• Power and Love On the Cross

    One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” ~ Luke 39-43

    Over the years I have heard this interaction between Jesus and the thief on the cross explained mostly as a demonstration of power. Jesus has the power to forgive sins. Jesus has the power to defeat death. Jesus has the power to secure salvation from hell fires to those who recognize him. Even as he was dying on the cross, I have been told, Jesus was demonstrating his great power!

    And I suppose there’s some truth to all of that, so far as it goes. But I can’t help thinking that most of those who point to this interaction as a display of power are missing what actually happened here. Jesus’ didn’t tell the thief who defended him that he was going to be with him in paradise that day in order to demonstrate his power. At least not in the way we often think of it.

    What Jesus really did was give a man facing an inevitable, excruciating death the only comfort anyone could give to someone in that situation. “It won’t last too long,” he says, “and it will be OK when it’s done.” As the man suffered his trial of crucifixion, how many times did he repeat Jesus’ assurances to himself? How much easier was that man’s death because of Jesus’ words to him? And I can’t help but wonder if as the thief on his other side suffered, if he did not turn his hope towards Jesus’ words as well.

    When all you can do is endure pain and suffering, this is really the only comfort anyone can offer: it’s not going to last forever and everything will be wonderful when it’s done. The power Jesus displayed was the willingness and ability to show love and offer comfort, even in the midst of his own suffering. May we all strive to be so powerful.

  • fatalism_large1

    Free Will and Its Discontents

    fatalism_large1OK, so let’s talk about free will. I’ve had several people ask me to explain my understanding of it lately, so apparently it’s a subject of interest. As the conversation usually breaks out, you have free will on one side and determinism on the other. Free will says we make our own choices. Determinism says that everything is decided for us. Free will is a mental illusion and nothing more.

    Now, to be frank, I’ve never had much interest in the subject of free will. The reason being that it makes no real difference in how we live our lives. If the reality is that I have no actual free will, then either choice I make will be the inevitable which is more confusing than helpful when faced with a decision. How do you pick the “right” path when whatever I choose is inevitable. It’s a supremely unhelpful concept when you have to make some decision.

    As a practical matter, I must chart my course as if I had free will. Even if predestination is true, the illusion of free will is such a powerful internal sensation that for all practical purposes, it’s my reality. That being the case, what difference does it make is from some cosmic perspective everything is predestined?

    Now, my personal understanding is that we have incomplete free will. There are simply too many factors which can take away our ability to choose freely to say that we have unfettered free will. Like I can’t stick my elbow in my ear. Seriously, I’ve tried and I just can’t do it, not matter how much I freely choose to. Or take someone who is facing extreme poverty, war, crime, sickness, oppression, etc. People’s options can become so circumscribed by circumstances that free will loses any real meaning.

    However, within the limits we are working under, I think we have complete free will. More than people even realize, in fact. I believe strongly that we are always free to choose to do anything we want, so long as we are willing to live with the consequences. Not only do I believe that, but I  believe that this attitude is key to living a life of freedom, wisdom and power.

    The problem I have with free will enthusiasts is the often unstated assumption that having free will means we are all captain of our own ships and masters of our domain. If life is directed not by outside forces, but by the direction of our free choices, then clearly we are all responsible for those choices and the consequences of them. It is my opinion that this is why the idea of free will is so popular in American Christianity. We like to judge. We feel that it is our duty to judge. When we refuse to judge, we end up with reality TV shows featuring Flavorflav in hot tub filled with erotic dancers. If we have free will, then people are culpable for their own choices and our job of warning people away from such things is both simple and a moral imperative.

    Now, if you are fairly privileged; if you are not impoverished, under-educated, disabled, living under oppression, haven’t suffered significant trauma, don’t have a chronic illness, aren’t being held hostage by stoned pirates, etc., then free will is very appealing. It means that a fairly direct line can be drawn between what is good in your life and the good choices you made and the bad choices you turned away from. You can take responsibility for both your poor choices and the good choices you made which allowed you to overcome them. You are free, wise and powerful.

    However, what I know from experience is that for someone who is not so privileged, the teaching of free will becomes a trap of condemnation. If you made a bad choice, it was because you freely made a bad choice and therefor can be held accountable for the consequences. It doesn’t really matter if you were so stressed and overwhelmed by circumstances that you couldn’t think straight. It doesn’t matter if you were in so much pain that your judgment was compromised. It doesn’t matter if you were trying to escape a dangerous, untenable situation by any means possible. It doesn’t matter if you made your choices without the sort of maturity or information that would have allowed you to make a good choice. You made your choice. It was a bad choice. It’s all your fault, so don’t expect any coddling or sympathy from the good people who knew better than to choose so poorly.

    In fact, so deeply ingrained in a lot of Christians’ thinking is the idea of free will that the church is well known for resisting psychology, many social justice concerns and calls to display greater compassion towards society’s undesirables. Frequently such things are seen as excuse making by and for those who are unwilling to take responsibility for themselves. The fact that the average church goer is better educated, happier and wealthier than the rest of the population means that a lot of white Christians, in particular, haven’t ever spent years on end being pushed past the limits of their ability to cope and so have no real idea what life is like for those they see as excuse making failures.

    If we admit that things like trauma, oppression, addiction, mental illness, poverty, abuse and ignorance remove at least some culpability for people’s poor choices, then the answer is to do something about the sources of trauma, oppression, addiction, mental illness, poverty, abuse and ignorance.  And really, it’s much easier to tell people to buck up and get their acts together. In practice, free will enthusiasm is frequently an excuse for eschewing any responsibility for lifting burdens, ending oppression and righting injustices.

    Of course, I am writing this as a child of western culture which is excessively married to the idea of free will. There are plenty of people who come from cultures that are excessively married to the idea of fate. I suspect that for a person who has been told that life is all up to God and fate, the idea of free will is exactly what it should be – a source of freedom, wisdom and power. But for someone like myself, the idea that fate has its say is a comfort to me. It’s a bit of reprieve from a harsh, judging and demanding world that blames me for all of my own suffering.

    In the end, only God really knows the extent to which life is and isn’t in our control. It is foolish arrogance to claim to have such knowledge ourselves. The best we can do is accept that even if it’s not our own experience, for most people, life is continually circumscribed by circumstances beyond their control. Not every obstacle can be overcome through force of will. Sometimes we are completely powerless and just going along the best way we can figure out how. Yet, when an option presents itself, we do have the right to choose, so far as we are able. And frankly, many people do not take full advantage of the free will they do have because they do not consider the full range of options available to us. As usual, the best answer seems to be both/and rather than either/or.

  • Want To Hear About the Time I Was on Moody Radio?

    I was once offered a job simply on the basis of how I said my name. People sometimes stop me and ask if I sing. I had a teacher who let me into class without a late slip if I would say my name for the class. Such is the great power of my voice. Which I, of course, think is weird. If my voice is so great, shouldn’t I have more money than I do? It just seems like the two should go hand in hand or something. Ah well.

    Anywho, as I may have mentioned already, I was a guest, along with a dude named Thi’sl and a dude named Joshua, on the Moody Radio call-in show Up 4 Debate over the weekend discussing the church and it’s handling of racial issues. And I’ve had several people ask for the link to listen to it online. So here it is. Right here. This is the link. Click it. 

    Obviously the issue of race and the church is a huge one and we just barely scratched the surface on the show. Hopefully I will get a chance to write some more thoughts on race and the church in the next week or so. If my brain will cooperate. 

    In the meantime, go listen to the dulcet sounds of my amazing voice. I don’t recall saying anything incoherent or ridiculous, but I’m too chicken to listen myself and find out. And I think I’m OK with that!

  • Bring the Smelling Salts and Set Your Alarm Clocks!

    So there’s this lovely woman named Judy who produces the radio show Up For Debate with Julie Roys on Moody Radio. And I think she might be slightly incompetent. I mean, I’m no expert in these things and I certainly can’t predict the future, but it seems likely that come Monday morning she’s going to be having a serious conversation with someone higher up about whether she has the judgment required to perform her duties. Why do I say this, you ask? Because the poor dear went and asked yours truly to be part of an hour long discussion on the church, race and Ferguson. And I, having a big mouth, lots of opinions and no qualms about taking advantage of dear Judy’s foolishness, said yes.

    So, if you’d like to hear me engage in my usual tomfoolery (hopefully without the typos, grammar glitches and random gibberish that I like to sprinkle in my writing), tune in. It’s on Moody Radio from 8-9 am, central time, tomorrow morning. Program info and station information can be found here. And if you really love me, call in and gush about how amazing I am and how every good Christian should listen to everything I say. Depending on how it goes, I might need the help!

    In all seriousness, say a prayer for me. Continue reading

  • Walking each other home sm

    Dancing The Way

    How many of you, at some point in your life, thought that there were two ways to do things; the right way and the wrong way? And that your job was to find the right way. Failing to find the right way might mean being a bad person, being unlovable, being rejected by God, being outside of God’s will or just being a stupid doo-doo head. I suspect a lot of you just raised your hand. I suspect that those of you who didn’t just haven’t dug quite deep enough into your heart to find that particularly nasty snare that gets planted in the heart of nearly every human being along the way.

    Now, do I mean to say that there are no wrong ways and no right ways to do things? That all options the human mind can conceive of are equally good? No. Of course not. Going to the spa is a much better way to deal with burnout than doing meth. As anyone who has done meth has probably figured out by now. Hell, smoking weed is a much better way to deal with burnout than doing meth. But not if you are prone to addictions are might be tempted to do meth. Because meth is really, really bad, donchano. (Hey – fun fact: do you know how much weed it takes to kill a rat? Continue reading

  • THIS

    This is what God would want those who claim his name to hear today. Like really today. Right here in the reality that is June 2014. Don’t worry, I’m not claiming to have some “prophetic word” for y’all. Although maybe more people would pay attention if I did. I’m just repeating things God has made clear to those who put trust in his word. You know, all the stuff in between the 50 verses you can use to win an argument:

    God is God. God needs nothing from us. He takes no satisfaction in people who will make any sacrifice imaginable to protect the Christian faith but refuse to be moved by the site of despair all around them. Who claim that their way really is loving, no matter how much our neighbors say that it hurts.

    Really they are just refusing to be broken by the site of God’s suffering children. What kind of father is happy that his kid claims to be sweeping the floor as they’ve been asked while listening as their brother begs them to stop hitting him with a broom? What kind of Father do you think we serve? One who doesn’t give a crap about one of his children just so long as his orders are followed. One who elevates service to him above any other concern? If that’s what you think, either you are under the mistaken impression that God is far less good than you are or I feel sorry for your kids. Continue reading

  • The Christian Gospel

    God the Father is Love as the one who encompasses all that is expressed in the created universe.

    God the Holy Spirit is Love as it interacts with the created universe.

    God the Son is Love experiencing the created universe in human form.

    Jesus shows us the power of a man who relies on God the Holy Spirit to know God the Father and discovers that he is one with the Father. He now asks us, his Bride, follow the Way of the Son, relying on the Holy Spirit in order that we would know God, in whose image we were made. Jesus showed us what we look like. The Holy Spirit tell us what we act like. God tells us who we are.

    The path is narrow, although easy enough to follow. You just have to follow Jesus’ words. It’s the path of the cross, however, because it means suffering the loss of whatever you take your life from that isn’t Love. Which, until Jesus returns is everything. If you do not allow the Holy Spirit to take possession of you, you will never make it, so long as humanity, by and large, is unaware of the reality of who they are as image bearers.

    In the end times, the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of Earth will be joined in the hearts of the people who have discovered the holy of holies that is their innermost being. And when they come together, the Golden City will be born. It’s light will cover the surface of the whole world and all mankind will seek to join in the wedding party. Which will be the final defeat of the false idols of this world that torment and oppress suffering mankind.

    The church cries out, “come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

    Jesus whispers back, “Just as soon as you show yourself, my bride.”

     

  • Manual_harvest_in_Tirumayam

    “Whoever Is Not Against Us Is For Us”

    “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

    “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.”  ~ Mark 9:38-40

    I have long thought that we Christians would do well to embrace any and all who walk and work on the side of love, regardless of their theology, religion or ideology. God is love and love is what’s left in the end and it never fails, so why not? Why should I not stand side by side and shoulder to shoulder with anyone who is on the side of love, regardless of what else we disagree with? Whoever is not against us is for us, right?

    Unfortunately, the church has long chosen to embrace this idea from the opposite side of the coin. In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus is recorded as saying, “whoever is not for us is against us.” This saying has often been used to reject those who, while perhaps sharing the same devotion to love, are not actively for Christianity. And not only those who are not actively for Christianity, but for the same peculiar form of Christianity.

    This is how we end up with the bizarre spectacle of atheist volunteers being turned away from helping at Christian soup kitchens. Or one group of Christians denouncing another, apparently equally devout group of Christians. It’s how we have so many supposed leaders who are able to convince their followers to see the world in “us vs them” terms. “If you’re not for us, you are against us.”

    But look at the context for Jesus saying “if you are not for us, you are against us”. In both Matthew and Luke, it is spoken in response to people who accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Jesus responds by saying:

    “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.”

    Now, the first, obvious point that Jesus is making here is about unity. A house that is divided against itself will fall. Satan knows this, but the people of God need to be taught it.

    Beyond that, there’s this somewhat odd bit about a strong man and his house that is often misunderstood. Usually when Jesus speaks of a powerful man like a king or a landowner, he is alluding to God. However, in this case, the strong man is not God, but Beelzebul. What Jesus is saying is that the devil is like a strong man who has been bound up so that his house can be plundered.

    In the early church, it was universally accepted that when Jesus died on the cross, he descended into hell, wrested the keys of death from Satan and plundered his house, taking with him into heaven the souls held prisoner there. This was what Jesus was sent to do: to set the prisoner free and lift oppression.

    Of course, when he tells this story, Jesus has not yet been crucified. Yet here he is already plundering the strong man’s house and taking back those who were possessed by him. Which is why Jesus goes on to say:

    “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”

    Prior to his death and resurrection, Jesus is preparing for the ultimate victory over the strongman who holds humanity captive. It is the Holy Spirit who has bound up the strong man, so that Jesus can begin the plunder of his house. The accusation that Jesus was working for the strong man was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because it failed to recognize the power of God at work.

    The reason Jesus says that this sin will not be forgiven is simply because if you do not recognize your Savior’s voice or the hand of God at work, you will not respond to it.

    If you cannot tell the power of God from the power of the devil, how will you be saved? You will turn away from God and towards Satan without even knowing what you are doing. If you are as blind as the Pharisees, you could die and be in the presence of the Holy One and be repulsed by the source of all that is good, thinking it is evil.

    Which is why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit can’t be forgiven. Forgiveness must be accepted in order to bear fruit, but if you reject the forgiveness God offers because you mistake God for Satan, how can you benefit from it?

    So, it is in this context that Jesus says, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters.” What he is saying is that anyone who is not with him – recognizing the hand of God and the work of the Holy Spirit when they see it – is against him. Anyone who sees the work of the Holy Spirit and instead of celebrating it, rejects it is against Jesus.

    Labeling someone as against us due to differences in doctrine, religion and ideology is foolish in the extreme. As Jesus says in John’s gospel:

    “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

    The Spirit moves as it will. It will not be contained by human minds, beliefs and expectations. Failing to recognize the Spirit when it is at work ought to be considered far more dangerous than the possibility that those we associate with may not be pure or righteous enough.

    Notice that those who are with Jesus gather, while those who against him scatter. Jesus and his followers are tasked with gathering up the harvest. It is the job of Jesus’ followers to recognize the Spirit moving and claim the harvest for Jesus regardless of where the harvest appears. After all, as with the landowner in the parable of the talents, God “reaps where he has not sown and gathers where he scattered no seed.” The whole harvest belongs to God.

    It is the enemy who scatters and sows division. When we use Jesus’ teaching that “whoever is not for us is against us” to divide between “us and them”, “believer and non-believer”, “orthodox and heretic” and so on, we are playing the role of the one who scatters. Rather than gathering the harvest, we are rejecting it and throwing it aside as not good enough, not pure enough and not holy enough. Which is exactly what blasphemy against the Holy Spirit looks like.

    So, how are we to avoid rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit? Well, we can go back to what Jesus said about those who were casting out demons in his name: “whoever is not against us is for us”. If someone is driven by love, they are for us. If someone wants more peace, joy, patience, justice, mercy and grace in the world, they are for us. Even if they are, as the disciples put it “not one of us”. After all, the Spirit moves where it will. And it is our job to gather the harvest, claiming it for the one who is the source of all good things.

  • Jesus_with_children

    Suffer Us Little Children

    What parent doesn’t want to be a better parent to their kids?

    And what Christian doesn’t desperately wish to be truly humble? (OK, almost no Christian actually wants any such thing, but play along with me here.)

    What if I told you that I have the secret to attaining these two highly desirable goals all in one fell swoop? Well, I’d become a viral sensation and finally be discovered and recognized as the spiritual genius I am, of course!

    Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Ah. Sorry, sometimes I just need a good laugh. (You may not find me so amusing, but from time to time I crack myself up. It always makes me happy to know that someone thinks I’m funny.)

    Anyhow, in all seriousness, somewhere along the line I picked up a spiritual habit that actually does humble me far more than I want to be humbled. And it does make me a better, more compassionate parent. And I will share it with y’all in case any of you are stupid brave enough to want to follow in my footsteps and enjoy the horrible joyous spiritual misery benefits. (I’m feeling really up on life today. Can you tell?)

    It goes back to something Jesus said:

    “[Jesus] called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

    Now, the bible is filled with references to God as father. Which would make us children. But it’s often not a particularly helpful concept because we tend to want God the Father to be a grandiose, super hero version of dad rather than a real dad.

    So we think that being dad, God is supposed to protect us from all harm. Which, as anyone who has ever watched Finding Nemo knows, doesn’t actually work in real life. And we want God to be the dad who makes sure his kids have everything they need. Which is no doubt what the father of every child who has ever gone to bed hungry wants as well. We want God to move heaven and earth, changing time and the rules of life itself if that’s what it takes to make things all better. Even though heaven, earth, time and life itself all work the way they do because God made them work that way, presumably for good reasons.

    The truth is that we don’t actually want God the Father. We want God the personal body guard/Santa Claus/magician.

    In real life, dads do provide and protect, to the best of their ability. But mostly they tell you to stop jumping on the couch. They spin you in circles and tickle you and make fart jokes. They refuse to give into your temper tantrums and tell you to wait your turn and share with your sister. They teach you how life works and strategies for coping with its difficulties. They tell you stories and give advice and keep your secrets.

    Once you understand this, Jesus’ teaching that we must become like little children takes on a whole new flavor. In fact, what I’ve learned is that when God is not responding to me the way I think he should, it’s because he’s dealing with me like a real father. And I’m acting like a real child. Which is hard to see when I think I’m the righteous heroine in distress and God’s supposed to be my father cum super hero/Santa Claus/magician.

    For example, this spring, I realized that my ongoing anger at God was very much like when my kids would attempt to bend me to their will by throwing the world’s biggest temper tantrum. And that much of my time in the desert was basically God using my own super easy, super effective parenting trick on me. He was just standing by, waiting out my hurt and anger so we could both start to move forward.

    And it makes me appreciate how much God puts up with from me. How rarely he chastises me for my anger and instead offers comfort and understanding. He bends down to my height and listens to my howls of pain and outrage and tells me I’m going to be OK. Then when I won’t be comforted, he withdraws a little to wait until I’m ready.

    But he never mocks me. He doesn’t tell me to shut up and show some appreciation for everything he does for me. He never holds the things I say in anger against me. He doesn’t walk away in disgust. He doesn’t yell at me or tell me to pull myself together and grow up. He doesn’t get angry at me for not showing proper respect. He just loves me through it until I figure things out for myself.

    Realizing how much pain I am in when I throw my spiritual little kid temper tantrums, forces me to look at my children’s temper tantrums with much more compassion. I can see how ridiculous they are sometimes being. But even when they know they’re being kind of ridiculous, they are in so much pain that they just can’t help themselves.

    So I do for them what God does for me. I don’t mock, ridicule or yell at them. I offer comfort and if they won’t take it, I just stand by and wait it out. I understand that as annoying as a temper tantrum throwing little kid is, it’s much worse to be in that much distress.

    Right now I’m in a period of waiting. My life is a disaster. Beyond repair, so far as I can tell. Yet I’ve had multiple people who I trust pass on messages telling me that it’s just a matter of time. God has very good plans for me. But he’s working on his own schedule and he’s not going to deviate from it, even though it’s painful for me.

    This is very frustrating because every time I get upset and beg God to step in and help me and I get angry about my life, I am forcibly reminded of how my kids pester me when I tell them to wait. How they will come to me multiple times a day demanding to know why it’s not their birthday yet. Or asking, “are you ready yet?” over and over. Or wanting to know when their stomach flu will pass.

    Frankly, my kids’ inability to wait irritates me like nothing else. Realizing that I’m in the same boat and that the waiting is unbearably painful both humbles me and gives me new compassion for my kids. I’m not sure I’ve really understood before how much I’m asking from them when I tell them to wait. Which has forced me to be more judicious about when I elevate my priorities over theirs and how long I ask them to wait.

    It also makes me more cognizant of the burden of their trust. I cannot ask them to wait patiently if I cannot be trusted to do what I’ve said I will. I’ve learned to make very, very few promises or commitments with my kids. It drives them nuts, but then when I say I will do something, they can have full confidence that it will happen, no matter how long it takes.

    I don’t honestly like the idea that my problems, which from a human perspective are not small, are so small in the eyes of God. It makes me feel less than. No one likes to feel less than. Like a lot of us, if you tell me that my problems are childish or my pain is caused by my immaturity, I feel angry and humiliated.

    But this reveals a flaw in my thinking; God is not a man who would look on a child’s problems as foolish and inconsequential. The harm done to a child can stay with them for a lifetime. He’s not the sort of parent who demands that his child takes his perspective for their own. He respects our limits and doesn’t treat us with disrespect because we are not as mature, powerful and capable as he is. God asks us to be humble, but never, ever, ever wants us to be humiliated by our status as children.

    We’re children. We have children’s problems. What Love knows, that we too often do not, is that children’s problems are real. The fact that we, from our vantage point as adults see them as foolish and unworthy of care or concern comes from our lack as parents. Yes, sometimes our kids frustrate us and sometimes the gap between their distress and the magnitude of the actual problem makes us laugh. But we should never shame them or humiliate them for seeing things from a child’s perspective.

    Part of what I have learned from humbling myself enough to see that I really am like a child to God who really is like a father is how much is required of us as parents. We speak of child’s problems as if they are small, foolish things. But as I said, the harm done to a child can stay with them for a lifetime. And too often parents minimize the harm done to their children because they are unwilling to be strong, brave and sacrificial enough to help them.

    Think of all the children who are abused by parents who believe they have the right (if not the obligation) to inflict pain on them for their own good, when really the parents are just too immature and out of control to handle the demands of parenting. Or the kids who seek help only to be turned away by adults who are unwilling to risk ruining a reputation or threaten a comfortable family dynamic. Or all the kids who are hurting and in trouble who get met with “tough love” or ignored by adults who want the child to carry all of the burdens placed on them rather than facing their own failures or disrupting long existing ideas about how things are done.

    Then think of what God did for his hurting children on the cross.

    When God asks us to humble ourselves to be little children, he’s not trying to humiliate us. He’s asking us to give him the chance to be the sort of parent that we actually need. To be the parent who is trustworthy and won’t turn away in our time of need. To be the parent who comforts rather than shames us. To be the parent who takes our hurts seriously rather than mocking them. To be the parent who lifts our burdens rather than telling us to buck up under them.

    Which all sounds nice, but there’s a great deal at stake here. You see, it’s very hard to parent when you were never parented well yourself. No matter how much you love your children, when your back’s against the wall, your automatic response will come out of your brokeness rather than your love.

    Children are vulnerable. It’s easy to hurt them without ever meaning to. And if you are unwilling to humble yourself, to allow God to parent you and show you the way, you may cause harm that can’t be undone in this lifetime. Which is why Jesus ended his words about becoming like little children with a promise and a warning for us:

    “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

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    Three Sinful Paths

    Let’s say that you are a new Christian, earnest and eager to follow the narrow path and repent of sin and all its damaging consequences. Which is a good goal. Both the Greek and Hebrew words for sin mean to miss the mark. The mark being union with God. Since union with God is the full fruit of redemption and sin means missing that fruit, avoiding sin is a worthwhile goal. But how to do that?

    Well, in general, there are three paths you can take. One will take you to God. One will take you destruction. And one will get you somewhere between the two. Allow me to explain these paths and you see if you can pick out which is which.

    The first path is one favored by many in the church. It is to identify sin and target it for elimination. It may mean that you refrain from engaging in worldly activities like drinking, swearing, watching questionable movies, hanging out with friends who are up to no good and the like. Perhaps you get involved in a small group or pursue relationships with more mature Christians as a way of building accountability for yourself.

    This path does have its uses, particularly for those who are new to the faith. When a person converts to Christianity, it means adopting a new identity and with it, a new way of life. If your old identity was grounded in being a promiscuous partier who was known for your outrageous antics, it may be necessary to swear off those old behaviors in order to make room for your new identity in Christ.

    The danger of this path is that identifying and eliminating sin can become the way you live out your faith and the basis of your Christian identity. Those on this path are too often the public face of the church, defined by what it is vocally against. In fact, the church has no end of self appointed gatekeepers for whom a willingness to identify and target sin for elimination is synonymous with being a faithful Christian. They think they are protecting the church when really all they are doing is attempting to lock everyone in the nursery. Continue reading