Friday, January 23, 2009

Post-Inaugural "You did NOT just go there!"

We have a new president. More than that, history has been made as we have our first African-American president. That alone is worth being excited about, and if you happen to be a supporter of his party and progressive values, you are probably walking on air this week. Even many of those who did not support President Obama in the election are now hopeful and optimistic about his administration, because those are the qualities he seems to carry with him, and there is no arguing they have been contagious.

Now some folks are not so excited. I understand that. I also understand some of their concerns since I share many of the values of those who supported Sen McCain. But here is what I have found so disappointing. The negative comments I have heard from some of my Christian brothers and sisters have gone beyond civil political dissent and have bordered on, and in some cases in refernce to President Obama, have crossed the line entirely on being racist. Seriously? Are you kidding me?

I am just incredulous that among the very people who ought to be on the front lines of battling all kinds of prejudice and racism and arrogant bigotry, I find the heartbeat of such evil alive and well within some of them. How grieved the heart of God must be!

All those years of walking in grace and they are still so ruled by fear, ignorance, bigotry, insecurity, and pride. Oh, they wear a very convincing mask to cover this sin and its corroding effects most of the time. And in their mostly-all-white world, the mask is just thick enough for them to fool themselves and each other. Those outside of their world can smell the deceit, but within the upper middle-class white Christian bubble, we only need to deceive ourselves. But when the mask is put to the test (as in having to accept an African-American president from the opposing party), it cracks and exposes the ugliness underneath.

And these are the same ones who pray fervently for revival within our nation, imploring God to bring the spiritual cynics and skeptics to a place of faith. Well maybe the problem is not God's lack of action. Maybe the problem is that we reflect a heart and mind so repugnant that spiritually curious people want nothing to do with it. From what I have heard recently, I can't blame them.

This breaks my heart because I am so oriented to reaching out to people with grace and trying to understand their point of view. But this requires so much more from those who value the principles of God's kingdom. At times, even Jesus had to say words like this:

Matthew 23: 1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. 3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.

5 “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels.6 And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. 7 They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’

. . .12 But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

13 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.

15 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!

16 “Blind guides! What sorrow awaits you! . . . 23 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. 24 Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!

. . . 27 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. 28 Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.

No wonder people write books with titles like, "Jesus, Rescue Me From Your Followers," and "They Like Jesus But Not the Church" and "Jesus Wants to Save Christians."

May God forgive me for being so blind that I have been able to move through this world without noticing that not as much has changed as I had imagined. Again, Lord Jesus, give me your eyes.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pastors Talking Too Much

A few years ago, I was working on staff at a local church. A woman at the church had started a ministry to people living in section 8 apartment communities in our area. It became wildly successful and our denomination became interested in both her and the ministry. Through a long process, she decided to seek ordination as a pastor.

The time came when she had to attend her first event that was almost exclusively for pastors. Terrified, she came to me and confessed, "I have no idea what to talk to these people about? They are all more educated than me and have been doing this for a long time. How do I talk to these pastors?"

As unlikely as it seemed, I was able to pass along some wisdom to a new pastor. I told her, "This is the easiest thing you will ever have to do. All you do is walk up to another pastor - one that looks friendly and preferably male. Shake his hand, introduce yourself and ask "How are things going with your church?' It is the last thing you will have to say for forty-five minutes."

After the event, she came back very amused and excited and said, "You were so right. I did just what you said and this guy started in on their new building and hiring a new director of their children's ministry. Then another pastor joined the conversation and it turned into a competition of these guys trying to outdo each other in listing their accomplishments. It was hysterical! I didn't have to say a word all day." Then she hugged me.

Now I am not saying we are all like this, and there are some good reasons why some of us go on and on about ourselves. We need a place where we can talk about what we do with others who can understand and appreciate our work. My problem is that I too often seem to want to be appreciated more than I want to appreciate others. Conviction stinks.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Grace or Justice

On December 27 I was coming home from Waco where my family had a late Christmas at my Mom's house. I came back alone because I was preaching the next morning, but my kids wanted more time with Gran-Gran, Aunt Mary, Uncle Jaral and cousin Nicholas. It was an uneventful drive until I got into Addison on the North Dallas Tollway. In moderately heavy traffic, a motorcycle came whizzing past me traveling 90-100 mph easy. It scared me to death especially as he cut across my front bumper, missing me by inches.

In that moment, the anger and almost irrational rage I felt was overpowering. It's embarrassing to think about now. But I was mad. I wanted to drive down the road and see that guy pulled over by the cops. I wanted Justice to smack him in the face. I wanted to see him in handcuffs and stuffed in the back seat of a police cruiser. I wanted him hauled off to jail and his bike sold at auction. I wanted JUSTICE!.

Of course, two months eariler when I saw blue flashing lights in my own rearview mirror becasue I was speeding in a construction zone, I had a different attitude. When the cop came to my window, do you think I asked for jsutice or grace? I asked for grace. I did not get it, but I asked for it.

The truth is we all have something in us that wants justice for others but grace for ourselves. I am so glad that God does not treat me like I think others deserve to be treated. So my prayer is the prayer written by Brandon Heath in his song, "Give Me Your Eyes."

Give me your eyes for jsut one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your arms for the brokenhearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see.

Then maybe I will begin to see people more and more through the eyes of grace.