Church, We Must Repent!

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“…All people deserve to be seen for who they are: image-bearers of God.” – Max Lucado

I read this quote from Max Lucado earlier this week and it resonated deeply with me.

Mr. Lucado’s article and an internet conversation I had with an online friend motivated me to write this post. After watching a heartfelt admission of struggle from Grand Rapids pastor Chase Stancle, I reached out to my online friend to find out how she was doing and to let her know that I cared. Her response hit me.

“My biggest quarrel is with the church, my white evangelical brothers and sisters. I post a lot, but I think the real work is happening behind the scenes as I talk to my white sisters about how the church needs to repent of its own racism, and then lead the nation in repentance as well.”

Which brings me to a question. Does the white evangelical church truly believe that all people are created by God as equal image bearers of God? Truly?

Because I see judgement and condemnation, if not blatant hatred, for certain groups of people coming from many Christians. Are illegal immigrants, refuges, African Americans, and the LGBTQ community (among others) somehow less created by God? Do they bear less of God’s image?

I think not!!

And yet, that is how many people who call themselves Christ-followers act, speak, and share on social media.

This is wrong.

I know that as humans we tend to be afraid of things that are different. Of situations that we don’t understand. And fear makes us do stupid things. But that’s not an excuse for racism and hatred. We must repent.

As a society these days we are terribly good at putting ourselves and other people in boxes. We label everyone and then judge them accordingly. Differences are not tolerated.

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Before every mission trip I’ve ever taken, our leaders have sat us down and explained that different isn’t bad or wrong, it’s just different. They encourage us to be patient, listen, ask questions, and be flexible with the differences around us. If this is true on mission trips, why isn’t it true in real life?

What if the Church led the way?

Because we believe in the value of every human life. Because we know that Jesus died for the world. Because we have the Holy Spirit at work in our hearts.

I wonder how much of our problems with racism and hatred stem from our religious versions of Christianity where correct behavior is elevated above people’s hearts? Where outward performance and conformity is rewarded, and where questions are dismissed? If people don’t dress right, or talk right, or look right, or act right, or believe right, then religious Christianity rejects, judges, and condemns. Many of us have been on the wrong side of this scenario and we know what it feels like.

What would it look like if the Church started to love with grace instead of judging with mistrust? What if we listened and asked questions? What if we explored differences with interest and flexibility? What if we stop assuming we are the right ones? (I’m not suggesting we give up on the cores truths of Historical Christianity, but we can believe and still listen while responding in love and grace.)

Friends, this is more than simply a behavior problem and we cannot fix ourselves. This is a deep heart problem and Jesus will do the work. But we need to repent. We need to dig into our hearts, admit our sinful pride, allow the Holy Spirit to sift through our beliefs and point out the ones that need to change. Then we need to agree with Him, and change our minds, and surrender to the change He wants to make in our hearts and lives.

We can do this, Church.

It takes brokenness and humility, but change is possible. Will you join me?

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The One Thing that Stops Grace

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I’m rereading this theological fantasy series right now. You’ll hear a bit more about it tomorrow in my email newsletter. (Not signed up yet? Click here.) The Archives of Anthropos were written by the late Christian author, psychiatrist, and pastor, John White. I first read them as I was a teenager, and then again to my husband after we were married. But reading them now a decade later, I’m struck fresh by the wisdom and truth that White weaves through his story.

In Book One, there is a boy who is supposed to be the Sword Bearer. He has an impressive sword and a mission to accomplish. But because he stubbornly refuses to drink the wine of free pardon, he cannot get his sword to leave the scabbard. He is powerless on his own and is currently pridefully refusing the power of the Changer. I’m so irritated with this character right now and so convicted at the same time.

I find it ironic that the only thing that stops God’s grace is our stubborn pride.

No sinner is too sinful for God’s grace. We can never be too far away from it. Yet He allows us to resist. He wants to give us the Kingdom! But He doesn’t push anything on us.

Often we think of pride as feeling superior, like we don’t need God or His grace. That we are fine on our own. But reverse pride is just as dangerous, maybe more. Reverse pride is deciding that we are too messed up, too bad, or too far away for God to reach. That somehow we are outside of God’s grace.

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The wine of free pardon is available to anyone in Anthropos. The initial sip is full of bitterness and fire, but those who choose to drink are filled with inexplicable joy and peace. They receive supernatural healing and strength. I get this.

Surrendering to God’s grace, admitting we need it and that we have nothing to offer in return…it’s humbling. And letting go of control can be terrifying. Control brings feelings of safety.

But, you guys…grace is amazing! It’s beyond our wildest imagination. Free pardon. Based on total Jesus and on nothing me. It’s crazy and insane and beautiful. And once you’ve tasted it, you can’t go back. Not just grace for salvation, but grace for life. Grace is not just a word or a concept, it’s a force.

I wish there was something I could do or say to convince you to jump into the abyss that is God’s Grace. To leave your pride and stubbornness and control on the top of the cliff and just jump, screaming, eyes shut, arms flung wide.

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It’s not worth clinging to those broken, plastic toys.

But God will not force you, and I can’t either. He will woo you, draw you, tantalize you, but ultimately He will let you decide. And if you choose to stubbornly resist, He will let you.

Too many of us have experienced grace for salvation and called it good. We don’t know what we are missing.

Receiving the full force of God’ grace doesn’t take any action on our part except for repentance and an open hand. Repentance means that we agree with God. We admit our pride and fear and desire for control. We agree that those things are holding us back, that they are wrong. Then, with head bowed and most likely teary eyes, we just open our hands. And we let God overwhelm us with His grace. This is not about us. It’s about Him.

I pray with all my heart that you will experience the love and grace of Jesus Christ. That you will choose to drink deeply of the wine of free pardon. And that you will never be the same.

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Letting Go of Perfect (Blogging at PastorsWives.com)

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Hope you enjoy my monthly contribution to PastorsWives.com. 🙂

After a crazy summer, I was looking forward to our perfect vacation. We’d rented a three room suite at a resort by Lake Superior. I was anticipating lazy beach days, exploring, and snuggly family time. Things didn’t go as planned.

Our suite had plumbing problems, so the owners “upgraded” us to their home. It was beautiful but also awkward and nerve wracking with two small children. Our four-year-old decided this was a great time to express how the summer’s lack of consistency had affected him. He turned into a raging, defiant, fit-throwing monster every time things didn’t go his way. It rained. A lot.

So much for perfect.

Our ideals rarely come true. Perfect vacations. Perfect marriages. Perfect children. Perfect churches or ministry situations. It’s pretty obvious that we live in a world broken by sin.

We can drive ourselves crazy striving for perfection. Continue reading here!

When your Neighbors Pee Outside your Kitchen Window (some thoughts on losing your life)

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I should preface this story by telling you that I’m a country girl. I grew up in the country. We didn’t have any neighbors next to us; we had corn fields and fence rows. And, while we did have a neighbor across the street, we were separated by our huge front yard, and the road, and lots of trees, and their front yard, and their trees. You get the idea.

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My husband and I moved into our current home in the month of November. It was cold. Everyone in our new small-town-neighborhood was safely inside. I recognized that since we had a corner lot, most of our yard was on the side of the house. I realized that my “back yard” all fifteen feet of it, directly overlooked the neighbor’s yard and their shed. I just didn’t think it mattered. And it didn’t, until spring.

As it turns out, that yard was something of a party place. There were crowds of teenagers and young adults (mostly male) hanging around all the time. In fact, I couldn’t really enjoy my own yard because of the smoke and language coming over the chain link fence that stood between us. To top it off, suspicious stuff happened in that shed. I knew because when I was standing there, doing dishes in my sink, looking out the window, I could see things. Things like people constantly coming and going, to the point that they wore a path to the shed, and sometimes I even saw sketchy packages and money exchanging hands.

If all this wasn’t enough, those same smoking, partying, and possibly drug handling boys would pee behind their shed. “Behind” is a relative term, because although their friends couldn’t see them, they were in full view of their innocent, suddenly surprised, dish-washing neighbor. That was the last straw for me! I wanted to call the police…my husband wanted to be good neighbors.

Thankfully, one day during dish-washing, when a young man got the urge to take a leak, my husband opened the window and yelled, “Hey, we can see you!” That got the boys’ attention. After that they went under the tarp which was over the shed when they peed. I still knew what they were doing, but at least I could only see their feet.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mark 8:34-35

These words are so uncomfortable! What is Jesus talking about? Surely he doesn’t mean that I die to the idea of having a pleasant yard or being able to do dishes without seeing someone peeing outside my window. Aren’t those basic human rights? And yet…what’s more important? Being able to “enjoy” my life or being someone who shows the love of Jesus to a broken world? “…for My sake and the gospel’s…”

Unfortunately I’m not a very fast learner…which is bad for me but good for stories.

A month or two later I was coming home with my children. My husband was gone for the night. As I turned the corner in my mini-van, I noticed two teenage boys standing under one of the beautiful maple trees in our front yard. They were smacking at it with sticks, leaves were flying, and small branches covered the ground.The minute they saw me, the boys took off. I was furious! I’d put up with so much from these neighborhood hoodlums, they were not going to get away with destroying my tree.

Without thinking, I slammed my van into park, grabbed my babies, and chased those boys down the street. Seriously! With a baby on my hip and my three-year old dragging behind me, I yelled at those big, scary, teenage boys to stop because I was done with this! Surprisingly, they stopped and let me question them. Even though I’d seen them with my own eyes, they vigorously denied knowing what happened to my tree.

About this time, I realized that I was home alone tonight, and these boys weren’t the safest people, and they had a lot of friends. With that in mind, I let them go and took my babies home. Then I got scared. What had I done? Was I safe? What happened to being a light in a dark world and showing our neighbors the love of Jesus?

I locked myself in my house, put my children to bed, and prayed.

A short time later I heard noises outside. The boys were back…with rakes and plastic bags! I went out on my porch and watched them as they cleaned up the leaves and branches under my tree. We talked. I thanked them for admitting what they’d done and cleaning it up. They were surprised I wasn’t angry with them any more. We enjoyed the summer evening together. It was good.

Somehow after that, we were friends. They would wave at me when they walked by, and I’d wave and smile back. I felt safe because these “hoodlums” were on my side, even if they did still pee under the tarp outside my kitchen window.

The next school year, one of them unexpectedly showed up at our youth group for a night. Even though he didn’t come back again, I know he heard the gospel and the saw love of Jesus.

I wonder how  different things would have been if I’d had my way and called the police instead of choosing to love and be good neighbors. I have a feeling that by trying to “save my life” I would have lost a lot…

This “losing your life” stuff, this “denying yourself”, it’s hard! Sometimes it hurts. And it’s not a one time deal. This story is from almost four years ago, but I’ve been learning more about taking up my cross and choosing to lose my life in the last few weeks than I ever imagined was possible. It’s uncomfortable and humbling and it goes against our human nature. But it’s worth it! Jesus is worth it! The good news of the gospel makes it worth it!

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