To the Ones Who Left [Dear Church]

The other day I read an article by John Pavlovitz over at  To Save a Life. It was another one of those “Dear Church,” letters about how the church is failing everyone, posed from the perspective of someone who has left the church #itsnotmeitsyou. And I know, I’ve read article after article from both perspectives and usually they are so utterly painful – the church is confused and angry, the people are hurt and vengeful, et cetera, it all turns into a blame-game somewhere in the middle no matter how well it turned out. And I mean, before I knock it too much I’ll tell you I found John’s article a fair bit more relatable than others. But it got me thinking, so here (and I never dreamed I would be writing my own but…) is my rebuttal:

Dear Church:

You’re Not Who You Think You Are

You see, Church, you think you’re the wounded martyrs on the outside dying for the revolution, damaged by the dis-compassionate machinery of the institution, the ‘ones who left,’ but you’re wrong – divorcing Jesus isn’t as easy as walking out of a building, and marrying Him wasn’t as complicated as walking into one. You see, you don’t think you belong to the Church any more because of a disconnect with your local body (or maybe a series of local bodies). For whatever reason, you left and now it’s easier to disassociate completely from everything you left behind and get caught up in an ‘us-vs-them’ mentality–I’ve been there.

But whatever the reason you left, regardless of where you place the blame or how you choose to express the emotions we’ve all felt coming away from a broken system that was supposed to work, the truth is you are still part of the Church, and Jesus is still preparing his bride–including you and the congregation(s) you’ve left–spotless and without blemish. So the question is, Church…

Who are you going to look like?

And I’m not trying to invalidate your experience because I know it’s real but Church… hurt, angry letters flying back and forth to at one another? This ought not to be! You won’t bring about transformation that way, only rally more damaged people to your misdirected causes. I feel division and disunity when I see these back and forth articles from one to the other, some new barbed arrow of truth each time, but the revolution isn’t about being right, it’s about experiencing love, grace and compassion for one another so strongly you would be willing to give up your life for those people you left–or the people who left you (because the truth is, you can’t say Church without talking to both sides).

The truth is if you really want to leave the Church then you’re going to have to leave Jesus, because He still connects us even when we’re too disgruntled to attend each others’ “Christianity shows” people like to think of as “church service”. The truth is it isn’t ‘your’ responsibility alone, it isn’t ‘our’ responsibility alone; there’s no ‘them or us’ going on here because Christ is still alive – the Kingdom still stands – and ‘you’ are still a part of it just as much as ‘we’ are.

So Church, you’ve outlined all the problems. You’ve passed the blame further than the offering plate will ever go. But are you prepared to dig deep, to hit the trenches and stand and fight for your brothers and sisters instead of with them? Are you prepared to rise where others have fallen, to bring unity back to the Bride and see the Church like Jesus sees her? Build bridges instead of theses on why ‘church’ isn’t working anymore (or why people leaving her is excusable). Because I’ll tell you one thing: as long as it’s ‘us-vs-them’ between the members of Christ’s very body, the Church at large is missing her mission.

After I left my church I was advised to completely cut off from the people I left behind, and at the time it sounded like good advice, and in most toxic situations it would be–but we’re talking about the Church here; if you can’t handle Christians, how can you seek and save lost people?

To The Learned Haters

A wordless Thing has been rattling around in my mind for quite some time. It has come out in bits and pieces in the past but never, I don’t think, fully. It comes to me now in a string of happenings.

Justin Beiber. There, I said it – I’m weighing in. But not in the way you might think. Actually, I’ve vaguely followed Justin’s career for a few years for a few reasons I’ll get to a little later. The question I’d like to pause and ponder now is where has all the hate come from? Mindless, tasteless hate (as if there were any other kind?) And I’m not just talking about people who don’t profess Christianity.

On Wednesday the missionaries were all out going door-to-door with the warmer weather; we got a visit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons all in one day (way to co-ordinate, guys). I happened to be the one to answer the door to both and had a very brief but not unfriendly visit with the JW’s, and a little more lengthy stop-in from three young Mormon elders. To be honest (and particularly in the case of the Mormons, who couldn’t have been older than myself) my curiosity was piqued not because of what they were offering but because of the chinks in the pre-rehearsed lines they must have been running to people all day that showed personality and human-ness underneath.

And I’m still interested to know how they’ve all experienced Jesus, even though I know that the systems of belief they come from have distorted views of him. My wife was (albeit pleasantly) surprised at how cordial I had been, but expressed the concern that being friendly to ‘those people’ only encourages future encounters. The overlying question on my mind is, why have we as Christians bought into the bias that people of differing beliefs are justifiably worthy of being shunned, or made the brunt of jokes and subjects of our distaste? (I hesitate to say ‘hate’, but is that really far out?) Why is it so far out and unexpected to be friendly?

It might be that this stay-at-home introvert has become a lot more socially seasoned over the last year, but I find myself wondering more and more about the walls traditional behavior has built. A little over a year ago I encountered someone who I made a pretty bad impression of. The other day I caught myself thinking, “Hey this guy’s not so bad…” and honestly, I’m more than a little unsettled about my initial reaction. And I’ve met others that many people shun and avoid for obvious reason but my question is how is there any degree of fallen humanity fallen enough that any Christian could justify ignorance–as if fallen humanity weren’t our  very commision?

So back to Justin Beiber.

As I’ve said, I’ve followed Justin’s career for a while. Sure, I never cared much for his music (not that I’ve ever heard anything that terrible), but wasn’t it in the least bit obvious to anyone what kind of a platform God would have over Justin’s (and my) generation if he let God use him? And I say that in lofty, almost religious terms but what I really mean is, what if Justin’s relationship with Jesus overflowed out of him onto millions and millions of young people? What if he became so radically in love with Jesus that they couldn’t help but see Jesus in him? That’s just a little piece of the vision I had to begin with.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter how you feel about Justin Beiber. It doesn’t matter that you hate his music and want to murder him as much as he has (allegedly) murdered some ear drums. It doesn’t matter if you think his frail relationship with Jesus is theologically full of holes because he doesn’t have all the answers or understandings that you do. The truth is, I’ve heard some profound things come out of Justin’s mouth a lot of older Christians may be a long way from coming to terms with. The truth is, God’s still going to know him, and he is going to know God, and all the hating and disgruntling you can do isn’t going to change that. And I absolutely support him as my brother; that’s what the Body of Jesus Christ is supposed to do for each other, and there’s more than enough grace in Him for someone like Justin Beiber–or even me.

That’s just the denouement–the climax–not the conclusion of the thought I’m trying to put into words. Because be it young believers, or people who believe differently, or people who don’t believe at all, humanity is not my enemy. I said humanity is not my enemy. So that guy that you only see when he’s drunk? He’s trying to forget a lifetime of pain. Those young guys going door to door with suits on under their winter jackets? I wasn’t any less deceived by the system I grew up in. They still have an opening that Jesus yearns for them through, and it could be you that breaks that wall. That punk kid that is so excited about his new faith? He’s thanking God for bringing him out of the mess you criticize him for, but he doesn’t need another critic, he needs mentors, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters to walk with and learn from and with. You might learn more than you expect from him, too, because Jesus’ only requirement is willingness and there’s an older brother in the story of the prodigal son, too.

It’s time to lay aside resentment and distrust; it’s time to unlearn hate.

What Jesus Would Say

My heart is heavy.

The rest of the internet is celebrating, and my heart is breaking. And honestly, I’m not completely sure why.

I read the news this morning. If you’re part of the crowd that has no idea what’s going on, the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nation-wide for our friends in the south. I’ve always almost prided myself for being detached in regards to anything to do with homosexuality – no need to shout my opinion from the rooftops or rave self-proclaimed truths on the internet, but this? Something is different tonight.

Something feels deeply.

I’ll be honest. It might have something to do with the tragic movie I just finished watching. But I’ll be honest. I don’t think that’s all it is, or even the start of it.

I’m still treading softly. Many of my dear friends are among those celebrating this historical monument. My facebook news feed is plastered with either people lauding complete with rainbow-tinted profile pictures, or blogs and pictures making what feel like feeble attempts to stay the good Christian course. I don’t really think I fall into either extreme on this one, but I’m not still on the fence.

So why is my heart heavy?
Because I love people.

I love people. I love people that support the LGBT community. I love people that don’t. But me? I’m black-and-white, and I’m fine with that.

And don’t get me wrong. I’m still not advertising my opinion, but I still know why I know that gay marriage is such a distorted, twisted mess of how the human race was created to be. I also still know why I’m dreading going to church on Sunday and why I don’t want to hear today’s news in Sunday’s headlines. My heart is heavy not only because I see the darkest victory of a lifetime but because I see the bitterest response from people who just don’t….don’t. I don’t know how to say it any better than that. My heart is heavy because I know Jesus’ love for a twisted, perverse generation, the kind of love that doesn’t pass over a twisted, perverse person like me irregardless of how long my recovery process takes.

And right now, I feel like I could be the last person on earth who thinks my race is going in such a tragic, tragic direction.

Well, I don’t know what Jesus would say. If that’s why you’re reading, I’m sorry. But I know what I will say to anyone who identifies as a part of the LGBT community–and how’s this for equality because it’s the same thing I will say to anyone else. I love you.

I love you.

love you.

Love

What I do, have or say doesn’t mean anything unless I Love you.

Love is patient with you

Love is always kind

Love is not jealous

Love is humble

Doesn’t compete

Love doesn’t have an ego

Love lets You go before Me

Love cares more about You than Me

Love doesn’t keep score

Love defends your true cause

Love doesn’t give up

Always trusts God

Always looks for the best in you.

Love doesn’t look back to regret, but always endures to the end.

If I know all the big words, and say all the right things, but don’t Love you, my words are empty.

If I can explain God’s Word to you powerfully, and explain His mysteries to you,
and if I have the faith to declare God in your life but I don’t have the courage to
stand in front of you and choose to Love you, I have nothing to offer you.

If I give my life away for you, but I don’t Love you, I’m self-defeating, and I do not have what it takes.

Love Never Fails

1 Corinthians 13

Sunlight (Encounters II)

The sun arose on a sleeping city, the man-made lights fading as the Creator’s warmth touched the cold buildings. The warmth touched the morning dew resting on the grass, and also her face as she stirred from her place on the cold ground, covered only by a few scraps of an old cardboard box. The sun lit up her eyes.

It was the magical time of the morning before the rest of the world wakes up—but she was awake. She shifted in her paper home and finally rolled over and sat up, bent over within the box. She pushed back the thick coat which covered her—the most valued of her possessions—and rubbed her eyes; another day in paradise after a long night.

She ran her fingers over the tracks up her arm and let out a sigh. Business as usual. She clamoured up from her sagging bed and glanced around casually, surveying the geography of the fresh morning. Her practiced eyes immediately picked out the man–slightly slouched–across the park on a bench, his back turned to her. Unusual? Perhaps. Odd? Definitely, but perhaps this was just another providential opportunity. She stood up coolly and sauntered nonchalantly toward the figure.

“Ashlynn—”

She stopped abruptly and spun around. No one behind her. No one anywhere—except the figure on the bench before her. Yet she could have sworn someone had called her name. But that was foolishness, wasn’t it? Her clients knew her only by aliases, and no one else knew her name; she was the nameless faceless, and that’s how she liked it.

“Ashlynn Jennifer Hayes…”

But there it came again, and still no one in sight but the man sitting motionless on the bench not ten feet in front of her. Her imagination must be psyching her out. And then the figure turned around.

“I see you,”

He was tall; dark, wavy hair and tanned skin. His eyes were a striking brown. She was taken aback and halted immediately under his gaze. His face was rough and wrinkled, but she couldn’t have guessed his age; he appeared ancient with the countenance of a child. “I see you,” he repeated. She had no idea what to say; she couldn’t break off his strong gaze. She was nearly ready to turn and run.

He smiled.

“Don’t be afraid, I mean you no harm,” he said, his smile radiating through her into the very core of her. Who was this man? Where did he come from?

“Who are you?” she demanded, remembering at last where she had left her cold front.

“I am Myself,” he replied, still smiling. “I go by many names.” A lunatic for certain; she took a step backwards. The street had taught her one thing – the appropriateness of running. He stood up and she turned to run. “Jennifer,” she froze. “I’m not here to harm you.”

She spun back around to face him.

“How do you know my name? Who do you think you are?” her fear welled up into a defensive anger, “what do you want from me?”

“What do you want from yourself?” his smile never wavered; it unnerved her. “Won’t you join me?” he beckoned toward the bench. She shook her head.

“No thank-you.”

“Yet you came over here with a little more in mind, didn’t you,” he caught her eyes right then and a terrible knowing look. She shrugged, shrinking silently away from his gaze. “Suite yourself,” he settled back down sideways on the bench, watching her intently, “Leave if you like, but there are things I’d like to tell you.”

She took another step back.

“How do I know you won’t do anything?”

“You can’t,” he replied simply. She was wary, but he was not altogether threatening. In fact, his voice was soft and serene—calming and melodious almost. But there was the knowledge behind his eyes, and she now knew what was in his look that terrified her; it was as though he looked straight into her.

“How do you know my name?” she asked again, her curiosity getting the better of her circumspection. He was turned away now, intently watching a sparrow perched in a low, nearby tree.

“Oh that’s easy, it’s Ashlynn,” he smiled, and turned back to the sparrow

“No, no, no, how do you know my name?” she demanded, “I already know who I am, thanks.”

“Do you really?” he countered her, turning back around to look her in the eye, “Not nearly as well as I know you.” And she saw it–was that sorrow in his eye? Something leapt inside her, but she held her guard against it and shoved the alien feeling back to the pits of her uneasy stomach.

“I don’t—”

“Ashlynn, I know you better than you know yourself; I’ve been intimately involved in your life for quite some time,” he cut her off.

“What are you talking about?” she tried harder to push the feeling back down, she realized now it was his presence; she had felt it from the moment she laid eyes on him, perhaps even before that. She couldn’t help but feel that he was safe, and what he said was true—but how? She couldn’t even begin to guess what he meant.

“You may not know this, but I adopted you years ago,” the memories of her foster years were far too vivid for her to doubt; many people had adopted her. But she had been no more than a face in the system, and none of these “adoptions” had ever carried through—or so she had been told. Perhaps he had done it quietly.

“If that’s true,” she began hesitantly, unsure of whether to give him the satisfaction of a response or not, “where have you been all this time? I was out of the system years ago.”

“And you’re nineteen now—though much harder to tell now for the drugs you started using two years ago to numb the pain—your parents abandoned you to the system and you went from house to house, always hoping the next would be a place you could call home… but it never was.”

She was wholly overwhelmed.

“How do you know all that?” she stammered, taken fully aback at his revelation of her. And then she looked in his eyes and saw the pain in them—for her.

“I know a lot about you Jennifer,” he replied, still smiling a sad smile. “I’ve always been nearby.” She didn’t know what to think.

“How am I to believe any of that stuff?”

“Believe it or don’t, but it is true,” he replied. “It doesn’t matter; you know it is.”

And she did. She stood back, not sure whether to speak or walk away—she knew she couldn’t cry, even if she could let herself now, the tears would never come as they used to. So she did something different, though she didn’t know why. She knelt down in the grass at the end of the bench and simply watched him. What she was waiting for she could not have said, but there was something in just watching him—a security. He remained silent, seemingly paying no heed as he continued to eye the sparrow which still flitted through the shrubs. Several minutes went by, and then he spoke,

“Ashlynn, just let the pain go.”

She bit her lip as tears welled behind her eyes, but she had not been quick enough, and a lone tear found its way to her eyelid. She shut her eyes tight and dropped her head, employing every effort to stifle the emotions which threatened her composure and her new-found comfort with this stranger. She didn’t know how long it was that she sat there—an hour if it hadn’t been a few minutes—but all was silent.

The sun touched her skin. His hand touched her arm. She started back, jerked her head up and opened her eyes. He was kneeling next to her in the grass, now looking into her eyes, his hand on her arm. She waited, all words now gone from her mind. His voice was soft, “Ashlynn, let grief have its place.”

She wept.

She could hold it back no longer. His presence, his look—those eyes—endearing her. And she could hardly help but say no; her heart in its deepest depths craved it. He rested his other hand gently on her shoulder closest to him and waited as she knelt there in the grass sobbing quietly, the tears flowing freely now. His touch was warm and reassuring.

“Why do I feel this way?” her tears finally slowed, but she remained with her face downcast.

“There is much pain in you, it is ready to be freed,” he replied. “Ashlynn, it is very important that you do this for yourself—for your future.” She suddenly became reserved once again and lifted her face defiantly.

“Who do you think you are to say these things? You don’t know who I am! You don’t know where I’ve been!” she nearly screamed it at him, completely taken now with anger spurned on by her vulnerability. “You have no idea what I’m carrying!” she became aware that where his hand touched her bare arm the tracks of the needle were visible, “and I stopped that a long time ago,” she cried bitterly, and she pushed his hand back and pulled her sleeve down to cover the marks.

“But I do know what you’ve been through; I’ve seen it all. I know how often the only place you can find to sleep is made of paper,” he gestured toward the box near the street, “I know that you stopped heroine once; you’ve stopped four times since you started. You spent all you had two days ago to go back to it; it put you back on the street every time you went back.” He paused a moment, letting this settle, then continued, still speaking gently. “I know how long you’ve been selling yourself just to make ends meet, and not only that, but to feel valued,” he finished.

She burst into tears, but this time rather than pulling away she flung herself on him; his words could have had no better affect. She clung to him and he wrapped his arms around her in a tender embrace. “I see you, I know you and I love you, Ashlynn,” he whispered into her ear, “I know all your hurts; please let me help you.”

She let go.

“Why would you want to help me? How can you love someone like me? I’m dirty, I’m ugly…”  He brought a finger to her lips in a motion of silence. “But how,” she went on after a moment, “could you ever see past what I’ve done if you knew? How could you see past these marks on my arms?” she suddenly felt a filth of guilt and shame on her.

“Oh Ashlynn, I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment!” His eyes suddenly lighted up, “I love you because I created you!” She was at a total loss—and it dawned on her; how could she be so blind? And yet—

“Jesus Christ—!” she swore.

“—the Christ,” he corrected her, “But I prefer if you call me Daddy.” He grinned, “I think that would mean more to you, too, don’t you think?” she nearly burst into tears again; the most she could do was nod, caught as she was in surprise and raw emotion. How could she not believe it now that he had reached in to touch the very depth of her secret heart?

“But how could you see past who I am?” she blurted out, “even you—especially you!” He gently rolled up his left sleeve.

“Ashlynn, I look beyond what you’ve done, because my father looked at what I’ve done. My purpose and desire was never to condemn you,” He said, holding out his hand. She couldn’t say a word. There was the mark in his wrist, a rough, deep scar that would never fade for all eternity. And now she noticed for the first time the other marks—the scars on his brow—and she could hardly bear it; she knew they were for her. “Now do you understand?” he asked, knowing already the answer. She nodded, and embraced him again.

“Jennifer,” she gazed up at him, nestled in his arms on the grass. A sparrow perched on the edge of the nearby bench, watching them intently. “I have to go now,” he said, holding her even closer to his chest. She loved the sound of his heart.

“What will I do without you?” she asked sadly, wishing she could prolong this somehow, “How will I go on? I’ve come so close to ending it all so many times already…”

“Oh darling, I’m always with you!” He smiled sincerely and bent down, kissing her forehead. “I love you too much to not be with you every minute.”

“But where have you been then?”

“You’re living in an awful place…” he said sadly, looking around, “we can’t experience each other here like this all the time, face to face… but one day soon I’ll never have to leave your sight, and we will spend Forever just like this.”

She understood, and a longing tear found its way down her cheek.

“Jesus?”

“Please, call me Daddy.”

The sun arose on a sleeping city, the man-made lights fading as the Creator’s warmth touched the cold buildings. The warmth touched the morning dew resting on the grass, and also her face as she stirred from her place. The sun lit up her eyes.

Had it all been a dream? But no, she could even now feel the warmth of his kiss lingering with her, the sound of his voice and the safety of his touch. “Always with me…” she murmured softly to herself, raising herself up into a sitting position within her box.

A sparrow began to sing nearby.

“Daddy.”

Tears - Encounters I

Tears and Sunlight (Encounters I and II) are explicitly under my authorship; you can share it, but it's still mine.

You Just Went Too Far: Least of These [Part III]

I don’t remember all the details any more, but I dreamed about someone I loathe.

I don’t say only dislike, I also don’t say hate, I loathe them. I have no desire to see or think about them ever again. In my dream I jumped from the top of a set of stairs onto them, driving them into the lower steps at a back-breakingly awkward angle with my fist to their throat. And you thought you were mean in your dreams. They had come into my house uninvited and very much unwelcome, and I was mad. I’m still a little mad, and it was just a dream.

I don’t know why I dreamed that. I don’t know why I did that. I don’t deny it felt pretty good. The thing is, I woke up from that and one thing flashed through my brain:

What have I been teaching you about loving your enemies?

Whoa, Jesus. You just went too far.

I look at people I know and wonder why they have a difficult time loving some of the people I love. Sometimes I even hold it against them. But then there’s this tugging at the back of my mind; what if Jesus actually meant love everyone?

That means love everyone. Not just the people I like. Not even just the people I can tolerate being nice to, no. Love everyone. And any trace of anything not love for anyone… is a warning sign that the love of Jesus isn’t in every fiber of my being because if it were, I wouldn’t have a problem actively loving anyone, because I wouldn’t be able to help but love everyone.

This is sobering to me. That in a perfect union of Jesus in me, there wouldn’t be one soul I would have any problem with touching. I have the tendency to go through life picking and choosing–‘Okay, I like them, I’ll love them. I don’t like them as much, but I can still be nice. I don’t really like that person, but I see their pain; I’ll love them anyway. I can’t stand that person; I don’t even want to think of loving them.’ Granted, other factors play in, and maybe that’s the answer; Jesus’ love cannot be expressed fully through me if I let anger/bitterness/unforgiveness/you-fill-in-the-blank have a hold. So I guess what’s left to say is ‘Jesus, here’s everything. Clean it up for me.’ And then to actually hand over the negative ties I’ve held on to people with. Freedom to love.

So Jesus here it all is. If you want me to love absolutely anyone, especially those you bring into my reach, then I want to love everyone you want me to love. I want to be free to love like no one else but You. I realize to do that the old man’s thoughts have to go; do what you have to so that I can renew my mind in you. I don’t want to hold on to bitterness, grudges or unforgiveness anyway. Show me the specific people you want me to touch directly with your love. You went too far to love me; I want to go too far to love others.

Long Forgotten Enemies: Least of These [Part II]

She grinned a toothy smile as she turned away that left me not a drop of sweat short of uneasy. It was missing substance–not to mention actual teeth–and there was a faint though unmistakable smell of alcohol about her.

I don’t think she had any inclination–in fact I’m sure of it–as to who I might be. But I knew who she was. From the moment she walked in to the second she said her name my brain was wracking itself for an explanation to the familiarity–and then it hit like a thunderbolt. I knew who she was.

But I guess you still don’t.

All you really need to know is that dealings between herself and parties I was inseparably involved with had gone bad – police and court had been involved. It had never come my direction, but the drama surrounding those events had left enough of a lasting impression to well justify the unease I was now feeling–even if it was perhaps slightly silly.

In spite of my discomfort, no incident took place. She finished her business, left, and I went on about my evening. But as I sat back down something triggered in my brain. I can’t say it was anything short of the breath of God that whispered the thought in my being–the least of these.

Wait a minute, Jesus.

I don’t like what You’re suggesting here.

I struggled with the implication–till of course, he brought to mind that I’d been talking about this very thing just the other day.

But I can’t even think pleasant thoughts about her, Jesus, she’s the worst of the worst.

Isn’t that the point?

I’m thinking sobering thoughts. I don’t have it in me to love. Not really. Not like that. If Jesus does, he’s so much higher than I’ve ever really actually dared to believe. Sure, church taught me Jesus loves everybody. But church also taught me Jesus loved totally hands-off. I guess the parts of the Bible where Jesus actually touched people–the worst of the worst of his society–made them uncomfortable. They make me uncomfortable, too, because if Jesus did that, and he loves through me, he wants me to touch people the way he did. Not only the nice, fair, clean-smelling people.

Well Jesus, if that’s what you want from me, you’ve got a lot of work to do in here still.

All that’s going through my mind right now is “Love your enemy; pray for those who persecute you.” I can’t think of any personal enemies off-hand, but I know I’ve never classified even the woman I saw tonight as an enemy. I want the liberty and power in that kind of love. I guess this is my starting place and the nudge to take the first shaky step.

Jesus, I want the power to love even my enemies. It is the one thing that will turn the world up-side-down. Tonight I put my discomfort and ultimately, my anger and unforgiveness towards this woman into your hands – I do not want them any longer. I lift her into your hands and I stand with you for the life and salvation of even her. Touch her life with every ounce of the love you’ve always shown to me, your son; may her way lead her to joy, righteousness, and incomparable rest in your fullness.

And Jesus?

Show me who’s next.

Least of These

“I don’t tell many guys this…”

His eyes tear in that I’m-being-my-strongest-broken-self way as he tells me of the decades of pain he’s carried since childhood and only recently become truly aware of. I nod, meanwhile conscious of my efforts to make my posture look as understanding as possible.

Do you want to know what I think is sad and regrettable? The way we (and by ‘we’ I really mean ‘me’) consider it within our ability to decide who is worthy of our care and kindness.

Maybe I should start from the beginning.

Jesus showed me someone in need, but the first chain of experiences I had of them made me hard–I decided that this was not a person I liked right from the start, and while given my position at the time it may have been well justified to be incredulous and even suspicious, through the course of time since I’ve learned something; you can’t pick and choose who deserves compassion. Because the honest truth is, I tried not to have it, but I’ve cultivated too much love in myself, and it couldn’t help but manifest when in contact with one who needed it from just one person for once. Before I knew it I was inviting him in–you’re inviting me into your house?!–offering him something to eat and drink, and calling up to my wife to heat up some leftover chilli. Any other time I would’ve told you I didn’t even like the guy.

Because who am I to decide who deserves my kindness or friendship? Because ‘the least of these Jesus’ brethren’ probably aren’t the pleasant, nice people that you think they are; they’re dirty, disliked, vulgar–but what do you expect from broken people?

Jesus, I don’t want to decide any more who deserves what I have to offer – you tell me it’s not about being deserving any more, anyway. Show me what your unbiased compassion looks like. You gave yourself for me though I’ve never deserved it, so I’m willing to give myself to others even if they don’t deserve it.

From Works to Warfare

A police woman came to my door this morning.

It was around 4:15 AM. She was looking for a young woman whom, according to her friend, was attempting suicide. I confirmed the name and gave her a key to the room. Minutes later the phone rang; it was the young woman who had reported the attempt to 9-1-1 – she asked if her friend was there and what room and I explained that yes, she was here and that police had already arrived. She waited on the phone till 9-1-1 called back to let her know that the police had found her friend in the room and called for the ambulance. There was more than worry in her voice, there was fear.

I’ve been trying to put this into words all week: the “works” system is so shallow. And I’ll tell you something. “Works” just aren’t going to cut it.

I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness,
And will hold Your hand;
I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the Gentiles,

To open blind eyes,
To bring out prisoners from the prison,
Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.

                            – Isaiah 42:7

The truth is…

The Father (because let’s not forget that God was Jesus’ Daddy, first) didn’t call Jesus to a life of works–and let’s not forget that Jesus spent his first 30-some years learning the works thing. And how much do you want to bet he understood a lot better than we have how every aspect of the ceremony pointed right to him at that very point in history?

But when Jesus walked into that synagogue on the exact day that Isaiah 61 was next in line for the reading, he didn’t declare a mission of works, mundane prayers and devotion. He said,

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, 
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,

                                 – Isaiah 61:1-2a

And then he closed the book.

Preach good things to the poor, heal the broken-hearted, proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t sound like “read your Bible, pray every day” to me. And don’t get me wrong, Jesus had to know his scripture! It was the written word of God that Jesus used when he was tempted by the devil, and it was fine-print details in the written word of God that he pointed the Pharisees to in order to leave them completely speechless. Jesus didn’t skip out on his Torah lessons. But when the time came, he left home. They didn’t exactly have any Gideons’ pocket edition scrolls for him back then, but Jesus didn’t need it, because what living came down to wasn’t a written understanding of his father, it was a living, breathing relationship; it was real-time and it was actual.

Preach good things to the poor. Heal the broken-hearted. Proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those bound inside.

I’m coming to the realization that everything I learned from my “Church Culture,” was nothing but selfish pursuits. First, to work my own way to God – for myself, by myself. And then, once I’ve arrived (I could have never arrived, and the only one who ever has was Jesus) to “save” others and give them their commission of works so that they can get to God, too (because I get the referral bonus for each and every one of the poor souls). I’m trying to make it obvious but think about it: religion is purely selfish.

Because the kind of compassion it would take to intervene for someone as broken as to try to take their own life–the works system didn’t teach me that… Even though the outward premises of a system of works might sound like it’s about having compassion for the broken, it’s only about mechanical compassion–doing “good things” not out of a revelation of the Father’s love but out of a sense of duty and false promises of entitlement.

We’ve got to get out of this works system, because the only thing it’s teaching us is how to be justifiably passive. Because if you can feel completely accomplished because you think you do everything right, and the only reason you have to do anything is to feel that accomplishment, then why does compassion for the broken-hearted and the captive even need to come into play? Do you see how dangerous this system of thinking is yet? The kingdom is here and it doesn’t need more workers, the kingdom needs warriors to bring back the POWs because no matter how defeated the enemy is he’ll still hold captives till someone breaks them free. Are you hearing me yet?

The church has been so shallowly involved in the gospel. The reason that resting in Jesus is so important, is because he gave us back dominion of the earth, and that’s a big job to fill, and there’s still an enemy out there. And the church has been duped into passivity through works; Church, stop trying to get to God! Stop trying to “arrive”. Jesus died so that God could get to you! 

He has arrived.

Church, the only work left for you to do, is to let your roots grow down into Jesus Christ, and let your lives be built on him; 

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority. 

                       – Colossians 2:6-10

Interpretting Injustice

I witnessed an act of injustice yesterday. It was brutal, to say the least. I say that as the by-stander, an on-looker into moments of the world of someone else – it was brutal. A man left a woman in tears and sobbing loudly enough to penetrate through the cold walls of my second-floor apartment–and the flesh walls of my heart. And it broke me apart.

You’re probably wondering what I did. I didn’t do anything.

I froze up. To say that fear was present in that moment in spite of the immediate adrenaline rush would be accurate. What do I do in this moment? What is appropriate for me to do in this moment?God, what do I do?

I was at a loss; I couldn’t go, yet still be present near enough to the office where my duty was, and so I simply watched helplessly as she slowly left my range of view. I don’t think any description I could give of the moment would communicate to you how very desperately helpless, useless, cold, powerless, I felt–and how shocking both the situation and my emotional response were to me.

Not that I’m shocked by feeling compassion, but I have never had such a download of the love of Jesus in the moment like that; it was mentally staggering, and I was unable to get it out of my mind the rest of that night to the point of tossing and turning in bed, unable to sleep. Somewhere along the line Jesus said to me, “And do you see how much I love my bride?” It was immense, and it was the immensity that shut me down.

And it would not leave my mind. I kept running it over in my mind, what could I have done? What shouldI have done? What would You have done, Jesus?

No answer. Not any that were clear or understandable, anyway–to this point.

I lay awake thinking and praying about it, praying in the Spirit because I didn’t know what to say or ask anymore, feeling completely like I missed an important moment. And all I got from Jesus was, “Stop worrying about her; I’m taking care of it – just pray.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about interpretation, the way I see things, the way I respond, my perspective, the lenses I see the world, people and God through. And interpretation has been in the back of my mind at all moments as I think back on yesterday. I keep wondering, God, do you have an interpretation for this that makes sense? What’s going on here? I still don’t know. I thought maybe drumming it all out here might shed some light on a different way to look at things, but I guess that’s the thing about getting God’s interpretation – it only comes in His time, as I become ready to receive it. If I had thought theoretically about a situation such as this my question to myself might have been, Would you do something? But in the moment of the raw compassion, it went to a level so much deeper than “Would you do something.It went to the core of my heart, and I would say Yes, I’ll do something. But Jesus? What can I do?