Tough Questions, Tough Answers

What has the power to break you?

What could sink you, or grind up your life?

For some of us, the answer (or answers) to those questions are easy: we point to addictions, to alcohol or drugs or sex or food.

But for others, it’s tempting to draw a blank; to shrug our shoulders and believe that all of the threats are “out there”, maybe in the form of job changes, or terrorist threats, or car accidents, or disease.

Although external threats can certainly be serious, I’m not so sure.

Lately, I’ve been blessed to be hanging around some people who have seen their lives almost destroyed by brokenness. They know the destructive power of sin, and are unafraid (and mostly uninterested) in beating around the bush, or wearing masks to pretend that everything is okay.

On the other hand, it pains me sometimes to see the masks that we wear in our communities of faith, and the lack of awareness (or lack of willingness) to acknowledge the threat that sin has for our lives.

We fail to see selfishness, arrogance, fear, pride or self-centeredness as real issues.

However, surely if we took a few minutes to think about how our lives would play out if they were governed by these qualities we could see what they would do to us:

How well would our marriages survive if we were governed by selfishness?

How well could we parent our children if they grew up in a house that was run by fear and pride?

How long would our friends stay around if they sensed that we are only in relationships for what we want?

I know it’s a heavy question, but how much sin are you willing to tolerate in your life? Not from a “holier-than-thou-I-don’t-drink-or-do-anything-“bad” perspective but from an acknowledgement simply that “sin”—in the form of selfishness, self-centeredness, pride, fear, and arrogance—is not interested in making your life better. From the acknowledge that sin wants to kill you. 

The question that follows is simply: what are you going to do about it?

Why not take off the mask and acknowledge your struggle?

(Because the thing is, once you take off the mask, you find that underneath it you’re only human, and what’s more is that you discover there’s a whole bunch of other human beings around you who are struggling in just the same way.)

Let’s be human together.

This Just In: I’m Not Perfect

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s already been an interesting Thanksgiving/Advent season. I’ve experienced two losses in my world: one in my extended family and one in my community here in Tallahassee. Maybe I’ll write more on that later, but suffice it to say for now that my journey towards Christmas 2014 is, for now, marked with a certain sobriety and even somber-ness.

My family spent the holiday weekend in Memphis; on Saturday night we decided to go to church together (since, because of my vocation, we rarely get to sit in a whole gathering as a family).

So we jumped in our car and drove to a United Methodist Church in Memphis that had a Saturday evening gathering. Because it was (a) the south, and (b) rivalry weekend (the gathering was pretty much overlapping the end of the Florida/Florida State game and the beginning of Auburn/Alabama) there really weren’t many people there.

The worship team did their job (sort of, but more on that later), and the preacher got up to speak.

Frankly, I heard some pretty profound things, but it really didn’t have much to do with him.

At one point, the preacher read from one of my all-time most influential authors, Brennan Manning. Here’s what he read:

“I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick’, whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

‘But how?’ we ask.

Then the voice says, ‘They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’

There they are. There *we* are – the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith.

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.” (Ragamuffin Gospel)

In that quote, something got triggered inside of me, particularly in the “insecure clergyman addicted to being liked” part.

Because, in so many ways, that’s me.

I am addicted to being liked, and to being perfect (at least in my own mind), and that addiction—and the fear behind it—has been holding me back. 

It’s been holding me back from things that God wants to do in me and, I believe, through me. 

In that moment, I sensed God saying to me, “You’ll never be perfect, Eric, and I don’t expect you to. In fact, I have never expected you to be perfect; that’s something from inside you, not me. Set yourself free from this expectation, and just move forward with the realization that you will be simply who you will be. Imperfect and broken, but trying; it will be okay.” 

Now, lightning didn’t strike or anything, but this was pretty profound, and it happened in an instant. It was certainly food for thought, and I am still working out the implications.

But that’s a good thing to hear, and also a good thing for all of us to remember: God is not surprised by our imperfections or our brokenness. We can/will never be perfect parents,

or children,

or pastors,

or spouses,

or friends,

or Christians.

I guess that just means we are left with being human: which is the beginning of something pretty special.

——————–

Jesus’ Family Problems

I wrote this for my church’s e-news. Thought I’d include it here. 

During our Tuesday staff meeting, Mark and I were talking about Jesus’ family, and how he experienced not only the blessing of having a father, mother, and siblings, but how he also may have experienced the “blessing” of family loss and sorrow. He encouraged me to write out my thoughts.

You see, Jesus did in fact have an earthly father; his name was Joseph. However, scripture records something interesting about Joseph, namely that he disappears

Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus by Guido Reni, c 1635 via Wikipedia

relatively early in the story of Jesus’ life. In fact, the last mention of Joseph in the gospels comes in Luke chapter 2, when Jesus is about 12 years old. After that, there’s no mention of Joseph at all in Jesus’ adult ministry. Tradition has held that Joseph died, leaving his wife and children alone.Even understanding that “adulthood” began a lot earlier than it does for us today, that’s pretty huge.

Jesus grew up without an earthy father.

Jesus also had a family, and Mark’s gospel actually lists Jesus’ brothers and sisters (in a way): James, Joseph, Judas, Simon, and sisters (plural, though they remained nameless). Including Jesus, that makes at least seven children.

All without a father to provide and care for them.

What’s more, we are also told in Scripture that those brothers and sisters didn’t think too much of their preaching brother. Mark notes that his family thought he was “out of his mind” (3:21), and John indicates that even at the cross, Jesus had to hand his mother over to the care of the apostle John (John 19:25-27), implying that his brothers and sisters were nowhere to be found.

They wanted no part of Jesus’ life, much less his death. 

(In their defense, Jesus’ brothers eventually came around to recognized him as Messiah; his brother James was the leader of the Jerusalem church and eventually wrote the book of James).

So, though Jesus knew a loving mother, and had an earthly father, as well as brothers and sisters, he also knew…

… the lack of a father

… the possible poverty and marginalization that a widowed family of seven children endures

… rejection and abandonment from his brothers and sisters

What I’m trying to say—and what part of the “Good News” is—is that not only does Jesus come to us in the midst of our family wholeness, he comes to us in our family brokenness. 

He knows it.

Personally.

He knows our sorrows, as well as our joys.

“God-With-Us”—Emmanual—indeed.