28 November 2014

Leaving Evangelical Perfectionism

A thundering thought for the morning:

When we, as evangelicals, try to be perfectly religious, we forget to let Jesus show up.

Americans have the luxury of seeking perfection. We can work hard to garner resources, set the American Dream in motion, and use our freedom to cast our evangelical net toward those with whom we want to do life--the less messy, the better. The less broken, the better. The less objectionable, the better.

But there goes Jesus, out the door of our perfectly cast evangelical net, to find the messy, the broken and the objectionable.

What we fail to see is that in our evangelical perfectionism, we object to the true net Jesus casts. He never sought or promised perfection though he himself is perfect. He sought and promised, and seeks and promises through us, to rescue all that are lost who want to be less perfect and thus, salvageable.

We get perfectly evangelical when we go off on our own, judging the net that Jesus casts as beneath us or too void of rules and commandments. We park love until things are right--rules less broken, the picture closer to perfect. 

Jesus never parked (or parks) love.

There is not a human outside of the net he casts, unless our quest for perfection removes our very selves from his quest--that of allowing us to be his love message.

What is the message of our evangelicalism?

Jesus, help me trade my evangelical perfectionism for that which is to you the most perfect quest of all: joining my messy, broken, objectionable self with everyone else to love and serve.

22 February 2014

Facing Saturday's Olympic-Sized To-Do List

We all have to-do lists and Olympic athletes are no exception.

For Mariel Zagunis, Olympic fencing champion, serious, stress-inducing to-do's began at a young age. She was just 19 when she missed qualifying for the 2004 Olympics by one point; she wondered if she had failed all those who supported her, even God.

With another to-do before her, a match in Germany to maintain her international ranking, she decided "she would just have to let it go and put it in God's hands."

The match went like this:
She felt an odd lightness walking into the pavilion. A calm she barely recognized. She moved into position. Her opponent attacked. Mariel parried effortlessly, then put her opponent on the defensive. The battle was fierce, unrelenting, yet she was relaxed, not stressed. In her mind she could see the whole match unfolding, each move setting up the next, like a chess game. It was fun!
She went on to win a number of matches that day, and by the time she had returned home, her coach had called to say a fencer had dropped out of the upcoming Games and she was headed to the Olympics as an alternate. Read the rest of her gold-producing journey at Guideposts.

For the rest of us with stress-inducing to-do's, consider this:
Put today's list in God's hands. You may feel an odd lightness walking into your day. You may feel a calm you barely recognize. As you begin your tasks, doubt (your opponent) will strike. As you continue doing each next thing, you will put your opponent on the defensive. Doubt will be fierce, unrelenting, yet you will be relaxed, not stressed. In your mind you will see each next task unfolding, each accomplishment setting up the next like a chess game. It will be fun!
At the end of the day, you will wonder how you got done exactly the to-do's needed, though not in the order you might have chosen. Most importantly, you will be onto a gold-producing journey that leads you into God's type of day: freedom to concentrate on Him and others and to-do's accomplished with less stress.

Become an Olympic To-Do-er.

Thanks: www.guideposts.org.

Comments are welcome at feedyourstrength.com.

07 February 2014

Our Inside Voice: Day 4

It occurs to me that God may have set up the experiment of freedom in America--freedom to find him or to walk away--because it requires of us the complete opposite of the American Dream.

One is self-made; the other submission-made. In the midst of our self-made journey, God in essence asks us to apply as a server's assistant, to work as an underling for and with God, to become a nobody in our own eyes to make room for the largeness of the True God.

In the prime of our career path, he says, "Are you willing to give up whatever I ask of you and follow Me?"

We've been watching Dr. Gilbert Roller (see Days 1-3) struggle with his inside voice that, for years, reminded him that his mom had been swindled of her life savings. Dr. Roller, with his outside voice, told his mom that she had been duped. She told her son that she felt like God led her to give two strangers money to build a mission in Mexico.

God has a voice. When we give that voice the largest vote, it seeks to transform our inside voice with new understanding. Once bridled, our inside voice can sail with God--on that sea of submission--to incredible outcomes that only he can design and in which we can triumph. Our outside voice can be a testimony of praise to this journey.

God is the God of outcomes.

When Dr. Roller retired, he and his wife traveled cross-country to California, staying in campgrounds along the way. In a campground in Missouri, a neighbor camper wandered over and commented on their Kentucky license plates. He asked Dr. Roller his line of work. "Retired now," he said, "but I used to teach music theory."

The man paused, "You know anyone by the name of Roller?"

"Yes, actually, my name is Roller."

The man smiled. "Many years ago, my wife and I met a woman in Texas named Roller. She had a son in Kentucky who taught music. She gave us quite a lot of money. Viola Roller."

What would you do in this moment?

Dr. Roller says his blood ran cold. His inside voice had turned the matter over to God but he had no idea there could be any outcome except the one he had imagined all along. But you see, that's just it--if we let him, God gets the last word in beautiful and mysterious ways that always carry us to better places.

The man ducked into his RV before Dr. Roller could react. He came out with a photo, a simple adobe building with a cross on its roof, with a sign out front: Roller Capilla.

Dr. Roller heard these words, "Roller Chapel, named for the woman who made it possible."

Our inside voices, transformed through the struggle to submit to God's voice, will always end with our outside voices of praise. The freedom we have in America could be God's loudest instrument of triumph.

Comments are welcome at feedyourstrength@gmail.com.

06 February 2014

Our Inside Voice: Day 3

The only place we can find the True God is by sailing the sea of submission.

It is the action word behind every story, every command, every reality of the bible, and to apply its content to our lives today means:
Submitting our inside voice to God, giving him free reign over everything that governs our outside voice.
Our inside voice decides how to pursue the American dream. We set sail in the sea of our own freedom. If we want the real God in the picture, a second step is required. We ask God to take over that very freedom that is ours and do with it as He pleases. Then we set sail in his sea of freedom.

He makes our voyage possible by fitting our freedom into his. Our American Dream is revamped by God's vision and plan and purpose for our lives. Our freedom becomes his ship to command--other countries can't offer him that.

Dr. Roller (see Feb 4th post) struggled with his inside voice that kept reminding him that his mom, from her home in Texas, had been swindled by two stranger missionaries--her life savings gone in an instant, supposedly used for a mission in Mexico. Only after his sons grew up and became, of all things, missionaries, did he let go of his frustration and resentment, submitting his inside voice to God.

John 4 describes what God is looking for as we seek to fit our freedom into what he wants:
It's who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That's the kind of people God is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself--Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, out of adoration.
Adoration required. Hard to come by if we stay in our sea of freedom, reacting to our circumstances without the bigger and true sea that God wants to sail with us. The pursuit of truth is finding out and acknowledging that we, indeed, are better off if we submit our inside voice to God.

Sometimes it is a long voyage to understand how God takes our freedom, our way of doing and seeing things, and transforms it into something bigger and better, always with a higher destination in mind.

How do we keep from jumping ship? What did Dr. Roller discover by staying the course of submission?

Tomorrow: God is the God of outcomes.

Comments are welcome at feedyourstrength@gmail.com.

05 February 2014

Our Inside Voice: Day 2

As evangelicals, we often chase and embrace a lifestyle that inserts God enough to be known as a believer but not enough to cost anything. We tell ourselves we are doing enough for the Lord.

Our American freedom can be honed into a comfy lifestyle if we work hard and live prudently. I fear we have made that the template for our faith walk:
If we work hard and live prudently according to God's Word, he will reward us with comfy events and blessings. We can "dictate" the cost of being a believer and "manage" God and his outcomes in our lives.
That is not the template illustrated countless times in Scripture.

God promises to take our inside voice and our very selves on a journey of struggle. If we persevere, we will triumph, but it will seldom be a triumph we expect or predict.

Richard Rohr, in Breathing Under Water, describes this God:
God seems to have hidden holiness and wholeness in a secret place where only the humble will find it...some topsy-turvy God has decided that those on the bottom will be revealed as the true top, and those who try for the top will find nothing of substance there.
People who have moved from seeming success to seeming success [as we do in the quest of the American Dream] seldom understand success at all; except a very limited version of their own. People who fail to do it right, by even their own definition of right, are those who often break through to compassion. Hopefully, you will be able to accept this cosmic economy of grace. Unless there is a person, situation, event, idea, conflict or relationship that you cannot "manage," you will never find the True Manager. So God makes sure that several things will come your way that you cannot manage on your own. 
Gilbert Roller (see Feb 4th post) bumped up against his mom believing God asked of her her life's savings for two strangers who wanted to build a mission in Mexico. Dr. Roller met God on terms he could not dictate or manage. He struggled with his inside voice that reigned with frustration and resentment.

We must pursue the truth about who God says he is and separate him from our quest of the American Dream. Can they co-exist? How do we submit our inside voice to such a journey?
God promises struggle.
The American Dream promises a chance at success.
Can I open myself up to both? What will I find? How do I sail in two seas at once?
Tomorrow: John 4, Dr. Roller and submission, and sailing one sea.

Comments are welcome at feedyourstrength@gmail.com.

04 February 2014

Our Inside Voice: Day 1

I'd like to introduce Gilbert Roller. Now retired, he taught music theory and music appreciation at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. As a young professor, he and his wife were not on the best financial footing, so the news his mother broke to him at the time was not at all welcome.

His mom was anything but impulsive, especially when it came to money. He was immediately convinced that she had been scammed when she told him that she had donated most of her life savings to two missionaries who had knocked on her door in Texas. Her words were, "These nice young people needed money to build a chapel in Mexico."

Gilbert Roller began a voyage of discovery about what we can call his inside voice. He writes, "We could have used that money. For years--even after I got tenure and we raised three sons--I imagined finding the drifters who had swindled Mom, though I wasn't sure what I'd do if I did."

We are hearing his outside voice, the reflection of that silent, inner conversation that streams endlessly through our minds. It is a recipe of hurt, anger, resentment, joy, love, past, present--in short, the ticker tape of residue from what life has dished out up to this moment.

Our inside voice, monitored carefully by God, is the flame-thrower, the abuser, the lover, the gentleman, the favorite encourager, the destroyer of hearts, the whatever-we-give-it-permission-to-be.

Our outside voice that interacts with people is what this residue of our life experiences offers up.

Dr. Roller must have added resentment and anger at this point in his journey. How would he teach his family and his students to love Christ with the load of bitterness added to the mix?

Over the next several days, we want to know how to train our inside voice to overcome the spoiled residue. How do we intentionally bring God into this inner sanctuary of thoughts that drive us?

Goodness, nothing seems harder. Life savings that would help his family...frittered away. Or...each of us has at least one scenario that can carry us to bitter, adding mayhem to our inside voice.

You can read the rest of the Gilbert Roller story here. I'm always grateful to Guideposts for its inspiring, real-life stories. But if you like slow anticipation, we'll learn together the rest of the Roller story and how to impact our own inside voice in a way that frees us to live the inevitable struggle of this life with the triumph God intends.

Tomorrow: A topsy-turvy God.

Comments are welcome at feedyourstrength@gmail.com.

30 January 2014

Sanitizing the Playground and the Gospel: Day 2

Sanitizing is exerting control that is motivated by fear and division. Whatever we sanitize begins to lose its bearings. Yesterday (see Jan 29th post), we saw what happens when we stop sanitizing an elementary playground. When kids are given freedom to choose their play, they become motivated and engaged, not only on the playground, but in the classroom.

Could this be true on the evangelical playground? If you have spent more than a few years in church, you have experienced some version of the gospel at play. Generally speaking, our work consists of jobs and families. Since church is optional, let's call it play.

The version of the gospel to which we have been exposed influences the way we treat people. Period. If our gospel (church experience) has been sanitized, it is motivated by fear and division, and we will begin to lose our bearings. We will bully people with a few rules that create a firewall of protection for ourselves, behind which we hide our brokenness.

I have wondered for years why homosexuality has carried a neon sign inside church culture. I know what the bible says about it, but we have to face the truth that the bible censors lack of love above everything else. Somewhere along the way, homosexuality became an easy target since the preponderance of evangelicals are probably hiding behind other brokenness. When we can sanitize the gospel into a few highlighted issues, we can exert control motivated by fear that I have to face my own brokenness. Division into sin camps--into which all of us can be assigned if that was God's purpose for church--means I don't have to be fully accountable before God for my loveless heart.

Sanitizing the gospel is why we look so hostile to onlookers. The truth is they are seeing our firewall of protection behind which we pretend we are better than whatever neon sign our church culture highlights.

It must be why God says we must come as little children to the truth of Jesus. The children on the Swanson Primary School playground (see Jan 29th post), left unsanitized, found relationship and adventure, making their workday more productive.

What if we could ever stop sanitizing our evangelical playground? We could be children at play, simply loving each other through the adventure that is life. God would take care of our wounds, not treating them as differences but as opportunities to come out from our hiding places and experience the joy of relationship with him and with others.

Love would win.

Comments are welcome at feedyourstrength@gmail.com.

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