We The Church

A Christmas Eve Prayer: 2016

Good Father,

How glad we are to be here, to have arrived at this moment with You. How grateful we are to have life on this side of the first Christmas.

Over and over throughout history, Your people cried out to You from the darkness of this world and faithfully, You answered. But the darkness wasn’t only happening to them. They carried the darkness in themselves, as we all have.

So, in Your kindness, at just the right time, You broke into the dead of night, sending Your son, Jesus Christ. The Word of God in flesh. The Word that spoke light into creation, now living among creation as the light of the world.   And this darkness-invading baby, came to rescue us, to heal us.

Yet, we confess, Father, that our eyes are trained to see the darkness. Like the shepherds in the field, watching for the wolves who would attack their sheep, we have learned to watch for what we fear. But their night was interrupted by the good news of a baby born in Bethlehem, The Savior. While they watched for intruders who would bring death to their flocks, the world was invaded by You, Jesus, the one who gives life. And while fear attempts to turn our eyes from You over and over, we invite the interruption of Your radiant light.

In this light, weary hearts are met with peace. In this light, fear shrinks away. In this light, we find life. May our eyes learn to watch for the light, for the movement of the Spirit in the midst of this world.

Tonight we gather to celebrate, not only a day that has come and gone 2000 years ago, but the ongoing work of Christ. We celebrate that by You, Holy Spirit, the Light of Christ continues to be born in our lives, pushing back the dark of night. What better reason is there to celebrate?

The Savior has been born, the Light of the World. What good news! The glory of God, which is in the highest of heaven is now also with us!

Amen.

Justin and Jesus

Dear Justin,

Recently, you stated your love for Jesus in the most gentle way. In my opinion, you came across as a man sure yet struggling with his faith. And that is the most honest statement of faith I know. It is us all. “I believe, help my unbelief.” I don’t know you, not the real you. I only know the media-version of you, and honestly, I didn’t follow your story very closely so I only know bits and pieces of that Justin as well. That being said, it might seem strange when I say, “I am proud of you.” I am. I am proud of you for handing your days back over to Christ and doing the hard work of letting Him shape you. It isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t comfortable. So I am proud of you.

I am also nervous for you. The reality is, you are under the microscope of fame, and the world will not deal kindly with you. There will be those who pick apart your story for the rest of your life. There will be those, that when you fail, which you will as we all do at times, will throw your Jesus-loving-words back in your face. You have said that you are not going to hold in your faith any longer. You are ready to speak what you believe. There are those who will want you to be quiet.

But, it won’t just be “the world” that rips you to shreds. Unfortunately, many christians will as well. You have a past ridden with mistakes. And despite the fact that each of us has our own past, there will be those who will question your love for Jesus. They will scoff at the idea that you would have the audacity to claim to be one of them. They will roll their eyes at your humble words of faith because they are certain you are working the system for publicity’s sake. And Justin, you also have a future in which you will make mistakes. And despite the fact that we all make mistakes nearly daily, there will be christians who do not hesitate to drag you out of the city gates and stone you.

For that, I am so sorry. As a whole, well, perhaps more so the media-version of the church, has never been good at letting Christ on the cross take on the sins of those in the public eye. But it really isn’t up to us.

Justin, it is true that there will be many hard things, unjust scrutiny, perhaps strained relationships, because of your desire to love Jesus and live as He did. But, for as many christians who will throw stones, there will be many more who will cheer you on in your journey. There will be those who will weep with you in your moments of weakness and celebrate with you when the victory of Jesus is evident in your life. There will be those, who though they don’t understand your life or even your approach to faith, will listen and try to hear your heart beyond the noise of the media.

And Justin, you are right in saying that going to church doesn’t make one a christian any more than going to Taco Bell makes one a taco. But I encourage you to find a church. Churches are full of broken people and so churches are messy. But just as you shared about relationships, “Love is a choice, not a feeling.” It is the same with The Church. We are a mess, at times we are arrogant and stubborn and cruel. But there are many times we are compassionate, sacrificial, filled with grace. It is difficult to love The Church, to love a church. I will be the first to raise my hand on that one. I have had many days in this life where I have wanted to be done with Her. But Jesus loves Her. So, while going to church isn’t what makes you a Christian, a life lived for Jesus is much fuller when lived in community with a church.

Justin, this faith-place you have come to. It is good. I believe your words. I hear an honest love and honest struggle in your sharing. Faith is a quest. It is a long road. Keep walking, resting, and leaning on Jesus. He will sustain you.

A fellow-struggler,

Erin

Chasing The Rabbit

“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?’

So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.

There was nothing so VERY remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so VERY much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, `Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!’ (when she thought it over afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but when the Rabbit actually TOOK A WATCH OUT OF ITS WAISTCOAT- POCKET, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.

In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.” -Alice in Wonderland (Chapter 1)


Today, I chased the rabbit into the black hole that is Facebook. It was an innocent curiosity that led me to it, but I should have known better than to follow that eternally ill-timed rabbit into the black.

It started with a video clip of a youth pastor teaching on what is clearly an extremely personal matter for him. He worded some things differently and perhaps poorly. He claimed a personal encounter with Jesus but named that encounter a vision. The poster of the video, another youth pastor, gave a warning that we must be careful what we say as teachers of The Word.

Of course, we must. I did not disagree that we should watch our words closely and guard against speaking things that are not Truth. But then I watched the video and frankly, found nothing out of sorts about it. I knew immediately what others had been put off by in the way the lesson was presented, but I did not find it to be contrary to scripture. So, I dove in after the rabbit and asked the poster to help me understand what bothered him about the lesson.

And down, down, down we went, passed empty marmalade jars and faceless screen names. I saw several accusations: heretic, blasphemy, off-base, false gospel. And I, like Alice, kept speaking into the deep void. Except, in this case, the deep void kept speaking back. The voices seemed to dub this man The Mad Hatter. A nonsense-spewing lunatic that would drive people from the real Jesus. And all the while, the voices are the Duchess, spouting on about the boundaries and moral laws, and leaving no room for questions, doubts, or a different perspective. And there is room for boundaries and rules. I am a rule follower in many regards, but perhaps I am most like Alice in that I long to understand what is beneath the story. There is cause and effect in every moment, in every person’s tale. I want to know why the world thinks this man is doomed to lunacy (or heresy). I want to understand his choice of words. I want to know why people are chained to the comfort of their doctrinal language.

“Curiouser and curiouser.”

My sentiments exactly.

I admit, I am bothered by so many finding such fault in this young man’s words. But more so, I am irritated with our lack of an ability as Kingdom citizens to disagree without ripping each other to shreds. We are a curious bunch indeed, having experienced the most lavish of grace and in turn giving the harshest lashing with our doctrines. I have not been able to put this thought out of my mind, that while there are warnings about false teachers, Jesus himself never called anyone a heretic. He did call the pharisees hypocrites. And in fact, those hypocrites labeled Jesus as a heretic. So, yes. We should be careful what we teach, but perhaps we should also be slow to name someone a heretic. To most of the voices in this particular rabbit hole, the words of this man seemed upside down. But, if you feel right side up in the Kingdom, it just might be you that is upside down. After all, the Kingdom of God flips this world on its head.

Finally, having seen every corner I cared to see of the world in the rabbit hole, and wishing I’d heeded the Caterpillar’s advice to keep my temper (rather than let this madness raise my blood pressure), I crawled out wondering if, in fact, we are all mad here. And we’re not of course. The Gospel is true. Jesus is the only way of salvation, the only gate to The Kingdom. But perhaps we can lay down our Queen of Hearts ways and silence our “Off with their heads” judgments long enough to hear each other. Perhaps Facebook could be a book full of conversations rather than accusations.

“‎You’re not the same as you were before,” he said. You were much more… muchier… you’ve lost your muchness.” 

The Kingdom of God should have a muchness about it, but I’m afraid we keep losing its muchness. Its muchness is not in excusing false teaching, but in extending dignity and grace as a first response. Its muchness is in not responding as the queen does with her “Sentence first. Verdict later.” approach to the ones who step on her toes. We all like to wear our theology crowns and declare who is in and out.

Here’s what I believe: there are very few theological hills to die on. Jesus is fully God, fully man who lived perfection and physically died as our pardon. He rose again and there is no other way into the Kingdom of God but through Christ. There are other valuable hills but there are many others that are man-made hills. Let’s just decided to listen first before we fall on our swords at the top of those hills.

And, here’s what I feel about my experience today:

“Well that was the silliest tea party I ever went to! I am never going back there again!”