Spokesperson

Last week I attended the birthday party of a newly 24-year-old gay man in a bar. I know that may come as a shock to some of you, and you might even hit “unsubscribe” because of it. Before you do, though, I hope you will hear me out one last time.
I was at a queer birthday bash in a bar because that is precisely where I believe Jesus would be. He didn’t get the reputation of being a “friend of sinners” by keeping his distance from the gritty side of life. And he didn’t get called a glutton and a drunkard by abstaining.

That can be tough to hear, I know, especially if you have spent a good portion of your life in places that teach an image of a porcelain Jesus. You know the ones, alabaster skin, waif-like beauty, clean, manicured nails.

I can’t tell you whether Jesus was man-gorgeous, but I can tell you that he got his hands dirty. Jesus was a tekton, a builder working alongside his father. He hung out with fishermen. He called himself a shepherd. None of these occupations are known for their similarities to the fragrant allure of the perfume counter.

Some of the rest of you are going to be angry because I insinuated that being at a gay man’s birthday party is gritty. You would be correct. It was one of the most low-key gatherings I have attended in a while, and I am a pastor so do not underestimate just how tame things get when I am around.

I sat at a table of people with diverse lives, histories, and backgrounds. Some had boozy drinks, others savored a craft beer, some mostly sipped water. Not one of them expected that the late-30’s mom type who just sat at their empty space was a pastor, except the person who invited me to sit beside them. That person knew my secret identity, but no one else did. So they were honest. Honest about their lives. Honest about their dreams. Honest about their frustrations.

One person spoke about their interactions with the post-worship crowds on Sunday at a local deli counter. One nicely dressed Christian physically assaulted her co-worker because they were out of his favorite chicken. Here was the moment that would out me.

I had a choice. I could have remained incognito, the one person at the table who knew me would not have revealed my secret. Honestly, though, there was no way I could not say what came next. “I’m so sorry that happened. As a pastor, that ticks me off and breaks my heart.” Then I added just for flair, “Next time he comes in, you should tell him you are praying for him.” I couldn’t help it. She would not strike the average church goer in middle-America as being the praying type.

I’m not always a good spokesperson for Jesus. I would guess that all of us fall short from time to time, and I can’t say I’ve never been the guy so mad about chicken that I blew it. (Ok, maybe not about chicken, but other things for sure.)

My point in writing this is really to call my Christ-following friends out of the closet, out of the church doors, out of our enclaves and onto a chair at a table, in a bar, celebrating the life of someone God loves with people whose only interaction with Christians is post-worship hangry-ness. If we want people to have a different view of Christ, a different impression of Christians, we have got to spend more time with them.

I can hear the objections, “But, go to a bar?” Yes! GO to the bar. “Sit with people who are drinking?” Yes! SIT with people. (Ok, sit where you are invited to sit, and maybe don’t start at a biker bar, and make good choices, and be safe, and take a friend.) But the only way you are going to look like Jesus–friend of sinner, glutton, drunkard–is to go where Jesus went and hang with those society has labeled as not enough.

Spending time with people does not mean we agree with all their choices or that we share all of their opinions. What it does in us is to demonstrate the value of those around us, and what it does for them is offer an alternative view of Christ and his church. Those open doors are worth everything.

We have done an awfully good job of dividing the world into “us” and “them.” We hang out with people who are like us, and sometimes in a very literal sense we say, to hell with “them.” I believe that breaks the heart of the One who came to tear down the dividing walls of hostility. It is uncomfortable and challenging to spend time with people who are not just like us. Growth is uncomfortable, but necessary if we are to love “them.” If our personal righteousness and reputation are more important to us than bringing light and life into the lives of others, we aren’t heeding our master’s call.

Our presence with them, hearing their stories, seeing the light in their eyes, will change our hearts. Which is great, because Jesus already loves them. If we truly believe what we say with our mouths, that Jesus Christ died to save sinners, with us at the top of the list, then Jesus Christ died to save those we have too often labeled as defective. And it’s time to peel off the sticker we’ve plastered over Christ’s stamp declaring their worth as priceless.

My friend, whose birthday was being celebrated, pulled me aside and asked, “Is it wrong or selfish of me that I am glad that all these people are here for me?” Three tables, about 12-15 people total. “No, my friend. It’s your birthday, and you are worth celebrating.”

Joining God in loving those around us,
ReFreshing

Thanksgiving Survival Guide: 5 ways to evade conversation meltdowns!

Thanksgiving is coming! I hope you all are looking forward to this time of family togetherness and bliss as much as I am, but just in case you are not here are some tried and true ways to avoid World War III at your family table.

1. Ask a question that leads to a more positive tone.
When your loved one is ranting about what they hate, why not ask a question that nudges them toward their hopes and dreams. Here are just a few examples.
“What do you hope for?”
“How do you see that unfolding?”
“How can we work toward that together?”

Who doesn’t like to talk about their hopes and dreams for the future? Let them keep talking, but asking these questions gives them something good to talk about. Making specific plans is also a good way to engage logical brain function when the lizard brain wants to take over. Whether they are looking forward to college, vacation, or the new world order, at least it will put a nice twinkle in their eye.

2. Change the subject altogether.
Uncle raving about politics? Auntie griping about the election? When you asked about their hopes they mentioned the destruction of an entire demographic? Here’s some topics to divert the maelstrom.
“What an amazing, miraculous World Series!”
“Do you have any recent pictures of your kids/dogs/grand-kids/cats?”
“Who made this delicious dish? You have to tell me all about the recipe!”

I don’t ever watch sports, but even I know about the Cubs and their history smashing victory! So you don’t know the players’ names or numbers or the final score, let your relative fill in the relevant details while you “ooh” and “aah.” Same goes for the precious pictures. They may be overly enthusiastic, but I bet Trump/Clinton/Obama isn’t in the frame. Oh, Junior dressed up as one of them for Halloween? On to the food, people love to gush over their special contribution to the meal.

3. Excuse yourself to go…elsewhere.
When you don’t achieve success with numbers 1 or 2, find a way to leave the room. Now is the time to:
Help cook or clean
Go to the restroom
Take a walk

Don’t you have something in the oven you need to check on? Always have something in the oven! No? Perhaps the dishes need doing. You can always go to the restroom. Yes, you can go every 15 minutes! Who cares if they think you have a virus. Maybe they’ll leave you alone if you are sick. This looks like a good time for a walk. On a day of over-indulgence whether you’ve had too much turkey, or just to make room for pie, no one will fault you for getting some fresh air.

4. Eat something! Drink something!
If you are afraid of returning fire with your words, stuff something in your mouth! Why else did we get everyone together anyway? Have a piece of pie…or three. Get up and refill your glass. Offer to get them a cup of coffee while you are up. Coffee builds bridges, and it might make you need to visit the restroom again soon, so it’s a win-win.

5. Fall asleep.
When all else fails, take a nap. Not sleepy? Pulse racing? You can always just pretend to fall asleep on the couch, or the chair, or on your plate. Trust me, cousins talking about your narcolepsy may not be pleasant, but it’s better than turning this Rockwell moment into a red-faced brawl!

BONUS! Turn on the game–no talking during football!

Disagreeing with Grace

I’ve been pondering all of the arguing and mic-dropping going on with political tensions and with world problems like poverty, violence, and discrimination. How is it that people with so much in common cannot hold a civil conversation with one another? How do we step out of the cycle of verbal bomb-throwing and find our way back to productive communication?

I watched my sister a few weeks ago talking to someone handing out literature on the street as we were shopping. They were trying to raise awareness for their particular cause, and they had their speech and talking points all prepared in advance. I confess that if I had been alone, I would have probably avoided eye contact and walked on by. If I had been feeling particularly open, I would have offered a half-smile and kept walking. I don’t like to hear talking points. They don’t impress me, and I always assume they are heavily weighted in favor of the cause being promoted.

My sister is awesome, though, and she stopped to talk with the person. When she heard the cause being promoted she asked about the sponsoring agency, she found a point of common interest, and she asked about the specific goal of this person on the street that day. They were looking for donations, and instead of making a commitment to donate right there, my sister asked for the online donation options and how to find more information about the organization sponsoring the fund drive. It took less than 3 minutes and it gave the person advocating the opportunity to share about their cause and allowed us to walk away without feeling obligated or shamed into supporting something we didn’t know much about.

I walked away from that encounter in awe of my sister’s ability to handle a potentially uncomfortable interaction in a way that everyone could feel good about. (Once again, I want to be my big sister when I grow up.)

I’ve spent the past several weeks pondering how I can interact with others in a similar way, whether I agree with them or not, whether I feel like the other person has an agenda, or even when I am the one with an agenda who wants to be heard. I think I’ve come up with some basic principles that can help.

Giving them the right to be heard. Allowing others to speak their minds gives us the ability to gauge whether they would be open to hearing our point of view. At times, stating our case when others are not open to listening falls into the category of casting our pearls before swine. If the person we are in conversation with cannot hear another perspective, anything we say, no matter how beautifully phrased, is going to sound like an attack to them. If they don’t know the value of our pearls, it feels exactly like someone throwing rocks.

We can begin by reframing our expectations based on what the other person is able to give. When we walk into a conversation,we have to recognize that we may not be in the same place as our conversation partner in our emotions, our understanding of the topic, or desire to find a solution.

Using words that frame our thoughts, that state our position, without attacking the other person offers our perspective without putting them on the defensive. Talking about what I am for does not have to include any discussion of others who do not agree. Try it out, can you talk about your passion or are you simply arguing against the passions of others?

Acceptance does not mean agreeing all the time. Acceptance means embracing those we are in relationship with in spite of disagreement. I can accept your good motivation, and assume the best about you and your cause even if I do not join in promoting it.

If you are as tired as I am of all the arguing and tension, why not add a little grace by listening, seeking understanding, offering mercy and love in spite of disagreement?

That could be very ReFreshing!

 

A Prayer for Peace

I offered this prayer at our Vigil to Pray for Peace in Emporia, KS on July 10, 2016.

God of grace and mercy,

We come tonight with our hands full, our fingers tightly gripping our fear, our anger, our pain, our suspicion, our frustration and feelings of powerlessness in the face of what seems an impossible problem.

We know that our fear leads to isolation, our anger builds walls and our frustration can lead to apathy. By your mercy, forgive us for allowing our bitterness to bring division, and our pain to excuse contributing to the pain of others.

Tonight we look to you for the healing of our hearts and hearts across our land. Teach us to let go of all we are clutching, lest we use our closed fists to add to the violence.

Give us strength to pry open our fingers so that we may stretch out our palms to you and receive your healing grace.

May your healing produce a peace that is not only an absence of violence or conflict, but full of forgiveness, restoration, and joy.

Instill in us a love that reaches across racial boundaries, economic boundaries, religious boundaries, and every dividing wall of hostility. Grant us wisdom as we work toward reconciliation wherever we are, whatever our context.

Turn our hearts toward you when we grow weary. Unite us in purpose so that we know we are not alone. Light a path before us so that our steps may be clear as we journey together toward peace.

I offer this prayer in the name of Jesus, who laid down his life for the healing of the world.

Amen.

Fundamentals—How Now Shall I Live?

 

We’ve been asking the question for millennia.

How do I live my life? What is the guiding principle behind the decisions I make?

Facebook Responses How do I live

We struggle, even those who have considered carefully how we should live. We don’t always know how to apply the moral and ethical ideals that drive us. We are not always going to get it right, but we are called to walk in love, to seek the good of others, to serve them and seek to honor them.

Humility is Key

In the book of the prophet Micah, the question is asked how do I approach God to please him?

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings…Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil…?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:6-8

God is not interested in our appeasement or sacrifices. God desires that we walk in humility and love each other.

This is a problem for me, because I love to be right. There is nothing I want more than to always be right about everything in every conversation and every argument, and make every right choice. Always.

Except I am not, and neither are you. We can be assured that on some points, we will get it wrong. From time to time we will each believe and say and do wrong things. There are no exceptions, which is why it is so important to walk in humility and grace that sets us free.

Liberty.
Christian liberty is to be granted in all areas not essential to one’s final salvation. Due to human imperfection there are differences of faith and practice among God’s children, but they anticipate a time of greater unity in the faith. Until that time there must be unity in essentials but liberty in non-essentials, with love in all things.
EFC-MAYM Faith and Practice

Giving up power & position

Humility is a daily attitude recognizing that our status is not the most important thing. It doesn’t matter if I have an impressive title or great reputation if all I do is serve my own self interest. We are called to follow God’s example of using our gifts, talents, and resources to serve others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…
Philippians 2:5-7

Choosing to love

Our humility, our service, our lives are empty if we do not act in love. Love is not a fuzzy feeling or something that drifts with our moods. Love is a desire and determination to seek the good of the loved one. Love means choosing to do good for someone even if you disagree.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children  and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2

God calls us to join in the work of reconciliation, to join in actively seeking the good of our neighbor along with ourselves and our world. It begins with humility and it looks like love.

 

 

 

 

 

Fundamentals—Humanity

With the topic of the human condition we inevitably include the issue of sin. Don’t click away! This isn’t your average bash-you-over-the-head discussion of sin.

I asked my Facebook friends for questions they ponder about humanity and sin.

Facebook Questions Sin

To begin to understand humanity we have to start with creation.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
…God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Genesis 1:26, 31

God caps off creation by making people, and surveying all that was made, issues a declaration that it is “Very Good!” I don’t know about you, but I haven’t met anyone yet who would look at the world and say that everything is just as it should be. We may have different views of what would make a perfect world, but we all agree, this isn’t it.

If we keep reading, we find a story about why all is not right with the world. It tells of man and woman going outside the will of God in effort to become more like God. The temptation was to see creation as incomplete, especially in regard to just how much divinity was instilled in humanity. The result? Relationships were broken and fear was born.

Mutiny and the Beginning of the Blame Game

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
Genesis 3:8-9

God came walking in the garden, and the people hid. When asked what happened to change their relationship, the man points the finger at the woman and at God.

“The woman you put here with me—she did it. It’s her fault!”

And the woman passed the buck to a fellow creature.

“It was the serpent! He did it!”

The writer of Genesis tells us in detail what our brokenness looks like. Distance from God. Disturbance in our relationships with self & others. Fighting for survival in a hostile world.

We still see the same things thousands of years later. And we are still playing the blame game. There’s just this one nagging problem.

We have no Leg to Stand On

One thing we all agree on regarding sin is of course which sin is the worst, right?

Somebody else’s.

Ask anyone and they can tell you why their mistakes are understandable, their choices justified, and why that person over there is a big-fat-sinner. You might think this is the official position of the church, but the writer of Romans disagrees:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things…do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
Romans 2:1-4

By sitting in judgment over others, we go back to that first temptation to put ourselves in God’s place! And we don’t do a very good job of responding to failure with kindness, forbearance and patience. We don’t even respond to our own sin in that way. By seeking to justify our actions, we just bury the lead that sin is sin because it is destructive. Wounds need to be cared for with kindness and our sin needs to be addressed with grace.

Repentance is built on an acknowledgment that we are wounded and in need of care. It is literally translated as a change of mind. We change our minds, our attitudes about the choices we are making. Instead of duct-taping that gash on our leg and crossing our fingers that gangrene doesn’t set in, let’s go to the doctor and get some actual medical help!

Our Attitude Should Be Humble

Especially those who are Christians, we have received nothing from God but kindness and patience, who are we to condemn someone else? The Apostle Paul has a great take on sin. I think it needs to become our new Christian talking point in regard to sin.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
1 Timothy 1:15

Not because we are worthless, but because we know better and choose to wound ourselves and others anyway. We have great value as image-bearers of God, and we are ALL worthy of spiritual healthcare. When we choose to see our failure as worse than the person in front of us, and we know that God has responded to us with grace, we are better situated to dispense that grace freely as well. If God has forgiven my sin and accepted me as a full heir of Heaven, God can accept anyone.

Sin describes where we go wrong, but it is not the end of the story. It isn’t even the biggest part of the story. Would you find it refreshing if I told you that what is broken can be restored? What if it is God’s dream to make it all “Very Good” again? Check out the next post in this series on Salvation.

On Bad Days

Sometimes I have a bad day. I know, amazing, but true. It doesn’t even have to be a big deal, like flood, fire, or famine, to get me feeling off-kilter. Sometimes it is a passion I have that doesn’t seem to be shared. Sometimes it is injustice. Sometimes I just feel tired, and sad, and frustrated.DSC01706

And I’m learning that this is ok.

I fall into that category of people who cope by stuffing emotions deep down inside. Truthfully, emotions are powerful and sometimes that power feels dangerous. Letting emotions out can seem like a lack of control or a loss of the ability to process through things logically. Coping mechanisms are great for life or death situations, but most of my life doesn’t take place on a literal battlefield.20150810_085430

As a positive, the ability to set aside emotion for a time to handle crises with a cool head is awesome. I have kept my cool while driving loved ones to the hospital. I have faced down angry people who would have only fed on any emotional energy I allowed to escape. I have been able to get through some tough personal and professional challenges without falling apart. My coping skills are great.

But when we function in non-emergent situations like they are life or death, when we walk through life on high alert, our coping skills become barriers that keep others at bay. If I shut down my emotions, it can take some time to open back up to process them. If I walk around without feeling while interacting with my kids, or my husband, or the people I am in ministry with, I become a hard stone wall. Inflexible.

Vulnerability is crucial to building relationships and community. If I can’t open up about my experiences, my feelings, my needs, then no one ever gets to know the real me. I have walled myself off from anyone who could help me build other skills or who have their own wisdom to contribute to the challenges I face.DSC01422

Giving myself permission to feel–even on bad days–is my key to unlocking the gates, and bringing down the walls.

I am not perfect. (Another blog for another day!) I need other people to walk through life. Defenses are great when you are under attack, but for all of the other situations I face on all the other days, those walls just get in the way.

Truth & Honesty.
Now that’s ReFreshing.