Doubt as a Catalyst for Faith

      Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish."
Isaiah 29:14 (NIV)


One of the biggest challenges to my spirituality has been my insistence on making sense of everything. I am highly analytical and (usually) logical and there are passages in the Bible that seem to go against that frame of mind. There are some things (Noah's ark and human genetic diversity come to mind) that I have a hard time just taking for granted. I want to understand how those things are possible given what I read in the Bible and so far I haven't been able to.

_begin sidebar

I wrote a few days ago about how we as Christians are called to minister to needs of the world when at the same time we are so far from perfect ourselves it's hard to imagine we're equipped to do such a thing. Jesus didn't have that problem — He wasn't motivated in his actions by money (greed), envy, lust, or pride…

Something happened at the Fall that turned sin into a kind of pleasure; it narrowed our minds to center the world around ourselves and the selfish desires of our hearts. At the same time humans began to need the ministry of others, we lost the ability to provide for that very need. Although I don't think it's much of an excuse for slothful believers, I do believe our predisposition to sin is part of what defines us as humans today.

_end sidebar

In the same way (and this is the point to my sidebar) I'm beginning to see our insistence upon things making sense in our minds before they can possibly be true as a part of what separates us as humans from God. Perhaps this is what people mean when they say I should have a childlike faith in the Lord. I believed in gravity before it made sense to me; I believed that my mom was my biological mother and my dad my biological father before I had empirical evidence to support it; I believed in God before I'd ever cracked open a Bible for myself.

As we get older, and particularly as we enter the intellectual atmosphere (and cultural/religious diversity) of college it becomes harder and harder to believe with our minds some of the things we read in the Bible. But for me, challenges to my faith are what brought me closer to God over the past few years. When I came here (to Orlando) my faith was admittedly weak. It's the challenges from my non-Christian friends and from the STATUS pastors that re-ignited my passion for Christ and my hunger to know Him more every day.

I don't have to understand everything, but I probably won't be able to stop trying either. And I'm okay with that. Reconciling doubt is, ironically, what keeps my faith alive and growing.


Of Planks and Specks

      How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
Luke 6:42 (NIV)


I've struggled with this verse for a long time because at first read it makes whatever I write here seem like a hypocritical (and futile) attempt at covering up my own brokenness with a critique of everyone else's.

It seems so black and white; don't go trying to fix others when you yourself are broken. A junkie shouldn't be the head of a drug rehab program. A person with anorexia doesn't seem to have the right to tell someone else she should be eating more.

But that understanding of this piece of scripture is incomplete, and has devastating consequences. It would mean that in order to be in a helping profession or to minister to others, you must first be perfect. And since none of us is wholly perfect, it must follow that doctors and self help writers and family therapists and judges and ministers should all quit their day jobs and get into something more worthwhile. I'm thinking telemarketing or maybe retail.

Obviously that is nonsense, and after struggling with this verse for a while I see that I was reading too much into it. Think about it literally…

We all know how annoying it can be to have a piece of sand or an eyelash or an inside out contact lens in our eye. If we don't have a mirror we might seek the help of a friend, or a friend might offer to try to remove the thing we feel scratching against our cornea ((shudder)). It seems very SNL to picture this, but imagine a friend trying to help us remove the tiny annoyance from our eye while he has a log sticking out of his. Seriously, imagine this.

It's comical more than anything… Something you might see in a Saturday morning cartoon. And I believe the absurdity of the situation is entirely intentional.

It's not that a person with some itch in their eye wouldn't be able to help us out with our inside out contact lens, but someone with a log (or a plank or a stick or whatever other word is used in your translation of the Bible) in their eye has bigger problems to worry about before they can attend to your Acuvue mix-up.

Jesus isn't telling us that we shouldn't reach out to those who need us most. He isn't telling us that we have to be perfect in order to help anyone else. He is reminding us that before we point an accusatory finger at someone else we should examine our own brokenness; before we are able to help someone else out of a mess we should be sure that we are not in a much bigger mess ourselves. And as my mother reminded me a couple days ago, those people in the helping profession need to make sure that they are taking care of themselves before they can be equipped to take care of anyone else.

So much of what we hear in church is about reaching out to others in our community, praying for local and global healing, and otherwise being instruments of Christ's love by doing as He would do. But what sets us apart from Christ is our brokenness, our humanity, and it's this distinction that makes working on ourselves first so important. In order to do as Jesus would do, we must first see clearly, making sure things are right in our own hearts, so that we can begin to pour into the lives of others as He would have us do.


Between Terminals #1

I find that air travel is an incredible opportunity to analyze my life. It's something about the change in perspective, or maybe it's just that the two hours I have to listen to the din of an engine give me enough time to think deep thoughts and eat dry roasted peanuts. Either way, the time I spend between terminals is sacred to me.

The last trip I took was a rough one — the turbulence I felt was not on the flights but between the flights, the six days I stayed in Alabama. I spent a good amount of time in prayer while I was there and by the flight back I was mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausted. I slept the first thirty or so minutes of the flight and when I opened my eyes it occurred to me that we were flying through some seriously thick clouds. I wondered how the pilot could see anything at all.

We continued this way for a few minutes, 6000 feet in the air, completely blind. Little beads of water formed on the windows and moved like tears streaming across the sides of the plane. Looking out the window, these plane-tears were literally all I could see.

I imagined the pilot giving up on looking out the windows of the cockpit and instead relying on the instruments and gauges in front of him to guide the aircraft through the thick white mess. After some time, we emerged on the other side of the monster cloud that seemed to have swallowed us whole and I could see for miles out the side of the aircraft. It was a beautiful day.

Right now I am at a point in my life where I feel like I am on the right path but I don't know what lies ahead of me. If you know me at all, you know that I am a person who likes to feel in control, who likes to plan ahead, and who really can't stand not being able to figure stuff out on her own. When I was a kid, I would constantly remind my parents that "I can do it myself!" It's ingrained in me, and sometimes that's an amazing quality to have. Other times, it's the hardest one to overcome.

On a clear day many pilots could take off and land safely without relying on instruments much at all (albeit this would not make for the most accurate flight plan). A pilot might even stop relying on his instruments to guide him because he's flown so many flights on clear days with only a few glances down at them.

Imagine a pilot who, after a while, refuses to look at his instruments even when in the middle of a cloud as thick as the one on my flight. Imagine him trying to keep the plane on its correct trajectory using only his experience and sense of direction. Even the best pilot will steer the plane off course. An amateur with the same stubbornness might merely have an unpleasant few minutes of turbulence or worse, send the plane into a downward spiral.

I would hope that such a pilot would lose his license, and yet that's exactly where I have been spiritually, refusing to allow God to truly be a guide for my decisions. And at times I have chosen my independence over relationships, my job over my happiness, my friends over my family, and wrong over right. I have prayed for guidance but not listened for a response. I have said the right things without meaning them, and failed to live out my faith. I have done all of this without considering what God has to say about it, without truly using Him as the compass for my life. And I have come this far relatively unscathed, but off course nonetheless.

I have gotten very well adjusted to this way of life, this never having to look at an instrument to tell me where to go, relying only on my experience and my intuition. But now I am at a time where I cannot see a foot in front of me. Despite all of my stubbornness and "I can do it myself" nature, I must look to the one instrument that can set me back on course and keep me there. It takes a great deal of faith in that instrument to trust that I will come out of the thick of this and be on the right course, but without that faith I have only an immature guess as to what direction my life should take. It is my prayer tonight that I have that degree of faith even when it seems this cloud will never end.

"For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm." (Proverbs 1:32-33 NIV)


Run away from sin, not sinners.

      Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
James 5:19-20 (NKJV)


When Donald Miller came to Discovery to speak to the Status crew a few months ago, he made reference to the "Christian bubble" that we can easily find ourselves living (or hiding) in. America is a country that likes to say it was founded on Christian principles so it is easy to push Christianity as a consumer commodity here. We have Christian book stores, Christian coffee houses, Christian blogs, Christian private schools, Christian music — a whole Christian subculture. These things can be good, but it is dangerously easy to forget that there are people outside our bubble who need ministry more than anyone who already has it together. I'm not devaluing the importance of surrounding ourselves with good people who love God; I'm only emphasizing the (greater) importance of introducing or reminding others of the One who has allowed such blessings in our lives.

So I was going to start by asking the rhetorical question, 'Have you ever written someone off because they were down on their luck, away from God, or living a life of sin?' but who would answer 'yes' to that? Most of the time we say we stopped spending time with these people because we have "different interests" or we "grew apart." Sometimes it's true. Sometimes it's an excuse.1

I know of more than one of my high school friends who are now strippers in downtown West Palm Beach, and knowing this makes me wish I had maintained a relationship with these women even more. Solomon2 reminds us that, "A refusal to correct is a refusal to love" (Proverbs 13:24) and although I don't have the audacity to say that I could "correct" these girls, sometimes all it takes to set a person straight is a stable friend who demonstrates forgiveness and love, and who holds her accountable for her actions. That I can do.

A person can fall into a life centered around sin for innumerable reasons, but I'd guess that somewhere near the top of the list are [1] not loving him/herself enough and [2] not believing that what he/she does on this earth matters in the end. I hate to change from third person to second in the middle of a paragraph, but let's make this personal. On your darkest day, could being reminded that you are loved for who you are and that someone else values your life change your outlook? Isn't that what the best pastors do when we are sick or going through a rough time? Call me a hippie, but love is free. All we need is love.

How much love do you have to give?

We have been told that "love covers over a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8 and above). That verse — that undervalued verse — describes exactly what I'm talking about (Solomon says: Jamie says nothing new). Surround yourself with love, live in a safe Christian bubble home with your Christian books and your Christian music. But after you stockpile enough of this love go give it to the people who actually need it, people whose lives could be forever changed by it.

Run away from sin… toward the sinner.


I felt footnote-y writing this…

1 I had a sudden urge to recite this quote: "Excuses are terms of incompetence that build monuments of nothing, and those who specialize in them seldom accomplish anything." Thank you Mrs. Barnes, 7th grade math teacher. That is all I learned from you.

2 Solomon was a great mind. I imagine that if he was here today he'd be the guy sitting in a local coffee shop talking philosophy with the yuppie barista until close on a Monday night. I'd love to have lunch with him in heaven.


God Answers Prayers

      If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.
Matthew 21:22 (NIV)


I'll keep this short because it's been a long week for many of us and I am a little worn out to say the least…

Last night (now two nights ago) was a little terrifying for me. I think either my body's continued rejection of food is catching up with me or I am coming down with something. I staggered around for a bit with my ears ringing and my vision blurry with a pounding headache and a feeling of faintness. A few times I had to lay on the floor to get the room to stop spinning (bless Chester for putting up with this while he was asking to go outside). I was not up for studying or really existing at the end of the night, but I had to try and cram just a little before calling it quits.

So I read the last four required chapters of my Forensic Pathology text, looked over some material for my Operating Systems final, and considered my dues paid. Before I fell asleep, I prayed for mercy, to clear my mind and heal my body at least for this day. I mean I really pled with Him.

And what a happy coincidence; today I was able to eat (after being hungry — imagine that!) and walk without feeling like water was sloshing around in my head. In other words, I feel much better.

Answered prayers have a way of making me feel very close to God. I feel like He laid a hand on me and whispered "I haven't forgotten about you" before I woke up this morning… A very good feeling. Amen.


Bank Error In Our Favor

      LORD, if you kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive? But you offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear you.
Psalm 130:3-4 (NLT)


A good friend of mine, who is not a Christian, said to me over dinner the other day that he believed leaders of the church (e.g. priests and ministers) should not be permitted to commit sin. This means no sex, no drinking, no cursing, no piercings, no dancing downtown on a Saturday night, no listening to Madonna… Nada.

My response was that I think he's forgetting something very fundamental about human beings. There are going to be a lot of people who disagree with me on this one, but ever since the garden — the first two humans on earth — we have all been sinners by nature. God created us in His image, perfect, and we ruined it. Thanks, Eve.

So we're all sinners; does that mean our luck has run out? No! Don't forget that we're not running the show… Our luck doesn't run out until God says it does. And lucky for us, he doesn't keep a record of our sins. Remember Moses? He was a murderer! Remember Peter? He was a betrayer! And these people are so loved by God that they were written into the biggest best seller the world has ever known. Maybe we would think that they didn't "deserve" it, but do we really deserve every blessing God has allowed into our lives?

King David spoke of this, describing the happiness of an undeserving sinner who is declared to be righteous: "Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight. Yes, what joy for those whose sin is no longer counted against them by the Lord."
Romans 4:6-8 (NLT)

I agree that church leaders should live righteously, love the Lord, and be instruments of Christ's love, but I don't think they need to be as pure as God Himself. First, it's not possible. I don't believe in trying to force someone to be someone other than who they are — forcing a human, who is sinful by nature, into a life of apparent sinlessness is akin to putting a square peg through a circular hole. It's just not who we are designed to be.

More importantly, God doesn't keep a record of our sins. He's the Amelia Bedelia of record keepers, making bank errors in your favor when your account balance is in the red and your house note is due. He asks so little in return, only that we maintain an account with His bank!

So no, I don't think it's necessary for church leaders to be 100% squeaky clean. I can't identify with that. It's not who I am, and I'd argue it's not who they are either. Break out the wine and give your wife a kiss. Praise God!

Sorry if the last two posts seemed like digs at the Catholic Church. They weren't.


One Loaf, One Body

      And we all eat from one loaf, showing that we are one body. And think about the nation of Israel; all who eat the sacrifices are united by that act.
1 Corinthians 10:17-18 (NLT)


I consider myself a "part" (whatever that means) of two churches. These places appear to be complete opposites of one another. One church I grew up in; the other I started attending after I moved to Orlando a couple years ago. One church is non-denominational; the other is a denomination nobody has ever heard of. One church does communion every Sunday; the other does communion at seemingly random infrequent intervals. One church is tiny (we're talking very very small) and the other is massive, exploding across Orlando. One church has big screens and projectors and contemporary worship music; the other has hymnals and a modest choir. One church has pews; the other has rows of chairs. One church has an entire Internet ministry, the other has me. These two places are my yin and my yang, my left and right, up and down, big and small, inside and out. They are unique and distinct, yet somehow they both mean the same thing to me.

Some people would say that there are traditional Christians and nontraditional Christians, new age and old age (haha) Christians, CEO (Christmas and Easter Only) Christians… I used to think you could tell which of these categories a person fell into by asking what version of the Bible they read. But it's irrelevant. At the end of the day we are all Christians. One body, one faith.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. — Galatians 3:28 (NIV)

Just as we are one body, I believe that there should be one bread and one cup for that body. Open communion is so central to the Disciples of Christ faith (that tiny denomination I mentioned earlier), and it is of course practiced in non-denominational churches as well. Both churches recognize baptisms from other denominations and invite all persons who believe in Christ to come to the table, drink of the cup, and eat of the bread.

The Bible teaches us that communion unites us as one body in Christ. What a comfort it is to know that I am welcome at the tables of two churches that are polar opposites of one another, and that each is united to the other and to all Christian churches through the blessings of the bread and the cup! Amen.


He Knows Me Like That

      GOD, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand. I'm an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I'm thinking. You know when I leave and when I get back; I'm never out of your sight. You know everything I'm going to say before I start the first sentence.
Psalm 139:1-4 (The Message)


I have a few friends who would argue that The Message is not really a Bible, but rather an author's inaccurate attempt to spoon-feed lazy Christians the Bible. Be that as it may, I like The Message because it speaks to my frame of reference better than many translations I've read. I love reading Psalms from The Message because they have helped teach me how to pray and what to pray for. This Psalm taught me to pray for the trust to allow God into my heart, to know the parts of me even my most trusted friends don't know.

Have you ever known someone — a friend, a family member, a boyfriend or girlfriend — who you could sit quietly with and (without speaking) know what he or she was thinking? That is the most amazing kind of relationship we can have with another person, a kind of relationship it takes some degree of trust to achieve. Allowing someone to know you intimately, to hear your thoughts without a word spoken, renders you vulnerable. It's a good kind of vulnerable, and it should go both ways. This is the kind of relationship we should seek to have with God.

I have heard people say that God led them to do something — to change their life, to change their outlook, to call an old friend — and I think this is what they are talking about. Sitting quietly in a room, without a word said, listening to what God speaks into their heart.

But remember that God can get to the places we don't let our best friends, spouses, and family members see — even those who understand our thoughts from across a silent room. Remember when I talked about my dark night after Easter? That's exactly the place in our hearts God wants to take over.

How amazing is it that the creator of the universe wants to know you better than your mom, your best friend, your girlfriend, your dog, or anyone else who seeks a relationship with you? This is an amazing kind of love, and it takes more trust than any other kind of relationship to accept it. I say this because you are trusting God to know you better than any of the people you can see and hear.

So my prayer today is for trust. Not just the kind of trust it takes to allow our friends and loved ones to know us intimately, but the kind of trust it takes to allow God to know us better than anyone else. Amen.


Proverbs on Depression

      A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
Proverbs 17:22 (NIV)


USNews reports that "In any one-year period, 9.5 percent of the population, or about 18.8 million American adults, suffer from a depressive disorder … Depressive illnesses bring pain and suffering not only to those who have the disorder but also to those who care about them and for them."

Proverbs has a ton of great stuff in it — a sort of All Purpose Extra Strength Bathroom Reader for worldly advice. This verse caught my eye, though, because depression has been a common topic of conversation among a group of my friends lately. It is so true that depression, or I would argue any significant thing weighing on your mind, can affect the body in numerous undesirable ways.

Whether it's pint-sized indulgences or days without eating or lack of sleep or hearing the phone ring when it's really not, the body can be a powerful indicator of what's going on in the mind. In the same way, a vibrant outlook can improve one's health and doctors will be the first to back that up.

So what can we do to bring joy into the lives of the 9.5% around us suffering from depression? Do you remember what Job's friends did for him? They came from the surrounding countries and "they sat with him on the ground. Seven days and nights they sat there without saying a word. They could see how rotten he felt, how deeply he was suffering." Sometimes that's all it takes. Just being in the same room, quietly waiting to listen to what they have to say, can bring light to someone whose life is filled with darkness.

It is the prayer of my heart that I may bring light to someone who needs it whenever I see a crushed spirit in my midst.


Asking The Right Questions

      Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, 'Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind? Jesus said, 'You're asking the wrong question. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do.'
John 9:1-3 (The Message)


My first year in the Gifted program was 1992. I was in second grade — Mrs. Bray's class — and it was my first year at my new school. There was a boy in my class who I thought was the dumbest person I had ever met (I was not always a nice person) because he asked questions constantly. We learned multiplication tables and long division that year, and there were moments when I was so frustrated with him for not thinking it through on his own that I just wanted to scream.

Through the years, this boy hardly changed. There were limited options for Gifted students in our zip code, so we were in the same classes for elementary, middle, and high school (except for the two years I went to MSOA). He was always questioning our teachers about things he would read or things they would teach, never taking anything for granted just because it had a PhD's name stamped on it. After a while I had to admit to myself that he was asking good questions — questions I only wish I had the wisdom and knowledge to ask myself.

His name was Darren Goldman, and he was the valedictorian of my high school class of over 800 students. He is probably the smartest person I have ever met.

Darren is a little bit like Jesus' disciples. He's Jewish (ha), and he asks questions about everything.

The disciples were raised to believe that if someone had an ailment they had done something to deserve it, so it was only natural for them to wonder if it was the parents or the child who were responsible for the blind man's birth defect. In asking this question they miss the point of Jesus. God sent Jesus to heal and save sinners (that means everyone), not to condemn them.

There are going to be things we can't figure out on our own. But it takes a wealth of wisdom and experience to know when to ask questions and what questions to ask. I am probably more in line with the disciples on this — I ask a lot of the wrong questions. When I ask "why did this happen" (and I have done that a lot lately) I need to be praying instead about what God can do to help me through it. Not everyone has the wisdom to ask the right questions, but like Darren, if you ask enough of them you will eventually reach a point when you are asking all the right questions at all the right times.


Not My Job

      How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I damn whom GOD has not damned? … Balak said to Balaam, "What's this? I brought you here to curse my enemies, and all you've done is bless them." Balaam answered, "Don't I have to be careful to say what GOD gives me to say?"
Numbers 23:8,11-12 (The Message)


I decided upon the above passage before I really had anything to say about it. I have to be careful on this one because it's something I struggle with every day. What can I say, or what do I have the right to say, about something I am so bad about myself?

So I pasted the quote above, saved it as a draft, and prayed that I might be inspired to write something about it at some point between work and class. On the way into the Math and Physics building at UCF, there is a "free speech area" in the grass to the left of the walkway. There in the middle of a crowd was a young man in a shirt that read "TRUST JESUS" in huge bold font on the front and back. I remembered his voice from the day I walked by in a tank top and jeans on a 90° summer day and he yelled at me to put some clothes on. Today instead of walking on, I stopped, sat down on the edge of a planter, and watched from a distance while he fought back and forth with another outspoken young man.

I sat in silent wonderment as I watched the angry evangelist pace back and forth carrying a sign the size of a small sail that read "God hates the sinner!". His arch-rival carried another sign that read "No more war!" In the time that I sat there, a boy spat in the angry evangelist's face, a woman in the crowd proclaimed that he was the "worst Christian" she had ever seen, and in an awkward unexpected moment "No more war" guy gave him a hug and walked away (followed of course by voices from the crowd calling him a homosexual).

The angry evangelist epitomizes the "hateful Christians" that nudged me away from the religion several years ago. After I moved away from my church and was without a church home, all I saw of Christians were those who showed up at the abortion clinic I took my roommate to, those evangelizing on television, those who fly banners with pictures of aborted fetuses above elementary schools, and those who stand in the free speech area preaching hate.

Why should I love God if he hates me?

I never understood angry evangelism. When have you ever heard of a person who found God through words of hatred yelled at the top of a man's voice? Evangelizing is tricky. The Bible tells us that as Christians it is our job to bring others closer to God — to introduce them to the most important entity in our lives. This duty can mean something different to each of us. Some might feel called to ministry or church leadership, while others might feel called to read to the blind, serve in a soup kitchen, go to K-Stan, host Small Groups at their homes, or just take a friend to church.

Whatever it is, God is not calling us to pass judgement on others. Numbers 23 tells us that is not our job. Who told "TRUST JESUS" guy that it was his job to judge me? Who told him to speak for God? Even the Old Testament warns us that it isn't our job to curse others for their sins when we ourselves are sinners. If we are not perfect and clean, we have no business shouting at others for their lack of cleanliness.

My mom has a Master's in psychology (God bless her… and her children) and she always taught me that when you want to change a bad behavior you should offer a positive replacement for that behavior. Chester chews up underwear, you give him something he can chew on. A child wants to press the buttons on the remote in the middle of the most intense scene in an episode of Lost, you give him a non-working remote or a set of Legos or a tranquilizer to replace the bad behavior.

I have a habit of looking at other people's sin and avoiding them or talking negatively about them or having some other not-so-nice reaction because of it. It seems only natural to respond to sin negatively! But that is not my job! That is my bad behavior. And I know that I'm not the only one who struggles with this.

So what do I replace that with? If Numbers 23:11-12 is any indication, instead of ugliness toward the sinner, we should display extra love for that person. Look at the sin as an illness or an affliction, and you will begin to see that you can love the sinner, not the sin. Angry evangelism isn't going away any time soon, which makes our responsibility to show others God's love that much more important.


The Weakest Link

      But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
1 Corinthians 1:27-29 (NIV)


A few weeks ago I visited a church in Birmingham and during their contemporary worship service, there was a sermon about who God would call a "winner." The focus was on the youth sports, but the message was for everyone — we are all winners (every last broken one of us) in God's eyes. I even got a purple silicone bracelet to prove it.

But seriously, let that sink in a minute. All of us. Not just the preachers and the missionaries, but all of us.

Think about it… All throughout the Bible, we see God choosing the people who we might consider "least fit" for a job. Moses was a murderer and apparently had some kind of speech impediment but he was chosen to deliver the most important moral message in history; Mary was a young unmarried girl but she was chosen to carry the Son of God; when Jesus was resurrected he sent Mary to alert the disciples and emphasized that she should tell Peter, the person any of us would have wanted nothing to do with after such a betrayal, that He wished to see him. Peter!

I get the feeling from many of the people I talk to about faith that in a simpler time (when they were kids) they believed in God, but it's just too hard to be a believer at this point in their life. Some of them admit that they have an intention to start going to church again after they "settle down" (after college). And just a couple of the bravest admit that 10 rules are way too many to adhere to at this point in their life. Belief in God seems to come with so much baggage — responsibility, reading, witnessing, waking up early on Sunday, self-control — things most young adults want nothing to do with. Belief is neither convenient nor easy, so turning away from God is the most natural thing to do.

But here's the thing. God knows the rules — he wrote them for goodness sake! But all through the Bible and in our own experience we can see God calling upon the most unlikely, immoral, inept rule-breakers we could ever hope not to meet. We are trained to see those people as "the weakest links" but God doesn't watch BBC enough to have such a reference point. God defies the pop culture definitions of who the winners and losers are.

"God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him." If you feel weak, if you feel lowly, if you're not "in," God is probably calling on you.

Jesus said that the prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the kingdom of heaven before the religious authorities who denied him.1 They don't quote that one in religious tracts or put it on billboards! I don't think we're reminded enough of that story. In fact I think I'll put it on a billboard now.


Sinlessness is impossible. But without God you will never be freed from the sins you commit. Now is the time in a young person's life to put the most — not the least — faith in God. You don't have to be perfect; he made you and he likes you just the way you are.


This is Love

      This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
1 John 4:10-12 (NIV)


The Easter service at Discovery Church yesterday was so amazing. When it started I was skeptical because it seemed like they had gone overboard with the theatrics (I mean, a waterfall on stage and six sets of drums, seriously?) But I quickly let go of all that as I was moved to tears more than once over the course of the next hour and a half.

Pastor Loveless spoke to a very tender part of my existence. "It was a dark night," he said more than once (referring to Peter's betrayal of Christ before his crucifixion). "But it's a new day!" I think most of us have a dark night — a doubt, a fear, a memory, an enemy — that prevents us from experiencing the good God has planned for our lives. I know I do. Am I alone in this?

We were each given a blank card in our bulletin on which we were asked to write, in a few words, the 'dark night' of our life. Committing such a thing to a white card felt very Post Secret. I wasn't sure how to put mine into words. I wanted to write down all of the events that have led to this dark night, but we were asked to write it in two or three words so I had to sit and meditate on that a moment before I picked up a pen. How could two or three words describe my dark night?

Church is so much about giving praise and worship to God that sometimes I forget to hand my biggest burdens over to Him. 1 John 4:10 reminds us that the very act of letting God take care of our burdens, wash away our sins, is love. The act of trusting God with my dark night — that is love. Our love for God is not everything, for it is the love we receive from Him through the sacrifice of His son that shows us what love is and ultimately how to love in the first place.

After a few moments the man sitting next to me put down his pen, removed his glasses, bowed his head, and let the tears fall from his eyes into his hands.

A procession of church members entered the stage, each with the dark night of their life written in large bold print on a card. "Cocaine addict." "I relied on witchcraft." "Doubt plagued me." Each of the dozens turned over their card to reveal how God had worked to heal them of their darkest nights. "Clean." "I rely on GOD." "I put my doubts in God's hands."

As a tear stained my cheek I felt a longing for my new day. I had my three words to describe my one pain, and I was ready to hand that over to God. I looked down at my card, picked up my pen and wrote, "Discarded. Disposable. Lost."


Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

      The LORD is my strength and my song;
   he has become my salvation.

Shouts of joy and victory
   resound in the tents of the righteous:
   "The LORD's right hand has done mighty things!

The LORD's right hand is lifted high;
   the LORD's right hand has done mighty things!"

I will not die but live,
   and will proclaim what the LORD has done.

The LORD has chastened me severely,
   but he has not given me over to death.

Open for me the gates of righteousness;
   I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.

This is the gate of the LORD
   through which the righteous may enter.

I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
   you have become my salvation.

The stone the builders rejected
   has become the capstone;

the LORD has done this,
   and it is marvelous in our eyes.

This is the day the LORD has made;
   let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118:14-24 (NIV)


What a glorious day it is! In my Christian denomination it isn't common to say "Thanks be to God" during the worship service, but today… Thanks be to God!! It will be a busy Easter for me and I'm sure many of you will hear enough sermons today, so I will keep this short.

This is the first year of my life I will not be with family or friends on Easter. It's an odd thing, really. As much as I have written about it here the past couple of days it doesn't "feel" like Easter. I won't be getting an Easter basket with odds and ends in it from my mother. I won't wake up at 5:00am to be at Lake Worth beach for Easter sunrise service. I won't sample whatever my dad grills up. I won't be sitting down to dinner with my parents, brother, and grandfather.

But I will be able to spend the day in worship and quiet reflection for the immense gift we all have in Jesus. And because I am alone today it might just be a more personal conversation with God than I have ever had on an Easter Sunday. I love my family, and I will miss their company on this Holiest of Sundays. But I have so much to be thankful for, and I will rejoice and be glad in it!


Tax Day

      This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. — Romans 13:6-7 (NIV)


I won't always respond to the verse of the day, but today it seemed fitting that I meditate on this one.

Today is a day we pay taxes. » Yes, America. The IRS would appreciate a summary of how much money you have forked over to them in the past year. They also cordially invite you to tell them every last detail of your financial life, from where you payed tithes to how many computers you bought to how many children you support, so that they might give you a little in return for your troubles. I sent mine in with a prayer that (a) I didn't screw up too badly and (b) my tiny sum of taxes paid might be put to good use by the leaders with which we have entrusted a part of our income. While I have lost some trust in the government's ability to use funds wisely, I think it is our responsibility to give back to the institutions and the people we take for granted so that they may continue providing for us, our country, and abroad. If you make a "mistake" on your return, at least let it be an honest one. ;-)

Today is a day we give revenue. » But then every day is a day we give revenue; At the grocery store, the video store, the liquor store, the tax preparation store (haha)… We give back to our economy because we are the economy. It's the American way.

Today is a day we give respect. Today is a day we give honor. » In between Good Friday and Easter is a day for quiet reflection on the amazing gift we have in Jesus and the ultimate sacrifice paid for our sins. This is a day when we pay respects to Jesus's bodily death and honor His bodily resurrection.

Today is a day to appreciate the gentle irony of a day of mourning preceding Tax Day, and a day of celebration following it. Amen!


Everyone Who Believes

      I want you to know, my very dear friends, that it is on account of this resurrected Jesus that the forgiveness of your sins can be promised. He accomplishes, in those who believe, everything that the Law of Moses could never make good on. But everyone who believes in this raised-up Jesus is declared good and right and whole before God. — Acts 13:38-39 (The Message)


I love when I get the cushy chair at Starbucks. There's something very relaxing (or Hippie… you know, whatever) about sitting Indian-style with my PowerBook in my lap sipping an Iced Caramel Macchiato after a long, hard week. I was doing just that today, waiting for my friend Diane to show up for our weekly coffee date, when I looked next to me and saw two religious tracts.

Img_2175I should preface this diatribe… Most people who know me know that I am a huge fan of that Jesus guy. I am not, however, a huge fan of religious tracts. I don't see tracts as an effective way of communicating the amazing gift and immense love of Jesus Christ. Beyond that, Donald Miller inspired me to think about so-called bullet-point Christianity a while back. Like him, I truly believe that the path to heaven and other themes in the Bible cannot be confined to a list. That said, here's what I found in those two tracts.

The first tract was titled, "Am I Going To Heaven? Find Out Inside!" I flipped the page and found a list of items many people believe are requirements to pass through the "gates" of heaven. I was supposed to check off the ones upon which I am "basing my hopes for reaching heaven after [I] die." The list included things like "doing one's best," "born of Christian parents," "penances," "membership in a lodge or fraternity," and "extreme unction." None of them read "belief in Jesus Christ," so I didn't check anything. The next page explained why everything you may have checked will send you to Hell. What? If I have tried to obey the Golden Rule, tithed, or had church membership, I will "never see Heaven's golden streets." I had to laugh. My favorite was the response to the "membership in a lodge or fraternity" bullet point: "You should wake up before it's too late."

The second tract had "Jesus Loves" on the front with a big heart. It was filled with Bible quotes and an advertisement for The Tract League, and had another tract inside of it that informed me exactly where happiness isn't. Very helpful.

I have to give the first tract credit for something; it emphasized that it is not our works, our church membership, our Christian parents, fasting, confession, or anything else that has found its way into "Christian tradition" that will bring us salvation. Our hopes for heaven should be based solely on belief in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

My beef with tracts is that while their purpose is to communicate a message, they do a terrible job of it. The first tract implied that if I had Christian parents I had no hope for heaven! I know that the intended message was that you can do all of the things on that list but without belief in Jesus you will still not receive the gift of salvation, but would someone else who sits down in the comfy Starbucks chair and picks up those tracts understand so well?

As much as I tease tracts, I understand and love the intended message behind the first one: The gift of Jesus Christ is just that — a gift. All we have to do is allow it into our lives and we are "declared good and right and whole before God." What an amazing gift we have been given. (And that is how sitting Indian style in a chair at Starbucks brings me back to Acts 13.)