Monthly Archives: August 2015

Where faith begins

forked pathA long time ago I heard a pastor say, “The Christian faith begins when you realize that you are sinner in need of salvation.” I feel like that is a very sad place from which to start.

I grew up as a kid with an innate knowledge of my own sin. I had no problem seeing where I fell short. I had a clear understanding of my mistakes and shortcomings. I wasn’t a particularly bad kid, but I was a regular source of frustration for my parents, teachers, and my self. For a long stretch of my life I spent every night in bed worried about what I had forgotten during the previous day, and fearful of what trouble was awaiting in the morning.

I had no problem realizing that I was a sinner in need of salvation, but that is not where my faith began. My faith began the moment I realized I was loved by God, no matter what. My faith began when I came to understand that the love of Christ was not just offered to those who achieved. The grace of God was not offered to those that had good grades, were good at sports, remembered to do all their chores, or had in some other way earned it. When I learned that the grace of God was offered especially to those who did not deserve it, my heart was strangely warmed. My moment of conversion was no particular moment. It was the growing understanding that I was loved, and that no matter where I went nor how far I wandered, when I came home my supper would be waiting for me. And it would still be hot.

Once I learned that I was loved, I realized too that I was gifted. There were things that I could do that could be of use. My gifts might not have been the same degree or kind as others, but they were gifts nonetheless. No Pastor, my faith did not start when I realized I was a sinner in need of salvation. I begin from a very different place.

I begin from God creating all things, and calling them good. I begin from Jesus rising from the baptismal waters to hear God proclaim, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” I begin from Jesus telling the lawyers that greatest commandment is to “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength… and to love your neighbor as yourself.” I begin from Jesus reminding people that “when you did it to the least of these, my children, you did it to me.” I begin from “God is love.”

And from there, I move outward. I still see my sin. I acknowledge the many ways that I choose to be selfish over selfless. I choose to ignore the plight of the poor, and I shrink from standing up to injustice. I understand how I participate in sin every day by reaping benefits of a system that keeps me in comfort and others in poverty. I feel the ache of disappointment when I spend my time frivolously, and spend my money unwisely. I feel the sting of pain when I turn away from my daughters, or turn toward them too harshly. I have a firm grasp on my own sin, and maybe that’s why as a pastor I don’t pay particular attention to yours.

When I started from my own sin, I was starting from fear. I was shackled by shame. I was paralyzed by my own shortcomings.

When I start from God’s love, I am opened to my own gifts. I see more clearly where God’s love is not the lived reality, and I mourn. And I act. I am motivated by love, not shackled by fear. I still fall short. I see my mistakes, but I no longer go to bed fearing them. Instead I lay my head down knowing I am loved by God, and tomorrow I will have the precious gift of loving others. Instead of fearing how I will fall short, I have hope for the love I can live into.

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The Gathering

I’m gathered in a group of people. I’m not sure why I’m in this group. There were a lot of us together, and someone came in and put the guy standing right next to me in the other group. Clearly something important is happening here. I must have been chosen for something, but what? I’m not sure what I did to deserve to be here. As people are sorted into the two groups I start to understand, a little. I can see why she is here. I understand why he is over there. But me? It doesn’t make any sense.

overlapping-circles-26633-400x250Now the answer comes. The one doing the sorting stands above us all and says, “You are in your group because of how you treated me.” This makes even less sense. I’ve never seen that man before in my life. I take that back. I’ve seen him – from a distance. I’ve heard of him. I’ve heard people talk about him. . I’ve read about him. I know he’s important, but I’ve never met the man. Rest assured, I would have known it if I had met him. He’s not the kind of guy you can forget. And if I had been with him, I’m sure I would have treated him with the respect he deserves. I’m in my group because of the way I treated him? I still don’t understand what’s going on.

“When you were with the least of my children, you were with me. What you did to them, you did to me,” he says.

And suddenly it becomes clear. All this time I had been in a fog I didn’t see. It was like I was standing in front of a mirror in a bathroom after a long shower. Now, with those words, the mirror has been wiped clean. I can see.

The guy I worked with that drove me crazy. The one who never pulled his weight; who was never dependable. I’m pretty sure he cheated me once…

The man on the street I passed every day. The one with the cardboard sign and an empty bottle in a bag. I don’t know which he needs more, a handout or a kind word…

The women on my computer, the ones that would pop up in mystery emails and advertisements whether I wanted them to or not, whether I clicked on them or not…

The waitress who took forever, who got my order wrong, and didn’t seem to care…

The child who would never sit still. The one who knew every one of my buttons, and delighted in pushing them…

That guy who bussed my table at lunch, but who never learned to speak English…

That guy who was walking toward me on the street. The one with sagging pants and the oversized hoodie. He could have been hiding anything in there…

The child on the brochure, the one suffering from malaria who desperately needed a bed net or some medicine…

The teenager who was hurting, who didn’t know where to turn, who was confused by her feelings and had been told over and over again that she wasn’t worthy of love…

She was Christ. He was Christ. They all were Christ. And now those times that I interacted with them, the times I saw them and the way I responded came rushing back to me. They played before my eyes like scenes from a movie. And suddenly it is so clear. I know exactly why I am in this group.

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Peace. Art. Love. Music.

scheduleThree years ago my family took a trip to Fort Wayne, Indiana. We thought we would listen to some good music, hear some interesting speakers, meet some new people, and then head home. We had no idea that it would be the birth of long-lasting, life-giving friendships.

We were all excited and a little nervous about a this new adventure called the Lion and Lamb Festival. Rachel Held Evans, whose book had just moved me to multiple tears, laughs, and thoughts, was the keynote speaker. I was preparing to be a speaker myself, the first time I had ever been in a “program” outside a church. It was an exciting time, and I had no idea what to expect. The first Lion and Lamb Festival was attended by a couple hundred people. It wasn’t a huge event, but I had no idea the kind of impact it would have on my life.

With the advantage of hindsight, I now see that first weekend in Fort Wayne as one of the more significant events of my life. In 2013 my blog was starting to gain new  traction. A couple of viral posts, and the a RT by Rachel Held Evans herself had given me a platform I had not expected when I started this blog in 2008. At the same time, I was an associate pastor. I was happy with the work I was doing and enjoyed the extra family time the position allowed, but not preaching every week was hurting me. I was struggling with finding my own voice and mourned the loss of being able to cast a vision for a church. My blog and a new podcast called Pulpit Fiction became creative outlets that fed my spirit and my intellect.

At the Festival I was able not just meet Rachel Held Evans, but sit down and talk to her about blogging, writing, travel, and football. I got to know her a little, and learn from her. I met musicians, and connected with amazing talented people like Heatherlyn and Amy Cox who have since come to my home to share their music with my friends and family. My own family met another family with two daughters at similar ages. Despite meeting at a place hundreds of miles from both of our homes, we have since gotten together several more times.

I have gained much from the Lion and Lamb Festival, but the greatest thing I have gained is friendship. From that first summer weekend in 2013, I have built relationships that have led not only to friendships, but expanded ministries. We gathered in the name of Peace, Justice, and Love, and those things have lived on long after we went home that first weekend. While at the Lion and Lamb Festival I had a vision. From the moment I walked on the grounds I thought to myself, “we need to do this is Illinois.”

Now, two years later, The Lion and Lamb Festival is coming to Illinois. Last year I started as a pastor of a church that owns a campground. The first thing I thought when I saw the camp was, “I wonder if we could do Lion and Lamb here.” For the last year we’ve been planning, gathering partners, searching for funding, contacting musicians, artists, and activists. I have shared the vision that was cast from Fort Wayne years ago. This weekend it will take shape at Camp Milan Retreat Center. We have an amazing day planned. Musicians, artists, and speakers are coming to share their stories and their songs.  I don’t know who is going to come, but I’ve been praying about this day for a long time now. I’m praying that more relationships will be built. More people will be inspired by stories of justice. More people will be motivated by the power of music. More people will be know God’s love that is active in the world.

There are still some final loose ends to tie up. The preparation is going to build to a fever pitch in the next 48 hours, but I’m ready. I’m ready for the Spirit to move through Camp Milan. I’m ready for God to do big things

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