The spiritual failure to love

“The spiritual stature of a person’s life is measured by love, which in the end remains ‘the criterion for the definitive decision about a human life’s worth or lack thereof.'” — Pope Francis, On Fraternity and Social Friendship

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The dangerous prayer

The prayer of forgiveness is the dangerous prayer. It is the most shocking action taken by God.

Instead of forgiveness, our generation has been taught the vague notion of tolerance. The is, at best, a low-grade parody of forgiveness. At worst, it’s a way of sweeping the real issues in human life under the carpet. If the father (in the story of the Prodigal Son) had intended merely to tolerate the son, he would not have been running down the road to meet him. Forgiveness is richer and higher and harder and more shocking than we usually think. — NT Wright, The Lord and His Prayer

Jesus came and made forgiveness an action. He made it real time. Those who received the forgiveness of God were then given a shocking task: practice it on others.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Thank God we don’t pray, “Tolerate us as we tolerate those among us who just aren’t thinking the same as us!”

Forgiveness is powerful and it has been extended to us. The task is to now extend it to others.

Pray dangerous prayers!

Being people of hope

N.T. Wright leaves us with a powerful reminder of our call as the Church in his book, Surprised by Scripture. 

The mission of the church is to drag people into buildings or to run raffles or issues statements.

At some point having a place to worship, having funding, and stating beliefs do matter, but it’s not core to what the Church is about.

…the mission of the church is to be for the world what Jesus was for Israel — a mission that will send us back to the four Gospels again and again, not only to be amazed by the power and love of God but to draw down that power and love, through prayer and the Holy Spirit, so that we can be Jesus people for the world, kingdom people for the world, forgiveness people for the world.

It is to live in forgiveness, not mere tolerance. And with forgiveness comes “an implacable refusal to collude with sin, with violence or prejudice or spite…” If there is something that will deface and corrupt God’s good and beautiful creation, as the people of God we don’t want anything to do with it.

What we CAN offer this world is the forgiveness and love of Christ. It is a love that calls the sinner out and says, “You really don’t need to live that way anymore. You are capable of so much more.”

We CAN offer this world works of justice, acts of kindness, hope of healing, and a willingness to walk with anyone through their doubt as they truly search for a way that is better in their life.

The powerful hope of the Kingdom for this world isn’t found in the headlines. It isn’t even found in social media most of the time. The powerful hope of the Kingdom is found in people who anonymously go into hard places to serve in ways no one sees. They reach out to prisoners. They feed the homeless. They sit with dying patients when no family is left to see them… On and on. It is in the corridors of power where people will quietly meet with those in power are are so lonely… and NOT take a picture to post on Facebook. People who will simply be with them to hear their struggles and walk them through some hard decisions.

Powerful hope of the Kingdom is found in the out of the way places where no one goes. We feel good making a hashtag about Nigerian girls, but there are so many in that zone trying to simply live out hope and healing to the families that are left behind. Unsung heroes. True hope.

There is probably someone in your life today needing that hope and forgiveness. They’ve stumbled… again… and they will probably stumble again next week. A phone call, a card, a visit today would be life to them.

Bring hope and healing. And leave the social media out of it this time.

The power of forgiveness in Charleston mystifies our culture

On and on the pundits go, on the left and on the right, as to how something about that act of forgiveness the family members of the shooting in Charleston extended to the killer isn’t right!

It’s not a matter of some “order” to forgive. It’s not a matter of the killer accepting it. It is about the power to forgive. And no conservative or liberal outside the grace of Jesus Christ really seems to get it. (At least not anyone with a computer and blog to post.)

This article gives a great explanation for the power of forgiveness and is worth the time to read.

A couple of key thoughts from the author:

I do not think I could forgive Roof. Forgiveness is not a burden I would place on anyone in the situation of those families. We should reject all calls from those who wish to sweep under the rug the culture and systems of racism that infect people like Roof. We should reject all calls to make excuses for the evil Roof actively embraced and acted upon. He was no passive actor. He was more than simply a result of cultural, economic, or social circumstances. He had agency. And his actions were evil.

But we should also reject all calls to strip the agency and dignity from the mourning families as well. I am not mature enough in the faith to so quickly pass the burden of judgment to God. But I am inspired by those family members to grow in that direction. I am a Christian because of the black church and black faith. When I was far from God, it was the unashamedly Christian black culture, movies, and music of people like Lauryn Hill and Fred Hammond that introduced me to Jesus. It is the black church that so consistently embodies the confounding, radical love of Jesus. What other American community today displays less shame, less reservation, less self-awareness about proclaiming the Christian faith? I will not turn the Bride of the living Christ into a cultural artifact.

We have so much to learn, and these precious families can teach us. But they are doing it without shouting, without the normal trappings of “protest,” without a lot of things we are used to these days. Are we listening?

His kingdom is NOT of this world

It is still amazing to me how the powerful forgiveness demonstrated by the families of the Emanuel AME members who were slain a week ago.

Some reactions are very real with emotion. They can’t forgive. That makes sense. There are atrocities that hit and we think, “I just can’t do it.” It’s an emotional response that is real.

Others have said if you’re a family member, you can’t forgive because only the one offended can issue forgiveness. In the same vein, someone wrote if the killer isn’t repentant, he can’t be forgiven.

It is all reflective of a reality: we don’t understand the Kingdom of God. We don’t get “his rules.” And it leaves us scratching our heads. We want vengeance. We want bitterness. We want to hold on and hope that somehow destroys the offender.

But that is the difference in kingdoms. Kingdom allegiance to Jesus quite simply has a different sent of principles and they aren’t easily understood by the kingdoms of this world.

Forgiveness frees people. It doesn’t mean the killer goes to heaven. That’s between him and God. It does mean those family members walk in a freedom that can’t be explained… or understood… by a lot of other people.

His kingdom is NOT of this world.

The astonishing power of forgiveness

Two articles I came across the last couple of days completely missed the power of the Church and forgiveness. One from the “left” and the other from the “right.”

One column declared blacks need to quit forgiving white racists.

Forgiveness has become a requirement for those enduring the realities of black death in America.

That misses the power of forgiveness found in the church. Not just a black church. ANY church. It is the Church in Syria praying for ISIS as their churches are leveled.

We don’t excuse racism. I’m tired, as a white evangelical, of excusing racism. I won’t stand for it any more. But to forgive is not a “requirement” of just one race. It is something powerful through the grace of Jesus that brings healing and salvation. It may not do anything for the one “needing” forgiveness, like the racist thug sitting in a jail in South Carolina, but it releases the one offended into a new freedom.

And, then, of course, is the standard conservative, “You won’t get my guns!” response. 

It’s really an ad for Smith and Wesson, et al, but nonetheless, it’s the standard, “If someone in that church had been packin’…”

My suggestion is that you and your loved ones practice concealed carry and become your own first responders — immediately. Purchase a Glock, a Smith & Wesson a Sig or a Ruger handgun (American made). Take lessons from an NRA certified instructor. Get a concealed carry license if one is required in your state. Train with your new firearm religiously (as if your life depended on it), and carry it on your person religiously (as if your life depended on it).

It would seem this is self-evident as to why this is just garbage in the context of the Church, but I have come to realize nothing is self-evident these days.

To shave this down to a matter of gun rights and say it would have been different if someone had a gun in that sanctuary misses the point of CHURCH. It misses the point of SANCTUARY.

Tragedy happens. Racist hatred rose up and pulled the trigger that killed nine believers willing to love a white kid coming into their doors.

Call it naive. But that SHOULD be the way of the Church.

On the left and on the right in the political world, they will once again devolve into standard arguments and nothing will be done. We will continue to NOT talk about racism if we dig our entrenchments deeper and keep lobbing these political grenades.

What unbelievers don’t realize (and it should be JUST unbelievers, but I keep getting shocked by believers who just give bumper sticker answers to this event) is that the Church IS different. There is the reality of hatred in this world against a believer for just being a believer, or for a believer being a certain race.

To the “conservative,” gun-packing crowd, realize there just aren’t enough guns to be had to protect believers who truly follow the way of Christ from being attacked. Someone could have been packin’ in Emanuel AME that night, but that’s one church. And they CHOSE not to pack. They CHOSE to love. It is risk. And Jesus was all about risk.

And let me veer off into yet another rabbit trail while I’m at it. For all the conservatives who say someone should have been packin’ that night… just think about it. A BLACK MAN carrying a gun in South Carolina. How long you think THAT is going to go well? (I just had to get that out.)

It’s not about “packin'” or not “packin'”. It’s about choosing a better way. A way of peace. A way that risks and puts your life on the line, but it’s the risk believers take. The right to “carry” wouldn’t go over that well in Syria, either, by the way. The cry could be to give every church in Syria a tank and it still wouldn’t overcome the hatred of ISIS. And that’s not the point, anyway. The POINT is to live out the power of the Kingdom on this earth, which doesn’t make sense by this world’s standards.

Which brings me to the “liberal” voice of “quit forgiving.” Forgiveness has a power that can’t be explained in the courts or the capitals of our nations. It’s beyond politics.

I am deeply angered by racism and sincerely hope this thug gets his due. Forgiving him doesn’t get him off the hook. He may continue to spit at any black man walking by him. That’s not the point.

The call of forgiveness for the believer is FOR the believer. It is the call of release of spirit. If I don’t forgive, I tighten my hand into a fist and hold onto the offense. If my hand is bound up in a fist, then I can’t receive the next thing from God. But if I release the offense in forgiveness, my hand is open to receive the next good thing from my heavenly Father.

We must STILL deal with racism. The power to forgive the killer isn’t the same as saying, “Go ahead and be racist. I can deal with it.”

Forgive, but let’s get to the work of dealing with racism as well! THAT is what I want to rise to in my own life now. Forgive, but RAGE against injustice!

Don’t excuse. But forgive. It’s not a black thing. It’s a Jesus thing.

And the world won’t get it.

The Capacity of Growth in the Kingdom of God

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt. 6:14-15, NLT)

These are a couple of verse we like to skip when we go through the Lord’s Prayer, but they are two of the most important, especially within the context of the Sermon on the Mount.

I look at these verses with a picture of a closed fist and open hand in mind. In the Lord’s Prayer we are to ASK for forgiveness. We ask for that FIRST, before we ask for the ability to forgive others, because we need to realize our own shortcomings and failings first. We need to remember our great capacity to screw up and then remember since God forgave US… we should be able to extend forgiveness to others.

If we want to hold on to grudges and anger and grief, we live life with a closed fist. When we have a clenched fist and someone hands us something, we have no ability to receive what they are giving us. To receive what is being handed to us, we have to let go of what is there… release it… then reach out to receive what is being offered.

To receive God’s forgiveness toward us, we need to live in the power of RELEASE. We have to let go of the hurt.

This weekend I find myself in those situations. I am actually thrown back 20 years to one of the most horrible periods in my life. Check that. THE most horrible period in my life. And it was a mess of my own making.

In that mess I learned some very powerful lessons. I learned that it is the enemy who keeps us from confessing sin. We make excuses about “the Church” and how it hurts us, and I learned that is just a lie of the enemy. The enemy whispers, “They won’t forgive you. They will judge you.”

Some people could not forgive me. But I found amazing forgiveness among people I honestly thought would hate me forever. I don’t begrudge people NOT “forgiving” me or “letting it go.” What blows me away was the capacity of the Church, that place we always blame for being mean, to get me back in and let healing flow.

I also learned in my own life that the farther away I get from that horrible place in my life, the more I need to be reminded of it from time to time to walk in the pattern of forgiveness myself. I need to remember the amazing capacity of key people in my life to keep on loving me, even when I had nearly destroyed them. Then, I need to walk with THAT capacity to love and forgive.

It doesn’t change the facts. The hurt is still there. But there is a big difference between feeling the hurt of a tiny little sting and the hurt of some big gash in your arm. The power of forgiveness helps ease up the hurt.

I want my capacity in the Kingdom to continually increase. For that to happen, I need my hand OPEN… not clenched around the anger of my personal pain. Easy? Not by a long shot. Possible? Only through the power of grace in the Kingdom of God.

Narcissicistic Christianity

I admire people who write well, and say things I try to say. When I write them it’s just not very fluid.

This post on “Jesus and me broke up” is outstanding. It encapsulates my thoughts on what is going wrong in American Christianity. We have a Christianity that isn’t about Jesus. It’s about “me.” There is a power that is about living in Christ. His resurrection. His death. We need to remember it is NOT about us! It IS about him! HIS glory! HIS kingdom.

This paragraph stands out:

“The same Jesus who gave himself again to his disciple after they had contributed to the process by which he was killed, this same Jesus was concerned (prior to his death) that he be remembered precisely for and in his death. This is my body broken for you. This is my blood shed for you. Do this to remember me! The Jesus of Christian faith is not an invisible psychological aid. The experience of resurrection is this: living he confronts us with his death. He wants us to know him as a man who poured himself out for the world and also as a man who was broken by the world. This death is the culmination of the person and it is this that determines whatever kind of ‘relationship’ we might have with him.”

We don’t need a “relationship” like WE know that word! It’s not just a “romance.” I need to be confronted by a holy God and WORSHIP him. It is like the story of Peter the day the Lord told him to cast his nets on the other side of the boat. When the huge haul came in, Peter’s response was, “Get away from me! I’m not worthy!” He had encountered the holy. It like Isaiah in Isaiah 6. We are confronted and we cry, “I am unclean!”

YES, we are then given access. But we should then keep a holy response. We live in the power of the Kingdom… YES! We are called to cast out demons… YES! Heal the sick… YES! But let’s not turn that into a sloppy relationship where we just take advantage of a still holy God.

It is not about narcissicistic romance. It’s not this relationship where we cry to God, “What have you done for me lately?”

It is about being confronted with our offense, then touched by forgiveness. It’s not about romance. It’s about discipleship.