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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Are we following the REAL Jesus?

image from Red Letter Christians
As I was looking through my notes from Q Nashville a few days ago, I found myself being drawn back to a question that's been burning a hole in my brain over the past few months...

Are we following the REAL Jesus?

A couple of years ago my friend Patricia made a comment about how, as she had been re-reading the Gospels, she found herself wondering if the way she had been presenting Christianity to her friends was a false advertisement of sorts.  She had begun to recognize Christ's call to "die to self," and that wasn't something she had ever brought up when inviting someone to follow him.  Patricia's realization stuck with me as a critical reminder that sometimes we need to re-examine our preconceived notions about our faith.

That memory re-surfaced as I was reflecting on Russell Moore's Q talk, "A Prophetic Minority."  He spoke of how it's hard to argue that the Christianity of the New Testament was ever a majority in America; how one of the most dangerous things we could do as the church is try to normalize Christianity and the Gospel; and how Christianity has never proposed to be the "best way to live" but has instead always come with a scandal and a cross.  Moore reminded us that Jesus freaked out even his own disciples.

These were sobering thoughts.

See, I'm afraid too many of us in the American church have either forgotten these things, never realized them to begin with, or chosen to ignore them.  A friend of mine has said we like to talk about Jesus without talking about Jesus, and I've come to believe he's right.  I hear too many people talk about Jesus as though he came preaching a morality designed to keep us safe and separate from the rest of the world, and always "right," when in reality he stepped on the scene and proceeded to tear down the walls the self-righteous leaders had erected while building bridges to connect with those who had been locked out of their religious system.  He brought a message not of mere pristine morality but of radical love that treated those shunned by the religious as beloved insiders.  He shocked and offended his own people.

image from The Master's Table
And this is where I think we make the exact same mistake as the Pharisees. We trust our own limited, broken, human understanding of Scripture - of the written Word of God - more than we trust the example of Jesus - the living Word of God.  And so we erect our own walls designed to keep us safe, separate, and "right," ignoring the fact that Jesus' life broke down the paradigms that existed in the minds of the studied, scholarly religious leaders of his day.  We overlook the fact that Jesus showed the Pharisees in his words and actions that they were completely missing the point of the written Word, which was love.

Just like the Pharisees, we, too, are shocked and offended by anyone who dares to point out such things to us today.

I wholeheartedly believe every single one of us - but particularly those of us who live in America and treasure our culture of independence and consumerism - have our own faulty paradigms that Jesus wants to rattle apart, but many of us are so confident in our current understanding of Scripture we close our ears and eyes and hearts to the prophetic voices in our modern world.  We ignore echoes of the likes of Jeremiah crying out to Israel or Jesus rebuking the Pharisees telling us that we, God's people, have missed the point and lost the plot.

Jesus was once asked what the greatest commandment was.  He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."  (Matthew 22:37-40, emphasis added)  Paul echoes this when he says "the one who loves another has fulfilled the law...Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."  (Romans 13:8b, 10)

image from Free HD Wallpaper
Some people like to fixate on the fact that we are warned in the New Testament, even by Jesus himself, against false teachers.  It's as though this gives us license not to love certain people (at least not in our actions).  I think, though, there is a distinct possibility we have hopelessly over-complicated this whole "false teaching" thing.  If even Jesus himself boiled down good theology to loving God and loving people, is not the simple, logical connection to false teachers that they will discourage loving God and/or loving people?  It seems foolish to me to water down what Jesus made so plain, to act as though he left out some things when he said the law was fulfilled in love.  I certainly don't want to make any such claim, whether explicit or implied!  To do so would convey a sense of human pride which seems much more likely to fuel false teaching than humbly trusting in the simplicity of what Jesus said.

In fact, it's interesting to note that one instance in which Jesus warned people about such things is sandwiched between two statements about a loss of love among people...
And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.  And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.  And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.  (Matthew 24:10-12, emphasis added)
The absence of love and the presence of hate would seem to be closely linked to people being led astray by "false prophets."  Interesting.

Thankfully, Jesus offers hope in his next sentences...
But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.  (Matthew 24:13-14)
Some Christians seem eager to give up on the world, as though our belief that things are falling apart beyond repair will speed our reunion with Christ.  But here we're told the Gospel of God's Kingdom will spread throughout the world before the end comes.  That sounds like a hopeful movement to me, even if it's in the face of trials and tribulations...something to aspire to.  However, such a movement won't be fueled by our pride or fear or self-righteousness.

But it will be fueled by LOVE.

Maybe that's why Jesus boiled everything down to that one simple four-letter word.  And maybe the fact that Scripture clearly tells us he did that ought to motivate us to examine what sort of Jesus we've been following.  Because if we're following some version of him that's leading us to indoctrinate people with a thousand specific beliefs, and if that's causing us to condemn certain people or write them off or make any other number of prideful or fear-based moves, I think we're following the wrong guy.

But if we're following the Jesus who calls us to love, and if that's inspiring us to invite others to join us in walking with him as we receive and give away his radical love, then I think we're on the right track.
We speak with convictions and kindness because we don't believe transformation comes through a set of ideas but a Galilean voice.
-Russell Moore

Monday, March 31, 2014

Noah: A Story of Mercy

image from BeyondHollywood.com
My Sunday school teachers had turned Bible narrative into children's fables.  They talked about Noah and the ark because the story had animals in it.  They failed to mention that this was when God massacred all of humanity... 
How did we come to think the story of Noah's ark is appropriate for children?  Can you imagine a children's book about Noah's ark complete with paintings of people gasping in gallons of water, mothers grasping their children while their bodies go flying down white-rapid rivers, the children's tiny heads being bashed against rocks or hung up on fallen trees?  I don't think a children's book like that would sell many copies. 
-Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

I find it quite ironic that I read these words only a few days before seeing "Noah" in the theater.  I'll be honest, though I encouraged my fellow Christians to give the movie a chance, asking them to see the film and look for some merit before writing it off, I went in with fairly low expectations myself, simply because the only other film I've seen by director Darren Aronofsky was not one that I enjoyed.  I didn't find it offensive, just a little creepy.  I was afraid I might come away from "Noah" with a similar response.  However, my hesitation proved to be unnecessary, as I actually found much to appreciate in this new film.  Did they take liberties with the story?  UH, YEA.  But that, for me, did not hinder the central message of the story.

**Spoilers ahead!**


I'll start with a few things this movie brought to life for me that I'd never previously considered, things that did NOT depart from the Biblical account.

1.  It was DARK inside the ark.  Like really, really dark.  I guess I'd always subconsciously imagined it with windows?

2.  Along the lines of what Donald Miller was saying in the excerpt above, it must have been truly horrifying to hear the screams of all those whose lives were being taken by the flood while YOU sat in safety.  I deeply appreciated how this was poignantly portrayed in the movie.  As a fairly extreme feeler, it doesn't matter HOW firmly I believe someone is getting something he or she justly deserves, I still am deeply troubled when I witness another person's pain.  Being in THIS particular situation...well, I just can't imagine.  I heard one comment about how the filmmakers had an agenda to portray God as mean.  Well, to be honest, I would humbly suggest that impression has little, if anything, to do with the way the filmmakers told the story and pretty much everything to do with the story itself, even as one would read it straight out of Genesis.  Sometimes it hurts to be confronted with the uglier realities of certain aspects of our faith story.  AND YET, while I completely understand how one could read the story or see the film and think God is mean and hateful, the crucial element here is to remember the whole reason God sent the flood was because men had become so evil & violent they were destroying each other.  This act of judgment was actually an act of mercy, and contrary to how sending a flood of this magnitude appears on the surface, through it God actually showed his LOVE for humanity by preserving mankind through Noah's family.  And I actually believe this was conveyed through the film.

3.  There was a time when the creation story was globally recognized and accepted, even by the most wicked of men.  I LOVED hearing one character after another speak of "The Creator" and getting a glimpse of a culture in which this story would have been passed down through oral tradition and accepted by all as a central component of life.  I also LOVED the creation montages used throughout the movie as the story was being retold.  Beautiful artwork.

4.  Although I knew Noah got drunk at some point after the flood, it had somehow never occurred to me to wonder WHY.  Though many liberties were taken throughout the film, including with what happened during Noah's family's time on the ark, the fact is God had not told Noah (or at least it was not recorded) how long his family would be confined to that space or when it might be over or, really, what would happen afterward.  I think we can all relate to being in the midst of a waiting period, not knowing when or how God is going to change our circumstances, and feeling something along the lines of situational cabin fever.  Not knowing if or when a difficult circumstance is going to change can make a person lose it a little.  Add to that uncertainty whatever myriad of emotion Noah may have felt in light of the fact that THE ENTIRE HUMAN POPULATION HAD JUST BEEN DESTROYED outside his door, and suddenly it's not at all mysterious to me that Noah may have sought a bit of escape in the form of alcohol.


Now, as I said, the filmmakers did take liberties with the story, perhaps most notably with Movie Noah's coming to the conclusion that God wanted to destroy ALL of humanity, INCLUDING him and his own family.  He came to believe their purpose was simply to preserve the animals.  When his only daughter-in-law, presumed to be barren, turned out to be pregnant, he determined he would take the baby's life if it was a girl, thus preventing any future births.  While nothing like this happens in the Biblical account, I don't have a problem looking past that to see what the filmmakers may have been trying to say through their own version of the story, and to be honest there were a few elements of this plot line that I actually really appreciated.

1.  Movie Noah recognized the brokenness that existed within himself and his own family.  He didn't assume they were incapable of great violence even though God had chosen them for an important mission.  I appreciate that the filmmakers painted Noah as a self-aware man when it would have been easy to have him come off as self-righteous.

2.  Movie Noah's wife desired mercy when all Noah could see was the need for judgment.  Though she, too, acknowledged her family's brokenness, she still desired life and love for them even when Noah had given up and resigned himself to this idea that God wanted them to die, too.

3.  After Movie Noah's twin granddaughters were born, and he arrived on the scene ready to take their lives, fulfilling what he believed God had called him to do, he caved, saying he couldn't do it.  From the time Noah's downward spiral began to this moment in the movie, I was wondering more with each passing minute if I was going to end up hating the film.  My response was hinging on whether Noah came to his senses or not.  When he lowered his knife past the babies, tears rolled down my face and all I could think was, "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice."  YES.  Thank you, God.

4.  After Movie Noah's family was living on land again, Noah had a conversation with Ila in which he said he failed God by not completing the task of ending the line of humanity.  Ila SO WONDERFULLY challenged his statement...I wish I had the exact wording, but she essentially said, "DID you [fail]?  God chose YOU to go on the ark.  You had a choice -- he knew you would have a choice -- and you chose mercy, and love."  YES, YES, YES!!!  This whole plot line may have been entirely man-made, but the message it conveyed is SO TRUE to the heart of God!  


That pivotal scene between Noah and Ila was my favorite moment of the movie, and it was what enabled me to embrace this film.  The details may have been skewed, but the message was still that God loves humanity.  He loves us enough to put an end to our selfishness and violence when we're killing each other.  And he loves us enough to preserve us in spite of our brokenness when we're willing to walk with him.

There is plenty more I could say, but I'll close with just one more thought.  I feel like we as Christians sometimes make the same mistake Movie Noah made in thinking God has put us here to execute judgment on his behalf.  But we who live in this day and age have the advantage of knowing how he revealed himself and his heart in the life of Jesus, and Jesus' life clearly showed us that God desires to show mercy.  May we come to our senses as Movie Noah did in the man-made part of this story that's being told on film and recognize that mercy and love are indeed the things The Creator longs for us to choose.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

"Guard your heart." Um, yea, about that...

{photo source}
For pretty much as long as I can remember I've heard Proverbs 4:23 quoted as something of a warning against investing too deeply in someone (particularly a member of the opposite sex) prematurely, lest they end up disappointing you.  I always understood the logic behind such a precautionary measure, and yet there was also always something about it that just didn't sit right with me.  For years I chalked that up to my own stubbornness and the idea that I was too foolhardy to embrace common sense, but at some point over the past couple years I started to recognize a better reason that interpretation of this proverb just didn't resonate with me.

It's completely antithetical to the Gospel of God's Kingdom.

Allow me to step away from the proverb for a moment.  Something God really impressed upon my heart last year was the fact that if I'm supposedly a part of this Kingdom where Jesus reigns, that means I no longer get to assume the throne in my own life.  And another thing He really impressed upon me last year was the fact that submitting my life to Christ should lead to restored relationships in all facets of my life -- which I began to realize had a lot more to do with my choosing to love others selflessly than keeping up with a list of do's and don't's.  This is where Christianity -- in its pure sense -- breaks away from all other religions.  The main point is LOVE.

Now back to the proverb, how does a call to love selflessly fit in with the idea that we should "guard our hearts" by keeping a safe distance from certain people to ensure that we don't get hurt or disappointed?  Well, if you ask me, it doesn't.  It surely isn't what Jesus modeled during His time upon the earth, as He faced rejection, ingratitude, and betrayal time after time.  These things never once caused Jesus to pull back and withhold His love.  (Now, granted, He had harsh words for a few people, but if memory serves me correctly, those words were reserved for the religious leaders who were making it difficult for people to connect with Him.  I've pointed this out before and I undoubtedly will again, simply because I think it's a truth too many of us have lost sight of in our quest for personal right-ness.  But alas, I digress.)

If I am being transformed to look more like Jesus, why would I interpret a Scripture that urges me to guard my heart as a warning that I should somehow limit the investments I make in other people, lest I experience some form of pain as a result?  Would it not be more reflective of His life to guard my heart against things like bitterness, jealousy, pride, and unforgiveness -- things that lead to broken relationships -- and to be willing to take the risk of caring deeply for other people, even if they don't all care deeply for me in return?

{photo source}

There is a scene in M. Night Shyamalan's film "The Village" in which the leader of the town in which the movie is set has allowed his blind daughter to venture beyond the sequestered, supposedly safe confines of their small community in order to seek advanced medicine for the badly-injured man she loves.  The other leaders are appalled when they learn of this since their entire purpose in forming the community was to keep its members sheltered from the evils outside.  As they voice their frustrations with his decision, he emphatically declares, "Yes, I have risked!  I hope I am always able to risk everything for the just and right cause!"  And what is that "just and right cause" but love?  "The world moves for love," he says softly, moments later.  "It kneels before it in awe."

I want to live my life with a willingness to risk for the sake of love.  My friend Lisa who lives in Nicaragua wrote an affecting piece last September about a girl in her community who is living in this very tension, and it has stuck with me ever since.  I know it is risky to love freely.  I know at times it will lead to pain.  But you know what?  For one thing, pain is a little easier to bear when you know you're following a call to something beautiful.  And for another thing, it's not all painful.  Loving freely brings about a great deal of joy and beauty, too, that wouldn't be found without taking the risk of opening up your heart to other people.

So do yourself a favor.  Guard your heart, but guard it against the fear of allowing it to do what it was made to do:  LOVE.  After all, elsewhere in the Bible we're told that perfect love drives out fear.  In the words of Rend Collective Experiment, "Real love is not afraid to bleed."  Yes, sometimes we will bleed.  Jesus did.  He seemed to believe it was a risk worth taking.  And so do I.

-----

I came across two great pieces on this topic yesterday.  Click here or here if you're interested in reading them.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Re-thinking Relationships

What's this?  Two blogs in less than a week?  After three and a half months of silence?  Well, yes and no.  Actually, the bulk of what I'm posting tonight was written prior to the last blog I posted before my extended period of silence, but it never made its way off the pages of my notebook and onto my computer screen until tonight.  Why am I posting it now?  Well, because I stumbled across it Sunday afternoon when I pulled out my notebook to start composing my most recent blog, and when I reread it I thought, "Dang, those were really good thoughts!"  Ha!  Basically these are some ideas that I think challenge the way a lot of us approach relationships, but rather than elaborating on that any further, I'll let the ideas speak for themselves...

Idea #1:  Be who God made you, not who you think someone else wants.

To begin with, trying to be someone other than yourself is not sustainable.  Let's say you're able to present another persona and gain someone's attention.  Then what happens when the true you surfaces?  More importantly, though, God has made you the way you are*, with a specific set of gifts and passions and experiences, for a reason.  You have a unique role to play in His Kingdom.  If you attempt to override His design for you, you may miss out on things He has called you specifically to do.

What I'm not saying:  Never consider where you might need adjustment.  God gave you a unique design, but even that God-given design needs to be examined and transformed as you submit to His guidance in your life.

Idea #2:  Stop seeking the perfect person.

The truth is, no matter how Christ-like someone is, he or she is still human*.  We all experience ebbs and flows in our faith journey.  We all face seasons of doubt, discouragement, and weakness.  We all have areas of immaturity.  These things do not make a person unworthy of your love and relationship.  Instead of seeking the person who has it most together, seek someone who admits his or her shortcomings and humbly pursues growth.

What I'm not saying:  Throw all your standards out the window and enter into a relationship with just anyone.  Sometimes a person legitimately needs to undergo some expansive character transformation before a serious relationship could possibly be healthy.

Idea #3:  Look beyond the surface.

Just because a girl is physically attractive does not mean she will fulfill your God-given desires.  And just because a guy pays attention to you does not mean he knows how to truly express your God-given value.  Is this person trustworthy?  Does he or she genuinely appreciate you?  Can you see yourself growing old with this person when beauty has faded and energy has waned?  Is he or she a proven friend?

What I'm not saying:  It's not okay to be attracted to someone's appearance or personality.  These are fine things; they just aren't the most important things.

Idea #4:  Give people a chance.

I don't know how long ago the concept of "friend zoning" someone came into play, and perhaps this trend has come and gone already unbeknownst to me, but I feel like it's a pretty ridiculous way of thinking.  I probably wouldn't have said this even as recently as a couple of months ago, largely because I wouldn't have wanted to subject myself to the possibility of giving certain people a chance, but God has been shifting my thinking when it comes to this.  If someone is already a friend, it seems to me that this should qualify rather than disqualify them for your consideration.  Why?  Because I would hope one of our primary qualifications for any romantic relationship is friendship.  Though I definitely have an easier time picturing myself with some people than others, God has softened my heart to the idea of giving pretty much anyone with whom I already have an established friendship a chance, given the opportunity.  There's no telling what might be right under our noses that we could potentially miss out on by prematurely dismissing certain people as "just friends."

What I'm not saying:  You should try casually dating all your friends.  That might be a little extreme.  Just be open to the possibility that something deeper could possibly develop from a pre-existing friendship.  Don't over think it* too soon.

Idea #5:  Recognize that romantic relationships are in no way separated from our calling to represent Christ's Kingdom in a broken world.

I think many of even the most committed followers of Christ tend to unwittingly view romance through a compartmentalized lens, buying into the pursuit of chemistry and emotion.  In reality it should be something more than that:  the joining of two lives already actively bringing glimpses of Christ's Kingdom to the world around them in unique ways designed by God for each individual, now entering into a lifelong pursuit of continuing to reflect His Kingdom as a team.  Sometimes I think the world sees certain things more clearly than we do, and to quote some wisdom offered up by Maroon 5, "It's not always rainbows and butterflies; it's compromise that moves us along."  The Gospel is a call to die to self, and if anything, a relationship that could lead to marriage will probably require more of our sacrifice than any other relationship.  This is not a bad thing.  It is hard, but it is good.

What I'm not saying:  Put away the confetti, romantic relationships are actually a killjoy.  A good relationship won't be oppressive, it just won't be easy.  It will be a challenge, but it has the potential to be beautiful.  To quote some more wisdom, this time from Mat Kearney, "Nothing worth anything ever goes down easy."

That's the end of what I wrote back in May.  To wrap this up tonight, I guess the main point I want to get across is that sometimes I think we get so wrapped up in wanting to BE and wanting to FIND the perfect mate, we get lost and forget we will never BE nor FIND such a thing* so long as we live in a broken world.  And along with that, people can surprise you.  That super quiet girl who was home schooled can turn out to be incredibly witty.  That guy who frustrated you with his Facebook arguments can turn out to have a huge heart for segments of culture that tend to be misunderstood.  The guy who is loud and crazy can turn out to have really deep thoughts about investing in a church community.  Don't take yourself too seriously, and don't be too quick to judge others.  Love the people in your life, take the time to really get to know them, and keep an open mind.  God may have something amazing in store that we never would have sought out or expected on our own.

*I highly encourage you to read the articles I linked to in this post.  There is some great food for thought in each one!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

An Environment of Welcoming

Last week I had conversations with two people within a three-day time span in which each person shared with me some recent events in his/her life that had been frowned upon by other Christians.  Both individuals were aware of the perception with which they would likely be viewed, but that didn't make the feelings of judgment or even ostracism any less hurtful.  (Let me clarify that neither person had done anything blatantly sinful -- although even if they had, haven't we all??)  Each of these friends expressed gratitude that I had been willing to listen to their stories without judging them or acting as though they were sliding down a slippery slope into the fiery pit of hell.  (I may have taken some liberties with exactly how they expressed that last part...)

I don't say any of this to congratulate myself but rather to ask why those of us who follow a God we describe as all-powerful often act as though He can only work in and through people when they display what we would consider to be impeccable decision-making.  If our God is so big, why do we so often think another person's seemingly risky choices are going to prevent God's movement in his or her life?  I am well aware that there are some decisions and behaviors that are clearly harmful to others (or to one's self) and I'm not suggesting we ought NEVER to intervene in another person's life.  But why are we so quick to jump to fear-induced pleas, expressions of disappointment, or worse yet, threats?

What bothers me most is knowing these friends of mine didn't perceive their fellow Christians as safe places to share their stories (and sadly with good reason).  If anything, I would hope that we who follow the Jesus with whom prostitutes and tax collectors felt at home would create a refuge to which all people could come to be real, to be vulnerable, to be met with love and grace - and yes, truth, but not the sort of truth that slaps someone across the face (it seems to me that Jesus reserved that sort of truth for those supposed followers of God who made life difficult for other people...if you're in that category, then okay, maybe you need that kind of truth, but my friends did not) but the sort of truth that embraces someone, flaws and all, and says, "I understand.  I'm broken, too, and I may not have an easy answer for you, but I will walk with you through this.  You are not alone."

I've been thinking a lot lately about how the church seems to rely a lot on fear, guilt, and shame to manipulate people into "appropriate" behavior.  I'm not exactly sure how that demonstrates the fact that Christ came to offer us forgiveness and freedom, but somehow it doesn't seem to me that fear or guilt or shame are exactly what Jesus had in mind when He came to proclaim the good news of His Kingdom...

This scene from The Office has always made me laugh, but sometimes I fear we as Christians echo Michael's statement to Toby when we encounter someone doing something we don't approve of.



I don't know about you, but it's God's grace and mercy that keep me clinging to Him, not some sense that He's going to "get me" if I don't behave.  I don't know when we started thinking that manipulation was part of our calling as Christians, but I wholeheartedly believe there is a better way.  A right way, actually.  And the last thing I want to do as a Christian is foster an environment within the body of Christ in which people feel they have to either put up walls or get out.

This was my fortune at Panda Express two weeks ago.  No joke.
I was sort of blindsided recently after I opened up to someone and was essentially asked not to share the part of my life I opened up about.  I'm an extremely trusting person (perhaps to a fault), but I really believe my openness with others is a big factor in why many people such as the two friends I mentioned earlier are comfortable opening up to me about sensitive subject matter they're hesitant to share with others.  And I think that's the way it should be in the church.  What is the church if we have to hide when we show up?  How can God produce genuine transformation in us if we're just masquerading as though we've already got it all together?

I have another friend who decided last year to start letting go of his facade, to start being real about the broken parts of his life.  He may not always say the most appropriate things these days, but do you know what he does do?  He loves people well.  He makes others feel welcome and included.  And to me, this reflects Jesus more than his previous charade.

It's not until people know they are loved and accepted exactly as they are that they can experience genuine, heart-level transformation.  Outward behaviors should undoubtedly follow suit (though we should not be too quick to assume a lack of inner transformation if those behaviors are slow to materialize, because the truth is transformation is a life-long process), but if the heart is not affected first, any outward change is only superficial.  And last I heard, Jesus was not a big fan of white-washed tombs...

I visited a church this morning where a friend of mine was leading worship, and the pastor's message was exactly in line with these things God has been speaking to my heart lately.  One of his points was that we should "reject shame as a motivator."  He reminded us that shame has never changed anyone's life, and while this doesn't mean we never confront sin, it does mean that we should only confront it from a stature of grace, not judgment.

He also said that we ought not to be rule-based and reminded us that Jesus had but two "rules":  1. Love God.  2. Love others.  He compared the Christian life to football, saying that the object of a football game is to score points (preferably more than the opposing team, of course), not simply to avoid penalties.  Likewise, the goal for the Christian is to LOVE, not to simply avoid missteps.  To paraphrase what he said, a win for us is to love our neighbor enough to share the love of Jesus, NOT to carry a flag in our pocket to throw at another Christian...just to play penalty-free is not the "win."

We would do well to remember this - to love more, to judge less.  To let people be real.  To listen and not to condemn.  To foster an environment of welcoming rather than a masquerade.

May we truly love unconditionally -- just as Christ loves us.