Sometimes I’m Sad

… that I can’t be the kind of Christian everyone expects. You know?

The kind with a contemporary Christian hymn in their hearts all the time. The kind who is always eager to tell someone about Jesus at the first excuse. The kind who goes to church faithfully, every time the door is open. The kind who gives generously every week he attends. The kind that can vote a certain way with no qualms in their conscience. The kind who believe God is in control of every minute detail all the time because He chooses to be. The kind whose kids turn out the way everyone expected them to. The kind who doesn’t question the traditions. The kind who gets along.

But that’s just not me. Some of those things were never me; I just didn’t make a big deal about them.

The fact is, I can’t be that kind of Christian. And I won’t pretend.

I’d rather be genuinely me than someone who says and does what must be done to fit in.

The contemporary Christian hymns — frankly, all the songs sung at church — are not the comfort they once were. They remind me of my departed Angi, who loved them and had them in her heart all the time and listened to them in the car and on her iPhone in the office. And that just raises difficult questions for me about God’s goodness that nobody actually has answers for, so it makes the faith and the trust in Him that I still have even more difficult.

My eagerness to share a gospel message is not what it was. For one thing, people find it off-putting and self-righteous and often not credible from people who can’t live up to it, and I am one of those far-from-perfect people. I’ll be glad to tell anyone who asks about the reason for the hope that lies within me (to put it in scriptural language), but most of the time it’s all I can do to try to be like Jesus of Nazareth. I used to preach. Now it’s just a matter of practice. In this case, practice won’t make perfect. He has to do that. I get that. I grasp the concept of grace, even if I can’t fathom the depths of it.

And I haven’t been to church but a couple of times in the past two years and more. I have questions and concerns about what church is and should be and how it’s done and what its purpose and expectations are that far exceed the word count of a readable post.

Giving to support some of those things I’m not sure I can believe in … well, that’s just not an option right now. I can give to support people I know who are in genuine need; I can give in other ways in total anonymity; I can give to the kinds of things that Jesus of Nazareth talks about giving to support. Did you ever notice He never once talked about giving to His church in scripture?

Frankly, I am horrified at the political tack that churches have taken to support a particular party and even economic/social ideology that I often find antithetical to the life that He lived and the way He loved and the extent to which He gave … even to His own life. For people who never earned it, never worked for it, never could, never will.

Because I can’t believe God shows favoritism, to rich or poor, one skin color over another, one ethnicity over another, one set of life choices over another, one religion over another, one soul over another. If He loves the whole world, then the Son He gave is for everyone. But God as micro-manager? Undoing everything in some karmic cosmic way that intentionally harms some people to the benefit of others; that’s one thing. But to undo the real-world consequences of it as if that doesn’t matter in this world at all? No. I can’t vote that way or believe that way because He doesn’t operate that way. Whether you take the story of Eden literally or not, the gist of it is that He gave us choice in the very beginning and He doesn’t interfere with the consequences and rewards of what we have chosen. Others might, but not Him. Evil still exists in this world because we still choose it; we choose self instead of others and Him. And that’s why there’s still death in the world, why there’s still suffering in the world, why there’s still inequity and hatred and greed and poverty and illness and crime and murder and bigotry and ….

Well, you get the idea. I don’t have all the answers. But that much seems obvious.

I choose. You choose. Our kids choose. Their kids choose. And we’re responsible for our own choices; no one else’s. I’m glad and proud that my kids are into adulthood, still forming their own spirituality just like their dad is. I’m proud that Angi and I helped instill and nurture a yearning for a deep spirituality in them. I can hope it leads them into good lives that care deeply about others. So far, it’s looking that way to me. What they do for a living, as far as I’m concerned, is relatively inconsequential compared to how they live their lives.

If they turn out anything like me, they’ll never accept tradition for the sake of tradition; never choose to go along just to get along; never be solely what someone else expects of them.

But sometimes I’m sad I can’t.

Rarely. But sometimes.

Because that would be easy.

I Am Too Comfortable

I write. My degree is in journalism. So I guess there is something inherently journalistic in what I do: journaling my spiritual journey in this blog as if it were a free-distribution newspaper. More than a hundred years ago, Finley Peter Dunn said, “The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

I think there is something inherently Christlike in the practice of comforting and afflicting, too – which is one of the reasons I pursue it.

And one of the areas in which the Lord and His early followers were consistent and persistent in comforting and afflicting was talking about giving to the poor – then actually doing it.

I know, I know. I’ve heard all the rationalizations: “if you give to the poor, they’ll take and never earn.” “Charity is the best way to promote poverty.” “The poor you always have with you.” (As if that’s an excuse to ignore them. Jesus’ quote here was to emphasize His shrinking longevity with His friends; not to provide an excuse not to give to those in need.)

Look how very different the view from century one was from that of century twenty-one:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” – Luke 4:18a

Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” – Luke 6:20 (not ‘poor in spirit’ here; just ‘poor.’)

“But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.” – Luke 11:41.

“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” – Luke 12:33

“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” – Luke 14:13-14

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” – Luke 19:8

“I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.” – Luke 21:3

Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. – John 13:29

“Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” – Acts 2:45

In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. – Acts 9:36

Cornelius answered: “Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor.’ ” – Acts 10:30-31

(Paul before Felix): “After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings.” – Acts 24:17

“For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.” – Romans 15:26

As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” – 2 Corinthians 9:9

“All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” – Galatians 2:10

“Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?” – James 2:5-6

Helping the poor in century one was so vitally important that it became a cornerstone of living worship and service among the loyal followers of Jesus. They didn’t argue about what was authorized in worship; they knew. Giving to the poor was authorized. And it was a sore-thumb-obvious sign of apostasy from that paradigm when they gobbled down a fellowship meal before the poor had arrived, or relegated them to lower-class seating when the church assembled.

It was a signal that something had gone terribly wrong when wealthy Christians were uncomfortable around the less-blessed.

I am so comfortable in my life that reading these verses and writing this post makes me extremely uncomfortable.

What did they know back then that we don’t know now?

Or, perhaps the question is, Whom?

If The Shoe Fits …

Okay, I’m angry. I am ticked off. I’m trying not to be, but every time I think about it, I just get royally you-know-what.

In the past few weeks, I’ve heard it from two godly men whom I respect in my church that there are members who have told them they are not giving – or are giving less – because they don’t agree with what the elders or doing or how they are leading or the direction the congregation is taking or somesuch.

(That, in spite of the fact that there are other members – LOTS of other members – who are giving with extraordinary faithfulness to help meet the deficit between what we promised to give and what we have actually been giving.)

Thankfully, I don’t know who those disapproving members are.

Because I would really like to ask them a few questions. Like,

  • When someone in your family gets sick or has an accident or passes away, do you disagree with the elders visiting and comforting and blessing your family?
  • Do you disagree with them counseling couples who only come to them when they’re on the thin edge of divorce, or letting young single mothers know that they are loved and a treasured part of the church family, or making the rounds of the nursery wards and the nursing homes?
  • Do you disagree with them praying for you and your other brothers and sisters in Christ at our church – all 1,900 of them? Because those things are what most of their time spent as elders involves.
  • How is your position significantly different from the doctrine of Corban?
  • Does the Bible instruct you to vote with your wallet? Or to set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income?
  • Does it ask, “Will a man rob the elders of the people?” Or does it ask “Will a man rob God?”
  • Does it tell you that you watch over your leaders as if you were to give an account for them? Or vice-versa?

I’m not saying elders are perfect. Nobody’s saying that. But they are worthy of double honor, and have authority vested in them by the Lord. They are to teach and help you interpret God’s word – and if there’s anything that God’s word is clear about, it’s giving.

We need to do it. Generously. Gratefully. Unreservedly. Unselfishly.

It’s true for you. It’s true for me.

On this business of giving, we all need to decide whether we’re going to be hot or cold; whether we’re going to be loving or stingy; whether we’re going to fish or cut bait.

Ain’t no half-way about it.

And while I’m on the subject, why not try praying for your elders more and criticizing them behind their backs less? Why not take your complaint to them and pray with them about it? How about just accepting the answer they give you whether you agree with it or not because it just might affect more deeply someone whose relationship to God is less secure than yours?

Whattya say to that, huh?

I’ve said my piece.

If the shoe fits, wear its bootprint on your butt.

Just like I need to.

A Neglected Spiritual Discipline

I really like Pilgrim Heart by Darryl Tippens. If I haven’t mentioned it before, or you haven’t been able to gather that from the fact that Angi and I and some other folks wrote a Group Guide to it, let me just come right out and say it:

I really like Darryl Tippens’ Pilgrim Heart. It introduces the community aspects of the spiritual disciplines that other terrific works – like Richard Foster’s classic Celebration of Discipline only touch upon, concentrating on the vertical relationship between the individual and Creator.

Darryl’s 17-week study explores these disciplines:

  • Emptying
  • Welcoming (Hospitality)
  • Resting (a two-part study, because of our need for it and neglect of it)
  • Befriending
  • Confessing
  • Forgiving
  • Listening
  • Discerning
  • Singing
  • Creating
  • Feasting
  • Reading and Storytelling
  • Suffering
  • Seeking

I mean no criticism – in fact, look at how many of those disciplines are community-based! – but if I could add one more discipline and unbalance a perfectly wonderful 17-week, 1-quarter adult education study work …

… I would add “Giving.”

It is the back half of Thanksgiving, the spirit of which inspires this national day of rest, friendship, feasting and maybe four or five of the other disciplines bulleted above. (Including “suffering,” after that 5,000-7,000 calorie meal. But that’s a whole different kind of suffering!)

Let me just share a few scriptures without comment, and you decide if my suggestion would be a worthy addition:

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. – Matthew 5:42

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. ~ Luke 6:38

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:2-4

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. ~ Luke 12:33 (but you knew I’d include this one!)

Freely you have received, freely give. ~ Matthew 10:8b

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward. ~ Matthew 10:42

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. ~ Matthew 23:23

I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward. ~ Mark 9:41

Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him. ~ Mark 12:17

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” ~ Luke 19:8

In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. ~ Luke 14:33

To quote a blog comment I often see (and sometimes leave):


Sell Your Possessions

A couple of weeks ago, after my preaching minister went on sabbatical, I was asked by my involvement minister if I’d like to speak on a Sunday evening. I said yes, and that Sunday evening was last night.

I wanted to let my church family know a little about what I do; that I work with a lot of terrific people; and that we’re all ministers in service to God – whether employed by the church and titled “minister” or not.

I also wanted to share something that’s been on my heart, something I’ve wanted to blog about for months and be able to say that I’ve struggled with and conquered and have an answer to.

But I don’t.

The message I shared was a more grown-up version of the one I had shared with the children of many of them who attend the Christian school with a campus at our church facility; one I blogged about as What the Rich Man Lacked.

You can listen to it here or download it as an mp3 here.

I went too long. I spoke too much. I should have stuck to the condensed, kids’ version.

Still, I was able to share a burden that has been weighing on me for some time now.

Jesus said, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” (Luke 12:33-34)

Was it a command? A suggestion? A gift that, if accepted, would bless our lives with the joy of sacrificial giving – experienced first-hand?

I don’t have the answer yet.

All I know is that Jesus said it.

And I have never done it.