Tag Archives: grace

Sometimes By Step

I promised to look at some Rich Mullins songs I love the most, as a Wednesday “Worship” thing.

I thought about putting these out on Sunday, because, hey, they’re worship and spiritual and churchy and all that.

But Rich Mullins was hardly churchy, and that’s kind of the point. Plus, while some of his songs spoke to me on Sundays, more often than not, his words and music were what I needed in the day-to-day of the work-week, in the midst of choices and struggles and frustrations and delights.

“Sometimes By Step” is one of those songs that I heard growing up–we’d sing the pretty Praise & Worship style chorus in church. Then I heard the whole song, and was shocked that there were all these powerful words in the verses. I felt robbed unawares, denied something powerful and true years earlier–missing out without even knowing something was missing.

This version shows Rich speaking about the profound nature of God’s tasteless love for us. I won’t do it injustice by trying to recap it. Please listen and hear him out, reflect on the love revealed in Christ’s sacrifice which is for <strong>all</strong>, not just for the so-called deserving or worthy.

In the first verse, Rich sings that “there was so much work left to do, but so much You’d already done.” And that so captures my despair at my failures, coupled with my joy at the hope of God’s grace at work in me.

The second verse hits my heart even harder. To think that a star Abraham saw was lit for me… to recognize that when I feel I don’t fit in, that might be by God’s design… and to remember even though I fall and struggle in the journey, I’m never beyond the outstretched grip of God’s grace.

That gives me a powerful reason to declare “Oh God, You are my God, and I will ever praise You!”

Rich Mullins Was Aptly Named

A few days ago (before I went on this short work trip away from home), my wife and I finally watched Ragamuffin – the life story of Rich Mullins’ ministry and struggles fitting in to the Christian music industry.

She pointed out that Rich Mullins’ name is appropriate: a guy who’s always mulling over the deep and rich things of God’s love, the practical expressions of it that get lost in religious structures and routines.

I know as a newly-recommitted Christian, Rich Mullins’ songs challenged me and pushed me to go farther and deeper in my faith, to be authentic and to think about what it really meant to pursue Christ.

For days since watching the film, I’ve had one of my favorites of his songs stuck in my head: If I Stand.

The chorus really captures a simple passion that it would all be about Him and not about me:

If I stand, let me stand on the promise that You will pull me through

And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace that first brought me to You

If I sing, let me sing for the joy that has born in me these songs

And if I weep, let it be as a man who is longing for his home.

In the verses, he points out how the “stuff of earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to the Giver of all good things.” As I write this, I just finished reading through Psalm 4, which includes the phrase, “How long will you love what is worthless?” (v.2)

I love a lot of arguably worthless pursuits. Or I’ll say I engage in a lot of pursuits of debatable value. I can make a case for the “good” that may come out of them. But it rings hollow.

Songs like “If I Stand” refocus me and get me centered back on Christ. But that’s just one of the awesome songs Rich wrote, just one topic on which it felt like he spoke and sang directly to my soul. So for a while I’m going to post a song a week, starting Wednesday, and briefly share my thoughts or why the song means so much to me.

Here’s If I Stand, recorded live. (I had to see him actually playing piano, because I don’t want to believe he can intentionally hit all those keys. He also makes a mistake in this, so you know he’s human.)

Frozen: Love Worth Dying For

Yesterday I posted (link) this blog about the hidden message some religious people see in Disney’s blockbuster movie Frozen. When we see culture changing all around us, it can be scary. And when we’re scared, we start looking for what we fear, and see it around every corner. Like I said yesterday, I don’t think “homophobia” is the right word. We don’t fear homosexuals. We fear change.

At the end, I promised to share my take on the positive message of the movie. So if you haven’t seen the movie yet (and why haven’t you?) then you can expect some spoilers ahead.

Quick recap if you haven’t seen it:

The gist of the story is that Princess Elsa was born with a magic ability to manipulate ice. As a child she uses this to bring joy to her little sister, Princess Anna. (pronounced ‘Ah-na,’ mind you. My kids correct me all the time.)

Elsa accidentally injures Anna, and everyone decides it would be best to hide these powers away until Elsa can control them. So she grows up repeating a mantra of “conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show.” Her powers grow stronger, and her fears rise accordingly. To protect others, she keeps everyone away, including young Anna, who doesn’t understand why “we used to be best buddies, and now we’re not.”

At Queen Elsa’s coronation, her powers are revealed and she flees. When everything goes wrong, the whole kingdom falls under a bitter winter, buried in snow and ice. Villains attempt to kill Elsa to end the crisis. And Elsa once again injures Anna by accident, putting a shard of ice into Anna’s heart that will eventually freeze her solid.

Only an act of true love can thaw the ice and save Anna, so she chases after the man she loves, hoping a kiss from him will save the day.

This leads to a climax, where Anna is stumbling through a storm to reach Kristof (her beau) and Elsa is being stalked by the villain who stands ready to kill her. Suddenly Anna sees Elsa in danger, and jumps in the way of the villain’s blade, freezing solid in the process. Everyone is sad, until Anna’s heart thaws out. “An act of true love will thaw the frozen heart,” they recall.

The kingdom is saved, the sisters bond, everyone’s happy except the villains, and credits roll.

A lot of people note that this movie is not the typical Disney “Prince Charming saves the Princess” story. No princes save the day here. Even Kristof, Anna’s love interest, is not a pivotal hero but more her faithful companion and support. In other words, the whole movie seems to say to young girls, “You don’t need a man to complete you.” I think that’s a wholesome message in a culture that loves to emphasize the need for romantic and sexual relationships.

Elsa has powers and puts them to use for good. Anna has the power of determination and love, and she overcomes adversity in pursuit of her goals. Both characters are depicted as strong, resourceful women who face their difficulties and imperfections with fierce devotion and integrity. That’s also a great message for our young women (and men).

There’s also the “Let It Go” theme of not hiding away our creativity or passion. Someone (see yesterday’s blog post) might think it’s “the homosexual agenda” encouraging people to come out of the closet, and I suppose that’s a valid application. But it’s only one of many. I have writer friends who have hidden away their work, afraid of critique or even being open enough to share it with another. I know artists who draw amazing things you’d never see because they’ll never show you. Musicians and vocalists with skills to blow me away often hide their talents in the ground. Young people sometimes conceal their hobbies, interests, and exceptional abilities, because their passion is something their peers might deride. Frozen is a film that says “We need you to let that go and let everyone see it, because we need your talents in the world.”

And that’s not even the main thrust of the movie. Let’s look for a moment at the conflict at the climax.

The first thing I see is sacrificial love. Anna leaps in front of the villain’s sword, an action that will almost certainly result in great injury if not death. Anna does this without hesitation. The only thing that protects her is that she freezes solid at that very moment, something she couldn’t anticipate.

Second, Anna’s actions reveal selfless love. At this point, Anna and Olaf are convinced she needs a kiss from Kristof, the guy that truly loves her, to cure the freezing condition Elsa’s ice shard caused. Anna is mere steps away from Kristof when she sees Elsa in danger. Anna gives up her kiss to come to her sister’s defense.

Third, this is arguably an expression of undeserved love. Elsa is an icy witch to Anna throughout the majority of the movie, and Anna doesn’t know why. Their bond is broken. The sisterly love seems one-sided. On top of that, Elsa’s the one who accidentally shot Anna in the heart. Anna has every reason to be distant, but instead hurls herself into the path of the sword.

Olaf, unlikely Christ figure.
Olaf, unlikely Christ figure.

Oddly enough, it’s Olaf the Snowman who speaks this theme aloud. When Anna is shivering in the castle, Olaf starts the fire in the fireplace to warm Anna and keep her alive, even though it means he might melt. Anna sees this and panics for her friend, who responds, “Some people are worth melting for.”

That’s my take on Frozen. It’s a message of sacrificial, selfless love to the undeserving. Reminds me of a story about Someone else I hold dear.

Tomorrow, I have some thoughts about the supposed need for a romantic relationship in a story, and why the non-troversy about Elsa is so frustrating to me.

Where Were You?

One of my atheist friends on FB shared a powerful and challenging picture.

It's a challenging question, but "the problem of suffering" is not my point today.
It’s a challenging question, but “the problem of suffering” is not my point today.

The obvious question is, “Where’s God in the despair and devastation that affects so many in the world? And why do we think God is concerned with petty details of our lives while we ignore human tragedy?”

Here’s a bit of an answer to that.

For a few weeks in a row, I’ve been playing the keys for our church band. It’s something I love to do, because 1) I’m good at it, 2) I enjoy it, and 3) helping the congregation worship is exciting. The practice and the early showtime to get ready for two Sunday services means a bit of extra effort during the week. Sunday becomes a long day, almost a day of “work” when everything in me wants a weekend to relax before returning to the office grind on Monday.

The joy of being part of something greater in the band is well worth the hard work. The impact of seeing people abandoned in worship is even more fulfilling. It’s pretty awesome.

But this Sunday, I was reminded how small my focus can be.

We had a guest from India, a missionary who has lived most of his life as an offering for the benefit of others. He shared some powerful stories of how difficult circumstances have brought about tremendous change in the churches of India and in their relationship to their own culture. He talked about God’s heart for the widow and the orphan, and how the Church-at-large has been able to positively touch the lives of those the Indian caste system considers untouchable.

Then he recounted the unexpected events which led to the start of an unconventional ministry. About 15 years ago, one of his associates happened to lead a group of believers into a red light district in their city. The response from the “working women” was overwhelming. But more than commitments and conversions, these women sought assistance that the Christians were not prepared to provide.

The women were victims of human trafficking and the sex trade. They were not in their situation by choice, nor were they free to leave. But they brought out their daughters, small children and infants living in the brothels. The women begged, “Can you take my child away to a safe place? If she stays here, she will grow up as a slave and will be treated the way we have been. Please help us. Please take our children out of here.”

That day, 37 children were brought out of the red light district, and the missionaries started a makeshift shelter with no plan and no idea how to proceed. All they had was the firm conviction that this act of compassion was what God would desire of them.

Soon, they learned the extent of the slavery in the sex trade around them. They learned that in the city there were perhaps two thousand more children just like those they rescued. They discovered that across the country, there are approximately one million young women and children connected to the sex trade as slaves or victims. Their mission focus changed in a flash from simply “reaching the nation” to extending a hand to those in such deplorable conditions.

15 years later, Project Rescue is spread over 6 nations ministering to thousands of victims. At first they tried to buy some of the women out of these brothels, but very quickly saw that the money was going to bring in more young girls. So now, they reach out a hand to HIV positive women and children, providing shelter and recovery, or providing compassion and care to those not yet freed. They have established churches outside the traditional comfort zones of Western Christianity, and they hold Bible studies right in the midst of the red light district. They’ve taken in women who have been mentally and emotionally shattered by daily sexual brutality and physical abuse. Those women are learning job skills and getting new opportunities to escape the hell they’ve known most of their lives.

The small amount of money given by some in our church provides for many of the needs of this ministry and others like it around the world. A mere $20 bought a cheap t-shirt advertising the project website, but that money also paid for the expense of putting one of these women through a college program. I sat overwhelmed next to my teenage daughter, considering that there are a million more young women just as precious and valuable as her, who are suffering abuse and abandonment.

There are a million girls in India not much different from my daughter who are in terrible situations and desperate need.
There are a million girls in India not much different from my daughter who are in terrible situations and desperate need.

I didn’t have much at the moment, but giving up a $20 bill meant impacting someone’s life around the world in a positive way. The deep need and the vast challenge posed by international sex slavery is beyond me, beyond my church, beyond a logical approach or easy fix. But we must respond as best as we are able, for religious reasons or for simple human compassion.

I was reminded of my time on a medical mission in a rural area of the Philippines, and the poverty and need that I witnessed first-hand. I thought of the streets of Thailand, and the desperation I saw there. I remember the homeless in California and Okinawa, and my wife’s efforts to provide food and warmth where we could.

Some of my atheist friends have discussed this with me in the past. “Why do these missionaries have to go do all this with the religion sales pitch? Why not just do it for the sake of helping out?”

Maybe they’re right. Maybe I shouldn’t need a book to tell me to love others as I love myself or to do for them what I’d want done for me if our situation was reversed. Perhaps I shouldn’t need the excuse that “God said to go.”

Then I look for the massive efforts of atheists and agnostics to reach the poor and needy around the world, and I find them severely lacking. There are organizations, yes. There are people far more compassionate than me, no doubt. But there is not an effort on the scale of the charity work being done by churches around the world to reach into the darkness and pull a hurting soul into the light of day.

Jesus taught that His people would be judged based on their response to Him:

“I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.”  (Matthew 25, MSG)

They ask, “Where were You? When did we see You? When did we do this?” He responds, “Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.

And the converse is true. When we’re the ones doing the overlooking, when we’re turning our eyes from the need and ignoring them, He says we’re ignoring Him.

Should I need this reminder, this solemn warning? I suppose not. But the point is that I am interested in being a part of reaching the overlooked and ignored with practical love that meets their real needs. Can we help everyone and rescue all who suffer? No. But we’ll try, and we’ll reach as many as we can.

When people are suffering, I’m not surprised by the question of “Where was God?” But when people are suffering, for those not doing anything to help, don’t be surprised when I ask “Where were you?”

Non-Traditional Family

“We’re fighting for the traditional family, the mainstream marriage, the moral foundation of our society. We can’t permit marriage to be redefined by anyone’s agenda, so we’ve got to fight to protect the fundamental building blocks of society.”  — any randomly selected opponent of gay marriage

This is the "For People Like Me" liferaft. Find your own.
This is the “For People Like Me” liferaft. Find your own.

Our church is going through a series called “Healthy” as we try to discover how the Bible applies to a holistic, holy and whole life. Sunday’s sermon was about conflict, and healthy ways of dealing with it in order to maintain and strengthen our relationships with those around us.

Relationships are messy, difficult, and absolutely necessary. Community is hard work, but it’s essential. And in the context of building community and developing a sense of “family” in the church, the pastor spoke about the current status of families in America.

Consider these numbers:

1 in 2 children live in a single-parent family at some point.

1 in 3 are born to unmarried parents.

1 in 4 kids live with only one parent.

1 in 8 were born to a teenage mother.

1 in 25 children have neither parent in their lives.

68% of children in America live in non-traditional families.

These stats got me thinking…

How “traditional” are so-called traditional families?

What exactly are we working to defend when we protest gay marriage? What point are Christians making when they gloat over a homosexual dying of AIDS as “the due reward for their sin”? What good is being done for society as the church-in-general fights against this one issue?

The usual justification is that we must stand for traditional marriage and traditional families. I’ll refer you back to those stats. Traditional marriage is pretty well gone in America, just like Leave It To Beaver and black-and-white TV. This isn’t what “the gays” are doing to marriage. This is what all of us traditional heterosexuals have done to it.

Men who are little more than sperm donors skip out on their responsibilities, leaving the child-bearing and child-rearing to the single mom or teenage mother. In our rabid defense of traditional marriage, are we chasing down single mothers and telling them that their exhaustion and sacrifices are the “due penalty of sin” they committed? God forbid! I don’t think even Westboro stoops that low.

Selfishness drives spouses apart, and lust disguised as love excuses divorce and remarriage. But we don’t hold up signs and chant slogans at the woman on her third husband, or the man with a new “younger model” spouse who leaves behind an ex-wife and some children. Sure, we probably judge them like good religious folk are supposed to… can’t let them get away thinking they’re ok, after all. Gotta heap on the condemnation with dirty looks and cold distance in church.

But we’re not picketing them or campaigning for laws banning remarriage. We’re not railing about the destruction of our moral fabric at the hands of every non-traditional heterosexual couple.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: maybe we’re past the point where “traditional” really matters.

I mean, it’s nice to think about, of course, in the same way that it’s great my kids like to watch Beaver and I Love Lucy. We think fondly of tradition for good reason. But tradition isn’t what we see in the world around us, and we need to stop fighting to make it so.

When the Titanic hits the iceberg and starts taking on water, when the design flaws are exposed and the ship is going down, it’s a bit late to go to the shipwright and tell him how wrong all his plans were. There’s no point drawing up new blueprints or editing the old ones to fix what went wrong. Really, after a certain point, baling water is no longer an issue either. The problem is past that point.

The ship is sinking. Stop laying blame and start handing out life-jackets.

When we practice water survival for the military aircraft I fly on, latching on to the other survivors is one of the first steps we take once we’re in the water. Then we work together to get to a life raft.

What if the Church-at-large stopped picketing the design flaws in our society and stopped pointing at those floating and flailing in the water? What if we made it our mission to latch on to people in need, to cling to them with arms of love instead of looks of judgment?

What if we admit the ship has taken too much water and just focus on handing out the life-jackets, grabbing hold of the reaching hands that want help? Maybe we can start working together to find and build places of refuge where we can minister to people’s needs. Maybe we can show love and acceptance as the very first and ideally the very best non-traditional family out there – without changing our morals, but without using them as weapons, either.

There’s no room on a life raft for a picket sign.

Playing Favorites

Happy Labor Day in America. It’s time for a

Monday Morning Snack

There was reclining on  Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples,  whom Jesus loved. – John 13:23 NASB

OM NOM NOM
Goes best with a cup of steaming coffee.
Coffee not included in price of purchase.

If you ever want to learn how to make things fair in life, have more than one child.

It seems no matter how hard we try, one of our four children is always wondering why he or she has it worse than everybody else, and why some sibling gets it so easy.

“My chores are the worst!”

“She got to play the XBox for a long time!”

“He got to go to his friend’s house, why can’t I?”

“IT’S NOT FAIR!”

I don’t feel too bad. If Jesus’ own disciples bickered and accused Him of playing favorites, then I figure this is a normal fact of life.

In the Gospel of John, the writer (John… shocking, I know) uses the phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved” five times to refer to himself.

Maybe it was humility; he didn’t want to write his name in the account, like “me me me, look at me.” But it kind of comes across to my ears as a proud statement. “I’m the favorite. I’m the one He loves. Neenur neenur neenur, you’re just plain ol’ Peter.

But maybe this phrase is neither humble nor proud.

Maybe it’s a statement of a wonderful and incredible fact.

John understood. He really got it. John’s the one who later writes all about love in the church (read 1st John). He’s the one who emphasizes over and over again that Christ’s followers are “beloved of God” – and he even uses “beloved” as the collective title for his readers.

Beloved means dear to the heart, favored, favorite one. To call myself beloved of God speaks of confidence about His love, security and certainty that “He likes me… He really, really likes me.”

That’s not arrogant, either.

It is arrogant when we add “more than you” either consciously or unconsciously. It is arrogant if we presume to add “but not you” when we think of some group we don’t like. It’s foolish for us to think God should limit His love to suit our desires.

But we can confidently say that we are beloved of God, dear to His heart, favored and special to Him.

Why?

Because He said so.

You’re His “prized possession” and “special treasure.” You are recipients of “great love lavished on us” by God, an unconquerable and inseparable love.

It pains my heart when my wife apologizes or worries needlessly whenever I seem frustrated or upset by anything. It hurts when my children say they are afraid to admit a bad decision for fear that “Daddy might get upset.” That tells me that I have not fully communicated to them the unchanging and unconditional love in my heart. They don’t understand that each of them is my absolute favorite. Each of them holds captive the full measure of my love. So, in my imperfection, I must work to communicate that more clearly.

God, on the other hand, has communicated His love. He has told you that you are His beloved, you are His treasure, you are the one He loves. When He plays favorites, we all win.

Say to yourself, “I am the one He loves.”

Chew on that for a bit.

Morning Snack #2

35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? – Romans 8:35-36 NASB

OM NOM NOM
Fig Newtestaments, maybe?

I’m thinking of this verse, pondering the greatness of the love of Christ, and remembering the past/present/future style of the first Morning Snack.

There’s nothing in my past that can disqualify me.

“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…” Romans 5:8 (and here’s the passage in the Message).

“…anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone…” 2nd Corinthians 5:17 (MSG)

If God showed us such love when we were His enemies, cut off from Him by our sins… what makes me think He’s going to not accept me now that I belong to Him?

There’s nothing in my present that can separate me.

“I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5 (NASB, but here’s the Message again)

“I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” Galatians 2:20 (here in context)

You can’t get un-crucified. There’s no take-backs. If you came to Christ, He is in you, and God has a “No Return” policy.

There’s nothing in my future that can overwhelm me.

“In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NASB)

“Greater is he who is in you than he that is in the world.” 1st John 4:4 (NASB).

God grants us grace that trains us to say, “No” to sin and He limits the strength of the temptations and trials we face.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. – Romans 8:38-39. 

Think of the Children

I’m usually a pretty calm person, especially when it comes to dealing with other people. It takes a lot for someone to really get under my skin.

I do have my moments. Technology that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to, for example, is like turning on a flamethrower in my chest. (I’m looking at you, Microsoft products, with all the ways you try to ‘help’ me by complicating the simplest tasks.)

My dog peeing everywhere, just brazen and unashamed. Yeah, that gets me ‘perturbed.’

But mostly, I keep calm and drink my coffee.

One thing that does get on my nerves is when people spew venom in the name of Christ.

I really hate it when they use children as their excuse.

I really, really hate it when they look right past their own faults to point at the faults of others.

You can’t expect mercy for your sins while proclaiming judgment on everyone else’s.

(I probably hate that because I’m often guilty of that myself.)

So… at some point or other I got signed up for a “defend marriage as one man and one woman” page on Facebook. I only recently noticed some of the stuff they post in pursuit of their cause.

I’ve gotten into it with the faceless individual(s) behind the page. Every now and then, someone says something completely asinine, and I feel compelled to share a reasonable voice with a logical counterpoint to the ignorance. It would be one thing if people were having thoughtful discussions and clarifying how their beliefs intersect with government and freedom and tolerance and all that. Most everyone I know is willing to admit we may not all agree, but we can disagree in a civil manner and hopefully all learn something from the debate.

Not everyone seems so inclined.

This little tragedy of grammar and graphics got posted on my wall today:

I’m not posting this because I agree with the image. First off, I can’t agree with incorrect word choice and terrible cut-and-paste graphics…

I don’t know why, but I happened to read the ten comments on the picture.

It was like a religious frat party, with people giving each other textual fist bumps by reminding everyone about God’s original plan for marriage and how sad it would be when the child eventually says, “I wish I had a father.” Someone ridiculed the smiling faces, conveying the tragic nature of this hypothetical union and its dangerous impact on the child’s development. Someone simply responded with, “Oh, barf!!!!!”

I’ll leave aside the fact that there are children being raised by gay couples around the world and not all of them are collapsing under the burden of self-loathing or grief. Both sides will point to various “experts” with studies that “prove” that gay couples raising children is “no harm done” OR there is irreparable damage. Whatever. Let’s just agree that there are a lot of kids out there who are going to grow up with two mommies or daddies (yes, this is a proper time to use the plural ‘daddies’).

And they’ll be just fine.

There was one voice of reason, who made the outrageous and satanic comment that “Making fun of gays is not going to help. This is a serious issue and a heated debate which deserves a thoughtful response. Insulting people is only going to burn bridges.”

One voice out of ten.

You can’t hear my sigh, but trust me, it’s a long one. (My wife can attest to this.)

The response from the page?

“We don’t believe putting adult lusts above the needs of children deserves consideration.”

Those dirty gays, sacrificing the souls of impressionable young kids on the altar of desire! /sarcasm

Full disclosure: I’m Christian, if you didn’t get that yet. I believe what the Bible says, though I understand a lot of it comes down to interpretation and theological debate. And the Bible seems to clearly identify homosexual activity as a sin.

But that’s not all it addresses.

What do I mean by that? I’ll let my response on Facebook to that picture speak for itself:

“Putting adult lusts above the needs of children is terrible, but people do it all the time. It’s just their sins are heterosexual. Or perhaps just gluttony, or alcoholism. Maybe it’s simple neglect. Maybe even it’s how some parents worship their work or ministry by devoting all their time and attention to those things while forsaking their responsibilities to their children.

“Maybe it’s the arrogance of adult Christians who forget that they’re looking down on the needs of some children out there, children who think they’re gay, who know they’re different from most everyone else, who absolutely know without any doubt that the Church is the very last place they’ll find love or acceptance (and I don’t mean acceptance of sin, but acceptance of them as a human being worthy of Christ’s sacrificial love expressed through us).

“Maybe our need to communicate how disgusting homosexuality is gets in the way of God’s desire to communicate to THEM how incredibly powerful and merciful and life-changing His love is, and maybe it gets in the way of His desire to communicate to us that in His holy sight all our sin is just as repulsive and ‘barf-worthy’ as theirs. ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’ doesn’t mean much if we don’t do it.”
I don’t want to abuse God’s mercy or call sin ‘righteous.’ That’s not within my purview.

I haven’t torn out any passages in my Bible that claim homosexuality is a sin.

The difference is that I’m paying attention to the rest of the passages too.

What If…

What if Abraham Lincoln was really a vampire hunter?

Oh, they’ve done that, have they?

A “What If?” comic

One of my favorite comic series growing up was “What If?” comics by Marvel.

They’d take key story lines from their most popular characters’ series, and then change one decision, one action, one coincidence. The rest of the book would tell you what would happen if, say, the popular jock got bit by the radioactive spider instead of nerdy Peter Parker… or if Wolverine’s girlfriend(s) never died… or if Victor Von Doom was part of the Fantastic Four instead of being the villain.

Sci-fi shows like Star Trek often use time travel to create a “What if?” of their own. There are series of novels exploring what-ifs. What if World War II was interrupted by an alien invasion, and the various powers of the world had to come together to fight back?

If all of that is too geek-chic for your tastes, a perfect example is It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey explores the question, “What if I was never born?”

Maybe it’s all the Chick-Fil-A and Jim Henson Company pics on Facebook…

But I have been thinking about a “What If?” for a while now.

What if it is scientifically proven that homosexuality is a genetic trait?

Now, I know many of those who might read this are probably convinced that it is genetic, or at least, not a choice.

I also know many people who are convinced it is a choice – at least on some important level.

Individuals being the strange and unique creatures that they are, I doubt that there will ever be conclusive universal proof one way or another. Our internal motivations are a whole mix of genetics, environment, outside influences, and past experiences.

But my point is, even though there’s no “conclusive” evidence on the subject yet, the consensus is forming quickly that in many cases, sexual orientation isn’t something we up and choose.

What does the church do with that?

I think we have a few options.

If I don’t believe it, it’ll go away.

1) Go full ostrich. This, I fear, is our default position. “Science is a conspiracy of well-meaning but misguided atheists who were trained in liberal colleges to reject God and accept whatever the Leftists tell them.”

But you’re reading this on a computer or perhaps a cellular phone, accessing my published rants across streams of information being transmitted over fiber optic cable or simply through the air from your 4G network… all brought to you by the advances of, yes, science.

That science is ok. The science that appears to disagree with the Bible is bad.”

It should go without saying that ignoring reality is a poor plan. But I’ll use a biblical example to make a point about healthy faith instead. Look at Abraham: he knew what God said about him having a child was nigh impossible. He considered his aged body and that of his wife. But he also knew that God promised, so he trusted what God said. (See Romans 4:17-21 or so… or read in Genesis from chapters 12 through 22 for the full story.)

Abraham didn’t ignore reality or “faith” it all away. Neither should we.

2) Abandon our position. We could always edit our Bibles, stop preaching about homosexuality, and give up political causes concerning “defending” traditional marriage. I’m sure some would appreciate this greatly. If we’re not vilified for “hate speech,” we’re mocked for backwards, ignorant, Bronze-Age religious standards. Forty years from now, the church’s crusade against homosexuality today may look like how we now view those who railed against interracial marriage in the sixties.

That said, our calling is not to adjust ourselves to whatever the majority believes. We’re not to be conformed to the world, but transformed by God so that we can show His love to the world.

3) Examine our position. There are several theological arguments concerning translation and context for verses that, on the surface, condemn homosexuality. It can’t hurt to double-check our sources and see if maybe we’ve missed something along the way. We may claim that God’s Word is perfect, but we also proclaim that we are not. As we learn more about the world around us, it makes sense to consider how that might affect what we have always “known.”

Religion is notoriously difficult (as in impossible) to prove. Much as we’d all desire it, God hasn’t shown up on CNN and Fox to announce His presence and put all the debate to rest.

For the Christian, we’ll say, “The Word of God and the incarnation of Christ is all the proof people need.”

But it’s not.

It’s more than enough for some, and rational arguments can be made. But God isn’t known for cooperating in scientific experiments or providing empirical proof, and that is what some people genuinely expect.

If we’re convinced we know it all, to the extent that we don’t ever need to question or reconsider any subject, then we’ve missed some of the mystery and majesty of the God we claim to serve. Check the “Love chapter” in 1st Corinthians 13. We only know in part. We haven’t achieved perfection, and we don’t know God the way He knows us. So if you have been led to believe that “the perfect” in that chapter is the Bible, well… look around. We’re not there yet.

Hey bud, God’s against gluttony too. So… three fingers pointing back at you, I guess.

4) Adjust our priorities. Maybe this issue could stop being the focus of so much political or cultural effort. We don’t picket against fat people, even though gluttony is a sin. (For many of us, myself included, the hypocrisy would be too obvious.) We don’t picket against nonbelievers, be they atheists or adherents of some other religion. We don’t hold rallies against arrogance or greed (two sins that probably deserve a lot more hellfire-n-brimstone preaching in the West).

Perhaps we could stop caring about whether someone is gay, and start caring about that someone.

“But they have to know what the Bible says about their sin!”

First, it’s not a secret. Second, I know a lot of proud people, and selfish people, and angry people. I know rude people and promiscuous people. I know people who steal and people who lie and people who just don’t care about anyone else. That doesn’t mean I rage against them. I’m supposed to love them regardless, and I try to do so.

Third, and most important,  the Lord knows I still struggle with a bunch of my own sins, and I do know what the Bible says.

I find I benefit more by learning about the grace and mercy of a holy God that reaches out to me in spite of my sin. That inspires me to live better.

I assume the same is true of others. It’s that whole Golden Rule thing.

Hey, I thought of another “What if?”

What if we cared more about people than about what those people do?

That would be a story worth telling.

Song: Jesus the Righteous

He was the man who ended an epidemic with no thought for his own gain.

In 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk went public with news of the success of a polio vaccine.

Three years earlier, there was a severe outbreak of polio, the worst in U.S. History. About 58,000 cases were reported that year. But polio was an ongoing crisis affecting America and other nations long before that.

Epidemics of polio had become regular events, usually in the summer. The disease caused paralysis and death for thousands of people, mostly children.

A 2009 PBS documentary described the disease as the second greatest fear affecting Americans, behind the atomic bomb.

Salk conducted a trial of his hopeful vaccine that was the first of its kind, with 300,000 workers of various types and 1.8 million children in the experiment. The polio vaccines he and others developed are credited with reducing polio cases from about 100,000 per year to under 1,000.

He was hailed as a miracle worker. His goal was prevention and cure, not profit. Regarding a patent on the vaccine, he is quoted in a 1990 televised interview as saying, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

Such selflessness and compassion is impressive.

Such a hope in the midst of despair was worth celebrating.

“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” (1st John 2:1-2 NKJV)

“Propitiation” is a big and unfamiliar word. It means “to gain or regain the favor or goodwill of.” It is the atoning sacrifice for wrongdoing, the paying of the debt owed as a result of reckless or harmful action.

The Bible teaches that humanity is broken, crippled and riddled with a disease of the spirit called sin. We were created for fellowship with God. But the wrong that we do–and more than that, the way our hearts have been twisted and warped away from our original design–separates us from God.

Jesus didn’t just create the vaccine for sin.

Jesus Christ, the solution to the epidemic of sin

He IS the vaccine.

He’s the cure to the disease, the solution to the epidemic, the answer to a worldwide problem… a problem that doesn’t just affect some of us, but affects every man, woman, and child on Earth.

The Message paraphrase puts 1st John 2:2 this way:

“When he served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good—not only ours, but the whole world’s.”

Like Dr. Salk referring to the patent, this spiritual vaccine is for everyone. There’s not a person on Earth who is exempt from the offer.

Where does this put us?

Some who have received this “vaccine” may act as if they are more loved, more deserving, more important, or simply better than everyone else. This is foolish. I’m not a better person than anyone else just because I got a flu shot (or a polio vaccine). If I think I have somehow earned God’s favor or deserved this gift of grace, then it’s no longer a gift, really. It becomes a wage I think I’ve earned by what I’ve done, and Scripture is clear about what we’ve earned by what we’ve done. (Spoilers: Rom 6:23 – the wages of sin is death.)

Some who have not received or even do not desire this ‘vaccine’ act as if Christians all look on nonbelievers with a sense of superiority. “Oh you benighted fools, who have not been cured of your sin. How sad for you, who do not know how bad off you are… Too bad you’re not as wise or spiritual as we are, who have received this medicine for our souls!”

I assure you, that’s not what we (generally) think. That’s not how we feel. Like I said, there may be some who act this way, but they miss the entire point of the Good News — GRACE.

God’s grace is amazing. It takes us, cleans us up, adopts us into His family, and begins the work of changing us into what God has designed us to be. We have hope that one day we’ll be like Christ, and we have power through grace that says that today we can be like Him. His love is transforming us; it has cured us of the disease of sin, and it works now to abolish the effects of sin on our lives. More than that, it strengthens us and inoculates us so that we can be spiritually healthy from now on.

That’s something worth singing about.

Link to SoundCloud: Jesus the Righteous
(Warning: there’s a lot more guitar and noise on this one compared to previous songs.)

What incredible love You have shown, bestowed on me

That I should be named and counted among the children of God

Now I have this awesome hope, one day I’ll be like You

Purify me, Lord, cleanse me, make me new

 

Jesus the Righteous, the atoning sacrifice

Taking away my sins and the sins of the world

Jesus the Righteous, You came to give me life

Now may I glorify You in everything that I do

Jesus the Righteous

 

What incredible power to transform and make complete

The work of the cross, the hope of glory, Christ in me

Now I have this awesome grace, today I’ll be like You

Teach me, train me Lord, as I follow You

 

Now I have this awesome love, it’s making me like You

My Savior and my Friend, I live to worship You