RIP Mary.

Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul, and Mary… and if that’s not enough of a clue, google it, young’n.) died today.

And I cried about it.

I was checking out her website and the touching things that her bandmates had to say about her and was struck by the fragility of life.  Do I know where Mary Travers is currently spending eternity?  Nope.  I didn’t know her, and only in passing listened to her music growing up.  But her death reminds me that good works are not enough.  She was an activist from birth.  According to her wikipedia page, her parents moved to Greenwich village in NY when she was just 2 years old.  She spent her entire life working for the causes of the underrepresented, the downtrodden, and the powerless.

But that’s not enough.

Again, I don’t know anything about her spiritual life, and so I am by no means pronouncing judgement on her.  My concern is that people not look at her life, which was spent living for a cause, and think that causes are enough to render you acceptable to God.  No amount of lobbying for abortion rights, gun control, animal rights, or racial reconciliation can get rid of the problem.

Her problem (and mine) is that we have declared war on God.  We’ve said to God that he isn’t doing a good enough job, and that we could do it better.  I still do it about once a day (on a particularly holy day), and Mary Travers did it too.  God, being perfect, and holy, and all of the things that we aren’t, can’t just let us off the hook for our rebellion.  He has to finish the war.  He has to win.  So, 2000 years ago, he won the war, by putting his perfect son on the front line of the rebels.  He killed his son so that infidels and rebels like me could go free.

All of the things that Mary Travers fought for (freedom for oppressed people, environmental awareness, etc) are worthy of fighting for.  But, until you deal with your own bankruptcy before God, you’ve still got a problem that no amount of activism can fix.

May the death of Mary Travers point us to the only cause worth fighting for.

Dear minister, meet your congregation.

Link: Dear minister, meet your congregation.

Yesterday on SCL, Jon asked what we’d be afraid to confess/admit at our church. I think that as ministers it’s time we stop assuming that our church is the exception to the rule, and start focusing less on sin and more on the one who came to seek and save sinners. This ought to be a sobering reminder for us that, as I said in my comment over there, the gospel is NEWS as opposed to instruction. Stop telling your people how to stop sinning and clean up their act. Tell them of the one whose act was clean, who offers his record in exchange for their broken, ugly one.

What’s the point of confession?

I am stuck on the thought that what I witnessed yesterday over at Stuff Christians Like, though good, is not confession.  I did a quick perusal of the words translated as “confess” in our English Bibles (thanks to my Logos Bible Software, it took all of 5 minutes) and found out that Christian confession, from a biblical standpoint, is almost always viewed as positive, joyful, and beneficial.  What I also deduced is that “anonymous confession” is an impossible contradiction of terms, biblically.

See, though it may be therapeutic to give voice to the things you would never tell a soul as an anonymous comment on a blog, you have not yet confessed your sin.  You’re close, but you’re not there yet.

My heart broke as I read through the comments on that site, for the fact that we don’t understand the gospel if there is nobody in our lives with whom we can share the darkest parts of us.  There was a part of me that wanted to shout, “Is that all you’ve got?” after reading those “confessions.”

See, having walked with Christ for somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 years, I’ve begun to notice a pattern.  Every time I think “there’s nobody that struggles with this particular sin…” and then I share it with a group of guys, about half of them struggle in the same ways with the same things. And I am increasingly unsurprised by the depths to which my heart can go.  I think some of the most hateful things, on a very regular basis.  My heart resonated with many of the things I saw “confessed” in those comments.  But my heart also deeply resonates with the fact that Christ has freed me from myself.

The thing we need most, as ministers, is to resist the lie that says our people are not bad people.  There are two categories of people.  (1) Bad, crooked, depraved people in need of redemption; and (2) Jesus.

That’s not to say that God doesn’t give us a new heart with new motives and new direction, as He certainly does; just that we ought not to think that our old heart dies when our new one is born.

The other thing we need to take from the “confessions” is that people need the gospel.  Over and Over and Over.  Daily, hourly, minute-by-minute.  We all need to constantly remember the gospel, or good news that Jesus has become sin for us (even the ugliest sin we can think of) so that, in Him, we might become the righteousness of God (by GRACE).

My favorite word in 1 John 1:9 is “just.”  It doesn’t say God is “faithful and merciful” (which would make sense) but that he is faithful and JUST.  Because Christ died for all of my wickedness (some of which is ongoing), it is his justice that is satisfied by my confessing (joyfully, and without reservation) that wickedness.  He would be unjust to condemn me for something for which Christ already died.

Peace, Now! COEXIST! Make love, not war!

I’ve seen many of these types of bumper stickers and signs, lately.  And I agree, we should work toward peace, now.  But what these stickers and the sentiments behind them fail to take into account is that, essentially, all of the war-mongers out there are thinking the same thing.

“There would be peace, if everybody shared the same worldview, (mine.)”

So the ones who aggressively push for peace and the reconciliation of the different worldviews are doing the same thing as the radical fundamentalists.  Pushing their worldview (that no worldview is more correct than another and that all of us need to pursue coexistence above all else) on others.

One problem is that the peace-mongers have the elevator music of worldviews.  Take out anything that could be potentially offensive, and ignore the fact that only a very small minority of people like what you are left with.

The other (more fundamental) problem is that the peace-mongers have something to lose.  If people don’t reconcile, and come to their way of thinking, they have failed.  Their personal peace (especially in the primarily-agnostic worldview in which they live) is inextricably tied into the proliferation of their philosophy.

Jesus came with a worldview that, though unpopular, actually works toward bringing about real—no strings attached—peace.  His worldview?  That God is King (not president) of all kings, and that all of us have actively and passively rebelled against his kingdom and authority.  Instead of executing justice (something along the lines of a universal flood, minus the ark) he sent his Son, the second person of the eternal trinity, to substitute himself for the rebels, and take our penalty, by dying a gruesome death, and raising from the dead. As Christians we call the content of this paragraph the “gospel” or good news of what Jesus has done.

Now, instead of having to earn God’s favor (and therefore ultimate peace with Him), we are gifted it.  And therefore we no longer have to fight to be right, or to protect our cause (though many well-meaning “Christians” have fought and continue to—because they don’t understand the gospel I just shared above).  One of the things that marked early Christianity was the care for the poor, and not just the Christian poor, but all of the poor.  Pagan kings were flabbergasted that the Christians would even take care of the pagan poor and hungry.

Only in the gospel do we find a true reason to not be selfish (the beginning of peace).  In the gospel we see that we are the rebel, the outcast, who was brought into the family, by grace.  We have all the acceptance, hope, love, and joy that we’ll ever need—in Christ.  That means that we can truly work toward peace, with nothing in it for us.

Hope-Accosted Waiting.

Can I be honest?

The past week has been a struggle.  We are facing an elephant-sized amount of financial support to raise, and despite having been off campus working full-time on developing additional support, we have a net gain of around (negative) 100 bucks per month this month.  It has felt insurmountable at times, and we have struggled with trusting God.

But as I was driving back from Fall Getaway (the only on-campus activity of the semester), I was confronted—no, accosted—by a strong sense of hope.  See, I’m more sure than ever that I am called to be on staff with this organization.  I am so excited about what God is doing on campus, and how He is continually, relentlessly, mercifully taking me to the gospel.  I have a clear vision for where we are going, just not how we are getting there.

These economic times (a phrase I wish were retired, or at least made past tense) have meant a sense of panic in America.  To compound that, the predominantly fiscally conservative culture in which I have most of my doings has reached fever pitch over the national transfer of power to the left-minded.  People are terrified, if that’s a strong enough word.  And the news media is loving it.  The more they stir up the blood pressure, the more their advertisers pay to put their logo just to the left of the “Meltdown” graphic.  (This segment of panicked rhetoric and over-dramatization is brought to you by Sears.  “Come experience the softer side of Sears.”)

Listening to conservative talk radio is baffling to the point of humorous, as you’ll hear minor-key melodramatic advertisements urging investors to buy gold, or seed packets, or underground bunkers.

What drives the panic?  Lack of perspective.

When I panic over how we are going to stay on staff in light of our current financial support, it means I’ve lost perspective on who is in charge.

When you panic because you fear the ramifications of a liberal policy (or a conservative policy), or because your 401(k) is looking more like a 200.5(k), it means the same thing: you’ve lost perspective on who is in charge.

Despite what some politicians (or marketers) might have you believe, the office of the presidency was never designed to save you.  Free market capitalism governed by personal moral restraint, though I think it’s biblical, is not designed to save you.

A full bank account, and a surplus of money coming in each month is not designed to save me.  As soon as we give saving power to anyone or anything in our lives, we’ve missed the gospel.

Let me be clear and say I am not suggesting a carefree, naive approach to what are certainly weighty issues.  I am not suggesting that I should stop aggressively pursuing raising support, or that you should ignore the politicians and what’s going on in the country.  Issues like public healthcare are worth discussing and debating.  They are just not worth panicking over.  Panic indicates that you are trusting in that subject to be your salvation.

As Christians, we should only panic if God is in danger of no longer being sovereign.  Hope, for the believer, is not some wishful thinking where we cross our fingers and think positive thoughts.  Hope (that force that accosted me on the road back from Lake Wylie) is based on who God is, and what he has done.  Jesus didn’t say “it is almost finished, except for that part that will be finished once _____________ happens” (fill in the blank with things like a full bank account, your particular brand of legislation making it through congress, your kid turning out to be a preacher, or doctor, or fisherman…)  He said “It is finished.”  As believers, we can be assured that, no matter what happens in the meantime, it is all going to be all right in the end.  This life is as close to hell as we will ever get.

When we have weeks that are a struggle to latch onto God, we can rest assured that it wasn’t his grip that loosened.  He’s never let go.  And praise the Lord his saving me isn’t based on my ability to keep my grasp on it.