Moving From Saying to Doing

I want to learn how to break away from putting faith and trust in civic government. Lent Week 1, Day 4.

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Jesus didn’t have to go through a series of primaries before being named the Messiah. Jesus didn’t participate in a bunch of debates to clearly state which direction the Kingdom of God needed to take. Jesus didn’t have a PR department managing the online presence and creating catchy commercials.

Jesus did not represent one part of the people. (Or one party, for that matter.) Jesus trusted God. Jesus lived life believing there was a God-ordained purpose. Jesus loved people. Jesus taught truth. Often, truth the listeners did not want to hear. Jesus did not care about image. Jesus did not care about platform.

Jesus calls me to the same standard. Do I love all people? Truly? Or do I act with righteous indignation when my side is in power and like a pitiful martyr when the other side is in power? Am I by my behavior indicating that one of the sides is actually closer to Jesus? Am I failing to start with Jesus before working my way into any ideology?

Am I willing to begin every day by starting in the presence of Jesus? What if I read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) every morning? What if I said the Lord’s Prayer?

What if I took all the blue and/or red decorations off my wall? What if I replaced all my donkeys and elephants with a lamb and a lion? What if I acknowledged that win or lose (politically) Jesus is still in charge? What if I prayed for eyes to see people the way God sees them? What if I remembered I pledged my life to Jesus?

What if I quit saying all the right things and actually start doing them?

We Don’t Do Death Well. And That’s Okay.

The following is an adapted version of what I shared at Freedom Fellowship a year ago during Holy Week (the post was originally published on April 3, 2015). I had been teaching a series on the Gospel of John. John’s story is written to a group of people 2 or 3 generations after Jesus died. They have never seen Him and now all those people who were eyewitnesses are dying. John’s Gospel is written to tell the story of Jesus in a way that new generations of people could learn who Jesus was and is—much like we tell family stories of our grandparents to our children. For example, though I never met my grandfather physically, I know him because of the stories. I think that is in part what John is trying to do with his Gospel.

Shortly after my brother, Robert, passed away, my cousin and her husband, Gretchen and Jeremy, finalized the adoption of three wonderful sons. When an adoption becomes final, the family has the option of changing the children’s names. Gretchen and Jeremy decided not to do that. At least, they chose not to change their first names, but they did change the middle names.

For years, Jeremy had been saying he wanted a son named Joe Bob. For years, Gretchen said they would never have a son named Joe Bob.

When the time came to select middle names for their children, Gretchen asked Jeremy if “Robert” could be their oldest son’s middle name. She wanted to honor my brother by using his name. It just so happens their oldest son’s first name is Joseph. So Jeremy gladly agreed for his middle name to be Robert. Jeremy and Gretchen now have a son named Joe Bob. (It’s actually Joseph Robert, but it counts!)

And my brother would love that! That is exactly the kind of thing that would make him smile ear to ear and laugh non-stop.

We pass on the memory of previous generations through stories and names and talking about them. It is how we can remember those we no longer get to see. It is how we teach future generations about the people they have never been able to see face to face.

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We don’t do death well. I think, nationwide, we are getting better at it. I appreciate what Hospice care has brought to families who are suffering. But overall, we don’t die well. We adjust our diets, we exercise like crazy, we buy creams and ointments, we have created an entire field of medicine dedicated to making us look younger, we tan every way possible—from sunning, to sitting in lamps, to spraying it on.

Or we don’t do any of those things. We smoke, drink, eat whatever we want whenever we want, and scoff at the idea of exercising. And then we avoid the doctor because we are afraid of what she or he might say.

We don’t do death well.

And I have to be honest, I don’t know how. I don’t have the answers. I could try to make some up. I could come up with three points that all begin with the same letter, or I could use “death” as an acronym to spell out the five steps to dying well.

But that would not be honest. Because I don’t know how to do death well.

In fact, the reason I started this post with a story that involved my brother, Robert’s memory is because his death is the one that still shows me I don’t know how to do death well.

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But his death has done something else for me, too: it has given me an ability to sit with other people who also don’t know how to handle death.

In John Chapter 11, Jesus goes to the village of Bethany 4 days after Lazarus has died. When Martha comes to Jesus, He tells her something incredible. It is one of the “I Am” statements found in John’s Gospel:

I Am the Resurrection and the Life.

Jesus is saying two things to Martha but she is only hearing one. The thing Martha is not hearing is that Jesus came to do a miracle. Jesus is asking her if she believes He is the resurrection, partly meaning now, and she is answering that she believes, but in the future. And that really is okay.

Martha believed Jesus, mostly. But she saw death the way we all see death: as final.

And that leads to the second thing Jesus is saying: in Him, there will be life forever. But resurrection requires death. At the Highland Church of Christ this past Sunday, Nika Maples said, “If you want to follow Jesus out of the tomb, you first have to follow Him into the tomb.”

Physically speaking, as humans we can do nothing to avoid death. We can push it off. We can stretch out the average life span. We can, and should, keep looking for cures to terminal illnesses. But ultimately, death will come to us all.

But that is not the end of the story.

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This is Holy Week. Today is Good Friday. The day the Savior of the world died. Tomorrow, Holy Saturday, is the day of waiting, darkness, maybe even despair.

But Resurrection Sunday tells us that the story does not end of Friday or Saturday. We will face death. We will face loss. We will wonder and doubt and ponder and sit in disturbed silence.

But one day, we will realize that pain is not the end of the story. And we will celebrate.

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I want to point out something else about the story of Jesus with Martha and her sister, Mary: even knowing what the end of the story is going to be (Lazarus being raised back to life), Jesus still wept. Jesus knew what He was about to do. He also knew that physical death was not the end of the story. But still He wept.

Because death is hard. It always has been. It always will be.

So we will grieve. We will mourn. But we will have hope because the I Am is the resurrection and the life.

We don’t do death well, but that’s okay.

Because we have been called to life.

How To Addiction-Proof Your Church

A lot of churches are uncomfortable dealing with addiction. It’s messy. It’s painful. It hurts a lot of people, not just the addict. And it appears like a lack of willpower. It is seen as a sign of weakness. And it is often obvious. If someone walks in high or drunk or hungover, it is usually easy to notice.

My guess is a lot of people would like to know how to addiction-proof their church. Is there any way we can move forward knowing that we will not be potentially allowing someone to stand in the pulpit, or be on the praise team, or lead a prayer, who may be high or buzzed or slightly incapacitated.

And there is. There is one simple step you can take to make sure addiction is never an issue in your church ever again:

Stop having church.

See? Pretty simple! In order to assure addiction is never present in your church again, your church has to stop accepting people. Which pretty much means it can no longer be a church.

Too many of us have forgotten the reason we have “church.” Church is not a place where the people who have it all figured out show up to pat one another on the back. Church is a place where we gather to acknowledge our weakness, our shortcomings, our need for community and to celebrate the grace that frees us from the bondage of ourselves.

Instead of ridding our churches of addiction or sin or problems (because to do so means no people can come to church), we accept those that come, warts and all. We welcome all the hurting, lost, hopeless, despairing, struggling people who walk through our doors.

Because that’s what church is. A place to offer grace, hope, and freedom to people who are lost, despairing, and in bondage.

Now to be sure, we don’t stay there. We hold one another accountable. We call one another to something better. We pray with and for one another to overcome the temptations in our lives. We serve others because that is what the people of God do.

So, yes. You can addiction-proof your church. You can even go all out and completely sin-proof your church.

But why would you want to? Thank God that Jesus’s mission was not to create a sin free zone. Jesus’ mission was to create a place where all the hurting, sinful, broken people could come and find healing.

And for that, I am grateful.

I Hate Waiting

I hate waiting.

I started attending AA meeting in January of 2004. In February, when I picked up my 30 day chip, another person celebrated 16 years. I remember saying at that meeting, “I want to have 16 years sobriety.” And I really did. I didn’t want to be counting days, I wanted to be celebrating years. Only, I didn’t want to actually have to wait 16 years to get 16 years of sobriety.

So maybe it’s not a surprise that I relapsed a couple months later. I didn’t want to wait and I lost what I had.

I hate waiting.

When our middle child, our daughter, was born she had some difficulty breathing. They kept her in the nursery to take close care of her, but it was soon determined that she needed to go to another hospital that had a NICU. After five days there, they sent us home telling us we would know in two week what, if anything was wrong. In fact, there were three options: Hirschprung’s disease, Cystic Fibrosis, or nothing. Two weeks. We would have our answer. Two weeks passed. We did not receive a call. I did fine for those two weeks (really!). But the next six days were the longest of my life.

We did receive the call that nothing was wrong. I was at a minor league hockey game when I received the news. I don’t remember much of those six days. I just knew…

I hate waiting.

My oldest brother was sick. He had been for a while. But we knew that he was deteriorating. Another brother called me and told me to get up to see him soon. He lived in Maryland; I had been living in Texas for less than a year. I asked my brother, and later my father, if we were talking days or weeks. The answer was weeks. I checked my calendar. I picked a date. I called the airline. I booked my flight.

My brother, Robert, died a few weeks before my flight was scheduled. It may sound cliché, but I never got to say goodbye.

I hate waiting.

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I want what I want and I want it now. I want everyone to agree with each other (but mostly me) without having the difficult conversations necessary. I want health without doctor’s visits and medicines and procedures and recovery. I want 10 years experience when I wake up tomorrow morning.

I want Jesus to come back so that I don’t have to put up with all the crap that is out there today.

And then Advent happens.

I read the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and I am reminded that when Jesus came the first time, it was not in the time, place, or manner the majority of people were expecting. Why would Jesus’ second coming be any different?

I hate waiting, yet Advent reminds me that is exactly what I am supposed to do: wait.

There is pain. There is sickness. There is doubt. There is struggle. There is death.

Wait.

I am growing. I am learning. I am surviving. Some days, I am even thriving.

Wait.

I want peace. I want reconciliation. I want restoration.

Wait.

I want Jesus in this world.

Wait.

 

When Jesus Meets…A Poor Person

Picture this:

Jesus is nearing the city of Jericho. A blind man is sitting there, begging by the roadside. He can hear the sounds of the crowd accompanying Jesus, and he asks what’s going on.

Crowd: Jesus of Nazareth is passing this way.

Then the man starts shouting. Blind Man: Jesus, Son of King David, show mercy to me!

The people in the front of the crowd reprimand him and tell him to be quiet, but he just shouts louder.

Blind Man: Son of King David, show mercy to me!

Jesus stops and tells the people to bring the man over to Him. The man stands in front of Jesus.

Jesus: What do you want Me to do for you?

Blind Man: Lord, let me receive my sight.

Jesus: Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.

At that very instant, the man is able to see. He begins following Jesus, shouting praises to God; and everyone in the crowd, when they see what has happened, starts praising God too.

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Generally speaking, as a country we don’t like poor people. That’s why we talk about “the bad parts of town” or “the other side of the tracks.” That’s why we support unchecked capitalism–we are okay with rich corporations increasing profits while the minimum wage is worth about 2/3 of what it was 30 years ago. When we say things like “better schools” and “better neighborhoods” we are talking in code so that we don’t have to say out loud, “We don’t want to be around poor people.”

And I know that is harsh. It is a broad over-generalization. But I think anyone would be hard-pressed to show that it is not true. Much of our lives is spent insulating ourselves from people who are in a lower socio-economic class than we are.

That is a problem than needs to be addressed. Especially for people who claim to be Jesus followers.

When Jesus meets a poor person, pay attention to what He does (The story above is found in Luke 18:35-43).

First, He notices them.

We spend a lot of our time trying to NOT notice poor people. We pass laws that make it illegal for homeless people to ask for money or sit on a park bench or walk into a library. We participate in a phenomenon called “White Flight” where middle class people, especially middle class white people, flee urban areas and live in the suburbs. Some cities put people on buses and send them to the other end of their state during fair season so that they won’t bother the good people coming to the state fair. In many urban areas, before renewal hits, developers spend a lot of money buying up property and running people out so that the “right kind” of tenant can move in without being bothered by urban plight.

(Do you realize that what a lot of us call “plight” is what a large number of people call “home”?)

The crowd in this story tried to shush the poor beggar. They told him to be quiet and not bother Jesus.

But Jesus heard. Jesus noticed. Jesus paid attention. And He stopped walking. When Jesus notices someone, He stops to talk with them. He doesn’t walk away and pretend like He can’t hear or see.

Second, Jesus overrides the will of the crowd who is telling the person to be quiet by telling them to bring the poor person to Him.

Jesus just doesn’t walk up to the blind beggar. Instead, Jesus tells the people who have been trying to shut the beggar up to go get him and bring him to Jesus. Jesus is in effect saying, “Go to the person that you are disregarding, go to that person that you are dehumanizing, and bring him to me.”

Jesus makes the shushers become ushers. (That is quite possibly the cheesiest sentence I have ever written.)

The crowd did not want Jesus to be bothered. The crowd thought they knew who Jesus should talk to. The crowd wanted to be in control. And Jesus tells them to go to the people they ignore. Not only does Jesus notice poor people, He forces us to notice them, as well.

Third, He asks what He can do.

In their book, When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert talk about the difference in relief, rehabilitation, and development. While the most effective aid to those in poverty comes in the form of development, the overwhelming majority of aid currently is in the form of relief.

I do not want to discourage anyone from participating in relief efforts. But I do want to suggest two things: first, look for ways to be involved with development (and reading Corbett and Fikkert’s book is a good place to start to find out how).

Second, realize that too often, relief takes the form of the person with resources stepping in and telling the poor person, “Here is what you need to do; here is how I am going to help you.” The problem with that sentiment is that we never know if what we are doing is actually needed or not.

Jesus asks the blind beggar, “What do you want me to do for you?” He doesn’t assume the person wants sight. He doesn’t provide food or money. He asks what the person needs.

When Jesus meets a poor person, He treats the poor person with same dignity, respect, and humanity He would offer anyone else.

Fourth, He does what He can without qualification.

Many states are trying to add (or have added) drug testing as a requirement to receive government aid. Although multiple studies have shown this type of drug testing to be a waste of money because such a small number of people fail the drug tests, people insist on continuing to use them.

Why? Because we want to put requirements on people getting help. We want to tell people how they should live and act if they should find themselves in a situation where they need assistance.

We want people to earn our charity.

But Jesus doesn’t. Jesus says, “I will help and I won’t ask you to jump through any hoops to get it.”

What will it take for us to notice the poor people around us in the way that Jesus notices them?