(Yet Again) Five Minute Monday: Touch

Along the Way Graphic Template

Gentle Reader,

I was so on top of things last week. Back to a regular posting schedule. Back to a regular life schedule. Except for the headache that wouldn’t go away, I felt pretty good.

As The Beatles sing, “I shoulda known better.”

My beloved youths shared their germs with me again, and I’m on day three of being stuck in my bed with a nasty cold. All I’ve done is sleep, drink orange juice, and watch movies. Try to read, by my eyes swim and I can’t focus.

Go.

I’ve never regained feeling along the left side of the scar that bisects my abdomen. Too many nerves sliced up. Between the white line and my belly button is a field of nothingness. Except that it itches, practically all the time. But when I scratch the itch, I can’t feel the scratching.

Don’t ask me to explain this.

Skin is an amazing thing. So many different shades and textures. Senses the slightest movement of air. Responds to the tiniest pinprick. Blushing cheeks. Freckles bursting across shoulders in the summer sun.

Our church culture is not touchy-feely. The world around us has given way to the oversexualization of every person and interaction, and, rather than being a people who redeem and restore, we succumb to paranoia. “Noli mi tangere,” Jesus said to Mary Magdalene in the garden that day (John 20:17); we take up “touch me not” as our mantra. So our hands never feel a squeeze in a moment of celebration. Our backs never feel encircling arms during times of grief.

Our bodies are not evil. We can give and receive appropriate, healthy, loving touch. In fact, this giving and receiving should be a natural, normal marker of our communities.

We embrace.

Stop.

Signature

SUBSCRIBE TO THE NEWSLETTER, REST STOPS ALONG THE WAY
PONDERINGS DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX EACH SATURDAY(ISH).

Advertisements

Love Them, Love Them, Say That You Love Them

Gentle Reader,

The Apostle John fascinates me.

…on the way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for Him. But they did not welcome Him, because He determined to journey to Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”

But He turned and rebuked them…

– Luke 9:52b-55a (CSB)

Like a gangster’s lackeys in a Depression-era movie, they ask, “Hey, Jesus? You want we should whack them?”

I wonder if Jesus paused before turning around. I wonder if His head dropped to His chest the way a father’s does when he’s exasperated with his children. I wonder if He rubbed his temples. I wonder if His words came out clipped or if they were measured. I know that He surely looked both of them in the eyes and, from the deep well of patient love within His heart, the Savior spoke, telling James and John to knock it off.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Him and said, “Teacher, we want You to do whatever we ask You.”

“What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked them.

They answered Him, “Allow us to sit at Your right and at Your left in Your glory.”

– Mark 10:35-37 (CSB)

They want the places of honor. The top spots. Of course this makes the other disciples mad. I wonder if Jesus sighed heavily. I wonder if He cast His eyes to Heaven. I wonder if He shook His head, marveling at how little they understood.

Then, Gethsemane. The betrayal. The arrest. Everyone flees. At some point, John circles back around, following the proceedings from a safe distance. He is there, at the foot of the Cross, with the women. Jesus tells him to take care of His mother (John 19:26-27; church tradition maintains that he did so for the rest of her life). Dark, quiet hours as the Light of the World lay in the tomb.

Ah, but as the song says: Bursting forth, in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again. Fifty days to wrap their minds around resurrection, salvation. His feet lifted off of the Mount of Olives. They watched, blinking at the brightness. Confusion, waiting.

Pentecost. Tongues of fire. Preaching and teaching as they’d never preached before.

About that time King Herod violently attacked some who belonged to the church, and he executed James, John’s brother, with the sword. 

– Acts 12:1-2 (CSB)

No mention of how John reacted. No doubt he mourned. As the eldest is usually listed first in ancient documents, including the Bible, James was probably his big brother. If John was like other little brothers throughout the ages, he wanted to be just like James. Followed him around. Tried to act and think like James did.

Suddenly, he is left alone. The community of faith, the family of God, remains, but there’s something about losing a sibling. Your first friend. The one who knows you the best.

Something shifts in John as he grows and continues to walk with God. The narrative in Acts slides over to Paul beginning in Chapter 13, and we lose track of the man who begins, at some point, to think of himself as the Beloved Disciple. No more does he want to call down fire on people’s heads. No more does he seek a place of glory.

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.

– 1 John 4:7-10 (CSB)

Brimstone and rage, power and position…to love.

Another church tradition tells us that, toward the end of his life, John settled on one sentence to sum up the life and teachings of Jesus, a sentence that he repeated over and over again: “Little children, love one another.”

I don’t believe it’s too far a stretch to think that John would be shocked by our practices in the church today, for this Apostle was not only the preacher of love but the great enemy of Gnosticism, a philosophy that downplays the importance of the physical and elevates mystical experiences in the pursuit of secret or special knowledge. Gnostics were either ascetics, denying bodily needs, or libertines, engaging in whatever activities they liked because it didn’t matter. In essence, “thou shalt not” or “do what thou wilt.”

These competing ideas influence us greatly. For some of us, there is fear of the body, and so we come up with long lists of rules. A man must not really be friends with a woman to whom he is not married, and he definitely shouldn’t hug women, because he will of course be aroused and there’s no way he can control himself. (I am not sure if this is more insulting to women or to men). For others, there is shunning of Scriptural ethics. That passage tells me not to do this, but that can’t be what the writer actually meant; they had no concept of this and so I can ignore what’s being said and indulge because God is basically a cosmic hippie who cares only about my happiness.

Neither is healthy. Neither is loving.

In the youth ministry context in which I currently sit, I listen as teens ask, “Do you really love me? Do I really belong?” They don’t always use words, but the question is ever-present. Of course, we tell them, “Yes! Yes!” But they are smarter than we give them credit for, despite the lack of fully developed brains. They watch how we interact with each other. They see our unease, our inability to avoid the extremes. They notice our fear.

Our answers don’t line up with our actions.

When John said, “Little children, love one another,” he meant it. As in, actually love one another. Recognizing that we who have been brought from death to life by the power of Christ are really family, we don’t have to be paranoid around each other. You can give someone a hug if he looks like he needs it. You can say “I love you” to her without having to rush to the marriage altar. At the same time, we also don’t get to cast off good sense and wisdom; we don’t get to make our own rules and demand that God and Scripture submit to them. Instead, we see the goodness and kindness in what God commands, and we ask Him to reshape our hearts into those that beat to the time of obedience.

We have to love one another. Love is listening. Love is responding in grace and truth. Love is playing, eating, serving, sitting in silence. Love is squeezing hands and shoulders. Love is hugs. Love is looking others in the eye. Love is creating space for God-given differences of abilities, gifts and perspectives.

Love is relationship.

The messy, up-in-your-business, no-room-for-hiding relationship.

Not this fakeness we’re used to.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE NEWSLETTER, REST STOPS ALONG THE WAY
PONDERINGS DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX EACH SATURDAY(ISH).

A Note to the Elders

Gentle Reader,

“Don’t let anyone despise your youth…”

– 1 Timothy 4:12a (CSB)

I’ve heard this verse so many times. When I was fourteen, a traveling preacher came to my school and spoke during chapel. Most of us hated chapel; it was boring but required. This particular day, however, was better than most. This man was engaging. He was funny. He had a passion for truth. And he seemed to think that we, lowly teenagers, could actually have a positive impact on this world.

The school was rooted in the soil of Pentecostalism, so at one point he asked anyone who wanted prayer to come forward. That was fine and dandy, something that all traditions do, but he started speaking in tongues and I regretted stepping forward because, honestly, it scared me. Not something I’d experienced before. Almost fled back to my seat. But when he got to me, he stopped doing that and looked at me for a long time. Everyone in the room got still. He took my hands and said, quietly, “You are a woman after God’s own heart. Never forget that.”

I never have. Never will.

Much wandering and insecurities across the years, but I can tell you that the Holy Spirit never let me go. The voice was always there. Always drawing me back to His love. To His truth. To His grace.

I watched Him do the same with others this past weekend. Young men and women, of various ages and backgrounds. They bounced and danced in the aisles as the worship music played, free in their movements. They listened attentively to the speaker, full of insights and questions after each session. Played truly competitive dodgeball. Flung themselves happily into a service project. Got hangry and tired, but who doesn’t?

And I thought, “Yes. The church is going to be okay. These people truly want Him, even if they don’t all fully realize that yet.”

So, elders, whether an elder by many years or just a few: Don’t despise them.

That’s the implied command in Paul’s words. He’s aware that some will not respect Timothy because of his age. He tells his protege to set an example for them by conducting his life in a Christ-pleasing way. All very straightforward. In the roundabout, he’s also saying that Timothy shouldn’t be disrespected simply because he’s young. He shouldn’t be despised.

I’m a Millennial, set to burn the world down while clutching my avocado toast. At least that’s what all the think-pieces claim. That’s what some of the elders in my life have communicated to me in the past. You can’t do this. That’s a dumb idea. I don’t get you. Get back in your place. It sucks. It hurts to be shot down just because you haven’t reached certain milestones or you have a different way of approaching situations.

And, if I may, it’s an arrogant and fear-based attitude.

Battles between the generations are as old as Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel. (I wonder what they fought about)? But here’s the thing: We don’t have to keep repeating the cycle. We who have the Spirit of Christ within are enabled to make better choices. We can approach the younger with open hearts. We can say, You can do this! And then teach them how to do it. That’s a crazy idea and I love that you came up with it! And then, slowly, patiently, show them how to implement those crazy ideas. I don’t always get you, but I love you. And then genuinely, truly love them, just as they are. Your place is right here, with me, doing this thing. And then actually, really, integrate them into the life of the Body.

Teenagers aren’t some separate, scary species. They don’t need to be tucked away in a basement room, cut off from everyone else. Their awkwardness, enthusiasm and ideas breathe life into the church. They are our brothers and sisters. Sure, little brothers and sisters, squirrelly brothers and sisters, but equal participants in the Kingdom of God.

Let them in.

Let them do.

Let them be.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE NEWSLETTER, REST STOPS ALONG THE WAY. DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX EACH SATURDAY(ISH).

All the Titles I Came up With for This Looked Like Click-Bait

Priority

Gentle Reader,

I ache for the Church. My heart pounds within my chest, bouncing off my ribs in a thudding rhythm that fills my ears. I am distraught over the mess that she has gotten herself into. The Bride of Christ is dressed in dingy clothes. She is distracted. She hasn’t brought along enough oil to light her lamp through the long, dark night (Matthew 25:1-13). She does not watch. She sleeps, complacent.

The Church is my people. Much as I’d like to shake free at times, I can’t. I know that. You want Jesus, you get the Church. That’s how it works. I own my part in this. I admit to my flaws, imperfections, and straight up rebelliousness. But I believe that the time for shrugging shoulders and saying, “What can you do?” is over. It never should have been in the first place. The Holy Spirit’s hand of conviction is heavy upon His people everywhere you turn.

I wonder if we will respond.

“Where is this coming from and where is it going?,” you ask.

On June 29, I posted this paragraph on my personal Facebook page:

I often get into trouble for saying this, but patriotic displays have no place in worship. None. Zero. When we gather corporately, or when we engage privately in the spiritual disciplines, the focus is to be God and God alone. There are plenty of other times and places to talk or sing about our appreciation for whatever country we live in.

Most of what I post receives little attention (often none), so I was not expecting the controversy that followed. Because the above is not a controversial statement. I did not say that a patriotic person cannot be a Christian. I did not say that a Christian can’t be patriotic. I did not say that I hate anyone and everyone in the military. I did not say that I hate anyone and everyone on the police force. All I said was…well, what I said.

I have gotten into trouble for sharing this thought (or a variation thereof) before, which I guess should have given me some clue, but, again, I really expected this to go unnoticed. It didn’t.

Before you join those I angered and unsubscribe, let me give you just the newest in a long list of a reasons why I hold fast to this opinion, unpopular as it is: Robert Jeffress, the “pastor” of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, hosted a “Freedom Sunday” campaign rally (definitely not a church service) on June 24. This is the second year he has done so. Last year, the choir sang a brand-new composition: “Make America Great Again.” The “sanctuary” was draped in red, white and blue. The audience waved little flags in the air. Jeffress talked about how amazing America is and how wonderful President Trump is. I refuse to provide you links to the church or the song because you have Google and I won’t funnel traffic to either.

Because it’s disgusting.

I am the LORD, that is My name;
And My glory I will not give to another,
Nor My praise to carved images.

– Isaiah 42:8 (NKJV)

…I will not give My glory to another.

– Isaiah 48:11c (NKJV)

Do you suppose that God was joking around? Do you think His views have changed?

That rally was nothing less than an exercise in foul idolatry. On a Sunday, in a church, instead of preaching the Gospel, instead of digging into Scripture, instead of singing praise to God, this man led the people in the singing of praises to the country and the president. That is wrong. At least it was all very blatant and in-your-face, though. Have to give Jeffress credit for that. Congregations around the country routinely mix politics and patriotism with faith, engaging in the syncretism, largely out of ignorance, that ancient Israel was destroyed by. Many drape the Cross in the flag, literally and figuratively, assuming, perhaps unconsciously, that they belong together.

Do you think that God is pleased by this?

I wish that you could hear me speaking this aloud. I wish that you could hear the passion in my voice. This isn’t about anger or making people feel bad. I don’t think I’m better than you. What I am is desperate for Christians to understand this: The United States of America is not special. This is a country, like any other a country. A geographic location. A piece of earth. No American citizen is amazing or wonderful or exceptional by virtue of being an American citizen. Those of us who live here are the same as everyone else on the planet. Our history is just as checkered.

Additionally, Republican does not equal Christian nor is Donald Trump the second coming of Christ. So many behave as if both those things are true. They are willing to defend and justify anything this party or this man does because…I genuinely have no idea at this point. No Supreme Court justice appointment is worth the wrangling and compromise (nor should the court be politicized the way it has been, but honestly that’s always been an issue, to greater and lesser extents depending on who was president at the time, from the beginning). I guess people think they can get something out of it? That the GOP will make them rich through the not-miracle of trickle down economics? It’s a mystery to me.

Please, don’t object via soundbites such as “What about the Democrats?!” or “Her emails!” That’s not good argumentation. Believe me, I clearly see the corruption in politics as a whole (which has existed since the Continental Congress), and I am aware of the issues within the Democratic Party, but, objectively, neither the party nor Hillary Clinton is (or would have been) any worse than what we have now. If the Democrats were in power, there would be problems, no doubt, albeit different ones. (And I’d be writing about that if the Church had shackled herself to those leaders). But stubbornly folding your arms and declaring, “They did it, too,” wasn’t a good excuse for your parents and it’s not a good excuse now. Evil on one side does not give anyone license to promote or protect evil on the other side. I don’t know why this is difficult for anyone to grasp. Wrong is wrong no matter who does it.

We Protestants like to get on the Catholics for elevating Mary to a salvific position (which, for the record, they deny and really depends on the individual Catholic’s grasp of doctrine), but what about our own elevation of country? What about our own beliefs of exceptionalism and superiority? We can be thankful for the good in this country (and others can be thankful for the good in the countries in which they live) but that thankfulness is not blind, uncritical or unquestioning. Even the most casual, cursory reading of history reveals the rot that has always existed in the United States. And that thankfulness most certainly is not to be blended with theology to create some bizarre civic religion. This conflation goes directly against truths revealed in Scripture, truths about idolatry, about the make-up of the Kingdom of God, about the universality of the Gospel.

We have got to let go of this idea that we live in a “Christian nation.” We don’t. We never did. Yes, Christians were involved in the founding of this country, but they didn’t establish a theocracy. (Except the Puritans, who sort of tried that in Massachusetts, but they really aren’t the best example because they liked to burn, hang and otherwise harass people who didn’t agree with them, i.e. Quakers and a bunch of people in Salem). We have no hemeneutical leg to stand on in believing that we have replaced Israel, that we live in the “promised land,” and can therefore apply promises made to that nation to ourselves, here and now. We have no reason to think that we occupy a unique place in God’s plan beyond that of any other nation that He has allowed to rise and fall.

God says He won’t give His glory to another. He’s super blunt about it. Thus patriotic displays and songs don’t belong in our worship services. The “Star-Spangled Banner” and other songs that celebrate the nation should be expunged from hymnals. The flag doesn’t belong in the sanctuary. Pastors should not use the pulpit for anything other than preaching the Word. There are plenty of times and places for us to discuss and celebrate what we appreciate about this country. Corporate gathering for worship is not one of those times or places. How is this controversial? How is this offensive?

We need to check ourselves at all times, though. Beyond Sunday morning. As I said above, idolatry isn’t often so blatant as that at First Baptist. What are our priorities? Upon what are we focusing? Do we find ourselves arrogantly thinking, “Oh, thank God I’m not from an African country”? (Note that I said “arrogantly thinking,” as if we are better than those elsewhere, as if we are entitled to the prosperity and privilege in which we live, because reasons. It’s okay to be thankful that you don’t live in a country decimated by civil war and extreme poverty, though that thankfulness should lead to compassionate action toward those who do suffer in those conditions, including those who are impoverished here). Do we think that we have the right to traipse through the world, demanding special treatment?

Just as Christianity should not be tied to man-made plans or means, so it is not spread through societal dominance or political institutions. The world will not be saved by our allegiance to the temporal. People will not come to Christ by our smearing a thin veneer of ultimately false morality over the culture. The “city on a hill” from which the light shines (Matthew 5:14) is not this specific place, but all places, among all those who know the Lord. Our job is not to force a fake post-millennial utopia that will last approximately one minute until all hell breaks loose. Instead, our job is to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly (Micah 6:8). It is to care for the poor, oppressed and marginalized (1 John 3:17-18). It is to preach the Gospel of grace and restoration, mercifully supplied by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (John 21:15-17).

That’s the thing about following Jesus, though – it means you’re rarely going to have a cultural army on your side. Jesus Himself was born into a world rocked by culture war, and he never really embraced the cause of the conservatives (Sadducees), or the liberals (Pharisees), or the radicals (Zealots), or even the…Benedict-option-types (Essenes). Instead He called them all to the same thing: “Repent and follow Me.”

The Fake Kidnapping Scandal That Almost Destroyed a Megachurch Pioneer

We can do better. We can be better. I know we can. The Holy Spirit will enable and empower us. It will take humility and repentance from us, which is extremely painful, but that pain is worth it. Because being American ultimately doesn’t matter. National distinctions disappear in the Kingdom, as our adoption by God through Christ makes us one global family. Our thankfulness and celebrations must always be tempered by this greater reality. Our brothers and sisters, our literal brothers and sisters, all of whom we will not meet until the culmination of this state of existence, are beautiful and entirely equal to us.

As for those who do not know and love the Lord: How can we go out into the world and preach the Gospel to them if we are not their servants, as the Savior modeled?

Dear God, help us to choose. Help us to release the white-knuckled grip we have on wrong notions and treasured positions that run contrary to Your will and way for us. We have been stupid and selfish. We have swallowed flattery and falsity because it makes us feel good. We have remained babies, refusing to grow, refusing to cooperate in Your work of sanctification. Help us to bend our stiff knees and necks to You. The hour is late. The harvest is great. It is time for us to get up and do the work that You commissioned us to do. In the glorious, saving, mighty Name of Jesus, Amen.

Signature

SUBSCRIBE TO THE NEWSLETTER, REST STOPS ALONG THE WAY. PONDERINGS AND PUPPY VIDEOS DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX EACH SATURDAY(ISH).