Compassion

The Do-Gooder’s Battlefield

31 July 2013

“To be doing good deeds is man’s most glorious task.” – Sophocles

“For we are God’s workmanship , created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – St. Paul 

The first battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over self.

From the moment we are born, we are concerned with, consumed by, and communicating what we perceive to be our needs and wants. Sometime between birth and the successful arrival of a person as good, he or she has come to grips with this truth and overcome it.

The second battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over pride.

Ironically, this is a second battle over self. Doing good has this incredible tendency of making you feel good, and on top of that, it gets you a lot of praise from others, which also feels good. As a result, it is difficult to not end up finding your value from these things. This makes the doing of good a means of feeling good about yourself, making it prideful. Some get stuck here, becoming masters at doing just enough good to feel good and/or impress others. But many realize their doing of good has ceased to be for good, and they overcome pride.

The third battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over effectiveness.

For statisticians or capitalists who require a good return for their labor, becoming an unstoppable force for good is not possible. The doing of good is the do-gooder’s reward, not the results. By definition, if you require a good return, then you will be stoppable in your doing of good if there is not a good return.

The fourth battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over judgmentalism.

Nothing stops a do-gooder quicker than his or her own judgment of the worthiness of a recipient. Do-gooders do not judge the worthiness of recipients, they assume the worthiness of a recipient. This allows him or her to never waste energy discerning whether to do good or not, and directs it towards what is the good that needs to be done.

The fifth battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over self-martyrdom.

Even though a do-gooder knows he or she cannot do all the good that needs to be done in the world, they do want to feel like they are doing all that they can do, so each one seems to go through a season (if they trust a guide, it is shorter, but for most, it is horribly long) where they say yes to just a bit more than they can or should or are called to handle. Do-gooders are paradoxically strong and fragile, able to maintain a decent performance at “too much” for long periods of time, the cost being their inward peace, their emotional steadfastness, their physical health, and their energy for God and loved ones. The payoff of this self-inflicted, just-over-the-edge-but-sustainable schedule is the ability to say with (delusional) confidence, “I am doing all I can,” pointing to their self-martyrdom as their proof. Burnout and bitterness is the inevitable result of this, and it must be conquered if one wants to be a life-long doer of good.

The sixth battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over diminishment.

Many do-gooders feel under-qualified, or dis-qualified, to do good. What’s more, there is usually at least one “foe” who will be glad to validate and even try to prove that this is true. Doing good, however, is never a matter of qualification, but willingness. There may be certain good things that a person needs that you can’t do, but there is never nothing good for you to do for them (even if it is sometimes the doing of “nothing” – which it often is). There is a fine line between humility and diminishment, and do-gooders become masters at separating them.

The sixth battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over demand.

Life long, unstoppable do-gooders naturally become very good at doing good. At some point, a tipping point is reached, and opportunities for doing good, that he or she used to search for eagerly, not come knocking, calling, and emailing, most all of them legitimate and worthy. Add to that, the ideas of brand new ways to do good start rushing into the do-gooders imagination, each one possible needing a lifetime of investment to pursue, develop, and leave behind as a legacy. Many do-gooders shrink back at this point, drowning in opportunity, paralyzed in inability to prioritize one above another. The strategies for doing so are almost as numerous as there are do-gooders, but if they are to be unstoppable, they win this battle somehow, someway.

I’m certain there are many other battles ahead that I have yet to experience, and some current that I have yet to identify. Anyone have some?

That is Not True

29 November 2012

I was visiting a friend who is in the hospital this week, and ran into another friend who is one of my true allies in the mission of love that I am on in my life.

With a mixture of horror, gratitude, and awe, she briefly recounted an experience from the day before. She was by the bedside of a young boy around 14 years old who was dying. This boy’s older sister was sitting in the room next to the wall, the mother was standing over the bed of her son, howling with uncontrollable tears and sobs, desperately pleading with him to “not leave her.”

Pause. Let’s acknowledge the fact that most people in the world do not experience these kinds of moments. By “these kinds of moments”, I’m speaking of moments that are unescapably raw and real. Moments that are so unconsciously intense and gripping, that a necessary, uncontrollable, and un-censorable emotional honesty, that does not care  how it is comes across to those around them. Can not care. So do not judge. Just witness.

The mom, in the actual, real-time face of losing her beloved son, was wailing and desperately appealing to everyone with reasons why this must not happen, using as many different sentences as her urgently distraught mind could come up with. My friend is standing by the bed, facing her, with the woman’s daughter in her view just over the shoulder of the mom. My friend was doing her best to “be with it all” – witnessing this desperate pain, undone with the magnitude of her task to give care, coming up empty when searching for words to accompany the sorrow and tears that she was sharing with this family.

Then it happened.

Something completely understandable, and entirely false, came out of mom’s mouth. She looked up, drowning in her pain, right at my friend and said, “He can’t die! He is the only joy that I have in my life!”

My sister-at-arms found herself glancing quickly back and forth between the piercing eyes of the mom and those of the daughter (who’s head jerked up to meet hers at this latest pronouncement). And with a surprisingly authoritative voice, equaled only by a loving compassion in her tone and eyes, she looked right at the daughter and said, “That is not true,” and then looked right into the eyes of the mom, and said it again, “That is not true.”

The mom looked over her shoulder and saw her precious daughter, instantly realized what she was saying, and ran to her, hugging her, instantly letting her girl know that she knew that what she had just said, sure enough, was not true. And she embraced her daughter, allowing the untruth of what she just said be washed away by their shared suffering and tears. Mom, who was losing her son, realized that she was not losing her daughter, and that her daughter was losing a brother. And with this, the potential wound that could have been inflicted on her daughter’s heart based on an understandable, but completely false statement innocently spoken while drowning in emotions…didn’t happen.

Because someone was there to speak the truth out loud. Someone was there to expose it as a lie.

As far as I’m concerned, my friend is nothing short of a peace-bringing hero. A relationship saving, heart-protecting, love-advancing, healing-inducing hero of epic proportions.

She didn’t plan this. She couldn’t have. She just had to be willing to be there to let it happen. She had to be willing to walk into the uncomfortable place of human suffering and pain. She just had to be there and not run. She had to be there and not find and use a reasonable excuse to leave the room. She just had to go and stand in that space with people in their most vulnerable and intense experiences.

And she did. And she does. It costs her. It costs her some tears. It costs her some time. It costs her some comfort. It might even cost her some sleep.

But…

She saved people. And saving people, in my book, is worth any cost.  I don’t do it perfectly, this walking into things, and neither do all my allies, like this sister. But it’s what our friend and teacher, Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ did. And we want to be like him. We want to do what he did. We want to do what he does.

We want to save people. Like we’ve been saved. Like we are being saved.

All she had to be was willing. The words came to her when she needed them, precisely when they were needed, and – boom – a miracle.

Dear reader, would you please join her?

Dear God, would you please help us?

My Longing

24 May 2011

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” – CS Lewis

I am blessed and cursed with a very powerful sense of longing. I’ve never found the words to describe it adequately, which is part of the blessing and curse. While generally being the kind of guy who is more likely to use or indulge such non-stop, all-consuming hunger as motivation for some kind of action (be it noble or not), I have also strategically tried to escape its incessant hold on me…

By denying it.

By avoiding it.

By medicating it.

By pushing it down.

By judging it as impractical.

By acting as if it was satisfied.

By pretending it was not there.

By trying to delegate it to others.

But no matter what, I’ve never been able to suppress this thirst. It has been a constant companion. In my youth (past) and immaturity (still present), it has compelled me to do some incredibly unwise, even crazy, and sometimes outright stupid things. I have no regrets in this regard, mind you, for looking back, those things served as a litany of experiments and tests. They have cost me, but they have also enlivened and grounded me, authenticating that this longing in me is real and indestructible.

As I’ve grown older, slower, and more easily tired, I’m so grateful for this relentlessness. It serves as an old friend, one that I depend on as motivation for my worthiest endeavors and achievements.

What is this longing I speak of? As I said, I can’t nail down into one set of words, but that is not to say that I haven’t used some to try.

I long to matter.

I long for love and to love.

I long to see. I long to know.

I long for peace. I long for joy.

I long for healing and to heal.

I long to give. I long to receive.

I long for truth. I long for grace.

I long to experience. I long to risk.

I long for justice. I long for forgiveness.

I long for relationship. I long for reconciliation.

I long for good. I long for great. I long for perfect.

I long for victory. I long for redemption. I long for glory.

I long for a plan. I long for spontaneity. I long for adventure.

I long to be righted. I long for things to be righted. I long to participate in righting.

I long for life…to the fullest extent that it is available to a human being…that is what I long for.

Writing this list of words is quite unsatisfying. None of them, not even all of them, can capture this longing. It is at times subtle, at others obvious. It is sometimes overt, sometimes covert, but always subverts everything.

Certain thoughts, sights, and experiences seem to flare it up…

When I see the hungry. The thirsty. The oppressed.

When I see tears of hurt, anger, despair, or loneliness.

When violence breaks out, in thought, word, or deed.

When someone hurts someone, be it themselves or others.

When injuries happen. When sickness comes. When tragedy hits.

When lies are told. When masks are utilized. When hypocrisy is practiced.

When suspicion is called for. When skepticism pays off. When pessimism results.

And especially death. The death of anything, really, so long as it qualifies as “good”. A dream. A childhood. An innocence. An animal. A relationship. An idea. A motivation. An enthusiasm or spirit. A marriage. A person.

This longing…this hunger…this thirst… it simultaneously must be and can’t be satisfied!

It makes me walk through pain for the joy on the other side, and long for more.

It makes me call my dad and settle things between us, and long for more.

It makes me engage fully with my wife, and long for more.

It makes me present with my kids, and long for more.

It leads me to friends of depth, and long for more.

It drives me to give, and long to give more.

Ultimately, it makes me start movements that have no end, not projects that get done. And they are investments that demand as much or more than they will ever seem to payoff. It puts me smack dab in the middle of “problems” that are over the top, over my head, and overwhelming, while I get to feel under qualified, under resourced, and under the weight of it all. It gets me involved in issues that are so big, they will never, ever be solved…the work will never be finished.

Why do it then? Well, because…I long for it. I must. I guess the best answer would come by comparing the longing to an addiction. Not an unhealthy, self-defeating, chosen addiction like alcohol or drugs or workaholism…but a healthy, necessary addiction, like food or water or sleep.

Something in me knows that I’m contributing to something very worthwhile and satisfying now, and something that will be ultimately solved and satisfied later.

The way Jesus said it was, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

My Sadness

23 May 2011

I’m in a Texas airport having gotten off of one plane from Amarillo about to get onto another one to Houston.

I kissed my wife and kids goodbye this morning. While I’m excited about the nature of my trip, I’m sad that I ever have to tell my wife and kids goodbye. And even with the anticipated sweetness that will come (Lord willing) with our reunion, I’m sad that I will do so many more times in my life.

I’m sad that I have a very good friend in Houston who has recently and suddenly discovered melanoma cancer in her brain, and the family is now talking to hospice.

I’m sad my country recently conducted a retaliatory hit on Osama Bin Laden, murdering him for having murdered 1000s of my countrymen, for which I am also very sad. I remember watching in stunned silence back in 2001 the TV images of people in the streets of middle eastern countries celebrating OBL’s hit on the Twin Towers, and then in 2011 watching Americans celebrate the hit on OBL. Those make me sad, too.

Many things make me sad.

I’m sad about the mistakes I’ve made.

I’m sad that I have hurt other people. I’m sad that others have hurt me. I’m sad that others hurt others. 

I’m sad about my inability to do what I say I want.

I’m sad that our bodies wear out. I’m sad there is emotional pain in people. I’m sad that mental and physical disabilities are suffered.

I’m sad that there are hungry people.

I’m sad that there is evil. I’m sad when people do evil and get away with it. I’m sad when people who do evil get what’s coming to them. I am sad when someone can’t defend themselves. I’m sad when someone has to.

I’m sad there is sickness.

I’m sad there is war. I’m sad there is politics. I’m sad there are quarrels. I’m sad there is violence.

I’m sad there is poverty.

I’m sad there is inequality. I’m sad when equality is forced or coerced. I’m sad there is lack of compassion.

I’m sad there is oppression.

I’m sad there is divorce. I’m sad there are hasty marriages. I’m sad there are children who are relationally orphaned by both.

I’m sad about sexual abuse. I’m sad about homosexuality. I’m sad about prostitution. I’m sad about pornography. I’m sad about gender confusion. I’m sad about the fear and hatred expressed towards it all.

Obviously, lots of things make me sad. But one thing that I am NOT sad about is that there is sadness.

Sadness seems like a very unique, very special, very appropriate emotional response to just about anything that would cause any negative thoughts, feelings or actions. Sadness, seems to me, is the most (or only) productive of what we might call “negative” emotions.

Sadness is my escape from the “control emotions” of guilt, anger, and worry.

Guilt comes to me when I can’t control the past.

Anger comes to me when I can’t control the present.

Worry comes to me when I can’t control the future.

These come when I feel like something is “wrong” and I can’t do anything about it. They are all unproductive. They steal my light and love and life. They all lead (in one way or another) to death.

Sadness, on the other hand, while intense at times, is merely the acknowledgement that all is not as it should be. Sadness happens when you believe that things should be better than they are, when you admit that they aren’t, and when you refuse to hide behind the control emotions.

And you might as well let go of control since you don’t have it anyway. After all, guilt leads to despair, anger leads to violence, and anxiety leads to either denial or panic. Sadness, however, is the only emotional response to bad things doesn’t lead to other things that create and inspire more sadness.

Sadness can only end with the arrival of comfort. Given the alternatives, sadness is a very appropriate, and even good, thing.

Trust sadness. Don’t solve sadness. Stay in sadness. Take it with you when it comes. Do not shortchange sadness. Do not replace sadness.

Practice sadness.

For those who do, it comes with a promise from Jesus, who said it like this: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

My Powerlessness

21 May 2011

I met a man today who owns and runs a company. In that company is another man who embezzled money, lots of money, from this company. I met him, too.

The very unique thing about this is that I met them sitting at the same table. What were they doing at this table? The broad answer is that they were sitting with each other, smack dab in the middle of the tension that had been created by one of their sins against the other, seeing if they could use this tension, this blatant and dishonest wrong, to both change.

The owner of the company had every right to have this employee arrested and put in prison.

He didn’t.

The owner had every right to at least fire this guy who has proven himself untrustworthy and dishonest.

He didn’t.

The owner had every right to at the very least cut his pay, and put him in another position in the company where he was less free to do something like this again.

He didn’t.

Instead, he invited this guy to this table where I met them. And I watched as he offered this guy grace. He offered this guy a chance. He offered this guy the opportunity to transform.

And here’s the kicker: he offered this guy HIMSELF as a companion and friend on the journey.

What does it take for a man like this owner, who holds all the power, who could have punished this man to whatever extent he wanted to, and been “justified”, approved of, and maybe even applauded for doing so, to offer a man like this sinner, who holds no power, has no defense, no excuse, and nothing to defend himself, such a thing as this?

What does it take? It takes meekness.

When the Bible uses the word meek, it is true that it is speaking of people that wield no power to manipulate the world to serve themselves or get things to go their way. In this way, the employee was in the meek position.

But the word meek is also speaking of those who DO have access to the power to move and shake the world to serve themselves or get things to go their way…but DON’T.

And instead, submit their power willingly to the loving agenda of God.

That is what this owner I met was doing at the table with this employee I met.

They were both meek. They were both powerless. One because of his submitting to temptation. One because of his submitting to God. Now, as brothers, both of them are working together, facing their fears, facing themselves, and facing God. As meek brothers, they are powerfully working to transform and experience on this earth the Kingdom that God originally designed for them both in the first place.

The way Jesus said it was, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

I want to be powerless like that. Powerless before God, and powerless because of my need to submit my power to God.

Looking for Hell

10 March 2011

“How will you escape being condemned to hell?” – Jesus

I’m a bit taken back by all the cyber-energy that has exploded as a result of Rob Bell’s upcoming book about the nature of the afterlife. His choice of subject matter has certainly touched a sensitiveLove Wins book nerve in many people.

After writing my first piece about this hailstorm of reaction, I’ve learned that folks in my circle vary from (1) not caring, to (2) thinking that conclusions one has about the afterlife plays part in determining where you go when you get to it, to the more moderate response of (3) just wanting to dialogue, study, and contemplate it a bit to consider the nature of God a little more.

Where do I sit? I’m a huge fan of attitude #3, a convicted opponent of attitude #2, but strangely I find myself strangely tempted towards attitude #1, not caring too much, at least about this aspect of the subject.

But, of course, in a larger sense, I do care. For example, I have asked and answered the above question posed by Jesus for me personally, at first as a young man with urgency and fury, and at last a bit older with peaceful intensity and intense peace. And it is not entirely accurate to say that it the past tense, really. Maybe I should say that I am asking and answering it.

So why am I tempted to not care about the particular angle on this subject that has currently peaked the interest of so many, you might ask?

Because the answer I landed on does not require knowing for sure the exact nature of the afterlife in order to escape hell.

  • I don’t need to know whether heaven will have physical streets and gates (Rev 21:21) or is more of a state of being (Rom 14:17).
  • I don’t need to know if hell is eternal punishment (Mt 25:46) or eternal destruction (2 Pt 3:7).
  • I don’t need to know if my resurrection from the dead will be as a purely spiritual being (1 Cor 15:44) or in a more glorious physical body (1 Cor 15:42).
  • I don’t need to know if Jesus is coming soon (Rev 22:12), coming much later (2 Pt 3:8), or has already come (Mt 24:34).
  • I don’t need to know if people’s only chance to escape hell comes in this life (Mt 10:33) or if they will have a chance to repent in the next life (Rev 21:6).
  • I don’t need to know if there is one generic reward called heaven (Luke 12:33), 3 heavens (2 Cor 12:2), or degrees of reward in heaven (Mt 6:20).
  • I don’t need to know if few (Mt 7:13-14), most (Mt 12:31-32), or all (2 Pt 3:9) people are going to be there with me.
  • I don’t need to know whether God is going to be fair based on my judgment of fairness (Job 38-40:1).
  • I don’t need to decide whether Jesus spoke within the culturally accepted view of hell at the time he was here in order to make a point, or if he was confirming this view of hell as accurate by using it (Lk 16:19-31)
  • I don’t even need to know whether to spell heaven as “Heaven” or “heaven” or Hell as “Hell” or “hell”.

Now, I do have beliefs about these things. I do believe there is truth about them, and there is falsehood. And I have no problem with disagreement, lively debate, or firm and committed positions by convinced and convicted people on these or any subject. I myself enjoy dialoguing, studying, and contemplating them. I’ve learned much about God through them, and continue to do so.

But they are much more academic in nature than imperative. They are interesting, even useful, for some folks in their journey towards God, but in answering the above question of Christ, they are not necessary.

You don’t need to accurately know about the nature of hell in order to effectively escape it. And you don’t need others to agree with your conclusions about hell in order to consider them your allies in the fight against it.

I guess we all have a line somewhere. A line that dictates to us what you need to know and what you don’t. For me, it is quite liberating figuring out what you don’t need to know.

And the best way to figure that out is to go looking for what you do need to know. That’s why I don’t go looking for Hell.

I once was sitting with my wife at a time-share in Conroe, TX when a Canadian guy joined us. We struck up a conversation where I learned that he was a Mountie (a member of the Canadian national police force). He told me he was in the division that dealt with counterfeit money.

canadian MoneyHe asked me, “You know how you learn to identify a counterfeit bill?” 

I assumed you needed to know all the latest and greatest ways of printing fake money. That you needed to study the tricks of the trade, be familiar with the details of the various crafts, know all the mistakes and shortcomings found in each false process used to print fake money. And I told him so.

He smiled and said, “Nope. You don’t need to know anything about the counterfeits. You just need to focus on and become intimate with the real thing. That’s all you need to know.”

“Everything that does not measure up to the real thing,” he said, “isn’t the real thing.”

Seems to me that all I need to know about Hell is the answer to Christ’s question above. Whatever hell is, and however God uses it for His own glory, and whoever ends up going there…how will I escape it?

The disciple John says it well, and I have accepted this as my response to Christ’s question, and am spending the rest of my life learning it, practicing it, teaching it, living it, sharing it, and enjoying it.

He says, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” – 1 John 5:11-12

Why go looking for hell? Go looking for life instead. Look for the fullest possible one available to human beings. You will find Christ. You will find the life he brings from God is eternal – meaning you will never stop learning it, practicing it, teaching it, living it, sharing it, and enjoying it.

And what’s more, you will escape being condemned to hell without needing to know a thing about it.

Bell, Piper, and How to Read Your Bible

7 March 2011

You diligently study the scriptures. You should be diligently studying me.” – Jesus Christ (my interpretation of John 5:39-40)

 

I’m back to a subject that is important if Christianity is to survive as a power within the human race.

It is the subject of how to read the Bible.

Is there a Bad Way to Read the Bible?

Sure there is. Different approaches result in different conclusions. Many of which the Bible wasn’t written to provide.

For example, if you approach the Bible with the question, “How do you build a boat?” you might stumble upon God’s directions to Noah in Genesis 6 on how he was to build the Ark. You then might conclude that this is the “Biblical” way to build a boat, and to do so in any other way is not “Biblical,” and therefore should be avoided (at least), and made into a condition of salvation (at worst). Silly, I know, but stick with me here…

Imagine a good hearted Christian woman, quite disturbed, telling her preacher that “we just don’t ever hear sermons about how to build boats.” When asked why she desires to hear that preached, she responds with “because the Bible tells us how to build a boat. We need to follow the Bible.”

The question here is not “Does the Bible have anything to say about how to build a boat?” It does. Genesis 6. The question here is “Was the Bible written to teach us how to build boats?” It wasn’t. The lesson? Don’t approach the Bible in a way the Bible hasn’t told you to. You’ll end up following ideas that are “in the Bible” (ie: Biblical) that have nothing to do with Jesus Christ (who saves you).

This understanding would save many, many debates and avoid many, many divisions between Christians over so many “Biblical” issues. 

Here’s a more realistic, less silly example: If you approach the Bible with the question “How do you sing songs in a public worship service?” you might stumble upon King David’s appointment of people to use different sorts of instruments to accompany the “sacred song” (1 Chronicles 15-16:42). A few pages over, you might take note that these are called “the Lord’s instruments,” used specifically for “praising the Lord” (2 Chronicles 7:6). You then might run into all the Psalms that specifically instruct the use of those instruments alongside them (Psalm 4, 6, 54, 55, 61, 67, 76), and feel like you are starting to get a pretty good “Biblical” picture of how you should sing songs in public worship. You might then read the words of Paul to the Colossians (3:16), telling them to continue singing those psalms of David, assuming that he’s instructing them to do so in the way David wrote and intended them. Seal it up with the teaching that this kind of instrumental accompaniment will continue in Heaven (Rev 15:2-4), and you might feel confident concluding that the “Biblical” way to sing songs in a public worship service is with “the Lord’s” musical instruments to accompany the “sacred song”.

So imagine a good hearted Christian man in his minister’s office, telling him that “we just don’t ever hear about how we should worship with musical instruments.” When asked why he desires that to be preached, he responds with “because the Bible tells us to worship with instruments. We need to follow the Bible.”

The question here is not “Does the Bible have anything to say about how songs are sung in public worship services?” The question here is “Was the Bible written to prescribe how we should sing songs in public worship services?”

A very current example, and perhaps even less silly than either of my first ones, is the cyber-debate going on between Rob Bell fans and John Piper fans (I happen to be both) concerning their alleged convictions about whether a few, most, or any people will go to Hell or not. Plenty of folks have written about this, so I won’t here, but generally I like these thoughts about the whole thing…if you were wondering.

As important and interesting (and potentially useful) a conversation as it is,  the Bible wasn’t written for us to judge and decide who is or who isn’t going to Hell. Approaching it in that way, looking for the answer to that question, leaves us confused at best, or holding our conclusions over others as a test of salvation (or worthiness of fellowship) at worst.

“Farewell, Rob Bell” is what John Piper was compelled to tweet when Rob concluded differently than he.

Farewell, Lutherans” is what the Catholic church “tweeted” when Luther posted his differences.

“Farewell, Independent Christian Church” is what Church of Christer’s  “tweeted” when they saw nothing wrong with accompanying sacred song with musical instruments.

“May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me,” is what Jesus prayed about us.

We are going to have doctrinal differences. Must they destroy our unity in Christ alone?

Farewell, Christlikeness.

“Farewell, Christlikeness” is what we all “tweet” when we think getting all (or some particular) Bible doctrine right matters in terms of our salvation.

Hear me: It is not the reading of the Bible that is problematic among Christians. It is what Christians read the Bible in order to get that has caused all the trouble.

My sweet daughter is 9. I’m already having to talk to her about boys (!) who are approaching her. The older she gets, the more I’m going to have to deal with it. You may not believe me, but I don’t have a problem with boys approaching my daughter. What I will be watching out for, and potentially having HUGE problems with, is what those boys are approaching my daughter in order to get from her.

In the same way, God has not problem with us approaching the Bible. But what we go to Bible in order to get from it…well, I think He has serious concerns.

Why? Because approaching the Bible in different ways extracts different sets of rules, different primary doctrines, and different guidelines, beliefs, and convictions…all from the very same Bible! This has resulted in embarrassing divisions among and between well intentioned Christians (throughout history, and most recently, between Bell and Piper), all of whom are equally armed with the authority of “being Biblical” in their position.

And worse than the separation it causes among Christians is the separation it causes between Christians and the world.

Many of the categories produced by well meaning, but uncalled-for, approaches to scripture are irrelevant to the actual well-being of the human heart, the healing of the human spirit, the guiding of the human life, the creating of loving relationships among  humankind, or “rightness” between them and God.

These flawed conclusions too often make Christianity look like a foolish set of stubborn beliefs, or adherence to some superficial religious sacraments or practices, or merely an intolerant and demanding conformity to a certain moral code. Trust me, the world is quick to notice that not only can Christians not agree on them (or even discuss them with grace in the context of safe and secure brotherhood in Christ), but they are irrelevant at best, useless & not worth their time at worst. 

So How Should We Approach the Bible?

So here I set forth, as clearly as I can, a way of reading the Bible that, at this point in my life, seems to be the only way to read it that brings the power of God that it claims to contain for real live human beings. It is the only way of reading the Bible that I see Jesus promoting and condoning himself (John 5:39-40). It is the only way of reading the Bible that actually makes it useful for the life of righteousness that Paul claimed in was useful for (1 Timothy 3:16)

Approach the Bible to find Jesus Christ.

Look for him. Fix your eyes on him. Fix your mind on him. Look for his attitude. Look for his heart. Look for his mission. Look for his priorities. Read for his way. Read for his truth. Read for his life. Follow him. Be clothed with him. Be buried with him. Be resurrected with him. Depend on him. Live in him. Be lived in by him. Imitate him. Become like him. Follow his example. Walk as he did. Be transformed into his image.

Approach the Bible to find him.

If you ever get done with all of that, which the Bible clearly calls all men to do unto life, then maybe you’ll have some time to figure out the sure fire answers to all of those lesser doctrines. Maybe then you’ll have time to get in a wad about whether or not your preacher preaches about them enough, or whether your brother is really your brother based on them, or whether knowing the absolute irrefutable truth about them would save and change the world any better than just a simple and faithful pursuit of and faith in the Person of Jesus Christ. 

A relationship with Jesus, according to Jesus, is the very definition of eternal life anyway (John 17:3). So why go to the Bible for anything but to grow in this “eternal life”? In other words, why go to the Bible for anything but to grow in your relationship with Jesus?

The Bible (and it’s doctrine) is not the point. The Bible (and it’s doctrine) is the pointer. And it points to Jesus Christ. According to the Bible, it is Christ and Christ alone that saves. According to the Bible, how you publicly worship, and what you believe about Heaven and Hell, and who might be “in” or “out” has about as much bearing on whether or not you are saved as how you build a boat.

What I love about both Bell and Piper (and most Christians, for that matter) is that they DO approach the Bible. And every single subject that can be explored and addressed by doing so, I downright enjoy it. But only insomuch as it helps me get to know Christ.

But when those subjects, and getting them right, become the end unto itself – and especially when some Christians starts acting like it matters in terms of my relationship (hear: “salvational”) status with God – I feel like Jesus Christ is, in light of the sacrifice he offered with blood, offended.

God help us. God be with us.

The Man in the Yellow Raincoat

7 January 2011

Note: This is a piece written by my old college roommate Robert San Juan. May everyone have compassion.

So I was on the train going to work this morning and I was sitting behind this gentleman in a yellow raincoat. I wouldn’t say he was one of the many homeless that jump on the train to keep warm, but I will say he looked down on his luck.

He looked to be over 60, with glasses, a moustache and a dirty baseball cap. He was filling out a work application for some random burger joint that I had never heard of. In the space that was labeled “Where did you hear about us?” he wrote “craigslist” and dotted the “I” with a hollow circle.

Out of his worn bag he then pulled out 3 worn pieces of notebook paper. Those three pieces of paper were entirely covered in the same tiny handwritten scrawl, the i’s all dotted with circles. There was not an empty space left anywhere on the pages. There was writing cross-ways, up the sides, running horizontally and vertically. It looked like a prop from the movie “A Beautiful Mind”… and my first reaction to those pages was “oh no… I bet he’s crazy”. There were barely any spaces between the words making the handwriting almost illegible. ALMOST illegible.

As we rode the train together, he pulled the pages closer to his face so he could read them better, and in effect pulling it closer to me (And yes I did ashamedly invade his privacy by reading over his shoulder). As I studied the pages along with him I realized that every single “entry” on the page was information about jobs… managerial contacts… phone numbers… addresses… websites… URLs… he was really… REALLY looking for a job… somewhere, he had been lucky enough to gain access to a computer and had hand written all of this information on these three pieces of paper in his search for a job…

I found myself feeling severely ashamed that I had so quickly judged him… I felt angry that this man, that so badly wanted a job and wanted to work, did not have one… and I felt sad that I did not have a job to offer him… I wanted to ask him what sort of job he was looking for, thinking I might be able to help him… but was conflicted in that I would have to admit that I had been snooping over his shoulder, or that I might offend his pride in doing so. Before I could make up my lazy, self centered mind, he was up and off the train before I realized it.

So all I have for him now, this man in the yellow raincoat, is prayer. I’m praying for him. Praying that he was getting off the train for a job interview and will be employed very soon… I also have my ability to request prayers for him on his behalf, from those that are believers in prayer… so please pray for him, and all those like him that are searching so hard to provide for themselves and those that they love.

To the man in the yellow raincoat… thank you. Thank you for putting a little more perspective to my day. And I hope you are blessed with more than what you were ever looking for.