How Long do I have to be Good?

Before I went to Afghanistan, I heard lots of advice about how to share God’s love and truth with people. Most ideas went something like this; if I’m really good, different, kind, loving and generous, my Afghan neighbors will see I’m different and ask me about my faith.

Now that’s a big jump!

In truth, my Afghan neighbors saw my good efforts and just assumed I was really good person. That was nice, but not very helpful for them.

The other idea is related…I’ll earn the right to be heard by being a good person for a long time.

Wait. If I’m trying to tell someone they’re really lost and going to hell, that their dead parents are already in hell and that their whole religious system is a disaster, then I don’t think I can ever be good or loving or kind enough! Maybe you can, but I certainly can’t.

Maybe the whole discussion hinges on how we understand the love and truth we want to share.

What happens if I ask the question differently…. how good do I have to be to tell someone that God loves them? How generous and culturally relevant do I have to be to tell someone God wants to forgive their sins, wash away their shame and adopt them as his children? How long do I have to know someone before I can be honest about my own faith?

When I put the questions this way, the answers seems so much clearer.

I can be honest and open about my faith from day 1 because it’s my faith! I can tell someone God loves them from day 1, too. After all, he does and being loved is a really, really good thing. And as for God’s desire to forgive, cleanse and adopt, well, I don’t see why I can’t say that, too.

Sharing God’s love and truth isn’t about me. It isn’t about how good or kind or culturally relevant I am. It’s just good news, free to receive or reject or, as is most often the case – free to consider.

I can go with that. How about you?

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Invitations to Worship

The Afghans have lots of words for worship; hamd, tamjid, shukur, hormat, and many, many others. So did our fore-parents in the faith.

I like words. They help me consider and invite me into new possibilities. Perhaps these words might help you today.

Halal was my favorite when I was young. It’s full of energy, excitement and joy. It brags, celebrates, dances, throws its hands or a shimmering flag into the air. Hallelujah!

Tehillah and humneō are also favorites of mine. I sing to God my King. And when I sing, I join Paul and Silas in prison and Jesus and his disciples around the table and the saints who’ve reached Heaven before me.

Shachah & Proskuneō means to bow down. I kneel on the floor of the sanctuary. I touch the foot of the cross with my fingertips. I echo the action of the kings who traveled from the East to lay their gifts at the feet of the infant Jesus. My very movement is a prayer to the God who saves me.

Todah invites me to recall the gifts of God and thank him for everything that I’ve received from his hands. With this thanksgiving, I enter his presence just as my fore-parents entered his courts.

Exomologeō reminds me of the significance of confession –I say, with God; this thing is true. I look forward to the day when everyone who has ever walked the face of the earth kneels before the God of the universe and says; yes. Everything you say is true. I’m sorry.

Eucharistia both invites me into thanksgiving and reminds me of the communion we share – that at the center of our faith is a table, a loaf of bread and a cup. Eucharistia moves my heart from ‘I’ to ‘we’ and welcomes me into one holy community.

Eulogeō reminds me to go into the world and speak well of God. I recall that we are Christ’ witnesses, invited and empowered to share his story. And so I do, joining the company of martyrs, pilgrims, missionaries, preachers and grandmothers, teenagers and small children.

Barak calls me to bless; the God who created me, the world he created and each stumbling individual he has loved throughout eternity.

latreuō and abad calls me to serve with joy and obedience and so I work. This too is worship.

There are more words, of course, but which resonates with you today?

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God, it’s hard to follow you!

Jesus lived hunted by enemies. Encircled by hatred, he healed the sick, delivered the oppressed and even raised the dead. Conniving, bitter jealousy churned the crowds around him and yet he spoke of love, forgiveness and gentleness.

When his betrayer, the one who had already sold him for a pile of money, sat down at the table, Jesus shared his meal – no raging condemnation.

When the small minded, self protective, blood lusting bound him, punched him, kicked him, spit on him and whipped him, he endured. And when, finally, they stripped him and nailed him to a cross, he prayed for them.

I have to stop here because I know he invites me to follow. He says; I’m showing you the way. Walk in it. Love your enemies. Pray for those who curse you. Forgive those who abuse you.

I take a deep breath.

If he were the only one who had faced evil in the world, then I could call him a hero and walk away. But he’s not the only one. Not by a long shot.

Girls in northern Nigeria. Christians in Iraq. African-American mothers in Cleveland. Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Me. You. All of us, really.

Of course I pause. I stop, breathe. I have to, because his example is so hard.

Jesus hung naked on a cross, so hideously abused. And in the midst of his suffering, he asked God the Father to forgive the conniving, the bitter, the jealous, the betrayers, the psychopaths and the hypocrites, the violent abusers – all of them. He asked God the Father to forgive them all.

I want laws, smart bombs, anything, anything that would deliver schoolgirls in Nigeria, Christians in Iraq, African-American mothers in Cleveland and Syrian children. Anything that would deliver me from the hands of psychopaths and hypocrites.

Jesus faced them, endured them and then forgave them.

God, it’s hard to follow you! Help me. Help us all.

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What’s on your communion table?

I take my seat – four pews from the front of the church. I can hear and see clearly.

At the end of the center aisle, just beneath the pulpit is a beautiful oak table. On the face of the table are carved the words “In Remembrance of Me.” On top of the table, a large, leather bound Bible sits open, flanked by candles.

Do what in remembrance of Me? Read the book? Light the candles?

Certainly, the book helps me understand who Jesus is and I need that. Perhaps the candles are meant to remind me that Jesus is the light of the world. I’m not sure though and anyway, they aren’t lit.

I’m sure something’s missing. I know the table should hold a full cup and a plate with a loaf of bread. It’s Sunday morning, and I realize I want these things.

It’s not that I don’t love the Bible, I do. It’s just that I’m sure that at the center of our faith is a table. Such an odd item, isn’t it? A table with a cup and a loaf of bread.

A table that says; we are one people, joined together in communion with one incarnate, crucified and resurrected Christ. A table that welcomes; the old, the young, the white, the black, the Asian, the man, the woman – all who would come, eat and drink. A table that says to the orphan, the outcast, the spiritual stepchild; you are Mine now. You belong to Me.

Ah, the essence of restoration!

Instead, there’s an open Bible.

I do love the Bible. I find in the Scriptures, the Jesus who I love. I also find myself and my neighbor. I am challenged, encouraged, informed, and sometimes transformed.

Still, my heart yearns for the cup and the bread. For the purpose of all that was recorded in that open Bible.

What’s on your communion table?

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Letting Go

Sometimes, we get a chance to choose – this is what I want to let go of – this is what I want to embrace. The last semester of college is coming to an end. A ring is offered. Our youngest child is leaving home.

We see these changes coming and over the course of months and sometimes years, we grieve, dream and plan.

Other changes come with a shock. A job suddenly disappears. A beloved companioned is taken from us. Our home is swept away.

These changes hit us like a comet from outer space.

This is the story of all refugees; those fleeing ISIS rockets, lynch mobs or the silent loss of a visa or work permit.

I’ve walked both journeys; the planned and the unexpected. Each transition journey has been unique, some easier than others, but all are transitions, no matter how joyful or difficult.

Today, I’m thinking about the season of letting go. It’s not a once and done. In many ways, I’m still letting go of the people, things and intangibles that I lost in Afghanistan. This weekend, I let go of some of the things I left behind before I even moved to Afghanistan. Things I thought I would want when I returned but have since discovered are no longer part of my life.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned about letting go; it’s best done with gratitude.

Several years ago, I stood in a friend’s walled in compound in Afghanistan and sorted my property. Some went to Afghans. Some went to foreigners, and other items went into the burn barrel.

I remember watching as the material pieces of my Afghan life leapt into flames or scattered into the hands of people I loved. That afternoon, I celebrated. It’s not that I didn’t cry, I certainly did. I grieved deeply and continued to do so for some time. It’s that I also celebrated.

I held each collection of items in my hands and thanked God for the gifts that they had been to me. I released them and prayed that they would be gifts to others. In the process, I recalled the rich blessings I’d experienced over my years in country.

That day, in that place of heart wrenching loss, I also found joy.

What have you found in loss?

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What kind of Christian are you?

When I was a kid, my favorite Bible verse was “God helps those who help themselves.” Actually, it was my mother’s and I just adopted it.

When I grew up and read the Bible for myself, I discovered that verse doesn’t exist. Imagine my surprise when I read; God helps those who can’t help themselves. That was a shock.

A relief, too, because although I tried, I wasn’t all that good at helping myself. I made some pretty boneheaded decisions. Perhaps you can relate.

Still, I was confused as to how God could have helped me in some of those situations where what I really needed was tangible; a safe place to live, a job, a reliable vehicle.

Then I read that God means for us, his followers, to help those who can’t help themselves.

‘Oh’, I thought. It never occurred to me in my late teens or young adulthood to look to Christians for help. I wasn’t one of them and the Christians around me seemed more interested in telling people what they were doing wrong. I was doing a lot wrong so I felt the sting.

When I needed help, it was non-Christians who reached out a hand. I shall be forever grateful for them. Nonetheless, the question remains; where were the Christians?

I can easily look back and say; but I never asked.

Once again, God has the answer. “They do not know nor do they understand; they walk about in darkness”. Oh, yeah, that was me. I was the one in darkness. I was in chaos. I needed help.

So helping the needy doesn’t depend on the wisdom of those who need help. It depends on God’s people.

God calls us to take up the plight of the weak and the fatherless. It’s our job to help and his to provide us with the resources to do so.

I see some people doing that. Families take in foster kids or throwaway teens. Young adults live in missional communities among immigrants in our forgotten cities. Families pack their bags, climb onto planes and care for refugees in squalid camps.

These are my heroes. Christians who choose to help even those whose lives are wrapped in chaos. When I see them, I breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe I didn’t know them when I was a young adult and needed help, but at least they were out there. I don’t know why that encourages me, but it does.

So tell me, what kind of a Christian are you?

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Raging at God

I love this quote; “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” Jeremiah cries out his complaint to God and in his bold and honest words, I take courage.

Years ago, when my home church was splitting and my family was in chaos, I went down to the beach and hurled my own complaint into the heavens. “You said this far your waves may come. Here you must stop! But these waves aren’t stopping and I’m drowning!”

It was a November day, so the beach wasn’t crowded; just a few fishermen with their long poles and folding chairs. I imagine they were amused or perhaps uncomfortable watching a crazy woman shout her complaint into the silent sky.

I told a pastor this story once, and he was appalled. “You said what to God?”

I wasn’t ashamed.

Here’s the thing; God loves an honest heart turned toward him.

Jeremiah charged God; you are a deceptive brook. He wasn’t the first and certainly not the last. The beauty is – God responded to his beloved Jeremiah.

When I yelled at God that day on the beach, I hoped he would answer me, but in the silence that followed my complaint, he said nothing. I locked my jaw and began walking away.

As I walked, I watched the small birds ducking in and out of the waves to find their morning meal. An old hymn floated into my mind. I listened and then heard a Psalm.

I knelt in the sand and continued to listen. It was there, the Lord spoke to me.

That day, hope was reborn in my heart. Yes, my church and family were still in chaos, but my heart quieted and my breath deepened.

I filled my pockets with sand, and later poured the sand into a bowl that still sits in my living room. This is my reminder of the November day I raged at God and he embraced me with love.

Have you ever raged at God? How did he respond?

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