The Scandal of Grace

My last post probably seems ridiculous.

More or less, I made the case for hunky-dory Christianity – You’re a Christian! I’m a Christian! Everyone’s a Christian! Everyone gets eternal life! My job on earth is done!  Woot!  But surely, there are right ways and wrong ways to do Christianity right?

I can’t say that I don’t believe that.  Without a system of right and wrong, Christianity falls apart and my faith withers.  But, despite how I plan to live out my individual Christian life, my assumptions have changed.

I used to believe in the hell-bound theory:

  • They are among us.
  • On the street.
  • In your school.
  • In our churches.
  • You pass by hundreds of them every day.
  • People who are going to hell.
  • You drive by their churches.
  • You drive by their private colleges.
  • You see them speak on youtube and tv.
  • You talk to them.
  • They are all around us.

This mantra ran through my head over and over.  I questioned the salvation of everyone I came across, didn’t matter if we shared the same beliefs, didn’t matter if we went to the same church.  Until I knew for sure, they were listed as hell-bound, until proven otherwise.  But, then again, you never really know what is in a man.  So, maybe they were just really good at pretending.

I trusted no one (‘sides from some members of my immediate family).  And, I was alone in my faith.

Then, I saw the light.

My assumptions changed to the other side of the spectrum.  I assumed the salvation of everyone I came across, didn’t matter if we shared the same beliefs, didn’t matter if we went to the same church.  I realized something profound, and suddenly I thought …

You know what? I bet that whatever mistakes [fill-in-the-blank] has made in his past and whatever mistakes he is making now and whatever beliefs he has completely convoluted now, God loves this child so much and so desperately wants life for him, that He is willing to look past his fallen nature, forgive, and save him a seat at the Banquet.

Because, truthfully, I believe with all my heart that despite my past and current mistakes and despite my past and current convoluted beliefs, God loves me so much He has gazed past my fallen nature, forgiven me, and has a seat saved for me at the Banquet.

Suddenly, I was free to love and trust and believe in my fellow Christians.

And, to be honest, I haven’t reconciled what it means to assume the salvation of others, but now I can love them without trying to “save” them.  I can believe in them without having to “warn” and “correct” them.  There is a place for that.  And, I’m still figuring it where it is.  But, there’s no longer a pressure to “fix” those people that I love.

And, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Gracious legalism

Here are five Tenets of Grace that I believe that are radically different than anything I believed before.

1. I believe in the concept “once saved always saved”.

This means that once God has invited you into His family, there is nothing you can do to jeopardize His love for you.
This is to the Christian who killed their first baby. This is to the Christian that treated their child with so much hatred he/she committed suicide. This is to the Christian who was used and forgotten by the spouse that didn’t care. This is to the Christian who used and forgot that spouse. This is to the Christian who raped the little girl put in His care. This is to you.

God forgives you.

2. I believe that you can never do so much wrong in your life that God will give up on you.

This means that once God has invited you into His family, nothing in your past means anything. This is to Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Osama Bin Laden, the cop in Ferguson, the people who bomb abortion clinics, the people who tell others that they’re not good enough for church, the child molesters and murderers, to you.

God will forgive you.

3. I believe that Christianity isn’t a set of rules that you must get right but a growing process of your relationship with God.

This to the Baptists, the Catholics, the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the non-denominationals, the Pentecostals, the Evangelicals, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, to you.

I believe in God’s love for you, and it is not dependent on your doctrine.

4. I believe that there is nothing you can do, nothing in your past, nothing in your present, that gives me the right to question God’s love for you.

I forgive you and let go of preconceived notions of your “goodness” or “badness” and choose to see you in the light of God’s love for you.

5. I believe grace is the epitome of Who God is.

I believe in you and your worth to God and His kingdom.

—–

I didn’t used to believe in these things. I used to believe these Tenets of Legalism.

A. Salvation could be lost at any moment. – Hebrews 10:26
B. There was a limit to God’s mercy if you committed enough past sins. – 1 Tim 1:13
C. Obeying the rules of the New Testament determines you salvation. – John 14:15
D. If I knew that there was some sin in your life that needed to be rectified, I had the responsibility to point it out. Furthermore, I could judge whether or not I could trust you as a friend according to how well you performed in my eyes. – 1 Cor 5:12-13
E. The requirement of obedience was the epitome of Who God is. – John 14:15

But, there’s something that has completely messed with me: Jesus came eating and drinking, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. I don’t know anyone like that. I know so many Christians who have “earned” my respect (see C and D above). But, there is not a Christian in my life who I would recognize as a friend of sinners. Everyone’s a sinner, and these are people of great grace. But Jesus was so close to the marginalized that He was derisively called a “friends of sinners”. His grace must run so deep, I can’t reconcile this one concept, this “friend of sinners” without reaching conclusions 1 – 5 above.


Funny though, I always viewed myself as gracious, even when A – E dominated my life. I was extremely submissive and helpful whenever I could be. I was a friend to people and loved on people who didn’t live up to my expectations, who probably failed the standard set in D. I was very careful with advice. I listened more than I spoke and did my best to speak life into the situations of others, life and love instead of judgment.

But even writing these words, I can see the ugly head of pride and arrogance. It came up often. I constantly thought of myself as ministering to people who simply were not as good of Christian as I was. But I had a great solution to these thoughts. I knew they were wrong, and I didn’t want to be the Pharisee but rather the publican.

I focused and magnified the sins and failures in my life until I wasn’t just in the same level as everyone I had judged. No, I judged myself as worse than they, a crippling broken soul. Whether, I truly believed that I don’t know. But, whenever I found myself lifted up, I fixed things by tearing myself down in my mind.


I used to measure Christianity on a scale of extreme legalism to extreme grace. I tried to be in the middle.

Grace time line

Extreme-legalism Christians were mean. They gave judgments without permission or concern of the hurt that they would cause. They bombed abortion clinics. The picketed the funerals of gay people. They routinely reminded people that they were going to hell. Neither Christians nor non-Christians wanted to be around them. They took concepts A – E to the extreme.

Extreme-grace Christians were hippies. They basically thought everybody could go to heaven. They basically thought that sin didn’t matter. They believed that everyone deserved to be saved and that you could say a prayer, kill a child, and God would welcome you into His kingdom with open arms. They didn’t seem to make the world better but ignored its problems under an umbrella of “God loves everyone, Yippee!”

The funny thing is that I totally believed A – E. But, I tried to be more on the gracious side of how I treated people. Ironically, this became my mask. I had to hide my legalism so that “lesser Christians” would feel loved and I had to pretend to be really good, even better than I was because I wanted the approval of the “better Christians”. If they thought, I was good enough to be one of them, maybe even to be a leader, then God must think the same, that I was good enough to be His.

Then, over the course of a few years, one of the best things that could have happened to me changed everything. I and my bride were routinely “given advice” by an extreme-legalist. We were told that we were simply not meeting God’s expectations, we’re not good enough in His eyes, and had plenty of sin to point out. The thing is that I was really good at hiding sin. And yet, the little that wasn’t hidden was enough to condemn me.

The problem was that we still believed A – E. And, the problem was that under that paradigm, it didn’t matter how good we were, how gracious we were, how nice we were, the arrogance still existed, along with the self-loathing.

Somehow, no one was good enough for me to trust, for me to love as an equal. Either I would love them as a “lesser” or respect them as a “greater”. And, somehow, I was never good enough, not for God. I never met my own expectations.

The concepts A – E became a box, a prison that kept me from feeling I could ever experience God’s love much less deserve it. But, more than that, it became an island, because there was no one who could “know”. Once they did, I would be abandoned … Not good enough to be a part.

I slowly realized that I would rather die than live in that prison. Sounds a bit melodramatic, but wouldn’t you? If life on earth was going to consist of me always trying to be better but never good enough – if it would always consist of the loneliness of always hiding the darkness in my life and only admitting it to the select few who were both better Christians than me but also ones who would not desert me (which they wouldn’t desert me because we could never become close enough for me to affect them negatively) – if that was life, death and the freedom of heaven just sounded better. Being somewhere I knew that I was loved with no expectations and nothing to live up to and no social games – it just sounded better, not in a suicidal way but in a realistic way.

Then, I realized something: as long as I held to concepts A – E, the very foundations of legalism, I would always be in that prison. Something was wrong, incredibly broken with Christianity that made me long for death. What happened to having “life in abundance”.

And it hit me, the foundations of extreme grace made more sense. Better yet, they gave me a Christianity I believed in, wanted to be a part of, and wanted to share with others. But, best of all, it gave me freedom, freedom to fail and not question my salvation, freedom to grow however slowly it happened, freedom to enjoy God’s love and not try to perform for it. When legalism was no longer the basis of my Christianity, I changed. I believed in people. I became more cognizant of my unfair expectations. I started to share more of my life and to see God and not just flaws in others.

I have a long way to grow. Years of believing in concepts A – E have left me with cynically judgmental heart. But, God is gracious, loving me and moving with me no matter how slow-going.

And, I am loved.

And, you are loved.

I used to be gracious legalist, trying to love others from a foundation of a performance-based belief in God’s love for me and them. I played my part well.

But, now I believe in grace that covers all. And, if I’m wrong I believe that God’s grace will cover that too.

I used to scoff at Christians who believed in extreme grace, but now concepts 1 – 5 are the background for my Christian beliefs. And, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

tenets of grace

Your Pastor’s Dreams

I’m not sure why, but I’m pretty sure there’s a Church of Christ opposition to the use of the word “pastor” for its clergy (pretty sure there’s opposition to the concept of clergy as well).

For this blog, I’ll just redefine the word: The main speaker of the church, who, generally because of his speaking or title, is one of the main person from which people seek advice.

So pastor, minister, priest, clergyman, preacher, etc.  Let’s just use the word pastor for now.

I’ve gotten to meet with my pastor over the past couple months in this whirlwind of dream-searching (link here).  I’ve come across two dreams, one of which I want to share with you because it’s one of my favorite answers and because it leaves me completely helpless.

My pastor has a heart for his church.  He has a heart for the broken and the needy.  He has a heart for the rich and the comforted.  He has a heart for doing God’s work.

But, he has a passion for children.  God’s given him a dream to be the advocate and protector of the children in need, not just physical need, but emotional and spiritual.  He imagines creating a safe place for the children in his neighborhood that, no matter what their home life looks like, they will always have a place where they are loved unconditionally and a place where they can both see and find God.

He wants to see needy kids who don’t have food or clothing to be rescued from that need.

He wants to see needy kids lost in comfort and material things but without real emotional or spiritual connection to be rescued from that need.

I want that.  Seeing his heart and his passion is inspiring.  But, I have no idea how to get there.  Some of the dreams I’ve heard, I think I could find a way to be a part of.  But, this one, I don’t know where to start.  I don’t know how to insert myself.  The dream’s on my heart and in my prayers, and I want to DO something.

But, I guess that’s the point of this blog … the point of church … the point of you guys.

God gives us impossible dreams, dreams bigger than one person, two people, ten people … but dreams that become reality in the wonder of His love and power.

God is the miracle that brings Christians together.  God is the miracle that makes things happen.  And, God is the ultimate Dreamer.

But, for now, I wonder.  Do you know your pastor’s dream?  Are you enabling him to pursue it?

The Parish Dream

Dreams are a pain.

People know what their goals are.  People know what they are doing.  And, most of the time, people know what dream of God that they are pursuing.  But rarely, do they seem to know how to put it into words.

But, even worse, dreams are so ethereal and so abstract, that they are hard for the listener to wrap their head around, to truly understand.

I’ve run into a dream.  It’s beautiful and ingenious and incredibly specific.

To explain however, I need to define a word.

A parish: a local group of Christ-followers who live in a community and work together to bring God’s kingdom to that community.

This sounds a lot like the definition of a church.  In a way, it is.  But, a church has way too many connotations that come with it from our culture.

First, a parish should have no physical location (e.g. no church building).

A parish has nothing to do with denominations or belief systems.  It is simply a collection of believers.

A parish both serves a community and is made up of that community.  A lot of churches are founded with the concept of serving particular communities or even cities; however, many of these churches are full of active members who do not belong to the communities being served, do not have a real stake in that community’s well-being, and do not belong to the community being served.  Because of this, churches struggle with disconnect.  The community generally feels that the church is not part of them but a bunch of outsiders trying to help when they know nothing of what is going on.  The church generally is split between serving a community to which its members don’t belong and serving members who don’t belong to the community the church was purposed for.  Churches generally find a balance.  But a parish wouldn’t have to.  A parish would be interdenominational.  It could consist of members who visit a plethora of different churches that are serving their community.  Furthermore, a parish consists only of people in the neighborhood.  It’s purpose cannot split by serving the members or the community.  By serving the members, a parish builds up the community.  By serving the community, a parish builds up its members.

The dream that’s been shared with me is that of a neighborhood being overrun with a movement for Christ, of the kingdom of God being advanced so much in this neighborhood that other neighborhoods take notice, that other neighborhoods want to see what’s different.

The dream is of this neighborhood becoming a parish, a place where the incumbent Christ-followers are galvanizing God’s work, and where, like a domino effect, this neighborhood is influencing others.

Does that sound like a dream you could get behind?

The True Cost of Cynicism

I have a question.

Do you know what your preacher (minister/priest/pastor) dreams of doing with their life? I mean I know that we’d all like to think that elder’s meetings and bulletins and weddings and funerals and baptisms and counseling and preaching are what they’ve aspired to since they were children.

Can’t you imagine them as a child talking with friends: “I know you want to be a firefighter and that she wants to be a doctor and that he wants to be police officer, but me – when I grow up, I want to be that guy who yells at people on Sunday morning.”

I think for a lot of people who devote their lives to ministry (as a profession), somewhere, they have dreams for what God can do … dreams that shake the foundation of the world we live in … Like those crazy ideas you had when you first got off the bus after a week at Bible camp, of Jesus sweeping through your school and everyone being of one mind in a collective pursuit of God.

But, reality sets in. Dreams die. Church is the fast-moving train, and all you can do is keep up with life and expectations and counseling and weddings and does-it-ever-stop?

For a brief second there, we were Jedi: leading a small band of rebels against the Empire – at least, isn’t that what the early church leaders felt like in their fight against Rome?

But, the most disheartening thing is the people. How do you lead a people who don’t get it, who only seem to give a quarter of themselves to anything? How do you solve the problems of the world when it feels like you’re barely keeping your head above water trying to solve the problems of the people of your church. It just seems there’s so much work to do, and no one’s willing to do it.

The problem is it’s not just ministers, leaders, elders, deacons, staff, families, college students, high schoolers who feel this – we all have this cynicism that builds in us. You can’t trust the church to step up, so you’re on your own. Follow Jesus as best you can, and have grace for the people who hurt you at church or who, at the very least don’t live up to your expectations.

A bunch of professional electricians got together for a conference. They all had lunch together, reminisced about previous conferences and a few jobs where they teamed up together. Someone gave a speech on the importance of correctly colored wire, something they all knew, but still, it was good. They were all encouraged to be the best at their jobs. And, then they were done, went their separate ways until the next conference.

Church has got to be more than a conference where we get rejuvenated just enough to grind at our individual tasks one more week. It’s gotta be more than a get-together unrelated to the day-in, day-out job we do for God.

If anything is going to be the final nail in the coffin of American church, it won’t be the sex culture, it won’t be gay marriage, it won’t be abortion, it won’t be hyper-denominationalism, it will be cynicism, our distrust for our fellow Christians, our distance between our mission for God and them.

And, if you don’t believe that’s true, try this: give your next pay check to the church treasury and ask your church to physically meet your needs/bills. One of the very first descriptions of the early church was that they shared everything in common.

Let’s try it. Let’s risk enough on our fellow Christians that if they don’t step up, we’re screwed.

But, if that’s too risky, try something else, but please, stop this cynicism; stop forcing Christians to prove themselves to you, before you trust them; stop forcing a church to prove itself to you, before you trust it.

Try living on blind faith that the God who’s given you enough grace to be so amazing has also given that same grace to the people you worship with.

Heck, call my family out on the paycheck idea.

Whatever you do, stop approaching fellow Christians with distrust, God can do a lot with one Christian, but even more with a team of them.

*I write this two days after my bride called me out on feeling bitter and disconnected with my fellow Christians. I get it. I’m terrible at this too. I spent most of my very very short life cynical and distrusting of Christians and church. I’ve been burned. But, something’s gotta give. If we’re in this together, let’s risk it all on God’s plan for all of us (not each of us individually, His plan for all of us together).

Time for Some Examples

I hate talking about my life. Even more I hate talking about other peoples’ lives. I have to get permission, and that involves more humble interaction with people than I’m really ever comfortable doing.

Have you ever heard the phrase herd immunity. It’s the concept that if you inoculate enough people, every one who can’t risk getting sick will also be immune. There’s another word – one of those trendy psych words – that basically means herd fear. It’s the concept that if enough people feel or act as if it is inappropriate to do anything about a situation, everyone will refuse to act: whether that be giving help to a passed out person in the ER or stopping a school bully or standing up for a store attendant who is being verbally abused.

For now, I will coin a new term which I’m sure has a better name in some great religious book, herd silence. It is the concept that if enough people seem to have silenced God’s Spirit from speaking and moving through them, then everyone will. It’s that feeling that prevents you from lifting your hands in worship. It’s that feeling that stops you from sharing your testimony. It’s that feeling that keeps you from hearing God’s voice and sitting next to and praying over someone who is in need.

The American Church is broken. I personally think it’s impossible to believe otherwise. But, I don’t think the problem is sinful immature Christians. I don’t think the problem is consumer Christians. I think the problem is herd silence.

The dreams that God gives us are impossible … Absolutely, impossible for us to do on our own, but not impossible for God. Furthermore, I think God has an army of Christians at His disposal just waiting for a chance to make these dreams reality, if we just listen. So, I’m dedicating future blogs to sharing these dreams and I ask you to help make them a reality.

A friend of mine works for an international ministry that is part of a mega church. He happens to go to my house church. A while ago, he shared a real dream, “that the new Christians that were a part of his ministry could learn how to do church like we were doing.” The mega church had done so much for these people and his ministry. He wasn’t in any way railing against it. But, it simply isn’t feasible nor culturally appropriate for these new Christians who were going to some day return to countries all over the world to try to replicate the services a many-person church with a multi-million dollar facility can provide. Instead, he wanted them to return home as missionaries with all the tools they needed to work, including a model of church that would be easy for them to replicate.

Anyway, his comment came and went. Church went on. But months later, for the past two weeks his dream has been on my heart, even more so after blogs like Permission to Dream. God called me to live out my words. So what did I do? I said nothing. I debated in my head about appropriateness. And, then like many socially inept millenials, I put it in a blog so I could face human interaction later.

This is a dream that is winning my heart. I want to put it out there. I want to share it with the world. I want to see it become a reality.

I’ve started collecting people’s dreams for God’s kingdom. Little by little, I want to share them with you. I want herd silence to lose. Because,in reality, it’s not the group as a whole preventing us from doing, it’s Satan’s voice in our head trying to prevent us from becoming who God has made us to be. Somewhere along this journey, I want to learn how to stop listening to Satan. I want us to stop listening to him.

There are many dreams to come … And miracles to follow. Keep reading.

Permission to Dream

I have been incredibly blessed to have been able to participate and work for a camp dedicated to youth who have grown up overseas around the world. One of the main goals of this camp is to give these kids permission to grieve.

Our culture is pretty bad at that, at saying that it’s okay to talk about what you miss from another culture, another country, another life in another world. In fact, the highly mobile families – their children sometimes say more goodbyes to people, places, and things than even seem possible in one lifetime. And when you pick up and leave and start all over sometimes it seems like a part of you has died but no one’s going to lay roses on that chapter of your life.

But, in this camp, these kids get permission to grieve, to say goodbye, to complain about everything that’s wrong with the world, and to finally look past all of that, to let it go, and celebrate the great blessings that is their life and stories.

It’s magical what happens when you have permission.

There’s a plethora of books out there telling us what’s wrong with Christianity, what’s wrong with church, what’s wrong with religion. But, I’m starting to believe that everything is a symptom of one main disease. We’ve lost permission to dream. God gives us dreams that push the envelope, that suggest that life could be greater, that are impossible.

When was the last time you heard someone’s dream for a church, or their faith, or their walk with Christ.

“I dream of the nation of China becoming the greatest Christian influence of the 21st century.”

“I dream of evangelizing Detroit’s worst ghettos and for changing a city known for gang violence into a haven for the poor and oppressed.”

“I dream of doing church every Sunday night with my entire neighborhood outside in the backyard this summer.”

“I dream of seeing God heal that woman who has been bed-ridden for four years.”

The dreams God gives us seem impossible especially at the time. But, I wonder what it was like for David to dream of being king of Israel while he was Israel’s enemy #1. I wonder what it was like for Joseph to dream of his family bowing down to him while he was locked away in a jail cell in another country. I wonder what it was like for Elijah to dream about the nations of Judah and Israel turning to God during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel.

I think church is meant to be our participation in God’s dream for His kingdom. But, that dream is splintered into the lives and minds of His followers. I think it’s in living out the dreams of each other, of His followers, that we get to see His kingdom come.

We’re practical, realistic, careful, and busy. What’s the point of dreaming the impossible? Dreaming the impossible is where faith comes. Dreaming the impossible is where miracles happen. Dreaming the impossible is what gives you the gall to say to a mountain “Move!” and watch it pick up and toss itself into the sea.

Church should be the place where we dream the impossibilities that God’s set aside for us, where we share those dreams that he’s placed on our heart, where breathe life into one another’s dreams for God, where we give God the chance to prove that nothing is impossible for those who are His.

But, it starts here … We have to give each other permission to dream. We have to hear what God’s saying to and through them. Will you be a part of that?