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.
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Calling Foul On the World Vision Debacle

New Orleans Saints v Green Bay PackersIn case you missed it, this week World Vision decided then un-decided to amend its hiring policy as it relates to same-sex couples. In my view this now-event highlights the growing polarity that exists within Christianity as well as the majority of the American culture. Frankly I am most often at odds with both extremes of this continuing expanse. Sadly, Christian voices seem to echo the intentional brashness modeled by news agencies such as FOX and MSNBC. Two examples worth reading are those drawn up by Rachel Held Evans (representing the left, if you will) and one drawn up by Trevin Wax of the Gospel Coalition. In my view both sides give in to sensationalism and, at times, plain untruths – whether intentional or unintentional.

So, I call, “Foul!” I wish that the reality was in keeping with the above NFL-tied picture. I wish that these were offsetting penalties. Unfortunately they are not. This kind of infighting only makes Christianity look arrogant and as equally confused as the rest of the culture seems to be.

Not ironically, I have many common friends with each of the above authors. I also wrote to both of them soliciting some clarifications. Neither responded in time to be included in this post.

Here are few scattered thoughts that I think “both sides” could afford to consider in their writing:

  1. arguments based in emotion are typically short-lived
  2. you could be wrong… allow for that in your language
  3. throwing rocks is sophomoric and unfruitful
  4. the gay/lesbian issue is not going away… we have to learn to handle it better
  5. what you say is always trumped by how you say it

Having said all of that, I understand how and why many in the evangelical world spoke out. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the gay issue is likely to become a benchmark issue for people of faith. I say unfortunately because I find the attention given to this issue to be incongruous with the scope of Scripture. While many have made it a touchstone issue, the Scriptures (by proportion to today’s attention), give it little. In fact, some of you are reading right now mainly to determine if I have come down on “the right side of the issue”.

I have MANY gay friends. And, yes, I am proud of that. Because I have worked hard to earn and keep those friendships. Most of my hard work has had to come because of the ignorance and cruelty of many so-called Christians. People that have spoken and acted in hatred toward people who are gay. 100% of my gay friends know my theological position regarding their sexuality. And if you ask any of them – and if we know the same people, feel free to ask – they will tell you that I have and will always show them the love of Jesus as true friends.

The bottom line in this story for me is that I don’t know why Richard Stearns and the board of World Vision thought their initial revised position was a necessary step. I’m not sure that I would have made the same initial decision if it was mine to make. However, I’m equally bothered that they could change course so quickly when pressured. Why would such a weighty decision that was presumably prayed about and considered deeply be abandoned because of the cacophony of the masses? Policymaking should be done slowly on the basis of principle… not constituents.

So the biggest foul for me continues to be the way in which Christians express their varying points of view. If we say we are trying to follow Jesus, the way we express ourselves matters as much or more than having the “right position”.

Weeping With Westboro

Westboro Baptist Church Case to be Heard by Supreme CourtMost of the tears I have shed in the last many years with regard to the Westboro Baptist Church have been because of their actions. However, Romans 12:15 also reminds those of us who follow Jesus that we are to…

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

And so today we weep. As difficult as it may be, we weep at the passing of Fred Phelps. Mr. Phelps, I will not do him the honor of calling him by any other name, was clearly a tormented soul. But he was a soul. One for whom Jesus died… even if he did not have a clue what following Jesus was supposed to entail.

There will be a day when it is appropriate to talk about the legacy of Mr. Phelps. Today is not that day. May he rest in the peace that he so often attempted to refuse to others.

The Importance of Black History Month

black-history-monthThe best thing you can do this month may also be the most painful… remember. Since 1976, as a nation, we have officially recognized the month of February as Black History Month. Educate yourself. Feel. Think. Remember.

Read the Facts
Thankfully (and sadly) there is no shortage of information about the atrocities of the black struggle. Just as you study any other time period, read. And read broadly. Read people you know you agree with. Read people you know you disagree with. Read people you don’t know. In this collective reading you will arrive at the facts.

Listen to Stories
Simply reading the facts of the Civil Rights Movement though falls woefully short. It is too easy to challenge numbers or doubt history. When this history and these numbers begin to take shape is when they are attached to real people and their stories. Hollywood gets this. That’s the power of “42”… the Jackie Robinson story and “The Butler”… the story of Cecil Gaines… and other such stories. They help us to see that black history is about black people. People made in the image of God just like you and me. These same individuals were often treated like cattle and worse. Listen.

Talk About It
An important part of education is discussion. As you gather facts and hear the stories of those who lived in that hell, talk about what you are finding. Allow discussion to challenge and deepen your observances. Ask questions of friends of color. They obviously have a different perspective than you on each of the previous two categories.

Empathize
You will not always be able to understand. Reading, listening, and talking affect each of us differently. But each of us can feel. Each of us can read the facts, listen to the stories, and continue to learn by talking about it. And in so doing we begin to see black history for what it is… awful, embarrassing, and a blight to Christians who stood idly by… and much, much worse. Allow that to change you. Know the difference between sympathy and empathy. Expose your heart.

So this February and hereafter, remember what you’d rather not.

First Aid: Healing Your Heart

first aid

Some recent discussion on my Facebook wall discovered that there are several friends with whom I shared my childhood who have lasting injuries because of insensitive people (or worse).

Anyone who has ever been sick – really sick – will tell you that the most difficult part of the illness was the path to being whole again. Thankfully our bodies typically have a built-in surge that helps with this. Now imagine an injury that is invisible. While it is tough enough to treat something that you can see, treating the invisible seems, at times, impossible.

As I have been pondering and praying about all of the stories that have been retold these last many days I thought of this simple analogy that may help us begin to heal our hearts. It has everything to do with first aid.

FIRST
There is no (ultimate) healing apart from Jesus. Maybe the saddest part of some of our realities is that these hurts occurred within the walls of a place we trusted to act Christianly. Certainly at times, they did not. But the way of Jesus is the way of forgiveness. You’ve heard it said that bitterness (or for our purposes, unforgiveness) is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. The first part of finding true healing for your heart is forgiving the person or persons who sinned against you. Healing cannot occur until our our hearts are reconciled to (made right with) God. This has to be first.

AID
It is likely that you cannot do this alone. And it’s ok. You were not meant to live life alone. Find someone else to help you get your head and heart around what you’re feeling. I remember the humiliation and embarrassment I felt the first time I went to counseling as an adult. I felt that I should have been able to pull myself together on my own. How wrong I was. Having a trained counselor help me walk through my hurt was the best investment I could have made. Sit with a trained professional who is a person of faith and allow them to speak into your life.

Many of us have learned to forgive and have continued to have fruitful and fulfilling lives. Don’t let that make you feel guilty if you’re not there yet. Be encouraged that healing is available. Just as physical injury requires specific medical attention, so do our spiritual injuries. Be purposeful. Take your time. And remember the right order… first Jesus… then, aid from others.

The Lens of Time

the lens of timeIt has been said that time heals all wounds. Unfortunately that simply is not true. This Monday I made an unscheduled stop at the place where I grew up – in the shadow of the Sears Tower (yes, it will always be the Sears Tower to me). My simple post to Facebook – just three words – read, “So many memories.” What ensued was remarkable in some ways and sad in others. Bethel Baptist Church and Schaumburg Christian School were and are not perfect places. They were however, the places that I made lasting friendships. Friendships that have passed the test of time.

And there’s that word again… time. So if time does not heal all wounds, what is its potential value? I think it better to see time as a lens. As we look through the lens of time we are able to see things more clearly. Function and dysfunction. Good and evil. Joy and pain. Events may not be healed with time, but they can be understood. And, hopefully, made right.

In my professional life I have been blessed to help people. I have seen two common trends: one, people tend to view the pain of others as less than it really is; and two, people tend to see their own pain as greater than it really is. Whichever “side” of that you may fall on, it would greatly help the discussion move forward if you could lean into those two trends a bit.

How exactly does the lens of time work? We may come to different conclusions about things or events, but I think all of us have benefitted more or less in these kinds of ways:

  1. time gives perspective – I remember the first time I returned to my childhood street in Hoffman Estates. I had been gone several years and now had kids of my own. I could not believe how short the street had become and how the slope of the street had diminished. Of course, neither of those things were true. Only my perspective had changed.
  2. time brings maturity – I acknowledge that age and maturity are not synonymous. That said, most of us move through our youthful experiences and understand that things done/said in immaturity are just that. I guess that’s perspective, too.
  3. time allows for forgiveness – Even our judicial system gets this. Whether we always think it fair or not, certain crimes have statutes of limitations. Perhaps so should we.

In saying all of this I am NOT saying that things spoken or done do not matter… they do. I’m just trying to open the door for civil discussion by saying that time should help us see Bethel and SCS as they really were – flawed places that did some things wrong and some things well. May we all see more clearly as we look through the lens of time. PS: I don’t think it means that all of us must see everything the same way.

Learning How to Love

Pure MichiganI am on my way to Bair Lake Bible Camp in Jones, Michigan, where I will be speaking to a group of students this weekend. Many of these are the same students I got to know last year on this same winter retreat. They’re from Crosspointe Christian Church and Hope Community Baptist Church near Detroit. Please pray that I can be clear and that the Holy Spirit can bring understanding. Our focus for the weekend is love. We will seek to reflect upon these four questions:

  1. What does the world’s love look like?
  2. How much did Jesus love His disciples?
  3. How do we love each other when it’s hard?
  4. Will not-yet-believers be attracted to us because of our love?

Whenever I speak for events like this, I ask the leaders to tell me the thing(s) that they feel need some extra attention. Instead of speaking some random, pre-packaged sermons, we are able to talk about things that have already been identified as areas of need. Thanks for praying!

The Gospel According to Phil

Phil RobertsonDuck Dynasty has become a hard-to-explain American phenomenon. Plus nothing. People who have never even shot a gun or hunted anything find themselves glued to the television to listen in on the raw antics of the Robertson family… 14 million of us. That’s right, I said us. Before we downgraded our cable package I was one of the faithful.

This post is in response to some recent “hot water” (I’m sure he doesn’t feel the heat) into which the patriarch of the family, Phil Robertson, has stepped squarely. My main audience is composed of people who believe in Jesus… not all… but most. Like no other, this post is mainly for those of us who already believe. Perhaps to your sadness, I don’t really think there is a whole lot to talk about here. Did any of us really expect a backwoods, old school, child of the 60’s who throws his grandkid’s cell phone into the lake to have left-leaning views on homosexuality? Instead I would like to challenge our reaction to such events. Let’s do this.

Stop Expecting People Who Do Not Believe to Act Like Believers
Seriously. Why are we surprised when people who do not believe act in ways that are appropriate to their own system of belief? Do you really think that a network who, by its own admission, has been a strong supporter of the gay community would not take offense to Phil’s statement? This very simple principle has been the highest value as I have learned to have genuine friendships with people who do not subscribe to my beliefs. Please for their sake, for the sake of the gospel stop expecting people who do not believe to act like believers.

Start Educating Yourself
We have become such a soundbyte culture that we sit around waiting for the next news story to drop so that we can react to it on Facebook or Twitter or better yet, on someone’s site that we do not even know. This kind of reacting is detrimental to the cause of Christ and does not exemplify the spirit of Jesus. How many who have commented even took the time to read the initial lengthy interview? I’ll make it easy for you. You can click HERE to find it. I have said it before, but I’ll say it again here because it fits. It is my strong opinion that you should not even comment on something about which you have not first educated yourself. Responding secondarily via someone else’s opinion has a lessening and demeaning legal title… hearsay.

Stop Pretending You Know Phil Robertson
Unless you do, but I’m going to guess that would be an underwhelmingly small minority of us. You can only read about his story and his life. That gets you in the door, but not on the stage. You don’t know his family or him or what God has asked of him and/or them.

Start Practicing the Great Commandment
You know… the one that Phil paraphrased. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said that the biggest way we can demonstrate our faith to those who do not share it is to love each other (those of us who do follow Jesus). We suck at this. Am I angry with some Christians right now? Yes, I am. More about that in a minute. But the answer is not for me to dig my heels in and win an argument. My command is to love. My desire is to mirror what I find in Philippians 2:5-8. I want to…

have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

You want to keep Christ in Christmas? It happens in moments like these.

Stop Being Mean-Spirited
There are moments when people that call themselves Christians embarrass me. And, for the record, it is not just people who may have a more conservative position than my own. It goes the other way too. In this particular conversation I have heard angry pro-gay Christians say horrible things about Phil and his family. There have been equally hideous words and sentiments coming from those to the right. Christianity is not an argument to be won. It is not a debate in which you are to be the victor. Christianity is a person and his name is Jesus. And his attitude is made clear as referenced in the text above and throughout the New Testament. Are there end-of-the-discussion realities that will in an ultimate sense separate us from those who do not yet believe? Absolutely. Does that fact give us the right to fly off the handle about ____________… whatever the issue? Absolutely not.

Parenthood: Discipline Now or Regret Later

disciplineThis may be the most controversial part of parenting. Parents usually have strong opinions on what discipline should look like. The challenge is not to be reactionary in forming said opinions. What follows is not meant to be the end of the discussion, rather, the beginning. I truly believe that there are only two options: discipline now or regret later.

A Philosophy of Discipline
Before we launch into a few of the particulars, I’d like to recommend that you first establish a general philosophy and approach to discipline. In other words, the why and how behind your discipline. While Spock and Dobson may have offered helpful suggestions along the way, I’m afraid too many of us have simply laid a blank piece of paper over their ideas, tracing them word for word and idea for idea.

This is my philosophy. Even though I have been purposed and intentional, I have not always been successful. Too often I have allowed an emotional response to cloud my clarity. With that admission, I coined a phrase in my earliest days as a parent. It has served as a beacon to which I have returned in barometric fashion. I have strived for… matter-of-fact discipline. Often our discipline is driven by anger or mercy, when justice was appropriate. So what is matter-of- fact discipline? Webster defines matter-of-fact this way: “not showing emotion especially when talking about exciting or upsetting things.” And that’s the trick from whichever side you lean. Whether you lean to the strict or the permissive, the challenge is disciplining from outside of whatever position you lean toward. If I had to boil the entire concept down to one word it would be… consequence. I choose to discipline to demonstrate to our kids that bad choices bring bad consequences. That’s it. Period. I wanted our kids to walk away from the experience (ultimately, at least) knowing that discipline is not about the parent. Discipline (or consequence) is about the choices made by them. I realize that, though my children are all teens and above, this philosophy likely remains mostly unproven. And though they may be able to articulate parts of it today, we won’t really know how well they understood until later.

To Spank or Not to Spank
Personally, I believe spanking has been given a bum rap. OK, that was bad.

The large majority of our culture – it would seem – is revolting against spanking. And while the Bible seems to make passing endorsements, there are zero Bible-character applications of it. On whichever side of the issue you fall, please consider some of these kinds of questions:

  1. Am I too angry to deliver this spanking in a loving way?
  2. What does the verse in Proverbs mean about the one who spares the rod hating his child?
  3. What are the appropriate and inappropriate objects to use in delivering a spanking?
  4. Are there alternate consequences that may (in a given instance) be more effective?
  5. Is there an age (range) at which spanking becomes ineffective?

Making the Punishment Fit the Crime
Because we are created to be intelligent creatures, I think we are born with a sense of fairness. We realize that jaywalking and murder deserve different consequences. Likely, the most effort I have spent in the direction of discipline has been in relation to this section. I have doggedly attempted to match the consequence (which is most often ours to deliver) to the choice. A very simple principle has guided my attempting. One size does not fit all. This works from crime to crime and from kid to kid. Do the hard work. Think about your child. No one knows him or her like you. What speaks to them? When they “get it”, how and why do they “get it”? As Abraham Maslow put it, “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” Seek a full tool belt.

Some Closing Thoughts
It is likely that you and I pendulum-swing away from the negative impressions of our parent’s discipline. There will be instances where this is wise. My experience has also been that there is often a better way. Whatever your negative impression, ask them. Mom or dad, why did you use such and such in your discipline of me? Their answer might surprise you. It might free you. It will certainly inform you and make your ability to discipline better.

Unfortunately much of our look to Scripture on this topic has been simply to validate spanking. There is so much more information available. As you read the Bible watch the interactions between parents and children as it related to discipline. You will see positive and negative examples. And again, be better informed and equipped to discipline better.

Do the work. Search the Scriptures. Know your child. Discipline now or regret later.

Friends

friendsToday is my birthday. I’ve always wondered why we call it that. Actually we all only have one birth day… ok… two if you believe in that born again stuff (which I do). So technically it’s the celebration of your birth day, which is not a bad thing to celebrate. But for me, every birthday becomes a celebration of much more than the day I was born. Every year (especially highlighted by the advent of Facebook) I receive “Happy Birthdays” from all over the world. Last night my first greetings were from friends near Budapest, Hungary as they were just starting their day. And since that moment, along with a few pre-birthday people, literally hundreds of my friends have wished me well. I really wanted to share one small thing I appreciate about each person, but quickly saw that if I did, I would not get my job done today. I work hard at being a good friend. There is a little verse in the Bible that I have paraphrased to our children often as it relates to this subject. It goes something like this… “the person who wants to have friends must show himself to be friendly.” In some ways friendship can be summed up by that sentence. If you are a true-hearted person that cares for others, you will have valuable lifelong friendships.

As I mentioned in the v-blog earlier today if you happened to see it… especially the last five years I have been learning the value of broadening my friendships to include more than just those who share my understanding of faith. Sadly in many ways, the majority years of my life were filled exclusively with friends who looked/thought/believed just like me. My reason for this change is that I actually started paying attention to the way Jesus related to others. Certainly there were the inner-circle friendships that he had with his disciples. And it’s true that many of the friends of Jesus on the periphery also believed he really was who he said he was. Yet we consistently see Jesus pursuing time with all kinds of people who did not necessarily even believe in him. In fact, the Pharisees took him to task for this. Judgmentally accusing him of being a “friend of sinners”. But what a glorious accusation!

In my new awakening and expanding of my friendships I have found that most of the friendships I have made in the past have endured – at least to some degree. What I have also learned is that in gaining many more “kinds” of friends I have become a richer and fuller person in the process. The fact is that several of the people that I now consider my closest friends profess themselves to be atheists. In a recent conversation with one friend that I have known the entire time we’ve lived in Georgia, he asked, “Am I corrupting you?”… or something to that effect. To which I immediately responded, “Actually, you make me a better follower of Jesus.” I went on to explain to him that by avoiding friendships with people who disagreed with my perspective, I had unwittingly moved away from part of the lifestyle of Jesus. So these days the highest compliment you can give me… he is a friend of sinners.

Responding to Hurt

In the spirit of full disclosure… my thoughts are my own. You are free to agree or disagree. The prompt for this post was some really difficult-to-deal-with news that came my way last week. If you came here to read dirt or details you will likely be disappointed. My desire in writing is to remind us of a Christian response to hurt. Sin always hurts. Thankfully sin and/or its consequences are never the final word. The way of Jesus is the way of redemption, forgiveness and humility. It is in this way that I attempt to walk (and write).

We All Fall Short

I continue to be amazed at the reactions of some in matters of transgression. Many speak as if they had never failed or messed up themselves. The Scripture is clear (and even one outside of Christ would admit) that none of us are perfect. So when someone hurts us because of their choices… where is the understanding? This is the same condition that plagues us all.

Ranking Sins

The Scripture never identifies any one sin as being “bigger” than any other. In fact, a strong case can be made that God sees any transgression of His truth as sin… equally offensive… equally forgivable. I’ve learned that when we are the offender guilty of a “biggie”, we deeply desire that all sins are seen in the same way. It is only when someone else commits a sin on the “big” list that we desire justice.

Extending Forgiveness

The idea of forgiveness raises many points for discussion. It pre-supposes right and wrong and makes the offender the one standing in need. But what if the offender never asks for forgiveness? Am I still compelled to forgive? Is forgiveness even necessary? We will dissect this living illustration of forgiveness in Luke 7:36-50. This passage highlights a simple truth that the one who is forgiven much loves much. And maybe that’s more of what this whole forgiveness thing is about. When you’ve been forgiven you love.

So here are some questions to get us thinking about what it means to be Extending Forgiveness:

1. Who were the Pharisees?
2. In what way(s) is it ironic that this story takes place in the home of a Pharisee?
3. Why do you think the woman acted the way she did in vv. 37-38?
4. Why do you think the Pharisee responded the way he did in v. 39?
5. What would you say is the opposite of forgiveness (and Andy, you can’t say unforgiveness)?
6. Why does a person who is forgiven little show only a little love?
7. Why does a person who is forgiven much show much love?
8. If we find ourselves in the little category… how do we reach the much side?
9. What makes receiving forgiveness so appealing?
10. What makes extending forgiveness so difficult?
11. How does a proper view of our own forgiveness help us with receiving and/or extending forgiveness?
12. When we forgive… how is this the most Christ-like thing we can possibly do?

For some extra insights follow the link to this commentary… Luke 7:36-50.