Feedback

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A very brief one tonight.  Nothing on the Superbowl.  Except this:

Ha!

Okay, only that one thing on the Superbowl.  And this:

That was the gutsiest call I’ve ever seen in a Superbowl.

Nothing else.


Today, I got feedback.  Sometimes feedback is the best.  I try to affirm people because I believe words have power.  Motivation through criticism over the long haul bears bad fruit (just as guilt and shame do, in the long term), and as a coach, a mentor, a teacher, a preacher, and as a dad, I’m interested in lifetime impact, not short-term results.  I have moments when I lose sight of this, but I try to carry this view front and center in all my roles.

Today, the mom of a great athlete gave me feedback on my coaching.  I could have cried.  First, her child told her everything I said, exactly what I said.  That means the words sank in.  That means it’s working.

Second, this young person accurately grasped and repeated that I was affirming something I saw in the person’s character, not merely athletic ability.  Athletic ability is nice.  It’s a gift.  It’s fun and a little like being good-looking (I’ve heard): you can be all proud of it if you want, but you didn’t do it for yourself nor do anything to earn it.  You just won that cosmic lottery.  Maybe.*

Character, on the other hand, is the long term fruit.  Character matters.  “Character and competency,” as my friend Erik likes to say.  When I get to see a kid’s character coming out on the field or the court, that’s huge.  That matters more than throws and catches or shots and steals.  I still believe sports can build strong, godly character.  I’ve seen it happen.  I’m seeing it happen.

So that’s what I got to recognize and affirm: character growth, the kind I know will transfer over into other areas of life.

Here’s what I also got in the deal: I learned this great athlete is very sensitive to criticism.  I had no idea.  I didn’t find out because I’d screwed up (for once! Yay!), but because I did it right, congruent with my own values, and through our conversation, the mom let me know this and how much her athlete appreciates my positive approach.

I also don’t like criticism.  Yes, I know, sometimes it’s necessary, and if you can’t take criticism, etc, etc.  I’ve heard.  I also know that I hear one criticism louder than 5 10 a bunch of affirmations.  Bummer, I know, but that’s my stuff and I live with it.  I didn’t know this young person felt the same way.*  I’m not that insightful…or maybe my intuition actually works.  Possibly.

Here’s my conclusion: in retrospect, I’m going to say the moment when I thought, “I should make a point of going over and looking that kid in the eye and saying this” was a nudge from God.  It didn’t feel like divine intervention, just one of those impulses that I acted on because it seemed like a good idea at the time.  Maybe those are the same thing.

But I will tell you this: that nudge will be easier to act on next time because of the feedback.

Maybe that’s exactly how faith works.

 

*How you choose to develop your athletic ability–or not–and how you use it, these are very much character questions.

**You’re going to ask, “Isn’t everyone sensitive to criticism.”  No. Not in the same way.  Some people are very thick-skinned.  Some people simply don’t care what you think.  And some people will pay no attention to affirmation at all and will only listen to critique.  It’s a weird world.

Two Views on Social Media, Part 2

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This second view on social media is a guest post by Paul Brown, a best friend of mine since elementary school days.  Paul’s views are, unapologetically, his own.


There is a portion of the population who are completely entrenched. There is always that portion regardless of whether you are talking about the President or science or religion or economics or whatever. A small fraction exists on either side that is totally intractable.  Realizing that and realizing that I am in fact powerless to influence those people has helped me quite a bit in keeping my peace of mind and in withdrawing substantially from social media. We are powerless because THEY, Those intractable people, must first WANT to find the truth. Until they do none of the methods people use to communicate can persuade them because they believe they already have the truth.

I have come to the conclusion that these people are not the targets for those wanting to reach out and change minds. The targets are the ones outside that group.  They are a much larger demographic with which we may have some success, though not without much work.

There are quite literally millions of people that ARE potentially reachable. To concentrate on the much smaller unreachable, intractable group is to invite failure, depression, anxiety and cynicism, just as concentrating on the news gives people a false impression that there has been a massive deterioration of the world’s moral character and that we are in constant peril.

At this point I want to address cynicism. I can come off like a cynic, and of course I am cynical in some respects. But I am not nearly as cynical as I appear to be. No matter my rhetoric, I still cannot stop believing in people, even though I want to quite often. The way I live my life is not great by Christian standards, but everything I do and believe is based on treating people well and that good systems of government, social programs, healthcare etc., will work if given the opportunity. And all of that relies on enough people doing the right thing if they understand the issues involved.

 

What I think has damaged so many people recently is that those who want not to be cynical or want to be optimistic have seen a whole bunch of walls crash down during this last election. Even many pessimists like myself never really believed that this large of a percentage of our friends, relatives and neighbors could or would gleefully abandon almost every moral tenant they not only claim to have held, but that they have also used to judge others for decades. I think this has been a much harder blow to optimists. It was pretty damaging to me, and I already had a dark view. Unfortunately it lends some credence to the belief that optimists often blind themselves to reality and that recognizing reality for what it is, is not actually cynicism, a belief I contend is valid. And I do realize that is a tough and fine line to walk.

 

Back to social media. Here is one of the things social media has done to us.  I think if most of us were in a crowd, or at a kids football game or an amusement park and we heard someone espousing stupid sounding political bullshit (not bullying someone with it or attacking a person) we would just simply be pissed but ignore it.  Probably move away so we wouldn’t have to listen to it. How many people would chime in or confront those people? But on social media not only do we feel empowered to comment on anything all the time, but we have actually been conditioned that if we don’t address it we are complicit. As if everything that is said is now our responsibility to correct to our own viewpoint. I maintain that these differences in viewpoints have always been there, we are just now much more aware of them because of social media and 24-hour news saturation, and having become aware of them, they are now a matter of emergency action when in reality they have always been there. And this detracts from the real enemy, which is the attack on truth across the board and the control of all aspects of the country and it’s systems by powerful, wealthy interests.

What social media has revealed about people’s hearts is really hard to deal with, though. It shows how easy it is to deceive people, even the ones you interact with on a regular basis or think you know well. The platform and the seemingly all-consuming need to use it to comment on everything has exposed people’s dark interior and there is no denying it now.  There are however still far more people that are simply deceived by the information they have. At least that is my belief. President Trump didn’t win the election because of his core, he won it because many people didn’t vote because they were truly disgusted with the choices and because some were so disgusted with Hillary Clinton that they were willing to vote for what they considered the lesser of evils. (And because people have been conditioned to two parties for too long.) Many of those people are uncomfortable with what has been going on.  I think it’s obvious, though, that the Democrats are also so corrupt and out of touch that they may ruin their possibility for gains in congress. They clearly have learned nothing from the HC debacle and are turning the screws on independents and moderates rather than attempting to reach out and embrace them.  They (Democratic leadership) are attacking everything instead of offering solutions that perhaps independents or moderate Republicans could get on board with.  They are not taking the high road but the low road.  They are doing exactly what they condemned Republicans for doing with Pres. Obama. Which rightfully stokes the fears of Republicans and gives validity to their claims of massive Democratic corruption.

 

All of this to say, because we are given a voice on social media doesn’t always mean that is the best place to use it. Picking and choosing battles is important too. While social media may have started as a way for grassroots activism to work more quickly, I believe that time has passed.  Social media is every bit as powerful as regular media or more so and is now part of the same system that is causing most of the trouble in the world. (BTW, I am not talking about the media system, I am referring to the whole corrupt thing) It is beginning to become like The One Ring in Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings: can you use the devices of the enemy for good? Maybe, but even if it doesn’t subvert you it will likely destroy you in the process.

Two Views On Social Media, Part 1

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I’ve given this a lot of thought.  I’ve spent way too many hours being angry at “people” for the stupid, ignorant things “they” say. I’ve let myself read through discussions of posts, seemingly for the sole purpose of getting myself angry.  What am I looking for?  What do I hope to find, reading through hateful statements that only provoke the next person to escalate?

I’m a fundamentally hopeful person, as in, “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”  Hope rooted in God’s love.  I’m not blindly optimistic that people are just nice.  I don’t think they are, particularly.  Some are awful.  But I believe in love that changes us.  Not magical pixie dust love, but God’s love that we see every day in forgiveness and reconciliation, God’s love that heals and redeems.  

So this begs the question: if my basic orientation is hopefulness, if my central belief is in God’s goodness and willingness to love us no matter how we are and change us through this love, why am I so drawn to read people’s expressions of ugliness?  Why do I choose–why do I have to force myself to stop–reading some of the worst people have to offer? 

Honest answers.  Here we go.

I’m dying to tell them off.  I really am.  Deep in my crooked little heart, I have the same ugliness and sin and I also feel I’m right and smart and understand the world better.  Occasionally, not horribly often, a stranger or someone I barely know will comment on one of my posts in such a patronizingly simplistic fashion that I can only assume they believe I’ve simply lacked this information all my life:

“If you color with the green crayon, you’ll get green.”  

Ah.

 Now truthfully, that shouldn’t bother me.  I already knew about the green crayon, from way back, and this is not actually someone I’m close to and have tea with or who gives me helpful feedback on my sermons.  This is a person insulting my intelligence whose insult should have no bearing on me, because A)Who is this person? and B)That was a very patronizing thing to say, which reflects badly not on me but back on this person.

Yet some ferocious beast in me yearns to crush my keyboard into shards explaining just what an inane comment the stranger made and demonstrating to “the world” how much more I understand everything than this person does.  

Hm.  

If I weren’t careful, I’d suspect that this same beast is behind much, perhaps most, of the comments I read that enrage me.  If I were especially incautious, I’d infer that the same thing that offends me about them is within me, wanting to fire back.  If I were wildly reckless, I might even call that “thing” a spirit.

 Or just sin.  

And that would knock down my whole house of cards.  

I think Facebook, Twitter, perhaps all social media platforms that people use as spaces for uncivil (anti-social) debate, lend to the sense that there is this collective soul, a generic “they” out there who just needs to be straightened out.  In the old days, “they” were far away, out there somewhere.  Now they type!  And their comments show up on my screen!  I’m angry all the time when I’m on these days because They think such Stupid Things! But it’s rarely the same person twice.  I’m not actually mad (okay, I probably am) pissed off at everyone, or even everyone who might hold that position, but because there is a constant stream of “someones” saying stupid things,* I begin to lump them together.  

But this is unchristian.  I think that’s the best way to say it. Social media generates not only anonymous interactions, which we all know allow for some people to show their most hateful side seemingly repercussion-free, but generalizing interactions, removed from individual context or connection (I see the tiny little icon of your cat or a flag next to your comment, nothing more).  That lack of any rooting in our individual peculiarities and uniqueness, the things that can make us endearing to one another even when we disagree, leaves us in the same mindset that people have when they practice racism or sexism or homophobia.**  “You people make me angry; you people are all alike.”  

But that’s false.  When I’m collecting evidence of how stupid people are, reading through their comments, I’m lumping together the person’s Ayn Rand comment with the one about Vespugian immigrants threatening our jobs and the one about how recycling doesn’t matter.  They weren’t by the same person.  They might all disagree with one another’s comments.  The person unhappy with immigrants might hate Ayn Rand and recycle more faithfully than I ever dream of doing.  The anti-recycle person might spend evenings helping shut-ins by delivering their groceries.  Heck, the Ayn Rand fan might be quite hilarious and have great taste in movies.

But they aren’t people to me; that’s what I mean by “unchristian.”  Jesus, who is God Almighty existing before time, came to earth in a very specific time and place in a particular human body, and he became friends with individual people whose names we know, Peter and Mary and Lazarus and Levi and Joanna.  God in the flesh got to know them personally, individually.  Our most basic claim about following Jesus, even before “I’m a sinner,” is “God cares for me.”  Specifically.  Individually.  He cares for you, in all aspects and in most minute detail, down to the very hairs on your head.  

When I turn around and disdain people I don’t know based on a few words they type, I’m defying what my faith is about.  I’m left to conclude, then, that this compulsion to read comments with which I will disagree–and you know, the moment you start reading comments, where it will most likely go–is simply a temptation to sin.  Pride, arrogance, my need to be superior, maybe even insecurity and inferiority that drive me to “prove them wrong.”  Yeah, I can mask that as “getting a better sense of what people on the other side are thinking,” or some such smokescreen, but the real way to do that is to engage my friends in real, direct conversation.  I have enough friends who see things differently than I do (go figure).  

This means I am talking about “a spirit.”  I’m talking about exactly the spirit by which I do not want to be led in my decisions and actions.  It’s obvious, in retrospect, because I can see that my comment-reading-and-lumping almost invariably produces bad fruit in me–meaning it does bad things in my heart and mind, aggravates my insomnia, and doesn’t make me more Jesus-like, even a teensy bit.  You’d think that would have been enough to give me a clue, but funny thing about sin: it makes us think wrong.  It clouds our judgment and allows us to rationalize our destructive and self-destructive behaviors as somehow being benign or even productive.  

I am repenting here.  I hope I am also challenging our thinking on how we see and interact on social media.  You may be way ahead of me on this.  I want to stop dehumanizing people.  Jesus came to help us become fully human, to become the most alive and joyful we can be.  

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

I think this is what I’m saying: I want to interact with people as Jesus taught, not as the thief leads.  

 

 

*I know we don’t all agree on what constitute “stupid things.”  If, as in my subsequent example, you happen to love Ayn Rand, fear Vespugian immigrants, and despise recycling, I apologize; I wasn’t trying to single you out.  

**Don’t begin to tell me homophobia is not real.  I had a conversation not long ago with a self-proclaimed Christian who, when the subject of gays came up, stated “I hate them. I hate them all.”  

Rachel Denhollander, Costly Grace, and the possibility of Redemption, Part 2

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[I originally intended to post this and part one together.  Kim suggested that it might reduce the impact of Part 1 to make it that long.  My wife is wise.  I didn’t want to take away from Rachael Denhollander’s story.  I do think this will make more sense if you’ve read Part 1 first.]
 
 
In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned against “cheap grace.”
 

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”*

 
Cheap grace is excusing violaters, molesters, and assaulters, who have not asked forgiveness, much less demonstrated repentance.  Looking the other way in the face of such evil is the antithesis of the Gospel of grace, which calls all evil and sin into the light for justice as well as grace, for healing of the victim and then, we pray, repentance, forgiveness, and redemption for the violater.  Grace leads to transformation because God’s spirit works in us.  Anything that offers excuses instead of sincere repentance, that falsely calls victims of abuse “liars” instead of exhorting abusers to face  the “crushing guilt” of the abuser is not Christianity.  If it declares itself “Christianity,” it is a false Gospel.  Paul, the chief of sinners who experienced true repentance, wrote:
 
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—  not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!  As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!        Galatians 1:6-9
 
“Let that one be accursed” is a polite translation.  Paul is saying, “Damn them!  Let them be damned!”  Paul could not say this any stronger.**  The Gospel of God’s grace takes our breath away because it offers true, costly forgiveness for literally anything; God offers forgiveness freely because God pays for that costly grace that condemns sin yet sets sinners free.  Jesus gave his life for this.
 
Rachael Denhollander gives face and voice to true, costly grace.  She embodies the forgiveness that Jesus makes possible through his death and resurrection.  She offers forgiveness to her attacker.  She offers what she has received, what God has given her.  Through God’s love in her, she has the strength to forgive even this man.  
 
Contrast the women who received justice, who were able to face and address the man who violated them, with those who are disregarded, discredited, maligned, whose characters are torn apart, while the man who violated them continues on unperturbed.
 
Contrast the true Gospel, in which Rachael Denhollander can both confront her attacker–and the system that allowed him to continue–and offer him a chance of redemption
versus
a perverted Gospel in which an attacker takes no responsibility, is defended by people calling themselves Christians, and consequently experiences no guilt, no grace, and no redemption.
Where is the healing for the one abused?  
Where is the hope of transformation for the abuser?  
 
I understand why Paul speaks so vehemently.
 
 Every day, people are told that both of these contradicting things are the Gospel.  Are Christianity.  Are grace.
 
But I am compelled again to say what Rachael Hollander reminded me is true:
 
There is only one Gospel.
 
There is only costly grace.
 
Grace is greater.
 
 

“Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you. I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.”  Rachael Denollander***

Every abuser needs to hear these words.  This is their only chance for Grace.  
 
*Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship.  
**Paul writes later in Romans that he wishes the false teachers leading disciples away would “emasculate” themselves, i.e. dismember themselves.  That’s vivid, too, but not in Paul’s view not even this is as serious as being damned.
***I encourage you to research what Rachael Denhollander went through to seek justice for her abuser under the law.  She paid a huge cost.  She exhibited incredible courage and faith.

“Those first few weeks and months waiting to see if anyone else was going to speak up was absolutely hellish. Within 24 hours, Nassar knew that I’d come forward. And I was alone. That was really scary.

In the first few weeks until the child porn was found, the things that were said about me, the things that were said about Jamie (Dantzscher), who was anonymous at the time, were really quite vile. And it demonstrated perfectly why these victims were silent.

I was not surprised. I knew what the cost would be.”

Final thoughts: we admire what Rachael Denhollander did and the incredible strength of her faith.  But she was attacked and threatened and bullied, called a liar and slandered in any number of ways by those trying to cover up what Larry Nassar had done to her, by those in power who had much to lose.

If we are living the Gospel, if we believe in Grace, we take the side of the victims and seek to empower them in their pursuit of justice.  We seek to amplify their voice.  If we are silent, if we pretend we don’t realize what crimes abusers have committed, if we turn away and close our ears to the cries of abused women and men, we put ourselves on the opposite side from God and we oppose grace.

Rachael Denhollander, Costly Grace, and the possibilty of Redemption – Part 1

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I haven’t written a blog post in January.  There are a number of reasons: numerous commitments, sick wife and son, waning motivation, prioritizing writing time, discouragement.

But I read a quote and feel compelled to respond.  Simply put, it epitomizes “Grace is Greater.”  I have to write about it.

“Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you. I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.”

Rachael Denhollander spoke these words, in a courtroom, to the man accused and found guilty of molesting her, repeatedly, when she was fifteen.  The accused, Larry Nassar, had more than 150 women testify against him.  They spoke their minds.  They spoke their hearts. As Denhollander expressed it:

I do want to thank you, first, Judge Aquilina, for giving all of us the chance to reclaim our voices. Our voices were taken from us for so long, and I’m grateful beyond what I can express that you have given us the chance to restore them.
 
Nassar was sentenced to between 40 and 175 years for decades of sexual abuse against one hundred fifty-six girls.  He also was found guilty and sentenced to 60 years for federal child pornography charges. He will die in prison.
 
The depth of Nassar’s atrocities, his sheer, depraved sinfulness (I’m guessing even secular folks may be comfortable with that description in this case) is difficult to fathom.  You and I might argue that he is beyond forgiveness.
 
But Rachael Denhollander has forgiven him.
 
I take her at her word.  She offers the man whom I would be sorely tempted to describe as a monster and an abomination her forgiveness and exhorts him–prays for him to receive, to experience, true repentance and then true forgiveness from God.
 
I have spent years (and years) forgiving some people in my life whose sins against me, by my own measure, are a trifle compared to what Ms. Denhollander suffered.  I try to grasp her process of saying with sincerity that she forgives her abuser and I fail.
 
But I believe her.
 
And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.
 
Reflect on these words for a moment.  Then consider to what “that” refers in her sentence:
 
“Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet.
 
The crushing guilt is what makes the Gospel of Christ so sweet.  The Gospel of Christ “extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found.”  To the extent that Larry Nassar is a monster, precisely to that extent God offers him grace.  Ms. Denhollander forgives/has forgiven Nassar and so will God, if Nassar truly repents.
 
Does that offend you?  Because I am offended.  I believe in grace and know that God’s grace has saved my life and yet I’m offended.  But it’s good for me to be offended. It displays for me my own hypocrisy, and yet proves my blog’s thesis statement: to whatever degree we grasp God’s grace, it is greater. than. that.
 
The power of the Gospel is that there is no one living who is beyond God’s grace.  No one.  God will forgive anyone who repents for anything, for everything they have done.  Me, Larry Nassar, you.  All of us.
 
Understand that no one is excusing Larry Nassar’s crimes, least of all Rachael Denhollander.  Her courage, determination, and persistance put him in prison, not single-handedly but as the single biggest contributor to bringing about justice for his abusive violence.  To excuse means to wave off, to look the other way or ignore, to accept an excuse as covering the sin.  Hardly.  Sin has consequences, and sins that harm others have greater consequences.   A sentence of two hundred years in prison is the opposite of “excusing.”
 
Grace looks directly at the crime, the sin, the atrocity.  It recognizes the crushing, appropriate guilt.  Then, while allowing consequences, it offers forgiveness and the opportunity for redemption.  None of this has anything to do with deserving or earning forgiveness: grace means precisely that you do not and cannot earn forgiveness.  Grace is giving something good when something bad is is deserved, giving love and forgiveness and love when condemnation and death are deserved.
 
Grace is more powerful than revenge.  Forgiveness frees the victim. It frees the victim from being a victim anymore, sets the abused one free from the power of the sin*, and, astoundingly, opens up the possibility of redemption for the sinner, for the violator, in a way that revenge never can.  We have historical examples.  Saul of Tarsus.  He hunted down followers of “The Way,” the radical heretic Jesus, and dragged them from their homes in chains, seeking their death sentence.  “Breathing violence and threats.”  Then Jesus redeemed his life.
 .
Confrontation, repentance, forgiveness, transformation.  Grace.
Paul understood the crushing guilt.  When he describes himself as the worst of all sinners (“the chief of sinners”), I don’t think he’s speaking lightly or being falsely self-deprecating.  I think he’s remembering accosting mothers and fathers in their homes, remembering the eyes of their children watching him make their parents disappear, turning their children into orphans, for the crime of responding to a teacher who taught love and forgiveness.
 
But that was ancient history and we elevate “The Apostle Paul” to saint status, forgetting who he was, what he was.
 
Today, Rachael Denhollander offers Larry Nassar forgiveness.  She points the way to his redemption, because God can redeem even his life.
 
#MeToo and #ChurchToo call out sinners for their sins, abusers for their crimes.  The women and men who have suffered abuse deserve a voice, they deserve to see justice for their abusers.  Then they must decide if they can forgive.  I’m not standing in their shoes.  I’m not claiming that I would.
 
I’m saying that Rachael Denhollander did.  She reminds me, I hope she reminds us all, of the breathtaking, shocking power of grace.  She’s my new hero.  Plus Jesus is my hero, for giving her the love and the strength to do this.  I’m pretty sure she’s fond of him, too.
 
 
 
*I don’t say this lightly and forgiveness for in some situations may be a lifelong process.

Sharing Jesus–Manuscript

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[Note: I underline Scripture in my manuscripts to make certain I read it word for word. I’ve left it underlined below to avoid confusion, since I’m reading through all of John 6]



I posted this comic this week in a Far Side group. For those of you who don’t recognize it, who were born like last year, this is a comic strip called The Far Side. I see two schools of thought on interpretation here. First, people running amok in the world are an accident. We were supposed to stay in a bottle in God’s chemistry set, but God bumped us with an elbow, knocked us off, and the rest is history. The second is God intended to set us loose, but wasn’t actually finished fine tuning us yet, which would also explain a lot. I understand this is not 100% theologically accurate with the Genesis account of Creation. But it is funny. If it isn’t funny to you, um…

 

We’re starting a series today on Sharing Jesus. I want to tell you this is not a series on evangelism, but it is…but it isn’t. Evangelism is sharing Jesus, but Sharing Jesus is greater than evangelism.

So people think

Evangelism=Sharing Jesus,

but

Sharing Jesus>Evangelism

or


If Sharing Jesus and Evangelism are concentric circles, evangelism is the small circle within sharing Jesus.

 

 

We’re doing a series on Sharing Jesus, the Big Circle. We’ll address evangelism in several ways, but I’m hoping we’ll understand it as part of the larger, more expansive view, the Life of Sharing Jesus.

Okay, if that’s not enough Big Picture for you, I’ll do one more. There are different ways to conceptualize, to picture what all of Life is about. One is to say “All of Life is Worshiping God.” And that’s true. We don’t just have an hour and half of worship on Sunday morning; we followers of Jesus worship God with our whole lives, every minute. That’s our calling and we’re learning to make every aspect of our lives worship. Another perspective is that all of Life is discipleship to Jesus. Life on earth, for us, is learning to follow Jesus, every minute of every day (plus every night, in my case), so we can conceptualize Life as discipleship, learning to live the calling, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” There are strengths and weaknesses to each view. I would say each is true, and useful to think about to help us to grasp that there is no life apart from God; we’re not part-time followers of Jesus. Jesus is our life. C.S. Lewis writes:

“What cannot be admitted–what must exist only as an undefeated but daily resisted enemy–is the idea of something that is ‘our own,’ some area in which we are to be ‘out of school,’ on which God has no claim… When we try to keep within us an area of our own, we try to keep an area of death…”

(As always, when I quote C.S. Lewis I’m tempted to read the entire book or essay to you, but I won’t. Read “A Slip of the Tongue” in The Weight of Glory. Please.)

So if you want to understand what this series is about, “Sharing Jesus” is another way to understand that Jesus is our whole lives and must be our whole lives. Imperfectly, of course, because that’s us, and grace abounds, but this is always our intention. Our lives are to be Sharing Jesus, sharing in Jesus, sharing Jesus with one another as community, sharing Jesus with our world, those who don’t know Jesus and those who know Jesus.

Reading from John 6:

6 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

This is one dividing line for people who do and don’t believe in Jesus: do you believe that God literally made more bread and fish, that Jesus multiplied the food so that there was enough for everyone or is this more of a symbolic “multiplication,” in which people shared uncharacteristically because they were inspired by Jesus’ example to be generous? In other words, do you believe in miracles or do you not? Do you prefer to explain events in other ways? Personally, I think John wrote it this way to prevent other explanations. We know how many fish and how many loaves they started with and John says specifically, “So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets” Five barley loaves, whole, don’t fill twelve baskets. John doesn’t say, “and from what everyone pitched in, there were twelve baskets left.” No. From the five barley loaves, all five thousand people ate their fill, and twelve baskets of bread were left over. Likewise the two fish went around: “So also the fish, as much as they wanted.”

Then disciples got into a boat to cross the Sea of Capernaum and Jesus walked on the water. Lots of sermons in that, but I’m not focusing there today except to say that’s how they got across the water. Only the folks in the boat saw Jesus do this, and I don’t think you’d forget it if you were there and saw it with your own eyes. Miracles.

The Bread from Heaven. 

22 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Just to summarize, those people who enjoyed that miraculous feast come looking for Jesus, which is understandable to me. Jesus says, “you’re looking for me because you liked that feeling of having a full tummy, not because you saw a miracle, an act of God. Don’t put your energy into just getting food that will eventually go bad; pour yourself into getting the food that will last forever, the food only I can give you.” The people kind of miss the point and ask, “So what works of God, what actions of ours to obey God’s Law, do we gotta do? What will qualify as the right obedience on our part?”

Jesus says, “Believe in the one God sent. That’s the work of God which will give you life.”

Then the people are like, “Well, what sign are you going to give us to prove it? Because our ancestors received manna, so what do you got?” And I just think, isn’t this funny and exactly what we’re like? Yesterday, something crazy and inexplicable happened and this much food fed a massive crowd. I had a great meal yesterday and today I’m asking, “What are you going to show me?” When I’m having conversations with God about whether he will provide for us, I’m sure I sound exactly like this. “Just because you always have provided, God, why would I think you will today?” And God is patient and answers me.
Jesus, in the same was, is patient and answers, “Yeah, that manna wasn’t from Moses, but from my Father”—Jesus is big on the my Father thing—“because my Father sends the true bread, the bread from heaven, that gives life to the world.”

Now the people are intrigued. Who wouldn’t be? True bread! Life-giving bread! “Yeah, multiply that, Jesus. Let’s see it! I’ll have seconds! Give it to us always.”

And Jesus says, “Yes, I will give you that bread always. Absolutely.” What is that bread?

Jesus is. 

35 Jesus said to them, “I AM the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38 for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

So that’s the Gospel, right? Anyone who comes to Jesus, Jesus will receive and never drive away. Jesus is doing the Father’s will, that if you see the Son and believe in him you have eternal life, and you will join Jesus in his resurrection. You will overcome Death. Jesus will atone for your sins (that’s part of believing in him).

But the crowd doesn’t love this answer: 

41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

So Jesus, being Jesus, reads their thoughts, knows their conversation among themselves, and pushes it a lot farther:

43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

 It’s not just that Jesus is the bread from heaven that God sent into the world to give people life; to believe in Jesus means that you have to eat of this bread.

 

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

Remember, they started out saying, “Sir, give us this bread always.

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. [Remember they asked “What must we do to perform the works of God?” This is the answer. There is nothing. You can do. To give yourself life. Jesus. Gives. Life.] The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.

 

Sir, give us this bread always. No, wait, I don’t want the bread like that.” Literally, Jesus taught this and they bailed on him. Cause and effect. “Because of this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”

And now we’re down to it. We’ve gone through this whole chapter to get here: “Do you also wish to go away?”

Simon Peter has his moments. He rebukes Jesus when Jesus talks about being betrayed and crucified, to which Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan.” But here, Peter answers just the way we hope we would in that situation. Truthfully, I have reached this conclusion, many times, when I’ve come to crossroads in my life with God of “This teaching—this suffering—this life is hard! Who can accept it?” In the end, my only real answer is, “Jesus, where else would I go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Sharing Jesus. The first thing, the primary thing, the thing we have to say for anything else in this series to make sense, is: There is no life without Jesus. Jesus is the bread of life. We share the bread of life together. With one another, we share the bread of life. We share Jesus. Together.

Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.

 

Do you believe in miracles? Because I believe this is one. We’re going to do something completely ordinary: eat a piece of cracker, drink a thimble of juice. And we’re going to share JESUS together. That’s what he says. We have life in Jesus, all the sinners in this room, after all the things we’ve done this week, and because we share Jesus, we have life in him. You think multiplying fish and bread was a miracle? This is the real miracle.

 

COMMUNION LUKE 22:14

 When the hour came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles with him.15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it [again] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Cynicism Versus Hope

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A few quick thoughts on this, the third day of the New Year.  Pretty soon the shininess will wear off and it will be just the year.  

 

“All politicians are liars.”

“The government will always be corrupt.”   

“Everybody is just looking out for number one.”

I made a comment in a recent Facebook post that I consider cynicism to be cowardly.  I’m going to back up that statement.  

Cynicism likes to posture as cool.  Cynicism tells us that everything sucks and life is bitter and cruel but knowing this and being able to look it in the eye without blinking makes you superior.  You aren’t one of those saps who gets sucked in by all that Disney unicorns rainbows bull.  Some might call you jaded, but you just get it and refuse to sugarcoat anything.  

It follows from this philosophy that anyone trying to spread hope or believe things could improve is gullible, foolish, or trying to sell something.  Proper response to such lightweights or con artists includes suspicion, derision, and scathing sarcasm.  

Personally, I think the whole thing reeks of cowardice.  

If I don’t think there’s any hope in the world, I don’t have to try to make things better.  I don’t have to risk myself to help others. I don’t have to risk disappointment. I can turn away when I see refugees dying, when their children starve to death in those pathetic boats before they can reach shore.  I don’t have to let that rip my heart because it’s all pointless and everyone dies and what does it matter, anyway?  

Chicken feces.  

Being jaded does not make you cool.  Being jaded means you have given in to evil in the world and lack the courage to face it.  You might not be evil but you’re passive in the face of evil, and I’m not sure there’s any difference.*  Mocking others for remaining hopeful, being willing to risk themselves for a cause, choosing to believe in something, tells me you want to convince yourself that your dark view of reality is true.  If you make others’ hope look stupid, that proves you’re more worldly-wise and intelligent. Hope is for little children…along with the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and leprechauns.  

Every New Year, I exhort people to make the world a better place.  It’s time again.  I notice that as I get older, the fight to remain hopeful gets harder.  I’ve seen more.  I’ve watched things get worse.  I’ve seen more people die young of cancer, more people kill themselves with drugs and alcohol, more people who were once idealistic hunker down and get comfortable and complacent.  

So I’m saying it straight on this year:  Cynicism is cowardly and I won’t give in.  

I believe people can be redeemed.  

I believe God changes people’s hearts.

I believe forgiveness changes lives.  

I believe you are more than the worse thing you’ve ever done. 

I believe that even though things look very dark right now, we’re going to turn this tide.  

I’m going to continue investing my heart and my life in young people and walking with them through failure and tragedy and chaos because God is faithful and they still believe they can make a difference.  So do I.  

Yes, it’s “safer” to sneer and scorn and refuse to hope.  Yes, you can protect your heart from getting broken if you keep it to yourself.  Yes, there’s a lot of evidence that politicians lie and the government will remain corrupt and the rich will get richer and people will be selfish and hurt you.  

But that kind of safe is a lie, a temptation.  

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

–C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

 

Hope is dangerous, too. I’m going to hope, anyway, not because I’m a fool, not because hoping is the grown-up version of refusing to accept there’s no Santa, but because hope is a revolutionary act.  Hope is courageous.  Hope changes us and others.  When we choose to be cynical, we reinforce that the evil we see cannot be changed.  When we choose to hope, we become part of that change.

Hope doesn’t mean denying the bad in the world, but looking straight at it and throwing yourself into making things better.  The world is such a bad place, it’s worth risking failure to try.  If we don’t have hope, we can’t have faith; acting on hope means our faith is active, not mere words or facade.  

This is my hope:  God’s love overcomes hatred and evil…in my heart.  

I have much forgiving to do this year.  That’s one of the things I’ll be working on and praying about, a lot.  

My hope starts in me and works outward.  Is God really going to change people who seem, empirically, committed to greed and selfishness and actual evil?  

God can.  God has.

God can change hearts.  God can break chains of systemic poverty and generational abuse.  God can free people of addiction.  

God can change you and me.  God can change the world through us.

I hope you believe that.  

 

*”He who passively accepts evil is as much involved with it as he who helps to perpetrate it.  He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really coooperating with it.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.  

The Difference a Day Makes

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Here we go.  Another calendar page is about to flip and the year is about to change.  

Tomorrow is December 31 and then the next day becomes January 1.  

Is it any different, going from December 31 to January 1, than going from any other day to the next?  Excluding the obvious, superficial things: fireworks here, lots of parties, some people drinknig to excess, does it make any difference that midnight turns into a New Year?  

I think it does.  

I’ve previously made an argument for New Year’s resolutions.  I understand they make for good jokes and cynical memes.  I also think it’s a lot easier to joke and be cynical than it is to change.  

But let’s say you don’t care for New Year’s resolutions.  That’s fine.  Change doesn’t have to come through resolutions (and, statistcally speaking, rarely does).  

Change happens a day at a time and an hour at a time, a minute at a time and a choice at a time.  

Change happens when you believe you can be different.  

Change happens when you can’t live with being the same anymore.  

Change happens when we hit the bottom.  The real bottom.  

Change happens when it finally hurts enough that we have to change.  

Change happens when you can look down the road, see the consequences coming, and decide you will do anything, whatever it takes, to avoid that.  

Change happens when you ask God to do whatever it takes to change you.  That’s a scary prayer.  

But realistically, the calendar will flip and most things won’t change.  

Change doesn’t happen when it hurts so we figure out how to numb the pain.  

Change doesn’t happen when we rationalize how other people are the same or worse.  

Change doesn’t happen when we keep investing time and energy and emotion and spirit into coping with–or covering up–the symptoms.  

Change doesn’t happen when we come up with a spiritual justification for how we’re damaging ourselves.  

Change doesn’t happen when we keep lying to ourselves.  

Change doesn’t happen when we avoid anyone who would tell us the truth and stick with those who will speak more comforting, enabling words.  

Change doesn’t happen when we make certain things in our lives off-limits to God.  We probably don’t say it that way, we just don’t let those things come up.  

Borrowing this off of Twitter, of all places:

 I think all Christians grow most in their faith when they recognize the ways in which Jesus doesn’t look or sound anything like them.*

As I talk about change here, I’m assuming that we know how we need to change, or at least where we need to start.  I like this quote because it is the opposite of the culture and politics wars I’ve been reading (and occasionally fighting).  Most of those go: “You’re bad and God thinks your bad because you do this but God says or thinks this.”  Implied here is “…just like I do.”  You’ll rarely see this argument formed, “God thinks you need to change because you think or do this…just like I do…and I also need to change.”  

The calendar is about to flip or maybe just flipped.  

Do you want to change?  

That thing you’ve been allowing and ignoring and explaining away.  

What difference does one day make?  

One day you make the real decision.  One day you stick with that decision.  One day you get yourself back up when you fall down and, rather than deciding it’s hopeless or pointless because you’ve already screwed up (the devil’s favorite lie, in my opinion), you take the progress you’ve made and build on that.  You keep going.  

I’m really thinking broadly, from better eating and exercise to taking real time to pray to recovering from alcoholism or pornography addiction.  

In whatever way, you need to make the change, because no one else is changing you.  God will work in you and answer your prayers, but waiting for someone else to change you is another form of denial.  And, of course, I’m preaching to myself here as much as to anyone else.

I’m going to end on an uplifting heavy note, if you can believe that.  

I have people in my life who give me partial credit for helping them still to be alive now.  Some of them read this blog.  I love you very much.  I’m inexpressibly glad you’re still here.  

The difference a day makes is that you chose to live for another day.  And then another.  And that made all the difference.  

This is always the answer: One day makes all the difference.  

 

*@RevDaniel