My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast.                        ~ C.S. Lewis

Sometimes I can feel myself teetering on a precipice. I’m drawn to the edge.

I’m not in danger of stepping off and falling into disbelief.

I believe.

That’s solid ground. I’ve believed for a very long time. That can lead to a  different kind of precipice.

It’s the perilous step from the realm of mystery and grace into the free-fall of knowledge and stringency. It’s the allure of a place where I used to live; a land where I could firmly plant my feet and explain the will and actions of the Creator of the Universe.

There are times when I long for the easy comfort of certainty. When I miss well-ordered theology that allowed me to predict God’s moves, determine God’s mind, act as His interpreter.

There are moments when complacency overtakes contemplation. When I’m lulled into worshiping my favorite predictable, explainable, understandable, small god.

There is always an edge. I’m called, again and again, to practice a little iconoclasm; to deconstruct my preconceptions and misconceptions and icons.

He is the great iconoclast. God is the great Mystery.

Weighing in on Legalism

The problem with legalists is that not enough people have confronted them and told them to get lost. Those are strong words, but I don’t mess with legalism anymore. I used to kowtow to legalists, but they’re dangerous. They are grace-killers. They’ll drive off every new Christian you bring to church. They are enemies of the faith.  ~ Chuck Swindoll

I’ve been on a diet for a while now. I don’t mean a messing around, hit and miss kind of diet. I’m mean an old-fashioned, calorie counting, keeping record of everything I eat kind of diet.

I found a good free on-line program that does all the calculations for me.* I’ve had a good bit of success. I’ve done it by being completely legalistic. Except for vacation, when I had no intention of dieting, I’ve never exceeded the recommended caloric intake (and it’s pretty low). Not once since April 1st. I have 5 pounds left to lose to meet my goal.

For many, many years I was the same way with my faith. I tried to pray enough, share enough, memorize Scripture enough to meet my goal of being A Practically Perfect Christian. I kept track of sin, mine and sometimes others, weighing the significance of each action on my own made up sin scale.

Being legalistic in my eating helped me reach a goal. So did spiritual legalism. The problem was the goal. It wasn’t the Westminster Shorter Catechism goal: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. It was the Army goal: Be All You Can Be. I was out to continually improve myself (and others).

One hard legalistic lesson learned is that success in all of life lies in the heart not in a discipline. I knew how to lose weight. It’s not complicated. Use more calories than you eat. I was legalistic because I was afraid to give myself any leeway. What if 30 extra calories today led to 50 tomorrow? I was afraid to trust myself.

It’s much the same with spiritual legalism. Legalism isn’t just being careful, it’s being lazy. I was afraid to not know the answer about everything for everyone. So instead of depending on the Holy Spirit, I chose the path labeled: Show No Mercy. Swindoll’s words are a timely reminder  I used to kowtow to legalists, but they’re dangerous. They are grace-killers.

*If you’re interested in the diet I’ve written about it in The Dreaded D Word on my other blog.

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.

Got Grace?

Grace binds you with far stronger cords than the cords of duty or obligation can bind you. Grace is free, but when once you take it, you are bound forever to the Giver and bound to catch the spirit of the Giver. Like produces like. Grace makes you gracious, the Giver makes you give. ~ E. Stanley Jones

I’m changing my eating habits. I’m trying to be a healthier. The hardest part isn’t what I need to give up, it’s making choices. I understand the appeal of all those diet programs where they send you prepackaged meals. It’s costly, but there’s no thinking to do, no decisions to make. Follow the program. You’ll succeed because they’ll make the choices for you. Play it safe and you’ll lose!

For most of my life, Christianity was like a prepackaged meal plan. I’ve never not believed in Jesus. As far back as I can remember, I’ve believed in the God who became a man, died for my sins, rose again and will be back one day. I’ve never had any doubt about it.

When I was told I needed to be born again (pray a prayer, go to an altar, make a confession), I did. I got saved. I already believed, but I got saved anyway. As a matter of fact, I got saved quite a few times, in case it didn’t take.

And I got baptized – 3 times. Different denominations had different ideas about  proper way and I always wanted to get it right.

I got saved and I got baptized. What I didn’t get was grace. I was perfect in the pews. I chose the safety of prepackaged Christianity; the program of do’s and don’ts, of duty and obligation, where I couldn’t make a mistake. There were no hard choices, just lots of good deeds and a positive attitude. I played it safe. It was so very costly.

Grace binds you with far stronger cords than the cords of duty or obligation can bind you. Grace is free, but when once you take it, you are bound forever to the Giver and bound to catch the spirit of the Giver.

When I wasn’t – when I’m not gracious – everyone loses, guaranteed. Grace makes you gracious, the Giver makes you give.

Like produces like. I finally get it. Got grace? Prove it. Give it.

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.

Protestant Guilt

Remember the story in the Imitation, how the Christ on the crucifix suddenly spoke to the monk who was so anxious about his salvation and said “If you knew that all was well, what would you, today, do, or stop doing?”

When you have found the answer, do it or stop doing it. You see, one must always get back to the practical and definite. What the devil loves is that vague cloud of unspecified guilt feeling or unspecified virtue by which he lures us into despair or presumption. “Details, please?” is the answer.  ~ C.S. Lewis

I’ve read many thoughtful blogs tonight. It’s been interesting to find the topic of guilt frequently referenced on both what could be considered secular blogs (in the sense that they aren’t specifically ‘religious’ by intent) and Christian blogs (in that some aspect of Christianity is the primary theme).

There’s secular guilt over everything from diets and gas mileage to world hunger and damage to the ozone layer. There’s abundant religious guilt. The Jewish celebration of Yom Kippur, the ‘day of atonement’, is possibly the most angst-ridden holiday on the Jewish calendar. Atonement is the main theme in the month-long Islamic celebration Ramadan. Hindus and Buddhists worry about their negative karma.

The really famous guilt, of course, is Catholic guilt. I’m not Catholic, so I can only speak to Protestant guilt. If it’s any consolation to my dear Catholic friends, I’ve yet to meet a Catholic who can out-guilt an evangelical or a fundamentalist.

I’m baffled as to why you rarely hear about Protestant guilt, unless it’s because we believe it’s a good and necessary thing? I was a professional guilt-gatherer most of my life. I know the damage such a collection can cause.

Legalism leads to guilt. Grace leads to gratitude. I no longer believe that there’s a place for guilt in the life of a follower of Jesus. I believe in conviction and repentance and remorse, but not guilt.

Do it or stop doing it. Repent, make amends and move on. Only the enemy holds up the rear-view mirror to keep us focused on past mistakes and sins. I’m confident there’s nothing he likes better than to make lame with guilt the leg that grace has already healed.