipleship maturity than we can realistically anticipate given one’s emotional and chronological development?  Are specific spiritual formation traits more apt to emit and demonstrate their “aliveness” in one’s life given the specificity of their age and maturity in development?

Any feedback?

A great post from a new friend…

Fern Pharisees get a bad rap…of course, they got a bad rap all on their own…they kinda dug themselves a bit of a whole (at least from a gospel perpsective).  Historically speaking, the Pharisees weren't all bad.  Think of them as preservers…archivists…a religious accountability club…because that is essentially what they were.  Unfortunately, they got a bit out of control…at least that's what Jesus tells us.  And that's the point – what starts out as a loving confrontation or even loving guidance in other people's lives to "keep their eyes on the prize" (that would be Paul's language in Philippians) can all of the sudden spin out of control and become what Pharisees are really known for (at least biblically) – judgmentalism.  So, a new pal of mine in our faith community wrote a GREAT blog post on that subject…and you should read it…really you should.  And if you don't…oops, see how easy it is to judge!

Silence Your Inner Pharisee kirstenveatchcarlson

Before you begin reading, say this little prayer with me: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24).

What I am about to write may upset you. This is not an easy topic to post, and I’m sure I’m going to get a lot of arguments, but it is one that has weighed heavy on my heart for several months now. I am going to say this as clear as I can: Christians, STOP judging everyone! STOP judging non-believers. STOP judging other Christians and how they practice their faith. STOP comparing one denomination against the other. STOP thinking that your brand of Christianity is better than another. Just STOP!

Christ said, the two greatest commandments are to, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind’…and the second like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matt 22:37-39). Let me make this clear: when you start judging people, you have no time to love them (Mother Theresa). I am just as guilty as the next person, but I am eternally thankful to the person who had the courage to put me in my place recently, and now, I would like to pass that same wisdom on to you. I am going to focus on Christians judging other Christians, because I think this is where we give ourselves the worst name.

As Christians, we are meant to show love for everyone, especially other Christians, but how often do we find ourselves saying, “Oh, those ________ (Catholics, Mormons, Baptists, Methodists, insert denomination here), they aren’t real Christians. They don’t really worship Christ, not the way I do at least. They are all screwy. I know the Truth where they don’t.”

Have you ever said something like that? Right now you might be thinking, “Well, yah, _______ aren’t really Christians.” Here is my question to you: How do you know? Have you been in their church? Have you heard their message? Where did your information come from? Did you take the time to understand how that church focused on Christ, or where it was lacking? Or is this something you are assuming based on the flawed opinions of others? If you can honestly say that a Christian church you attended had nothing to do with Christ, well, then I’d say you have a case against it. But instead of condemning…pray.

Christ. He is what unites us all in the Christian faith, and yet we use Him to tear each other apart. Yes, we don’t always agree with each other’s dogma. Yes, we all practice a little differently. Yes, there are parishioners who may confuse their “practice drills” (like rites and rituals) with the actual game (a personal relationship with Christ), but aren’t those individuals present in every denomination? The thing is, you have no idea about the state of anyone else’s personal relationship with Christ. The only relationship you can know is your own. Period.

Recently, a woman approached me stating she was surprised to be converting to Catholicism. She was raised Protestant and was told Catholics were not Christian. She married a Catholic and when she finally sat down and talked with a priest about Catholic beliefs, she discovered that she had been wrong her entire life. She had no basis for her anti-Catholic attitude. She allowed herself to sit upon a throne of judgment based on what she had “heard” over the years. Let me tell you this, that throne does not belong to you! Just try and sit in it, I promise you will be put in your place…but more on that in a bit.

Jesus wanted all of us to have a personal relationship with God. He never turned away anyone who cried out to him, even if that person belonged to a different tribe, was seen as a sinner, appeared unclean, whatever. The people you see Jesus rebuking were not the sinners, or the outsiders, but the Pharisees, the rich, the “I haves and you have not.” He was extremely critical of their “I’m better than you are, especially in the eyes of God” attitude. That said, we must realize that we all are Pharisaical to some extent, and in need of reprimand from time to time.

Christ was angered by the actions of the Pharisees. Why? For several reasons: One, they often did things that “looked” appropriate for the praise of others, not necessarily for God. They followed God’s Law but didn’t grow their hearts and minds in their relationship with Him. They neglected the more important matters like justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matt 23:23). Two: They would speak the Words of Moses, but their actions would contradict their words. They said one thing than did another. They expected others to live by God’s law, but found excuses as to why it didn’t always apply to them. They were hypocritical. (Matt 23:2-3,26). Three: They kept people from the Kingdom of Heaven by prescribing their own doctrine concerning right and wrong and dictated how others could enter (Matt 23:13). This list goes on, but you get the point.

So right now you may be going through all the wrongs of the Pharisees and assigning blame. “Oh, this group does that…and that group does this.” And look…look hard…search your heart…here you are being a Pharisee too. Give Romans Chapter 2 a quick read. It starts like this, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things” (Romans 2:1)

Here’s the Truth: We are all sinful. We are all wrong. We are all weak sighted in this fallen human form, and we absolutely do not know or understand God as well as we thinkwe do. None of us deserves salvation, and yet we have it. God’s mercy is a gift that He gives to everyone who calls upon the Lord. If you believe in Christ and call out to Him, according to Scripture you are saved. Scripture does not say, if you call out to Him you will be saved as long as you fall into some Protestant, Catholic, or other specific denomination…or if you live the perfect life, go to the perfect church, listen exclusively to Christian music on the radio, etc.

Am I saying it is wrong to be concerned about others? To care about their salvation? Absolutely not! We should care about everyone’s salvation. Like with our children, we are to love and teach about God’s love in words and action. We gently instruct how He wants us to have a personal relationship with Him. Sometimes we rebuke wrongful actions, but we do so with mercy, love, and prayer (at least that is the goal). For some reason, though, when dealing with outsiders, we condemn them before we love them. We label people as having no relationship with Christ, when maybe we are the blind ones. Maybe we are the ones whose relationship is suffering because we are too busy pointing out how fallen and sinful everyone else is.

This goes for people outside the Christian faith too. Remember the parable of the workers in the vineyard: whether you began working at 5 a.m. or 5 p.m., God pays us all the same wage because He is a generous Lord. You don’t know who will come to the field later in the day. Today’s atheist may be tonight’s believer. Remember, it doesn’t matter when we come to the Lord, He saves us all equally, and none of us has any right to argue with God’s generosity because none of us deserves it (Matthew 20).  Don’t condemn anyone! Again, it is not your right to judge others, nor your place in this life or the next.

Jesus specifically instructs, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned” (Luke 6:37). “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:41-41).

Still arguing that someone is not a “true” Christian? Remember, Jesus says to His disciples, “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.” (Mark 9:39-41).

Like I said earlier, I am just as guilty as anyone of being judgmental. A few months ago I was complaining about some people I’d met from a “Bigger, Cooler Church” who seemed kind of snotty with a “My Church is Way Better Than Your Church” kind of attitude. After my small group meeting, I started espousing that this church—along with other mega churches that appeared too focused on fancy light shows and loud music—must be flawed. To me, these churches seemed only concerned with their coolness factor and getting as many people through the door as possible—people, who were primarily interested in being a part of a rock concert and less interested (in my perception) in hearing God’s Word.

Now, I love Christian Rock on the radio. Perhaps my Catholic “if you put a tambourine in the choir you have suddenly transformed the service into a hip youth mass” kind of attitude lent itself to my skewed perception. But that’s just an excuse. I was being judgmental. I was being Pharisaical by prescribing my own standard for bringing someone to Jesus.

Thankfully the pastor of a much lamer church (hee hee, kind of an inside joke…you know who you are) verbally slapped me along side my head. He posed this question to me that I pose to you today, “How do you know that people aren’t being led to a personal relationship with Christ just because the church is big and flashy (or different from yours)? Have you attended their service? Have you heard their message about Christ? Who are you to judge?”

Of course, my first instinct was to argue. Although I was completely ignorant about what their service really entailed, I just knew I was right. It was then that this same pastor threw me for another loop, “Well, if you truly believe they are wrong, then you should be praying for them.” SLAP!

Sure, I could sit here and complain­—point out the specks in the eyes of other people—but truly, who did I think I was? I am sinner like the next person. I don’t know everything. The only relationship with Christ I can vouch for is my own…not my friends, not my parents, not my husband, not even my children. Just as each of us is different, we are called to our relationship with Christ differently. The most important part is that we have that relationship. We all fall. We all struggle. I can’t know for certain the state of anyone else’s salvation. I can only work to improve my own relationship and do the most important thing God instructs: to love Him with my whole heart and mind, and to love others as He loves me, with compassion and mercy. And if I feel something is not right, to pray for God to fix it.

The funny thing about God, the more I started to pray for Him to fix the hearts of other people, the more He showed me (and still does) how much I need to fix within my own. I was completely wrong in my assessment of this mega church and have since discovered so many wonderful, faith filled people who attend a multitude of churches (including said mega church). I have discovered we can all learn a little something from each other about growing our relationships with Christ (and the fact that we Catholics have a long way to go in becoming hip—sorry, the tambourine just doesn’t cut it)! The take away from all this: the next time you find yourself sitting upon a throne of judgment and start to pray for God to change someone else’s heart, say the quick prayer at the end of Psalm 139 (you know, the one we said at the beginning of this blog…about 30 minutes ago).  You might be surprised that the heart He changes is your own.


Not going to do any “blame game” on any politician…but something has got to change

Tumblr_lpo85fxVzV1qjmjvko1_400 More and more people are appropriately piling on…something has got to be done.  Whether the prez is stuck in ideology, social systems that he is attempting to "transform" or just plain stubbornness, something has got to change.  I am not going to "blame" anybody…yes, for those of you friends who keep thinking that I forgot this, the prez didn't ask for this national/international scenario.  Things have been screwed up for years…hey, I know those dynamics.  I deal with them daily…but ventually a leader has got to be able to own their time, stop looking in the rear view mirror and deal with the circumstances that are real to them and their environment.  That's the issue – here's what I see – local governments have to raise taxes to make their ends meet…the economy sucks so badly that income is way down for local governments, so property taxes are going up…state governments are scrambling and raising fees, etc.  Gasoline, as I have commented on before, is staying up and has become a "frog in the kettle" over time…we are getting used to paying more for fuel because we have no other choice.  I don't know about you, but I have curbed as much driving as I can to conserve on fuel costs…but I'm still not happy when I have to pay $4 a gallon (a bunch of that is tax…fed and state).   That fuel costs are raising the cost of food.  House prices are still in the tank and the home that we were depending on for some sort of equity in the future is now worth over 25% less than when we purchased it…all our equity is gone and may never come back…at least it feels that way considering the fact that it has been 3 years and nothing is changing.  Our pension funds were cut in 1/2 in 2008 and are dropping again.  The feds think they want more money to get our debt in line…and if they can't get it from the so-called rich (which is bogus anyway because they will never get as much as is needed to get this financial crisis in order), then they will go back to fees, taxes on things that people consume, and more fees.  So it is the mantra for a new age – more!  The government wants more..we want more…more, more, more…never enough.  Sounds like something from an ole list of deadly sins, doesn't it?  Add to that people stirring up jealousy and envy in hearts and lives with the "not fair" and "class warfare" stick and you've got problems.

Here's a truth from history – there is no such thing as an attainable level playing field in life…never has been, never will.  Any and all political and economic systems that attempt to create some sort of worldly economic nirvana have failed…why?  Because of human brokenness…but that's another subject (by the way, view "sin" in that spot where I wrote brokenness, will ya?).  Economic "justice" is a Kingdom of God idea (a bigger vision than humans can naturally attain) that has been highjacked by politicians and others who think that we can legislate some sort of justice via laws, some weird redistribution of wealth scheme, or even to find someway to screw up the economy so that everybody suffers.  Justice can only happen in redemptive community and as led by the Spirit of God.  To appeal to some sort of higher human standard is to deny what Darwinists have rightfully claimed for years – that the core of humanity really is the survival of the fitest…that the core of human experience is not altruistic but self-centered, "what's in it for me", ego-centricity at everyone else's expense.  Hey, look at it this way – at least that is some sort of justice these days…cause the economy sucks now for everybody!  Everybody is getting poorer…

So here's the new norm – it is more, more, more…and then people wonder why their bottom line is shrinking.  Add to that what I emailed a friend about yesterday, that being, the entitlement mentality, prevailing narcissism and "victimization" that people feel/purport (especially many, not all, but many younger people) that enables them to not work but complain that it is the "system's" responsibility to take care of all their needs and you have a perfect storm of chaos.  This is real life in the real world…not everyone can get an A in the class and not everyone gets chosen for the team and not everyone gets a trophy for just showing up and not everyone wins.  But you can't convince the "more, more, more" crowd…because that's the way they expect life to operate.  

Unfortunately, for me, I'm getting a bit cynical.  There are times that I think that people in power like this type of craziness because it serves their purpose…but I digress.  Something has got to change…as I said above, no matter how this mess got started, it is our leader's responsibility to do something about it without blaming the past, without asking for another 1/2 billion to take care of all those on the public dole already, without espousing another economic system that has shown itself throughout history to be a rank failure.  It appears that no body in power understands the "feed me Seymour" syndrome…the more you give people without requiring them to do anything but just keep their hand out, the more and more they will desire and the bigger their appetite will become.  There will never be enough free stuff for people…have you ever seen people stand up and yell and scream and make a fool of themselves just to have a free t-shirt shot at them at a sporting event (from one of those air cannons)?  That is the image of the day…remember, with freedom comes responsibility…yet it appears that the chant of the day is "I want freedom" but at someone else's expense and responsibility…someone else has to take care of me and my needs according to my expectations.  In other words, if I don't get a t-shirt it was the fault of the ticket agent because I didn't get put in the right section, or the cannon girl because she has favorites in the stadium, or the management because they don't shoot enough t-shirts so that everyone gets a free one…and for gosh sakes, I'm not going to actually buy one!  That would cost me money!  "Feed me Seymour, feed me!"

So, when dear friends mention that are "other" values…that there are "saints of old" that found ways to find peace in the midst of any and all circumstances…that they were able to pray, "Lord make me an instrument of your peace" (yep, St. Francis) while everyone else was focused on the "Lord make me an instrument of agitation, argument, violence, etc." – it is time to listen to and embrace other voices and other values.  I don't know where society is headed…all I know is that I have to continue to focus my mind and heart on the fact that I serve a King and a Kingdom…and if I can help promote love, joy, peace, contentment and "justice" in my small circle of influence, then I can drop the world peace, world justice pipe dream and find rest for my soul.  I don't know, maybe I'm delusional…maybe I'm naive.  But that's just the way it is – today!  

By the way, that pic has nothing to do with this post – weird huh?

One pic says a 1000 words in my experience…

Ist2_440585-information-overload I'm just trying to be honest…the fact is, that I feel like my brain is going to explode.  I've been reading everything I can get my hands on over the past few years on history, issues in local "ekklesias" (faith communities), paradigm shifts and change dynamics, as well as keeping abreast on the latest in research and creative expression of biblical truth (exegesis, interpretation and application of what occurs in the story of the bible).  I won't even tell you how much the UPS guy and I talk on a week to week basis…he's pretty busy delivering me those nice, smiling packages from Amazon.  I get so many boxes from Amazon that I almost expect Bezos to show up at my door someday and personally thank me for keeping the company in business.  

So, I'm on information overload…need an example?  I was actually thinking today (while I was speaking, which is a subject for another post), "am I going to forget on Monday that segment of the new book that I'm reading or should I make myself a note right now?"  Now, this type of thing is inexcusable…I remember writing a few years ago that I was going to back off from such an intense-filled reading schedule so that I could take the time to "absorb" all that to which I had been exposing my mind and heart through the books I've been reading.  Yet, alas, there are just too many good books to read…too many things to learn…too many things to not forget…am I paranoid or what?    You would think I would learn…so, here's what I'm going to do today – I'm going to turn off my laptop here in one minute…then, watch a football game…talk with my wife and ignore every book that shows itself to me before bedtime.   How's that for vengence!