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“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. — Jesus

Who would you secretly nominate as a person or a people group with whom God might be irritated? And, if truth were known, you are secretly hoping they don’t find favor with God.

Maybe they are people of color.
Maybe they wear their pants sagging and their hat sideways.
Maybe they were buttoned down oxford shirts and power ties.
Maybe they speak with a clipped northeastern accent. Or with a thick southern drawl.
Maybe they have a confederate flag flying outside their house.
Maybe they are loud and proud.
Maybe they wear scarves over their faces and turbans on their heads.
Maybe they are chronically addicted.
Maybe they are obese.
Maybe they are ugly.
Maybe they are super attractive.
Maybe they are young.
Maybe they are old.

Whoever you thought of is who Jesus is speaking to on this mountainside. They had no spiritual qualifications. They had no credentials. They were religiously illiterate.

There are a lot of folks like that in our day, maybe you are one of them.

The people sitting on the mountain side don’t know the Bible. No one’s asking them to teach Sunday School. They’re spiritual zeros, didn’t get the faith-gene.

When you read the stories just preceding this you find that Jesus was busy loving, healing, serving, and touching the untouchables of his day…

So, let’s say that Jesus sees in the crowd someone that has been brought to Him that He’s just helped. Maybe it’s a man who was brought to Jesus because he had been demon-possessed, emotionally tormented, out of his mind, a spiritual zero. Never part of a faith community; nobody would ask him what does he think about God.

But now he’s calm and in his right mind. Why? Because even though he had done nothing to deserve it, Jesus just comes up and touches him, and heals him. And so Jesus has him stand up, and they smile at each other.

And Jesus turns around and has him face the crowd. Jesus says,  “You want to know who’s blessed? This guy right here; blessed are the spiritual basket cases. Blessed are the faith-challenged. Blessed are the religious disasters, for now theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

He goes, maybe, to a middle-aged woman. She has always been sad her whole lifelong, because she was unable to have children. That’s always a sad thing. That day it was desperately broken. And now her husband has died and she’s alone. And she’s penniless. To tell the truth, she would have supported herself by becoming a prostitute because that was the only way. But now she is too old even to do that.

She has no hope. She comes to Jesus in utter desperation because she’s got nothing else to do.

He sees her, and He whispers to James and John, “You watch out for her, now. Because that’s going to be one of our core values, caring for widows.”

And Jesus goes to this widow. And He has her stand up and He puts an arm around this woman’s shoulder, and He has her face the crowd.

Jesus says, “Want to know who’s blessed? Blessed are those who mourn. Not because it’s a good thing to mourn, but because the reality of the presence of the Kingdom is coming down to the mourning, and they shall be comforted now. You just watch what happens in the life of this woman. In my kingdom, things will be different for the likes of her. Better, much better.”

And on and on he goes.

It’s important to remember that the Beatitudes are NOT instructions on how to be blessed. The Beatitudes are not instructions on how to do anything. The Beatitudes are designed to shock people into realizing that now the blessing, the good and beautiful life—that we all drive ourselves crazy and frantic and busy trying to grab a hold of—the life in the Kingdom is now available to anybody who wants it through personal contact with this man Jesus.

And no one and no thing can shut you out.

What about ‘The Blessed’ in Our Day? If Jesus were giving them right here? What would they sound like?

Who are the people that our culture says are shut out of the good life?

Blessed are the geeks.

Blessed are the nerds.

Blessed are the wimps.

Blessed are you when you have dandruff and blemishes and all manner of bad breath.

Blessed are those who have no fashion sense.

Blessed are the uncoordinated.

Blessed are the middle-managers.

Blessed are the wrinkled.

Blessed are the anxious.

Blessed are the unemployed.

Blessed are the homeless.

Blessed are the “deplorables.”

Blessed are the drop-outs and the burn-outs and the left-outs.

Blessed are the chronically angry.

Blessed are the liberals.

Blessed are the sexually addicted and the sexually frustrated.

Blessed are the mentally ill.

Blessed are the HIV positive.

Blessed are the parents who failed.

Blessed are the children who ran away.

Blessed are the divorced.

Blessed are the barren.

Blessed are the pregnant out of wedlock.

Blessed are the failures.

Blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed…

Is this good news for anybody yet?

Here’s the Kingdom, now, available to you through Jesus to begin now and to know in its fullness one day and enjoy into eternity.

See, when Jesus began to form His community, it’s like there was a giant welcome mat out in front of Him. Everybody’s welcome, nobody’s perfect.

Anything’s possible with God.

Now, of course, lots of people rejected Jesus. But it was because they didn’t want His Kingdom. It was never because He gave them the subtle vibe that they really weren’t Kingdom material.

Because for Jesus everybody was Kingdom material: Everybody’s welcome, nobody’s perfect, anything’s possible.

I think in a lot of relationships I have a lot of moments in my life when I put up a “No Trespassing” sign where Jesus would roll out a welcome mat.

Not long ago, I met with a pastor and I began to speak ugly about another brother in Christ. I began to paint a picture of him to my friend in a way that made him look silly and shallow.

My wife was gone and I sent her a text: “I spoke ugly about a pastor to another pastor and feel horrible about it. I am an idiot. Please pray for me.”

She replied: “I know.”

I have been called to speak words like “apples of gold in settings of silver” and yet often I find myself speaking words that tear down rather than build up.

I have thoughts that cause me to blush in shame. I am in a perpetual state of repentance. I am daily, sometimes hourly in need of course correction because I fall so far short of the life I want to live for King Jesus.

Nobody needs the Kingdom more than me.

But you want to know who’s blessed?

Me.

I’m blessed. Not because I ever get it right or have anything together or am well-gifted, because Jesus came to me almost 50 years ago. I don’t know why. He just did.

You know who’s blessed?

You.

Not because you live in a well-managed.  Not because you’re well-off, well-fed, well-dressed, well-educated. Because, truth be known, underneath our nice well managed life we are a mess…a hot mess.

Oh, how I wish we could conjure the spirit of the late Brennan Manning. We need him now more than ever. As Manning reminded us in his final book,

Blessed is the…

The inmate who promised the parole board he’d be good, but he wasn’t…
The dim-eyed who showed the path to others but kept losing his way…
The liar, the tramp, the thief; otherwise known as the pastor, speaker, and author…
The disciple whose cheese slid off the cracker so many times he said ‘to hell with cheese ‘n’ crackers’…
The younger and elder prodigals who’ve come to their senses again, and again, and again, and again…

The favor and flourishing of God has come to all of those who feel left out of the good life in this world.

That’s good news. The good news of the Kingdom. Are you in the Kingdom or are you trying to make it on your own

 

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Apples of Gold

I am writing two blogs at the same time about how a pastor should treat their church and how a church might treat her pastor. You read the other one by clicking here.

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold, in settings of silver.  Proverbs 25:11

About twenty-five years ago I asked my wife if I was her favorite preacher. She didn’t even pause but said, “No, Andy is.”

Not long after that conversation I left ministry to work on a marriage that my distorted understanding of ministry had almost destroyed.

After several years of not standing behind a pulpit, I was invited to preach again. When the service was over, my wife leaned over to me and said that she had forgotten how good of a preacher I was and that she really enjoyed hearing me.

Not going to lie, tears came to my eyes.

Years later, Lynette and I heard a speaker talk about marriage and how men need to be respected for what they do. He said that much of their sense of worth is derived from how well they perform professionally. God’s design is that we strive for excellence in what we do to provide for our families.

Then he said something like, “Wives make sure you speak words of admiration to your man when he comes home. He needs to hear that you think what he does is wonderful. He needs to hear that you admire and respect him professionally. Never neglect this, ladies. I promise you there is an attractive person at work who is going to tell him. And if you haven’t said it and they won’t stop saying it, you increase your odds of losing him to her.”

I glanced over at my wife and noticed tears brimming in her eyes.  Later, after everyone had left, I asked her what moved her so much about that clip.  And she said something that was so insightful for both of us. She said, “For years people would tell you how good of a preacher you were, but you had such a big head in those days that I didn’t want to make your head grow even larger, so I never told you how good of a leader and preacher you were. I should have told you. Maybe it would have helped save us a lot of pain.”

My heart was pierced.

We both felt the weight of that insight. I felt it in the stupidity of falling for the devil’s bait, and she felt the weight of not satisfying my hunger for strange fruit.

Not too long ago I preached a sermon and when I was finished, and we were walking out of the building, my wife grabbed my lapel and pulled me close to her and said in a whisper for my ears only, “God told me something and I want to tell you.” She said, “That was the best sermon you’ve preached in years. I needed to learn about trusting God. It really helped me. Thank you.”

My wife has been listening to me preach since 1981 and the person who touches me the most with her words is Lynette Chambers. They are more valuable to me than gold.

Here is a ministry analogy. What if a church found a way to speak words and do deeds of respect and admiration for their pastor? What if the church decided deep down in her soul, down where the knobs are, that above all else she was going to communicate to her undershepherd that they were the apple of her eye?

Do your best to be sincere with your words of admiration. (Better to not say anything than to lie when a outreach plan is bad.) And if you struggle finding something to affirm in your pastor, keep looking and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you. If you still can’t find anything worthy of praise, go see a counselor. You have other problems.

Also, be very specific about what you admire. Just saying “nice meeting” or “good event” is pleasant but not as helpful as sharing where exactly God spoke to you through the meeting, for instance. And share the words as soon as you can.

Your pastor needs to know that you don’t worship them, but that they are valued.

One of the most discouraging things that happens to pastors is that they get delayed feedback on non-sermon aspects of ministry. In other words, every Sunday most pastors stand at the back of the church to say goodbye to folks. Where an awful lot of lying happens in church.

“Great sermon, pastor.”

You and I both know that we are doing well if we preach a good sermon once a month.

Let’s leave sermons aside for a moment and think about offering affirmation for longevity, prayers, faithfulness, gentleness, presence, or just the one-on-one impact that comes from a mentoring relationship. Its  been my experience that affirmation for these kinds of things happen when the parishioner is moving to another state. If they are doing something that is impacting you, tell them right away. Don’t delay.

One last quality that helps to Velcro your words to your pastor’s soul is when you personalize it.  Let me give you an example. The other day a man told me, “Pastor, I appreciate you challenging me. I see God working in and through you and that encourages me. As you can tell we sometime start at different places on an issue, but you are gracious and full of truth. Two things I hope to emulate one day.”

And, by the way, frequency of the affirmation is not as important as depth.

  • Sincere
  • Specific
  • Immediate
  • Personal

Church, I promise you no matter what others may say, the person a pastor wants to hear from the most is you. Your words are balm for our souls and they may just save you a ton of pain. There are no guarantees that words of admiration will protect your relationship with your pastor, but I can testify from experience that the absence of them weakens the bond.

Respect. You can’t give too much of it to the pastor God gave you. You might be surprised at how much love will flow your way when you tell your shepherd how much you admire them.

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The Priceless Bride

I am writing two blogs at the same time about how a pastor should treat their church and how the church might treat her pastor. You read the other one by clicking here.

…show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life… 1 Peter 3:8

What does it mean to honor someone? How do I honor you?

In ancient writings, something of honor was something of substance (literally, heavy), valuable, costly, even priceless. Homer said, “The greater the cost of the gift, the more the honor…”

Not only does it signify something or someone who is a priceless treasure, but it is also used for someone who occupies a highly respected position in our lives, someone high on our priority list.

Twenty-odd years ago, I was reading a book about relationships and it casually mentioned that if you want to know if your wife feels loved by you that you should ask her and if she feels safe or is upset enough to tell you the truth she will tell you.  It went on to say that it doesn’t matter how good a job you think you are doing in demonstrating love …it only matters how she feels.

So, I closed the book and looked across the way towards my wife of 16 years confident as a pastor and a marriage counselor that if anyone in the wide world felt love be someone it would be Lynette Jean Chambers, I asked “Nette, do you feel loved by me and if so in what ways?”

With no hesitation she put down a crosstitch needle and pattern she was working on, looked me in the eye like someone had just thrown a slow pitch over the plate. Like she had been waiting for 10 years for me to ask that question…she unflinchingly said…”NO!” and then went back to her stupid crosstich.

“What?” I stammered?  “Are you serious?”

She said, “It is true. There are any number of people that are loved more by you than me.”

I was gut-punched. My fantasy bubble of being a good lover had gone down like the Hindenburg.  And it started me on a long journey to change the way I treated my wife, the bride of my youth. I would not fear asking that question today.

Understanding that the most important human covenant relationship I have is with the bride of my youth, may I draw an analogy from this relationship as it relates to ministry? The longer I serve as a pastor the more I see resemblances between the relationship between a pastor and the church to be similar to the relationship between a husband and a wife.

They both have chosen one another in a loving and hopeful relationship. They both dream of a bright future together. I might imagine fruit of their covenant relationship populating another daughter church or individuals passing through the waters of baptism.

I wonder if, over time, a church can feel unloved by her pastor. I wonder if she can feel that other interests are more important to him than she is. I wonder if she can feel used or taken advantage of. I wonder if she can begin to believe that she exists to further the pastor’ career but not actually share in a life-giving and vital relationship in the community in which they both live.

If I were to ask my church if she felt loved by me, her pastor, what she might say? I wonder if she feels safe. I wonder if she feels valued. I wonder if she feels protected. I wonder if she feels respected.

  • How do I treat my church on an average day?
  • Am I using her to try to satisfy some spiritual pathology?
  • Do I honor and respect the bride of Christ?
  • How do I talk about her to other pastors?
  • Do I talk down to her?
  • Do I manipulate her?
  • Do I power up on her?
  • Do I hide from her?
  • Does she know that after my family she is my “top priority”?
  • Do I communicate this with both words and actions?

If you are a pastor, would you fear asking your church those questions?  If so, you can change that.  It won’t be easy or quick…but it is doable.

I realize that I am living in an age where pastors sell their souls for a bowl of success-porridge, and by doing so they sacrifice their families on the altar of that insecurity. But that is a perversion of God’s intent. If I love Jesus well, if I am at rest in my identity as the beloved of God, my wife will feel treasured and honored in proportion to my sense of that belovedness.

And so will Jesus’ wife.

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To Tell the Truth

“Men occasionally stumble on the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” – Winston Churchill

You can’t handle the truth! – Jack Nicholson

All character flaws involve self-deception. What’s sobering about this is self-deception is that it is going on inside you and me not just daily but virtually incessantly. Of course, we don’t even notice it. This is a big part of the dynamic of sin. We selectively forget about a vow, or value, or an ethic. We all have this part of our character we euphemistically call a blind spot. By definition we are each completely unaware of that area of our lives.

In order for those of us who are followers of Jesus to engage in sinful behavior we have to set aside conscious thoughts about God. We can’t adore Jesus and participate in sin at the same time. So, we temporarily forget God.

I love what writer Neal Plantinga says,

“I go hours, days, weeks at a time and never really think about Him; never really turn my heart and will over to Him; never seriously attend to Him; never bring Him in sustained focus to my mind. The thought that by doing this I am wounding the One who loves me, the thought that I am entangled more and more in the sin that brought Jesus to the cross, that thought becomes bearable and then routine. Eventually I find God doesn’t seem very real. I find myself not praying all that much. The less I pray, the less real God seems. I forget God. I forget sin.”

How did David forget that he slept with Bathsheba and killed her husband? How do preachers forget their own sexual sin while preaching God’s judgment with such vitriol? How does a billionaire extol philanthropy and preach business ethics while ripping off a whole nation in a giant Ponzi scheme?

Well, they just do what you and I do all the time every day, around sexuality, gossip, judgmentalism, racism, vindictiveness, and envy. We just forget. We just block who we are and what we’ve done out of sustained consciousness for extended periods of time.

So, we need each other desperately. I desperately need you, and you desperately need me. I need the truth, but I need it spoken carefully to me.

I’ve had folks who have felt compelled to set me straight over the years as a pastor. They feel as if it is their calling in life to come into my office and fix me. I’ve had one deacon tell me that I was the most unmerciful pastor he had ever known.

Honestly, I have some people who actually speak truth into my life and do it so well that often I don’t realize what they are doing. They might take me to lunch, and we talk, then as I drive away I think, “Oh, I see what they did there.”

The best way for a community to do this is by invitation. I have some people in my life where I’ve said, “If you see anything in me anytime in anyway, call me on it.” (I don’t need any more at this time.)

How Do I Speak the Truth?

  1. Pray before, during, and after one says what must be said.
  2. Make sure God wants you to say anything at all.
  3. We should have a relationship with the person with whom we are going to talk.
  4. We should attempt to conduct the conversation either with the individual alone or with just a few people.
  5. What we say must be the truth.
  6. We must make sure we are speaking from an attitude of love.
  7. We must guide those to whom we speak back to God, and the Bible.

Trying to grow spiritually without hearing the truth about yourself from somebody else is like trying to do brain surgery on yourself without a mirror.

Sometimes truth-telling it is like time-release cold medicine that doesn’t take effect until we need it the most.

Back in the nineties I pastored a church in Denver. I was young and full of vim and vigor. I took quite a bit of pride in my ability to preach, lead, and grow a church. And by all accounts that was happening. But along the way I stepped on more than a few people in order to grow my church and make a name for myself and make myself feel good.

I had a member in that Church named Dr. Richard Beal. He taught theology at Denver Seminary and Colorado Christian University. I spent a lot of time with Dr. Beal so I could learn as much as I could from this seventy-six-year-old man.

Dr. Richard S. Beal (age 96)

A group in the church did not like some of the changes I had implemented and were starting to grumble. I got wind of it and preached a scathing sermon about it.

That same Sunday evening I was greeting people at Church when Dr. Beal pulled me aside, shook my hand, and said, “Pastor, I just wanted to say to you that I know you weren’t speaking directly to me this morning in your sermon, because I support you and many of the changes you are trying to do, but I want you to know that you hurt my heart with your sermon. It seemed as if your sermon came from a place other than love for your people. You are better than that, pastor.”

I began to pull my hand out of his, but he would not let me go. That’s when I noticed the tears in his eyes.

…speaking the truth in love, we must grow up… –Saint Paul

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Please, Lord, save me from Your followers!

“Jesus’ enemies are not his only problem.” – Dale Brunner

Today I learned that a very prominent member of my denomination of Southern Baptist was released from his position as president of our largest seminary. That, along with several high-profile evangelicals embroiled in various scandals, reminded me of a conversation I heard recently.

In a coffee shop, two young adults were ripping my Christian faith. They rattled off the usual suspects: The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, Abortion Clinic bombers, Southern White Slave masters, pedophile priests, and philandering preachers.

I felt my face redden. They kept talking about my faith as “those people.” As if we were not a part of the human race. I wondered if they had ever actually spoken with a Christ-follower or were they just parroting their favorite critic of the Christian faith.

When people who claim to be followers of Jesus do bad things is it because of His teachings, or is it in spite of His teachings? Jesus went against the conventional wisdom of his day by teaching, “…I tell you, love your enemies.” It is easy to love those who love us because it makes sense. But to love our enemies…that is a love beyond reason.

Speaking of enemies—When Judas betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane with a betrayer’s kiss, he was accompanied by the Temple guard and a contingency of Roman soldiers. When they came to arrest Jesus, Peter drew his sword and proved he was a better fisherman than gladiator and while aiming at the man’s throat, cut off his ear instead. Jesus rebuked Peter, calmed the mob, and turned toward the wounded man named Malchus. Here was an enemy if there ever was one.

The wound must have bled profusely. Red crimson spurted through his fingers as he instinctively placed his hand over his wound while blood flowed down his neck and jawline, matted into his beard, streaked down his neck and his robe growing wet and warm.

How long did it take for Jesus to stoop and pick up the severed ear, clean it off and place it back on the man’s head? Did he have to convince the guards he meant no harm before they would release his arms?

Jesus reached up to Malchus’ blood-stained hand pressed tightly in the gash where his ear used to be and gently pulled it away; muttered a prayer and healed the ear. The mob, for fear of further violence, jostled Jesus away to a trial and then to the cross where He died.

Malchus? We don’t know what happened to him. This incident is mentioned in all four Gospels and Luke calls his name but after that there is no further mention of him in Scripture, as far as I can determine, none in history. But he went somewhere.

“How was your day at work, Malchus?” asked his wife.

“Oh, pretty good. All things considered” he said.

She laid down her wooden spoon she had been stirring in a pot of stew. Looked at him and screamed, “What in the world happened to you, Malchus?” when she saw the blood on his robe

Then maybe Malchus said,

“Interesting story…. I was attacked by a follower of the Nazarene. The man had a vicious look in his eye that screamed hatred. I have never seen such uncontrolled rage in all these years in my garrison. This follower of the Nazarene was in a full-tilt rage. The guy’s name was Peter. He was a fisherman from Galilee, I think. He took a swing at my head with a sword, I ducked but he cut off my ear.”

Then she asked, “I see the blood, but where is the wound?”

Malchus said, “You’re not going to believe this, but when that fisherman cut off my ear and blood was squirting everywhere, and people were screaming, and swords were drawn; I heard the Nazarene say something about putting swords away. The next thing I knew he had my ear in one hand and with the other he pulled my hands away from my wound. I looked into his eyes and saw the opposite of what I saw in his follower’s eyes. I saw such deep compassion and grace and love. He turned my ear in his hand; looked at it, brushed off a pine needle and then, whispering something, pressed my ear back on my head. The bleeding stopped, he smiled at me and then they took him away.”

He paused and pulled on his ear and then said with a smile, “Say what you will about that violent fisherman, but there is something pretty amazing about that Nazarene.”

Of course, I have no idea what conversation occurred between Malchus and his wife. But the truth is pretty simple. Followers who misappropriate the theology of Jesus and do unspeakable things in Christ’s name have been doing so for two millennia. That is a fact. No defending it.

However, those actions, severe and violent as they are, do not discount the validity of Jesus or his teachings. In fact, the healing of Malchus proves just the opposite. Jesus transcends his follower’s behavior, even his really good ones…like the Apostle Peter.

Jesus rises above.

I wish I were a better ambassador of the Nazarene. I hope I get another opportunity to speak on His behalf in my coffee shop, I know what I would say to those two if I see them again.

Don’t judge Jesus by those who follow him.

Especially me.

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Extra Grace Required

Everyone has a family member that is hard to love. If you don’t know who that particularly challenging-to-love person is, chances are it is you. It is quite sobering to imagine that I am someone’s hard to love person. In our family that person was my maternal grandfather.

Oscar Lee Johnston

Oscar Lee Johnston

He was a grumpy old cowboy from west Texas. He only had an 8th grade education and, for a few years when my mother was a little girl, he was a Baptist preacher. Then he decided that making money was more important than winning souls so he went back to combining wheat up and down the Midwest from Texas to Canada.

He was an old man when I was born and much older than his years. His teeth were worn down to the gums on both sides of his mouth from clamping down on a pipe stem for so many years. He never brushed his teeth and only took a bath once a week. To this day there are three smells that make my head spin: Vitalis hair tonic, Prince Albert tobacco smoke, and Ben-Gay. And that’s all I want to say about that.

He was a complicated man and a walking contradiction, my grandfather. He would give the shirt off his back to a complete stranger, but was hesitant to buy new clothes for his own children.

As family stories go I’ve told this one so many times and it happened so long ago that I can’t remember if it happened to me or my brother or to both of us.

One day I was riding with him in his old 1959 blue ¾ ton Chevrolet pickup up a rough old mountain road in northern New Mexico. He cleared his throat, took the pipe out of his mouth, and began to sing an old hymn:

What a friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer!

About this time in the hymn, suddenly and without warning we hit a huge pothole in the road that bounced us so hard we both hit our heads on the roof of the cab of the pickup. That’s when my grandfather yelled, “God damn these roads!”

Then he went back to singing…

Have we trials and temptations?

Is there trouble anywhere?

We should never be discouraged—

Take it to the Lord in prayer.

I was stunned. I never understood, at such a formative stage in my life, how two disparate things could come out of the same mouth—curses and praises. He was as deeply flawed a man as I have ever known, but you know what? He loved Jesus and he loved me and that meant I loved him too.

There are people in every family that are hard to love. And what is true of our personal family is true of the family of God. How do we love the hard to love, old, curmudgeonly Christians in the family of God? And how do I love someone who is morally broken?

One day a group of people came to Jesus dragging a disheveled woman who had been caught in adultery. They threw her at his feet. Each held a stone for the punishment of such a crime was death by stoning. Interesting, they only brought the woman. This leads me to believe the woman had been framed.

In John Chapter 8, they said, Teacher, [. . .] What shall we do with her? (vs 4-5) They didn’t care about this woman. She was just a pawn in their game to try to trap Jesus. They knew the Law. They had a lot of truth, but not much grace.

Stone in HandSometimes stones feel good in our hands. They fit like a well-worn tool. Do you ever have a stone in your hand: a judgmental attitude or self-righteous thoughts?

Why do churches produce so many stone throwers? They don’t dance. They don’t laugh. They don’t have much capacity for joy. But there is one thing they do enjoy—passing judgment on other people they regard as spiritually inferior.

Someone’s kids get a little wild, they pick up a stone. Somebody’s marriage isn’t working, they pick up a stone. The worship leader chooses the wrong kind of song, they pick up a stone. The pastor posts something on social media they don’t like, they pick up a stone. Somebody crosses the line, somebody violates the code, somebody has a problem—word spreads and people start picking up stones.

The truth is that gathering stones energizes them in a way. They almost look forward to it. It kind of makes them feel good. I know what that feels like. Maybe you do too. But the only people attracted to a club of stone-throwers are other stone throwers. And God forbid you mess up because you don’t want to be around when the rocks start flying.

So Jesus said to all the people who had gathered around Him, Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone. And they all walked away. Then He turned to the woman and said, ‘Does no one here condemn you?  . . . Then neither do I.’ (vs. 7,10-11)

That’s grace—no condemnation from Jesus. But then, He said one more thing to her. He said to her, Now go and sin no more. (v. 11) That’s truth.

Preaching to an African-American church is very different from preaching in my church because they give you feedback the whole time. If you’re doing well, they give you grace. They say, “Preach it! Keep going! Tell it!”

If it’s not going very well, they give you truth by yelling, “Help him, Jesus!”

What a great thing it would be if as a Christian community we could flood folks with grace and truth. When people are doing well, we’d let them know and cheer them on, “Go on! Tell it! Do it!”

And when someone messes up, we’d say, “Help ’em, Jesus! Help ’em!”

We are all walking contradictions and God knew just what we needed. The Apostle John wrote in John 1:14, And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

There will always be holes in the road of life that bring out the worst in us. We need grace and truth from the family of faith. But when we can’t find it there or their hands hold only stones, we can always go to Jesus.

Can we find a friend so faithful,

Who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our every weakness;

Take it to the Lord in prayer.

His hands are open and the only thing he carries in them are scars.

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A Story of Repentance

David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done.” 2 Samuel 24:10

Age alone is no guarantee of maturity or freedom from error.

It would be wonderful if I could announce that as we grow older we automatically grow up, or that the longer we walk with the Lord the more we are guaranteed immunity from sin. That is not the case, however. We will never be immune from sin’s appeal. Often those who fall the hardest are those who have walked with God the longest.

Not until we are “with the Lord” will we be what we ought to be. There is no such thing as outgrowing sin. We are never immune to its appeal. And when spiritual leaders fall, they usually take a host of innocent people with them.

In this strange story, David is an old man and because of his pride, he decides to number the people. Intuitively he must have known is was not what God wanted him to do. He is restless all night with the census report laying on his bed stand. Finally, he can’t take it anymore and he confesses to God in the middle of the night that he had done wrong. As a result of his folly, thousands of people perished as a consequence of his sin.

But David has said these words of confession before. When David was a middle-aged man, the prophet, Nathan, came to King David and confronted him about his adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent cover up. After hearing about the consequences of what his sin would cause,

David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” 2 Samuel 12:13

But there is a major difference in the two confessions.

When he was a middle-aged man he said, “I have sinned …” after his pastor showed up and hit him pretty much over the head with a two-by-four.

Here as an old man, perhaps in his eighties, he says, “I have sinned …” before his pastor shows up.

David was stricken to the heart because he had numbered the people. 2 Samuel 24:10

His pastor didn’t confront him; didn’t strike him and make him feel guilty. The law didn’t strike him. The consequences didn’t strike him. His heart struck him.

This is a man who has grown. He has grown in grace. A spiritually growing person is not someone who repents less and less, a spiritually mature person is somebody who repents more and more the longer they walk with God. And they do it more quickly, more genuinely, and more deeply.

One of my concerns as an older Christian who has a conservative bent, is that I have a tendency to be pretty opinionated and judgmental about the behavior of others. I sometimes find it difficult to admit that I am a judgmental person. I find it difficult to admit when I am wrong.

And what I fear is that in my conservative pre-disposition both theologically and politically is that I am insensitive to the gentle touch of the Holy Spirit when I am wrong.

Recently, my wife and I went on a date. We saw a movie and went to dinner and then to Lowes to buy window blinds for our house. The blinds needed to be cut to our specific window dimensions and so we needed some help. I asked a Lowe’s employee to help us.

She came to our aisle and answered our questions. She was clearly a woman but was more tomboyish than normal. She was very polite and helpful. When it came time to thank her for her assistance, I glanced at her name tag wanting to call her name as I said thank you.

Her name tag said, “John.”

I paused. I said thank you but couldn’t bring myself to call her name.

Now, there is much about gender confusion that I don’t understand. But here is my spiritual battle: Part of me felt a certain level of condemnation towards “John.” Part of me wanted to stop and tell him/her to stop behaving badly. But another impulse came to the surface of my soul that said, “Why don’t you silently pray for this broken person.”

Then the Holy Spirit thumped me on the back of my head and said, “Why don’t you just pray for this beautiful soul who is made in my image and leave the word “broken” off of your prayer?”

See, I am a judgmental person. I am a mess. I needed to repent.

We like to say all the time, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” How about we just love the sinner? Isn’t that what God did for us in Jesus? Jesus took care of all our brokenness on the cross. It is not my job to confront all brokenness in this world. It is my job to love everyone I see. My job is to repent and do the right thing.

A spiritually growing person is not someone who repents less and less, a spiritually mature person is somebody who repents more and more the longer they walk with God. We never get too old for complete repentance.

And so, dear friend, may you grow in your faith in such a way that you can feel the gentle prod of the nail-scarred-hand to hate your own sin and love all the sinners.

It is never too late to do the right thing.

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