THESE PEOPLE

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An abandoned daughter discovers her Heavenly Father.
An angry ex-con encounters authentic friendships.
A controlling mother learns to let go and let God.
A one year clean woman mentors a struggling drug addict.
A relationship destroying alcoholic gains new tools and makes amends.
A recovering sex addict finds new purpose and is set free.
A guilt-ridden religious woman experiences grace.

Who are these people?

These are the people Brennan Manning celebrated when he wrote, “There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.”

These are the people Jesus had in mind when He said, “I have come to heal the broken-hearted.”

These are the people Jesus said are the greatest because of their humility and commitment to one another.

These are the people Jesus would call the Church.

Yet…

These are the people most churches reject, ignore and outsource to other agencies.

These are the people most churches marginalize, judge, undervalue and under serve.

These are the people most churches hope go somewhere else.

Yet…

These are the people who are bringing huge blessings to my church.

These are the people who are showing us that God is still in the miracle business.

These are the people who are showing us how to be transparent and brave.

These are the people who are showing us the importance of accountability and genuine friendship.

These are the people who are showing us that we are all in recovery from something.

These are the people who are showing us that the ground is level at the foot of the cross.

These are the people who are showing us that everything is Grace.

These are the people that God is with, and if we are with them, then we are with God.

Yet…

Why are so many fleeing the church?

Because the church has rejected “these people.”

These are the very people Jesus said he would judge us by how we treated them.

These are the very people Jesus said that when we serve and love them, we will be blessed.

These are the very people Jesus said that when we serve and love them, we serve and love him.

We too often want the world to change when in reality, the church must change.

Until the church becomes transparent, inclusive, safe, brave, courageous, messy, grace-filled, humble and willing to sacrifice, serve, strategize, prioritize and make a high commitment to serve and be led by “these people”, then it will continue to shrink and be benign.

We too often want the world to repent, when in reality, the church must repent.

If the church is not serving and welcoming and allowing “these people” to lead, then it is really not the church, but more a building, more an exclusive club.

At my church, “these people” call themselves Celebrate Recovery, and they are leading the way towards blessings, miracles, redemption and an intimacy with God that is rarely seen.

Thank you for your example in humility.
Thank you for your leadership in transparency.
Thank you for your commitment to grace.
Thank you for re-introducing us to the presence of God.

May there be a revolution of “these people.”

“It is impossible to meet God without abandon, without exposing yourself, being raw.” Bono

Twitter @celebraterecvry

http://www.celebraterecovery.com

6 Paradoxes of a Leader

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Paradoxes can be funny like when comedian John Stewart said, “Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn up by religion” or when Yogi Berra said, “Nobody comes here anymore. It’s too crowded.”

Paradoxes can be funny but they can also be very important in framing an effective leadership strategy. Soren Kierkegaard talked about the huge impact paradoxes can have in our thinking when he wrote, “One must not think slightingly of the paradoxical…for the paradox is the source of the thinker’s passion, and the thinker without a paradox is like a lover without feeling: a paltry mediocrity.” 

I love what Danish Physicist and Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr stated about how things begin to move forward when a paradox shows up, “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.” 

Jesus was the ultimate paradoxical leader and turned the religious institutions of his day upside down when he stated “…that a grain of wheat that falls on the ground will never be more than one grain unless it dies. But if it dies, it will produce lots of wheat. If you love your life, you will lose it. If you give it up in this world, you will be given eternal life. If you serve me, you must go with me. My servants will be with me wherever I am. If you serve me, my Father will honor you.” John 12:24-26

Lots of paradoxical statements in those three verses!

To be a paradoxical leader you have to learn to embrace the subordinating conjunction “while”. “While” means 1) at or during same time: at or during the same time that  2) even though: in spite of the fact that.

Here are six paradoxes that every effective leader must face. The question is, how do you live out the “while”?

PARADOX #1 You must be building and recruiting and investing in leaders and getting out of the way, WHILE still being in the trenches.

PARADOX #2 You must be the inspiration, positive, optimistic voice for your team, WHILE making sure you take care of yourself when you are discouraged or drained.

PARADOX #3 You must invest in other people’s gifts and talents, helping to bring out the best in them, WHILE making sure you are growing and stretching and getting better at your gifts and talents.

PARADOX #4 You must do something for a long period of time (consistency) in order to grow an organization that has deep roots, an enduring vision and a sustainable future, WHILE making sure you try new things that allow you to get out of your comfort zone and to experience other passions in your life.

PARADOX #5 You must be a big picture, structure building, org-chart expanding leader, WHILE remembering that the most important part of your life is about close friendships, family and a personal faith.

PARADOX #6 You must never get too high or too low, knowing that leading is a long journey, and that it’s not a sprint but a marathon, WHILE remembering that every moment counts and every encounter is sacred and all you have is the present.

Would love to hear how you live out these paradoxes and what it looks like in your life or organization.

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
― Carl R. Rogers

Where Do You Find God?

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The writer of Hebrews says “God rewards those who sincerely look for him.”

All human beings have one thing in common.
It’s to connect to their creator.

That’s why humans can act extremely strange and erratic.
They may act in destructive ways to deny that desire or they may act in strange ways to try to fulfill that desire to connect.

There’s an old song “Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places.”

I think that in our world, in religious circles and even in my own life, we are many times looking for God in all the wrong places.

Sometimes I’m looking for God in a worship experience or in a teaching or in a class or in a particular religion but I am reminded of the words of Jesus:

“I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”

The words seem so simple, the instructions uncomplicated.

I was just recently in Seattle and I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Jesus called, he wants his religion back.”

Embarrassingly, religion spends billions of dollars every year on buildings, politics, programs, rituals and war, trying to find God when the truth is God is around every corner.

He’s the homeless person needing shelter.
She’s the abused mom looking for safety.
He’s the dying aids patient hoping for someone to care.
She’s the prostitute begging for intimacy.
He’s your neighbor wondering what life is all about.
It’s your co-worker fighting depression.
It’s the forgotten elderly couple who children never visit, barely getting by on their social security check.

Tradition says that when St. Francis of Assisi turned his back on wealth to seek God in simplicity, he stripped naked and walked out of the city. Now I don’t recommend the stripping naked part, but the story says that he soon encountered a leper on the side of the road. He passed him and then went back and embraced the diseased man.  St. Francis then continued on his journey and after a few steps he turned to look again at the leper but no one was there. For the rest of his life he believed the leper was Jesus and I think he was right.

JESUS IN ALL HIS DISGUISES.

Author Max Lucado says, “Jesus lives in the forgotten. He has taken up residence in the ignored. He has made a mansion amidst the ill. If we want to see God we must go among the broken and beaten and there we will see them, we will see HIM.”

If that is the case, then it’s easier to find God than we think.

A Hidden Epidemic

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There is an epidemic of low self-esteem in America today.

Many are highly successful on the outside but inside there is a gnawing question of “Do I really matter?”

In our society we tend to judge our worth by our appearance,  income, possessions or popularity.

The problem with these judgments is that none of them are stable.

Beauty fades, fashions change, incomes shrink and popularity wanes.

We are good at creating universal standards on temporary cultural fads.

Joseph Stowell, in his book “Fan the Flames”, writes, “It was absolutely amazing. I was in West Africa, and the missionaries were telling me that in that culture the larger the women, the more beautiful they were thought to be. In fact, a young missionary who had a small wife said that the nationals had told him she was a bad reflection on him– he obviously was not providing well enough for her. A proverb in that part of Africa says that if your wife is on a camel and the camel cannot stand up, your wife is truly beautiful.”

Low self-esteem leads to destructive addictions, crushing depression, compromising relationships and self-absorbed narcissism.

High self-esteem comes from building your identity on something that won’t change. And the one thing that does not change is what God thinks about you.

Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector who lived in Jericho and one day Jesus came visiting Zacchaeus’ home town.

If there was a man who had deep seeded low-self esteem, it would be this guy.

Zacchaeus had the trifecta of low self-esteem.

1) He was self-conscious about his short stature. He was so short that he climbed up in a tree to try to see Jesus when he was walking through his town.

2) He was unpopular, in fact, he was pretty much hated by everyone in Jericho because he was a chief tax collector meaning he would collect and keep as much taxes as he could get as long as he paid Rome its due. He was more like a mafia extortionist than a legal collector of taxes. His family had disowned him, he was not welcome in the local synagogue and he was viewed in a class of people worse than murderers.

3) He hated himself because when you have a guilty conscience, you can’t feel really good about yourself.

Here is a guy with a lot of money and an empty soul.
A lonely, miserable man, desperate for things to change.
And one day things did.
He had an encounter with Jesus and learned how much he mattered to God.

The story about Zacchaeus shows how God feels towards us:

FIRST, no matter how invisible you feel, JESUS SEES YOU.

Zacchaeus climbed up in a tree to see Jesus, but Jesus walks past thousands of people on the streets and walks right up to the tree, stops and looks directly at Zacchaeus.

Can you imagine what Zacchaeus is feeling when Jesus sees him?

He’s thinking, “Well, here it comes, judgment! I’m going to get what I deserve. The Son of God walked right over to me to tell me all the wrong things I’ve ever done and the punishment that I am going to receive.”

But Jesus didn’t judge him or condemn him.

Jesus walked over to Zacchaeus to let him know that he knew exactly where he was at.

God knows exactly where you are at today. He has not abandoned you. Even though he knows every thought you have had, every word you have uttered, every deed you have done, good or bad, he has constantly kept his eyes of love upon you.

The deepest expression of love is attention and God’s attention span for you is eternal.

Jesus not only NOTICES you…

SECONDLY, no matter what others think of you, JESUS VALIDATES YOU.

Zacchaeus’ life of crime and corruption had nullified any credibility of character and yet Jesus came with a completely different kind of opinion.

Jesus not only walked up to the tree and saw him, but he called Zacchaeus by name.

Zacchaeus must have been shocked that Jesus knew his name.

Jesus not only knows where you are but he knows who you are.

The crowd had to be shocked for two reasons. 1) That Jesus knew his name, and 2) What Zacchaeus’ name meant.

Zacchaeus means, “PURE ONE.”

The crowd must have thought Jesus was joking.

Zacchaeus was everything but pure.

Zacchaeus must have been shocked too. He probably had been called every dirty name in the book over the years but he probably hadn’t heard his real name for a long time. “Pure One” was a name he had given up many compromises ago.

In spite of Zacchaeus’ sin, Jesus validates him.

Jesus says, “Beneath the emotional hurt, shame and insecurities and amidst all the bad choices and the hardening of your soul, I see a pure one. Zacchaeus, I created you for purity. I didn’t create you to be a crook. You are the pure one.”

The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus so that we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”

Masterpieces are not mass-produced.
When God made you, he broke the mold.
You are one in 7 ½ billion!

Maybe you have had some horrible things said to you growing up. “You’ll never amount to anything.” “Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister.” “I’m embarrassed to be around you.” “You will always be a slut.” “You’re fat.” “You’re dumb.” “You’re a failure.”

And those voices and phrases play over and over in your mind and they define you and paralyze you.

A defining moment in all of our lives is whether we choose to believe what other people say about us or what God says about us.

It will deeply affect our self-esteem and determine our destiny.

Jesus sees Zacchaeus and then validates his masterpiece by saying, “You are the pure one. I see all your potential no matter your failures, hurts and shame.”

Jesus not only NOTICES you and VALIDATES you…
THIRDLY, in spite of our past, JESUS WANTS A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOU.

Zacchaeus was lonely, insecure, bitter, resentful, full of guilt and shame and yet Jesus not only sees him and validates him but he goes one step further and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home for dinner.

“Come down from that tree quickly, Zacchaeus, I am going to be a guest in your home today.”

This is an invitation to enter into a deep, intimate relationship.

This was scandalous and incomprehensible!

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, walked all the way through town, past thousands of onlookers, to find the biggest criminal in town to say, “I’m going to your house to be your guest. I see you, I validate you, I choose you!”

The crowd’s reaction was fairly predictable: “All the people saw this and they began to complain, ‘Jesus is staying with a sinner.’”

Zacchaeus may have been thinking the same thing too: “I’m not good enough! Jesus, you don’t know the things I have done.”

We have all felt that way, haven’t we?

The reality is that none of us are good enough, but gratefully, our relationship with God is not based on our goodness but on God’s compassionate love for us in spite of all we have done.

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah when he said, “I am the God who forgives your sins, and I do this because of Who I am. I will not hold your sins against you.”

Jesus said in John 3:17, “I was not sent here to condemn you, but to save you.”

That’s called grace.

Grace is when God gives you what you need not what you deserve.

Zacchaeus received undeserving, scandalous, mind-blowing grace.

How should we respond?

The way Zacchaeus did.

The Bible says, “So he came down at once and he received him with joy.”

He couldn’t get down fast enough

Zacchaeus took Jesus up on His offer for a relationship. And he began to change.

Luke 19:8-9 “Zacchaeus stood and he said to the Lord ‘I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor and if I’ve cheated anyone I’ll give them back four times the amount.’ Jesus responded, ‘Salvation has come to this home today.'”

Dr. Charles Cooley, the Dean of American Sociology once said, “Your self esteem and self worth is determined to a large degree by what you think the people or the person that matters most to you thinks about you.”

I encourage you to make Jesus Christ the most important person in your life. He SEES you, VALIDATES you as a masterpiece and wants to offer you grace and be in a RELATIONSHIP with you forever.

Half Full or Half Empty?

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Perspective in life is everything.

per•spec•tive /pərˈspektiv/ the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance

Have you ever lost perspective?

Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, poet, theologian, social critic and religious author once said, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

In this life, perspective is everything!
We can see a problem as a burden or an opportunity.
We can see the rain as an irritant or a gift that supports life.
We can see the poor as a nuisance or we can see the poor as a chance to meet God.
We can see difficult times as God’s curse or we can see difficult times to grow patience, character and hope.

We see the glass half empty or half full.

When Goliath came against the Israelites, the soldiers all thought, “He’s so big we can never kill him.” David looked at the same giant and though, “He’s so big I can’t miss.”

Abraham Lincoln once said, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”

Jesus taught us to pray a prayer of perspective daily when he said, “May your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

I call this “The prayer of the cup that is half full.”

I grew up in church where I was taught that this world was going to hell in a hand-basket and that we were supposed to get saved from our sins and then hide out and hold on until Jesus comes back.

That was very unbiblical.

Jesus came proclaiming that the cup was half full, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that captives shall be released and the blind shall see, that the downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors, and that God is ready to give blessings to all who come to him.”

Doesn’t sound like hiding out and holding on to me.

Jesus’ prayer was that his kingdom would come, right now, on earth as it is in heaven, then he commissioned and enabled the church to storm the gates of hell and rescue the poor, the blind, the lost, the addicted, the judged, the hungry and the gates would not prevail.

Name some kind of hell someone is living in, and Jesus has demanded and empowered us to go there and rescue them.

In my opinion, Jesus never intended for the church to look like it does today.

There is a lot of resources going to the “already convinced” and most programs are designed to placate the “already converted” and there are a lot of empty buildings and wasted space, except for an hour or two on Sundays.

Jesus always intended the church to be on the leading edge of rescuing people from hopelessness, brokenness, darkness and despair.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice.” Isaiah 58:6

It looks like Harry Rheder and Steve Baker who lead an auto-ministry overseeing dozens of volunteers, fixing cars for single moms so they can get to work and have safe transportation for their children.

It looks like a local auto sales owner, Ron Wells, who regularly gives cars away for single moms and those trying to get back up on their feet and Marty Robinson, who owns a local mechanic shop who donates parts so the auto ministry can continue to flourish, even though they may actually be taking business away from him.

It looks like Marsha Rose meeting weekly with the mentally ill, who have been forgotten and marginalized, to create life-saving support and letting them know the love of God.

It looks like Paul Geddes, who is passionate about farming, who helps plant and maintain a 20,000 square foot volunteer garden to supply fresh fruits and vegetables to the hungry.

It looks like an 82 year old, Berkeley graduate, civil engineer, Art Edwards, spending his twilight years running a non-profit transitional homeless shelter, and against all odds, is helping people move from despair to dignity and hope.

It looks like a 10 year old girl, Claire Cockrell, who after seeing a movie on the true Isaiah 58 fast and how a $10 mosquito net prevents malaria, so she goes to her local public school and raises $1000 to purchase 100 nets and saves hundreds of lives.

It looks like Justin Morsey, in his early twenties, who moved to the Philippines to a very dangerous, religiously militant area where being a Christian puts your life at risk, and became a director of a home where young girls who have been sex trafficked and have been rescued, are rehabilitating and learning about real love, by seeing a young man of integrity who respects women and loves God.

It looks like a retired, firefighter Doug Shelstad, walking the halls of our local hospital, praying for the sick and introducing the dieing to a Savior who offers eternal life.

When people start viewing and expressing the Gospel, “May your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” through their passions and talents and resources, injustice is fought at ever level.

How’s your perspective these days?

My prayers lately have been a Mother Teresa prayer:

MotherTeresaPrayer2

How are your prayers lately?

Are your prayers, “Jesus, there is no hope, I’m digging a bunker, the government is a mess, I’m going to play it safe, I’m going to let fear control me and pessimism be my guide.”

Our can you pray boldly, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Will you live with the perspective that light trumps darkness and love defeats evil and the unseen is more powerful than the seen.

Will you dream big dreams and live with the attitude that in God’s kingdom THE GLASS IS HALF FULL AND IT’S GETTING FULLER!

Will you live with two promises, “That nothing can separate us from the love of God” and “One day, suffering, striving, sickness, injustice will cease and he will wipe every tear from your eyes.”

Have You Seen Him Lately?

Every Person

When Jesus walked this earth he was seen by sinners, saints, rich, poor, insiders, outsiders, Jews, gentiles, believers and non-believers.

In John chapter one, he records, “The Word(Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory.”

We have seen his glory.

I think of the woman at the well, the shame of five failed marriages, an outcast in her own village, soul parched and empty, going back to tell them about this man she had met, transformed by his gentleness and grace, embraced by salvation’s story, declaring His kindness is better than life and this Samaritan woman sees his glory.

I think of the Prodigal son, ashamed of his past, hopeless in his present and fearful of his future, sitting at the banquet table that was set for his return, overwhelmed by his father’s unreasonable mercy, renewed by his Abba’s love and this rebellious, forgiven prodigal sees his glory.

I think about Zaccheaus, insecure, empty, shallow, crooked, betrayer of his own people, sliding down the lookout tree as fast as he could, generosity springing forth out of his bones, transformed by God’s patience, going home to have dinner with the giver of undeserved gifts and this remorseful tax collector sees his glory.

I think of the woman, ashamed of her past, tears in her eyes, anointing the feet of the one who did not judge her.
And while the religious voyeurs are scoffing and condemning, hearts of stone, the son of man looks deep in her eyes and for the first time there is a man who does not want to take something from her but wants to give her everlasting worth and she is restored by her master’s touch and this abused woman see his glory.

I think of 10 men, full of sores, untouchable, being touched by Emanuel, God with us, no longer exiled, future renewed, dignity restored by Jehovah’s power. And strangely, only one comes back to thank him and this grateful, healed man sees his glory.

I think the same gentleness and grace, the same unreasonable mercy, the same undeserved gifts, the same everlasting worth and healing power is available to every broken, rebellious, wayward, ailing, greedy, lust filled, wronged and mistreated person today when we choose to SEE and RECEIVE HIS GLORY.

Have you seen Jesus and his glory lately?

Today, we see Jesus dwelling among us and glimpses of his glory through the church.

When a man, homeless, broken by drugs, hopeless about the future, shows up to church on a Sunday morning, and instead of being judged is served, loved and given shelter, we see the hands and feet of Jesus, dwelling among us and in a tender, affecting way, we have seen his glory.

When a family, devastated from the loss of their teenage son, receives gentle love and deep care by a group of selfless volunteers called the funeral support and grief share team, amidst the sadness and the tears, we see the hands and feet of Jesus, dwelling among us, and in a heartbreaking, counterintuitive way, we have seen his glory.

When broken couples get fixed, wandering students find direction, empty bellies get filled, tired hearts get renewed, restless souls find peace, guilt ridden lives get set free, and lonely wanderers find a home, over and over, we see the hands and feet of Jesus, dwelling among us, and in obvious ways and not so obvious ways, we have seen his glory.

Tell me some ways you have seen Jesus and his glory lately.

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.” ― Teresa of Ávila

Failure: The Beginning of Grace

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When I was a freshman in college I was a very responsible student. There were moments in college when I was not a responsible student, but when I entered college I was very serious and I hated getting bad grades.

My freshman year I took a history class that was one of the most difficult classes I’ve ever taken.

It was on American History and there was no text book. The seemingly uninterested professor would walk in, ramble for an hour and a half and then we would take tests on his lecture. And that was it.

The only way you could do well was by taking really good notes. For an hour in a half you would write down what he was saying and he talked fast, without a lot of passion and he was not a very nice guy and my attention span was about 30 seconds.

When people would ask him questions he would say, “Well you weren’t paying attention and I don’t repeat my lecture.” He was just degrading.

The first couple of tests I took I got C’s. And I’m not a C kinda dude. It was very irritating.

There was one paper at the end where we had to write about a historical person and this was going to be 50% of our grade.

I knew I had C going into the 50% of the grade project. I wrote a whole paper on the life and leadership of Harry Truman. I worked through Thanksgiving break and I worked hard. I’d never worked so hard on a project.

When I got my paper back this was on the cover of my paper. “F”

I needed therapy for this one. This one hurt. It was just excruciating and he was such an intimidating professor. I didn’t know what to do.

I didn’t want to ask him why he gave me an “F”, but I did.

I set up an appointment to meet with him in his office. It was the scariest thing I’d ever done. As I walked in, I kept my head low and I swear I could hear Darth Vader breathing.

As I approached his desk I said, “You know I worked really hard on this paper and I don’t know why I got an F.”

He grabbed my paper from my hand, quickly glanced at it and said in a very degrading voice, “Well your references were wrong.”

I’d used one book primarily for those references and as I showed him the book and he shot back, “See I have the same book and your references were wrong. You made them up.” He was challenging my integrity.

As I looked at my book and I looked at his book, I realized that I had happened to have the paperback version of the book and he had a hard cover and so the pages were different.

I gently and humbly showed him the difference and Professor Darth Vader realized that all my references were right and he looks down at my paper and, I’ll never forget this, he drew a line down the right side of the “F” on my paper, and made the “F” an “A”.

I was in shock. I didn’t know what to say? I wanted to say, “May the force be with you!” But I didn’t! I walked out quickly before he could change his mind.

My point is this. In life sometimes we feel like life’s a big “F”, that we failed. And we’re afraid to go to God because our image of God is that he’s an angry, bitter professor. But when we go to God, just as we are, he offers us his grace and he turns our lives from an “F” into an “A”.

“For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.” Titus 2:11

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.” Romans 3:23-24

From Charity to Justice

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St. Francis once said, “There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up. For it is in giving that we receive.”

Being involved in charity, which is not a bad thing, means to give to a person or an organization who will be doing the reaching down and the lifting up of people.

They are what you would call, a middleman, buffering you from the actual experience of reaching and lifting.

Charity allows you to help someone or a group of people without having to experience the pain or discomfort or inconvenience of what they are going through. Charity protects you.

But charity also robs you. It robs you of depth, purpose and the joy that can only come from reaching down and lifting up the people that your charity has actually protected you from. Charity can actually distance you from God.

Did I say that charity is not bad? I think I did. And it’s true. We need charity. We need generosity. We need to give to causes that we cannot personally be involved with.

Organizations that are on the front lines of war, disease, hunger and extreme poverty need our charity.

Yet…ultimately, God is not a God of charity but a God of justice. And because God is a God of justice, then so must we.

Justice is about a young girl in Africa having the same rights and opportunities as a young girl in the United States.

Justice is about a mother in Guatemala having the same access to medical care as a mother in the U.K.

Justice is about an inner city student being given the same quality education as an upper class suburban student. Bill Gates has said that “Until we’re educating every kid in a fantastic way, until every inner city is cleaned up, there is no shortage of things to do.”

Justice is about a foster child in America receiving a family support system that will propel them towards a sustainable future.

Justice is about a hungry belly at the bottom of the caste system in India having the same access to food as the bulging bellies of the upper caste system.

Justice is harder than charity.
Justice demands results.
Justice requires skin in the game.
Justice means sometimes eliminating the middleman.
Justice means we have to get our hands dirty, our knees skinned, our ego’s humbled and our comfort shaken.
Justice means we must learn to get along with each other so we can accomplish a greater good.

Justice is harder than charity, but it is exactly in these hard places that we see and experience the heart of God.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

He also said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, which reminds us that we must be involved in local and global justice.

I am not sure if you will meet God in a worship service and I am not sure you will meet God in a sermon(there are some bad ones out there), but I am sure that you will meet God when you get involved in justice.

Shane Claiborne says “Charity can function to keep the wealthy sane. Tithes, tax-exempt donations, and short-term mission trips, while they accomplish some good, also function as outlets that allow Christians to pay off their consciences while avoiding a revolution of lifestyle. People do their time in a social program or distribute food and clothes through organizations which take their excess. That way, they never actually have to face the poor and give their clothes, their food, their beds. Wealthy Christians never actually have to be with poor people, with Christ in disguise.”

This is counterintuitive to our segregated, protected, “stand at a distance” kind of church life, but we must not just care about the poor, or give to the poor but we must meet, hang out, know, befriend and touch the poor.

Shane Claiborne goes on to say, “But when we get to heaven and are separated into sheep and goats (Matt. 25), I don’t believe Jesus is going to say, “When I was hungry, you gave a check to the United Way and they fed me” or “When I was naked, you donated to the Salvation Army and they clothed me.” Jesus is not seeking distant acts of charity. He is seeking concrete actions: “You fed me, … you visited me, … you welcomed me in, … you clothed me.…” If we are to truly be the church, poverty must become a face we recognize as our own kin.” http://www.thesimpleway.org/resources/content/downward-mobility-in-an-upscale-world-by-shane-claiborne/

When Jesus says feed, shelter, comfort, visit, clothe,  you are doing justice and it can be difficult but that is where you will meet him and you will experience a joy that cannot be taken away.

When the prophet Isaiah says to defend the defenseless and to fight corruption and abuse, you are doing justice and it can be painful, but that is where you meet the God of Justice and your legacy will be as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of cities, and you’ll experience a sense of fulfillment that you have been  searching for.

When the writer of Proverbs says that when you give to the poor, you are lending to God and he will repay you well, you are doing justice, and it may be cause you to have to change your lifestyle, but you will learn to trust the God who will provide for your every need and you’ll experience a spirit of generosity that will set you free.

God simply asks us to show up, for a grieving mother, a lonely elder, a sick child, a hungry family, a struggling addict, a lost soul, and as we show up, though we can’t solve everyone’s problems, somehow God uses us as agents of healing and miracles happen.

I see it all the time, by just showing up.

A few Saturday mornings ago, 250 people showed up to my church campus at 8am in the morning. All in glow-in-the-dark t-shirts.

What were they doing? Where were they going?

They showed up to love forgotten seniors by fixing abandoned decks and to build liberating wheel-chair ramps.

They showed up to plant 1600 life giving vegetable so that hungry families can eat nutritious food this year.

They showed up to bring dignity where there was too little and hope where there was only despair.

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250 people.

Saturday morning, 8am.

What were they doing?

They were doing justice.

They were meeting Jesus in disguise.

I challenge people who call themselves Christians to show up.

Show up in your own backyard where orphans are called foster children, to the jungles of Peru where mosquito’s kill children, to the slums of India where young girls are violated, to the famine deserts of Africa where bloated bellies scream for nourishment, to the inner cities of America where young men are growing up fatherless and drug dealing is the career of choice, I challenge you to show up.

For big causes of justice and small causes of justice, show up!

Albert Einstein said, “In matters of justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.”

God in a Box

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Henri Nouwen once said, “We cannot expect God to speak to us in our narrow corridor of thinking. As scripture shows us, He may speak to us through a saint or a sinner. Through a conservative or a liberal. Through a man or a woman – or a young child. Through an old person or a young person. Through an educated or an illiterate person… Through a local person or a foreigner. We have at all times to be ready to listen with an unprejudiced mind and heart.”

I was thinking about my life and how God has spoken to me through so many diverse voices, with differing opinions and backgrounds, yet they have all compelled me closer to the heart of Jesus.

From a liberal sociologist named Tony Campolo, to a conservative preacher named Franklin Graham, my heart has broken for the poor.

From an Irish rock star named Bono, to an agnostic brilliant business man named Bill Gates, my urgency to end extreme poverty has increased.

From an alcoholic priest named Brennan Manning, to a 90 year old saint named Mother Rose, I have been overwhelmed by the gift of Grace.

From an African American, born in the ghetto, named Ricky Bolden, to a 75 year old, rich white man named Doug Coe, I will forever be burdened and invested in the inner city.

From a conservative business man named Jim Copeland to a more liberal mother committed to public health around the world, named Kim Dixon, my life has refocused on the rights of children and women around the world.

From an Albanian Roman Catholic nun named Mother Teresa to a cancer research doctor named Scott Todd, my life is now compelled to show up, look extreme poverty in the face, and defeat it.

I have a very close friend who is gay and whenever I am with him, I leave having a deeper passion to follow Jesus and a more convicted heart to serve the marginalized and forgotten in my community.

The important question for people of faith today is this: Can we see past the surface, the titles, the labels and see the wisdom underneath.

When John the Baptist came to proclaim the coming of the Messiah, he was described as a locus-eating, leather-wearing, adultery-condemning prophet.

When Jesus walked this earth, he was described as a party-going, wine-making, heart-healing, sin-forgiving savior.

John would have been labeled a conservative and Jesus would have been labeled a liberal.

Jesus told the pharisess, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” Instead, you said, “John has a demon and Jesus is a glutton”.

The gospel came looking two different ways, but they could not see it.

WHY? Because the Pharisees had put God in a box.

The strength of FAITH is the diversity of God’s wisdom.

That is why people should travel, so you can see the image and creativity and vastness of God.

The Pharisees are not the only ones who have put God in a box.

I think, in America, we are in that danger today.

In order for our faith to be rich and our hearts to remain soft and pliable, we must continue to be overwhelmed by the vastness of God.

Jesus was not an American, he was not a Californian, he was not a republican or a democrat and he was not a Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal or Baptist.

He was not a member of the NRA, Greenpeace or the local moose lodge.

He did not have a preference of musical worship style, because his worship had to do with spirit and truth.

He was anti-war, anti-revenge, and anti-hate.

He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesars, and give to God what is God’s!”

He was the creator of the universe and it was his idea to make the stars and the moon and the seas and the mountains.

RED, YELLOW, BROWN, BLACK and WHITE, they are all equally precious in his sight.

Every color, creed and culture is a part of his image.

He loves our enemies and he prays that the terrorist will find salvation like the terrorist Saul who became a champion of Grace.

He loves YOU even when you walk away.

He loves ME even when I choose my own ways.

Jesus is bigger than any of our big ideas and heaven will be a much different place than our middle class, American ideas.

When Peter quotes the Prophet Joel in Acts 2 and says, “All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” He meant ALL!

It is Jesus + nothing!

Not Jesus + politics.
Not Jesus + denomination.
Not Jesus + lifestyle.
Not Jesus + American.

Let us allow Jesus to be bigger than any of our big ideas and run towards his radical, counter-intuitive, compassionate Grace.

May we pray the prayer of Pope Francis:
“And so we ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace.”

These People

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An abandoned daughter discovers her Heavenly Father.
An angry ex-con encounters authentic friendships.
A controlling mother learns to let go and let God.
A one year clean woman mentors a struggling drug addict.
A relationship destroying alcoholic gains new tools and makes amends.
A recovering sex addict finds new purpose and is set free.
A guilt-ridden religious woman experiences grace.

Who are these people?

These are the people Brennan Manning celebrated when he wrote, “There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.”

These are the people Jesus had in mind when He said, “I have come to heal the broken-hearted.”

These are the people Jesus said are the greatest because of their humility and commitment to one another.

These are the people Jesus would call the Church.

Yet…

These are the people most churches reject, ignore and outsource to other agencies.

These are the people most churches marginalize, judge, undervalue and under serve.

These are the people most churches hope go somewhere else.

Yet…

These are the people who are bringing huge blessings to my church.

These are the people who are showing us that God is still in the miracle business.

These are the people who are showing us how to be transparent and brave.

These are the people who are showing us the importance of accountability and genuine friendship.

These are the people who are showing us that we are all in recovery from something.

These are the people who are showing us that the ground is level at the foot of the cross.

These are the people who are showing us that everything is Grace.

These are the people that God is with, and if we are with them, then we are with God.

Yet…

Why are so many fleeing the church?

Because the church has rejected “these people.”

These are the very people Jesus said he would judge us by how we treated them.

These are the very people Jesus said that when we serve and love them, we will be blessed.

These are the very people Jesus said that when we serve and love them, we serve and love him.

We too often want the world to change when in reality, the church must change.

Until the church becomes transparent, inclusive, safe, brave, courageous, messy, grace-filled, humble and willing to sacrifice, serve, strategize, prioritize and make a high commitment to serve and be led by “these people”, then it will continue to shrink and be benign.

We too often want the world to repent, when in reality, the church must repent.

If the church is not serving and welcoming and allowing “these people” to lead, then it is really not the church, but more a building, more an exclusive club.

At my church, “these people” call themselves Celebrate Recovery, and they are leading the way towards blessings, miracles, redemption and an intimacy with God that is rarely seen.

Thank you for your example in humility.
Thank you for your leadership in transparency.
Thank you for your commitment to grace.
Thank you for re-introducing us to the presence of God.

May there be a revolution of “these people.”

“It is impossible to meet God without abandon, without exposing yourself, being raw.” Bono