grace

Review: Messy Spirituality

Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People
by Michael Yaconelli

Is your life messier than it seems like a Christian’s should be? In Messy Spirituality, Michael Yaconelli shows that Christians lives are meant to be messy, because we’re messy people. Rather than pretending we have it all put together, it’s good to live in the messes and praise God for forgiveness. Through several short chapters and a number of emotional examples, Yaconelli demonstrates that Christianity really is messy.

I picked this book up because of the subtitle. I love that phrasing and may well steal it. Unfortunately, the book focuses less on God’s love and more on how we’re messy and that’s ok. The author waffles a lot when it comes to sin and any theological distinctions, leaving a marshmallowy mess that could have been so, so much more comforting. (more…)

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The Reality of Grace

You can get used to the idea of grace. It’s God’s undeserved love. It’s getting a gift you never earned and could never repay. And I pray you hear it every week in church. After all, that’s the center of the Christian message: While we were still sinners, Christ Jesus died for us. And it’s nice, but… our sinful natures reduce the reality of grace to the idea of grace.

You can get used to the idea of grace. But the reality of grace always, always overwhelms.

I had a pastor’s car. It was… not in the best shape. Old by most measures of cars, the sedan had seen better days. In fact, the driver’s window had been replaced by plastic sheeting, so it was obvious just looking at it that it was not in the best shape. I didn’t mind so much. Retaping the plastic every week or two was a pain, but not the end of the world.

A member said he’d work on it; I accepted his offer. He came. Took the door panel off to see what he could see. Told me it was more complex than he could handle; he’d have to come back next week.

Not a problem. I’m pretty patient with these types of things.

And then… then God laughed. (more…)

To Love in Pain

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I was supposed to write a different post tonight, about what the most challenging aspect of my ministry is. I was planning on a nice rundown of the challenges I face and rating them. But then… things happened.

I love so many hurting people.

I’m calling the police again. And it hurts. It hurts so much. This time I’m not mad at me – it’s a very different situation. I’m hurting for the person involved, though. This is a person I love.

Sunday a man tried to come in to worship after we’d started. He never entered the sanctuary. I found out after that his ex-girlfriend, one of my members, saw him and… well, it wasn’t a good look. She told me after that he wasn’t allowed to come into church. I answered that, um, no. We’re not going to bar anyone from coming in unless they cause trouble here. And this is a person I love.

A prospect came to church on Sunday! And a family member of the prospect told me he couldn’t come to church if she was there, because her very presence distracted him so much. And I love both the prospect and her family member.

Today a mother wept for her children to come to church, to see Jesus. Today an unrelated man cried for his children. “Don’t harden your hearts to God!” he wept. And these broken people… I love them, too.

And I hurt so much with them. So much. These are my sheep, the sheep my Shepherd has entrusted to me. (more…)

The Unsavory Art of “Blackmail”

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Can I use the church basement to babysit?”

It was a prospect. My immediate knee-jerk reaction was, “No!” I didn’t respond that way, though. I asked for time to think about it. Realized I really didn’t have a good reason to say no, as long as no one else was using the space and they followed some rules. So I texted back, “I’ll need to lay down some rules. We can talk tonight at church.”

I won’t be at church.”

OK. Any reason?”

I’m mad at you and I’m never coming to church again.” (more…)

Ah, Vacation!

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Arizona. Vacation. At last. A chance to sleep in with nothing telling us to hurry up.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” FWOMP!

There’s a child in our bed, and he’s not ours. “EEEEEEEeeeeEEEEeeeeEEEEEEE!” He’s excited to see us. Oh, look. He’s in our bags now. He found some sunscreen. SPURT! Now there’s sunscreen all over the carpet. And the bed. And him.

Our hostess appears, apologizing, grabs her son and vamooses from the room.

And this is how I met their youngest. Through our week of vacation, I got to see him at his best. Oh, such a kid. I don’t envy his parents. This child is incredibly lovable and loving. I got more hugs out of him in one week than I do out of my kids for a month. He loves being held. He loves making noise. He trusts. If I took his hand, he had no questions. He would grab mine and ask for whatever he desired at that moment in that incredible way of his. He loves exploring and emptying everything and, well, being naked.

Their youngest child has autism.

Their child is someone you quickly either love or want to run away from. (Sometimes both, his parents assure me.)

I saw so much of me in this young boy.

On the ride back from Tombstone, he melted down. Too much stimulus. Get out of the car. Now. “OOOOOOOOOOO!” he wailed from the back of the van.

His mother reassured him verbally. Not much longer Ten miles. It’s ok. Not much longer.

OOOOOOOOOOOO!” he mourned.

His mother reached back a hand. It’s ok. The end is coming. We’re almost there.

OOOOOOOOOOOO!” he insisted.

And as he broke down, his mother unbuckled, shuffled to the back, and held him. And he calmed down.

And look. There I am.

Father, I’m done. I can’t take this anymore. Take it away from me.

And God is good. He’s taking me somewhere.

Oh, but I can’t take it anymore. It hurts. There’s too much going on all around. Please. Make it stop. My people don’t get it. I have to work so hard. I’m always depressed. I want it all to end. Just stop, please. Make it stop. And I wail. And I mourn.

But it’s not time to stop yet. We’re not to where God has chosen in his goodness for me to be yet.

But God comforts this child who calls out and can take no more. He reminds me of his love. He doesn’t end the ride… but he points me to how he’s taken care of me in the past. How he loved me in my shame. How he died for me, while I was yet a sinner. And though I have farther to go… it is better, because he is here.

This child that hosted us… he would run from one thing to another to another so fast. And he’d get into trouble – say, spraying sunscreen all over – and move on, no shame, no connection in what he’d done.

And look at me. I move from sin to “be busy” to sin to praising God so quickly. Look! I praise in church, glorying in Jesus loving me! And look! SPURT! Sunscreen all over! That’s me.

I’m God’s autist?

No. I’m pretty neuro-typical, from all I can tell. But that little boy and I have some things very much in common.

We are sinners.

Saved by grace.

Rescued by Jesus.

Still having sinful natures.

But now we have put on Christ.

I don’t envy his parents. This boy is lovable. Yes, after just a week of knowing him, I can say I love him. I can also say I don’t mind not being around the noise or that style of wake-ups. But… he helped me see me, maybe a little bit, as God sees me.

Someone he loves, despite the many times I prove I shouldn’t get that love.

This child didn’t “do” anything for me. He didn’t let me sleep in. He demanded attention. Demanded love. Demanded I let him outside.

And yet… and yet, I could not say no to loving him. And yes, I’m convinced he loved me in return.

God loved me. I have done nothing but demand from him. What could I possibly give him that he didn’t give me first?

And yet… he loves. He has not stopped himself from loving.

Thank you, Father.

Oh, look! Sunscreen! SPURT!

In the Shadow of the Wave

I’m done. I’m sick and tired of fighting.

It’s not a mental thing. It’s not conscious thought. It’s not even emotion in the way I normally experience emotions. In some ways it’s like a color lens put over a camera. Except the camera isn’t how I see things or even how I process things; it’s a lens over my heart. And that lens is futility.

I know better. I see God doing amazing things. He has accomplished so much in the hearts of his people, ruling in his kingdom of grace.

It doesn’t matter what I know. The lens doesn’t cover my intellect.

The week has been fine. Better than fine. A breath of fresh air after a month of hectic, frantic activity: Several big evangelism events. A preaching symposium. A funeral. A rally. A few people in the hospital. Visits from friends. And this week, finally, some rest.

Yes, a few days were busy. Tuesday in particular I was with people all day long. I lose energy with people, even people I love. I need alone time. That’s not the cry of some pathetic child looking for attention; I recharge in solitude. So at the end of that day, when I was down, when the lens of futility revealed that nothing mattered, I knew I simply needed time alone.

But the lens has remained, and I see everything through the lens of futility. (more…)

So Much Depends

It started when she told me she was planning to live in sin. I chose a lighter touch. “Before you make a choice, ask, ‘What does God have to say about relationships?’” It wasn’t the time to dig deep and pronounce all the fullness of God’s Law. She also knew what God said, even if she had to be reminded. This wasn’t a choice made out of ignorance.

But by that evening… I was done. It began: that slip into… into what? It’s hard to describe. That darkness that says, “It’s all going to hell.” That silent malevolence that creeps into the heart and insists that the end has already come; I should just recognize it and give up.

That gloom settled on me the next morning. I wasn’t in tears; why should I bother? I set to work on my sermon with a mechanical blah.

I considered: a long week ahead of me. Every day, I needed to be with people. There was very little time of aloneness. I know me; I need solitude. I don’t recharge by being with people. I cover up that fact well. In fact, I do enjoy being around people… but it’s draining. I recharge alone.

And this week presented no recharge time. Last week presented no recharge time. That’s what was wrong: I lacked solitude.

That knowledge slackened the darkness that brooded over me. It certainly didn’t hold it at bay, but knowing the black for what it is certainly lessens its menace.

With a heavy heart I set out for my afternoon visits. I steeled myself, knowing that I would be pouring out of an empty well. Yes, I would share God’s Word as appropriate. Yes, I would listen and love, but I knew that as the week went on the strain would become so great. (more…)

A Tale of Two Sinners

Last week I met two sinners.

One was a young woman who has been caught in the consequences of sin. She’s been avoiding me quite a bit, but she needed some paperwork for something else she’s involved in. She stopped by to pick up that paperwork, and as she was there, I asked her, “When can we get together? We need to talk, but I’m not going to do that now. I’m not going to ambush you, and I know you have other plans right now. When can we talk?”

She looked at me blankly. “What do we need to talk about?”

As she had a friend there that I didn’t want to involve in this discussion, I simply answered, “I think you know.”

Again, she answered, “What do we need to talk about?”

After weighing my answer just a moment, I responded, “Sin and grace.”

“I don’t think we need to talk about that.”

She walked away. (more…)