Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Some Family Prayer

         We had a special time in our services this past Sunday - a mini solemn assembly as we led into our sermon time. With the faces displayed on our screen of the nine men and women who were killed last Wednesday night at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, we read their names and then opened up to prayer. As, one-by-one, members of the congregation stood and prayed for the families of these victims, for the church, for the perpetrator, and for our nation, tears were shed and hearts were broken.

Emanuel AME Church, Charleston
         It was a powerful time, a growing time - a real moment for our local church family. We were encouraged as we heard about the openness of this African-American church welcoming a troubled young white man into their Bible study. We were in awe as I read out loud a couple of the bond hearing quotes from the victims’ family members offering their forgiveness and praying for the salvation of the man who had just slaughtered their loved ones. Through God's perfect grace and those grieving people's amazing faith, this evil act has led to a time for the world to see our Family - the extended, global Family of God - at its absolute best.

         I read a quote from Michael Daly at The Daily Beast (a website not necessarily known for its conservatism nor its love of Christianity) giving his take on the bond hearing - “Even the most cynical atheist had to have been in awe as the family members of the murdered faithful rose one after another in the Charleston courtroom and proved the power of their own faith in the face of crushing loss.”

         That’s Christianity. That’s being a true light.

         Here’s where this blog is at - I had a whole post mapped out talking about race and the church. Honestly, I can’t bring myself to write it today. It would distract us away from the main issue facing us right here, right this moment, and that is that we have brothers and sisters who are in pain today and they need our prayers. Analyzing and pontificating can wait for another day.

            So, this is my challenge to you. Take the time you would have spent reading the rest of this blog if it had been full length (maybe another five minutes) and pray. Pray for the family members of Cynthia Hurd, Pastor Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Daniel Simmons, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders Bottom, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, and Susie Jackson. Pray for our dear brothers and sisters at Emanuel AME Church. Pray for the salvation of Dylann Roof. Pray that God takes this tragedy in our Family and uses it to show our me-first culture who the true Jesus really is. Thanks.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Steamroller Blues

         Early this morning, I was reminded that there are two four o’clocks in a day. I’m not sure what woke me up - a creak of the house, a shift of the Schnauzer. Typically, when I have those early morning wake-ups, I’m able to shut back down. But this morning wasn’t typical.

The first of the two four o'clocks
         As soon as I woke up, I started stressing. I had gone to bed with a fairly big issue on my mind. After some prayer, God finally helped my brain to shut down and I got some sleep. A few hours later, though, I was wide-awake and picking up right where I had left off. This time, however, I had the added benefits of pumping adrenaline and a heavy dose of early morning lack of rationality (it has been scientifically proven that there are absolutely no good decisions made before 6:00am).

         I processed, I analyzed, I schemed, I repented, I tried to distract myself with a book, I tried to distract myself with FoxNews (that backfired when the use of the word “transracial” almost made my head explode). It wasn’t until the light started peeking through the blinds around 5:30am that my mind finally started to settle.

         The frustrating thing is that I had prayed about this. I had given it over to God. I had complete faith that God would walk us through this wilderness. There was no doubt.

         Well, not until 4:00am.

         Faith is a funny thing. Rather than a perpetual constant, faith seems to be more of a lather-rinse-repeat. Later in the morning, as I was driving up to church and feeling the peace that is much more readily available in the daytime hours, I asked God what that stress explosion was all about. The words that came to my mind were something along the lines of “Remember, it’s blog day. You needed a topic. Start writing.”

         I believe there are 4 P’s when it comes to the process of faith - to finally trusting God in the midst of our problems and crises.

         The first is Panic. When the diagnosis is given or the job is lost or the spouse leaves - it’s like a punch in the gut, it’s like the air is sucked out of the room, it’s like Wile E. Coyote that moment he realizes that he’s run himself off a cliff and there’s nowhere to go but down. This panic might be immediate, or it might initially be numbed by the shock. But it will come - in the quiet moments, in the alone moments - when there is nothing standing between you and the future. It’s those moments when inevitability and impossibility meet head on. You’re watching the steamroller slowly coming toward you, and your cement shoes are ensuring that future flatness is a forgone conclusion.

         It’s in those steamroller moments that the second P comes into play - Prayer. David says, “In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From His temple he heard my voice; my cry came before Him, into His ears” (Psalm 18:6). We pray - God hears. A simple formula, yet one that changes everything.

         Suddenly, we are not alone in our problem. We have an ally, and not just any ally. We’ve got the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving Creator God of the Universe standing with
"I'm a steamroller, baby, I'm bound to roll all over you"
us. We cry out, “Stop the steamroller!” to the only One who has the ability to truly stop the steamroller every time, and the Great Steamroller-Stopper actually hears our cry - and cares!

         But here is the toughest part about faith - believing, deep down, that the Great Steamroller-Stopper actually does care enough to stop the steamroller. And, quite frankly, there’s a reason for our doubt, because there are times when the Great Steamroller-Stopper doesn’t stop the steamroller and we get pancaked down into the asphalt.

         That’s why the third P is so desperately needed - Perspective. This is the ability to see our lives through God’s eyes. Paul puts his suffering and struggles this way - Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Paul throws all of our crises - the foreclosed house, the cancer diagnosis, the wayward child, the bipolar struggle - into one big basket and slaps a label on that says “Light and Momentary Troubles”.

"That's a bull shark - scraped me when I was taking samples."
         Now, before you get angry with him or start formulating any Yeah-buts, remember who’s writing. It’s Paul - and if there is anyone you don’t want to get into a Jaws-esque scar comparison battle with, it’s him. Yet, despite his tendency to get beaten, imprisoned, dragged out of cities and stoned, shipwrecked, and thorn-sided, he’s still able to say, “You know, guys, in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter all that much.” The reason he’s able to say that is because his perspective of the grand scheme of things is really, really grand - it’s God-sized grand.

         We see pain, God sees progress. We see struggle, God sees growth. We see hopelessness, God sees opportunity. We feel despair, God feels sorrow. We feel alone, God feels love. We scream “Stop!”, God says, “Not yet”. We ask “When?”, God says, “When it’s time.” We plead “Why?”, God remains silent. We beg “Please…”, God says, “Trust Me. I’ve got something amazing planned for you. In the meantime, my power is made perfect in your weakness.”

         If we can lift our eyes to see our pain through God’s eternal perspective, then that will grant to us our fourth P - Peace. Jesus promised us an amazing heaven-sent peace. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). This is the peace that eases the adrenaline, that changes the focus, that rekindles hope, that allows us to take our eyes off of ourselves so that we can put them back on God and on others. This is the peace that assures us that we are smack-dab in the middle of God's perfect plan for our lives. This is the peace that reminds us that this life is just a blink of an eye compared with the eternity that is awaiting us with our Lord. This peace is a myopia-killer. This peace is a purpose-restorer.

            As I sit here typing, that 4:00am issue is still making noise in my head. But the sound is much fainter. Rather than it blaring in my ears and taking my whole focus, it’s just rattling its tin cup against the cell bars down in the dungeon where I have it locked away. That doesn’t mean that it won’t get some power tools smuggled to it so that it can break out and attack me again bright and early tomorrow morning. That’s just part of the obnoxious cycle of faith we experience living as eternal souls in temporal meat suits. But as long as we push past the panic and pray seeking God’s perspective, His perfect peace which passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Him.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Yes Chef!!

            Last night, we tried a new recipe at the Yohn household. I prepared some Mediterranean beef kabobs marinated in a blend of yogurt, cumin, garlic, and hot sauce. Madeline was in charge of the side dish, and she whipped up an incredible spicy couscous with sautéed garlic and red pepper flakes (it was the first time in our amateur kitchen that an attempt at couscous actually worked).

A Far Fancier Version of our Beef Kabobs and Spicy Couscous
            While we were eating this great meal, Madeline confessed that she had been concerned that the couscous wouldnt turn out because she'd accidentally poured a little too much oil in the pan. This led to an explanation of the difference between baking and cooking. In baking, you need to have your measurements right on or things wont happen the way theyre supposed to happen - the bread wont rise, the cupcakes will have the consistency of muffins, the cookies will turn into flat, crispy discs. With cooking, however, there is flexibility - you can play with the measurements - a little more here, a little less there. You can even throw in a whole new ingredient or spice if you want, just to mix it up.

            I got thinking about this baking/cooking distinction today after reading Tony Campolos statement about why he has decided to advocate for full inclusion of same sex couples in the Church (http://tonycampolo.org/for-the-record-tony-campolo-releases-a-new-statement/#.VXcFa1xViko). I grew up a fan of Tonys. As a teen, I remember hearing him speak several times, and I admired his passion and his slap-you-in-your-face, what-are-you-doing-with-your-life challenges. In my twenties, I ran camera for a couple events that he spoke at, and I was amazed that anyone could sweat out that much bodily fluid and still retain consciousness. As Ive gotten older, I appreciate his advocacy for social issues. Hes one of those guys that makes sure the Church doesnt lose its cultural relevancy or forget its call to the least of these.

            Because of this unique social call that God has given Campolo, I tend to bypass any doctrinal huhs? that occasionally pop up in his communications. Doctrine is a lot like cooking. If youre going to make a roast, you need some meat, you need some vegetables, you need some spices, and you need some heat. Your meat may be cow or it may be lamb. You may want potatoes and onions, or you may want to throw in some carrots and celery, too. Theres a whole variety of spices, and your heat source can be anything from an oven to a slow cooker to a smoker. As long as you have the basic ingredients, its technically still a roast.

            When it comes to doctrine, you have to have the key ingredients - Jesus is the Creator God, salvation is by grace through faith, the Bible is the inspired World of God, God exists in Three Persons, our eternity will be spent with God or separated from Him, and numerous other theological non-negotiables. Doctrines like theses are the majors - the essentials. These are what make a roast a roast. However, beyond these there is flexibility - the great theological wiggle room of the Church. Along with your main ingredients, you may throw in premillennialism, postmillennialism, or amillennialism. You may want to mix in some eternal security or a little bit of lose-your-salvationism. You can spice it up with Gods sovereignty or a dash of free will (or maybe create your own two-spice blend). As long as youve got your main ingredients, youve got yourself a roast. And, when we get to heaven, were going to find a lot of folks who cooked their meat very differently than our particular recipe.

            But thats cooking - baking is different. And this is where Campolo loses his chefs hat. Doctrine is like cooking; holiness is like baking. Gods given us the recipe for righteous living, and if we want to rise to the level of holiness that He calls us to then we have to stick to the steps and measurements that He lays out in Scripture.

            We are no longer under the Mosaic Law (Romans 6:14). However, God still gives us New Covenant dos and donts regarding how we should live (Galatians 5:19-23 is a good example of both do and dont). And smack dab in the midst of those lists about drunkenness, slander, witchcraft, greed, and immorality, we find homosexuality (Romans 1:24-31; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). None of those ingredients belong in the recipe of a righteous life - any one of them will cause the cake to go flat.

Tony Campolo
            The problem with what Chef Tony is doing is that he is picking and choosing his baking ingredients. For consistencys sake, he would need to come out in favor of allowing into church leadership drunks, witches, and greedy little money-grubbers. But hed never do that, because the Citizens In Favor of Drunk Driving action committee, the Wiccan political lobby, and Benny Hinn dont have the same cultural clout as the LGBT folk - they are simply not politically correct.

            Calling sin sin is not always a comfortable thing to do. So, in order to be comfortably inclusive, he has to make acceptable what the Bible clearly states is unacceptable.

            I understand Campolos heart in this, and if Scripture wasnt so clear about this Id be waving the rainbow flag right along with him. I prayed this morning asking God to give me something to blog about today, and Ive spent the whole time Im writing this thinking, Really, God? I havent blogged in a year, and this is what You give me? The Truth can be uncomfortable. But Truth isnt defined by our comfort level.
Waving the Flag
            Since Ive criticized Chef Tony, I think its only fair that I put on the Chefs hat, too, and explain what I think Gods recipe clearly is when it comes to homosexuality and the Church. I dont know if people are born with any sort of propensity to homosexuality. The science is sketchy, but I also know that at the Fall, sin entered the world and it manifests itself in all sorts of ways. The point, however, is ultimately moot, because there are no exception clauses in the sin lists of the New Testament. The sin of drunkenness is not excused because someone may have a propensity toward alcoholism, nor is the sin of homosexuality excused because someone may experience those particular tendencies. Is that fair? Absolutely not. But, to see my opinion of fairness, read my blog post The Fallacy of Fairness.

            All that being said, we have no right in the Church to ostracize any person struggling with sin. Thats not our role. We are called to be the welcoming arms of Jesus. Our job in the Church is to speak love and model truth (as well as speak truth and model love), leaving the sin conviction to the Holy Spirit (He does a much better job of it than we do, and in ways far less obnoxious than us).

            In our church, we will welcome into our services and into our hearts people from any background and any lifestyle. However, we will exclude from leadership anyone caught up in a sinful lifestyle, whether homosexuality, immorality, substance abuse, etc. The holiness recipe must be followed.

            So, Chef Tony, while I love you for your heart and I agree with you that the Church has done a very poor job with the LGBT community, I disagree with you tampering with Gods recipe. Its His kitchen, its His cookbook - Hes the Chef, were just the sous chefs. Our place isnt to question or to tamper with or to change what is clearly laid out. Our role is to say, Yes, Chef! to all His instructions and carry them out in the most loving and holy way possible.