Family Matters and the Frustrating Church

famfightFamily reunions are a funny thing.  They create this bizarre mix of emotions that only occur in a family setting.  It is this tumultuous emotional churning of happiness and frustration, anger and joy that induces both laughter and temple rubbing.  Families make us feel the full spectrum of emotions, and they do so for one simple reason.

They matter to us.

The things we feel the deepest are felt so deeply because they matter.  The things that cause us the most joy and the things that cause us the most sorrow matter.  The things that cause us to soar to the heights of happiness and the things that make our bodies vibrate with anger do so because they are important to us.  If they did not matter, we would never – we could never – feel them on this same level.

For me that perfectly describes my feelings about my church at this moment.

I write this for those of you who go to church with me and for those of you may feel the same way about your own church at this very moment.  The single greatest source of concern, stress, and frustration in my life at this very moment is my church.  To be honest, there are moments that it is so frustrating and stress inducing to think about, that I wish I could just give it up and walk away from it all.

But I never could – it matters too much to me.

In the past couple of years our church has hemorrhaged people – going from a church pushing 150 to a church that struggles to break 60-70 each week.  It has cost me my career and changed the direction of my life.  It has affected me greatly, and I feel it deeply.  As our church dies, I feel like I die along with it.  The reasons people give for leaving have covered not liking the music, not liking the children’s ministry, not liking the preaching, personal conflicts, and wide variety of others.  The issues are hard to specify, making them hard to address – and it eats my lunch every time I think about it.  It stresses me, depresses me, frustrates me, and, at times, enrages me. But here is the funny thing, when I think of all of those negative things that the state of my own church makes me feel – it makes me think of one thing:

Family reunions and the turbulent landslide of emotions that can accompany them.

Do you know why what is happening in my church makes me feel that way?  I think it is because it matters so much to me.  It has to be, because only things that matter so deeply can make us feel so deeply.  What is the church if it is not family?  What is a family if it is not willing to stick it out in the toughest of times?  How can either survive if we so easily forsake them, so quickly give up on them, so rarely practice forgiveness, so often shy away from reconciliation, and so rarely pitch in?

I have to ask myself this question about my relationship with my own church – If it truly matters to me, then what kind of commitment am I willing to make to help this relationship work?  If I am truly being honest, I have to admit that there are definitely times when I have allowed those emotions to hinder my ability to lead and to worship.  I have utilized them as excuses for not serving.  In doing those things, I have become a part of the problem.

To my church, I say I am sorry; but I also say – you matter to me.  Even in the midst of the dizzying array of things I feel about you right now – you matter so immensely to me. You are my family even when I feel distant from you. You are kin to me.  It seems strange to say, but I am grateful for the frustration, the heartache, and the fear.  Those are all evidences of this strangely deep and beautiful connection I have with you.

I think it is a tragedy that so many people experience these feelings and so easily leave a church.  It is, I think a horrible precedent and so far from what the church is meant to be.If only we could open our eyes to the reality that these things we feel – good and bad combined – are all normal things for a family.  They are, in fact, symptoms of the reality that we matter to one another. We should not fear or flee these feelings.  We should embrace them, face them, and let them serve as a reminder of the deep deep connection we share with one another.

You are all my family – crazy aunts, obnoxious uncles, boisterous brothers, and all the rest.  It is a bond that I could not break if I tried, and I wouldn’t want to.

You matter to me.


Life Together

600-00983799I am working on tackling a couple of more issues that I have been wrestling with – but in the mean time, I felt compelled to share what has been on my heart the past couple of days…

This week I went to visit friends of ours who were celebrating the birth of their first child.  She is a beautiful little girl and my wife and I noted that even as we entered the room, her dad had a mile-wide smile adorning his face.  It seemed like it was permanently planted there.  It’s been awhile since I have held a newborn which may have heightened my awareness in that moment, but as her daddy placed her in my arms, I was momentarily overcome by just how “special” this moment was.  The new dad told me that the very moment he first laid eyes on his child, he was keenly aware that everything was different – in a good way.  I remember that powerful feeling at the birth of both of our daughters.

Because I am a person of faith – I attribute it to God’s holiness.  It is a powerful thing.

Then yesterday I attended the funeral of a beloved old saint of our church. There we heard stories of his life – about a love for his wife that not even her death could silence, about his dedication to family, and about the many laughs he shared with friends.  It was a curious mixture of laughter and sorrow, of celebrating and mourning that only special moments like that can generate.  In that moment a strangely familiar overwhelming sensation came over me.

It was a moment not that different from what I had experienced just days before holding that newborn little girl in my arms.  It was a special moment – a holy moment.

Now you may not share my faith – but I would wager that you have shared a similar feeling. These are experiences that most of us have had or will have, and if not these specific experiences, then other ones like them…

Looking into the eyes of your bride/groom

A long conversation reminiscing with a senior citizen

A  long awaited reuniting with family or friends

Seeing the ocean, mountains, or milky way galaxy for the first time

Special moments raise up special feelings inside every one of us.  I attribute those feelings to God’s holiness breaking through the mundane.  You may attribute them to something altogether different.  In essence though, I think that for most of us, those moments are ones in which we are keenly aware of our humanity and our smallness in comparison to something so much greater than ourselves.

I woke up this morning dwelling on those two moments.  I couldn’t get past the awesomeness of them both.  I couldn’t get past the awareness that these special, “holy” moments are things that people everywhere around the world, in every religion, in every generation, even in every period of history have had.  These moments have made me feel very connected to God, but also to humanity.  Our humanity links us together in such a massive way.

I could blog on and on.  I could write about the issues that divide us and how trivial they are to the real problems we face; but more words on a page won’t change a thing.  I do believe in some words that can change everything though – words that if applied, regardless of your religion or lack of religion, can bring us all back together.  The power in these words are not that they direct actions for the masses – but for the individual.

Change starts with me.

The words are from St. Paul to the church in Colossus, and I hope, regardless of what you believe, that you can see the powerful truth in them…

“…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

That is a personal goal for me.  I desire unity, not only within the church, but with my fellow human beings.  “Brother” and “sister” should not be words that are reserved for people who share my belief structures.  Truth be told, I have a brother and a sister in real life – and we OFTEN disagree – but we never lose our familial bond.  We never lose our unity.

I, for one, refuse to live separate anymore.  In all things I say and do, I will show compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  I will bear with those I disagree with, and forgive those who wrong me (even if they don’t deserve it).  And above everything else, I will love without condition.  And I will do these things regardless of who you are, what you believe, or how you live. I may not be able to change the world – but I can change the “world” around me.

I will do these things because you are my brothers and my sisters.

I hope that some of you will join with me and that someday, we can share some of those “holy” moments together.  I imagine that, as we learn to live in unity, more and more of God’s holiness will break through, and we’ll have more and more of those overwhelming, awe inspiring moments to share.

Now, back to “wrassling” with some stuff.

Not That Different…

I was reading in 1 Corinthians 12 this week about how we are one body made up of many parts.  It is the idea that the church is supposed to be a place with incredible diversity that functions with incredible unity.  Parts come in all shapes and size, colors and design.  The functions of these parts are equally diverse.  Somehow, in the midst of all this diversity, unity is achieved.

The unity of the human body comes from a singular purpose – the betterment of the body.  In the context of this scripture this relates to the functioning of the church.  It is a truly beautiful thing when it happens.

I can’t help but wonder how much more beautiful it would be if we applied this concept to humanity in general.

We live in a world where our diversity segregates us on both macroscopic and microscopic levels.  Think about it – we tend to separate ourselves by race, religion, economy, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, and politics.  We separate ourselves on issues – pro-life or pro-choice, pro gun or pro gun control, conservative or liberal, and countless other divisions.  This list of segregations go on and on.  We surround ourselves with people who think like us, act like us, and often, even look like us.  We manufacture groups of “us” and “them” We just believe that we are far too different to ever function in unity.  The only interactions between “us” and “them” is in arguments.  (Thank you Facebook.) No minds are changed, no compromises made, and no resolution achieved.  Each segment looks out for its own interests, concerned with meeting its own needs, functioning in ways that serve only its purposes.

It is a flailing mass of body parts. No wonder it feels like no one is getting anywhere.

It is easy to be this way when everything is an “issue”.  Issues are faceless hordes of mindless zombies that have no heart and soul.  Issues are stats on a page informed by our own limited world views and experiences.  Issues are media-fed stereotypes that feed on our fears.  They allow no space for humanity, no room for diversity of thought, and ultimately, remove the need for true communication and understanding.

Zombies make for good TV – but they are not real.  There is no such thing as an “issue”.

What is real? People.

Hidden behind the facade of “issues” are real live human beings – people with hearts and souls. These are individuals with stories and experiences of their own.  These are people that feel the way they feel and believe what they believe not because they are stupid or ignorant, but because of their unique situation in life.  They have been through things that you have not and been influenced and informed by a different environment.  Behind every issue are people who just want to be understood.

Behind the issue of illegal immigration are masses of hard working mothers and fathers just trying to escape violence and give their children a better life.

Behind the issue of abortion are countless women dealing with trauma and uncertainty.

Behind the issue of welfare are families stuck in a cycle of poverty that they lack the resources break free of.

Behind the issue of the war on terrorism are the faceless innocent victims killed in remote villages and the families of mourning soldiers.

Behind religious debates are people raised up with a faith as a core part of their existence.

There are people wrapped up inside every issue:

  • Gun Control
  • Same Sex Marriage
  • Foreign Aid
  • Health Care Reform

Divided by circumstances and issues – yes.  But we are also united by something greater than that which divides us.  We are united by our humanity. After all, are we really that different?  I found this quote from Iranian graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi that sums this idea up beatifully…416850_290471434354171_217514361649879_803039_217490730_n

This morning in Iran a mother woke up and fed her children breakfast before sending them off to school.  A liberal democrat got dressed and headed out the door to work, hoping to make enough to make this month’s mortgage payment.  A Muslim man sipped coffee while talking sports with his buddies.  A card carrying NRA member bought milk and bread on the way home from work.  A welfare recipient father played catch with his daughter in the backyard.  An illegal immigrant family sat down for a family dinner. A homosexual couple laughed at an episode of The Big Bang Theory. Take away the issues, and I think we may be more alike than we realize.  Maybe there is no us and them – maybe it is just US?

What causes division amongst US is not the lack of sameness – it is the lack of desire to understand.  Understanding takes more effort than arguing.  It means swallowing pride, listening (REALLY LISTENING), practicing empathy, and sometimes admitting we are wrong. Mind you, understanding and agreeing are not the same thing.  Understanding is about information that broadens our perspective, informs our opinions, and more than anything – tempers our attitudes and tongues with compassion.  Understanding may not lead to agreement, but it does lead to respect. Together, respect and understanding breed unity.

I wonder what we could accomplish as a body of humanity if we functioned with respect and understanding?  What world problems would be annihilated?  What injustices would be conquered and what wrongs made right?

To become that sort of world starts with me.  It starts with you.  It starts as individual humans decide to get past issues and build relationships with those on the other side.  It builds as we stop investing ourselves in argument and instead invest ourselves in fostering environments of respect.  It thrives when we lay down our passions for “rightness” and pick up humility, compassion, and sacrifice.  Argue less and engage more.  Withhold attacks and extend peace. Think people – not issues! It changes everything when my world becomes less about me, and more about you.

We are not that different.

I Am Not A Wonderful Counselor

You can keep the hats… and the tie

Pastors wear multiple hats, many of which we aren’t thoroughly qualified to wear.  People come to me for advice and/or guidance on parenting, addictions, relationships, and much more.  How in the world I completed my ordination requirements with only a minimal amount of training in counseling baffles me.  The only real advice every given to me on the matter of counseling was, “Don’t get in over your head, and always know when to refer someone to an expert.”  While I understand the importance of this advice, it has its own problems.  First, people are often (wrongly) looking to me to be the expert.  I think most pastors feel and succumb to that pressure at some time or another. Secondly, I am almost always “in over my head”.  I am not an expert on parenting, relationships, emotional disorders, addictions, marriage, or really anything else.  I find this to be especially true when it comes to premarital counseling.

There are tons of resources out there for pastors engaging in premarital counseling – and they are helpful.  They guide a couple in discussion on everything from goals and finances, to sex, parenting, and communication.  While I am grateful for these helps – I often go into these counseling sessions, just hoping the couple doesn’t want to veer too away from the topics and guidance of the book, lest the ill fit of my counselor hat be exposed.  Fortunately, in the couple of dozen weddings I have done this far in my ministry, everyone has pretty much stayed the course.

Until now…

I recently started premarital counseling for an older couple who have lived together for the past 8-years.  I know everyone brings their own baggage into relationships – but let’s just say, this couple’s baggage is more like freight on an ocean-going cargo ship.  I knew from the first words out of their mouths that I was in over my head.  After a couple of sessions, I had no doubt that they truly loved each other, but was completely perplexed as to how I could best help them prepare for marriage.  I quickly discerned that on top of problems with communication,they were dealing with deeply rooted issues.




Holding on to past hurts

Of course these are some of the real problems they were facing – but they had them so wrapped up in singular issues that they couldn’t really distinguish them.  They wanted to solve issues and incidents instead of digging deep into the real heart of the matter.  Even more troubling was their unwillingness to be introspective.  Each wanted only to deal with how to fix the other person.  When I would confront one of them on a matter, they would feel like I was taking sides, while the other would feel victorious – and vice versa.  I felt stymied and like we were talking in circles – and I left each session well beyond frustrated.  The prep for these weekly sessions had taken up the bulk of my thoughts:

Was there some magic speech I could give that would turn a light on for them?

Was there some poignant exercise we could do together that would make it all click?

Was there a book or aid I could get into their hands that would solve all their problems?

I stressed over this.  I thought long and hard, and researched for hours on end.  I read through countless resource books on counseling and relationships, sifted through dozens of websites, and listened to more than a few podcasts from relational counselors.  What I found out was what I already knew – I was ill equipped to help them deal with their junk.

Everything I told them, they questioned.  Every piece of advice I would give made them feel like I was taking sides, or that I just didn’t understand their point of view.   One party even sought out another counselor for themselves – telling him that I “didn’t have their back.” I truly feared going into our latest session together – so much so that last night I did something that may shock you…

I prayed.

And God answered.

His answer was so simple, I was ashamed of myself for not thinking of it.  Use the Word.  The phrase that rolled in my mind all night was, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” It hit me, I didn’t have to be an expert on any counseling issue – I just had to present them with the model for relationships that God has given us, and allow the Word of God to work in their lives.  They could argue with me and throw my inadequacy as a counselor in my face.  They could say I didn’t understand or that I was biased for or against either of them.  But they couldn’t dispute the truth of the Word of God.

So in our last session, all we did was read the Word together.

We read from Luke 6:37-42 and talked about the importance of living by the standard of expectation we set for our spouse and about the importance of examining our own heart and motives before we identify what is wrong in the other person.

We read from 1 Corinthians 13 (the Love chapter) – and talked about the model of real. unfailing love, and how we are required to live that out NO MATTER WHAT – NO EXCUSES.

It was like a light turned on for both of them.  This wasn’t some young inexperienced counselor trying to psychoanalyze them into relational health. This was THE Word of God speaking light into the darkness of their relationship.  For the first time, we had conversations where each of them truly listened to what the other was saying – and even if they didn’t agree, they reacted in a way that was respectful, controlled, and striving to understand.  One of them even stated, “Man, there’s just no way around this is there?  No excuses left.”

Most importantly, we all came to the agreement that none of this was about solving issues; but that it is all about personal spiritual transformation.  Solving issues only solves things until the next issue comes along; but spiritual transformation makes dealing with each issue in a Spirit directed, love-filled way possible, and ultimately creates the healthy relationships we all strive for.  We have a long way to go together – but we are moving forward – not through the latest and greatest counseling resource – but solely through the power and guidance of God’s Word.

ALL of this because of the power of God’s Word.

I am not a wonderful counselor, but today I learned that I don’t have to be. My job  is to introduce couples to the Wonderful Counselor through the power of the Word.  I can do nothing on my on – my words are empty and powerless; but God, through His Word, changes lives.  Never again will I don the hat of the counselor – it doesn’t really suit me.  BUT – I will keep wearing the one that says Pastor – and I will shepherd people towards Him.

Lord, I am sorry for forgetting

How truly powerful Your Word is,

How it speaks to us

How it guides us

How it challenges us

How it transforms us

Thank You Father

For Your life-giving Word

That is a lamp unto our feet

And a light unto our path.


Another facebook post – this one from 2008…

Genesis 1:1-26, 2:4-7

Have you ever heard someone say that the best presents are handmade? You know what I mean right – things that you take the time to make yourself are just more special than things that are bought at the store. Why is that?

My house and office are full of gifts that people have given me. Some are bought, and the truth is I can only remember who gave me most of those for a select few things. There are many other gifts that are different –  cards that have been hand-written to me, collages that have been created, pictures that have been drawn — and in EVERY instance I can recall who made it, when they gave it to me, and why.  In each of those instances, I can recall the exact moment the gift was given, recall the look on their face, and fondly remember my time with them.

There is just something about a handmade gift that is different.  It means the person making the gift has taken time out of their busy life to slow down and think about you – and they are thinking about you the whole time they make the gift. Even more than that, they are giving you their talent, their time, their energy — in essence, in making you a gift by hand they are giving you a piece of themselves.

I love reading through the creation story and creating a picture in my head. If you ever get the time, read “The Magician’s Nephew” by C.S. Lewis and focus in on the chapter where Narnia is created — it really helped me to picture the power of the Creator God.

Just picture it – God walking in the midst of nothingness and He speaks – and when he speaks things begin to happen. He sings one note and light spews from his lips, piercing the darkness.  He sings another and waters cascade from his mouth filling the seas.  As he sings land rises and mountains form, winds blow, the sun and moon rise and fall, the stars pop out one at a time and fill the sky. He speaks and plants and trees shoot out of the freshly made ground. He calls forth and birds, fish, and animals off all shapes and sizes begin the fill the land, seas, and skies.

All of it created with just the sound of His voice.

But then God does something different. He stops walking and bends down to grab a handful of the infant soil. And from this dirt and clay he begins to form the greatest sculpture ever. In no time at all a lifeless statue stands before him, perfect in every way, but quiet, motionless and lifeless. Then God cups his hands over the nose of the statue and just begins to breath.

As soon as the breath of God fills the nostrils of the lifeless form, the heart begins to pump, blood begins course throughout the body, nerves begin to fire, muscles to twitch, and limbs to stretch. Suddenly the statue shakes as the lungs of this new creation rise and fall – the very first breath coming from God Himself.  The very first sight – God.  The very first thought – God.  The very first sound – God.

And God creates man.

He spoke words to create water, earth, and sky.

He spoke words to create plants and animals.

But for us, He knelt down and formed us with His hands.

But for us, He breathed His own life into us.

Think about that… we are God’s handmade gift. He has invested His time and talent into you and me. He has given us a piece of His life.

Think of that the next time you feel insignificant and worthless. Think of that the next time you feel broken and unsure. Think of that the next time you feel unloved and alone. Think of that when your self-esteem is gone.

You were created, handmade by God and He sees you as perfect.

What will you do with that handmade gift? Or better yet, what will that handmade gift do IN you?

Acio Easy Button!

This is another post moved from facebook – originally posted in December 2010.  I am reposting it here because one of my teens has been going through a spiritual awakening of sorts that has caused him to have to make some very hard – yet very right decisions for his life.  This is for him…

Have you ever noticed that some of the best wisdom comes from children and/or children’s media?  Sure, you can invest in reading the complete works of Aristotle and Plato, dissect the writings of Nietzsche, and grapple with the theories of the greatest theological minds – but in the end, the best and most important life lessons come from Children’s stories.  Read some Dr. Suess and you can learn about everything from exploitation of natural resources to the importance of accepting who you are.  Read some Roald Dahl and learn about the dangers of gluttony and excess or man’s inhumanity to man.  Authors like these, and countless others, have a way of capturing the obvious and yet somewhat elusive ideas that help us to function in harmony as a society.  They make it easy.

From “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”

I was reminded of that this week as I watched some of the Harry Potter movies (yes, I am a Potter fan).  In “The Goblet of Fire”, Harry undertakes a series of deadly challenges as he competes in a wizarding tournament.  The trials test his cunning, his character, strength, and wizarding skills.  In the midst of these set-up challenges, he also faces a barrage of other challenges in his life.  He faces the relational challenges of being a young teen.  He faces the burden of being counted upon by millions.  He faces the threat of persecution and death at the hands of his greatest enemy.  As the movie concludes, some of his challenges are conquered, while still others grow in magnitude.  It is in this moment that his great mentor, Albus Dumbledore, gives him these words of wisdom, “Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”

I heard that and was immediately struck by how much weight and truth that statement holds for all of us. The issue is not just people deciding between right and wrong.  If only it were that easy.  If the decisions we faced were to do what is the “right” thing to do, or to do what is the “wrong” thing to do – I truly believe that MOST people would choose what is right.  Nobody likes to be wrong, and even in our depravity, I don’t think any of us truly like to DO what is wrong either.  There is a whole theological argument to make there, but I’ll spare you the time, suffice it to say that I have not given up hope in man to do what is right…. call me a optimist, call me an ideological freak… I truly believe if given the choice between blatant right and blatant wrong – MOST men/women would choose what is right.

But life isn’t that simple – it’s not that cut and dry or black and white – and Satan has blurred the lines between right and wrong.  And so, most of us rarely consider the aspect of right and wrong when making decisions and rather consider what is hard and what is easy – and just like electricity tends to follow the path of least resistance, so too does man.

It is easier to look out for my best interests than yours.

It is easier for me to give you a piece of my mind than to pursue peace.

It is easier for me to expect to be asked for forgiveness than to ask for it.

It is easier for me to judge than be judged.

It is easier for me to just accept who I am than work to change the faults.

It is easier for me to blame than accept responsibility.

It is easier for me to avoid than seek out reconciliation.

It is easier for me to criticize than be criticized.

It is easier for me to be closed minded than to be challenged.

It is easier to leave things how they are than to work towards change.

It is easier to punch back than be slapped in the face.

And the list could go on and on – but I think you get the picture.  What is right is not always what is easy – actually, I am finding that what is right RARELY is the easy thing – especially in the spur of the moment.  It makes more and more sense to me now that Jesus describes His way as the narrow road, and that for some, following him is like fitting a camel through the eye of the needle.  It just isn’t always easy – but it is ALWAYS what is best and what is right.

Anyone can do what is easy – it takes true strength of character to do what is right, especially when under duress.  I am learning though – that doing what is easy, usually just worsens the problems.  It is like fixing that leaky pipe with bubble gum – it is a temporary fix — until the gum gives way, gets stuck in the drain, the water leak floods the basement, gets mold in your drywall, which makes you sick and gets your house condemned.  Okay, maybe a little hyperbole there – but you get it (I have only the smartest friends).

Acio – Easy Button!

You know, life would be nice if we had an “Easy Button” like in those Staples commercials – when you get stuck between a rock and the “Situation’s” abs (gross), you could just press it and everything is better.  But I think there is wisdom to be gleaned from Harry Potter:

Decisions are not always as cut and dry as right -vs- wrong.  There is usually a difference between what is right and what is easy – and doing what is right may be costly.  In Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore’s advice is a play on the advice given to Harry by his enemy, Volldemort.  Harry’s friend, Cederic, had chosen to do what was right and it cost him his life.  Voldemort admonishes Harry to remember the price Cederic paid for doing what was right and not what was easy.  But without Cederic’s sacrifice, Harry’s life would have been taken, and Voldemort’s evil would have reigned over all the world – and all of mankind would suffer the consequences.  Doing what’s right may cost you – and it may cost you dearly – but more often than not the cost of doing what is easy is a much steeper one.

So what are you willing to sacrifice to do what is right?  Pride, arrogance, selfishness, esteem, wealth, power, control, “being right”?  Or maybe the better question, is what are you willing to sacrifice to do what is easy – family, friends, relationships, love, respect, a better world?

So go ahead, call for the easy button if you must – Lord knows there are times when the challenges of life really make us long for the easy way out – but true peace is not easily won – it requires sacrifice, dedication, humility, fortitude, forgiveness, acceptance, and love.  Doing what is easy brings the illusion of peace as it provides a temporary respite from conflict.   Peace is not the absence of conflict, but is a way through it and can only be realized in knowing that we have done what is noble, good, and right.

See, Harry Potter taught me something other than witchcraft you bunch of muggles.

I Just Threw Up In My Mouth A Little Bit

This is a repost of a facebook note I posted last year (2010) after hearing a presentation from a noted Christian University president.  I am planning on transferring my facebook notes over to the blog anyway – and this one seems to fit in line with my last few posts…

We’ve all had that experience before – and I know this isn’t pleasant to talk about – but we all know the feeling. You see, smell, or experience something so disgusting, so putrid, so horrible, that it makes you nauseous enough that you actually throw up, just a little bit, into your own mouth. Now I know this is strange (it’s not the first time that accusation has been leveled against me); but I did some research on nausea and vomiting and found something interesting. These bodily response can serve as a sort of defense mechanism for our bodies.

In short, if the body sense a threat – be it through taste, touch, sight, or smell – it may involuntarily move to defend itself by purging the contents of the stomach. The act of vomiting removes toxins, parasites, and/or bacteria that may have been ingested. Think about what tends to make us sick – foul smells, decaying flesh, rotten food, blood or other bodily excretions. All these can contain any number of agents that pose a threat to our health. The body senses the possibility of illness, and responds by purging itself.

So after all that you have got to be thinking – “Thanks for spoiling breakfast! Why in the world must you share this on facebook?” Well, I’m glad you asked. I said all that to set up this…

A couple of weeks ago I heard the president of one of the top Christian universities in the country give a recruiting message to a group of “church” people. He was extolling the virtues of sending their kids to a Christian school and listing the top reasons why it would be beneficial for their kids to attend his school. He was trying to make the point that his school was a place where kids could be “sheltered” from the evil influence of the world around them (that’s a whole different note)…when he shared this story…

(What follows is a paraphrase – except for the last line which is a direct quote)

…Like the other day, my wife and I were spending the day together in Chicago, when two young men came strolling towards us – they couldn’t have been more than 17 or 18 years old – and they were holding hands. “It made me want to throw up.”

Now to be honest, I was only partially listening at that point, but that last line snapped me to attention and sent a shiver down my spine.

The issue of homosexuality is a tough one for the church – but not the issue I want to address in this note. Here is the issue for me…

The only instances I can think of in the Bible where God gets so sickened by man that he wants to throw up is in response to the actions of the people who have dedicated their lives to following him. Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat – scripture is clear – God detests sin. But his abhorrence of sin does not lead to him be sickened by the sinner — instead it draws out his grace, mercy, and love. It draws it out to the point that he is moved to a compassionate and passionate response of self-sacrifice.

In essence – God sees people who need him – people who the “righteous” may look at and call disgusting because of the way they live – and He is moved to show them love. Instead of purging them – he brings them in. If you have been in church, you have heard it before – but he welcomes the diseased, the broken, the tax collector, and the thief. He extends love and grace to the prostitute and shares a glass of water with the adultress.

It bothers me that the story was shared by the university president. It bothers me that a room full of righteous “holiness” people applauded. Even moreso, it bothers me that that day, I think God looked down on us – people who name themselves after His Son – and he got a little nauseous.

If nausea and vomiting are defense mechanisms – here are a couple of questions for you and me to ponder:

1) If vomiting is a defense mechanism – what are we defending? Is our mission to defend or to welcome? To protect or to give?

2) If nausea is a defense mechanism – isn’t it convicting that the only thing God sees the need to defend his church from is us? (Doesn’t it seem strange that for all the church says and does to protect itself – it doesn’t usually crumble from the outside in, but from the inside out?)

3) What then should be our response?

We are all sinners saved by grace – everyone of us.

I know in posting this here, some of you may read it who have a different belief structure than me – maybe even some of you who just despise the church. To you, I just say I am sorry – things like the quote from the university president do not represent the church I love nor the God I know.

To everyone else I just say – live without defense. The church does not need defending. God does not need defending. The funny thing about defense is that it ends up offending. A defensive attitude, a gag reflex, is offensive – both to those who do not consider themselve a Christian – and to our God Himself.

I’ve heard it said that the best way to overcome that feeling of nauseousness is to lower your head, close your eyes, and take long, slow deep breaths.. to breathe deep. I leave you with that thought to ponder along with the lyrics from one of my favorite songs… Peace be with you…

Politicians, morticians, Philistines, homophobes
Skinheads, Dead heads, tax evaders, street kids
Alcoholics, workaholics, wise guys, dim wits
Blue collars, white collars, war mongers, peace nicks

Suicidals, rock idols, shut-ins, drop outs
Friendless, homeless, penniless and depressed
Presidents, residents, foreigners and aliens
Dissidents, feminists, xenophobes and chauvinists

Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God

Evolutionists, creationists, perverts, slum lords
Dead-beats, athletes, Protestants and Catholics
Housewives, neophytes, pro-choice, pro-life
Misogynists, monogamists, philanthropists, blacks and whites

Police, obese, lawyers, and government
Sex offenders, tax collectors, war vets, rejects
Atheists, Scientists, racists, sadists
Photographers, biographers, artists, pornographers

Gays and lesbians, demagogues and thespians
The disabled, preachers, doctors and teachers
Meat eaters, wife beaters, judges and juries
Long hair, no hair, everybody everywhere!

Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God