Go And Do Likewise – A Good Samaritan Sermon

Go And Do Likewise

Luke 10:25-37

They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

Go and do likewise.

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

“It’s obvious Jesus – The one who showed him mercy.”

“Go….and do likewise.”

This has been a challenging week. Not because of my personal life, nor because of world events, but because of this scripture. I thought the story of the Good Samaritan, which is so well worn and familiar, was a good basic Christian story, designed to teach us basic things like, “Be kind” and “Help others” and “Don’t judge people.” And it does teach these things.

But as I’ve sat with it this week, I frankly find it very challenging. Sometimes the scriptures comfort the afflicted, so to speak. When we are hurting, or in crisis, or in need….we turn to the Bible finding so many passages which reach out to us, comforting us in our pain. And Jesus himself….Jesus was infinitely patient and tender with those who were downcast, or depressed, or broken by life in some way. Thanks be to God for God’s mercies.

But scriptures like this…perhaps they comfort the afflicted, maybe, but they clearly afflict the comfortable.

Challenge is here…a call to love more, to reflect the extravagant over the top love of Jesus Christ more fully.

We find calling and challenge here.

In fact, this story can make our perceptions about what it means to be a faithful person seem very small and somewhat off base.

Here’s what I mean. There are two primary points of challenge among others we are encountering this morning. Allow me to go ahead and share them up front so that you will know where we are headed.

Challenge number one – Our attitudes and understandings of who can give mercy and who deserves mercy are way too small. We limit who gives and receives mercy due to the smallness of our perspectives.

Challenge number two – Our calling in life is to go and do likewise….plain and simple.

They, and we, will know we are Christians by our love.

First the story itself:

This lawyer sets out to test Jesus. Today he would be more like a religious leader than an attorney, so that’s what we will call him this morning. His intention, as a religious leader who’s part of the religious establishment of the day, is not to sincerely learn how to be a spiritually invigorated person….his purpose is to test Jesus.

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This was the ancient way of asking, “What’s the key to life? Or how does one live a really good life; one where we are in harmony with God and God’s creation?”

And Jesus replies as a good rabbi in that day would, asking this religious leader what he reads in the law. The religious leader replies, as we expect, with the Shema from the Old Testament: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus responds affirmatively, “Yes, you know the law, do this and you will live.”

Jesus is ready to turn away, conversation over.

But the religious leader is panicking. He’s not been able to start a theological argument and he’s left with a commission to love other people….this has been a totally unsatisfying conversation to the religious leader so far.

…”But wanting to justify himself, he asks, “And who is my neighbor?’”

In other words, “Would you define that more clearly for me Jesus? Would you describe the circumference around this kind of love, would you circumscribe it for me so that I can determine when I’m done loving? Let’s have a theological debate here because I’m so much more comfortable with that than actually loving people.”

Clearly this religious leader didn’t know Jesus very well. This was the kind of question that often throws gas on the fire. We can almost hear the disciples in the background snickering and whispering to one another, “Watch this. He’s really stepped in it now!” This is the time when Jesus often launched into one of those stories that takes everything they thought they knew about God and God’s ways and turned it all upside down. This is one of those times when Jesus takes the religiosity of the day and blows it out of the water.

And this matches our experience of God doesn’t it? When we think we have God all figured out, when we believe we know the parameters of God’s activity with us, when we think we are approaching the time when we have it all together and when we have this Christian life thing down….that’s when God breaks into our lives and shakes them up.

Now Jesus tells this story wherein he invites this religious leader to visualize the most unholy, unacceptable, unlikely person the religious leader could imagine – and then made him the hero of the story, the shining example of what it looks like to live out the Shema. It’s hard for us to really understand how radical this was in its first telling.

In that day and time, within Judaism there was an ongoing discussion about who were their neighbors. They developed lists for who their neighbors were. A fellow Jew-check, a full proselyte-check, the enemy of my enemy-maybe. These  qualified as neighbors, but few others did. In fact the Pharisees also explicitly ruled out the tax collectors and sinners from the circle of neighbors. The Samaritan would not receive a check. The Samaritan was person non grata. So Jesus makes the Samaritan the hero of the story.

As I mentioned, it’s very difficult for us to appreciate how Jesus was rocking the religious establishment with this story. So, let’s try this experiment.

Were Jesus telling us this story…who would the Good Samaritan, the hero, be to our ears? Who is the kind of person we would never expect to show the greatest kind of mercy and love there is? No, I’m serious. Who would it be for us?

Let me give us some examples to try on:

Would it be someone of a different race, a different color skin than you or I? Or perhaps it would someone who’s not from here and is from OFF – a Yankee or a Redneck or a fill in the blank. Or, would it be the White supremacist who spews hate at rallies? Maybe Jesus would make him the Good Samaritan now.

Or maybe Jesus would tell this story through a socioeconomic lens. The hero might be that person who’s stuck in poverty due to the systemic oppressive forces in our society but also through the squandering of every dime she receives. Maybe this person, who we think is a victim of her own bad choices turns out to be the hero. Or, perhaps it’s the reverse, it’s the over-the-top wealthy person who has more money than a small nation and whom we believe doesn’t care at all about the people around her, but then who surprises us and is the Good Samaritan.

Or maybe Jesus would tell this story through a political lens. You may have noticed that we live in a slightly polarized political environment (just maybe you noticed that somehow).  So choose someone from the other side. In your mind choose the one who is the epitome of the OTHER political point of view…whoever that is. And then imagine, this is who Jesus makes the Good Samaritan. Perhaps we think there is not a good or caring bone in that person’s body at all, and low and behold, Jesus makes him/her the Good Samaritan, the hero of this story.

Or, (one more, stay with me), perhaps Jesus would tell this story through a religious lens, like he originally did. Choose whoever you think is way off base when it comes to faith. Who do we think gets it wrong, doesn’t understand God, and certainly doesn’t represent God? Now, imagine this person’s name inserted into the story where Jesus used the Samaritan.

So, Jesus told a story, wherein the hero is THE MOST unlikely hero we could imagine. Now we are getting close to understanding the consternation and perhaps even the anger of this religious leader.

Challenge number one – Our attitudes and understandings of who can give mercy and who deserves mercy are way too small. Mercy often comes from the unlikeliest of people and places. And, just in case we are not aware, we ARE the unlikely ones in the eyes of plenty out there. Because of their prejudices they believe we are very unlikely people to extend mercy and reflect God’s love.

We hardly even mentioned our attitudes about those who we believe don’t deserve mercy. That’s an entire other sermon so all I’m saying about that this morning is this:

This Samaritan, who turned out to be good, did not do a background check on the man laying in the ditch before helping him. He wasted no time at all trying to determine if the man was deserving or whether he would use his restored health in a responsible way. The man was in the ditch, hurting, and that was reason enough to be merciful. This is what it means to love neighbor.

Jesus cut through all the self-serving, self-justifying, works oriented righteousness of this religious leader….and of ourselves…and reminds us all that no one justifies themselves. That’s God’s good work called salvation. That’s God’s mercy for us accomplished through Jesus Christ our Lord. So we can drop our efforts to self-justify, we can drop our expectations about who can be God’s heroes, and instead live in faith and love. That’s challenge number one.

But after all that, even after all that, Jesus is not done. Jesus presses on relentlessly. “So you want live in ways that are congruent with what God is doing in this world? Then go and do likewise. Go and show mercy. Go and love like Jesus loves.” Challenge number two right here.

This, sisters and brothers, is our spiritual heritage.

We swim in that current. We are living in the flow of this faith movement, the Christian movement, which is designed to be an expression of God’s mercy. Go and do likewise.

And before we see the gap between our living and Christ’s call as too far, allow me to remind you that you/we ARE doing likewise.

When you teach our children that making fun of the different ones on the playground, or on the bus, and on social media is not our way, right then and there, we are doing likewise.

When you linger after the workout at the gym and listen to her tell the story of her husband’s cancer and the stress and strain in their family, and you give her some space to unload her heavy burdens, right then and there, you ARE doing likewise.

When you step in for another disciple in this church and carry the load of keeping things running around here while he’s caught up in a work crisis, right then and there, you are doing likewise.

When you got out of bed on that Saturday morning and carpooled into the city and joined the protest, marching  for those who have no voice, standing up for those who have so little earthly power to change their circumstances, right then and there, you were doing likewise.

When you respond to your attacker on social media with grace and mercy rather than returning contempt for contempt, right then and there, you are doing likewise.

When you stay after worship and pack food for children, right then and there, you are doing likewise.

The one who showed mercy. Go and do likewise in all these ways. This is how we know, this is how we know we swim in that stream, when we are doing likewise. This is how the world will know we are in the lineage of Jesus our Lord, when we are doing likewise. “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

And the doing is not done.

The loving is not yet complete.

So many in this world are in the ditch, sometimes we are there too. So no more judging who’s acceptable to love or not. Instead, Go and do likewise

Through the grace, power, and love of Jesus Christ our Lord, may it become so! Amen.

Prove It!

Prove It

Ever notice?

We are always trying to prove it. We are like children who can’t resist rising to the challenge of that familiar taunt, “Prove it if you can!” When those words were yelled in our direction, we knew the gauntlet was laid down. “Prove it!” Hardly any kid could resist rising to that challenge.

And it turns out that we adults aren’t so different. When we observe our motivations, we realize we are mostly just kids in adult bodies. Sure we are more sophisticated and nuanced, yet when we look really close, we recognize that childlike desire to prove ourselves lingers. Even more than rising to the challenge to prove another wrong, we are actively working to prove all kinds of things to ourselves. Peel away the surface layers which appear ordinary, and we find our extraordinary efforts to prove something to ourselves and others. Where does this show up?

In the woman who experienced extreme food scarcity during her formative years who now has a house always jam-packed with food. Pantry, inside freezer, outside freezer, shelves in the garage….more food than can be consumed before the expiration dates. This is comfort food in the purest sense of the word; it’s presence proving to her that her food needs are and shall be met.

In the pastor who carefully watches the attendance and financial reports each Monday morning, with some small part of his brain interpreting them as a reflection on his pastoral competence. When he’s honest, the numbers are even more than that…a reflection of his worth. When the numbers are high, he recognizes the emotional high is not as meaningful or good as it seems, yet he just can’t resist interpreting this data to mean he’s not only a fine minister, but a fine person.

In the man who shares his story while his new therapist constructs a genogram (family tree with emotional dynamics included). As the story unfolds, he recognizes a pattern of cutting off relational connections prematurely. He realizes he’s working so hard to avoid being ever hurt like THAT again that he literally strikes first, cutting others off before they can cross his vulnerability line. He’s proving to himself that he can keep himself safe, not matter what.

In the woman who can’t put it down. She’s successful now, the hardest working person in the company. In fact, now she runs the company. Yet she doesn’t stop, even on vacation. It’s like her success has not caught up with her. The imaginary person over her shoulder keeps whispering, “you’ll never make it, you’ll never be successful,” driving her day in and day out to prove that voice wrong.

In everyone who’s posting anything at all on social media. It’s not hard to read between the lines, recognizing we are all unconsciously working to elicit something for ourselves. It’s like every post screams loud and clear what we are proving. “See this post proves I’m successful, or affluent, or connected, or happy, or whatever.” Certainly we are clever enough to disguise the psychological need behind the obvious surface pictures and quotes and memes. Yet, the subtle invitation is to help us prove to ourselves whatever it is we are trying to prove.

It turns out, we are not much different than kids rising to the taunt, “Prove it.” And sometimes, we need to do just that. We need to overstock the pantry until we accept the fact that we can provide the food we need to take care of ourselves. We need to find helpful ways to prove we are competent in our vocations. We need to find ways to get the affirmation in life we need to feel like a healthy, acceptable human being.

And there is a place on the other side of proving. When we prove it enough, whatever our “it” is, then we move to acceptance. In the land of self-acceptance we no longer find ourselves hooked by the taunt. In the land of acceptance, we don’t need to prove it anymore, since we know it. We know we are enough. We know we are acceptable. We finally have proven it to ourselves. Then we are not so driven by the need to prove it. Sure, we may still be people with high drive, focused on accomplishing what’s ours to do. But proving it to others and to ourselves….that no longer motivates, because the proving’s been done.

Through the grace, power, and unconditionally accepting of God, may it become so. That’s being alive in the adventure of Jesus. That’s DiscipleFlow.


Power Of The AND-Word


I disagree with you, AND

I love you, AND

We are in ongoing relationship, AND

We disagree.

This is what it means to live in community. We disagree on issues, ideas, decisions AND we continue onward together. We accept each other, we care for each other as people, we respect our common humanity, AND we disagree on some very important issues. The AND-word is a powerful connector, encouraging our better selves to rise to the surface.

Sadly, the AND-word has fallen out of favor with many. We have believed the lies of those who cultivate division; those telling us we cannot be in ongoing relationship with those who disagree with us. So many voices urge us to break relationship with those who don’t vote like we do, profess their faith exactly like we do, or don’t look like we do.

But we don’t have to fall for that….stuff. We don’t have to swallow the belief that those who disagree with us on issues, theology, or even personal preference are not simply different…but evil. Certainly there is evil in this world and some issues directly interact with evil. Yet most issues which we allow to break relationships are not in this category. They are different ideas about how this world should work.

So, don’t give away your power based on lies or because of the counsel of those who would use you for their selfish purposes. Instead, claim the power of AND.

I disagree with you, AND I love you, AND we are in ongoing relationship, AND we disagree.

When we live this statement, becoming these kinds of people, then we help tilt this world toward the better. Surely, it’s not easy, requiring a power beyond ourselves to do this. This is where the power of our faith in Jesus Christ shows itself. When we cast ourselves on God’s strength, God supplies what we need.

This is DiscipleFlow. When we are caught up in the wild, adventurous Way of Jesus, then we disagree AND love.

Through the grace, love, and power of Jesus Christ our Lord, may it become so.

Domesticating Jesus?

Fierce Lion

“Arguably, one of the most potentially destructive things that can happen to a faith is for it to become the accepted and established religion of the political, cultural, and social unit in which its adherents live.  -Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence, 2008

“These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also,” -Description/Criticism of Christian disciples in Thessalonica, recorded in Acts 17:6

“On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.” -Psalms 138:3

Read the Bible lately? The story is one of twists and turns, nomadic movements, and heroic deeds. All this happens even before Jesus, a central character, shows up. Then Jesus goes about turning his world upside down. As we read along in the gospels, we can see far before the story’s end how it will turn out. We almost cringe along the way, thinking, “Jesus, did you have to say it that way?” Or, “Jesus, did you have to go there?” Couldn’t he have used a bit more political savvy or emotional intelligence? Just a bit more? No, Jesus does not fit our categories, or expectations, or wishes. Instead he’s edgy and untamed. Reading the Bible is fascinating, exciting, and disturbing.

And then we look at church. Several years ago I read books like Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s New Monasticism and Mark Scandretti’s Soul Graffiti. These books (and others like them) are encouraging and discouraging. Apparently many sincere younger Christians are forming monastic-like communities in cities… right there in the midst of urban culture. Their motivation…they (some of them) don’t believe their churches can sustain them as Jesus followers in our current world. Wow. Most of us know other Christians who simply have opted out, seeing the church as just another organization trying to survive.  When we get down to it, most of us entertain these thoughts from time to time.

What to do? Or first, what might we need to let go of, in order to embrace a more authentic faith?

Over time, most movements become acculturated and systematized. The great danger therein is mistaking the organization for the essence of the faith. Buildings, bodies, and budgets are the traditional ways to measure church success. These may be important, but they don’t draw humankind into the Jesus story. I remember growing up as a Southern Baptist Missionary’s kid in a state which was not much Southern nor Baptist. As our family started new churches, I was aware that we were counter-cultural in our setting. Being that brand of Christian in that context was a major decision; costing us something in community esteem (though actually minor inconveniences). Now, as the American church moves more toward society’s periphery, more of us are having to confront our motivation for church life.

So then, what do we embrace? Good question. The answers will call us to be more than we have been and done before. It’s likely to shake up our world. And, we are going to need help. We are going to need each other, and a Savior. It’s not what we embrace, but it’s who we embrace….an untamed God. May God increase our strength of soul!

Turning Resolutions Into Life Practices

Light Bulb

What would it take to actually implement our New Year’s resolutions? Resolutions are fine. They are collections of good intentions. But when we actually want to implement resolutions, inward psychological change is required in order to follow through with outward behavioral change.


Simply put, our internal processes directly influence our behavior. The way we perceive a goal strongly influences the likelihood of that goal being achieved. Allow me to share a personal example. For many years I aspired to become a writer. I believed I had something to say; something to contribute which would help this world change for the better. And for years, I was successful…slightly. I produced an article here and there, along with the first few pages of many manuscripts. What I’m saying is that I REALLY wanted to be a writer, but I wasn’t actually writing much at all. Now, I’ve authored five books and am working on more. What changed?

As with all of life, there were many changes which led to major behavioral change. Yet, there’s one change which can help us all turn aspirations into habits. The title “Writer” had to go. Over time I realized that my perception of a writer’s life is a picture of passivity, tedium, boredom, and very little people interaction. So, predictably, when I tried to “be” a writer, I abandoned that project quickly, unconsciously steering myself away from an unattractive way to live. The change in my writing behavior came when I discovered the title “Content Creator.” I noticed I create content for written pieces, but also for many types of training events. My content creating was for sermons, blogs, seminars, workshops, keynotes, and so on. So I began to think of myself as a content creator rather than writer. My perception of a content creator is very active, engaged, and forward-moving. This internal psychological change opened the door to external behavior change.

As we pursue our aspirations for 2019, we will make more progress by stepping back and reflecting. What are our perceptions in the background which influence our behavior in the foreground? Making the time to identify our driving perceptions will save us time spent in frustration and disappointment when our resolutions go south.

So here in 2019, may our New Year’s aspirations become real life habits through changing our perceptions.

It Is About Sex, Just Not That Kind

In recent weeks several conversations on my social media pages have turned to LGBTQ issues. One was not a surprise, since it was about another denominational break-up driven by sexual orientation concerns. Another though was not about sexuality in any way, yet surprisingly and quickly turned toward that issue. Evidently, sexual orientation continues to be on people’s minds. Trying to answer why would take more blog space than I could afford to purchase, so I’ll leave that to the experts.

Instead, I would like to offer more down-to-earth perspective; a more practical and actionable pathway. I’m remembering when I served as a pastor and then as a therapist for the first half of my vocational life. For every one person walking through the pastor’s door or making a therapy appointment regarding their sexual orientation, there were at least 25 others coming through the door to discuss other sexual issues. When pastoring, the majority of my conversations with people experiencing angst, conflict, problems, or otherwise dis-ease regarding sexuality were heterosexual people. Then as a therapist, LGBTQ issues were occasionally the focus of therapy, but couples considering separation, divorcing, or trying to recover from affairs was far more common.

I wish I could lay my hands on the study I read in 2002 or 2003. I can still remember the primary finding….that 40% of people in churches are either actively in an affair (heterosexual type) or have been at some point during their marriage. At the time, I thought this percentage exceptionally high and factually suspect. But then, as a therapist, I can’t tell you how many stories I heard of people starting affairs while they served together on pastor search committees, or on the lay leadership team, or on the church staff. Who knew travelling to hear prospective pastors preach was such fertile ground for infidelity! Rarely were these affairs of the same gender type. Add this to the fact that 50% of marriages end in divorce, with those who participate in church divorcing at the same rate as those who don’t, and it appears the church has a major problem with sex….just not that kind (same gender).

This makes the Church’s current fixation on LGBTQ issues strange indeed. It appears as if we have far bigger concerns to address. Here’s where this discussion takes me.

  1. Sexuality is a powerful drive in we human beings. Surely this doesn’t need written or spoken! Or, does it? Our silence on sexuality when it comes to church speaks volumes. Since sexuality is part of us, being expressed in so many healthy and unhealthy ways, perhaps we should accept ourselves more fully as sexual beings. Just naming this reality as a normal part of the human experience may help us drop some of our dysfunctional baggage when it comes to sexuality.
  2.  If making pronouncements and taking moral stands on issues was a primary strategy for managing ourselves well regarding our sexuality, one would think it would have resulted in better results by now. The traditional orthodox perspective about fidelity in marriage has been taught for centuries, yet infidelity flourishes. Many denominations, local churches, and even individual disciples are fixated on crafting their precise position regarding LGBTQ issues, while nearly half their people are experiencing great pain and heartache due to their struggles to manage their heterosexual selves. Pronouncements by themselves help, maybe, but just not that much.
  3. Perhaps it’s time to refocus our energy. What is it we aspire to as sexual people who follow Jesus Christ? Well, I’m not the go to person with all the answers, yet from where I sit it seems that fidelity in covenant relationships is the ideal. If so, let’s put our energy and effort as churches into helping people toward faithfulness and integrity. Imagine generating more interest in a couples enrichment retreat for your church than for debating same sex relationships on the internet. Imagine starting a men’s group where healthy sexuality and growth in integrity were the primary focus. Imagine robust premarital counseling groups where couples can actually learn about the rigors of marriage before tying the knot. Imagine denominations who redirected the thousands of hours spent on conflicts around LGBTQ issues, with the inevitable fall-out after decisions, shifting their energy to strengthening the faithfulness of heterosexual persons.

One other note: in no way am I minimizing the issues related to LGBTQ persons in the church. Instead, I’m suggesting that we may be focusing great energy and effort on the sexuality of a small sliver of the persons involved in church, while the majority go right on acting-out all kinds of brokenness. Maybe it’s time to lower the reactivity, step back, and take a good long look at what’s really going on regarding sexuality and the Christian journey.

What Happens When A Millennial And Generation Z Type Show Up For Dinner?

Fall Break - Erin and Cami, 2018

I always learn so much when our young adult children are around. This Fall Break we enjoyed a good meal with offspring number 2 and 3, both college students, both Environmental Majors. The conversation turned to what they are learning in their classes, followed by curiosity about what the challenges may be for their generations, one a Millennial and the other Generation Z. Somehow we started talking about the challenges of the Builder Generation who’s focus was building a great society after the last great war. Our parents we part of that generational cohort. Then we Baby Boomers were about discovering our individuality right in the midst of excessively homogeneous suburban culture. Now what will be the significant challenges for our young adult children as they move into the future? Here’s what we identified.

Climate Change – They will need their best brain power to help the human race adapt to a warmer, dryer, and less predictable habitat here on planet earth.

Food Distribution – One informed us there’s enough food produced to feed all 7 billion of us. The problem is distribution and food sharing. Sharp minds will be needed to resolve the tension over food.

Exponential Population Growth – We don’t yet know the extent of the problems which come from this many people on this crowded planet.

Global Problems – As population grows, the planet warms, and technology improves….the human family will face problems which will take collaborative efforts to solve.

Affordable Housing – Fewer young adults see home ownership in their future, compared to their parents’ home ownership opportunities.

So, what are my takeaways from listening to and learning from our bright offspring?

  1. Everything is interconnected, and more so in the future. We clearly see our interdependence in financial markets. When one economy is suffering, world markets react. So, isolationist approaches will hold us back. Going it alone, if that ever was productive, will be even more problematic as large-scale problems rise. We will need our best collective intelligence and collaboration to resolve what’s ahead.
  2. For the human race to do well in the near future, we are going to need more maturity from ourselves and our leaders than before. We are going to need some large-soul people in leadership; those who recognize it’s about the human family, not one particular tribe of humans. We need the best in ourselves to rise to the surface and grow activated, working for the common good of us all. Mature leaders recognize we are all on this planet together, working collaboratively to solve the challenges coming toward us quickly.
  3. We need faith traditions with the power to transform societies and cultures toward the better. If our faith tradition does not include a hopeful vision for humanity (get your escape ticket punched and then just hold on until evacuation day), then it won’t be much use. If our faith tradition solves problems for some people but leaves others out (God bless us, but sorry about them), then it won’t get us to where we need to go. When our faith tradition has the power within it to transform earth and its peoples toward the good, then we can live with hope.

So now I’m praying. I’m praying that emerging generations will take what we’ve given them and improve on it. I’m praying they will become more mature than are we. I pray leaders will rise among them who have expansive perspectives, caring for all God’s children on this planet. In the meantime, life’s not over for me and my generation. It’s time to be the change we hope to see in this world. May we live into our best selves, becoming the people God believes us to be.


When What Was More Good Than Not, Becomes More Not Than Good

After events on the national and world stage this week, I need this word again, remembering Jesus Christ who embraced this life as it is, overcoming evil with love.

mark tidsworth

Ash Wednesday Cross

When what was more good than not, becomes more not than good

When the underside of our kind becomes the upperside

When what was hidden in the dark is disclosed by the light

When leaders disappoint so often our trust-ability may never fully recover

When we recognize our faith traditions are unintentionally complicit with systemic brokenness

When we recognize it’s more about maintaining power and position than living the principles

When our best collective expression of what is good is consumed by our worst expression of ourselves

When our disappointment with the Church tempts us to harbor resentment or become a Done

When we recognize that even what we thought is good in this world is tainted by evil

When we can no longer deny that we are part of this mess

Then we start

Then we start to recognize the Christ

Then we start to recognize the Christ who…

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Bathroom Evangelism

Bathroom Tract

While on a consulting trip to Western North Carolina last week, I stopped by a grocery store which has a Starbucks inside. Before purchasing coffee, I visited their restroom, glancing down, spying a brochure-looking paper sticking out of the baseboard below a toilet stall. After bending down to look more closely, I recognized it as an evangelistic tract.

My first response? “Gross, I’m not touching that without rubber gloves and plenty of disinfectant handy.” One would have to be pretty desperate to reach down for this ill-placed reading material.

Yes, I gave out a few tracts in my early years, thinking they might be helpful. But each time I participated in a tract-giving-group-frenzy, I walked away with a bad feeling in my gut. Certainly I used to hear stories of people who were converted to Christianity through tract-reading, yet I’ve never really met anyone who claims to have read one (besides Christians who are curious or find them amusing).

Seeing this tract, likely placed by someone who’s well-meaning and believes it his (in the men’s restroom) duty to share the gospel this way, raised many questions about evangelism in this Postmodern world. How much money is spent on these? What indicators suggest this is effective in any way? How much energy is spent in this activity? Why does this seem so misdirected? Can’t we do better than this? Is this counter-productive, turning people off to the good news?

Here’s where this experience really took me…evangelism; loving one’s neighbor in the name of Jesus, can be intimidating. It’s so much easier to place a tract in the bathroom at the grocery store, checking off one’s evangelistic duty, than actually engaging others in real life. When we actually endeavor to love people, things get messy and our lives get some of the mess on them. We can’t stay removed, the mysterious person in the background who planted an evangelistic tract and walked away. Loving our neighbors requires involvement; a certain vulnerability.

In this Postmodern world, wherein most everyone is suspicious of those who claim to know something about God, actions have to accompany our words….or better yet, precede words. Words on paper don’t mean much to a society who’s inundated with words on paper. Until we live lives which are different, which do communicate something about the transforming love of Christ, we are discounted right fast. Authenticity, genuineness, presence….these are more necessary than anytime in our lifetimes in order for others to believe there’s anything to the Christian narrative.

So, Christians, no more tracts strategically placed in public restrooms (which no one besides the poor soul who has to clean it would every pick up), please. Instead let’s step outside misguided religious duty and connect with the contagious love of God. Maybe then we will have something worth sharing with our neighbors.

Christ-Shaped Facebook Debating

Facebook Debates Meme

Recently I’ve posted on Facebook about issues of concern, which also happen to be controversial, like gun control. The responses are varied from agreement to silent disagreement. But there is a category of responses catching my attention to which I need to respond. My responding is not for debating them, but because I hope to be more like them when I grow up.

Several people are disagreeing with my point of view, but in such a way that the light of Christ shines through. Clearly they are shaped by their discipleship, given the way they disagree, even in impersonal social media. The content of their argument tends to be similar to others, so that’s not the difference. What’s striking is the spirit of their engagement. It’s more the music below their words.

With reflection, the essence of the difference in them is their care of the relationship. They avoid drive-by shootings in their comments. Clearly their intent is not to hit (make their point) and run (put you in your place, then move on). They assume their relationship with you will continue as it has, so they make their point with consideration for the other. After their engagement with you in social media, even when there is disagreement, you could still sit across the table from them over a cup of coffee. Their goal is not to destroy their opponent, but to collectively pursue insight.

So, I find myself learning much from Facebook and other social media these days. Often I learn how I don’t want to engage others. But from these particular Christ-follower people who are expressing disagreement on my page…I find I want to be more like them. Thank you for ambassador-ing well. Your example is calling out the best in the rest of us.