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Sin Less v. Sinless

What year is this, anyway?

Freshly back from Annual Conference, I’ve got a lot going through my mind.  Overall, it was a good event; I am appreciative of the changes we’ve made over the past 10 or so years.

One thing really struck me, though, when I heard it at Conference. I’d heard it before, but not in exactly the same way. The statement I heard was something like this: 

No matter how hard we pray, we cannot bring back 1955.

While I couldn’t agree more, hearing it this time got me to wondering: why do we go to 1955?  Is that the only time in the past church people would like us to go back to?

Merely focusing the question on 1955, I think, disarms us as a group from dealing with the larger point that God’s Kingdom in this world, and therefore the Church, is always moving forward and cannot go back to any year. ANY year.

Very few churches currently have people in leadership who were Church Leaders in 1955.  The Church I serve has several active members who were leaders then, but who have graciously and gracefully passed off active leadership to the younger generations. (They appreciate and enjoy being kept in the loop, and those of younger generations seek their wisdom and advice)

I would like to think that Churches that are vibrant and intent on reaching those around them have people in leadership who were not yet born in 1955.  These folks, I believe, might rightly scratch their heads at the year 1955. They might be wondering why, it seems, we seem to want to go back to 1985 – a full 30 years later than the magical 1955.

Remember, folks, even 1985 was nearly 30 years ago NOW.

Church, we do well to ‘look back’ to seek the wisdom of the saints who lead the church in the past.  We do even better to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, who leads us – forward – into the future that God has for us.  If any of us is trying to take the Church back to any date or year, we will soon find we have left off following Jesus.

Speak Carefully?

Before writing this, I checked.  I thought I had blogged before on the use of the phrase “everything happens for a reason,” and I had.  Here.  But that was in 2009.  It’s been almost 5 years, so I’ll feel free to dredge it up again.

This post is inspired by a conversation I started on Facebook yesterday.  I posted “You do not know that ‘everything happens for a reason,’ so stop saying it!”

Rachel graciously pointed out that this post is a bit harsh.  Thankfully, by the time she told me that, I had realized the same thing and expanded my thought this way:

While I do not know with utter certainty that every action of the universe is not ordered, I do not believe thinking this is so is beneficial to us choice-laden or -driven people. Nor do I find such a cliche truly helpful or healing to one who has just suffered unjust loss.

and this

I think it is (at least sometimes) because we WANT there to be order and answers to why things happen. After a recent conversation with someone who has faced the loss of 5 close family members in less than a year, though, I realized this person was not actually comforted by such a ‘promise.”

In fact, this person seemed to feel more distant from the source of such a promise.

I offered, OTOH, that God, by grace, is able to bring good from every situation and event without having caused that situation or event. I believe this perspective on God’s grace is more helpful.

What I’d like to tackle now is related to several responses I received.  I was quickly challenged by some that I don’t know that everything does not happen for a reason.

This is true. I don’t.

But neither do I teach, preach, or say to wounded people that “everything is meaningless!  Nothing happens for a reason!”

To encourage or implore people NOT to say “everything happens for a reason” is neither to say that

  1. nothing happens for a reason (that is beyond your or my control); or
  2. not everything happens for a reason (that is beyond your or my control.

Whether there is a grand design behind every single thing – an Ultimate Cause beyond every single effect is beyond my understanding and yours.

Generally, I think the cliche is offered out of the best of intentions.  It is not always heard that way.  The more I thought about it yesterday, in fact, the more I wondered if Christians saying things like “everything happens for a reason” and “God is in control.” are heard by non-Christian folk as words of judgment and condemnation upon those who suffer.

We want to be able to say something to the hurting and broken among us.  Can we at least agree to choose our words carefully in these situations?

Communication 101

I thought I would make this “101″ for preachers, but most of you are not preachers.

I thought about titling this “the most important thing to consider in communicating the gospel,” but I am going to trust your judgment a bit on what is most important for you.

So, if this isn’t most important, I maintain it is close.

Here it is:

If you are the one doing the communicating, and the person(s) to whom you are trying to communicate isn’t (aren’t) getting it, DO NOT ASSUME THE PROBLEM IS THEM.

Follow me here: I am not saying the problem is you.  The problem may, indeed, be the other person. Or it may be you.  Or it may even be somewhere in between.

But you, the one intending to communicate the gospel, build barriers if you immediately assume the other person is the problem.

I was taught this by a friend.  This friend recently completed a 15 year prison sentence.  We were chatting and I could tell I wasn’t communicating what I intended to communicate. SO I did what I do when words aren’t working and I’m in my office.

I went to my whiteboard.

At first he felt like I was insulting his intelligence by trying to draw and write what I hadn’t been able to speak.

I said, no, I didn’t intend to insult his intelligence. I wanted, rather, to try a different route because I could tell that he was not hearing what I was trying to say.

He stopped the conversation with this: “What you did there – you didn’t blame me for not understanding!  I really appreciate that.”

We learned that together.

Blessing 101

Why do you do what you do?

Rachel regularly makes and packs a lunch for me. I don’t even have to ask her!

I don’t feel like I deserve such a blessing. I don’t think Rachel makes my lunch because I deserve it; otherwise, some days when I opened the lunch bag there would be nothing, or a note that said, “Sorry, you didn’t earn it today.”

Rachel love me.  She loves me not because I deserve her love but because that’s who she is.

I believe this is how love works.  If human love works this way – and I allege that it does – then how much more must God’s love work this way!

Thank you, Rachel, for helping me understand, and experience, God’s love!

Speak for yourself

Next time you try to tell someone something, but dress it in “some people have told me…” or “everyone is saying…,” we know you speak only for yourself.

Own it! Your opinion is worth something.  Really; everyone’s opinion is worth something,

I mean it.  I’m not just bloviating generalities.  Your opinion matters.

In fact, it matters more when you can actually express your opinion.  When you pretend you speak on behalf of others because you think it will carry more weight. Ok, it may not carry more weight, but it will be honest, and honesty carries more weight.

I care what you think, but when you throw down the intimidation factor of trying to convince me there is a groundswell of support behind you, I am more than likely going to blow you off.

I mean all this especially in the context of church work.  The church has not always been good at being honest with one another.  In fact, we’ve got some pretty horrific time-honored practices of putting people in their place and keeping them there. Of silencing minorities we don’t want to hear from.

But we are Jesus’ people.  We claim him as our Savior, and say we want to follow him. We believe Jesus listened to individuals; if we follow him, it is a good practice for us to develop as well.

So, from now on, if I have something to tell you, I won’t try to crowdsource it.  I hope you’ll do the same for me.

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