Joy is a mark of holy living.

The Institute for Ethics at Duke University did an online survey of about 1500 people as part of a project designed to measure the morality quotient of Americans. They asked people to rate how likely they’d be to do certain morally questionable things. Like, kick a dog in the head. As it turns out (happily), seven of eight respondents would refuse to do that and in fact, would turn down any amount of money up to $1 million to kick Fido in the noggin.

However, half of the participants said they could be motivated to throw a rotten tomato at a politician they dislike. For free. I guessing not all those respondents are pagans.

(Surely, you’ve heard the old joke about the shipwreck survivor they discovered on an uncharted island. The ship that spotted him sent a rescue team to shore and found the man alone among three huts. They asked what the three huts were for, since there was no one else around. The survivor explained, “Well, I live in one and go to church in another.” “What about the third hut, then?” asked a rescue team member. “Oh, that,” growled the man. “That’s where I used to go to church.”)

Lots of us haven’t managed to master Paul’s advice: “As far as it depends on you, live peaceably” (Romans 12:18).

But you say, “You don’t know what this person did to me. You don’t know my circumstance — how hard I’ve had it and how much it hurts.” But if it all depends on circumstance, we are right back to a works-based religion, the kind Paul said kills spirits. If your acceptance of me depends on me, I’m sunk. I can’t be that good. If your acceptance of me is grounded in what Jesus has done for you, there’s hope.

Because, frankly, you haven’t been that good, either.

This is great news on two fronts: I don’t have to wait for folks to act right so I can have peace; nor do circumstances control my capacity for joy. C. S. Lewis, in his book, Christian Maturity, writes this:

“The real Christian is the most natural person in the world. He has natural joys, natural gaiety, natural laughter, natural culture, natural grace—he is a man reduced to simple naturalness. When one is not living the Christian way all his pleasures have to be induced—induced by entertainment from without, by liquor, by stimulation of various kinds. They have to try to have a good time. I don’t try to have a good time—I just have one, naturally and normally. A simple, bubbling gaiety from within, what Rufus Moseley called “the Divine frisky.” As you get cleaned up and cleaned out within, you develop a hair-trigger laugh—one with which you can laugh at yourself if you cannot laugh at anything else.”

How attractive that is! To be known for the infectiousness of your laugh rather than the accuracy of your tomato-tossing, to have your mood drawn up from deeper wells than whatever has just happened. Wouldn’t it be something to be known for that, rather than the contentiousness and moodiness that too often define our average, proud lives? Don’t you think this is what Jesus was after when he called us to live his commandments, “that my joy may be in you, that your joy may be full” (John 15:11)?

Joy is a mark of holy living.

I’m “convicted,” as they say, by the stunning gap that separates my reality from this vision, but I’m also smitten by this notion of “the Divine frisky.” I’d like to be known for my capacity to find joy in any circumstance, to be at peace whatever the cost to my pride.

I’d like them to say at my funeral, “She had the best laugh!”

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Read this because it is Wednesday

On this Wednesday, may we be reminded that we who follow Jesus are part of something bigger than ourselves — something grandly sufficient that has come among us, that offers even to dwell within us.

The Kingdom of Heaven is big. Remember these things and be glad:

The Kingdom is more concerned with effectiveness than efficiency. I’m thinking of the story of the woman who came to Jesus when he was eating supper at the home of a leper (which you just have to love about him). This woman walked into the room and proceeded to pour very expensive oil over his head. Someone said, “She ought not be wasting that expensive perfume in that way. We could be feeding poor people with that money.” And Jesus said, “The poor are not going anywhere. You will always them have among you. What this woman is doing right now is beautiful and from here out wherever the gospel is preached, what she has done will be talked about, in memory of her.”

He was right. I’m blogging about her now, two thousand years later. Her story teaches me that resources are not the issue; in fact, our problem may be that we are not generous enough with our resources. We get stingy and try to hang on to what we have in the name of efficiency. The Kingdom is not about efficiency. It is about effectiveness.

The Kingdom is rich. I am not a fan of the prosperity gospel, but I know we don’t trust enough in God’s provision. God made everything and he has the power to shift resources into the path of Kingdom work when people are following Jesus. He does it over and over again. Resources are not the problem. Faithfulness is the problem.

The Kingdom is generous. Kingdom people understand hard soil and sow there any way. And we keep sowing because the results are not ultimately up to us. Growth is God’s job.

The Kingdom engages in the battle. This is the macro story of the Bible. The enemy hates what God loves and is intent on destroying it. There is a battle being waged on the spiritual plane over everything – over every person, all creation, all goodness, all love. It is a lot like the way a real war works. In a physical war, there are people who sit at desks in offices thousands of miles from the front line, saving the world one email at a time. And there are also snipers sitting on rooftops taking aim at enemies who are taking aim at them. Both the emailers and the snipers are in the war, but one of them feels it a lot more intensely.

It is the same with our spiritual lives. There are parts of our lives that are so comfortable that it is hard to make anything spiritual out of them, and then there are parts that feel the battle very intensely. But all of us are in it. The great news in this war (for those who trust Christ) is that the Kingdom of God wins.

The Kingdom goal is fruitfulness. The goal of the Kingdom is not just seed-tossing but fruitfulness. We are wired to have a purpose in this life that bears fruit, so hear this: The purpose of your life is not to provide a paycheck or make a bigger nest egg. It is not to have a bigger house or better phone or more impressive resume. The purpose of your life is not to feed the two inches that make up this life on your timeline, but to bear fruit for eternity.

C. S. Lewis once said, “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither.” On days when the small things seem big, when there are more questions than answers, it is healthy to step back and take better aim. Have you forgotten how big the Kingdom of Heaven is? I wonder how it might change the spiritual atmosphere of your home, your church, your ministry, your week, this moment, if you stopped where you are, right now, put your hands in the air and confessed, “God, I forgot how big!”*

 

*I borrow this image from a scene in Joe vs. The Volcano. It remains among my all-time favorite movie scenes.

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Who wouldn’t want to be a universalist? (and why I’m not)

Who wouldn’t want to believe everybody wins — that in the end, God doesn’t have the heart to leave anyone behind?

That my non-believing uncle who drank himself to death and my friend who worships the sun god and even my neighbor who believes in nothing but who’s really nice and serves at the soup kitchen every Thursday … who wouldn’t want to believe that all of them will end up in Heaven one day?

It would make life simpler, wouldn’t it?

Universalism cloaks itself in love and acceptance, accusing those who don’t agree with it of being narrow, rigid, angry, unloving. “Love wins,” it urges. “Can’t we all just get along?”

We ought to be all for it. It would be a whole lot easier on all of us if we could skip that part about truth being absolute, basing our choices instead on moment and mood. It would free up a lot of time in my week. Church is fun, but not that fun. Coffee and a good newsfeed in yoga pants is also fun; so is sleeping late.

I was ordained alongside someone who called himself a universalist and was stunned that no one had a problem with that. He also considered himself a Christian (a Christian pastor, at that) but didn’t believe Jesus cared what choice we make about truth. That’s the thing about universalism. It is predestination’s odd other half. Jesus will send you to heaven whether you want to go or not. Choice is out the window just as surely as if your salvation was determined before your birth. As a theology it isn’t Christian.

Which means it isn’t Wesleyan. Methodists are not universalists.

Which is not to say that a person doesn’t have a right to believe an “all dogs go to heaven” theology. They just don’t have a right to believe that and call themselves Christian. To do so is to offend the tenets of both worldviews. In fact, one who claims all religions lead to the same God offends all of us. No self-respecting Muslim wants to be lumped together in the same theological basket with a Hindu or Christian. The belief systems are entirely different. We prove ourselves both ignorant and disrespectful when we minimize the differences.

Far from being a better brand of good news, universalism leaves us without any gospel at all. It is the opposite of truth, making truth itself a relative state, which makes it an extremely dangerous ideology.

Universalism is a theological anarchy that leaves us without purpose. Without choice. Without life.

Here’s the choice on the table: Either Jesus was right and he is our Messiah or he was wrong and (as Paul said) we are silliest looking people in the world.

That’s the choice.

C. S. Lewis said, “Either this [Jesus] was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

On the issue of salvation and ultimate truth, Jesus himself said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus defined his terms clearly: the way of the cross is the way of salvation.

So what do we do with that? Because after all, I’m still left with a sorry uncle, a flighty friend, a charitable-but-athiestic neighbor. What happens to them? We don’t much like thinking of the Father’s house without everyone we love in it. How do we make peace with the alternative?

First, it is important to remember something I’ve said in another recent post: Those of us who are committed to absolute truth (and that Jesus is truth) also believe deep in our spirits that the people we like and the people we have feelings for and the people for which we have great compassion and the people we want to see living holy lives and the people we want to see in Heaven are NOT the authors of our faith.

The author of our faith is Jesus Christ.

We have a Person-centered faith, not a people-centered faith.

Second, the fact that we love people who believe differently than us should be our trigger to pray for them more fervently. In his answer to the question, “How can I be happy in Heaven if someone I loved deeply on Earth doesn’t make it to Heaven?” Peter Kreeft said this:

The simplest and most important answer to this question is this: If there is someone you love and identify with so deeply that you cannot imagine being happy in eternity without him or her, and that someone seems now to be in peril of being unsaved, then use the relationship that God’s providence has ordained for you. Tell God that he has to arrange for this person’s salvation as he has arranged for yours, because this person is a real part of you, and for you as a whole to be saved, this person has to come along, just as your own body and emotions have to come along. It need not be a wheedling or blackmail prayer; it can be a simple presentation of the facts, like [when Mary said to Jesus at a wedding], “They have no more wine.” Let God do his thing: it is always more loving, more gracious and more effective than our thing, more than we can ever imagine or desire. Trust him to use your earthly love as a channel, supernatural and/or natural, of grace and salvation for your friend. Your very question, your very problem, is the clue to its answer. God put that burden on your heart for a reason: for you to fulfill.

Grace, truth and love meet in this place. When we let God do his thing — not minimizing it but trusting it — he will always do a better job than us. When we trust that God loves people every bit as much as us (more, in fact), we will gladly beat a path to his door on behalf of those we love.

Don’t take away the truth. Instead, allow it to do its work.

That is how love wins.

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Grace is not for wimps.

C. S. Lewis said you’ll either love Jesus or you’ll hate him. There is no in-between. “… Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.”

That choice creates a tension that causes some to build crosses and draw swords and fire guns at people who fall at his feet in worship.

Christianity claims more followers — and more martyrs — than any other religion.  Consider these stats*:

  • More Christians were martyred in the 20th century than in all other centuries combined.
  • Currently over 100 million Christians are being persecuted worldwide.
  • North Korea continues to be the worst country in the world for persecution.
  • Open Doors (a watchdog and advocacy organization for persecuted Christians) estimates that more than 12,500 Christians have been killed in religion related violence in northern Nigeria between 2006 and 2014, including one whole village that was massacred. Boko Haram violence has claimed most of those lives.
  • It is also estimated that Boko Haram related violence has displaced more than 500,000 Christians in northern Nigeria.
  • In 2015, Islamic State released a video showing what is believed to be the execution of 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya. Subtitles refer to the men as “worshippers of the cross belonging to the hostile Ethiopian church.”
  • Iran’s parliament believes Muslims who change their faith should be put to death.
  • In India, up to 70,000 Christians in Orissa have been forced to flee their homes in riots.
  • In Indonesia, in the two years between 2000-2002, Muslims slaughtered 10,000 Christians.
  • In Vietnam a new law restricts the growth of Christian churches and violence is on the rise.
  • Nepal has laws in place to restrict religion; a constitutional change last year bans all religious conversions.
  • Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka all have laws restricting religion.
  • Half of Iraq’s Christians have fled the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
  • Under Islamist pressure, Coptic Christians in Egypt are being forced from their homes.
  • A February video showed Islamic State killing 20 Coptic Christians from Egypt and one Ghanaian.
  • By 2012, most of the 80,000 Christians in Homs, Syria had been ‘cleansed’ from their homes.
  • In Europe, persecution is becoming a reality through “equality directives.” In 2011, France passed a law banning prayer in public streets — a reaction against the growing Muslim population.
  • Seventy percent of the world’s population lives in a religiously intolerant environment.
  • Christians are the most persecuted religious group worldwide. An average of at least 180 Christians around the world are killed each month for their faith.
  • Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Christ.
  • In 41 of the 50 worst nations for persecution, Christians are being persecuted by Islamic extremists.

The moral of all these stories is simple: Grace is not for wimps. Grace forces us to choose. It isn’t weak or soft. It comes in truth, in power, in supernatural connections. It creates wonders and signs and it offends people who have no room for the supernatural in their lives.

You can’t kill it, though it is intent on destroying everything in you that won’t fit in the Kingdom of God. Be clear on that when you sign up, because grace has no intention of leaving you as you are. Grace is God giving us every option, opening every door, showing us every gate of Heaven. Grace is “God For Us” so completely that there is no room or tolerance for even a shred of our sin, unholy comforts or complacencies.

The goal of grace is the realized Kingdom of Heaven. It is bent completely toward seeing the answer to Jesus’ own prayer: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.”

Whatever the cost.

Grace is not for wimps but worth the risk. To live a life so anchored in truth and power and prayer, so anchored in the truth that there is more to this life than simply staying alive at any cost, so anchored in grace that nothing rocks the boat — that is worth living for.

And worth dying for.

 

*Facts documented either by the U.S. Department of State, a reputable news organization or Open Doors, a watch-dog and support group for persecuted Christians.

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Isn’t this supposed to be fun?

When you’ve seen one, the next one becomes easier to spot.

That’s how C. S. Lewis begins to describe (in his seminal work, Mere Christianity) a new kind of person — a breed, he says, that begins where most of us leave off:

“Their very voices and faces are different from ours: stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. … They will not be very like the idea of ‘religious people’ … They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. … They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. … they recognize one another immediately and infallibly … In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun.”

It is that last line that most stuns us, that is too often overlooked in this pursuit of holiness. To become holy must be great fun.

How have we missed this detail (which is not a detail at all)?

How have we come to define holiness as all the things we don’t do, rather than the rich treasure of possibility it is?  This is the yearning of one who orients toward life from a desire to live a more holy existence. It is the cry to be something more — more love, more joy, more peace, more Presence, more perfect. Not in the sense of gaining perfection on our own strength, but in the sense that this life can be more.

As Lewis also says, “The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. [God] is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. … He meant what he said. Those who put themselves in His hands will become perfect, as He is perfect — perfect in love, wisdom, joy, beauty, and immortality.”

I’m reading this and thinking about my own spiritual disciplines.  The great surprise, I’m discovering, is just how easy it is to master the first few verses of 1 Corinthians 13 (“If I have prophetic powers … if I have faith so as to move mountains …”) , without sufficient attention to the heart of that poem (“Love is patient and kind …”).

It is humbling (and a little deflating) to admit just how much easier it is to be spiritually disciplined than it is to pay sufficient attention to the goal of love. Paul has warned me over and over that without love, all the rest of it is senseless noise. He teaches me that as I orient my life toward love privately, it will show up publicly. How can I reorient my spiritual life so that more love is exposed?  So that I begin to take delight in letting the love flow — in my prayers, in my serving, in my reading, in my journaling?  I ask this question recognizing just how far I have to go.

So then, that is my prayer for the coming season: that I will become one of those people who is easy to spot — so infused with patience and kindness, so obviously lacking in jealousy, envy or pride, that they will say of me, “Doesn’t she love well?”

And just as often, “Doesn’t she seem to be having fun?”

 

*From Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity.

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