The Middle

TruthI started writing this morning and it started to sound familiar.  Like I had written this once before.  I went back into my archives and, sure enough, I had written some really similar thoughts about five years ago.  So I’ll repeat them today.  

I don’t think I’ve ever written anything I believe stronger or that I’m more convicted about.  Read on…

The world we live in is more complicated than it used to be fifty years ago.  No doubt.  For crying out loud, it’s more complicated today than it was last year.

I don’t think the world is more sick and twisted and evil than it’s ever been.  I don’t think sin is more prevalent or humanity is any darker than it was during the days of Noah or the reign of Nero or the crusades of the middle ages or the tyranny of Hitler.  Sin is sin.

But what I do think is different today is access.  Information…any and all kinds of information…information with no filter for the voices and opinions and ideas that speak into our minds and hearts…all of it with unlimited access.

For all the good that technological advancement has brought, it has come with a price.  The internet…with instant and unlimited access…and the satellite…with the capability of bringing world events live to our recliners…have changed everything.

No longer are values or information or “truth” given in controlled doses by people we trust.  It is sensory overload and every man…and every “truth” for himself.  And may the loudest or most powerful or most manipulative win.

And it’s just the way it is.

One of the problems I see is christians these days are fighting themselves into a corner.  Running scared.  There is a paranoia and fear that we are losing the battle.  Especially here in the United States.  They say we are losing the battle for the minds of our young people.  They say we are losing the battle for the morality of a nation.  They say we are losing the battle for orthodox doctrine.  They say we are losing the battle for right against wrong.

Many followers of Christ are drawing lines between “us” and “them”.   As some try to bridge the gap with love and generosity, the Body of Christ has begun to turn on itself.  And because powerful and influential voices are heard loud and clear and instanteneously…and without filters…people are forced, or even coerced, into choosing sides.

And that’s inside the doors of the church.

My fear?  As the church becomes more militant and combative in our fight for truth, justice and the American way, the more our commitment to expanding the Kingdom will be compromised.

Come on.  Is our highest calling to preach the gospel to all nations and reach the lost with the message of hope and grace and healing revealed in the life and words of Jesus or not?  Are we called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus or not?  Are we to do what he did…say the things he said…treat people the way he did…and live by giving value to the things he valued or not?

You may say that Jesus was an extremist.  Some say he polarized people and drew lines and caused his followers to choose sides.  And in a way he did.  But he also did something else.

He navigated the middle.

He rubbed elbows with everyone.  He was as comfortable with the prostitute as he was with the aristocrat.  He saw the good, or at least the potential for good, in all.  He partied at the wedding feast and he taught in the temple.  He loved the saint and the sinner.  How about you?

He was a living bridge and not a wall.  He was a window and not a barricade.  He was always the safe middle ground where all were accepted.  All were welcome.  All were loved.   Such a far cry from so many of his followers today.

Are you safe?  Are you welcoming?  Do you listen?  Do you try to walk in the shoes of the other…to see what they see and feel what they feel and understand why they may think and act the way they do?  Without judgment and rejection?  Do you still have more to learn…even from people with whom you have differences of opinion or conviction?

Do you draw people in or do you push them away?  Are you known more for you love or your rhetoric?

Can I offer a suggestion?  The more people are defined by right and left…liberal and conservative…pro this and con that…the greater the need for some people who can navigate from the middle.  Followers of Christ who can understand and articulate and sympathize with both sides of the fence.   Any fence.

We desperately need a new generation of believers who will not be bullied by anybody.  Who will not be intimidated by new ideas or run scared by change.   Who will not be frightened by people who are different…philosophies that are different…and even ideas that challenge our orthodox understandings of the church and doctrine.

The world we live in has changed.  Technology has changed.  The flow of information has changed.  The rate of change has changed.  But people still need to meet jesus.

And if that’s going to happen in the world as we know it now, we need to have people who can navigate the middle.  The middle is where peace is forged, where compromise is found, where surprising friendships and new alliances are born.  The middle is where people are drawn in, not alienated.  

Will that be you?  Will you be a person who navigates the middle?

(If you think this is a call for people to have no convictions and to take no stands, you have missed my point.  Wholesale.  I will always study to show myself approved by God and contend for the truth as I understand it with passion and determination.  But I refuse to be a stumbling block to those who see things differently than I do.  For me, living as Jesus lived and treating people the way he did must take priority.)

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Oh my…the day has finally arrived.

sunriseIt’s been nearly six months since I last posted anything here.  And honestly, it’s been almost a year since I have written regularly.  Today, I will offer some explanation and then I’ll move forward.

My blog has never been like a Facebook soundbite.  Or a 140 character Twitter reaction.  I always try to measure my rants. This has always been that place where my heart meets the keyboard for good.  For the good of my church family.  For the good of my extended circle of friends.  For the good of those who sit in the opposite corner.  And certainly for the good of my little slice of family posterity.

I have anticipated this day for quite a while.  I’ve actually written a number of times but never hit “publish”.  I’ve missed the personal cleansing I find in writing.  I’ve missed knowing that we were connecting..with or without your comments.  I’ve missed the discipline of weighing out my words and carefully expressing them.

Eleven months ago, my oldest son got sick.  Really sick.  There were certainly people who knew we were going through this as a family, although only those in our closest circle knew the story…and even those didn’t know the intimate details.  It has been a journey of pain and fear and hope.  After two major surgeries (and one more minor one to go), his road to recovery gets better every day.

There were days I wanted…no, I needed to write, but the only thing I could bring myself to write about were the events of my son’s journey.  So I didn’t.  It was his story, not mine, to tell.  Many days it overwhelmed me…and I wasn’t even the one going through it!  There is no doubt it took an emotional toll on me.

This “dad” thing doesn’t end when they move out of the house.  It doesn’t end when they get married and grow a family of their own.  Just like any dad who loves and cares, I wished I could exchange places with him.  I wanted to protect.  I wanted to fix.  I wanted to make it all go away.  But I couldn’t.  So I prayed and helped where I could and did what dads do.

And so I wrote privately.  Sorry.

There were other issues that affected my writing hiatus.  Our world has been full of a lot of big ticket items over the past year.  World changing…culture shocking…anger inducing…polarizing kinds of things.  And it seems like everybody’s talking.  Everybody’s got an opinion, a sermon, a post, an op-ed, or some kind of prophectic declaration.

Mine was not needed.

Loyalties have been declared.  Battle lines have been drawn.  Brothers have turned against brothers.  My “side” on issues need not be declared, unless it’s one-on-one, face-to-face, heart-to-heart, over a basket of chips and salsa.  Because there, the reality of true brotherhood will win the day.

For now, if you want my take on same-sex marriage, Caitlyn Jenner, Planned Parenthood, racial tension, the police, gun control, the Confederate flag, immigration reform, the war on terror, homosexuality, the race for President, the economy, and the like…you can have it.  Personally.  Prayerfully.  Mixed with kindness, understanding, and openness.

But it’s not for public consumption right now.  Maybe later.  Until then, it will only be shared in a place where we can know each other’s hearts, ask questions of depth and clarity, and have time to pause for the affirmation and joy of our relationship, when our differences become apparent.

And we can take time to refill the basket of chips.

So call me up, invite me out, respect my journey, encourage me to be open to new ideas.  Healthy conversation is the oxygen of healthy friendship.  (I’ll even do it by email…though the sharing of chips will have to be virtual.)

These are two of the reasons I haven’t written.  There were others.  Maybe I’ll write about them at another time.  For tonight, though, it feels really good to be back.

This road I travel…#5

This Road 2So many things have changed for me.  When I was young, my church life was simple and wholesome and most everything we did went unchallenged.  There was a certain intellectual naiveness to my spiritual upbringing.  We believed certain things.  We did certain things.  We accepted certain things.  It was all important and it played an enormous role in the life I led.

And somewhere along the line, it got complicated.

College brought philosophy professors and my simple faith began to look more and more simplistic.  And I became intellectually defenseless.

My young adult years exposed me to theological conflict, worship wars, church leadership in-fighting, epic moral failures of leaders I admired, and the tragic misuse of moneyall in the name of God.  But somehow, God’s kindness always rescued me from the “mess” of church life and drew me to kingdom priorities anyway.

Through it all, I’ve learned to embrace my doubts, temper my cynicism, see the beauty in brokenness,  and remain fully committed to helping others experience the mercy of God that has surrounded me.   This is no small miracle…

One of the shifts I have witnessed and deal with more and more, is the continual Americanization of Christianitythe redefining of discipleship according to the values we have been raised to cherish as citizens of this country.

The ideals of individualism, success, competition, expansion, achievement, esteem, contentment, leisure, acquisition, ownership, self-realization, funand dozens of othershave been appropriated by the church and found as worthy, and even superior to the core characteristics of Jesus and his first-century followers.

Ten years ago, a study was done by a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary that defined a new version of Christianity called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD).  You can read about it here, if you’re interested in digging deeper. MTD is characterized by five beliefs:

  • A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
  • God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  • The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  • God is not involved in my life except when I need him to resolve a problem.
  • Good people go to heaven when they die..

I’m no Princeton grad, but I’ve known this for years.  It’s epidemic in the church. This is how we present ourself to a watching world. This is what the church has come to hold as its central tenets.  In the article I referenced, the author quotes an unnamed source:

For the typical Protestant church member, middle class commitments to family, career, and standard of living are so strong that church commitment is largely an instrument to them and contingent on whether the church appears to serve them. As a result, many local churches tend to become instruments for achieving middle class interests, whether or not these interests can be defended in New Testament terms.

Welcome to my world.

Mine is mine. Yours is yours.

OpinionsI’ve been sitting here this evening sorting through all the things I could write aboutbecause I need to write?  Maybe.  Because you need a healthy dose of my perspective?  Meh.

So many topics.  So many opinions.  I’m sure you can’t wait to hear mine.

The Michael Sam “kiss”the abduction of the 180 Nigerian schoolgirlslegalized potthe Donald Sterling fiascodrone strikesthe $60M Plano football stadium will stay closed because of structural flawsCalifornia wild firesdid Prez Obama take a pay cut like he promisedthe “new” 24…

Or how about some Farra-isms on theology and church life hot buttons?

The big stink with a bunch of the high-profile neo-Calvinist church leadershellthe inerrancy of the Bible debateopen theismpredestinationchild abuse scandals in the churchwomen pastorssegregation on Sunday mornings in America… young adults leaving the churchscience vs. creationmoney issuesviolence in the Biblesin (take your pick)and so many more.

Or maybe you’d like to hear my opinion on the various ways to smoke brisket?

I’ll be the first one to admit that things can get pretty confusing, and even frustrating, at times.  It’s hard work to have an opinion about so many things.  It takes time and emotional energy and huge amounts of discernment for me to find a resting spot on so many topics and agendas.

All of them don’t share equal importance.  Not every one of them fight for top billing in my intellectual and spiritual war room.  But my search process and conclusion-building in each one of them is an integral part of my faith journey.  My opinion on each one of them is a vital part of my faith development.

What I believe (and the truth I continue to build my life on) is not all static.  It is neither fixed, nor immovable.  The God who never changes is not equal to my personal interpretation of the Bibleor the times we find ourselves in.   My changing opinions (whenever I have them) are never to be confused with an unchanging God.

But just like in a court of law, the flow of the story line is always subject to new insight and new information.  The church throughout history has always recognized the fluidity of Bible interpretation.   I do, likewise.  (Take what I am saying at “face value”.  Be careful not to read more into what I am expressing.)

The point is, I continue to work hard at seeking the truth of God’s revelation.  I work equally hard to live it out as a 21st century follower of Jesus.

Don’t let my study (and opinion-making) take the place of yours.  I own mine.  You need to own yours.

It’s that important.

It’s my journey

My JourneyI have started and stopped this post multiple times.  No matter how sensitive or understanding I try to be, it has continued to come off sounding snarky and judgmental of my culture.  The thing I have always been critical of others doing, is the very thing I find myself being sucked into.

I will try again.

It has been an amazing honor for me to be able to travel to other parts of the world throughout my life.  It has been totally humbling.  I know I am part of a privileged few.  I know these opportunities are mine because I have the financial resources and opportunities that 95% of the world’s population don’t have.

I know how disingenuous it sounds for the wealthy to be critical of the wealthy.  So I won’t.  I just need to look at myself and you’ll have to trust me that today, I’m not trying to slip something past you. 

I know I am part of the wealthy 5% and I am who I am, in large part, because of that.  I have good health and access to some of the best health care in the world.  I go to a gym.  I eat fresh, healthy food.  At least most days.  I am educated.  My heritage affords me no limitations to pursue whatever dreams I have ever had.

I have unlimited fresh water to drink every day.  I can even put my mouth up to the shower head and drink my fill.

I could go on.  You know I could go on.

Today, I worshipped with people of humble means.  They are brothers and sisters.  They are part of the same group of people I call my family.  As I sat and stood and sang and ultimately, preached in this body, I couldn’t help but be grateful.  But not necessarily for the riches of this life I have.  I think my gratitude went much deeper than that.

My gratitude is that I find solidarity.  By God’s grace and the road I have traveled, the differences I have with people do not matter.  We are all drawn to different tastes and smells and activities.  We come from incredibly different places, but the patterns and lifestyles do not push me away or put me off.

Fear of the differences does not exist.  Judgment is not tolerated.  I simply cannot make light of the customs, nuance, or traditions of people who are different than I am.  It would just hurt too much.  Any feelings of moral, intellectual, or spiritual superiority vanish in a shared experience.  Common laughter over the cultural peculiarities of our backgrounds are always had with the greatest of respectand loving sensitivity.

This soil I am on today is the land and culture of my brothers and sisters.  How could I ever act or think or talk  with anything less than love?  There is a reverence reserved for all.  The Creator poured worth into His creation.  Am I a reflection of the Creator or not?

I don’t deserve the life or experiences I have.  My thankfulness extends far beyond my life at home.

Gratitude is just not a big enough word.

I’ve had an amazing couple of days.  Here are a few pictures from it…

Wedding 1

A beach wedding…

Don Pepe

A stop a Don Pepe’s Authentic Tex-Mex…

BK

A local Baskin Robbinsvegetarian style (no dairy).  mmm?

Church Building

A Tamil-speaking church that I preached at today…

Congregation 1

There were about 200many who are recent Hindu converts…

Congregation 2

Yup.  That’s me, with my translator, Sam.

Senior Pastor family

Pastor Solomon and his family.  He was a student of mine on my first trip to India…

Youth Pastor family

Pastor Wesley and his family.  A very cool youth pastor…

Young Disciples

Some of the young dudes of the church…

Yes.  A good day.  Bring on week #2…

Navigating the middle

the-middlethe world we live in is more complicated than it used to be fifty years ago.  no doubt.  for crying out loud, it’s more complicated today than it was last year.

i don’t think the world is more sick and twisted and evil than its ever been.  i don’t think sin is more prevalent or humanity is any darker than it was during the days of noah or the reign of nero or the crusades of the middle ages or the tyranny of hitler.  sin is sin.

but what i do think is different today is access.  information…any and all kinds of information…information with no filter for the voices and opinions and ideas that speak into our minds and hearts…all of it with unlimited access.

for all the good that technological advancement has brought, it has come with a price.  the internet…with instant and unlimited access…and the satellite…with the capability of bringing world events live to our recliners…have changed everything.

no longer are values or information or “truth” given in controlled doses by people we trust.  it is sensory overload and every man…and every “truth” for himself.  and may the loudest or most powerful or most manipulative win.

and it’s just the way it is.

one of the problems i see is christians these days are fighting themselves into a corner.  running scared.  there is a paranoia and fear that we are losing the battle.  especially here in the united states.  they say we are losing the battle for the minds of our young people.  they say we are losing the battle  for the morality of a nation.  they say we are losing the battle for orthodox doctrine.  they say we are losing the battle for right against wrong.

many followers of christ are drawing lines between “us” and “them”.   as some try to bridge the gap with love and generosity, the body of christ has begun to turn on itself.  and because powerful and influential voices are heard loud and clear and instanteneously…and without filters…people are forced, or even coerced, into choosing sides.

and that’s inside the doors of the church.

my fear?  as the church becomes more militant and combative in our fight for truth, justice and the american way, the more our commitment to expanding the kingdom will be compromised.

come on.  is our highest calling to preach the gospel to all nations and reach the lost with the message of hope and grace and healing revealed in the life and words of jesus or not?  are we called to follow in the footsteps of jesus or not?  are we to do what he did…say the things he said…treat people the way he did…and live by giving value to the things he valued or not?

you may say that jesus was an extremist.  some say he polarized people and drew lines and caused his followers to choose sides.  and in a way he did.  but he also did something else.

he navigated the middle.

he rubbed elbows with everyone.  he was as comfortable with the prostitute as he was with the aristocrat.  he saw the good, or at least the potential for good, in all.  he partied at the wedding feast and he taught in the temple.  he loved the saint and the sinner.

he was a living bridge and not a wall.  he was a window and not a barricade.  he was always the safe middle ground where all were accepted.  all were welcome.  all were loved.   such a far cry from his followers today.

can i offer a suggestion?  the more people are defined by right and left…liberal and conservative…pro this and con that…the greater the need for people who can navigate from the middle.  followers of christ who can understand and articulate and sympathize with both sides of the fence.   any fence.

we desperately need a new generation of believers who will not be bullied by anybody.  who will not be intimidated by new ideas or run scared by change.   who will not be frightened by people who are different…philosophies that are different…and even ideas that challenge our orthodox understandings of the church and doctrine.

the world has changed.  technology has changed.  the flow of information has changed.  the rate of change has changed.  but people still need to meet jesus.

and if that’s going to happen in the world as we know it now, we need to have people who can navigate the middle.

will that be you?

(if you think this is a call for people to have no convictions and to take no stands, you have missed my point.  wholesale.  i will study to show myself approved by god and contend for the truth as i understand it with passion and determination.  but i refuse to be a stumbling block to those who see things differently that i do.  living as jesus lived and treating people the way he did must take priority.)

Glad to be me. Most days.

paparazzimonday mornings are usually a time to catch up on current events…what’s going on in culture, both pop and church.  i quick-read various news sources, check out about 25-30 of my most trusted bloggers, and open a handful of social commentaries that are emailed directly to me.

most of the time, i enjoy staying informed.  i love seeing how culture is shaped…new trends…and how lifestyle shifts from day to day.  i know there are people who are uncomfortable with change.  they long for “the good old days”, when life was simpler and less cluttered by technology, media and the moral ambiguity of our post-modern world.

me?  not so much.   maybe it’s just because of the way i’m wired or because of a lifetime of hanging around teenagers (always the frontline of cultural shift), but no matter the reason,  i suppose i’ve always been more comfortable with change than most.

so reading about it is one of the ways i stay aware…and emotionally prepared for the inevitable realities we will all have to live through.  but it doesn’t mean i have to like all of it.

this morning, i read about things a number of big-name, high-profile pastor types did over the past few weeks to make headlines.  if those things are true, as reported…i’m disgusted.  if they are only partially true…i’m just deeply saddened.  either way, i find it hard to believe (based on the trustworthiness of those who are reporting, imo) they are completely innocent and victims of slander.

it makes me feel three things:

first, i’m grateful my life and the church i call my family flies below the radar.  i rest knowing that my opinion is not coveted by the masses…my interpretation of the bible only means something to the people who know me…my “sound bites” are not being recorded…and the paparazzi is not following me around to capture my mundane life for the world to judge.  whew.

second, i so wish the church was not judged by the antics of celebrity, mega-church guys (some, not all).  with great fame and power, comes great responsibility.  my heart aches when those in the spotlight don’t use their platform wisely.   (and for the record, being at the bottom of the church food chain is no excuse to live irresponsibly.  size and integrity are mutually exclusive.)

third, judging others is risky business.  yesterday, while i was sermonizing, i said something that took 24 hours to sink into me.  personally.

the great news of the gospel is,  though i am deeply flawed and full of sin and self-centeredness and definitely more than i am ever willing to admit to myself or others…i am still more loved, more forgiven, more accepted than i can fully comprehend.  and those two realities exist in my life every day.  

the “good” me and the “bad” me coexist simultaneously.  and that’s what makes grace such an amazing thing.

so easy to receive.  so difficult to give.