To all those who are broken and fumbling: (and all those who think they are not.)

“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”  He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”  Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” -Matthew 19:16-22

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When Jesus revealed the rich man’s need, he stood back, aghast at the request. How? How could he give up everything? What kind of benevolent Messiah would ask that of his followers? He worked hard for what he had and no loving God who would make that a prerequisite for entrance into his Kingdom. Surely it is the law that holds the power of salvation! Surely i’m a good person, surely…I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.

Jesus looked at the disciples and claimed that “It is harder for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” As his disciples scratched their heads at this, wondering how their Master could endorse such a narrow way, Jesus said that those who would inherit eternal life would be those who left everything behind for him.

My quasi-Christian American civil religion doesn’t allow for this kind of cognitive dissonance. We want to take up our platforms and raise rabble over so much, but when Jesus’ words hit us squarely between the eyes and challenge and provoke us, we are more apt to close the Book and go on with the way we like, as we have done many times before.

I don’t believe that Jesus is slandering the rich or diminishing God’s goodness with his strong words. I believe he is illustrating the law apart from grace, he is decrying selfishness and raising rabble about our tricky penchant for idolatry.

I grew up in a loving supportive Christian family where my Mom and Dad were both present and loved God with reckless abandon and, in many ways, raised me to fall in love with Jesus and to truly believe what he says. I grew up in a youth group where for many kids, this was not the case. I have since ministered in youth groups where this was not the case. And you know what? I love those kids.

One of my favorite things about them is that they are abundantly aware of their need. They are well acquainted with their brokenness and their doubts. There’s so much that I want them to know about the Gospel and selflessness and truly taking hold of the life God is calling them to, and that can be very very difficult at times. But I don’t have to convince them that they are desperately in need of a savior. They are so aware of that. And there’s a lesson in that.

The rich man walked away from Jesus because he wanted the Kingdom of God as a sort of side item in a combo meal he paid for with his “good” works. I want my wealth, my security, my self-assuredeness of works righteousness and if that’s good enough for my perfect life, that is good enough for eternal life.

And Jesus stood in the face of that flimsy theology and spoke directly to his need that he would not admit he had. Our pride swells and our spirituality buckles under the weight of the brokenness we believe we are hiding.

It has been an unbelievably difficult week for me. My friend Max went to heaven on Friday. My mother found out that she has cancer in one of her kidneys. That mocking voice in the back of my mind has been whispering threats and doubts and insults and hurling me to the conclusion that I am powerless to stop the tides from pulling me under and filling my lungs with water, but you know what? God has revealed to me in all of this that I am powerless. I am irreconcilably broken and I have not arrived and I will not arrived until the day I embrace my Jesus in his Kingdom.

It is out of our abundant need that the seed of the gospel is watered and grows. It is in having the humility to admit that we are broken beyond any repairs we could complete ourselves and must look outside of ourselves for the truth of Jesus to hit us squarely between the eyes and cut us deep.

My friend Max was one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. He lived his life without fear of failure because he knew who was holding him. Before he died, he wrote a note in the hospital about how he picked up his Bible and hugged it to himself. “The very Word of God is heavy on my chest,” he penned. Max, at any moment’s notice, would’ve been willing to sacrifice everything to be in the will of God. He spoke boldly to others about the love of Jesus. He figuratively had the very Word of God heavy on his chest at all times.

So in brokenness we find respite.

In loneliness, we are comforted by God’s very breath.

In adversity, we rise stronger than before we were knocked down.

In humility, considering others as better than ourselves.

In obedience, denying ourselves, picking up our cross, and following Jesus, wherever he leads and laying whatever he says aside for the sake of the Gospel.

We are all in desperate need. We all have brokenness coursing through our veins and to say otherwise is to deny the fundamental realization that brings us to Jesus in the first place. We are beset, but our completeness is in Christ alone.

 

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Better Than This (or, manifesto destiny)

“The difference between me and my parent’s generation, the culture warriors, is that I actually know people on the other side, and I like them.” -Russell Moore

I write this not to clarify my positions or to postulate some new and radical philosophy of political engagement. I don’t write this to endorse anyone or convince you to change your mind about whoever you have decided is best to lead this country. In fact, I really don’t care.

US politics this go around has been a three ring circus of epic proportions, with less actual discussion of policy and enough vitriol and libel slung across enemy lines to level a nation, which is what I fear.

I was born into a very specific sect of Christianity , which shapes and informs my (many) opinions on everything from abortion to same-sex marriage to the refugee crisis. And as a minister of a Gospel which I believe gives life to all who receive it, I am horrified at the trends I’ve seen rock our nation to its core the last several months.

My politics would probably be categorized as center-right if you’re one of those people who desires tidy boxes with which to organize all the things that you couldn’t possibly wrap your head around without such a system. But I identify myself as an Independent, because I believe party lines in a post Reagan world are more divisive and ugly than helpful. I want to learn who the candidates are up and down the ticket, as to make wise and informed decisions.

Now, I hope that doesn’t make me sound too engaged in the political system, because I also consider myself, if such a term exists, politically agnostic, in that I don’t know if these partisan political circuses are even remotely the way things ought to be (and I have a sneaking suspicion that they are not.)

Hillary and Donald are human beings, deeply flawed human beings with whom I am so disgusted with. I don’t believe either of them are honest and I don’t believe either of them are what we need. But they are, apparently, what America wants right now. And as much as the conservative and liberal media would want you to believe otherwise, they are human beings created in the image of God.

I hear echoes of Israel crying out for a King to lead them into a new age of peace and prosperity. Whispers of God’s people crying for a messiah, and not recognizing him when he appeared.

I have friends who I love deeply, believers and non believers alike across the spectrum of republican and democrat and everything else. To the politicians, they are a voting block. But to me, they are friends and family members, who are human beings created in the image of God. They all have lots of opinions, lots of data and theories to justify that one of these candidates is the obviously better choice.

I don’t write this to exalt the merits of either of them or change your opinions about which one of them is Adolph Hitler in disguise. I don’t even write this to slander either of them. This is less a discussion of politics and more one of basic humanity.

Because one of the most heartbreaking things I see in this time are all of those people whom I love and are created in the image of God at each other’s throats.

I am blessed to have all different kinds of friends. My Facebook page isn’t an echo chamber resounding with opinions that resemble my own. And I think that keeps me honest. It reaffirms my calling as an evangelist, not to win people over to my side of an argument but to proclaim God’s goodness across the massive scope of humanity. I believe that his kindness draws us to repentance. It is my job to love you no matter how we differ. And I don’t apologize for that belief.

But I urge you, my friends and neighbors and strangers who read this blog: do not let the mean spiritedness of our current political climate let you hate those with whom you disagree. Don’t fling fiery darts across your news feed or tweetstorm the ignorant into oblivion.

To my Christian brothers and sisters, specifically: remember the life to which you have been called. Remember that your identity rests not in a politician or platform, but in a person named Jesus Christ. Do not sully your witness by being the very agitator you cry out against.

Ideological divides are no excuse for ugliness. If our presidential candidates will not act like adults, the responsibility falls into our hands. It is my hope that I and those I love will treat one another with dignity. Love as Christ loves. We are better than this.

Words are a Weight (On Loving the Church When it Hurts.)

“The Church is a whore, but she is my mother.”

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Several years ago while I was in college, I wrote those words on my Facebook page under the “Religious Views” section. The quote is often attributed to Augustine, but is rumored to have been said by Martin Luther and a host of other church fathers. I was a frustrated young millennial, seeing the overwhelming hypocrisy of the body that nurtured me and raised me into the man I was. I saw political jargon shouted from pulpits, taken as Gospel by racists and adulterers, one and all. I saw small huddles of men in the parking lots, filling their bodies with smoke and decrying those who spent their weekends at the bar, claiming that the world was going to hell in a handbasket and there was nothing we could do about it but curse the filthy sinners that filled it.  I heard the women gossiping in their Sunday School rooms about why so-and-so wasn’t here this week and did you hear that Pam was cheating on Jim with Ron Swanson?

I’d seen the faces of disgruntled youth, trying to fit into the world of religion like a kid’s piece into an adult’s special edition Thomas Kinkade puzzle, larger than life and filled with loud primary colors clashing with the tiny diminished hues of a portrait where they didn’t belong. Begrudgingly nodding, but not convinced that the Gospel could be summed up in these words: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?”

My understanding of the mercy and goodness of God was skewered by the inconsistencies I saw all around me, and I was pissed. So, when my mother called me in my dorm room and said we needed to talk, my heart momentarily stopped. Had someone died? Had I been caught in some elaborate lie? All of my sins were called up before my swirling head. What could it be?

“The preacher and one of the deacons showed up at our house today to talk about you.”

Oh, God. This is it. I’m going to be excommunicated. Can Baptists even excommunicate people?

Apparently, someone had seen that section of my Facebook. They went so far as to print it out and hand deliver it to the pastor with feigned concern. The concern, you ask? That i’d used the word whore.

Not that they wondered if I was losing my faith.

Not that I came across as angry or missed the point.

That I had used a word.

I saw red.

My blood boiled at the thought of all that work done to expose me as a pottymouth. Forget context, forget the state of the thing I loved with all of my heart. But I said a dirty word.

And far be it from them, adults, to come to me, an adult, to talk about this indiscretion. They brought it to my parents, because obviously I wasn’t old enough to answer their fears or questions. Maybe my mind had been polluted by the big, bad Christian university I was attending.

For the first time in my life, whether real or perceived, I felt like an apostate.


I sat across from a room full of students, all of them looking to me for answers. What did I know? I was just a volunteer chaperone at summer camp.

The church gives us no respect, they don’t see us as people.

How can we carry on the work of the church when we are adults if we’re never allowed to have a say now? Where do we fit in?

Why do they treat us like we’re little kids?

I listened to their fears and their desire to be part of the Body, to really take part and contribute. To some, it would no doubt sound like blind idealism of youth. But as they spoke, I felt that weight pressing on me as well. The adults may have many excuses: they are too broken, too sinful, too young, they don’t understand doctrine or the Baptist Faith and Message. They don’t get it.

But did they themselves even understand the particulars?

Do I? Do any of us really have what it takes to live beyond reproach and advance the Gospel? (How glorious a gift God gave us, entrusting us with a task for which he makes us able to carry out!)

I encouraged those students. I prayed with them. I cried with them. And I held out hope that someday, things would change. Someday, they would feel valued. And maybe so would I.


Apostasy.

The word rang in my ears. As the quiet hum grew deafening, I pondered the implications. What would happen if I just left it all behind? Is it worth it? If there is no place for me in the community in which I was raised, is there any place for me at all?

I spoke to my pastor later that day over the phone. It was a strange conversation, full of awkward silences and unruly dissonance. I tried to explain to him the manner in which I used the quote, tried to outline my frustrations, but overall hope that I held. The church is a whore in every sense of the word. She has sold herself to politicians and to the world. She has shouted in outrage at the sins of a broken world while waiting for night to fall, so she can join the debauchery. She has traded gossip for prayer, and has been the Pharisee, blind to the log bursting from her eye while trying to excise the splinter from another’s.

But she is my mother. She birthed me, raised me, loved me, taught me who Jesus is and baptized me in his name. I am grateful for her witness, stained though it may be. I love her with all of my heart though she vexes me so.

The conversation stalled, but picked back up as he continually brought up that word. I had committed what seemed to be an unpardonable sin. These were the dregs of legalism if I’d ever saw them. To dismiss the words of a church father because you don’t understand them? In my soul, my frustration raged. I tried to remain calm, but as a college freshman, I was full of knowledge but wisdom and a healthy temperament had yet to show up on my course list.

We ended our conversation, still on opposing sides. This man was my pastor. I felt bad because I felt I owed him respect, but didn’t feel like the best way to show it was to give in and apologize. At that point in my life, I didn’t understand the value in picking your battles and if my time in the religion department had taught me anything, it’s that any topic could be a hill to die on.


In hindsight, I forgave those who didn’t understand and learned to be a little more discerning in the words I choose to say. I realized that in choosing love over bitterness, the quote I had been so adamant about was playing itself out in my life.

Sometimes the Church will choose legalism, even if you know better.

Sometimes the Church will misunderstand, even if you have the best intentions.

Sometimes she will harbor secret (or not so secret) sins and run after idols that vie for her affections, even as you call for her to repent.

But we do not exist as islands, we are not some distant relative of the beaten and beraggled Bride of Christ. We are her. We exist as one Church to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light. We exist as deeply flawed, inexcusable sinners who do so much damage to the name of Jesus with our various failures and broken intentions.

But we choose to forgive the inexcusable in others because Christ forgave the inexcusable in us, as Lewis says.

Because though the Bride sometimes feels like she is barely hanging on, torn apart and stitched together again and again, she is loved by a Groom who will do anything, who paid everything to buy her back from the idols that have wrapped their tendrils around her heart. And as she gasps for breath amid the broken reality she chose, she finally sighs in freedom because her lover has rescued her and made her whole.

I love the Church, I am the Church.

And if you claim the name and mission of Jesus, so are you.

Random Thoughts (on contentment, goals, and how I’m feeling about life)

I’ve always wondered when it is, that moment when you look out at all that you’ve done, all the stories you’ve told, and are finally content. Or when you get to a place of real intimacy with the people you care most about in the world and finally believe that authentic relationships can last, or even begin. Or can finally have the courage to speak boldly about what you’ve been given without fear of criticism.

I know that once you feel like you’ve arrived, you’re probably more blinded and arrogant than you’ve ever been, but I’d for once like to be sure enough of myself to believe I’ve done some good in this world.

In all my questions, I’m confident of this: to know God is the greatest joy in this life. Jesus is everything, his peace makes even the dark times bright. We don’t always overcome our nagging questions with abundant joy, but we are blessed with joy for the small moments that keep us running the race. As a dear friend once said, “God is my alpha and omega, my beginning and my end.”

He is constant grace, for the moment and for the long haul. Know tonight  that you are more loved than you ever thought was possible.  that in Christ, there is no condemnation, no fear of inadequacy, no comparing yourself to another person. Because in relationship with Christ, when God looks at you, he sees Jesus. When he looks at me, he sees Jesus. We are all the same at the foot of the Cross.

No matter what relationships you value most in your life, they will always fail you. People will always fail you, but the omnipotent God of the universe who saw you first, who, while we were still sinners, sent Christ to die for us, that God knows you and He loves you and he will never fail you.  We are so worried  that the people we love most in this world will not love us back. We pine for their affections, yet we ignore the One who loves us with a love that never ends.

We bury our boldness underneath layers and layers of low self esteem, terrified to testify about the only one who can save us from ourselves. And if we have experienced Christ’s overwhelming mercy? Well then, we have no excuse to keep silent. How dare we keep to ourselves what has the power to save!

It is my prayer for you that knowing God would be your most deeply cherished treasure. That nothing would come between you and a relationship with Jesus Christ. Not fear, depression, not anxiety, not other people, not complacency, not bitterness, not dissatisfaction with your life. Because the goal and aim of our lives is to know Christ and to make Him known.

This God knows your hurt. He knows your pain. And he wants to be your joy. I pray that you would let him be your joy, your peace, and your salvation.

Unity in Diversity (thoughts on the Church, what it is, and what it can be)

I am in awe of God’s goodness lately.

This has certainly been a crazy week. Our church has been having interdenominational revival services since Sunday night, where we have joined together with about 4 other churches from all across the theological spectrum–Baptist, Presbyterian, Church of God/Pentecostal, and AME Zion—and boy, has it been incredible.

It all started about 18 years ago. A few churches across the city would have a one-day event called the pulpit exchange, where the Pastors would switch places and preach to a different congregation.

And so it went for years, taking one form or another. But this year, my Pastor and several others got together and talked and prayed and sought the Lord. And what God orchestrated was something none of them could’ve anticipated.

Spanning from Sunday to Wednesday, we are taking part in an event called Crossover Kannapolis, which has become, in this iteration, a revival service where these churches come together and meet in one another’s sanctuaries and worship together, pray together, and reflect on our calling to be God’s Church together.

It’s only Tuesday, and the Holy Spirit is definitely up to something.

A little background, I was raised in a church that was not so diverse. Theologically, socio-economically, racially, everyone seemed to be cut from the same cloth.

And sadly, this is a similar story for so many churchgoers in America.

Not even taking into account theological diversity, this info-graphic from Lifeway research gives a rather grim picture of racial diversity among protestants:

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The numbers are disheartening, especially with racial tension in America in the wake of events like Ferguson heightened. And if we added the theological variances, we would be looking at even more division.

I’m not saying that there aren’t reasons why different Christian denominations exist. And I realize that the differences in theology and praxis would present issues, however I do not believe that the issues these differences would present are irreconcilable.

As the Church of God Pastor said last night during the revival, “It’s all about Christ. HE is the way, the truth, the life.It’s not about the differences in how we praise God or how we look.”

And what I have observed in the past few nights is this: We are all distinctly different. From the color of our skin, to the style of our worship, even to the way we articulate different aspects of our faith.

But as I looked out across the crowd of people last night, I saw the beautiful diversity of God’s Kingdom. I saw people who looked differently, thought differently, spoke differently, some who danced and some who didn’t, some who ran up and down the pews shouting and screaming, and those who sat quietly in their seats. I saw men and women, old and young, who loved Jesus first and foremost. And that was all that mattered.

I saw these people from all walks of life proclaiming that Christ is King.

Standing in solidarity with believers across the aisle, across the street, and across the world proclaiming that whatever divides us is null and void at the foot of the Cross.

I looked out at all these people, some familiar friends and some new friends, and thought to myself: This is what the Kingdom looks like. I am grateful to be part of a Church that is so much bigger than one denomination or one building, made up of different people who don’t let their differences divide them. Whose collective cry is that Jesus is King. People from all walks of life, all over our city, who are seeking unity and have a burning desire to see Christ bring the dead to life. This is my Church. These are my people. And God is so very present. God, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

It is not God’s will that we continue to divide ourselves. If a lost and dying world sees a floundering and dying Church that cannot even embrace each other, what is there to make them believe it will embrace them? 

It is in the beautiful diversity of God’s kingdom that we show the world how to be united unifiers, how to love one another and love Christ, regardless of the plethora of reasons that keep up safe and warm inside our own prison cells we built with our hands and call churches.

So it is not longer the Presbyterian Church,

or the Baptist Church,

or the Church of God,

or the AME Zion Church.

It is the Christian Church.

Those who, against all odds, stand united in diversity. Those men, women, teens, children, who maybe aren’t so different, after all. We are not many churches, regardless of where we all meet. We are one Church. We serve one God. And it is time to stop hiding behind our pews and show a broken world a God who pulls all of our scattered pieces together and makes us all look like Jesus.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27-28)

The Hypocrisy of the Rest of Us (or, discipleship is messy)

“Yeah, I mean, I’m not about to convert or anything, but I’ve had a breakthrough in understanding what Christians believe about God,” she said.

A friend and I were discussing the character of God yesterday from very different ideological positions in our local coffee shop. She is not a believer. I am a believer, a youth minister, and I am spending my life (and career) proclaiming a message she might think is utter foolishness.

But that is okay. She doesn’t hold it against me (to my knowledge), and we can have civil conversations, even enjoyable conversations such as the one we were having that day. And then she said something and all hell broke loose, but not from me.

“The hypocrisy just gets to me. Like, how can you say God is loving when you read the old testament and see him striking down nations and turning a woman into a pillar of salt. But (another friend) explained to me that love is just one of God’s attributes, and that he is more than that.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “a friend in college challenged me, for example, to read about the conquest of Canaan and think about how a loving God could allow that. It helped me to see something…that I only see a small piece of the picture, but I claim to worship a God who sees it all. So does God’s idea of love always look identical to mine, or can it come about in the form of justice or wrath or provision? Because I believe God knows a lot more than me and his character is all of those things.”

“Yeah, I’m not ready to convert or anything, but it’s just made me think.”

Then we talked a little bit about her experience with the church and Christianity in general, and I heard lots of confusion and experiences with hypocrisy from people who claimed to love Christ.

And then, it happened.

“Excuse me,” a woman on her way to the door said to my friend, “I just want to tell you something. God is love. All of him. It’s the Old Testament God you’re reading about and that’s different. That’s before Jesus.”

Her tone just kept getting angrier and angrier as she spouted out all the broken theology she could recall, reaching a fever pitch.

“See, God isn’t all about that, and you shouldn’t claim that he is.”

And with that, the woman and all of her vitriol made her exit, leaving my friend dumbfounded and maybe a little more resistant to the message of Christ.

We talked a bit more, I apologized for the brash way the woman treated her for simply voicing a different opinion and she gently reminded me that I don’t need to apologize for all of Christendom.

And we continued to talk and flesh out some of the ideas she was grappling with, ideas that I have  confronted and still do confront in my own life. And we talked about other things.

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I was hesitant to make this post. Mostly because my point in writing is to show that we don’t need to take the moral or spiritual high ground over people to reach them. But, at the same time, I don’t want to take the spiritual or moral high ground over the angry woman in the coffee shop, but I think the lesson stands.

See, too often in the Church, we tell people to go and share the Gospel, and they go and do something like that. Chew people out in a coffee shop.

My friends, this is not sharing the Gospel.

It is not patient.

It is not kind.

It is not slow to anger.

It is not love.

It is posturing, insecurity, and ideological warfare.

Sharing the Gospel is a part of Discipleship, our main calling as followers of Christ.  A directive from Jesus himself.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Making disciples is difficult work. It takes a non-defensive posture to challenges to your faith. It is patiently sitting down and walking through life with one another, teaching them what you know, what you hold dear, being an example to them.

And I believe it is a process that can begin before that point at which a person says “I need Jesus.” In most cases, it has to. It is not “defending the faith” against the godless atheists. It is not angrily interjecting your ideas in a conversation you weren’t invited to be a part of to stick up for God (because you erroneously believe that God isn’t a big boy and can’t speak up for himself.) It isn’t about amassing converts or checking your civic duty off on a list.

It is messy work.

It involves growing to know those you speak to deeply and loving and caring for them, regardless of whether or not they ever join (or set foot in) your church.

You cannot share the Gospel with someone you do not love.

And sharing the Gospel is not only expressed in your speaking, but in how you listen, how you relate. How you aren’t afraid to answer challenges with “I don’t know.” 

Because people will never understand faith in action if you try really hard to know all the answers so you won’t have to practice it.

Friends, you and I were called to a life of service, prayer, and joy. I didn’t try to correct my friend when she said something I didn’t agree with. I went into the conversation knowing that we would disagree, she probably did too, but it didn’t stop us from having it. That didn’t stop us from searching for answers and talking like two human beings.

So I guess my word of caution to my fellow Christians is this: Befriend unbelievers. Don’t run from them, and, (literally) for the love of God, don’t attack them. Don’t tell them what they “should” be doing outside of having the type of relationship with them where you know they will take it. Realize that discipleship take time and don’t think they owe it to you to fall down and get right with God right then and there.

Have patience. Show respect. Be Christlike, or the message you proclaim loses its power. Because the Gospel without Christ is no Gospel at all. 

Screaming from the Sidelines

The characteristic of holiness, which is the outcome of the indwelling of God, is blazing truthfulness with regard to God’s word and an amazing tenderness in personal dealings. –Oswald Chambers

It happened yesterday. I was doing some last minute Christmas shopping against my better judgment. Amidst the clinging and clanging of the Santas with their bells and the singing of carols as I pulled out of the parking lot, I heard a semi-robotic voice screaming at the top of his lungs through a huge megaphone. I looked to my right and saw sandwich boards graffitied with apocalyptic proclamations like “The End is Near, the Day of Judgment is now, women shouldn’t wear pants, etc.”

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The young man (who couldn’t have been a lot older than me) was shouting in the best angry preacher voice he could muster. He spit out doctrinal statements faster and with more gusto than even Eminem could attempt. Most of his statements, at their core, I agreed with. But the whole mess just sat wrong with me. I sat at the red light for a good while listening to him as he ran up and down the street like a wild man, screeching as if he were an animal. He claimed that nothing could save you except Jesus. Agreed. That we as humans are inherently flawed and sinful. Agreed. That church tradition is not the final authority on Jesus. Agreed. But for all of his systematic theology, he was missing something. And I pulled into a nearby parking lot to listen and see if he would say it.

Not once was the love of God mentioned. In his eyes, God was a raging beast, poised to strike and throw whatever was left of you into the furnace as a punishment for looking at him the wrong way. Jesus was the only way to tame the beast.

This is not the God I serve.

This is not the God that scripture declares is the only true God.

No, the Bible portrays God as something much better and much more than we can perceive through our darkened glasses. It was love that compelled the Father to send his Son to us to die in our place and bear all of our sin away. It was in love that God turned away while Jesus died. It was in love that Jesus, who knew all of the wars we would wage and the death we would bathe ourselves in said “Father, not my will, but yours.”

See, I hate seeing this picture of God presented on the street corners to people who are just going to shut it out or get angry. I hate that the Church has reduced the Gospel to a list of doctrinal statements and propositions. I hate that instead of seeing the love of God patiently displayed through the lives of the people closest to them, unbelievers are faced with people who couldn’t care less about them and don’t love them unconditionally. People who will say, Jesus is the only way to God, but…you may want to try agreeing with my legalistic list of do’s and don’ts that have nothing to do with the Gospel.

Christians are truly in a culture war, but we will not win it this way. We will not win the culture war by waving signs and screaming through megaphones and compromising the glorious Gospel that God, in his love, sent his son to die for the sins of the world and trading it for the lie that God hates you.

Even if your message is, “Jesus loves you,” it’s not going to be received well if the person is shouting at you (unless of course, you’re at a For Today concert.)

Culture isn’t changed by legislation or a million angry street preachers with fists raised in defiance. Culture is changed by the tough work of discipleship, Christian people loving the non-Christians many segments of Christendom have long neglected. Building relationships and trust and speaking truth in love in the context of that relationship. Witnessing is not a proposition and it is not a screaming match. It is a patient love and an honest life. People respect honesty, and they respect you if you respect them, no matter what.

As the Church, we must be better. We must love people enough that when we present them with the Gospel, there can be no denying that we are doing it out of love. No more screaming from the sidelines in a culture war we cannot win. Show God’s love like Jesus did, by personal connections and by sacrifice. Do not shy away from speaking the truth, but be assured that the truth is a person, not a thing. And let that realization color how you see everything. That is the Gospel.

I pray that the men on the street corner know that. Most importantly, I pray that they show it. I pray that we will not fight to win the culture war by sweeping generalizations and ugly caricatures of God, wholly devoid of any scriptural truth. God’s love is not a condemning love, but a patient one. Surely, he’s been so patient with me, and his kindness leads me to repentance for sin, not his rage.

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:19-24)