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I Wish the Local Church Knew…..

Her.meneutics is sponsoring a writing contest, giving female Christian bloggers the prompt “I wish my local church knew…”

So I did some reading, thinking, praying, took an unscientific poll on Facebook (Hi, guys!) and here’s what I came up with:

I wish the local church knew that it was not Jesus. 

Why would I think the local church might believe that it was Jesus? Mostly because a lot of the time it  acts like it thinks it is Jesus.

We think we are Jesus when we throw stones. In the public trial of the adulterous woman, Jesus said “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  Cue everyone to drop their stones and walk away. The only one there qualified to throw a stone was Jesus, because He was the only one who was without sin. So when we, the church, condemn someone for their sin, we are chucking a rock that we are not really qualified to chuck. And for those of you who like to cry “but then He told her go and sin no more!” Yes, he did. Jesus is like that. He brings change to hearts that need changing. He sure did it for me. But remember, church, we are not Jesus. We aren’t the ones changing the hearts. The lost world is lost. Why are we surprised that they act that way? Which brings me to my next point.

We think we are Jesus when we decide who does and doesn’t understand things that are Spirit-discerned. Paul said in 1 Corinthians “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. In plain language, this says that if someone is a “natural man” (not a Christian benefited with the Holy Spirit), they cannot understand the things that a Spirit-filled person can. Our bible may be complete foolishness to the natural man, lacking any credibility. This cannot be changed without the Spirit, which may sound like more foolishness to him. Conversely, that Spirit may be hard at work within that natural man. Let’s let Jesus understand the workings of a person’s heart, and not assume we do. So we need to be careful about taking too much responsibility, which is next.

We think we are Jesus when we take personal responsibility for someone’s acceptance or rejection of Him. The world feels judged by us, and they are right to feel that way. We judge them. Lots of times we unfairly judge them (remember that thing where we are not Jesus?). But the church could stop judging entirely and the world would still feel judged. That’s because God set up right and wrong and  He created us to be like Him, and when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the garden, all of us became aware of it. As a Christian community we could live by God’s law and just keep our lip zipped and it would still offend the non-believing world because it knows its own sin. That sin nature, born within each of us, is a wicked enemy of God. It doesn’t want us to know Him, so it works to reject anything of God. But when someone you have been talking to, praying for, and encouraging rejects God, it can feel awfully personal. Set that feeling aside. You are not Jesus. He tells us in John 15 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (Don’t get a big head about that though. It is also very possible that the world hates you because you are being a jerk.)

We think we are Jesus when we pretend to be perfect. Jesus is perfect. We are not. Pretending we are hurts those outside of the church because we look like a bunch of hypocrites (because they have figured out that we are actually NOT perfect. Gasp! What gave us away?) Perhaps as damaging, though, is the false perfection we portray within the church. Here is a secret for those of you outside the church: we on the inside are just as broken, wounded, and guilty as those on the outside. But the inside is better. That’s what we need you to know. On the inside you figure out how to become unbroken, healed, and made new. It’s Jesus. It’s His love. He makes us all whole and new. But inside the church, we sometimes act as if we are not all coming from the same broken place. We act as if we were never broken in the first place, and that isolates those who still need more healing. They feel alone. It also robs Jesus of His glory. He DID fix us. We are not in the church because we are awesome. We are in the church because God loves us and made us whole. He loves those outside of it, too, which is why we can never give up.

We think we are Jesus when we think we know who will love Him and who will reject Him. No one is beyond hope. God’s grace is for everyone. Not all will receive it, but we don’t get to decide if someone might or might not. That is a dangerous, arrogant position. We don’t get to decide who is or is not worthy of his grace, and we don’t get to decide who is going to be reconciled with God. Therefore we never get to give up and decide that this world is just too tough and too hard and too lost. We are not Jesus. We don’t know. Keep praying. Keep telling. Keep hoping. That is obedience.

So, local church: We are not Jesus. We are His imperfect church, His beloved children. What can we do in light of this? Love God imperfectly but yearn for His perfection. Love your neighbor imperfectly but yearn for His perfection. Live your life imperfectly but yearn for His perfection. In the end He will make you perfect. It’s what He does.

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July 12, 2015 · 11:02 pm

On the Hunt

spring10 027

I know this sounds silly, but one thing I hated when I was a kid was Easter Egg Hunts. To be competitive on the Easter egg hunting grounds, you have to be fast and you have to be competitive. Any Easter egg hunter worth anything knows that the hunt is pretty much over in the first few minutes. You can see it in the eyes of all the kids, standing behind the start line, waiting for some adult to yell “GO!” already.  The look in the hunters’ eyes says “You better NOT touch my eggs.”

The best hunters don’t pick up eggs immediately.  When they hear “GO!” they put their elbows up and out, leap over the two-year-olds in the way, and sprint out to the middle of the battleground, um, I mean field.  There they start collecting there where there is less competition. While the crowd is fighting over the eggs near the starting line, these skilled egg collectors have easy pickings on the other end of the field. In less than a minute or two though, the crowd of hunters will see that they need to spread out, and the field will be covered with kids pushing and shoving to get their treasures.

As a kid, I was slow (still am). I was mild mannered. I never had enough of a killer instinct to succeed at the Easter Egg Hunt. I usually didn’t get any eggs at all. I had to rely on the charity of my friends who, seeing my pitifully empty basket, would hand me an egg or two. Good thing I had fast friends.

The thing about the Easter Egg Hunt is that there is a limited number of eggs.  There is only so much to go around, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. That’s it. That’s why you have to run as fast as you can, beat those who are around you, and grab eggs out of others reach. Otherwise, you might not get any.

What if God’s love was like that?  What if God made His love hidden, hard to find, and limited to who was fast enough to get it first? What if God only gave His love out to the fastest, the best, the most competitive, the cleverest? Would you get an egg? Would I? Would it make you compete all the harder to get it, or would it make you decide that it was too hard to earn God’s love and give up?

God’s love is not like that though. First of all, it is not limited. Ephesians 3:18 talks about how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.  Secondly, God’s love is not given to you because of how hard you worked or “hunted” for it. It says so in Romans 5:8: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And thirdly, God’s love for us is available to all who seek it, not just the fastest, or cleverest, or best. Like is says in John 3:16 For God so loved THE WORLD that He give His one and only Son so that whoever believed in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

Here is a similarity to the Easter Egg Hunt, though. Remember when I said that the only eggs I got were the ones my friends would give me out of pity? God’s love is something that you can share as well. Do you have a basket full of it? Awesome! Can you share with a friend that hasn’t got any yet? Even better.

 

Originally posted for PCCStudentMin, April 6, 2012.

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April 5, 2015 · 4:32 pm

Dear Mrs. White

photo credit: greenpoint vintage

 Dear Mrs. White, 

This is Mike from your first period class. I am the on on the lacrosse team, and I sit in the second row. I am really struggling to make a good grade in chemistry. It seems like no matter how hard I try, or how many times I come in for help, I still don’t do well on the tests. I am thinking about giving up and dropping your class.

It has been years since I got this email, but it still breaks my heart. Why? Because this kid wasn’t even sure I knew who he was. 

But I did know exactly who he was. I knew he worked hard to barely get a B, even though he had the effort to merit an A. I knew he took great notes, did all his homework, and came in for extra help. And yet he still barely hit a mid-C on each test. He was doing all the right things, but chemistry was still hard. I knew him, and I saw his struggle.

I see all my students. I see the ones who work hard and still struggle, I see the ones who don’t work hard and manage to get A’s. I see the ones that succeed and cheer them on. I see the ones who don’t do the work, but cannot make the connection between that behavior and their lack of success (those ones drive me a little nuts). But I see them all, and honestly, and have great affection for them even in their struggle. 

Sometimes, when we are struggling, and are trying hard to do all the right things, it can feel like God does not see us. Our soul cries out ‘Do you even know who I am, God? Do you see me slogging through this earthly mire? Because I don’t feel seen or known by you!’

But God sees us. He sees those of us who struggle and strain even though we are doing all the right things, and fortifies us through it. He sees us in the midst of our joy because He is the source of it. He sees us when we are suffering because of our own bad choices and loves us regardless, and waits for our return. But He sees us. He knows our successes and failures, whether they be our fault or out of our control. 

God sees you. He knows your struggle. He knows the good and the bad about you. He sees you, and He loves you.

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March 30, 2015 · 8:35 pm

Baby Elephant

I want you to imagine a baby elephant at a circus. Got it? Okay.

ChainedWhen a new baby elephant is brought into the circus, it has a heavy iron shackle attached to its leg, and that shackle is attached by a chain to a long iron peg that is driven deep into the ground. For a time, our baby will pull and strain to the point of injuring itself to get free. Then, with the help of the trainer’s crop, it will learn that it is hopeless to fight. Hope will be driven out. Our poor baby elephant is a captive.

Our baby elephant will learn the lesson so well that when it is grown, it will not even need to be shackled. A simple rope with a short wooden peg in the ground will be sufficient to keep it captive. That baby will have grown up into a massive, powerful beast, but it will still be held captive not truly by a flimsy rope and a peg, but by its own belief that it is trapped. It is held captive by its own belief that it is still weak and small. It is held captive by its own lack of hope.

Then, something might happen. Lots of things can trigger it, but there may come a day for our elephant that it realizes that it is not small or weak. It will realize that it can no longer can be held by a rope and peg. It cannot even be held by a shackle and chain. And our baby, now  massive and powerful, certainly cannot be stayed by the trainer’s measly crop anymore.

This realization of freedom is a dangerous time for our elephant. When that shackled strength is loosed, the captive can turn on its captor. Years of being held can spark a rage in our elephant that will be hard to deny.

Here’s what is important for our elephant to know. Elephant, you are free. Free. There is no more shackle. No more chain. That trainer’s crop can’t hurt you. You are big and powerful and can’t be hurt anymore. That is, unless, Baby, you decide to be a captive of your own anger and rage. The shackle is gone, Baby, and you are FREE to walk away and be rid of your chains. Or, sweet Baby, you can choose a new set of chains: you can choose to stay at the circus of your own anger and hurt. You can be your own main event. Don’t mistake this for freedom, Baby Elephant.

You are free, you big, strong Baby Elephant. Walk away from the circus. Choose freedom. Choose hope.

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March 22, 2015 · 11:05 pm