Race Relations: My Journey

2018 Race RelationsWhat follows is just what the title suggests, my personal journey with race relations as an American-born United States citizen.

I was born just after the “end” of what history has come to call the Civil Rights Movement. Greenville, South Carolina, a town with its own infamous history of racial tension, was my birthplace. From there I travelled with my parents to start a church in rural Tennessee. Our next stop was coal country in West Virginia. All of this happened in the first five of years of my life. And though each of these regions had their own story, as most children are, I was blissfully unaware of any tension connected to one’s racial identity.

My first full year of school would open wide a door of opportunity for which I am eternally grateful. We moved to the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Chicago’s suburbs were beginning to fill with immigrants and sons and daughters of immigrants from around the world. The tiny slice of reality that I shared with my family and a handful of others was still almost exclusively white. The geographic area around me was beginning to change. Throughout my elementary years I would begin to know new friends who did not look like me. This very slow growth continued at the same pace into my college years. And as it does in many ways for many people for many reasons, my life would be altered forever for the better.

Lest you think that my university experience was anything different than it was, let me explain it to you. I attended two different universities during my college experience. Both of them had less than 1% of anyone other than caucasian. So, needless to say, I did not acquire my epiphany there. Those places did cause me to wonder how the country around me was diversifying, but the people around me were not. My epiphany sadly came in a horrific religious context. I do not remember all of the particulars – after all, it’s been almost 30 years – but I do remember the significant impact of this one experience. I was part of a small team that would go to public schools and invite students to come out for a night of games and noise and fun. The intentional climax of the evening was always the sharing of the gospel and an invitation to follow Jesus. The majority of our tour was throughout the southeastern United States. At each stop a local church would sponsor our team and provide a place for us to host our outreach. This particular week I was told that we were only allowed to invite white students. I do not remember exactly what I said, and I’m sure I was very disrespectful in the way I communicated it, but I distinctly remember a very heated conversation with our team leader. This event changed the trajectory of my understanding of race.

Honestly, not much changed for me right away. I went back to my 99% caucasian university and later transferred to a school that was almost 100% caucasian. The year was now 1993. As a newly-married couple with few job prospects, my wife was offered a job back in my hometown near Chicago. We dropped everything and moved to Illinois. The change was still in me. And when I was approached about an opportunity that would have seemed ludicrous to me just a few years before, I jumped at it. A friend of mine had been giving temporary support to a local Chinese church as they were without a youth minister. He had a full time pastoral job and asked me if I would consider taking over. It was very part time and paid little. I happily said yes! Within months the Chinese Gospel Church had asked me to come on full time. I did. My wife and myself, and soon our first daughter, were the only caucasians in this otherwise all-Asian congregation. We were accepted unconditionally. I learned more things about the way it is supposed to be than I have time here to write. We are still connected to many of those students. It has been my great joy to watch them continue to develop in their faith.

At each of our subsequent stops we continued to develop and practice diversity. From the shadows of Washington D.C., to Phoenix, Arizona, and even in the farmland of Kentucky we tried to model one race… the human race. Our final place of residence, prior to where we are now, was St. Joseph, Michigan. St. Joe was probably 98+% caucasian itself. But it’s “twin city” next door was Benton Harbor, which was probably 99+% black. The two were twins in no meaningful way. Over the years of serving there we were given occasions to partner with various Benton Harbor ministries. The single takeaway that I learned from those days was that coming in as a “white knight” to save the day was offensive and counterproductive. So we learned to come in and take the lowest place and serve the black leadership and thus, the black people. This posture taught me more about reaching people than any other experience.

Fast forward to 2008. Our time in Michigan was coming to an end because I began sensing that God wanted us to start a church. But where would we go? As we trained and studied and prayed, one thing was clear… we wanted to go to a place of diversity. After many months we chose Atlanta, Georgia; more specifically, Duluth, Georgia. The main reason we chose Duluth was its diversity. At the time Duluth was at least 25% Asian, African-American, Latino, and Caucasian. That’s about as beautifully diverse as it gets. And I can tell you ten years later, that choice continues to shape our lives. Our friends, our kid’s friends, our environment is multi-ethnic, multi-racial.

As I usually do, allow me to offer a few takeaways from our journey:

  1. It was a 30+ year journey. No matter where you find yourself in this discussion, begin. The famous Chinese proverb says that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Just start. More about that in a moment.
  2. Ask yourself hard questions. Especially in the early going, my own biases and insensitivities were regularly assaulted by hard questions. Questions like, “Why do I feel it is appropriate for me to think or feel this way in this circumstance?”
  3. Listen. As important as it is to ask yourself important questions, it is more important to listen to others who don’t look like you. This is not just “a white thing”. This is just a thing. If each of us will take time to listen to those not like us, we will begin to hear that what makes us different is so much smaller than what makes us one.
  4. Be tenacious. As you learn and grow in your understanding, be dogged. Apply what you are learning. Refuse to allow racist behavior in and around you.
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What Would You Do For A Job?

I’ve been asking myself this question recently on a number of levels. In just a moment and in unusual order, I’ll start with the answer and work backwards.

First you need to know that I have been unexpectedly unemployed for the last three months. For the first time since I was 14 years old I found myself without a job.

So what would you do for a job? Would you shave for a job? For me, this was a more difficult question than you might imagine. I’ve had a beard (more or less) for the 9 years we’ve lived in Georgia… and other times before that, too. Ultimately, the answer was, “Yes.”

I love a number of things pretty deeply. Sticking with the reverse order that we’ve already established, they include things like baseball, my friends, my life’s work, my family, and following Jesus. So what does any of that have to do with the original question? Everything.

Ok… maybe not the baseball part, but everything else. It is not by mistake (for me) that #’s one and three (in the above reverse order scheme) are inextricably linked. If you’ll allow me a moment of pause, I’ll deal with #2, which will allow me to close this strange reverse-order loop. #2 is my family. A bit strange to put family second? Well, only if you don’t know how connected I am to Jesus. My relationship to him literally informs all of my other relationships. So the somewhat obvious answer to the initial question as it relates to reverse-order #2 (my family) is… just about anything… as long as it is legal and does not compromise my connection to #’s 1 and 3.

All of the above banter leads me happily back to a discussion of the real answer to the posed question. And leans into another simple question… why? Why was I willing to do pretty much anything to be employed again? One, because I love my family and I am responsible to help provide for them. But the biggest reason I was willing to do just about anything was because I believe that doing what you have to do helps pave the road for where you really want to go.

That #3 thing about my life’s work is tied directly to #1. I believe that God placed me on this earth to do and be something unique for him. My desire has always been to help Christians grow in their faith by better understanding the Bible and learning to live it out in real time. I have a different way of seeing life that has allowed (no, demanded) me to have friendships with many people who do not see faith the same as me. So, everything in this post before this sentence is completed by this simple statement. I would do just about anything vocationally that enables me to pursue my life’s work. Whatever that is for you… do that.

As of tomorrow morning, say hello to the newest Event Planner at Publix Store #560 in Peachtree Corners, GA.

 

 

Churches As Hospitals

Churches As HospitalsThe other day I posted the above quote. It raised quite a bit of online and offline discussion. So much so, that I felt it could and should be discussed further.

In my understanding, this quote is an analogous attempt to contrast two ideas. 1.) Churches as museums… where ideas and artifacts and histories are placed on display versus 2.) Churches as hospitals… where the wounded, hurt, injured, and broken find healing.

I do agree with one friend who said, “Churches have become more like Facebook, with people only sharing what they want you to know while hiding so many of their struggles.” Another friend expressed her concerns with the hospital analogy this way, “Odd analogy ‘tho since most people don’t hang out indefinitely for kicks in hospital once healed.” So why do I think this “churches as hospitals” analogy is valid?

  1. Healed and whole are not the same thing. This actually speaks to the concerns mentioned above by both of my friends. Many/some/most churches seem to value what I call Facade Christianity – focusing mostly on perceived output. The reality is that none of us are perfect. Ever. I have a friend whose church attempts to live it out in one of their core values this way, “No pretending. No need to.”
  2. The safest places on the planet. Many/some/most churches say “come as you are”; but really mean, “Come as you are until this date when we think you should fully conform to our ideas of what it means to follow Jesus.” I know this may be the hardest part of the analogy for Christians. They will fire back that the gospel is offensive and should make people feel uncomfortable when they are in opposition to it. Church ought to be a welcoming place that allows people to come and explore faith indefinitely… just as they are.
  3. Churches should be the hope of the world. If this is not true of your church, stay as long as you can without losing your own hope, and try to effect change. If they are unwilling or unable to change, run. Find a compassionate, broken, safe place that encourages all people to come and be infused by the life-giving joy and peace that can be found in Jesus.

The Goal of re:THINK

rethink
So exactly what am I trying to do with re:THINK? To answer that question well I need to tell a little bit about the journey that I’ve been on myself these last few years.

I have been blessed to grow up in the church. All of my earliest memories involve being in church and learning to love and understand the Scriptures. I still believe that following Jesus is a worthwhile pursuit. However…

Almost ten years ago now I began asking myself a difficult-to-deal-with question. It was very simply this… “If following Jesus is a worthwhile pursuit, why am I not doing more to demonstrate that to people who do not believe?” I wasn’t consumed by it… at first. It didn’t keep me awake nights… at first. It was persistent.

Around that same time I was reading all these books that were challenging the way in which I understood faith. Frankly, I was beginning to question the very essence of what it means to be Christian. In the midst of that wrestling I was certain that part of the answer was to start thinking differently about how I express my faith in Jesus to others.

In the summer of 2008 we began planting the seeds of what would become Process Church. Never before had I been so beautifully connected to people who were outside of faith. And as I began and continued to form friendships with people far from God, what I learned was that one of the biggest obstacles to them understanding the Good News about Jesus was, in fact, the way that Christians handled themselves. It was rarely about what Christians believed. It was almost always more about how Christian people expressed what they believed.

Having said all of that, my goal in writing this blog is to challenge those of us that identify as followers of Jesus to reexamine, reevaluate, and yes, re-THINK what it means to be Christian. Are you willing? Will you do the hard work and ask difficult questions of yourself? There is too much at stake to do otherwise.

Exactly What Kind of Tree Is This?

I am posting an article that I first wrote 11 years ago. For your enjoyment, I chose not to update the picture. I did update a couple of the outdated cultural references. I do find it (at least) odd that we are still talking about “The War on Christmas”.

Well, it’s that time of year again. Merry or Happy Holidays, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice or whatever you celebrate or do not. I think that pretty well covers everyone.

So, with an ever-changing ethnic and religious landscape, exactly what kind of tree is this? The question has deep and abiding ramifications, yet the answer is simple. It depends largely on your personal preference. For most, this is a fir tree. However some prefer spruce and there are even a few who select from a variety of pine. Fewer still – mostly our southern friends – will enjoy cedar.

Obviously I am having a little fun with a topic that seems to be creating some national discussion… and even in our own household. What should we call this tree? This season? Is there a secret plot (led by the media, the Democratic party, the ACLU and Target) to remove Christ from Christmas? This scenario would probably make many conservative Christians feel better, but I’m not sure it is accurate.

I am an admitted (not yet recovering) techie. I love gadgets. For the most part, gadgets have helped me simplify my life… and lose what little bit of memory I may have had left. After all, if my computer and iPhone are going to remember a bit of information, why should I? I will even go so far as to admit that I have become dependent on all of these great tools. I can’t even show up at the gym anymore without bringing my iPhone along for the workout. What does that thought have to do with this discussion?

For Christians this high and holy season marks the birth of Jesus. Well, perhaps not the actual birth, but certainly the celebration of that event. He was probably born sometime between April and September as this is the time shepherds are out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night. Few would argue (Christian or not) that the religiosity of Christmas has changed in, say, the last twenty years. My own neighborhood demonstrates this truth. We like to drive around and look at the beautiful and varied displays of lights – think National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. These days we are greeted by Santa and Frosty, an occasional Rudolph and a Christmas version of Homer Simpson. Usually these same characters are inflated to at least twice the size of the homeowner’s largest vehicle… it just works out that way. Our culture seems bent on at least expanding the definition of Christmas.

So is it up to Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson to save Christmas? Yes! And… not exactly. Yes, it does fall to Franklin and Pat and Rob and whatever your name is if you are a Jesus-follower. The job of keeping Christ in Christmas is ours. The reason He is not at the center of this holiday anymore is because of so-called Christians failing to keep Him there. There is no conspiracy. It is not the fault of pre-faith people that Jesus is being removed from Christmas. The only way that Jesus gets removed from Christmas is if we who believe remove Him. Christ leaves Christmas when Christ leaves me. And though He never technically leaves me, unfortunately there have been times I have left Him.

So what kind of tree is this? What kind of season are we celebrating? How do we keep Christ in Christmas?

  1. Be proactive, but not like you might think… make sure you understand and practice REAL Christmas.
  2. Don’t be like Herod… his answer was to kill everyone that could even possibly be associated with the Christ – resist the urge to do this in reverse.
  3. Be sensitive to the traditions of others… being sensitive doesn’t eliminate my voice or my understanding. In fact, it probably lends credence to it.

Gender Identity & A High Regard for Scripture: A Review of Understanding Gender Dysphoria

Disclaimer: the post that follows is a recent book review that I did for a Christian publisher. As such, I was mainly critiquing the author’s work.

transgender dysphoria

The main title for this review borrows a quote from the book’s author, Mark Yarhouse. He details a disparaging story (as most of his eventually are) of a man who, in his view, mishandled the Scripture in a public meeting regarding gender identity issues. This story and its following commentary left Yarhouse saying that he and the speaker had one thing in common – their high regard for Scripture. As I did not generally disagree that the public speaker had misinterpreted the Scripture in this instance, what left me excited was that the author of this book was almost immediately labeling himself as one with a high regard for Scripture. What followed was nothing of the sort. Page by wearying page I began to see that, if true at all, Mark Yarhouse had chosen to leave his high regard for Scripture out of this work. It is my singular negative opinion of the work in total.

Mostly this work is a cold and academic treatise. One is allowed to write in this way. I just found it odd in that his book dedication says, “To the church, the Body of Christ…”

Having said all that, I do believe there is value here. Most of what he says is not unscriptural. I do believe he does an excellent job defining the key terms in and around this discussion. For that alone, from an academic viewpoint, the book may be worth the read. I also find it painfully valuable to hear story after story of churches and leaders who damaged the name of Jesus by their dismissive (often worse) handling of this sensitive issue.

His lack of biblical connectivity should also compel us to approach the whole of Scripture to seek what it has to say to these types of difficult issues. So my biggest negative here could turn out to be the greatest unintentional takeaway from this book. How do the Scriptures, both by direct address to humanness and indirect principles flowing through its pages, speak to issues of which most of academia believe them to be silent?

He does give some solid general biblical concepts as final suggestions, though the Scriptures are never mentioned as the source for these great ideas.

As the crushing tide of public opinion continues to rush the shores of biblical Christianity, compassionate conservatism cannot simply be a political moniker used in news bites. Through the sacred pages of Scripture flows the strongest of tides – the redemptive love of Jesus. It is for that reason and because of that message that our starting and ending places must be its holy pages. May we continue to hold back the darkness with the light of Christ, revealed to us in His Word.

I’m Not Better Than You… I Just Think I Am.

Irishman with God ComplexPlease keep reading. One of the ugliest truths about myself that I have had to come to terms with is hiding in the back half of this post’s title. My head and heart are almost constantly overestimating my own worth. It has always been this way. Always. It began in the Garden of Eden. It is the sure bet of the serpent as he asked a simple question, “Hath God said…?” He knew the answer. He knew they knew the answer. He wasn’t really even asking a question. He was betting on the fact that Adam & Eve thought they were equal to or better than God himself. He was right… they did. And, in moments, so do I. But it usually manifests itself in other ways than me v. God.

Most of my “I think I’m better than you” moments happen related to my fellow-humans. It shows up in election years and Black History Month and almost any topic where I feel more enlightened, more evolved, or just plain more right than you. I can’t think of a time when I feel this way about people who happen to share my opinion. My struggle with myself and my heart is always aimed at those who think differently than me.

What help does the Scripture offer to this struggle?
1. I have it backwards.

But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.

2. I have misdefined all the terms.

Haughtiness goes before destruction; humility precedes honor.
Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

What to do? In practical terms and in my own practice, I have borrowed from the wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous. This approach may not be helpful to you, but I see my own pride and overestimation as very similar to the addict’s plight. So read these and see if they are not helpful to you as you consider a healthy approach to self. Just change out “alcohol” for “pride”.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

No matter your addiction – and that’s what pride is – this is healthy re-orientation!

Responding to Gay Marriage

gayandlesbianAwhile ago I wrote a piece that that went crazy. In case you missed it, you can find it here… LGBT: It’s All or Nothing. If you didn’t think this was an important issue… clearly, it is. For those who are interested, I thought we could dig down a bit today. This is a re-post that contains years of my own study and thought on the issue. Not coincidentally, several of the responses that follow are from friends of mine who happen to be gay. Grab a cup of coffee. This will take a minute.

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The very unusual length of this post (at least by my standards) demonstrates the complexity of this issue. I have friends who think this is a simple discussion. I would challenge you to re-think your position.

Clearly this is a topic that is super-charged with opinion and emotion… within the church and in the greater community. The left would say love and acceptance is the way of Jesus. All the while the right would point out the texts on the topic that seem to deal merely with condemnation.

I prefer a sandwich approach to the discussions. Admittedly this is more than a little corny. But I think you’ll see where I’m trying to go with this. While a Truth Sandwich certainly sounds best to my lofty view of Scripture, instead I have chosen the Love Sandwich from the spirit of Ephesians 4:15.

Allow me to develop the sandwich analogy a bit. You’ve probably had a sandwich that was mostly bread. Not so tasty, right? Why not? It’s not really what a sandwich is made for. Bread is good. Necessary for a diet even. But a sandwich implies that there is something else in between the slices of bread. In fact, we name it a _______ sandwich. What goes in the blank depends on your vegetarian/meatetarian inclinations. But the point is the same. The sandwich is known for what is in the middle.

In developing my position on the gay and lesbian discussion from a Christian perspective, I am seeking to be thoroughly biblical and surrounded – on both sides actually – by truth. However, what I want to be known for in this discussion is by what is in the middle. I want even my truth to be flavored by the love. Hence, the Love Sandwich.

Here are a few other cursory reasons:

1. most gays and lesbians are already familiar with the truth as the Bible states it
2. most gays and lesbians have not experienced much (if any) Christian love
3. while the truth may set you free, it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance

For starters when I began full-time Christian ministry 17 years ago I had zero friends who I was sure were gay or lesbian. That was my fault and part of the culture I was raised in. It’s not that I didn’t have any gay people around me growing up… I did. I just didn’t want or know how to relate to them. So I ignored that part of their reality and put my friendship with them mostly off limits… at least for that phase of my life. In the last few years I have been able to renew some of those friendships and begin to right some of those wrongs.

When you have friends who are gay and lesbian it takes the conversation to a whole new level. In fact until I started reaching out to people who are gay and lesbian, I’m not sure I really thought about it all that much.  When you start to listen, you hear their stories of the hatred and bigotry they have had to endure. And while the Matthew Shepard story may sound like an extreme, most gay and lesbian people have experienced vitriolic hatred that is similar in kind. They almost daily endure denigrating speech and mistreatment. It was from this place that I began to really think about what it meant to have a truly Christian perspective related to the gay and lesbian discussion.

So what does it mean to have a truly Christian perspective? Here’s how I have begun to digest it. Typically I hate lists for several reasons. Among them is that people almost always take them to be all-inclusive… even if the list-er says they’re not. The only reason I have chosen to use a list format here is to show the division and separation of items in my thinking. I have chosen to use a somewhat chronological approach. In other words, I generally think of the things mentioned here in this order…

1. I know there are some ultimate conclusions that I am going to have to draw from the data that I am able to mine from the Scriptures.

2. I know that I don’t know what it means or feels like to be gay.

3. I know that the gay and lesbian communities have, generally speaking, been treated horribly by the evangelical church.

4. I know that God created man in His image and as such all human beings have equal value… that is a truly pro-life position.

5. I know that the Scriptures have, at times, confusing and at other times, silent messages about gay and lesbian issues.

6. I know that the Scriptures ultimately seem to disapprove of same-gendered sexual relations in similar fashion to the way it disapproves of inappropriate heterosexual relationships  – i.e. (but not limited to) adultery.

7. I choose to live with this tension and maintain loving friendships with gay and lesbian friends… whether or not they ever become not gay.

8. I do so based on the teaching of Jesus. Because I am a follower of Jesus I do not believe that someone’s choices/persuasions/propensities give me an excuse to bad-mouth, slander or do anything but love every person made in His image.

So what is the Christian thing to do? Most of us have been content to arrive at a position that we feel can make us right before God. While there are plenty of theological difficulties with that approach, allow me in closing to address the practical problem. If all we do is identify what we think God’s mind is on this issue (which by itself is a pretty hefty claim), I believe we fall short because it fails to offer any solutions regarding how we treat those who do not agree with our findings for whatever reason.

I challenge all of us who follow Jesus to have a thoroughly thought-through and equally biblical, practical perspective.

Do Good Christians Doubt?

dealing with doubtThe skeptic’s most frequently asked question must be, “If God is real and he is good, why would he allow suffering?” But skeptics are hardly alone in their questioning. The very point of this post is to shine some light in the direction of the post’s title: Do good Christians doubt? The way I have heard most Christians respond to this question seems to imply that true faith seeks to resist and eliminate doubt. I find such an approach to be disingenuous, misleading, and downright destructive. Let’s talk about why. Everyone doubts. If you don’t today, you may tomorrow, and you certainly will someday. Subscribing to the faith-equals-no-doubt approach forces me to think that if/when I doubt I have tainted or lost my faith. I believe the opposite of this is true. My friend Leslie was recently told she has a brain aneurism. I have asked her permission to retell part of her story, as it specifically relates to doubt. She has been writing in great detail about her journey. She told me why she has chosen to write.

I was just very convicted to share this walk. The good, bad and ugly parts. Why would Christ allow this if He wasn’t planning on using it for His glory? I look forward to seeing what God does with all this.

A significant part of what I know God has already done because of Leslie’s willingness to invite us into her journey is that I have revisited my understanding of the nature of doubt. Before a recently scheduled surgery to implant a device into her brain, Leslie was required to take some medication that would cause her blood to thin and help to avoid clotting during the surgery. In her words…

… as soon as I take that medication, my blood begins to “thin” and my platelets are inhibited. And, I found out, that, should my aneurysm rupture in the next two weeks, this medication would take my survival chances from 20-40% to basically ZERO. Learning that, especially knowing that my aneurysm isn’t stable, it is growing and changing at a rapid rate, my world stopped. So, when it came time to take those pills on Monday, I couldn’t. I am ashamed to admit that I could not even trust the Lord when He has promised over and over again to not leave me or forsake me. I sat and looked at these bottles of pills for what seemed like hours, debating, devastated over the truth that what was required to save me, could also kill me.

When faced with difficult and life-threatening realities, doubt and fear are quick and close. But are they enemies or friends? The answer is likely in how you handle them. Think of your physical body. Most of us would agree that pain is not a good thing. But it can be. Imagine if you were hurt and could not feel pain. A dear friend of mine was paralyzed from the waist down in an accident. After the accident he had to learn to be extra cautious with regard to extreme temperature coming into contact with his lower body. Because he had no feeling it was entirely possible for him to severely burn his flesh and not even know it was happening. Here are a few things I’ve been thinking on lately regarding doubt:

  1. Doubt Is Not the Absence of Faith. Faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive. Doubt is a human emotion and only confirms that I am such. I am honestly more nervous about people of faith who seem to never have any doubt. My experience with them is that they are either disconnected from reality or downright denying it. Having worked with doubters and skeptics for years (and been one), I have learned to believe and teach that God is ok with your questions and doubt. He is bigger than them. He desires for you to ask so that he may answer.
  2. Doubt Can Strengthen Faith. When I come to God with my questions and I believe that he is ok with me asking, my heart is open to hear his response. Then when I find that answer, be it in Scripture or in my spirit, I am quite naturally inclined to believe again. All of this is impossible without acknowledging doubt.
  3. Doubt Can Be Debilitating. While I’m sure you see where I’m coming from with relation to doubt, I do believe their are limits. Living with serial doubt can, and likely will, crush a person’s spirit. Having frequent and sizable questions is one thing. Refusing to accept God-given answers is another thing altogether. I love the Scripture that reminds us of the proper flow… ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.

So bring your doubt. Run to Jesus. Ask your questions. Expect to hear from him. In the end your faith will be strengthened.

Graduation Sunday for Process Church

graduationThree years ago Process Church had its final service. That is a day I will never forget. This is the email I sent to our supporters that evening…

Today’s goal was beautifully accomplished… brag on the good things God has done in our midst. There were stories of lives changed and lives challenged to see Jesus with new eyes. There were multiple stories of people who still do not yet believe but were thankful for a safe place to come and explore faith. The theme I tried to leave in each of our hearts was one of definitions. For the obvious reasons I’ve been studying the word “failure”. While there are many uses of the word, we only qualify in the most technical sense. And that is mainly because of how we allow the Scripture to define another word… “success.” I read from Joshua chapter 1 and was doing ok (no I wasn’t) until I hit verse 8… “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so that you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.” Because that has been the work of Process Church from day one… we have been successful!

To give Satan ZERO room for impact… you must know that there is no scandal. I’m not running off with my secretary – mainly because I’m crazy in love with my wife – never mind that I did not have a secretary. And though money was never our strongest link, we always paid our bills on time and will somehow do so with the startup debt that remains. Our friends at the New Dawn Theater even offered us to stay rent-free for the rest of 2012 if that would keep us going. But it is so many little things that bring us to this moment. The beauty is that all of us know we did all that we possibly could to make it continue and grow and thrive. So we hold our heads high.

The question I am asked most relates to what we’ll do next. We (the McQuearys) will do what all of us now-former Process-ers will do… we’ll recover. We’ll find new places to worship and serve and learn. Most importantly we will keep journeying with Jesus. In all the important ways nothing has changed. Collectively we walk away from Process Church knowing that our Boot Camp is over and we are about to be deployed. I have a simple request this week. Pray that all of us will believe the truth… that will be enough.

Today’s pic-of-the-week is the visual I chose to leave in our minds today. Today wasn’t a funeral… or even a finish line. Today was Graduation Sunday.

Nothing Is Beyond You

nothingbeyondThe famed artist Rich Mullins was working on a project at the time of his untimely death. Some fellow-artists took up that project and finished it in his honor. Among those tunes are this gem… one of my all-time favorites. I love the way it attempts to describe the otherness of God.

Where could I go, where could I run
Even if I found the strength to fly
And if I rose on the wings of the dawn
And crashed through the corner of the sky
If I sailed past the edge of the sea
Even if I made my bed in Hell
Still there You would find me

‘Cause nothing is beyond You
You stand beyond the reach
Of our vain imaginations
Our misguided piety
The heavens stretch to hold You
And deep cries out to deep
Singing that nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You

Time cannot contain You
You fill eternity
Sin can never stain You
Death has lost its sting
And I cannot explain the way You came to love me
Except to say that nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You

If I should shrink back from the light
So I can sink into the dark
If I take cover and I close my eyes
Even then You would see my heart
And You’d cut through all my pain and rage
The darkness is not dark to You
And night’s as bright as day

Nothing is beyond You
You stand beyond the reach
Of our vain imaginations
Our misguided piety
The heavens stretch to hold You
And deep cries out to deep
Singing that nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You

And time cannot contain You
You fill eternity
Sin can never stain You
And death has lost its sting
And I cannot explain the way You came to love me
Except to say that nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You

The Spirit of Jesus and Religious Freedom

Indiana Religious Freedom ActWith all of the venom (from both sides of the issue) coming from and to Indiana regarding the recent Religious Freedom Restoration Act, I thought it might be helpful to be reminded of the words of Jesus. The phrase I use in this title is one I have come to use frequently. I am often asked what I mean by it. As I understand it, the spirit of Jesus is the heartbeat behind what he said and did. This is from Jesus’ words in Luke 6:

27 “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.

32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.

35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.

Morality cannot be legislated. The way of Jesus was and will always be beyond politics. Particularly if you claim to be one of his followers, what do you hear in the above (unedited) words of Jesus?