creating an honest-ward ethos

‘Dougherty’ was a nice guy.

Aside from chatting about sponsoring a particular charity, our conversation turned to many random things. Campbell clans of Scotland, Life in New Zealand (he was from Ireland), and… human sexuality. He told me about a friend of his that had a pastor who gave him some opinions about sex that were so devoid of coherence that I won’t bother repeating them here. Though I perceived we didn’t see eye-to-eye on human sexuality, I was pleased that our conversation remained peaceful. Talking about human sexuality is controversial enough, but my, how the sparks can fly when you discuss this topic from a faith perspective!

Unfortunately, meaningful dialogue about this issue is nearly impossible. I say it is unfortunate, because I think our understanding, respect, appreciation, and use of sexuality is one of the most important things for us to be talking about. I see a few things that make these needed conversations more difficult:

-Sexuality is often one of the most emotionally charged topics, and therefore one of the most avoided.
-The chasm between opposing viewpoints is not getting any smaller.
-Little or no desire to see the other individuals’ or groups’ perspective is apparent.

Christians are much to blame for this lack of dialogue. Even when motivated by genuine concern, our message can often be received as one of hatred, indifference, self-righteousness, exclusion and arrogance. Indeed, as someone has well said, ‘We are all too often known for what we’re against, than what we’re for.’ We appear to be quite concerned with pointing out flaws in others and not as concerned with being open to such correction from those around us (take a moment to look up the very familiar Matthew 7:1-5 and compare with the less familiar Isaiah 65:5).

If I am to be truly loving, I cannot approve of all behaviour. I do, however, have a growing conviction that so often the way we deal with ‘mis-behaviour’ can actually create a culture which causes people to hide from each other, rather than a culture of honesty, transparency and healing. Another way to say it is to assert that whilst our wounds can’t be dealt with if we ignore them or pretend that we are ‘wound-less’, we also must remember that a ‘wound-hunting’ ethic fosters a ‘wound-hiding’ ethos. In my friendships with others, I am committed to building an ethos of transparency and honesty. If I truly care about my friends, I must not sugar-coat their problems (or put band-aids on their gushing wounds). They must be discussed openly and frankly. This will never happen if my relationships are characterised by formality, pretense and positivism.

I will probably never see Dougherty again, but I hope our conversation can be one step among many in the direction of creating a more honest dialogue between the Church and the world. With God’s help, we can – one person at a time – change the world’s perception of the Church. We can repair the broken and shattered image of grace that is meant to accompany the term ‘Christian.’ We can restore the withered message of love that is meant to be embodied in our lives. We can mend the torn fabric of truth that puts on flesh and loves, heals, comforts, cares-for, mends and restores people. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus – again.

wanted: ‘messy’ relationships

I have a friend who has all but left the church…

The agenda of the churches has has been associated with has left him wanting…

Please read his cry for help written months ago…

life never stops…even if you do. People change, I change….the cycle of death and life doesn’t just pertain to the physical….but also to relationships and friendship and even your own personal being…It’s just strange I guess……I feel as though I’m outside of it all…..I just watch it all go by like telephone poles outside a car window…… gone as quickly as they come…. I’ve met some amazing people lately…. real genuine people that I’d love to get to know…. but somehow I am unable to cross the barrrier that seperates my life from theirs…..to break into their circles, their worlds….I live in a glass box…..people come and watch for a moment, for I am a novelty a new thing to enjoy, but the excitement soon fades and they walk away with those they love and I, I am unable to follow, bound by invisible contrainsts…. I’m sure all of you who are reading this think I’m crazy or could use some help, and perhaps I do….I admit that my life is a mess, and I know that I have made that mess myself…. I admit that I am not living up to my potential, that i could be so much more than I let myself be… But there is something invisible that holds me, something I cannot see…… I need help, perhaps that is the whole reason i write this… I need to know what true Christian love is again…. to know that there are people who won’t just leave a comment that says “I know how you feel, I’m praying for you” which is a well and good….but the help I need is messy help, the kind of help that frodo gave to sam, and sam gave to frodo…. a single person or a group of people who realize the broken state that they are in….that do not sugar coat life and pretend to be better than they are…. I need real people…. I need to look behind the mask and not be repulsed by the ugliness within because I know that they see the ugliness in me since my mask lies shattered on the ground. I need to hold someone as they cry, and be held as my world collapses around me…. Please don’t tell me, “well that’s what Jesus is for…” Because all of you have the potential to be His arms….to be His voice….to be His eyes that weep along with me as we all walk through this thing called life. The answer does not lay within myself….trust me I’ve looked…. the answer lies in people…. all giving, all taking… all needing eachother… all knowing that we are all the same…. This is a bearing of my heart to all of you…. It is not me asking for answers…. It is just me wanting to see the real you…. and knowing that we’ll all make it….broken, weary, worn down, crying and laughing at the same time at the sheer ridiculousness of the pain that we all have felt, but always knowing that there is someone there to pick us up when we fall, or to lay down in the mud right next to us willingly and just crying with us……. I suppose there is more….but this is enough for now….

from a naked heart,
(name removed to protect identity)

Before you try to prescribe the magic cure for my friend, please hear the honesty in his plea.

We certainly do need each other.

Do you know that? Let it sink in. Let it go deeper than just intellectually agreeing with the statement. Dare to think of things you participate in that actually hurt the nature of your relationships. Be honest with yourself. Take some time to do that now…

(really… stop what you’re doing… think about it…)

Loving each other is not systematic. It is not regular, controllable or convenient (or as Derek Webb says, it is not efficient.) It is hopelessly random, uncomfortably personal, terribly schedule-wrecking and more importantly, it must be REAL. There are people in your life that need you. The opposite is also true. There are people in your life that don’t need ‘not‘ you.

Be real for someone.

getting intimate in the garden

There’s more to the Garden of Eden story than just apples, trees and snakes.

Adam and Eve had the most precious thing in existence: unhindered, unbroken and fully realised intimacy and union with God! What more could a human ask for? On top of that, they had a complete and totally healthy relationship between them!

Think of it. The First and Greatest Commandment AND the ‘second’ one – done. But they wanted more. They bought the lie that they could be like God. This brought many consequences, but the one I’d like to highlight here has to do with the loss of intimacy.

Remember what Adam and Eve did right after sinning? Well, not only did they gain an ever-increased concern for their nakedness (resulting in the birth of the clothing industry), but they also did something that (at first) seems ridiculous…

They hid from God. Isn’t that just hilarious? I mean, why would you ever think that you could hide from God? And by the way, didn’t they know they were naked all along? What’s with the random fig-leaf fashion statement? What in the Garden of Eden is going on?

Question. What is the opposite of unbridled intimacy and joy in relationship with God and each other? Hiding. Adam and Eve ‘hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God.’ (Gen. 3:8) Why did they do this? Adam explains for us a few verses later: he was afraid. Sin had put a barrier of fear between him and God. The secure bond of love and intimacy was shattered into the fearful isolation of guilt and shame.

We still experience these shattering effects today. Sin continues to make intimacy unbearable. Some of the hardest things to produce in humans are honesty, vulnerability and transparency. Recently I admitted to some friends that I like to keep people at arms length, so they don’t see my faults. I prefer having a lot of acquaintances rather than having a few really close, honest friends. After all, if I let someone get too close to me, they might love me enough to challenge, correct or sharpen me.

I must not allow this to happen.
I must protect myself from this every happening in my life.
I must keep my relationships shallow.
I must hide.
I must make myself a suit of fig-leaves.

Allow me to assert that in Christ we have no reason whatsoever to hide! The shattering effect of sin has been undone by the Cross of Christ! No guilt! No shame! No fear!

If only we would dare to believe that we are really, totally, wonderfully, perfectly and completely cleansed of our sins (past, present AND future) by the blood of Christ! If only we would dare to be intimate with each other! If only we would be real, honest, vulnerable and transparent!

Intimacy is not neat, organised or systematic. It’s relational.
It’s not expedient, efficient or entertaining. It’s rough ground.
But most of all, intimacy means not hiding.

In Christ, we can have the confidence to know just a little of the freedom that Adam and Eve knew before they sinned;

“And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” – Genesis 2:25

changing our thinking about change

Change.

It has happened.
It is happening.
It will happen.

Spiritually, It has happened…
If your faith is genuinely in Christ, you are not what you once were. There are many passages in the Bible that talk about this. Jesus had a conversation with Nicodemus about being ‘born’ a second time. (John 3) Jude writes about ‘the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.’ (Jude :3) Peter writes to Christians about not forgetting that they have been purged from their old sins. (2 Peter 1:9) John agrees by writing that Christians ‘have passed from death to life.’ (1 John 3:14) A particularly well-known verse is from Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17. ‘Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.’
This transformation is complete in the lives of believers. It is as secure, steadfast, unchanging and solid as God’s nature. You can count on it! The tough thing is that it’s a spiritual change. We can find it hard to trust what God says about us when our circumstances are staring us in the face! That’s why we need to remind ourselves and each other so often!

Mentally, it is happening…
With our spiritual transformation behind us, we are then called to grow in our understanding of who we are in Christ. Peter told the early believers to ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ (2 Peter 3:4) Another popular verse about this was again written by Paul to the Roman Christians to ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ (Romans 12:2) The tense of this command is continual. A literal translation might be more like ‘be being transformed’ or ‘be continually transformed.’ The entire Bible is filled to the brim with passages talking about growing in our understanding of God’s love and grace.
This is not about just getting more head-knowledge. When you get a chance, read 1 Corinthians 1&2. Paul has some pretty strong words there about relying on knowledge. What God wants is not for us to know lots of things, but rather to know Him! Head knowledge causes our minds to puff up, but heart understanding helps us to grow up!

Physically, it will happen…
We look backwards at our spiritual change, commit ourselves to the current process of mental adjustment, and we also wait and hope for the change which is yet to come, which is physical. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 about the bodily transformation that awaits all believers. Our bodies will be free from disease, pain, or weakness and unhindered by the effects of aging. Paul may well have had this in mind when he said that to live was Christ and to die was gain!

Let us remember our spiritual transformation with gratitude, grow in our mental grasp of that transformation, and yearn for the day of the final physical transformation!

choosing temptation?

The sign read…

Shirts. $15.

It’s safe to say that I’m not obsessed with fashion, but to say that I couldn’t care less about how I look wouldn’t exactly be true either!

At any rate, I like a good deal as I was walking past this particular clothing store, I almost popped in. I didn’t, though. I turned up my nose (in anti-materialism smugness) and strode past. I was quite proud of myself for not visiting the store… until my thoughts took me further.

Sure, I had chosen not to enter the store for some quite good reasons. One of those being that I have enough shirts that are wear-able, so I didn’t really need another one. But as I thought about my actions further, it became clear to me that the most motivating reason for my recent ‘financial carefulness’ was none other than the fact that I had realised my need to save money for my upcoming wedding, honeymoon and receptions!

It turned out that my choice wasn’t driven by the pious, super-spiritual, anti-commercial motivation that had made me feel like I was so much better than everyone else…

This got me thinking about temptation.

A popular church leader has rightly said that we can’t say we are faithful unless we’ve ever been tempted to be unfaithful. We can’t say that we have integrity unless we’ve ever had the opportunity to lie and resisted. We’ve no right to call ourselves patient unless we’ve gone through stressful circumstances, etc.

Don’t worry. I’m not saying that we should go looking for temptation.

I am saying, however, that temptation is a part of God’s plan.

Yep.

God Himself promises never to tempt us (see James 1:13), and we always have a way to ‘escape‘ when we are tempted – which sometimes means not allowing or ‘fleeing’ from even the opportunity to be tempted (see 1 Corinthians 10:13). However, He most certainly allows and uses temptation in our lives (see the entire book of Job). Actually, we are all tempted. So was Jesus (though He didn’t give in… see Hebrews 4:15)

I’ve been reminded that it’s really just prideful of me to be so proud of my little miniature ‘victories.’ Would I be so satisfied with my wardrobe if I had plenty of money in the checking account?
I’ve also been reminded that when we are careless with our choices (where we go, what we do, when we do it, what we view, who we spend time with, etc.), we shouldn’t be amazed that we often find ourselves giving in to temptation!!!

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” – 1 Corinthians 10:12 (emphasis mine)

good will toward us

At the time of Christ’s birth, the angels said to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” (Luke 2:14) Isn’t that an amazing idea that God extended His good will in our direction? He did so in the very act of Christ taking on our flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:14). It’s the act of incarnation. Christ gave up the comfort and prestige of heaven and willingly chose to live a life filled with discomfort and mockery. Our Lord went through times of loneliness, being misunderstood, physical exhaustion, hunger, agony, pain and yes, death.

Christ knew from eternity what would come with His incarnation. This Christmas, perhaps we can recognize our calling to be like Christ in this way. We are called to go into the world in the same way Christ did. All too often Christians instead choose to live cozy lives of faithful church service attendance, Bible studies, and friendships with other believers. We are quite comfortable to speak to each other in Christian-ese and continually listen to our favourite style of worship music.

Of course, I’m not trying to devalue the utter importance of Christian fellowship. Quite the contrary. I’m just saying that our calling includes so much more than fellowship. We must go into the world. We must learn the language of the world. To do this we must risk being… uncomfortable. It means we don’t force people to listen to our stories until we’ve listened to theirs. The willingness to do this doesn’t come naturally, but super-naturally. May we have the courage of Christ in us to motivate us to sacrifice our comfort, reputations, productivity, lifestyle or anything else that is keeping us from fully answering our calling to be incarnational.

humble pie inc.

It’s interesting how various Bible verses have their ‘day in the sun.’ A very popular verse recently has been 2 Chronicles 7:14. This verse has made it’s way into many articles, books and songs. It goes like this:

“If my people, called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

I’ve heard lots of talk about what this verse says about prayer, seeking God’s face, and turning from sin, but I’ve not heard a lot about humility. If you look at the verse, humility is listed first.

What is the opposite of humility? Pride. I believe that pride comes from having confidence or assurance in anything other than Christ. Boasting is prideful. Paul said that he would not boast in anything except in the Lord. Paul’s confidence and assurance was not in himself, but in God. This exemplifies the kind of humility alluded to in our featured verse.

Humility means more than boasting only in the Lord. It also means that we must not ignore the way things really are. By this, I mean that we must admit when things are not as they should be. After all, is there really ever a time when we have it all together? Is there ever a time when we don’t need God? Is there ever a time when we can truly depend on ourselves?

In Christian circles, we learn all too quickly how to speak Christian-ese. We are taught to always be happy, positive and enthusiastic. Happiness comes and goes. Joy, however, lasts through even the tough times. Joy admits it when things just aren’t going well, and Joy isn’t shaken because Joy comes from confidence and assurance in Christ.

God uses tough times and allows ‘negative’ circumstances in our lives to cause us to be more dependent on Him! It was at times like this Paul said that when he was weak, then he was very strong! Weakness in yourself = strength in the Lord! Humility about yourself = boasting in the Lord!

According to the featured verse, we can pray, seek God and try to turn from sin, but unless we are humble, it doesn’t matter.

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” – James 4:10

love and firewood

Attention couples!!!

We’re quite educated in the ways of showing affection, aren’t we? Two flawless bodies on a billboard with arms and legs intertwined in new, creative ways… just shocking enough to make you want to buy the clothes they are half-wearing… two people on a park bench rubbing each other up and down as if they were freezing to death… Should we be listening to these suggestions though? Why or why not? Affection is harmless enough, right?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to waste any time trying to discourage any certain forms of affection. I do, however, want to think for a moment about the contrast between physicality and commitment.

The physical stuff is visible, concrete and undeniable. The ideas behind them are invisible, abstract and often cloudy. Also, the two can sometimes be totally separate. Consider people in modeling or acting. The physicality is there, but I doubt there is any commitment or relationship. Conversely, in some marriages gone cold, there may be a certain level of commitment, but no passion or intimacy.

So how in the world can we build strongly committed relationships with healthy physicality? How can such a balance be started and maintained? Is it possible?

I think the answer lies in a helpful analogy I’ve learned from Tommy Nelson in his study on The Song of Solomon.

He relates physical passion to gasoline, and rightly points out that a relationship built on that alone may have large flames for a little while, but has nothing left afterwards. He talks about the need for the ‘firewood’ of commitment and character.

I think it’s interesting to note as well that the more firewood you have, the longer the fire lasts! Are we sometimes guilty of impatiently gathering a few small twigs, drowning them with gasoline and feeling frustrated that the fire doesn’t last? Possibly?

God is more than aware of the pain and hurting that comes with failed relationships. He doesn’t want us to go through the pain! He wants to give us His best!

I’m not a fan of all the charts, graphs or rules that people try to create for successful relationships, but I will say this: For the sake of your heart, keep the gasoline in the can until you’ve gathered the firewood of commitment and character. Then you can enjoy the warmth and security of a committed relationship.

still hangin’ on

“I’m hangin’ on… you’re all that’s left to hold on to.” – Bono in Red Hill Mining Town

Yesterday I had two conversations about relationships. You know, the romantic kind. Aren’t they exciting? I mean, isn’t the thrill of discovering that someone else is thinking about you just priceless? It’s a little more than obvious that the human race is consumed with obtaining this feeling. I just saw an ad for yet another online dating company, mate1: intimate dating. What a joke! Intimate? Online?

Both of my conversations yesterday touched on the undeniable pain and misery of ‘breaking up.’ We talked about how all of your hopes and dreams come crashing down in mere seconds when this happens.

The common thread in my two discussions yesterday was this: both people I talked to shared with me the belief that we should never put our ‘hopes and dreams’ in anyone other than Jesus. All three of us were speaking from much experience as well. The thing about humans is that it’s not a question of if they will let you down, it’s a matter of when!

In a song called “Wedding Dress,” Christian songwriter Derek Webb refers to ‘lovers less wild’ that draw us away from Jesus, the One who loved us (as another of his songs points out) ‘to death.’ He is the One who died for sinners. He is the One who won’t take back His love. He is the One who will never cheat on you. He is the One who will patiently put up with your junk.

May you be able to say to Jesus, “I’m hangin’ on… You’re all that’s left to hold on to.”

-Dale

now that’s relaxing

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Jesus in Matthew 11 (emphasis mine, and maybe Jesus, too)

For some people, this passage is refreshing, freeing and memorable. Others simply give it an affirming nod and move on. Others (if they’re honest) might admit they’re not sure what Jesus is getting at with all this talk about rest. Rest from WHAT? What does it mean to labor and be heavy laden?

Practically, we know that Jesus was referring to what Judaism had become. The Pharisees had placed too much emphasis on rituals and outward things. Jesus had a radically different way of life in mind. Still some of us may find it hard to see how this relates to us today. After all, only about 1% of the world’s population is even Jewish.

There is a Pharisee inside all of us.

The Pharisee mindset has to do with proving your worth to God by doing good things. And not just doing them, but doing them better than others! Unfortunately, the Pharisee mindset often drives many really positive acts of ministry and Christian organisations. This ‘philosophy of works’ can slip into the minds of the most genuine Christians.

We must never mistake ‘works‘ for ‘fruit.’ Fruit is a natural by-product of a relationship with Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit in us. God Himself inspires, directs and empowers our actions. And these ‘fruit-actions’ never have anything to do with us getting the credit. ‘Work-actions,’ however, can be and are done without a relationship with Christ and have nothing to do with the Holy Spirit at all. As much as we may try to claim God’s ‘sponsorship’ of our efforts, we really want the credit to go to us. We want to be known as ‘spiritual’ or ‘a good, serving Christian.’

Fruit and Works, Relationship and Religion, Devotion and Duty. They often look the same to us, but to God, one is worthless and the other priceless.

-Dale