Thursday, June 18, 2009

Eyes

Put yourself in my shoes. Isn’t this a very cliché statement? As often said it is even more rarely put into practice. Honestly. How can I ever do that? I cannot experience stimuli in the same manner another does because my make up is different, we are all unique. Something God has broken my heart for when I moved up here is for those who do not truly know Jesus because they reject His crazy followers and their man-made institutions, religion. Because of where I typically spend my free time and the area of town that I frequent most I have had most frequent contact with the homosexual population downtown. I’ll admit when I first moved from inner city of good ol’ southern, conservative Jacksonville, FL I was a bit shell shocked by diversity I had not experienced in my previous location. I have actually become friends with many people who are homosexual and must say they are some of the nicest people I know, very genuine, authentic human beings. As I have begun to care about this population I have really become cynical of how Christians have treated them as people. I never experienced what they have because I’m not a homosexual, but little did I know soon I would. Jake and I were looking for ways to just get involved with the Indy Pride Festival this year because there was way too many protestors and not enough Jesus lovers there. We finally got involved with the trash crew and picked up trash from 2 until midnight.

Maybe my mind was playing tricks on me, the exhaustion from heaving the heavy bag of trash over my head into the monstrous dumpster behind me as the trash grease dripped down my head may have had something to do with it too. I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing and hearing, I didn’t want to truly believe I was experiencing reality instead of some other realm of delirium. Unfortunately, I was actually live, on site, for the evangelism meltdown of the year. I look over and there is a young man, about my age, standing on the corner holding his Bible open, nice khaki pants with a tucked in blue polo shirt, yelling at the top of his lungs across the streets to his imagined audience. I say imagined audience because a speaker fails if he does not have a listener to comprehend his message, so this gentleman must have had a very creative imagination to believe his “preaching” was worth while. I just stood there covered in sweat and trash grease, wearing ugly shorts and some incredibly fresh gardening gloves with my hands to my side shaking me head. I watched as he drew a growing number of critiques who just watched and shook there heads as well. I was a Christian on the side that he was yelling at and I felt a little offended. I walked across the street to listen to him and see if what He was saying was even accurate (I’m a very big critique of anyone teaching from the Bible because this is one of my strengths). One man walks across the street to him who is quite large and in shape and steps up to this guy looking like he was going to punch him, so I was well prepared to catch this preacher man as he fell to the ground. Luckily that is not what happened and this guy calmly says, “Don’t you find it funny that you are the only one angry and yelling?” and then walks away.

I was talking with another friend who was there doing” evangelism” and he was actually taking side with this guy, saying that what he was saying was Biblically true. Here was my response, “But what about Ephesians 4 and 5?” Go ahead and check it out for yourself. My point is that there is an appropriate time and place for things to be said. You have to consider your audience, atmosphere, and other things before you speak. Obviously, his message was falling on deaf ears because all they saw was an angry guy telling them how wrong they were in the midst of their celebrating how they are (for a lack of better words). Not good timing friend. Then I saw a nice African American group peacefully handing out tracts that say salvation is free. When they were asked to leave because they did not have a booth or rent space, but just walked in the event and planted themselves in the middle of a walkway, one of the ladies makes a huge scene, yelling at the police officer. I thought to myself as I watched this, man, whatever you were trying to do good for Jesus was just ruined and everything you’ve said and done all day was just invalidated.

I got to see things from a different perspective, literally. I am convinced that what the world needs first is salvation, then sanctification, there is a huge difference. You don’t start by telling people to stop sinning, you tell them God loves them and wants to forgive them, and then God will work it out with them. We’ve got this thing all wrong. I think that the way Christians have presented themselves (ourselves) to this population specifically is horribly inaccurate of the people we should actually be if we are following Jesus. I apologize to any person that is a homosexual and have been mistreated by the church or those who call themselves Christians. The reality is that Jesus loves anyone where they are, there is no cleaning up process before we can experience His forgiveness and love. You do not have to change to earn God’s love, it is a free gift. How you live your life once you submit yourself to Jesus is something you will be held accountable for. I’m sorry we have come across as yelling, condemning, angry people. I thank God for the opportunity to be involved at Indy Pride 2009 and for giving me a new set of eyes to look through. Shouldn’t we consider the eyes of others more than our own? How do others see or view Christ, that is important!

Woe to You!

It is weird what God is showing me right now, it’s weird how disgusted with people I’m supposed to have something in common with, and it’s weird that I even have to write this blog. I worked the Indy Pride Festival this year, just walking around a picking up trash. Although a little uncomfortable at first because of differences, I had a great time and enjoyed the nice people, for the most part. On a street corner across from where this was happening though I saw a “preacher” yelling at everyone about their sin. I have been following and participating in this online community of bloggers on The Boundless Line and found myself personally offended and ashamed of even being a part of their community. I’ll post this link for you because I think you should read the blog and all the responses for yourself, this may take a while, but well worth it.

http://www.boundlessline.org/2009/06/ranting-tormented-by-sexual-sin.html

Here is what I see, a young man, who is in leadership at a church, crying out for help because he struggles with sexual sin. As I read the responses to this problem all I saw was judgment and condemnation. There were no signs of grace whatsoever. I am very concerned and broken hearted over a truth I have seen over the last year or so journey God has been taking me on. The American gospel goes a little something like this, “Change your ways and be perfect like us, then you will know Jesus and be saved.” So much, too much, emphasis is put on change and sin. Before you go assuming things, let me clarify what that does not mean. That does not mean living a sinful life is within God’s will, that does not mean I condone any sin or think it should be dismissed so easily, that does not mean that once you know Jesus you should live any kind of lifestyle and sin all you want, abusing the grace of God. Justin Timberlake asked it in a very artistic way when he sung, “Where is the love?” Is the point of following Jesus to just do good? Is this really about how much good I can do and how much bad I can avoid? If that is what this is all about I want out! If the point is living a life that is good and perfect then what is the point of Jesus at all? Christians assume if someone is sinning that they are not saved. Christians assume that if someone is not in a church ministry that they are not serving. Christians assume that if a person’s faith looks different than the majority then something is wrong with it. You know what I say about all these assumptions…I think all these assumptions are what make me cringe to even call myself a Christian. Not because I don’t want to be a little Christ, for that is what the word means, literally, but because I do not want to be affiliated with such a religion that hurts people and oppresses people with a message that is meant to be liberating.

Who are we to condemn sin? If we are to be like Jesus shouldn’t we follow His example?
John 8:1-11. Jesus does not condemn this lady, he tells the crowd after that who He is, the Christ, the one who will forgive sins for good.

I’m so tired of having to feel like I fit in with the people who have the same faith as I do, what if their wrong? I know for sure most are. The American Church is bigger and stronger than the Roman Empire could ever have dreamed of. We think we have it all together when in truth we are all too cowardly to admit we don’t, we are too prideful to admit our need for forgiveness and to follow the example Jesus set. So instead of admitting brokenness we cover it up with a faux perfection that we project onto others, who will always disappoint (because no one can be perfect) and thus become more concerned with someone being imperfect or good enough than we do with them knowing the love of Christ. I think if Jesus were here today He would do what He did back in Matthew 23.

Woe to you, you shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces.


Woe to you, you travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell.


Woe to you, blind guides!


Woe to you, you hypocrites, you give a tenth of what you have, but you neglect the more important matters, like justice, mercy, and faithfulness.


Woe to you, you clean the outside of the cup, but the inside is filthy, like beautiful whitewashed tombstones, beautiful on the outside, but dead within.


You snakes, you brood of vipers!


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Perceptions

Too many avoid answering an important question that should help shape them. How am I perceived? The initial response to this is, “who cares,” but stick with me and you’ll see what I mean, what just hit me. Everyone has an image in their head of who they are. Most times people’s images are not correct because they focus on who they think they are than what or who they truly are. I just got off a conference call with my boss and think that I was getting a call from God instead. My boss is not God, but the points we spoke of brought a ton to the forefront of my mind and truly troubled my spirit. The main thought or question that was driven home was very simple, but still has me reeling, “Are you who you think/say you are?”

Are you who you think you are? Are you who you say you are?

I think before one can respond accurately one must define who they actually think they are. Reacting to this inquiry can be painful though. Everyone has an image in their head of who they are. The question I am painfully exploring is just calling my own self image responsible to my actions or words. People’s self images are not correct because they focus on who they think they are and not what or who they truly are. No attention is ever paid to the way they are perceived by external, unbiased minds. I just got off a conference call with my boss and think that I was getting a call from God instead. My boss is not God, of course, but the points we spoke of brought a ton to the forefront of my mind and truly troubled my spirit. Am I who I say I am?

I have had this attitude toward my job and people at my office for quite some time now. My manager is not in the office to hold me directly accountable to things that I abuse, like lunch time, daily work hours, or down time. The first problem is that I would probably act differently if he were here to hold me accountable. The truth reveals itself when no one is there to reinforce something. It goes back to a simple question, “If I steal and no one catches me, is it wrong?” I can easily answer that question as an adult. It is when this questions morphs into areas other than thievery that has me so messed up though. If my boss was in my office would I show up late to work regularly? If my boss was in my office would I call out sick when I truly just don’t feel like getting out of bed? If I didn’t have someone to ask me what I was reading would I read? If I didn’t have the majority of Christians breathing down my throat to remain sexually pure, would I be? If I truly did care about someone would I yell at them and point out all their flaws? Is it wrong to steal if you don’t get caught? This question is a lot harder to answer now at the age of 25 when it applies to more abstract life issues though.

All this came from me thinking about how I am at work, listening to feedback from my manager, and noticing unspoken communication from others. I’d like to think I am a great co-worker, reliable, and ahead of standard. The truth is revealed in my action though. I show up to work late regularly, complete my tasks without reaching out to others, call out sick at will, have a negative/apathetic tone towards others, and have been easily frustrated most recently. I’d say based on my actions alone, my perception of who I think I am has no validity. A person is exactly who they show they are through words and deeds. The challenge is manning up and comparing the two. Isn’t it much easier to live in a fantasy world and believe in something that doesn’t exist than face reality? Comparing reality with your perception of reality can be and is a difficult exercise. Stop worrying so little about how others perceive you, they see your actions and hear your words, they don’t see your heart. They base their perception of reality on external factors that truly reveal the heart. They have a much more logical argument than you do, your perception of who you think or who you’d like to be doesn’t hold a candle stick to what others see and think.

So I’ll ask again, are you who you say/think you are? Ouch, what a hard thing to face. I think I am in a better place because of it, a broken place, and an honest place. May you face reality, be broken, and honest with yourself and God.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Monday Fun-day! Illumination!

It seems like the last two days have flown by. I know for sure as I crawled out of that building last night the last two days had taken their toll on me. What building and what went on that had me so exhausted? Good question. Sunday I was used to teach our small church family about the idea of isolation within the context of us going through spiritual lows. I wrote a blog about it also called Isolation is behind the tree. I spent the previous two weeks preparing for this message and at 1am on Sunday morning I was up talking to a friend and God revealed to me a totally new idea. I did not resist the change and went home and threw away all the messages I had prepared on this within the last two weeks. It was so clear what God had to say at that moment. I stayed up until 3:30am finishing it all up. I literally felt like I was pouring myself out as I was teaching. I was exhausted after it. The whole night from the teaching, to the worship music was awesome. My highlight was seeing Bethany stroll in with a couple girls from the local shelter that we volunteer at. She told me a story of how one of the girls looked at her and said that she needed to be there that night. Amazing!!! We stayed up pretty late celebrating all God had done that night. After riding my bike around the city with a friend we rode all the way up to another side of town to visit other friends. As I was preparing to leave I looked at a shelf on the bookshelf and everything was moving. I was so tired my eyes were playing tricks on me. The next day (Monday) was the climax of my exhaustion and being able to see God’s hand moving.

We’ve been planning this summer program, we have coined as Monday Fun-day!, and all the specifics for it for several months now. Last night it finally came, the opening night of Monday Fun-day! The girls wash feet, do pedicures and manicures, and just talk girl talk with the ladies at the shelter every Monday night, Ladies Night for them. During the school year the children have a program, but in the summer they typically go to child care. We were moved to step in and offer a hybrid mentoring program for the children, ages 5 and up for the 14 weeks of the summer. All the anticipation and planning accumulated last night and I stood speechless as the first mother brought her child in. What in the world had I gotten myself into? There is no turning back now! It’s is awesomely frightening to think God would use me and others to be in this shelter, especially working with the kids.

The night started a little slow, the energy was low, but before I could even think it picked up and we found ourselves with a room full of children from broken circumstances, children that often get looked over, children that most only see as a statistic, children God has broken my heart for. We had them decorate some picture frames we had with paint, we had an x-box and Nintendo Wii set up with racing and sports games, and a very popular ice cream station. A friend who is a very talented photographer came and took cool candid shots of each child that we will put in the frames they decorated and deliver to each mom/guardian. The ladies are either homeless or fleeing an abuser so most come to the shelter with nothing, including family photos. I had 9 volunteers show up to help be the love of Christ in this shelter! I delegated each volunteer to a task or station and watched what I think is a glimpse into what God intended when He breathed His love into us. A couple moments stick out in my mind from last night. A little girl came in crying and begging her mom to not make her go (to Monday Fun-day!), when I saw this I had no idea what to do, I don’t know what to do with grown women when they cry, much less a little girl. I asked one of the volunteers to help her and without hesitation she walks up to the girl and says, “What’s your name, do you like to paint?” The tears dried and that sad face turned into one of the brightest and most joyful by the end of the night. Another time we were all outside running around the play ground and I don’t know who started it, but one of the kids got on one of our backs. This started a mad dash to the closest volunteer and we all quickly found ourselves with a minimum of 3 kids hanging off of us, all just screaming laughing. After the group was over I talked to one of the girls that helps with Ladies Night and she said how cool it was to hear the mom’s talk about watching us with the kids.

It is funny to me how God can use a bunch of messed up adults to do things, like play tag, push a child in a swing, serve them ice cream, or do an art project with them, to bring His love into a place that can be seen as one of the darkest places in one’s life. Many see a homeless shelter or a domestic abuse shelter, many see kids that will just be a number, many people see a big problem, but I saw nothing but what I can only imagine the kingdom of Heaven will look like. I don’t know if the children got more out of it or me, but I know that God moved in a huge way last night! I can only imagine that God saw a huge light shining from that place last night, I’d image it was illuminating the heavenly realms and tightening His grasp on this city!

This has the power to change things, change people, reveal Christ, and make a grown man cry, as I did writing this. I pray you feel this at some point in your life, please pray for us as we follow God into what He is doing here!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Isolation is Behind the Tree

We’ve been going through this teaching series about going through spiritual funks or low moments at our church recently. I think it is important for us all to realize that low moments are natural and necessary. It is how we react or respond in these low periods or funks that is important. A common reaction to these funks is isolation. So here’s the simple idea, in one sentence:

Man isolates because he does not want to realize/face his brokenness.

Man isolates because he does not want to realize/face his brokenness.

Man isolates because he does not want to realize/face his brokenness.


Before I go any further let’s get our definitions right so we can understand each other. Isolation and seclusion are synonymous for my purposes. There is a difference between isolating or secluding yourself and just spending time alone for the sake of focusing or building up. Jesus taught and practiced separating yourself from the business of stuff to get with God. In Matthew 6 He is teaching His disciples to pray and says, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:6, TNIV).” In Matthew 26, before He was arrested, Jesus separated Himself to pray in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was all about getting in some quality or quiet time with God. There is a difference between that and isolation. The kind of separation and focus oriented parting He was practicing and teaching was to build up the individual and draw closer to God. The isolation and seclusion I am dealing with does the opposite and actually will separate us further from God.

Brokenness is a very broad term that can look like anything from as general as being a person who sins to as specific as hating your parents. The brokenness that man does not want to face may look very different and is very individualistic, but, nonetheless, is brokenness.

I wish I had some new thoughts, like this was some new revelation God is showing me, but the reality is that this separation, isolation, or seclusion from God is a bad habit we, humans, have and continue to repeat. We put ourselves through this vicious cycle of separation from God. It started in the beginning and continues today. Turn to Genesis Ch 3. God created man and saw that it was not good for him to be alone so he created a wife for Him. The three of them lived in this beautiful community of mutual love without sin. Deception happens and man falls away from God and this community. It is hard for me to comprehend what it would be like to hear God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, but that is exactly what Adam heard. When Adam heard this he hid from God. Genesis 3:8, “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. That word in Hebrew is chaba and means to withdraw from or draw back. So after Adam sinned he withdrew from God. In addition to withdrawing from God he also hid himself from his wife. They covered themselves from one another. This is the first separation we see between God, man, and the idea of community. This is where isolation and seclusion are born.
Why though? Why did Adam and his wife hid themselves? Pay attention to the conversation that happens between God and Adam now. Genesis 3:9-13, “But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?" He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" The man said, "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." Did you notice how Adam avoided just answering the question with a yes or no? Adam blamed Eve and then further implied it was God’s fault because He gave the woman to him. Eve then blamed the serpent. No one takes ownership, no one faces or accepts what they need to, they messed up, they sinned, they are now broken.
The hardest thing for me is to admit I am wrong. I like to be right. Isn’t it hard to admit that you hurt someone or that you messed up somewhere? Man from the beginning has had trouble with admitting he is wrong, taking responsibility that he is broken. So instead of admitting our wrong we invent ways of helping ourselves feel better, ways of making ourselves feel like we can do it, like we can get better or earn our ways back to being unbroken. We were created to be in perfect community with God and now w are not, this feels unnatural to us at our very core, so we naturally don’t like it and want to rely on ourselves to come up with ways to fix it. If we fix it then we can say we didn’t need God and ultimately are not that bad after all. We don’t like relying on God because that means we are not in control.
Here are a couple of examples of man making up ways or exhibiting his need to control and come up with ways on his own in order to avoid facing the fact that he is broken. Man simply never wants to rely on God. We’ve tried to build ourselves up to heaven. “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth (Genesis 11:4)." We just don’t want to rely on God for anything, we want to do it all ourselves. The entire time in the wilderness after they were freed from the Egyptian slavery they complained about wanting to go back. They actually say as they are wandering in the wilderness, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt (Exodus 16:3).” In Chapter 17 verse 3 the people ask Moses, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and live stock die of thirst?” We’d rather go back to slavery then have to depend on God. God separates us as His special people and we don’t want that, we want to do it ourselves so we ask for a king. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles (1 Samuel 8:19)." This is our history, this is our heritage, this is who we are. We do not want to depend on God. To depend on something means to acknowledge your own need. Man does not want to acknowledge his need because it would reveal his brokenness.
A man after God’s own heart was…most people will say David. Why? What made David different? David was just as broken as any of us here today, he actually may have done more screwed up things than any of us have actually done though. I think what made David such a man after God’s heart was that he was so open and honest with God about what he was going through or feeling, even if it wasn’t exactly comfortable. David openly admitted his brokenness. Take the next couple of minutes to open your Bibles to Psalm 51, 86, and 88. These Psalms all are open admissions of brokenness. Why do we feel like we can hide from God. God is all seeing and all knowing. Seems comical for a man to hide behind a tree from a God who sees everything right? Why do we think we can hide our thoughts or inner emotions from God then? It is less pleasing to God to not tell Him what you are honestly going through, admitting your brokenness, than any religious prayer with all the right words in it could ever be. We need to get comfortable with admitting openly that we are broken to God, He knows anyway, why try to hide. Don’t be that guy behind the tree, He sees you!

Why do we isolate ourselves from people then? Think about some people in your life right now that have at some point or another withdrawn form you, isolated themselves from you. The reason we isolate ourselves from people is because we don’t want to hear what they have to say. Within the church especially we do this because we don’t want to surround ourselves with people who will call things out in us because we don’t want to actually deal with it because we don’t want to admit our brokenness. It makes perfect sense then if I am tired of math that I will not go near a math teacher because all he is going to talk about is math. If I have something going on that I have not dealt with God about then I will not want to be around people who represent or follow Him because they will speak and act like Him.

Remember that community that we were created in back in Genesis? God’s plan is to redeem His creation. Sin messed everything up so God has been working from the beginning on fixing it for us because we can’t. God fixed the sin problem by allowing Jesus to die for our sins and conquer death. So now times have changed a bit and we no longer have a perfect garden and cannot be in the presence of God because He sent Jesus. Jesus is back in heaven preparing us our place so He left the Holy Spirit with us. The Holy Spirit empowered us to start the church, the community of faith that is Christ’s body. So now that community we once had with God has taken the form of the church. We are now to experience and be with God through the church, through His people. So when we withdraw or isolate from His people, it is His church that we withdraw from. Paul describes the church as a body. 1 Corinthians 12: 1-27 (page 1020) If I were to rip my heart out of my chest my body would die. If I were to take any organ out of my body, my entire body would be affected. Think about something as simple as an ear piercing. I got my ears plugged a couple weeks ago and my body has been trying to heal the wounds since. My entire body is affected by this piercing. If this is the body and medically it operates this way and Paul used the body as a parallel to the church, wouldn’t it make sense that if one part of this body is missing because we are isolated that the entire body would be affected?

There is this movie called Cheaper by the Dozen that came out several years ago and it has a corky little scene in it that makes me think about what it looks like for a member of the body to seclude themselves. So this kid’s frog dies. He feels like it is insignificant and that no one cares so he runs away sad and lonely. He thinks no one cares, no one notices. Well, the entire family does notice and they go on an all out dramatic search for their missing member. They find him and let him know he is missed and is important and that what he is going through is important to them. They have this funeral and everything for the frog. We do the same thing don’t we? We find ourselves covered from each other, hiding behind a tree from God, from each other.

Man isolates because he does not want to realize/face his brokenness.

Man isolates because he does not want to realize/face his brokenness.

Man isolates because he does not want to realize/face his brokenness.

What is it you are avoiding, what brokenness do you not want to face? God is looking for you, He can see behind the tree, your family, the church, notices your isolation, they miss you. What is it you need to face? Jesus is the catalyst to bring change, to break the cycle of brokenness. We no longer have to rely on ourselves, we don’t have to repeat the cycle of seclusion and doing it yourself that our ancestors did. We can break the cycle of hiding from God.