Archive for the ‘sin’ category

Stories to Tell – First Months at Embrace (Part II)

September 13, 2013

Stories Part I

Most folks who know me know that I am a pacifist. My first book even took on common questions about Christian nonviolence. I often speak about nonviolence, turning the other cheek, dying rather than killing. I used to think I was a good bible teacher, but I am not so sure anymore. You see, a while back I began leading a bible study through John’s gospel. One of the regular attendees, a guy named “J”, had proven to be inquisitive, enthusiastic, and he was always kindly offering to help in various capacities during our Monday night ministry. “J” was homeless, and he had twice been attacked, stabbed and robbed over a couple week period while out and about in Lexington. I think many of us could sense “J’s” frustration and hopelessness growing even as we tried to offer encouragement and point him toward hope. We failed, miserably.

A few weeks went by without “J” attending. We didn’t think too much about it because many of our guests drop off the radar for weeks or even months at a time, but we heard through the grapevine that “J” had been arrested for allegedly beating a man to death with a 2×4. Sure enough the news reports confirmed the rumors. “J” is now in prison. Likely he will be there for a while, perhaps the rest of his life.
barbed_safety_Fence_225577_lI sort of jokingly remarked on a few occasions that I must be the worst bible teacher ever. That may or may not be true, but I am beginning to realize that most of the change that happens in people’s lives does not happen because they sat in a particular class. There are a lot of ways in which God intervenes in the lives of people, countless different sorts of events that people can point to as places where they were changed for the better, but it seems that one of the most compelling reasons that people change is because they have others who love them through their mess. I will visit “J” in prison. I will let him know that he is still loved, that God still sees him as a person with infinite worth. I will pray with him, encourage him, challenge him to be a peacemaker and minister of reconciliation even and especially in the confines of concrete and barbed wire. I will declare over his life that Jesus does indeed set captives free and I will continue to trust that God has a plan for my friend “J” even though this detour has put him on an exceedingly more difficult path. I will challenge him to repent, to seek the forgiveness of God and the victim’s family.

Whether or not I succeed as a teacher, I am determined to be faithful as a minister of God’s redemptive peace.

Of course, not all of the stories of my time at Embrace are so dramatic, many of them are quite mundane yet eternally important. Sometimes they are even downright boring. A few weeks ago we had a baptism (that wasn’t the boring part), but since one of our worship gatherings takes place at a theater we have a portable baptistery. Our portable baptistery happens to be a plastic horse trough. Anyway, the theater does not have a particularly convenient way for us to fill the thing so I had to load it on to a small cart and wheel it into the bathroom. Me and two other guys took turns holding a small hose on to the end of one of the bathroom faucets. I know some traditions sprinkle water on congregants when a person gets baptized as a way to help others remember their own baptism. This was not a formal ritual, but we were sure getting wet as the water sprayed from the end of the hose since we could not get a tight connection with the faucet. We, I hope, remembered our baptisms as we prepared to welcome a new sister into the family.

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After about half an hour of watching water slowly trickle into the trough we decided there was enough water to dunk someone. Of course a horse trough with 30 gallons of water in it is no light object to move, but we couldn’t really baptize this young lady in the men’s room, so we had to wheel the trough laden cart down to the front of the theater and up onto the stage. It took 6 of us to get it off the cart.

The baptism, like all baptisms, was beautiful. There is always something good about getting a soaking wet hug from a new sibling in Christ.

Of course once the baptism was over we had load the trough back on the cart, wheel it out the back door of the theater and dump the water out on the sidewalk. It created a small tidal wave that ran out into the street. I almost want to reconsider my stance on sprinkling for baptism after this, but it was great to watch someone die to sin and be raised to life with Christ.

Other stories at Embrace are still very much in process. In fact, most of them rest in that uncomfortable place of ambiguity between hope and hopelessness.

A few weeks ago a young lady who has been attending two of our weekly services on a regular basis came forward to ask for prayer. With the requisite tears in her eyes she told me about her addiction to heroin, about how she couldn’t see her children because of the drug’s hold on her. She asked me to pray for her. I prayed that God would deliver her from this demon of addiction. During our meal time after service I pulled “A” aside to talk more. I told her that helping folks with drug addictions was pretty new to me, but that I wanted to covenant with her to find her appropriate help. I told her that I would find her the following Sunday with information in hand ready to help her out.

For the whole week I sent messages to local friends who I knew would be able to help me out. My friend Kelly, the pastoral care coordinator at The Lexington Rescue Mission, had been working on a list of resources for addicts, which she kindly shared with me. I began checking into each program to see which would be the best fit. On Sunday, though I was teaching at another church in town, I rushed back to Embrace’s downtown campus at the Kentucky Theater to make sure I kept my word to “A”. I found her and told her about the various programs as asked her to meet me the next day at my office so we could look over them in more detail and at least get her on a waiting list or two.

The time came for our appointment and she never showed. I was angry, disappointed, and honestly sad because I still believe that she wants freedom from these chains that bind her. That evening one of her friends told me that she had hitched a ride to another city to follow her drug habit. That sort of thing makes me wanna scream and kick kittens (of course to be fair I don’t really like cats anyway), but instead I pray that God will continue the work that God has started in “A’s” life. Last week her friend said that “A” is back in town. Next time I see her, I plan to give her a big hug then a piece of my mind, then remind her once again that I love her with the love of the Lord and that I still want to help her though this mess. I don’t know where it will go. I don’t know if she will ever be free of her addiction. I don’t know if she will ever get back custody of her kids. I don’t know a lot of things, but I do know that I will I be waiting for her and working on her behalf, and I do know that as much as I am doing so that God will be infinitely more involved in her daily life, whispering to her that his grace is sufficient.

I can’t do the work that God has called me to without your help. Your prayers, financial support, encouragement and accountability make my work possible. If you think this ministry is worthwhile and God is leading you, please contribute to this small witness to God’s Kingdom.

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Human Trafficking and Changing Habits

May 14, 2010

With all the talk about healthcare and war spending and other ‘politically sexy’ topics being discussed in Washington and the media it breaks my heart that we tend to forget about less attractive issues like human trafficking. Its mind boggling to think that last night 27 million people went to bed as slaves. Think about that. That means that well over two times the population of New York City spent their day today being forced to pick the cotton that we nonchalantly put on as socks and t-shirts, or mining the minerals that make up the components of our high-tech gadgets that we whip out to find the nearest coffee shop, where, as is often the case, we drink coffee and eat chocolate treats harvested by unpaid children.

I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty, especially because I am complicit in all of the above, well except the drinking coffee part, but that’s only because I just don’t like the stuff. However, if you get a bit convicted as you read this perhaps you should assess the changes you may need to make in your life, just as I have to do in my own. Perhaps you are like I was only a few months ago, relatively unaware of the gargantuan problem of modern day slavery that seeps its way into every part of our daily lives. Its not popular to remind people that the food they are eating, the clothes they are wearing and the luxuries and comforts they are enjoying may very well be ‘stained with the blood’ of innocent men, women and children who are forced to produce those goods for companies looking to save a buck and consumers demanding those same savings.

Now there is another, often more sinister, part of the modern slave trade that has gotten some attention in the media, the sex-slave industry. I have to emphasize ‘some’ as I write because last century’s American idol runners up get more attention. Unfortunately it seems that when stories about these abuses air we seem to have moments of conviction that soon get overwhelmed by the grand scale of the issue at hand or by our own apathy and acceptance of the status quo that suits most of us so well.

So what are we to do with a problem of such a monumental scale, with so little public attention and such an ability to blend in to its surroundings? Well there are the usual routes of writing your congressman or protesting certain brands, but I want to encourage us all to try something a bit different. My suggestion is that we all, for one month, try to fast from any goods made by slaves. In tandem with this, I admonish each of us to start educating ourselves about the problem so that we can in turn educate others, and that instead of just boycotting brands that are notorious for their ‘bloody’ production line, we actively seek out ways to support businesses and non-profits that are working towards the new abolition. And assuming that none of you are sleeping with prostitutes, which I sure hope you are not, then a good way to help those in the sex slave industry is to buy jewelry and other goods made by women and children rescued from brothels. And most of all, we need to pray, to cry out to God as a people, the spiritual descendants of the Israelites, who were rescued by God’s almighty hand from the clutches of a tyrannical slave master.

Educate yourselves by checking out this list of resources and ideas, and  join the movement of modern day abolitionists. Also, keep the World Equestrian Games in your prayers as it is expected that thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people will be forcibly brought in to the Lexington, KY area to be sex workers for those attending the games.

A Powerful Vision

January 8, 2010

Recently I was talking to my little sister, who happens to be one of the most faithful, dedicated and wise Christian women I know, about a vision that she had a while back. I was so moved by her vision that I asked her to write it down so that I could keep it with me and share it with others. This written version is quite moving, but I wish you could all hear her share her experience personally. Maybe someday I can get a video of her sharing, but for now here is the short written version.

Pursuit of the Beloved
Sarah Bronson

I saw myself in a field covered in rags running from God. I was terrified. I knew that He had every right to kill me. My life was worth nothing and He was coming towards me. I had tried and tried to scrub myself clean, but it only revealed more dirt. I couldn’t let Him see me like this. But He was coming for me, and getting closer.

Suddenly I felt His arms around me. “NOooo! I can’t let Him touch me! He is perfect and I am unclean.” I struggled to get away. Like a little kid who knew they had done wrong, I didn’t want to face the consequences. His hold hurt as a tried to get away. The more I struggled the tighter the hold became. He wasn’t going to let me go. I stopped struggling and stood in his arms turned away from His face.
I was terrified, but the truth was punishment didn’t scare me. I knew I deserved death. But I couldn’t bear to look at His face. I wanted more than anything to please Him and to earn His love. If I turned, I knew that I would have to face the disappointment in His eyes. THAT was what I could not handle.

I stood rigid, vulnerable, and overwhelmed. His hold softened and became warm and gentle. He whispered into my ear, “I love you. Please, turn around.” I didn’t understand. How could that be? He had no reason to love me. I was uncertain and couldn’t turn around. He continued “I love you. Turn and see…I love you turn and see…” Could it be?

Trembling I turned my head towards Him, eyes closed. “Open your eyes, beloved”, He whispered softly. Slowly I opened them to see a face filled with light and life and more love than I ever could have imagined. I was transfixed by His face. I don’t know how long I stood there amazed but when I looked down at myself I was CLEAN!!! I was seeing myself through His eyes. I began to walk with him. When I strayed I saw myself dirty again, but He would always call me back.
On the walk we came across many people. He would wrap His arms around them as He had done for me. They were all afraid. I would try to encourage them and tell them my story. It was an amazing experience when they finally turned and saw themselves in God’s light. They really came to life! We rejoiced together.

But others we came across would not make that choice. He held them the same as He had held us. I saw the love in His eyes as he spoke to them. He longed for their hearts to be whole. They refused to turn, refused to believe. I don’t remember any specific point that He released His hold, but He when did, they ran into the wilderness, into the darkness, into death. I saw Him crumple to the ground weeping at the beloved He had lost.

Human Trafficking Conference- NFS Video

October 13, 2009

This very short video, from last weeks Forum On Human Trafficking, powerfully conveys the message that slavery and human trafficking are a grave reality in our world, even this very day. Watch it, then check out my previous post to see what you can do about it.

Human Trafficking Conference- Travel

October 8, 2009

I was given the chance to travel with a group from Asbury to the Global Conference on Human Trafficking in Carlsbad, California. Here are some of my thoughts from the trip to California. There will be more thoughts and reflections from the conference from myself and others in our group.

As we are flying to a conference on one of the great atrocities of our day, of any day, I cant help but wonder how my own lust, addictions, indulgences and apathy have contributed to the brokenness of this world where people think it is ok to own another human being for their own pleasure. How has my falleness rippled out in both the physical and spiritual realms, empowering the evil one and his minions while galvanizing the chains that hold his enemies, oppressed and oppressors, in bondage? Or do I give my own wretched, sinful existence too much credit? Are my contributions of deadly desires and limitless complacency enough to give an ounce of power to the dammed deceiver? If so, are the rare moments of surrender to God in me really destroying the wicked systems of the world by bearing witness to the true reality of God’s Kingdom?

It is my deepest hope, or at least my best hope, that somehow, someday I will live and act and speak like Jesus. My own damn vanity and pride, my indifference for the situations of others and my longing for momentary acceptance and my fear of both success and failure all act as the brick and mortar that imprison me. But, it is the destructive grace of God on which I depend, to keep razing the fortress in which I have held myself captive. I know that he will, his Kingdom will, destroy hell’s gates and let all of those who dare escape run free. It is this trust, that if God’s power can level gates of pure evil, He can and will overwhelm my pride and all of my best and worst intentions.

The Apostle’s Creed, History Forgotten?

October 24, 2007

The Apostle’s Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
 the Creator of heaven and earth,
 and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
 born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate,
 was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
 and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
 whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
 the communion of saints,
 the forgiveness of sins,
 the resurrection of the body,
 and life everlasting.
Amen.

Just wondering why more Christians today dont know creeds like this, or many other important parts of Church history? Any thoughts about how we became so short-sighted? How is it that we so quickly forget about the teachings, the triumphs and failures, the lessons learned, and the battles fought of the members of Christ’s body that came before us? Perhaps we should return to the first part of Hebrews 11 that reminds us that a great cloud of witnesses surounds us in order to help us seek a deeper faith. Maybe we should be humble enough to think that we can learn from those who came before us. Finally, I hope that we leave something worth remembering and looking back upon, for generations to come. Shalom.

God’s Destructive Grace

September 13, 2007

As I lie awake in bed in a far away land I cant help but think about the way God’s grace is so amazing, in large part, because of its power to destroy. Think about it. I know it is probably a little odd to hear that God, the creator and author of life, the giver of breath, and the sustainer of the universe, is also a destructive God, but let me explain myself.

I think that at least half of the power of God’s grace is its ability to demolish the walls that separate us from Him and from each other. This is what the life of Jesus was all about. Jesus came to eliminate the barriers that keep us from experiencing the love of God and the barricades that we have put up to keep us from loving others. Jesus did this with his life as well as his death and finally his resurrection. When Jesus died on the cross even the temple curtain was ripped, representing the way God was destroying the barriers between Himself and the people He loves. In tearing the temple curtain from top to bottom God unleashed His spirit upon the world in a way that the whole earth can come to Him, not on our own power but on the power He provides as He devastates our helplessness and fear.

The grace of God also destroys our plans. I like my brother Shane Claiborne’s take on this. He says that so many people have a story about their life being all messed up and Jesus coming in and fixing it, but he felt like he had to it all together and figured out, but then Jesus came in and messed everything up. Isn’t that so true for so many of us? The Jews thought they had it all figured out with relation to religion and the coming Messiah, but boy did Jesus come and flip that upside down. Peter had his life laid out, like the other disciples. He was a fisherman; probably the trade of his father and his father’s father and on down the line. Then the Rabbi from the badlands came and shattered his notion of what his fishing career looked like. The same is true in my life. When I was younger I thought that I would play professional basketball, then as I started college I wanted to become a famous radio personality or TV commentator. Then Jesus, in his powerfully gentle, destroying manner, rocked my world and gave me a new direction. I now sit on a continent on the other side of the world in a city where no one looks like me or talks like me because this GodMan wrecked my plans in favor of His own. In the words of Brennan Manning, I was ambushed by Jesus of Nazareth.

I have already briefly touched on one of the characteristics of the life of Jesus, and God’s grace that I love the most; it obliterates social, ethnic, and gender lines. Scripture tells us that when we are baptized there are no longer male and female, slave and master, Jew and gentile, instead we all become the sons of God who stand to inherit His kingdom. The life of Jesus is constantly doing this as well. He runs the social totem pole through a shredder when he eats at the same table with tax collectors and whores, while preaching to the religious leaders and wealthy aristocrats. He talks with a half-breed enemy of the Jews, who also happens to be a woman, in the middle of the day; a taboo that can hardly be compared to anything in our modern context. He even destroys the controlling power of political ties. You have Simon the Zealot, the most liberal of liberals, and Matthew the tax collector, who would make Rush Limbaugh reconsider what it means to be conservative, following the Radical Rabbi. Simon’s job was to kill people like Matthew, but instead Jesus destroys yet another barrier and brings them together to be called His Apostles.

The grace of God also Massacres the lies of the enemy. From the beginning of time we have been lied to by the accuser, the great deceiver, but Jesus came to once and for all annihilate the lies we have been fed by being the very embodiment of Truth. When you hear that whisper in your ear that your not good enough, that your worthless, that you don’t have s shot in life, remember the destructive work of Jesus on the cross. Listen to his gentle voice, be wrapped up in his relentless tenderness, and watch as He decimates the lies that haunt your soul with the Truth of God’s destructive grace.

Those of us who have grown up in or around church have probably heard that sin leads to death but the gift of God is eternal life. I think this is true because the grace of God crushes sin and the death that results. The flowing blood of Calvary combined with the resurrection day not only conquered sin and death, but it took no prisoners, except those who chose to be in fettered with the chains of God’s love. In those sacrificial and redemptive acts, Jesus became sin for us. Although I cannot begin to explain the theological and philosophical implications of that statement, I do know that somehow, even mystically perhaps, Jesus becoming our sin somehow macerates its power over our lives when we surrender to His destructive grace.

Finally, the destructive grace of God breaks our hearts. It crushes the hearts of the proud and grinds them into powder. A powder that when mixed with flowing river of God’s love can be made into malleable clay which God reshapes into his beautiful image.

In the words of a song we sing at camp every year,

Break my heart dear God
Tear the Barriers Down
Show me in convicting tears
The glory of your crown

My heart is hard
My soul so weak
The ways of evil
Cut so deep

I need you Lord
To come inside
And gently
Break my heart

My sin is great
But I can see
The glory set
For me

Show me Father
Where to start
And Gently Break
My heart

What has God broken, crushed, or destroyed in your life? What do you still need for him to come and obliterate, break, or mess up in your life with His destructive grace?