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Thursday, September 19, 2013

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

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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?

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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.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Let's Be Honest

Yesterday after church I headed to a local coffee shop that I visit once a week to do some reading and writing.  The guy working knew me because of my frequent visits, and yesterday as we were talking he asked me my age.  I answered somewhat reluctantly and was delighted when he expressed genuine shock and said he would have guessed I was [12 years young than my actual age].

One might wonder why it matters to me, but I can point to at least two reasons without giving it a second thought.  First, I always expected I'd be married long before now, and being reminded of the age I've now reached without seeing that dream realized is usually painful.  Second, it would take at least two (and in some cases three) hands to count the years between my age and that of pretty much all my single male friends, and while age difference isn't a big deal to me, I fear it may be to them, and I am therefore not eager to draw attention to its existence.

Now my life has, for as long as I can remember, been filled with wonderful experiences and far more than my fair share of amazing friends.  If I'd married before now, I almost undoubtedly would have missed out on at least some percentage of these blessings, and honestly I wouldn't trade the latter for the former.  But that in no way diminishes the desire I have or the ache its deferment often produces in my heart.

Here's something that's not helpful for people like me (and perhaps this is why I so rarely broach this subject except with the closest of friends):  offering cliched statements intended to be encouraging.
"The right person is out there, just be patient and trust God's timing."
"Enjoy your singleness!  You have so much freedom!"
"When you stop looking, that's when it happens."
"Focus on God and He'll bring that person into your life."
"God is preparing you so you'll be ready at the right time."
Now there is definitely some truth within these statements.  There is also just enough misguided advice and lack of empathy to make me feel like I've been slapped in the face (albeit unintentionally) each time I'm on the receiving end.  While I truly believe people who say such things do so with the best of intentions, such statements unfortunately ignore a few basic truths that can produce unwarranted burden in the life of the hearer.

1.  A spouse is not a guaranteed part of God's story for everyone.

2.  While marriage does bring responsibilities that can limit opportunities, I would hope that those of us who follow Christ do not view marriage as a closed door on freedom but rather a new context through which to experience various facets of life.  I do realize many people are facing trying marriages, and I do not want to minimize such difficult situations.  But I don't believe God intended for us to view marriage as limiting, or else He probably would have said something in Genesis more along the lines of, "It will be perfectly fine for Adam to function as a singular unit," than, "It is not good for man to be alone."

3.  God's story for each person is different.  Some people find their mate when they're not looking.  Some find that person in the midst of the hunt.  Some are focused on God when the relationship begins.  Some are not.  God does not hold every person to some standard set of requirements before entering into marriage.

4.  No one is ever fully "ready."  Granted, some are better prepared than others, but I imagine even the best marriages must involve a good deal of trial and error.

I'm currently reading Rick McKinley's book, This Beautiful Mess, and in it he describes a time when his son was admitted to the hospital with an undiagnosed illness.  He explains with candor his and his wife's pain and fear during the episode as well as the responses of people around them and their effects on his family.
During those weeks, some well-meaning people gave us the right answers.  "God knows what's happening," they said.  Or, "Josh will be fine because we're praying."  The right answers seem right to say, of course, and seem right when you hear them, but they don't help much.  To be honest, the right answers began to make us angry.  Somehow Christians have a hard time saying things like, "I don't know why the hell this is happening or how this will end.  You guys must be scared to death."  I guess we all need to be able to explain life down to every last detail even when the answers don't mean anything to us.  We just can't stand the questions.  But in the kingdom of God, I have come to believe, it is all right not to have all the answers, and I think Jesus likes it even more when we don't make up ones that are safe and easy but hollow. 
Just because people prayed did not mean that Josh would be okay. 
Just because God knew what was happening didn't mean I did.  Or that I knew how God would intervene for our family.   
Just because I knew a Bible verse that says God will answer when I pray didn't mean I wouldn't lose my kid to some stupid killer infection.  His answers are not always my answers.
Here are the two most meaningful things that have ever been said to me in regard to my struggle with singleness:
"I look at you, and I just think, 'God...what the heck?'" 
"I don't know what things I'd be thinking about myself if I were your age and not care deeply, feel deeply, relate with passion, you give yourself to people and causes that are important to may be unmarried but this is not because you are lacking in ANY way."
No trying to resolve my situation.  No trying to explain it.  Simply acknowledging my pain, giving me permission to feel it, and suggesting that my situation is not the result of some failure on my part.

Rick McKinley goes on to talk about how God's Kingdom showed up even in the midst of his frightening and painful experience while his son was suffering.
The kingdom of God is the kingdom of life, health, beauty, salvation, and freedom to name just a few of its qualities.  The enemy of the kingdom, whom the Bible refers to as Satan, is always attacking that life and health and beauty.  He attacks spiritual freedom; he wants us to be paralyzed.  His relentless attacks are why things are not the way they are supposed to be...yet. 
But there in the midst of the tension, the kingdom of God still comes crashing in.  It usually crashes in quietly though.  God showed up all through our situation with Josh: 
Nurses who were kind. 
Gut-busting laughter that he and I shared during our hours in the hospital room. 
A friend who arranged for the guitarist from one of Josh's favorite bands to come to the hospital.  That was really cool. 
People who prayed and watched our kids and loved us.  People who sat with us, cried with us, laughed with us.  
In those moments, the tension receded.  It had to wait while the love of God filled the room and flooded our hearts.  The kingdom of darkness and ugliness, for those hours, was pushed outside the door by grace. 
I realized that God didn't create or send Josh's sickness and that He was not distant or unaware of it either.  God's kingdom is present and real.  He knows if a sparrow falls to the ground, Jesus said.  But that doesn't mean God flicked the sparrow off the tree.  Rather He is present and aware and caring, even in the tension of death and sickness.  And in its own ways, Jesus' kingdom breaks in.
As I read McKinley's story, it resonated with me in light of my own recurring struggle with pain over my singleness.  I recently came face-to-face once again with the reality that nothing is even on the horizon in the way of my dream of being a wife, and suddenly I was compelled to find some life pursuit that would be fulfilling even if I never get married.  And so, long story short, tomorrow I begin my college career, pursuing my AA in Psychology with the hope of being able to offer people some form of counseling some day.

God has been insanely faithful in providing for this new pursuit.  I enrolled in school having no idea how I'd pay for it, but two weeks ago I received an unexpected check that covered my whole summer tuition with $6 to spare.  The next day I received another unexpected check from friends who wanted to enable me to buy a laptop.  While I was humbled and thrilled by God's provision, a nagging voice in the back of my head began urging me to notice how God's provision for my new educational pursuits compared to His seeming lack of provision for my long-time desire to be a wife.  It suggested that He found the former to be worthy of His blessing while the latter didn't matter to Him.  I had to repeatedly shift my thinking, telling God I did NOT, in fact, believe He was holding out on me but that I trusted He was blessing my new direction to confirm that I was on the right track and this did not mean my prior dream was off the table with Him.

In the midst of this inner struggle as I read Rick McKinley's account of encountering the Kingdom of God even in the midst of his pain, I immediately thought of all the beautiful friendships God has blessed me with.  I've been on a journey with many of these friends over the past year in which we've been discovering what the Gospel really means for our lives and what it looks like for us to pursue righteousness (in the context of right relationships) even in the midst of a broken world, and it has been incredible.  Just a few days after this recent bout of discouragement, I spent an evening with quite a few of these friends, eating, talking, and laughing, in what was for me an unmistakable glimpse of God's Kingdom "crashing in quietly" even in the midst of my own pain.

I could have involved myself in another church at any point over the past few years in an attempt to increase my odds of "finding someone."  But I've always believed God is big enough to provide for my dream, if that's part of His plan for me, even as I continue to invest in the only church family I've known in Reno, whether that's through someone He will bring to that church family in the future or someone I'll meet in another setting or someone who's already there but as of yet is "just" a friend.  And if this dream is not part of God's plan for me, well, I'll still keep walking through life surrounded by a community I love with all my heart.

I sit here typing this on my brand new laptop feeling genuinely excited about the new chapter of life I'll enter tomorrow as I begin my college career.  When I first decided to go back to school, I didn't feel like God was telling me I needed to replace my old dream with a new one but rather He had a bigger dream for me than I had for myself, one in which He would use me not only primarily in one person's life through marriage but also in many other lives through counseling.  Though I've wrestled to hold on to this belief, and to accept the possibility that it will not come to fruition, my trust in the story God is writing for me remains intact amidst the tension.

I know I'm not the only person in my circle of friends who shares the desire for someone with whom to walk through life.  I also know I'm not the only one who has struggled with having that dream deferred, or who has experienced frustration at being offered simplistic answers that do little to address the painful longing.  One of my prayers for my community is that we will foster an environment in which we can simply be real and honest with each other, acknowledging the tension between our dreams and desires and the disappointments and heartaches that come with living in a broken world.  And I pray we will sense God's Kingdom crashing quietly and beautifully into our lives through the simple knowledge that we are not alone in our struggles.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Beauty of "Neither"

And then this, while Joshua was there near Jericho:  He looked up and saw right in front of him a man standing, holding his drawn sword.  Joshua stepped up to him and said, " Whose side are you on -- ours or our enemies'?" 

He said, "Neither.  I'm commander of God's army..." 
          -from Joshua 5, The Message

A couple of years ago when I was taking the Perspectives course, one of the most profound things I came away with was a new understanding that even from the earliest days of human history, God's people were blessed to be a blessing.  God's blessing was not intended to stop with them; it was intended to spread through them to "all the families of the earth."  Israel was the catalyst through which God wanted to make Himself known to all nations.

I honestly do not believe God was simply on some sort of power trip when He designed this; rather, He knew that only He could provide what mankind was created for:  our relationship with Him that was broken in the Fall.  So He chose a people who would live in such a way as to demonstrate this so that the rest of the world might be drawn to Him rather than their idols, which could do nothing for them.  Israel was never the point.  Even when God says He will curse those who dishonor His people, I'm inclined to believe the point is not mere favoritism but God's refusal to allow anything to prevent the flow of His blessing to the world through His people.

At the end of Joshua chapter four, shortly before the commander of God's army appears to him, Joshua reminds the Israelite people that when God stopped the flow of water in the Jordan River so they could cross over, just as He parted the Red Sea for them decades earlier, it was done "so that everybody on earth would recognize how strong God's rescuing hand is and so that you would hold God in solemn reverence always."  Then in chapter 5 when the commander of God's army shows up, Joshua asks him whose side he is on and he answers, "Neither."  Of course it makes sense that he's not on the side of Israel's enemy, but wouldn't we expect him to be aligned with God's own people?  This blew my mind.

Neither.  What this answer says to me is that God and His servants are on the side of humanity, not one particular group of people.  And that goes back to His design for His chosen people to be a blessing to the world.

Lest we, the Church, begin to think the story of God's work in the world is only about us, we need to remember that just as He designated Israel to be the conduit of His blessing to all nations, so He has called us to be the conduit of His blessing to the rest of the world in this day and age.  We are called to pursue peace and to love recklessly.  Should we choose to be on the side of believers or of nonbelievers?  Neither.

God is not about preserving us to prove a point.  He is about making Himself known through us so that others might come to know the Love they were created for.  May we keep this in mind as we interact with those outside the walls of our churches.  May we avoid the tendency to choose sides.  May we remember that we are blessed to be a blessing.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Grieved by Controversy (Again)

My heart is grieved over the controversy that has surfaced this week surrounding Louie Giglio's withdrawal from praying at President Obama's inauguration. (Before I go on, let me emphasize that I have a great deal of respect for both men.) As with the Chick-fil-A controversy last summer, I feel that both sides are taking a poor approach to this situation.

I think it's clear in the message Mr. Giglio posted on his blog yesterday that he is not interested in stirring up or perpetuating controversy over the matter. I don't believe anyone who listens to any of his recent messages could deduce from them that he has the slightest interest in pushing any sort of anti-gay agenda, or that he even holds such an agenda. In fact, as someone who has become familiar with his messages over the past year, I would say there is not a fiber in my being that believes he feels anything less than love & compassion toward the gay community or any other corner of humanity. Throwing stones at someone for something said 15-20 years ago is completely unproductive. Is there really any person alive today who hasn't said something in so many years that they might have said differently, or not at all, if they could do it over again? Is there anyone whose priorities haven't changed over a time span of two decades in such a way that they might have chosen to speak of something they see as more important now than whatever they spoke of then? I certainly cannot claim either of these things, even over the course of the past TWO years, much less 15-20. It is one thing to hold a belief; it is another thing to promote an agenda. And Louie Giglio has not been pushing an anti-gay agenda. Period.

On the flip side, I'm honestly far more devastated and repulsed by sentiments I've seen circulating in Christian circles along the lines of, "I stand with Louie Giglio!" noting that he is "under fire for Biblical beliefs." I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Giglio himself was horrified at such responses, seeing as they completely miss the entire point of the message of love and grace he and his church seek to extend to the world around them, regardless of race, gender, status, or sexual orientation. When will we as the church stop erecting walls between ourselves and those who hold different views and instead start building bridges so as to extend the love and grace we've received from God to those around us? Hopefully I've made it clear that I don't believe Mr. Giglio is deserving of the criticism he's received; however, God's call to us as Christians has pretty much nothing to do with fighting for our rights or protecting a faith-based subculture. He calls us to be a blessing to the world around us. He calls us to die to our selves and to represent His Kingdom even amid the brokenness on this earth. He calls us to seek peace and pursue it. How are our indignant reactions to this situation accomplishing any of this?? They aren't. They just aren't.

I'm always hesitant to publicly address events like this, but I feel compelled to speak up when the rhetoric over this situation is far more damaging than edifying to the message of the good news of God's Kingdom. I hope you'll take time to watch the video below. The quality is not great, and it is lengthy, but it will give you a glimpse of Louie Giglio's heart as well as some insight into how we as Christians might respond to people who don't understand us or share our views. I pray that our responses to the current controversy might begin to be marked by love, grace, humility, and forgiveness rather than pride, bitterness, hatred, and self-righteousness.