Pious Playwrights

Do you see why Christianity is called “good news”? Christianity proclaims that it is an equal-opportunity faith, open to all, in spite of the abundance of playwrights in the church who are more than anxious to announce, “There is no place for you in Christianity if you: wear an earring/ have a tattoo/ drink wine/ have too many questions/ look weird/ smoke/ dance/ haven’t been filled with the Spirit/ aren’t baptized/ swear/ have pink hair/ are in the wrong ethnic group/ have a nose ring/ have had an abortion/ are gay or lesbian/ are too conservative or too liberal.                                    ~ Michael Yaconelli

I’m a fairly new Twitter user. I’m pretty long-winded for tweeting. In the past, I’ve only keep an account to keep up with a few family members. But tonight I did and saw a re-tweet from one year ago from the Westboro Baptist Church that read: Cory Monteith found dead in Vancouver hotel room – STRUCK DOWN BY RAGING MAD GOD!

I’m uncertain what compelled God to kill Cory Monteith. I don’t know if God was RAGING because Cory was on a television program that has gay characters; or if God was MAD at him because he was intimately involved with a girl he wasn’t married to; or if God STRUCK him DOWN because at 31, he took a lethal mixture of heroin and alcohol.

Here’s what I’m certain of, Michael Yaconelli had it right. The Gospel is “good news”. And whoever you are, there is a place for you in this equal-opportunity faith.

When I read the WBC tweet, I’ll be honest, it made me angry. I thought things like: No wonder no one wants what we say we have when this is how our faith is represented.

And I thought other things. Things like: How can people be so: ignorant, hateful, malevolent, evil.

In a moment my heart was seared. Hating the hateful is my spiritual Achilles. I was ready to assume the role of a playwright, too. So quick to say there is no room for you Westboro and your brethren who preach hate and proclaim the message of an angry God.

I’m more willing to extend unqualified grace to those who hate Christians than to Christians who hate.

Tonight I’m praying for a heart like my Father’s heart. The One who says: Come to Me, ALL of you who are weak and weary and I will give you rest.

Coloring Inside the Lines

Every time the disciple started establishing rules – no children near Jesus;  don’t let the crowd touch Jesus; don’t talk to Samaritan women; don’t let people waste expensive perfumes – Jesus told them to knock it off, and His rebuke was usually followed by a lecture that said, “You still don’t get it! We are not substituting religious rules with our rules. We are substituting religious rules with Me!” Jesus kept saying “Follow Me,” not “Follow My rules.” Most of us have spent our Christian lives learning what we can’t do instead of celebrating what we can do in Jesus. What a tragedy. What a misunderstanding of who Jesus is.   ~ Michael Yaconalli

When I was little, I loved to color but I was always careful to never color outside the lines. Following the rules was so important to me that I took my crayon and outlined inside the lines before I would begin to color the picture. I was desperate not do it wrong.

I carried that mindset into my adult life. While others found the lines to be constraining and stifling, I liked knowing exactly what I was supposed to do and how to do it. I saw following the rules as a simple equation: good behavior = a good person.

It’s not surprising that I joined a church rife with rules. I lived life almost entirely by rules – a mix of church rules, family rules, community rules and several random rules that I made up myself, just to be safe.

Because it was safety I was seeking. Safety from ever making a mistake; safety from letting others down; safety from condemnation and criticism; safety from being anything short of pleasing.

Then one day I found myself looking at a picture that was just an outline of a life, re-outlined by me, but always waiting to be colored.

Jesus kept saying “Follow Me,” not “Follow My rules.” Most of us have spent our Christian lives learning what we can’t do instead of celebrating what we can do in Jesus. What a tragedy. What a misunderstanding of who Jesus is.

Grace: It Isn’t Just For Breakfast Anymore

Episcopal priest Robert Capon said: “We are in a war between dullness and astonishment.” The most critical issue facing Christians is not abortion, pornography, the disintegration of the family, moral absolutes, MTV, drugs, racism, sexuality or school prayer. The critical issue today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment. The Good News is no longer good new, it is okay news. Christianity is no longer life changing, it is life enhancing, Jesus doesn’t change people into wild-eyed radicals anymore, He changes them into “nice people.” If Christianity is simply about being nice, I’m not interested. What happened to radical Christianity, the un-nice brand of Christianity that turned the world upside-down?

What happened to the kind of Christians who were filled with passion and gratitude, and who every day were unable to get over the grace of God? ~ Michael Yaconelli

What has happened, Michael? I think we’ve gotten side-tracked. We’ve become a people more passionate about our causes than our Creator. And that has turned us into a very dull lot. Loud, but dull.

As something becomes dull, it begins to lose its light and luster. I think we’ve lost our light, not because we’re passionless but because of what we’re passionate about. We picket and protest and proselytize on the side but we are so over grace. Grace is left for the Mother Teresa’s and a quick pre-meal prayer.

I don’t think it’s possible for me to be filled with passion for the Father, gratitude for His Son, overwhelmed by the grace of His Spirit and live a life of just okay news.

When I opened the package and saw this sweet gift, painted by my friend, I smiled. I smile every time I see it and I see it all the time because it’s hanging right by the door. It’s a reminder to me, all day every day, not to leave home without it.

Grace isn’t just another name for thank-you for this food, it’s a way of living. And it’s never dull.

Lost and Found-ness

It took me fifty years to realize I was lost. No one knew I was lost – my life had all the trappings of found-ness. I was a pastor for heaven’s sake. I had spent twenty-five years in church-related ministry, and most of my days were consumed with writing or talking about Jesus. And yet I was lost, confused, soul weary, thirsty, and bone tired. I had succeeded in mimicking aliveness, but I was nearly dead.

In desperation, I picked up a book by Henri Nouwen titled In the Name of Jesus…  I heard a familiar voice… It was the unmistakable voice of Jesus! He had found me! He had been hiding in the pages of Henri’s book, and my heart began to tingle with anticipation. The numbness of my soul began to dissipate , and I could sense the beginning of a wild and new way of living.

Five years ago I decided to start listening again to the voice of Jesus, and my life hasn’t been the same since. He has not been telling me what to do, He has been telling me how much He loves me. He has not corrected my behavior, He has been leading me into His arms. And he has not protected me from the danger of living, He has led me into the dangerous place of wild and terrifyingly wonder-full faith. ~ Michael Yaconelli

Michael and I were both 50 when we tripped over grace and landed at a place where conventional Christianity (as we’d known it) left us lost and weary. Michael died at age 61. He had 11 years to revel in his found-ness.

I’m 55. I may only have 6 more years, like Michael. I may just have 6 more days. That I don’t know. This I do. I’m going for the found-ness. I’m abandoning the proper, decorous Christian life of convention and correction and correctness.

I’m listening. I can finally hear that Voice telling me how much He loves me. I’m stepping off and falling into His arms. Michael was right. It’s dangerous. It’s radical. In most Christian circles, it’s wildly unpopular.

That’s grace for you. If you’re going to take it, you better be willing to dish it out. Are you ready for a wild and new way of living? I’m always looking for traveling companions.

God of the 3 O’s

There is a point in a child’s development when the child’s minds seems shaped like a question mark — every sentence begins with “why”. The answers seem only to raise more questions. Most parents understand that although it is important to attempt an answer, often the answer is irrelevant. For little children, what is most important is the act of questioning itself because children’s questions are more than a request for information. Their questions are an act of affection, of communion, and of trusting.

In a healthy family, children’s questions are not about answers — their questions are about relationship. Children intuitively know their questions are welcome, appreciated. Safe. And not only are children’s questions welcome, but they are welcome. In a welcoming environment where questions are safe, children are infected  with curiosity — a fascination with truth, an unrelenting hunger to know and be known, to capture and be captured, to touch and be touched. When these children finally fall asleep at night, they are secure in the knowledge that the one who loves them is bigger than all their questions, they can sleep deeply, knowing they are safe in the arms of the Keeper of their questions.  ~ Michael Yaconnelli

This is how I see asking questions of our Father. For us, just like with  children, what is most important is the act of questioning itself because our questions are more than a request for information. Our questions are an act of affection, of communion, and of trusting. Our questions are not about answers — our questions are about relationship.
I believe in the God of the 3 O’s:
* Omniscience – all-knowing
* Omnipresence – all-present
* Omnipotence –  all-powerful

When I pray, it’s not as if I’m not giving God any news.
He Who made my heart, knows my heart. He knows my questions before I ask them. He knows them before I know them.

When I pray, I’m longing to know and be known, to capture and be captured, to touch and be touched.

When I ask questions of God, I’m not giving Him insight into my heart. He’s already there. I can’t tell Him anything that He doesn’t already know about me.

But if we talk much, He gives me insight into my heart, telling me things that I didn’t already know about me.