Church

Before You Pour that Glass of Whine

It was a catchy title, so of course I clicked over to see why this writer was saying it sucked to be a Christian these days.

And in the article, did he tell stories of persecution, or his family being imprisoned, or perhaps, his house burned to the ground?

No.

Let me attempt to sum up his problem – he doesn’t seem to fit in at his local church.

IMG_3450 I can’t help but contrast him with my Aunt Jeanne Marie and Uncle Eugene, who, at 89, are living out the last of their years with the same positive outlook I’ve witnessed all my life.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard either one of them complain. About aging, money, the church – well, maybe a little politics here and there, but that’s it.

Having spent most of their youth on the mission field with the Presbyterian Church, Uncle Eugene never felt led to be a pastor. So when they came back to the states, they settled in Daly City, California and Uncle Eugene entered the business world.

They didn’t spend a lot of time looking for a church to meet their needs. They did what they’d always done; they became members of the Presbyterian Church closest to their home. Aunt Jeanne Marie joined a women’s circle. She took courses in how to minister to those facing death. She served in hospitality, and visited folks in the hospital.

On my many trips to their home, I was often taken back at how my conservative aunt and uncle functioned so well within such a liberal church. But it didn’t take me long to realize, they went to serve, and not be served.

12734164_10153894649633864_11092912052327412_nI love my church. And I’d be the first to admit, it’s flawed. And if I look in the corners, I can see the hypocrisy, the fakes, and the insincere. But then, if I look in the corners of my own heart, I see those very same things in myself.

But when I focus on serving, I see my church differently. Or maybe I don’t have the time to check all those dirty corners.

So maybe the advice my friend Vonda Skelton gave me would work for this lost writer – offer grace, grace, grace.

Then shake the dust off your feet and go serve.

We’re all getting older. And at my age, I would have thought my corners would be cleaner than they are. But they’re not. So if you see them, let’s make a deal, I’ll offer you grace, grace, grace, if you’ll do the same for me.

Then we’ll all have a better perspective on the church.

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We Were Meant for This

landscaping_nb_09-2A few years ago, I managed a Starbucks in an upscale mall in Orlando Florida. Just outside my store was an open courtyard encircled by tall masts with large LED screens mounted on top. All day, loud music played while images splashed across the screens. Around the courtyard, black leather ottomans filled up with relaxed shoppers. Children, taking advantage of the wide-open space, ran, leaped, and tumbled in spite of their parents protest.

Anytime I crossed the courtyard I glanced at the shoppers lounging while they stared up at the big screens. Mesmerized, they glared at the images of beautiful countryside’s, the space shuttle taking off, and beautiful, thin, well-dressed Floridians, seemingly enjoying the time of their lives.

Daktronics-The-Mall-of-MilleniaThe feed came to a close with footage of the most recent fashion shows from around the world.  One by one, perfectly dressed models marched at you like million dollar stallions; their gowns hanging off their starving bodies.

The final shot showed happy shoppers entering and leaving through the malls massive glass doors. Large print flashed saying, “You were meant for this.”

One day, as I watched the models strut, I wondered how many of us feel we were meant for a more glamorous life. After all, I did long to be rich enough to buy the $60,000 necklace in the window of the jewelry store next to my Starbucks.Jewelry shop

But maybe we were meant for all this. After all, God promises us a kingdom with gates of pearls and streets lined with gold. And the Bible does say He’s building a mansion just for me.

So, maybe my longing is genuine. Maybe I’m not made for this world.

Perhaps when sin entered the garden, God didn’t change our desire for perfection. Maybe our longings for luxury come more from our exile from Eden, than our lack of funds. And by remembering we’re just travelers in this present age, we can stop focusing on what we don’t have here, and look to the one who promises to give us all good things.

 

King David Did Not Deserve That Son

In 1972, when we were dating, Tim had a startling encounter with Jesus. It happened when he ran into a man he had wronged. Expecting a punch, the man instead reached for Tim’s hand and said, “I forgive you, I love you, and I want to tell you about something.”

Tim 1972

Tim 1972

For the next several months, Paul and his wife Ann shared with us their stories of faith. And Tim quickly accepted Christ, and then encouraged me to do the same.

Now I’d like to say, Tim changed and radically pursued God. That he led those around him in bible studies and church attendance. But he didn’t. For the next 35 or so years, save a big crisis, Tim’s faith stayed in the shadows.

On top of that, he famously bent the rules. All without a shred of shame.

Many times, as I struggled with my own faith, I questioned his. “Do you ever think faith is a big hoax?” I’d ask. “Do you ever doubt there is a God?”

His answer was always an emphatic, “No!” God was real, and that was all there was to it. But that faith didn’t motivate Tim to change the way he lived.

But when Tim got cancer, his faith kicked in. Although a drive across town, sent pain ripping through his body, he refused to miss a Sunday church service. Nausea that would keep the average person in bed, couldn’t keep him away from our small group meetings.

His greatest source of peace came from the bible. When the pain became unbearable, he’d beg me to read it to him. When I could no longer stay up, he’d put on earphones and listen to an audio version all night long.

IMG_0006

Tim 2008

A peace came over him in spite of his diagnosis. It drew people to him and it inspired everyone around him, including me.

So this past Sunday when our pastor preached on the life of Solomon, it reminded me of Tim.

Because, really, King David never deserved that son. After all, he’d turned His back on God. And in that turning, he committed adultery and murder. And I get it that the consequence was the loss of one son. But then God gave the adulterer and the adulteress another. And the bible says right there in 2 Samuel, that they named him Solomon, and the Lord loved him.

In Tim, I saw first hand that kind of grace. A grace that never keeps score. That never says, “Sorry, you haven’t given enough.” That gives the full portion for no reason other than we’ve acknowledged the giver.

I think all our life, God waits for us to acknowledge Him. And His patience is epic. And His love for us is beyond measure.

It was beautiful to see God pursue Tim. And it was beautiful to see Tim acknowledge God.

If you don’t know Him, will you turn around? I promise, if you seek Him, He will be found. And He will change your life for eternity. Don’t wait. Do it today.


 

 

Rule Followers vs Rule Benders

I had an incident recently where I felt rejected by someone I love. I can’t say I understand what prompted it, but it was clear.

Now, my life over the past several years has certainly been an uncomfortable bed to lie in. And consequences for bad choices have cost me dearly. And my loss has made me needy.tencommandments

But over the past forty plus years, I’ve learned Christians basically fall into two groups – rule followers and rule benders.

Years ago I worked with a Christian man who was engaged to a beautiful young lady. In conversation, he ran off a list of “plans” they had for their future “good” marriage. He and his fiance were all set to follow Larry Burkett’s financial advice. They were diligently going to premarital counseling. And if and when they had children, they had all the books picked out to guide them in their quest for a great family.

I remember feeling jealous as he peeled off their relationship strategy. Where was all that help when Tim and I got married? I remember thinking, really God? Couldn’t you have guided us a little better.

But I’ve learned following Jesus isn’t as easy as obeying a set of rules. And consequences are painful, but so is empty obedience. Because most of our sin is buried deep within our souls, and rules will not flush them out. And if my real purpose in being good is to avoid the consequences, then I miss the whole point of grace.

Now I’m old enough to finally be done as a rule bender. And I welcome the peace that obedience can bring. But I also understand the danger in allowing myself to become prideful over my good behavior. That it’s easy to look on those mired in a pit, and feel superior.

I recently discussed this with a dear friend who’s been a rule follower all her life. And she wisely said to me,

“You know, lately I’ve wondered if I ever really loved Jesus like I should. I think I’ve always been good because I was afraid not to be.”

And therein lies the root of the problem. It’s all about our motivation.

I’ve noticed amongst some Christians a growing division between rule followers and rule benders. It’s even tearing families apart. Rule followers want more focus on obedience and benders want to point to everyone’s need for grace.

But somewhere, we’re all supposed to come together and represent Christ. And I struggle with either sides need to protect their position by alienating the other. After all, no matter what we do, we’re all filthy sinners.

Someone once said, the true opposite of love isn’t the passionate intensity of hate, but the emptiness of indifference. And how often, in our need to protect our position, do we build that wall of indifference around ourselves?

So today I pray, Lord, say it isn’t so in me.

C.A.R.E.

ImageThis past weekend at a conference center in Titusville Florida, I met forty five amazing people. For two days, we spread out in groups of three or four and shared priceless moments of times God “Got a Hold” of our lives.

Many told stories of hitting rock bottom after some sort of addiction or despair. They shared how in what seemed like impossible situations, God showed up, lifted them out of their pit, and changed their lives.

Overwhelmed by what Jesus did for them, they now share their lives with people in the same situations. Instead of keeping their struggle to themselves, they regularly meet with hurting souls in coffee shops or restaurants all over the city of Orlando. They attend support groups to provide encouragement to fellow strugglers.

One girl, at the hands of her father, suffered unmentionable shame. After learning that two thirds of women inmates suffered abuse as children, she visits the county jail and shares her story of hope. One couple, after spending years trying to pull their own daughter up from addiction, started a ministry to hurting parents. Another couple, every Thursday night, drives over an hour to participate in a support group for alcoholics. They told me nothing else they tried worked. But the love and care at our church pulled them through. Now they’re passionate about helping others.

This group of Christians is part of Discovery Church’s C.A.R.E Ministries.Image

And their love for the broken seeped deep into my soul and lingers still.

Jesus said the healthy have no need of a doctor. And usually it’s the sick who get well and reach back to help those in need. For the healthy often struggle to understand the unhealthy.

It’s said that all religions eventually navigate toward a set of rules. And this is so true for the Christian Church. After all, it’s much easier to follow rules than to love the unlovable. But that’s what Jesus did. He scoffed at the Pharisee’s. He defied their laws. And He reached down into the pits of hell and set the captives free.

Jesus never called us to become Christians. He said, “Follow me.” Then he went out and ministered to the most rejected and vile members of society. So shouldn’t we do the same?

I tip my hat to the folks who make up Discovery’s C.A.R.E. Ministries. You are all far better Christians than me. I commended you for your passion for the lost. And you are the unsung heroes of my church.