Sunday, December 20, 2015

A gift from a God we hardly even knew.

We enjoy thinking of ourselves as basically generous, benevolent, giving people. That’s one reason why everyone, even the nominally religious, loves Christmas. Christmas is a season to celebrate our alleged generosity. The newspaper keeps us posted on how many needy families we have adopted. The Salvation Army kettles enable us to be generous while buying groceries (for ourselves) or gifts (for our families). People we work with who usually balk at the collection to pay for the morning coffee fall over themselves soliciting funds “to make Christmas” for some family.

We love Christmas because, as we say, Christmas brings out the best in us. Everyone gives on Christmas, even the stingiest among us, even the Ebeneezer Scrooges. Dickens suggests that down deep, even the worst of us can become generous, giving people.

Yet I suggest we are better givers than getters, not because we are generous people but because we are proud, arrogant people. The Christmas story–the one according to Luke not Dickens–is not about how blessed it is to be givers but about how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers. 

We prefer to think of ourselves as givers–powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence and gifts to benefit the less fortunate. Which is a direct contradiction of the biblical account of the first Christmas. There we are portrayed not as the givers we wish we were but as the receivers we are. Luke and Matthew go to great lengths to demonstrate that we–with our power, generosity, competence and capabilities–had little to do with God’s work in Jesus. God wanted to do something for us so strange, so utterly beyond the bounds of human imagination, so foreign to human projection, that God had to resort to angels, pregnant virgins, and stars in the sky to get it done. We didn’t think of it, understand it or approve it. All we could do, at Bethlehem, was receive it. A gift from a God we hardly even knew.

—William Willimon, taken from an article in The Christian Century, Dec 21-28, 1998

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Now I drive the speed limit.

Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but dead people live.   - CS Lewis

What we preach is not a message of good to great. Jesus did not come to the planet to make good people greater.  He didn't even come to the planet to make bad people good.  This is not an improvement plan. This is not a remodel.  This is death to life. The testimony of Jesus followers is not "I was an OK person. Then Jesus came along and I put on a gold necklace with a gold cross and he made me a little bit better. Now I drive the speed limit, I pay my taxes...all of them. I'm a pretty respectable employee.  This has just really improved me."  That's not the message we preach. The message is "I was dead and now I'm alive." - Judah Smith 

Ephesians 2:1-3 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

But God.....Not "but you need to do this"..."But God" made us alive, saved, raised up, seated with....

Ephesians 2:4-10 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Watch whole sermon here:

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Eager Beavers and Grinning Drunks

Great quote from Brennan Manning’s essential All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir, pg 193-94:
My life is a witness to vulgar grace–a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up a ten till five. 
A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands or buts. 
A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying theif’s request–“Please, remember me”–and assures him, “You bet!” 
A grace that is the pleasure of the Father, fleshed out in the carpenter Messiah, Jesus the Christ, who left His Father’s side not for heaven’s sake but for our sakes, yours and mind. 
This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. 
It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. 
Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. 
Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Just forget it, Arthur.

Robert Capon on Luke 14:1-14 and Christ’s lesson on dinner party etiquette:

At the end of his speech to the host, Jesus specifically ties this condemnation of bookkeeping to the resurrection. 

‘You will be happy,’ he tells his host in verse 14, ‘precisely because these losers and deadbeats you invite won’t be able to repay you.’ 

He says, in other words, that happiness can never come in until the bookkeeping stops, until the hand that clutches at the dance goes dead and lets the dance happen freely. And he says that the place where that happy consequence will burst upon us is at the resurrection of the just. And the just, please note, are not stuffy, righteous types with yard-long lists of good works, but simply all the forgiven sinners of the world who live by faith — who trust Jesus and laugh out loud at the layoff of all the accountants.

And the unjust? Well, the unjust are all the forgiven sinners of the world who, stupidly, live by unfaith — who are going to insist on showing up at the resurrection with all their record books, as if it were an IRS audit. The unjust are the idiots who are going to try to talk Jesus into checking his bookkeeping against theirs. 

And do you know what Jesus is going to say to them — what, for example, he will say to his host if he comes to the resurrection with such a request? I think he will say, 

“Just forget it, Arthur. I suppose we have those books around here somewhere, and if you’re really determined to stand in front of my great white throne and make an ass of yourself, I guess they can be opened (Rev. 20:12). Frankly, though, nobody up here pays any attention to them. What will happen will be that while you’re busy reading and weeping over everything in those books, I will go and open my other book (Rev. 20:12, again), the book of life — the book that has in it the names of everybody I ever drew to myself by dying and rising. And when I open that book, I’m going to read out to the whole universe every last word that’s written there. And you know what that’s going to be? It’s going to be just Arthur. Nothing else. None of your bad deeds, because I erased them all. And none of your good deeds, because I didn’t count them, I just enjoyed them. So what I’ll read out, Arthur, will be just Arthur! real loud. And my Father will smile and say, ‘Hey, Arthur! You’re just the way I pictured you!’ And the universe will giggle and say, ‘That’s some Arthur you’ve got there!’ But me, I’ll just wink at you and say, ‘Arthur, c’mon up here and plunk yourself down by my great white throne and let’s you and me have a good long practice laugh before this party gets so loud we can’t even hear how much fun we’re having.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Thank You.

Thank You 
A prayer by Michel Quoist:

We must know how to say, “Thank You.”

Our days are filled with the gifts the Lord showers on us. If we were in the habit of taking stock of them, at night we should be like a “queen for a day,” dazzled and happy with so many blessings.

We should then be grateful to God, secure because he gives us everything, joyful because we know that every day he will renew his gifts.

Everything is a gift from God, even the smallest things, and it’s the sum of these gifts that makes a life beautiful or sad, depending on how we use them.

“All good giving and every perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of the lights of heaven. With him there is no variation, no play of passing shadows.” (James I, 17)

Thank you, Lord, thank you.
Thank you for all the gifts you have given me today,
Thank you for all I have seen, heard, received.

Thank you for the water that woke me up, the soap that smells good, the toothpaste that refreshes. Thank you for the clothes that protect me, for their color and their cut.
Thank you for the newspaper so faithfully there, for the comics (my morning smile), for the report of useful meetings, for justice done and big games won.

Thank you for the street-cleaning truck and the men who run it, for their morning shouts and all the early noises.

Thank you for my work, my tools, my efforts.

Thank you for the metal in my hands, for the whine of the steel biting into it, for the satisfied look of the supervisor and the load of finished pieces.

Thank you for Jim who lent me his file, for Danny who gave me a cigarette, for Charlie who held the door for me.

Thank you for the welcoming street that led me there, for the shop windows, for the cars, for the passers-by, for all the life that flowed swiftly between the windowed walls of the houses.

Thank you for the food that sustained me, for the glass of beer that refreshed me.

Thank you for the car that meekly took me where I wanted to be, for the gas that made it go, for the wind that caressed my face and for the trees that nodded to me on the way.

Thank you for the boy I watched playing on the sidewalk opposite, Thank you for his roller-skates and for his comical face when he fell.

Thank you for the morning greetings I received, and for all the smiles.

Thank you for the mother who welcomes me at home, for her tactful affection, for her silent presence.

Thank you for the roof that shelters me, for the lamp that lights me, for the radio that
plays, for the news, for music and singing.

Thank you for the bunch of flowers, so pretty on my table.

Thank you for the tranquil night.
Thank you for the stars.
Thank you for the silence.
Thank you for the time you have given me.
Thank you for life.
Thank you for grace.
Thank you for being there, Lord.

Thank you for listening to me, for taking me serioulsy, for gathering my gifts in your hands to offer them to your Father.

Thank you, Lord,
Thank you.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

God is not Disappointed in You

The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.

                  --- Zephaniah 3

“God is not disappointed in you. And I can say that because what disappointment means is that God has unmet expectations. All the expectations for righteousness have been completely fulfilled in Christ and all the expectations for your debt have been fulfilled too. I’m not going to go over what you already know, I’m sure that being reminded of what you’re failing to do won’t result in more obedience. So here’s the good news: you are forgiven, you are righteous. The Lord has taken away the judgements against you. He is rejoicing over you with gladness. The Lord has promised to bless and keep you. His face is smiling on you now, and He will be gracious to you now and forever. You can rest. Go in peace. Smile.” 

-Elyse Fitzpatrick, Liberate 2014

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Wounded and Weary Sinners Waiting for Good News that Never Comes

By Jeff Nichols at Liberate:

I usually take a solo camping trip to the North Carolina mountains every Labor Day weekend. Sort of my way to hit the reset button. On one of those outings a couple of years ago, I decided one Sunday morning to head down the Blue Ridge Parkway on my way to a small rural church.

It looked like a postcard from the outside. The parishioners inside warmly greeted this blue jean wearing, scruffy stranger. It was awesome to sit with them in old straight-back wooden pews again and sing “Amazing Grace.”

Then the sermon started. From the beginning the pastor whacked us with the Law. Nothing wrong with God’s Law, it shows us the standard. The standard we can’t meet on our own.

As I waited to hear the resuscitating words of the Gospel, I realized they weren’t going to come.

With increasing intensity and sweat, the message was solely “do more, try harder, get your act together. God is tired of sinners! His patience is wearing out! You’re nowhere close to doing everything you can to please God!”

It was the elder brother from Jesus’ parable of the lost son(s) up on that tiny stage with a message that wayward little brothers and sisters have no right to any feast. No right to a warm greeting from a Father who joyfully runs out to greet sinners and welcome them back home over and over again. We hadn’t earned any of that.

Thundering Law. Not even a whisper of the Gospel.

A scene too often played out in worship services not just in the South, but across the world. In churches large and small.

Wounded and weary sinners waiting for an announcement of good news that never comes.
It turned out he was a guest preacher. The church was looking for someone full-time.

When he finally sat down after kneeling and wiping his brow, one of the elders stood up and said, “Now this is the kind of man we’ve been missing. Someone unafraid to tell us, and it, like it is.”

When it was over, I eased out of the pew, lowered my head and made a beeline to the parking lot, thinking I was the first soul to leave in such haste and wondering why I hadn’t gone for a nice hike instead.

When I looked up, I saw the pastor’s college-aged daughter already ahead of me on the way to their car. I’ll never ever forget the look on her face. The very picture of beaten-down. Not an especially embarrassed or surprised look—she’d obviously heard all this before.

Just weariness. Hopelessness.

I wish to this day I would’ve said something to her, although I have no idea what that would’ve been.

Maybe, on the day before Labor Day, just Jesus’ words from Matthew 11:29-30.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Along with maybe the message we had all just sang—some in tears—but never heard spoken back to us. God’s saving promise of “Amazing Grace.” 

The sound that revives. The sweetest sound.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

East and West


For I will forgive their wickedness  and will remember their sins no more.   Hebrews 8:12


The writer Brennan Manning tells the story about a woman, who had been having visions of Jesus. And the local archbishop comes to find out more about this woman, who had been having these visions about Jesus – because we can’t have that. 


The archbishop says, “Have you been having visions about Jesus?”

The woman says, “Yes.” 


She does not back down, so the archbishop said, “Okay, here’s what I want you to do. 


Next time you have one of your visions of Jesus, I want you to ask Jesus a question.” 


“Okay,” the woman said.

“I want you to ask Jesus what sins I confessed the last time I went to confession.”

The woman said “Fair enough.” And the archbishop leaves.

A little while later, he hears rumors that she’s been having visions again about Jesus. So he returns to the woman and says, “Have you been having visions of Jesus again?”

And the woman says, “Yes. I’ve been having a vision about Jesus.”

And he says, “Well, did you remember?”

And the woman says to the archbishop, “Yes. I did remember.”

And then she took the archbishop’s hand in hers. And she said, “I asked Jesus what sins you confessed the last time you went to confession. And Jesus’s exact words were: 'I don’t remember.'"


Friday, January 23, 2015

Owners of Nothing

We are owners of nothing 
and stewards 
of everything. 

Tullian Tchividjian

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My God, I Don’t Believe

PRAYER: My God, I Don’t Believe by Michel Quoist

My God, I don’t believe
that you cause the rain to fall or the sun to shine,
to order,
on request,
so that the christian’s corn will grow
or the parish priest’s Bazaar will be a success;
that you find work for the virtuous unemployed person
but leave others to search alone
and never find a job;
that you protect from accidents
the child whose mother prays
and allow the other one to be killed,
the little one who has no mother to storm heaven;
that you give us food to eat
when we ask you for it,
and allow people to die of hunger
when we stop asking for your help.

My God, I don’t believe
that you lead us wherever you want us to go,
and that we only have to let ourselves be led:
that you send us hardship
and all we can do is to accept it;
that you offer us success
and we only have to thank you for it;
that when you make a decision,
you know what is good for us
and it is up to us to accept with resignation.

No, my God, I don’t believe
that you are a dictator,
imposing your will,
for the good of your people;
that we are puppets
and that you pull the strings
whenever you feel like it;
that you make us play out a mysterious drama
in which the smallest details
have been preordained by you since the beginning of time.

No, I don’t believe it,
I no longer believe it,
because I know now, my God,
that this is not what you want,
that you couldn’t do this,
because you are LOVE,
because you are our FATHER
and because we are your children.
Forgive us, oh my God,
for having distorted your image as a loving Father.

We believed that in order to know and understand you
we should imagine you
endowed with infinite power and authority,
of the kind that we humans too often seek.
Thinking of you and speaking about you,
we have used words that are alright in themselves,
but in our closed hearts they have turned into traps
and we have translated:
the will of God,
judgement. . .
into the language of arrogant men and women
who dream of dominion over their brothers and sisters;
and we have assigned to you:
suffering and death,
while what you wish for us is
happiness and life.
Forgive us, oh my God,
because we haven’t had the courage to believe that, through your love for us,
you have always wanted us to be free,
free not just to say yes or no
to what you have decided for us in advance,
but free to reflect,
to choose,
to act as independent beings
throughout our lives.

We haven’t had the courage to believe
that you wanted our freedom so much
that you risked sin, allowing us the freedom to sin,
that you risked evil,
spoiled fruits of our misused freedom,
awful consequence of our rejection of your love,
that you risked losing,
in the eyes of many of your children,
your halo of infinite goodness
and the glory of your omnipotence.
We haven’t had the courage to understand
that when you wanted to reveal yourself to us definitely,
you came on this earth,
and that you died on a cross,
to signify to the world that your only power
is the infinite power of love,
love which frees us,
so that we can love.

I know now, my God, that you can do everything
. . . except take our freedom away from us!

Thank you, my God, for this beautiful and frightening freedom,
supreme gift of your infinite love.
We are free!
Free to harness nature, little by little,
and to use it in the service of our sisters and brothers;
free to abuse it
by exploiting it for our own advantage;
free to protect and develop life,
to fight against suffering
and sickness,
or free to squander intelligence, energy, money,
to manufacture weapons
and to kill each other;
free to give or not to give children to you;
free to organize the sharing of our wealth,
or to allow millions of human beings
to die of hunger on fertile land;
free to love
or free to hate,
free to follow you
or to reject you.

We are free. . .
but loved infinitely.

So I believe, my God,
that because you love us and because you are our Father
you have always wanted us to be happy forever,
that you always propose
but never impose.

I believe that your Spirit of love
at the center of our life,
whispers to us, faithfully, each day,
the desires of your Father.
And I believe that amid the great dove-tailing
of human freedoms,
the events that touch us, all our involvements,
those we have chosen
and those we haven’t chosen,
sources of joy or of cruel suffering,
all of these,
through us and for us,
with the help of your Spirit who is with us,
thanks to your love for us in your son,
thanks to our freedom to be open to your love,
all of these can be providential,
each time they become part of us.

Oh my great and loving God,
so humble and unobtrusive before me
that I cannot reach out and understand you
unless I become like a little child,
let me believe with all my strength
in your only omnipotence:
the omnipotence of your love.

Then, one day, in union with my sisters and brothers,
proud of having lived my life as a free human being,
supremely happy,
“Go my child, your faith has redeemed you.”

Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him.  Because of his love God has already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his sons – this was his pleasure and purpose.  Let us praise God for his glorious grace, for the free gift he gave us in his dear son. (Ephesians 1:4-6)

Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.  And God showed his love for us by sending his only son into the world, so that we might have life through him. This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven. (1 John 4:8-10)