Faith Enough for Tuesday

Here is truth:  God has power to kill shame, flatten sin and resurrect people.  And he has power to resurrect what for all the world looks like death in your life. The good news about Jesus Christ is the power of God. The gospel is its own power. It doesn’t tell us how to get power. It is power.

The story of the Bible from beginning to end is the story of God’s power over our weakness. Paul tells the Corinthians that the word of the cross is for those who are dying and for those who have been defeated. It is for those who feel powerless. The gospel is for the ones who have lost everything, who have seen it all get washed down the drain, who have tried this world on for size only to discover that it has no power to save us from anything.

Let me say that again: The world has no power to save us from anything.

Paul tells us that the good news about Jesus is for everyone who believes. The Greek word for “believe” in his proclamation in Romans 1 (pisteuo) has the same root as the Greek word for “faith.” Getting this word down is a key to everything. This brand of faith is not about accepting a tick list of facts. And it isn’t (these are JD Walt’s words) a “kind of lever that we pull in order to make something else happen.”* That’s how you birth heresies like the prosperity gospel.

Faith is the life of Jesus living itself out in me. Fellowship. Friendship. What could be more inviting?  More organic? More real?

“I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for salvation to all who believe …”

Some days, it is just good to be reminded that our part in the equation is simply to believe.

 

* I am grateful for the JD’s daily teachings at http://dailytext.seedbed.com

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What God Thinks

Times like this, wouldn’t you like to know what God thinks?

I’m thinking about that as I reflect on the Supreme Court’s ruling on whether or not same-sex marriages are constitutional.  Their decision was that everyone, regardless of gender preference, should be given the dignity of choice where marriage is concerned.

In the last few days, the Facebook splatter in response to this ruling has been huge. There are people celebrating and people grieving.  All those educated and uneducated opinions leave me hungry to know what God really thinks about all this.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul says if you want to know what God thinks about things, you have to look at what he has made.  Genesis gives us that image, a beautiful picture of mutual servanthood.  In the Genesis story of creation, the woman comes out of the man to give him companionship, and the man comes out of his home to give her companionship.  It isn’t just about physical intimacy.  There is a very deep sense of interrelatedness and interdependence between men and women in this story.  There is a clear sense of God’s intention.

In Genesis, chapter three, that intention gets distorted.  Someone committed the first sin. It was a moment when a human being took his eyes off God and put them on himself and his own aspirations.  A very selfish move.

It turns out that being a little selfish makes a huge difference, like being one letter off on your email address.  We learn that sin doesn’t originate in our relationships to one another.  It originates in our relationship to God; the effect of it ripples out into our relationships with others.

When that relationship with God is broken, all other relationships become distorted.  Everything we’ve lived since that first sin is a distortion of God’s design.  Now, we are all fighting against our fallen human nature, battling manifestations of selfish desire.  None of us is above the sin line.

Let me say that again:  none of us is above the sin line.

When Paul pulls his Jewish worldview up to the table of the New Covenant, he discovers something that would be jaw-dropping for someone like him:  Laws can’t get us above the sin line.  Laws can compel bad people to act good, but laws won’t cure the human condition.  And in that way, laws are powerless.  Laws cannot get us above the sin line because laws can only define our relationship to sin.  They can’t define our relationship to God.

What does define our relationship to God? The answer, I think, is somehow embedded in another event that happened on Friday last week. In Charleston, thousands of people showed up and showed support at the funeral of the pastor and state senator who died in the shooting at his church.  They didn’t show up to protest or wreak havoc, but to support.  A whole state-full of people decided to respond to evil by focusing on grace, not sin, and that has been a compelling witness.

So what defines our relationship to God?  Grace.  Not sin.  When Paul pulled his chair up to the table of grace, this is what he discovered.  He discovered that there is more to this life than just being anti-sin.  And this became his message to the Roman church:  Laws can’t get us there; only grace can.

In fact, if the gospel were to boil down to one word, it would not be someone’s sin.  It would be grace.

It is incredibly presumptuous to insinuate that I know anything at all about what God thinks, but if I were going to make a good guess based on the scriptures, I’d say that God thinks we’re all sinners.  And his starting point with all of us who live below the sin line is grace. In fact, his game plan where our sin is concerned is grace, relationship and holiness. In that order.

That has to be our starting point because that is God’s starting point with all of us who live below the sin line: Grace. Relationship. Holiness.  In that order.  Because laws don’t save. Jesus does.

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Bearing Light

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:3

If you’re like me, you’ve read every article you could get your hands on to help you understand the motive behind the Charleston murders.  The line above from the Gospel of John has surfaced more than once as I’ve searched and read.  There is the sense even in this deep tragedy of God breaking in.

We saw it in an account of what happened in the hour before the killer began shooting.  In the killer’s conversation with those dear souls, circled up for Bible study, it sounds like there was a genuine display of faith as they tried to help him see his way through to another option.  Light.

We saw it in stunning statements made by family members in the courtroom, each of them in turn displaying dignity and sheer obedience to the gospel of Christ as they offered words of forgiveness mixed with grief.  Light.

We saw it in the outpouring of compassion among residents of Charleston, who immediately, adamantly rejected any identification with the deranged values of Dylann Roof.  Light.

We are seeing it now across the country as prayer vigils are organized, gifts taken, practical expressions of love displayed.  We are drawn to stand with those who hurt, to grieve with them, to be outraged by evil not just because we are, but on their behalf.  Light.

And we are seeing it in the spark of conversations about the cracks in our culture that allow this kind of evil to persist.  The persistence of racism, even radical racism; the willing suspension of belief among those not affected by “isms”; the redefining of terrorism to include what happens at home.  These and a thousand other conversations cause us to search our souls and search for answers.  Light.

Moments like this create fresh tension in the Church, causing us to reflect on our effectiveness.  Yes, we know how to pastor well in the aftermath, but are we making a difference on the front end?  On the issues that divide and destroy, are we relevant?  Not in the “wear jeans/ play good music” kind of way, but in the “change the culture/ transform our communities” kind of way?  In our activism, are we exposing the Light?  Or just talking about it?

I don’t know all the ways it will manifest when we’re doing it the way Jesus wants it done, but I am confident, based on Revelation 7:9-10, that it will at least look like all nations, tribes and languages worshiping together, healed and bowing before the Lamb.

Won’t it be something when a deranged shooter has no idea which churches are “white “and which ones are “black,” because we have so realized the Kingdom on earth that those distinctions no longer apply?

That day is still too far off.  The hope in all of this, of course, is that Light wins.  That’s not a cross-your-fingers kind of hope, but an assurance that is yet realized.  We know this, that Light wins.  It is only a question of when, and whether we’ll be able to say when it is all over that we were part of the victory.

Today as I prepare my heart for worship, my prayer is a prayer for the Church:  May we boldly be the Light in every moment of darkness until one day we discover there is no darkness left at all.

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Is Betty Crocker a United Methodist?

Betty Crocker is not real.

She was conjured up by someone at the Washburn Crosby Milling Company who wanted to personalize the responses to baking questions of housewives who wrote in. Betty’s now-famous signature was the result of a signature contest at the company. To produce her face, they called every female employee into the room and had someone draw a composite of all their features.

That face — the one that looks like everyone’s mom — became the face of the world’s first boxed cake mix, so complete that all you had to do was add water. It was supposed to make a perfect cake every time.

Does it get any more convenient than that?

It bombed. Folks who tried it felt like they were contributing nothing to the process. It was too easy; in fact, it was offensive to any serious cook.  Betty’s creators tried again. This time, they asked the customer to add an egg in addition to water.

That worked. The new, improved cake mix (which didn’t actually need the egg) was a huge success.

As I write, I’m sitting in North Georgia’s United Methodist Annual Conference. It is a voting year. The delegates for which we will vote will go to General Conference in 2016 to represent 9.5 million United Methodists globally. There will be decisions made at that General Conference that will likely radically affect the future of our denomination. There are serious issues of disagreement among those 9.5 million members, so we are all taking the election of these delegates very seriously.

Knowing what is at stake, I notice an undercurrent in the hallways of our Annual Conference. “Can’t we all just get along? Can’t we agree to disagree? Can’t we just be a family, with all its dysfunctions and crazy uncles?

This is a very United Methodist question. For decades, our denomination has stretched to make room for a widening array of opinions and theological perspectives. We’ve somehow made room for conservatives and liberals, universalists and literalists, traditionalists and charismatics. Every time we’ve flexed to include another perspective it is as if we’ve added another face to the picture. We have allowed ourselves to become the Gospel According to Betty Crocker — a composite of everyone’s theological profile.

Pleasing, non-offensive. Just add water.

That hasn’t worked for us, any more than it worked for Betty. At the end of the day, all the blending — as well-intentioned as it has been — has made us something so generic, pleasant and convenient that we are unpalatable to the rest of the world. Our numbers bear this out. We’ve taken the edge off the personality. It is a downright shame, because Wesleyanism was so edgy when it was Wesley preaching it. We were distinctive enough to get kicked out of places.  Today, I’m not sure we could get kicked out of anything.

Like I said, a shame.

I won’t be going to General Conference, but I am praying that those who do go will hear the wisdom of angels: Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid. I’m praying for voices in that room audacious enough to suggest creative alternatives to simply placating every opinion and stripe. I’m also praying for folks with courage to confess our differences and spiritual maturity to consider if unity at all costs has integrity (I’m not convinced it does).

I am praying for Spirit-led minds at General Conference who want to do more than “just add water” — keeping us conveniently bound to the most generic face possible.

That face is not a fair representation of anyone’s gospel. It simply isn’t real.

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Holiness? Really?

Isn’t the very idea of holiness offensive in a 21st-century, no-holds-barred world? Shouldn’t that term be reserved for angry church ladies who want to suck all the fun out of life?  Isn’t it for the few, the angry … them?  Surely it isn’t for us who live in the 21st century.

As it turns out, holiness is the very character of a loving, creative, joyful, joy-giving God, who has told us that because he is holy, we can be holy, too.

If holiness is the character of God, then surely it is also the prevailing quality at work in the good life, a life we are invited to enjoy as God has designed it. It is not a list of rules or an engineered life that keeps us from sinning, but an art form and a pathway to joy, with as many expressions and approaches to life as there are people.

Far from being restrictive and fun-sapping, holiness is the ultimate form of freedom.  And it is worth talking about because it calls out the best in us and causes us – when we live it well – to glorify God.  Holiness is at least this: a design of life that exposes us most fully to the heart of God.

As I come to the middle of my life, I’ve been thinking a lot (as it seems most folks do at this stage of life) about how to make the most of this “second half.”  I’ve been searching my spirit and asking questions like:  Which spiritual gifts have risen to the surface, and which ones have run their course?  What is the message that speaks most deeply to me … and through me?  What places and people do I want to pour into?

I don’t have all my answers, but a few of them are surfacing and among them, I hear the word holiness.  Not just as a lifestyle, but as a message.  As a way of approaching life so that the fullness of it — the treasure of it — is exposed.

I expect that will be a recurring theme threading its way through the writings on this site.  I’m praying that life — mine and a few others — will be enhanced by the venture.

What does the word holiness call to mind for you?  Do you hear it as a negative or a positive?  How does it help you to think about holiness as an art form?

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