Tuesday, March 19, 2013

To my sons - Part I

I always find myself thinking a lot about life and death around Easter.  Some might call it melancholy.  Others might call it depression.  This year, it's probably a bit of both.  But as I sit here listening to Rich Mullins' "A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band," I find myself thinking about legacy.  What is it I want to pass on to the three beautiful and incredibly gifted boys God has given to me?  If I could say just one thing, what would it be?

Trust in God, my beloved sons.  Trust in him with everything you are and have.  Because if you're going to follow him, you're going to have to.  There's no middle ground.  There will be days he takes everything from you.  There will be days you swear to God (ironically) that he hates you.  There will be days when you are reduced to rubble and blood and you realize the only thing that keeps you walking in faith is the fact that there is nowhere else to go.  On those days when most people would walk away, he will ask you as he asked his friends the disciples, "Will you go away also?"  And son, you may be ready not just to walk, but to run.  But you won't.  You won't because you love him.  No, you will drop your head and sigh, and you will answer with Peter, "Where else will I go, you have words of life?"

But there's another reason you won't run.  It's not just that you love him, but somehow you know he loves you.  It goes against anything that makes sense.  Sometimes he is terrible.  Sometimes he is a wrecking ball.  I believe people misunderstand those passages in scripture that talk about God as fearful.  He is not to be feared because of his hatred and condemnation.  Oh no, it's so much worse than that.  It's his love that scares the hell out of me.  He is relentless.

It was not anger that melted the mountain of Sinai, it was love.  I suspect that the flames of hell are not kindled in God's wrath, rather they are fired by the rage of human hearts which refuse to accept his love.  They are not eternally punished by God.  They punish themselves.  They will be damned before they will accept so foolish and indiscriminate and undignified a love as that displayed on the cross.  I myself hold out hope (hope is not against orthodoxy) that hell is not, in fact, eternal.  But if hell is eternal, I believe it is because of the stubborn determination of the human will, not the will of God.  Let them shut me out of ministry and even the church itself, but I cannot believe that God is cruel or vindictive.  I cannot bow to a God formed in the image of human conceptions of vengeance and justice, whether her name be Dike, Justitia or even Theos.  I will always and only believe in the God revealed to us in Jesus, the cross and the resurrection.  I hope he is the God you will believe in too.

But the relentless love of God in Christ is terrifying.  He is a consuming fire.  He will reduce you to cinders, but  he will not let you go.  He will love you to death.  If your desire is to know him, he will grant you that desire regardless of the cost.  If you ask him for life, you will receive it.  But eternal life, like the mythical phoenix, is born out of ashes.  And the Jesus I know is liberal with his gifts.

I always wondered why scripture spoke of suffering as a gift (Phi 1:29).  Suffering brings us life because in it we know God as he truly is - God is selfless love, and selfless love is embodied in suffering.  The cross is the sacrament of that love.  It is the visible sign of an invisible truth.  God will make you his sacrament too.  And sometimes it will hurt like hell.  There is the really horrifying part of it.  God will not only allow you to suffer for your own good.  He will also allow you to suffer for the good of others.  In a very real sense, our whole purpose is to represent his love to others as he represented God's love to us.

It takes a lot of trust to suffer in faith.  It takes a lot more to suffer in faith and never see the reward.  Not everyone gets to live the story of Job.  Sometimes we do not receive back everything that God allows to be taken from us.  At least not here, not now.  As Hebrews 11:39 suggests, sometimes we do not receive what is promised because the promise is not for us individually, it is for everyone.  It is painful to suffer and not understand, not be vindicated.  But that is the call of God, and in it God ruins our lives as Mike Yaconelli once said.  But he ruins us that he might renew us.  He kills us that we might be resurrected.  And though he slay us, yet we will serve him.

So, trust in God.  Because it is in faith that all this makes sense.  It is from the perspective of the end that we understand all that goes before.  We are not yet privy to that perspective.  Trust him anyway.  He is good.  He is love.  Never believe anything else.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Without a Home

I am not much like Jesus. I wish I was more like him. These days I do feel like I identify with him in one way.

The gospel describes Jesus as a man without a home.  We find him consistently sticking out like a sore thumb among the "people.of God."  He just didn't seem to belong... in the synagogue, in the temple, even among his own disciples.  Oh, he *did* belong there.  But he was light in the darkness.  He was the true Adam amidst men of dust. 

I am not the light in the darkness.  But I become more and more aware that I don't belong.  I'm not sure whether its because I am a difficult person or because I just refuse to follow the crowd around here.  Both are equally probable.  They are probably two sides of the same coin.  The fact remains that I am slowly coming to question if there is any place in the church - the church here - for me. 

It makes me sad.  Truth be told though, I am not sure what to do about it.  I have sought God.  I won't say with all my heart, because I don't think any human - least of all myself - is free of partial and false motives.  But my desire has been to know Him as He is.  It just so happens that the Him I know doesn't fit the Him that most people know around here. 

In the end, I must be true to the You I know, Jesus.  Help me to do that.  Even if I never find a home.  Be my home.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Man Of God

"Come meet this man of God."  These were the words of the search committee announcing the selection of a new Pastor of Worship.  Why did they trouble me?

The same words had been used to describe me before.  Did they trouble me then?  I think perhaps so.  I know me.  To call me a man of God more than anyone else has never seemed appropriate.  Was I jealous?  Perhaps, I don't have a ministry position right now, so that was a legitimate probability.  But it didn't seem the only or even the primary reason.

As I thought about it, it seemed like it was the selectivity of the statement.  "Come see this man of God.

Him.  Me.  Why are we "men of God?"  What is so special about me?  About him?  I don't like the way we elevate people in ministry.  I don't like it when its done to others. I don't like it when its done to me.  Don't get me wrong, it feels good.  It makes me feel valued and loved and... God help me... important.  But as I said, I know me.  I know they're feeding a fire that doesn't need any fuel.  Even the most insecure people don't need to have their pride coddled.  Speaking as one, many of us have enough fantasies, dreams and secret hopes for our own importance that we would never let see the light of day.  I do.  God forgive me, I do.

I need encouragement.  I need reassurance.  I need hope and love.  But the paradoxical curse of ministry is that the role we serve feeds our greatest temptation - our pride.  I am a man of God no more than any other follower of Christ. I recognize that many people see pastors and church leaders as representatives of God.  But I am not convinced that is a good thing.  We are all representatives of God to each other.

The prayers of a minister are no more effective than those of your brother or sister in Christ.  Neither should be the words of encouragement, the hand of consolation, the comforting presence.  There is no ranking by position in the Kingdom of God.  Granted, there are differences of gifts:  wisdom, prophecy, mercy, eloquence, discernment.  But there should be no more reverence for the human pastor than for the human janitor or dishwasher.  "The last shall be first," and all that.

That said, I understand words from the pastor, minister or other authoritative person will, in fact, be more comforting to some people because they are uttered from a position of authority.  I will not begrudge anyone that.  But as people in leadership, we should neither invite nor welcome such sentiment.  And I would go so far as to say that we should subversively counter those ideas by our counsel, our sermons and our transparent lives before others.  We should be constantly reminding people that we are no more holy, no less sinful, no more important than anyone else who loves and follows Jesus.