Removing Barriers

October 26th, 2020

When it comes to removing barriers between people or between people and God, we as the body of Christ should be on the very front lines. We should be leading the charge. We should be defining the movement of equality and justice, not bringing up the rear and definitely not digging in our heels and fighting against it with all that we have. That simply doesn’t glorify God, and it isn’t making disciples either. The world is seeing this and rejecting it. I hear their stories every single day. The name Christian is no longer synonymous with Jesus out in the world, but with bigotry, with power, with discrimination. This is the script that we who desire the bigger table must flip.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 140

Photo: View from Skyline Drive, October 13, 2020

Friend of Sinners

October 25th, 2020

What do we notice about Jesus? Does He, as God in the flesh, avert his gaze when surrounded by sinners? Is Jesus too holy to look upon sin or to be in the presence of sinners? Hardly! Instead, those sinners are his closest friends. He spends so much time with them that the religious elite — who, by the way, were too holy to spend time with sinners — openly criticized him for it.

“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'” (Luke 7:34)

So, is God really “too holy to look on our sin”? Absolutely not! In fact, if God was too holy to look upon our sins, then God would never be able to look at anyone or see anything. Instead, we see time and again that God’s eyes are always upon us, and that we cannot go anywhere to escape God’s presence, even if we were to descend into the depths of hell (Sheol) itself.

— Keith Giles, Jesus Undefeated, p. 79-80

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, October 24, 2020

God’s Heart for the Poorest

October 21st, 2020

This identification extends to all, including those we might consider “the least” — least healthy, least wealthy, least moral, least innocent, etc. God’s heart for the poorest in every category is not an application of the gospel. It’s intrinsic to it. We don’t see Christ in the “least of these” because they’ve chosen to follow him, but because in his Incarnation, Christ identified with the plight of every man, woman and child on the planet.

— Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike Way, p. 222

Photo: Skyline Drive Overlook, October 14, 2020

The Process

October 12th, 2020

Just as there’s no way to rush a flower to bloom, we cannot go beyond the stage we are in — we have to move at the pace that feels doable to us. This is why I invite you to respect the intensity of your experience and to remember that the in-between is sacred too. If I’ve learned anything, it may be that the way we do something matters as much as what we do. The process of blooming is as valuable as the flower it produces.

— Aundi Kolber, Try Softer, p. 19

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, October 10, 2020

God’s Outpouring Love

October 9th, 2020

The Franciscans, however, led by John Duns Scotus (1266-1308), refused to see the Incarnation, and its final denouement on the cross, as a mere reaction to sin. Instead, they claimed that the cross was a freely chosen revelation of Total Love on God’s part. In so doing, they reversed the engines of almost all world religion up to that point, which assumed we had to spill blood to get to a distant and demanding God. On the cross, the Franciscan school believed, God was “spilling blood” to reach out to us! This is a sea change in consciousness. The cross, instead of being a transaction, was seen as a dramatic demonstration of God’s outpouring love, meant to utterly shock the heart and turn it back toward trust and love of the Creator.

In the Franciscan school, God did not need to be paid in order to love and forgive God’s own creation for its failures. Love cannot be bought by some “necessary sacrifice”; if it could, it would not and could not work its transformative effects. Try loving your spouse or children that way, and see where it gets you. Scotus and his followers were committed to protecting the absolute freedom and love of God. If forgiveness needs to be bought or paid for, then it is not authentic forgiveness at all, which must be a free letting go.

— Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, p. 143-144

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, October 18, 2014

Like God

October 3rd, 2020

In fact, Jesus tells his disciples to turn the other cheek and to love their enemies specifically because this is what God does to His own enemies. So, when we love our enemies, we are like God who sends the rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. (See Matt. 5:45)

Jesus also shows us an “Abba” who, like the father of the prodigal son, goes out of his way to seek out his children; to embrace them, forgive them, and extend mercy to them, and who does not require punishment before extending this love to us.

Taking these facts into account, I find it highly unlikely that Jesus would have accepted the new teaching of Eternal Suffering, as the Pharisees had done. It seems far outside of his character to have embraced such a doctrine, especially in light of the merciful, patient, and loving God he revealed to us.

— Keith Giles, Jesus Undefeated, p. 77-78

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, October 2, 2020.

Our Stories

September 22nd, 2020

When we deny the reality of our experiences, we don’t become of who God designed us to be, but less. There’s no way to have cohesive stories until we truly embrace all of it: the good, the hard, the bittersweet, the sad, the joyful, the lonely, and the painful. It all counts.

If we know something else to be true, it’s this: God is a curator and keeper of stories. Psalm 56:8 says, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. you have recorded each one in your book” (NLT). God is invested in the entire arc of our humanity. He made us this way, and it’s no accident that our physiology connects with his design. Learning how to be “with” our stories — in our bodies, without becoming overwhelmed by or numbing our past experiences — is the way we will learn how to actually handle and move through the grief and anxiety that come up. It’s also the way we will learn to write new endings that are true to ourselves.

— Aundi Kolber, Try Softer, p. 16

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, September 20, 2020

Living Alongside

September 17th, 2020

It isn’t about taking some loud, blustery stand against sin, it isn’t about how much we pound our pulpits or how loudly we condemn or the cultural battles we wage. It isn’t about drawing some moral line in the sand. It’s about our willingness to be with people and live alongside them.

This is why the inclusion of the LGBTQ community into the body of Christ is so important in these days, and why it is one of the hills worth dying on for me as a pastor, because it is one of the greatest opportunities we have to set the kind of table Jesus set for the believers he entrusted to carry the message forward. It is an opportunity to show the watching world what Christ looks like by emulating him. The Church’s resistance to and persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning men and women is a push against the Holy Spirit because it runs in direct opposition to the heart of Jesus as reflected in the Gospel biographies and the book of Acts. It isn’t just shrinking the table: it’s walling off the table from those who desire to be present. And the answer isn’t offering some tentative, heavily conditioned token tolerance as a compromise. (If that were the case, Jesus’ table gatherings would have been very different.) It is to be fully obedient to Jesus’ command to love another as oneself. The straight Church doesn’t need to tolerate or pacify or throw scraps to the Christian LGBTQ community, it nees the LGBTQ community for the same reason it needs all those seeking and walking in faith regardless of their gender or skin color or sexual orientation — because these folks are breathing sanctuaries of the Spirit of God and because without them any version of the Church is still inferior and incomplete. Until the queer Christian community is received fully and welcomed and included without caveat or restraint by the institutional Church, the Church will continue to be less grace-filled, less rich in its complexity, and less in the image of Christ than it should be. When Christians attempt to exclude any group from the table, they distort the Church because they deny the heart of Jesus for all of humanity. Discrimination hinders people from finding community, and it robs the Church of the tremendous gifts that diversity brings.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 138-139

Photo: View from Burgruine Koppenstein, Germany, September 19, 1998

The Way of Forgiveness

September 12th, 2020

So is the blood of Jesus precious? Yes. Of course! But it is more precious than most of us have ever realized. The blood of Jesus did not pay some sort of debt in the divine bank account for our sin. No, God had already taken care of that through His gracious forgiveness from all eternity. The blood of Jesus is precious because it reveals to us the most important truth of all, which is a truth we could never have seen or understood on our own. The blood of Jesus reveals to us that God does not want or demand blood sacrifice, but that we want and demand it. We require blood to alleviate our own guilt and solve our own problems. But by coming and dying as a scapegoat on the cross, and then rising again and refusing to retaliate, Jesus revealed that there is a different way. Jesus revealed the way of God, which is the way of forgiveness.

While sacrificial violence does bring a temporary peace, it comes at the price of the life of another. Forgiveness, however, brings a better and more lasting peace and one that does not require us to take the life of another, but invites us to unite in love and harmony with one another, just as God in Christ unites with us. How thankful we can be that Jesus suffered and died at our hands and for our bloodthirsty desires, to reveal to us that we do not have to live this way any longer. Like God, we too can love; we too can forgive. Only in this way will the world finally find peace.

Nothing else reveals our sin to us like the violent death of Jesus on the cross. All other sacrificial and scapegoat victims we could justify. They deserved it. They truly were guilty. We were just treating them the way they treated us. But not so with Jesus. He was “sinless” and knew no sin, but we killed Him in God’s name anyway, thereby proving that this is also what we do to others when we feel justified and righteous in killing them. Only the innocent blood of the Lamb of God could reveal this to us and also call us to put an end to it through forgiveness. For of all victims throughout history, only Jesus would have been justified in retaliation and vengeance against those who wrongfully accused and killed Him. But instead He forgave us. This shows that we too can forgive others. We can forgive as we have been forgiven. We can love as we have been loved. The way out of sin is to see how Jesus dealt with our sin against Him. Nothing and nobody else could have so clearly revealed this to us.

— J. D. Myers, Nothing But the Blood of Jesus, p. 264-265

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, September 12, 2020

God Unwrathed

September 11th, 2020

The Cross reveals God unwrathed — nonviolent, self-giving, radically forgiving, co-suffering love. And this — impossibly, amazingly — is how he overcomes evil with good. God in Christ draws all the evil, all the sin, all the violence and the resulting suffering into himself. And the Light of his love overcomes the darkness so that from that moment, “It is finished” also means “It begins!” What begins? “Behold, I am making all things new!”

— Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike Way, p. 169

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, August 24, 2020