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I’m the author of multiple books, including the Kindle bestsellers A Christian Survival Guide; Pray, Write, Grow; Coffeehouse Theology; and Creating Space. I freelance (mostly editing, author coaching, and website content) and write books in Columbus, OH.

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The Up Side of Down: A Guest Post by Lisa Gray

 

negative

Today’s guest post is from Lisa Gray, a licensed marriage and family therapist. Her blog, titled Crazy Faith Crossroad, intrigued me, and I invited her to share a guest post. I think you’ll really enjoy it! 

Nobody really likes negative emotion – wouldn’t life be great if we could just get rid of all that negative emotion and have only positive feelings? If you saw the movie Inside Out, you’ll already be introduced to the concept that negative emotions can be downright useful.  As it turns out we might need negative emotions to make life work correctly.

Many of my clients come to me for help with getting rid of a negative emotion. The truth is that most of them have already tried a whole boatload of things to get rid of the emotion, and none of them have worked! A person seeking help in getting rid of anxiety may have stopped driving over bridges; then stopped driving on the freeway; then stopped driving more than a couple of miles and now isn’t leaving the house! Their life has narrowed, narrowed and narrowed further and yet – anxiety. Trying to get rid of emotion isn’t where healing begins.

Christ-followers, too, sometimes get the impression that we should avoid negative emotion. I don’t see bitterness, anger and depression on the list of the Fruits of the Spirit! Galatians 5:22 tells us “… the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. Whether we are given this message directly or not, the goal seems to be to strive towards these “good” things and steer away from the “bad” things.

But what if “bad” feelings propel or steer us toward the “good”? If someone tramples across my boundaries and my values, anger usually results. If this anger is used to clearly express my displeasure towards the person, we might actually have an honest conversation. During this conversation, this person might come to be sorry for what they’ve done and request my forgiveness – and then we have peace, kindness and maybe joy.

Of course this conversation doesn’t always go this way, right? But what if it could? If I wasn’t caught up in my anger and if I didn’t behave badly, perhaps there is more of a likelihood that it would end in a positive manner. If I learn to see my anger as a clue, or warning light – if begin to view it as a chance to deepen my relationship with this person, perhaps then we’d come to experience more of the Fruit of the Spirit even as a result of my having become angry.

For most of my life I have tended toward depression. I can say looking back that almost every time I have been depressed, something good has ultimately come out of that healing process. Last time I was depressed, it was due to loneliness and not enough friendship in my life. I learned that instead of longing for that one deep friendship, I could instead accept the many acquaintances I did have, and look for opportunities to deepen these relationships.

Two years later, I do have a couple of deep friendships in my life – my depression was a chance to explore an area of my life that was an opportunity for correction and growth. There’s a point at which depression (and all “negative” feelings) can go too far and really become not useful. This usually takes place in our thought life. I often have to wallow and feel sorry for myself for a bit before I get down to investigating what my depression is really trying to tell me.

Now, as a caveat, not all “bad” emotions present themselves as opportunities for healing. A young girl violated by incest may be filled with shame, and I would never say that shame is there to propel something positive in her life. This world is full of violence and pain that is sin-birthed and just plain wrong.

My point is, once you have a “bad” or “negative” emotion, you’re going to do something with it. You can avoid it (because it’s “bad”); wallow in it and be a victim (which you may have every right to do); act out because of it (again, understandable sometimes); or you could ask yourself how this emotion could move you towards healing, towards more Fruit of the Spirit. We’ve all seen cases of people forgiving those who have hurt them and been amazed at the life change this brings. I don’t always comprehend how this can be done, but I’d sure like to become a person like that.

I think finding the up side of down begins with examining the emotions that you like to avoid, or ones you are ashamed of having. Maybe people disappoint you, but you don’t say so, because you don’t think you should feel disappointed. Maybe you are consumed with guilt over things but you like to pretend that everything is okay. This is like holding a beach ball underwater – you may be able to avoid or pretend for a while, but ultimately that ball is coming out of the water with a big enough wave!

What if the next time a negative emotion presents itself, you made friends with this feeling? What if you questioned and soul searched what it is trying to tell you about yourself and others and then worked toward an end result that finds you exploring and experiencing the up side of down?

Exercise: Read the following poem. Determine what “negative” emotion you would like to start inviting in to your “house” – think about what that emotion might be able to teach you or how that emotion might be able to deepen your relationships.

  

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,

About Today’s Guest Blogger, Lisa Gray

IMG_4281“I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I’m also a Care Ministry Pastor at my local church. These two things often conflict. If we have such great faith, why do we need counseling? If we get counseling, does that mean we aren’t faith filled? These are the questions that break my heart. My quest is to educate Christians and pastors about why counseling and mental health healing is a crucial need in today’s Church.”

Visit her website.

 

Household Projects Are Like Dipping Your Hand in Boiling Water

I’m sharing from my new book First Draft Father this week:

First Draft FatherI should have known that starting a wood working project at 5:30 pm would end with me sticking my hand in boiling water. It was inevitable really. It all started with a terrible, terrible idea.

 

The Descent to Project Hell

15 minutes: that’s all I thought it would take to make a minor change to Ethan’s crib.

Earlier in the day I’d lowered Ethan’s crib to the bottom setting. Everything lined up perfectly. The crib looked quite safe until I looked under it. I noticed that wooden based holding the mattress buckled a little in the middle. A glance at floor level helped me see that the mattress platform of the crib had a serious dip in it.

I didn’t like the look of it, but I thought there was no way it could fall apart. It was all too tight. I went back to work.

But was it alright? The thought of it nagged me the rest of the afternoon.

By 5:30 I had wrapped up my work. Julie was due home in 15 minutes with Ethan after a full day visiting her friend who had just had a baby. I had 15 minutes. 15 minutes would give me plenty of time to cobble together a block of wood, cut some notches in it, and install it underneath the crib.

 

The Man Who Didn’t Measure

This was not a difficult job. Screw two pieces of wood together and cut two notches in it to hold up the crib platform. Simple, right?

I thought 15 minutes would be way more time than I needed. I would even be able to share on Facebook that I finally got a project done in the projected amount of time. Unfortunately, there were problems.

For starters, I honestly have no idea how to cut a “U” in a piece of wood. I started out chopping and hacking at odd angles. That took way longer than anticipated. Even so, I got it together. I shoved it under the crib, and then I noticed my first problem: the crib was now elevated on one side!

I didn’t cut my notches into the wood far enough. Or perhaps the floor in our old house was crooked. As I wandered down with my sad piece of wood, Julie walked in with Ethan.

 

Welcome Home! I’m Destroying Stuff!

As I talk about my plans here, it bears mentioning that my “15 minute” plan was intended to get this project done BEFORE Julie arrived home. I wanted to help her unload the car or snuggle Ethan. At the very least, I wanted to give her a short break before making dinner.

Instead she came home to me blabbering about crib safety and just needing a few more minutes to “fix” the crib with this chunk of wood that would provide support in the middle. I just needed to cut the notches down a bit.

Opting for the chisel, I pounded away at the wood while Julie made dinner. Ethan flopped around on the kitchen floor, unaware that I was slowly coming undone in the basement.

After the first chisel session, I learned that still further chiseling would be required. Back to the basement I returned to pound away at the chunk of wood.

Each swing of the hammer made me a little more frantic and worried. This was NOT the plan. I wanted to help. I wanted to keep my child safe. I wanted to finish this in 15 minutes.

I finally got the wood in place, and then I realized that my problem wasn’t just the chiseling in the two notches. I had to cut the entire piece of wood down a size.

Most intelligent people would stop a project at this point and wave the white flag. But I kept thinking about the safety of the crib. What if something happened?

 

Boiling Over

Besides quitting, the other thing I should have done was fetch the extension cord for the jig saw. It didn’t quite reach the wood at a favorable angle for the cuts I needed to do, but I just kept hacking away. I was rushing and trying to get this thing done. I could hear Ethan whining upstairs as Julie tried to wrap up dinner before his bed time.

With chunks of wood and sawdust creating a ring of madness in the basement, I emerged with my prized block of wood. I finally got it lodged into place, and entered the kitchen, ready to help.

Julie had Ethan in her arms, so she gave me the easy job.

“Can you dump the spaghetti into the pot?”

I’ve made spaghetti plenty of times. This was not hard. She even had the water rolling at a full boil.

As I dumped the pasta box over the water, it didn’t come out. Instead of turning the box upside down and shaking it into the pot, I gave it a sideways flick with my wrist. The spaghetti zipped across the pot of boiling water, sending about half of it on top of our (thankfully closed) trash can.

Seeing our dinner cascading toward the trash, my reflexes kicked in and I swiped at the pasta with my free right hand. I missed the pasta but not the pot. I stuck my entire hand in boiling water. With pasta all over the floor, I screamed and cursed and shoved my hand under cold water at the sink.

 

Cooling Down

Things didn’t go much better after that. Ethan had a rough evening, gagging on a teething biscuit before spitting up everything in his stomach. I had to leave story time to put another ice pack on my throbbing hand.

I traced it all back to my flawed project plans.

How many times have I ruined my day by trying to get a household project done “real quick”? (I’m not going to answer that question!)

The insanity of the moment burns, but the stress and worry that continues after the fact can also linger.

Thankfully my hand healed up overnight. I can write. I can do the dishes. And I assure you that I won’t attempt any household projects this week if I only have 15 minutes.

 

I’m celebrating the release of my book First Draft Father this week by sharing select chapters. It’s a compilation of an online journal that I kept after the birth of our first child, and it documents my journey from insecure, overworking writer to over-tired but over-joyed father.

 

Read more in First Draft Father.

Download a Sample or Order Your Copy:

Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | Print via Amazon

(Available for $.99 During Release Week, July 13-17)

 

When I Thought I’d Failed and Never Really Lost a Thing

 

First Draft FatherI’m sharing from my book First Draft Father this week:

About two years ago I had one of those moments where I realized that weeks of hard work and planning had been undermined by a single click.

One click and everything would have been different, with all of my hard work humming like a finely tuned machine.

The plan was to give away my latest eBook, Creating Space, for free in the Kindle store on Cyber Monday and Tuesday. It was intended to be a kind of subversive, anti-consumption alternative to all of the technology deals out there–us Christians LOVE to be subversive. I wanted to give something away that wasn’t just a product to be consumed. It’s a product that encourages individual creativity, removing people from the consumerism cycle.

That was the plan at least.

I had sent hundreds of emails, lined up guest posts, and created graphics and banners all over the place advertising the free eBook download.

When the time came, the offer wasn’t live.

I’d apparently clicked on the wrong days because of the calendar layout that stuck Monday at the start of the week instead of Sunday.

Those Amazon heathens…

I vented, I huffed, I despaired. What should I do?

I usually take care of Ethan in the morning, but my wife graciously intervened and took him so that I could tend to damage control.

I sent emails apologizing and explaining the error.

I posted updates on Facebook, Twitter, and my blog about the mistake.

I contacted Amazon to try to salvage things, but it was too late.

I felt like the most unprofessional writer in the world.

I was venting just the other day in my journal that I love writing, but the marketing part annoys the heck out of me. It’s hard to know how to market a book that you love and believe in without pestering readers.

I see the general tweets and Facebook posts where folks vent about authors being so pushy with their books, and while I cringe at the thought that they’re talking about me, I do feel like my hands are tied.

There’s this chasm between authors who write books and people who want to read good books, and it’s hard to find the right people to read your books. So you try stuff like free eBook giveaways to see if you can reach people a little bit easier without asking for their money.

I had tried to innovate a little, and right out of the gate, I fell on my face. How humiliating.

After fixing what I could and resigning myself to the release going live on Tuesday, I walked upstairs and found Julie sitting down with Ethan to read him a book before his nap. It suddenly hit me that I really missed my morning time with Ethan.

I usually read him The Foot Book, so I settled in next to Julie and Ethan to read with the same voices and inflections I usually do. Everything was perfect, just as it should be. I took Ethan and rocked him to sleep as usual.

Once I was immersed in the rhymes: “Left foot, left foot, right foot, fight:” I came back down to reality from my funk.

Sure, I’d made a mistake. It wasn’t pleasant. It may have hurt my downloads.

But then again, I hadn’t really lost anything. Ethan got to whack the book as usual and protest being rocked to sleep. Everything most important was just how it should be, and that mattered far more than what wasn’t.

Best yet, when I emailed everyone to apologize, I made a huge spelling mistake in the subject line.

 

I’m celebrating the release of my book First Draft Father this week by sharing select chapters. It’s a compilation of an online journal that I kept after the birth of our first child, and it documents my journey from insecure, overworking writer to over-tired but over-joyed father.

 

Read more in First Draft Father.

Download a Sample or Order Your Copy:

Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | Print via Amazon

(Available for $.99 During Release Week, July 13-17)

 

 

First Draft Father: When You Doubt, Just Start Singing

 

First Draft FatherI’m sharing from my book First Draft Father this week:

I’m not quite sure when I started singing to Ethan on a regular basis. Perhaps it was the time I saw my wife Julie sing a high-pitched silly song to him and watched his face light up with a smile.

Now I sing for him all of the time. When I’m changing him. When I’m dressing him. When I’m bathing him.

When we knew that we were going to have a baby, I thought it would be great to sing for him. Then my mind came up completely blank with appropriate songs.

I used to lead worship in church. I’m a creative guy. I can do this: right?

Nothing.

With my mind empty and nothing planned, I just look Ethan in the eyes and start singing whatever comes to mind. Sometimes I make up my own lyrics to popular songs. Sometimes I make up lyrics to songs that aren’t so popular, with the chicken dance tune coming in handy for “lyric creation” on the fly.

Other times I’m rocking him to sleep, singing a little song I made up for him around the time he was born.

When he won’t fall asleep and wiggles in my arms in the still of the night, I sing one of the few hymns I’ve held onto. The last verse of Come Thou Fount is particularly moving for me.

Don’t we all feel that pull to wander, to put ourselves first, and to forget that we have a God who loves us dearly and who longs to hold us close?

I snuggle Ethan close to me, wrapping him around me so he can’t plank.

Prone to plank, Ethan, I feel it…

When I’m singing a made up song, such as my own version of a Johnny Cash chorus “You’re gonna cry, cry, cry,” or a hymn, I remember that anxious father who didn’t think he’d have anything to sing. How we underestimate ourselves.

And that underestimating makes so much sense to me as a writer, as a creative, as a father. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at my estimating abilities since I’m terrible at math to begin with. Toss in a dose of self-doubt and insecurity, and you’ll spend your evenings wandering dark hallways bored and lonely with frustration bristling off your lips.

Start singing. That’s the only rule.

Whether your faith is cold and struggling or you can’t figure out what the next sentence will be for your blog post.

You can get there, but you need to start singing.

Doubt only has power so long as you’re silent and immobile.

Faith is that leap into the dark uncertainty where we start singing not because we believe we can make a beautiful song when we start but that something beautiful will eventually come if we leap in.

Sing to God, and he just may show up.

Sing while you hammer out that draft and you might write a few sentences that strike you silent.

Sing to your child, and he may drift off to sleep with a faint smile that creeps out behind his gently pulsing pacifier.

 

I’m celebrating the release of my book First Draft Father this week by sharing select chapters. It’s a compilation of an online journal that I kept after the birth of our first child, and it documents my journey from insecure, overworking writer to over-tired but over-joyed father.

 

Read more in First Draft Father.

Download a Sample or Order Your Copy:

Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | Print via Amazon

(Available for $.99 During Release Week, July 13-17)

 

Why We Have to Do Things the Wrong Way

 

First Draft FatherI’m sharing from my new book First Draft Father this week:

Every week there’s something new that Ethan can do. And some weeks he does things that I never saw coming. Take the train for instance:

One of his Nanas gave him a cool train set that is made of wood and has layers of wooden rectangles stacked up on each train frame. He’s at a place right now where he can hold small things or push things away from himself, but there’s no way he can line up a train and push it along the floor.

If anything, he knocks the train over and sends the stacked blocks flying all over the place.

That’s when something interesting happened.

One day I gave Ethan one of the trains to throw around while he sat next to me on the couch. Propped up in a corner, he dumped the blocks into his lap. With the lighter train platform in his hand, he started to fiercely whack the blocks with it. Over and over and over.

The new train game was enthralling. He could hold the blocks, throw the blocks, chew on the blocks, chew on the train, throw the train, hit things with the train, or hit things with the blocks.

What else would a baby do all day?

We have since turned him loose on his train a couple of days in a row now, and each time he’s completely delighted to bang around with his blocks.

I find it striking that I almost didn’t give him the train in the first place. I’d thought that he would just get frustrated with it. Perhaps I imagined him looking up at me with his eyes wide and his palms upturned, as if to say, “What am I supposed to do with this?”

He knew exactly what to do with it, even if my imagination was limited to the original intent of his toy: child pushing a carefully constructed train around on the floor.

There’s something in this story about parenting that I want to savor, but it’s really something that applies to so many other things in life. How many things are we afraid to try because we don’t think we’ll do them right or well?

Take writing for instance: I live in fear of the old book proposals and magazine articles from three, four, or five years ago lurking on my computer. They’re just so terrible. I worked hard on them, but whenever I accidentally open one, I catch myself cringing at my clunky openings, the meandering points, and the low quality ideas I once considered profound.

Mind you, I didn’t always write duds. I have gotten things published; I’ll have you know. The difference is that writing anything worthy of being published took so much time, so many drafts, and a parade of false starts and scrapped ideas.

I haven’t arrived at some magical place where I can hammer out a single draft and mail it in to a publisher, but I’ve learned so much about stringing words together and how to make them run on their tracks. I started out babbling my words, dumping them onto my page, and banging them together for a few hours.

The results at that time weren’t very orderly or helpful for anyone but myself. Over time the banging and clunking gave way to order. At a certain point, the words clicked together and started to hum along.

The only way to learn is to play with something new, even if you’re playing with it wrong. You just may end up enjoying yourself and picking up a new skill along the way.

 

I’m celebrating the release of my book First Draft Father this week by sharing select chapters. It’s a compilation of an online journal that I kept after the birth of our first child, and it documents my journey from insecure, overworking writer to over-tired but over-joyed father.

 

Read more in First Draft Father.

Download a Sample or Order Your Copy:

Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | Print via Amazon

(Available for $.99 During Release Week, July 13-17)

 

A Present God Is Missed by People Who Live in the Future

 

 

First Draft FatherI’m sharing from my new book First Draft Father this week:

There’s always a next thing you have to do whether you’re a writer or a stay at home parent.

For writers:

You can’t just write a book proposal. You need to show that you have other ideas for future books. You need to think of blog posts, articles for magazines, and additional places to build awareness around your work.

You can’t just publish a book and wait. You have to beg and beg and beg people for reviews, make endless asks for social media mentions, and seek out any place where you can sell your book to a group of people in your intended audience.

For parents:

You need to start the diaper washing and folding cycle early in the day if you want to have enough by the time evening rolls around.

You need to think about how much milk has been pumped into the bottle just in case you need it.

You need to watch for signs of sleepiness because heaven knows he’ll be a hellion if you wait too long to put him down for his nap.

I’m always thinking of the next thing, trying to anticipate the next moment. And when I grow weary, I just stop thinking and sort of flip my brain into neutral, not really thinking about anything all that much.

I catch myself moving, thinking, and worrying, and I realize that I’m not relaxed or calm or in the moment.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Anne Lamott about a moment like this, it’s that I need to breathe. So I suck in a deep breath and let it go. I can feel my shoulders relax. I force my brow to loosen up. I pay attention to my hands, making sure they’re not clenched.

I stop myself mentally, even if I still need to keep moving. I’m now in the moment–at least for a little while. Of course I’ll need to plan ahead all of the time, but always planning is a terribly stressful way to live with a child or to write.

Worst of all, living for the future alienates me from God, who desires to be with me in the moment and to provide for me today.

God can’t provide for the future because it isn’t here, and I think that obsession with the future is one of the ways we are unhinged and distanced from God.

I take my breath, say a pray from the Liturgy of the Hours, and I thank God that he’s given us breath, peace, and joy right now in this moment.

 

I’m celebrating the release of my book First Draft Father this week by sharing select chapters. It’s a compilation of an online journal that I kept after the birth of our first child, and it documents my journey from insecure, overworking writer to over-tired but over-joyed father.

 

Read more in First Draft Father.

Download a Sample or Order Your Copy:

Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | Print via Amazon

(Available for $.99 During Release Week, July 13-17)

 

 

If There’s a Slippery Slope, Then Jesus May Be Leading Us Down It

slipper-slope-Christian

The fear of the unknown has been a powerful force for Christians over the years. If you let go of a particular doctrine, welcome a particular person, or adopt a particular belief, THERE’S NO TELLING WHERE IT COULD LEAD!

It’s amazingly effective for several reasons:

  1. There is no way to effectively dispute the future. It hasn’t happened yet.
  2. It doesn’t actually engage an idea or its implications for the present.
  3. It aims to keep listeners reliant on authority figures and gatekeepers for protection.

I’ve used the slippery slope argument myself in the past.

One day in seminary we were discussing Christian unity, and I mentioned my horror over a theoretical “liberal” Christian teaching my child’s Sunday school class. “THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN!!!” There’s no telling where a liberal teacher could lead my children…

My professor, who had a good bit of conservative Baptist in him, pushed me to rethink my fear-based logic.

A good ten years of living with the Gospels has helped me see how unhelpful it is to live by fear in the first place, to say nothing of asking who or what we’re supposed to put our faith in to begin with. Didn’t Jesus say he was leaving his followers with peace after all?

If we are interacting with anything, be it theology, a social issue, or a political cause, from the position of fear and uncertainty about sliding down a slippery slope into the great and potentially terrible unknown, let’s at least ask if we’re using fear to excuse ourselves from engaging with ideas we’d rather not face. There may be times when a bit of caution is warranted—for instance, my personal alarm bells go off if someone starts treating the Trinity as optional or suspect.

All of that to say, if there’s a pattern to the Gospel stories, it’s Jesus leading his followers down one slippery slope after another.

You can’t glean wheat on the Sabbath… who knows where that will lead!

You can’t forgive a cripple’s sins… who knows where that will lead!

You can’t heal on the Sabbath… who knows where that will lead!

You can’t forgive a woman with an adulterous past… who knows where that will lead!

You can’t heal a Gentile woman… who knows where that will lead!

 

Things continue along similar lines with the early church.

You can’t preach to the Roman soldiers… who knows where that will lead!

You can’t convert Gentiles without making them Jews first… who knows where that will lead!

 

It’s one slippery slope after another in the New Testament. So the issue isn’t how to avoid all of the slippery slopes.

We need to figure out which slippery slope Jesus is leading us down.

Jesus gave us a few clues about these slippery slopes:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35, NRSV

 

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.”

Luke 6:43-44, NRSV

 

How do we produce good fruit and become loving people, then? I can think of no better metaphor than Jesus’ teaching: “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15).

The logic of slippery slopes is this: Stay close to certain beliefs and practices, avoid certain beliefs and practices, and then you will stay close to Jesus.

The vine and branches logic is this: Stay close to Jesus and then you’ll know which beliefs and practices to hold onto to and which to avoid.

I remember several women from my days in a fundamentalist church who were the most sincere and loving prayer warriors I’ve ever met. If we tried talking about Bible translations, atonement theory, politics, and who knows what else, I’m sure we’d all go a little crazy these days. However, there was unmistakable fruit in their lives. You felt loved when you met them. They were connected to the vine.

You could say there’s a family resemblance among those who understand they are the children of God. They’ve been transformed by the common love that flows from the Father, Son, and Spirit.

We all hope and pray that we’re on the same page as Jesus, and I’m sure that we’ve all got something quite wrong about him. If there’s one thing I hope I am closer to getting right than not, it’s this idea of slippery slopes.

If Jesus was all about keeping people from sliding down slippery slopes, then he did a terrible job of it. If anything, he blatantly broke the Law or at least rejected how his contemporaries interpreted the Law.

Jesus led his followers down a slippery slope where the law of love and the law of the Spirit trumped the particulars of the written Law.

There aren’t letters bold and all-caps enough for me on this. People had chapter and verse support for opposing the ministry of Jesus. The literalists of his day found his ministry deeply troubling and obviously opposed to the purposes of God.

It was a slippery slope toward love and Spirit.

It was a slippery slope away from boundaries and external rules.

It was a slippery slope away from written laws to the law being written on our hearts.

Jesus slipped down to the center of God’s love that has the power to transform us, to lead us toward holiness, and to fill us with more than enough love to pass on to others.

Perfect love drives out fear, by the way…

So whatever is going on around us, love provides a steady foundation. When we are rooted and grounded in love, we can gladly slide down any slippery slope. Perhaps those things are actually what’s sliding away after all, while we remain fixed in the love of Christ.

This is why Paul writes:

“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Ephesians 3:16-19, NRSV

When you are rooted in the love of Christ, you’re (ideally, at least) less reliant on authority figures and laws that tell you what to believe, what to do, or how to stay safe. The unknown will always be unsettling. That is why our best bet is to rest in the one who has already overcome the world.

 

 

The Supreme Court Just Gave American Evangelicals a Gift

 

supreme-court-same-sex-marriage

 

Evangelicals are tenacious, persistent, and driven when they want to fight for a cause. The problem is that American evangelicals have been swept up in fighting for the wrong cause for a long time.

When the Supreme Court ruled to make same sex marriage the law of the land, American evangelicals received a gift that many don’t want: official permission to fight for people in need instead of fighting against same sex marriage.

Whatever you believe about same sex marriage, the role of government, and the future of the church in America, disagreeing with same sex marriage on moral grounds does not demand a public campaign to prevent it from becoming legally sanctioned. While I remain committed to creating room for affirming and non-affirming evangelicals who unite under the common banner of saving faith in Christ, evangelicals in America should have never made legalized same sex marriage a central moral issue to fight in the courts.

While I don’t believe Matthew 25 is exhaustive in its presentation of what matters to God, we do get a glimpse of the kinds of people who have internalized and lived out the message of Jesus. They work to alleviate the most pressing needs of others in our world.

That isn’t a call to relativize our sexual standards. Rather, I see Jesus pointing us toward the issues that pertain to the most basic aspects of human dignity: food, shelter, clothing, justice, and sickness:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,

I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,

I was a stranger and you invited me in, 

I needed clothes and you clothed me, 

I was sick and you looked after me,

I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

We can disagree all day about same sex marriage. Heck, the majority of evangelicals will most likely continue to disagree about this issue for another 20 years until the millennials take their place in church leadership.

However, there’s no denying that millions of people around the world are suffering significantly, and Jesus wants us to focus our energies on serving them. If there was ever a group of people who should give a damn about children dying of hunger, deeply wounded people suffering in prison, and thousands upon thousands of refugees fleeing unprecedented violence in the Middle East, it should be American evangelicals.

It’s not like these massive global needs are a secret:

Over 49 million Americans and 870 million people overall in the world are going hungry (source).

750 million people worldwide lack access to clean water, leading to diseases that disproportionately kill children under age 5 who are unable to fight bacteria (source 1, source 2)

The U.S. prison system incarcerates over 2.3 million people, including a disproportionate number of African Americans (source).

Over 100 million Christians around the world face severe persecution, including the believers living in refugee camps after fleeing Syria and Iraq (source).

Over 500,000 Americans are homeless (source), but worldwide an estimated 1 billion people are living in housing that is inadequate (source).

If you care about preventing terrible things like human trafficking, rape, forced prostitution, and child soldiers, partnering with groups that empower communities to meet these basic needs will go a long way in keeping potential victims safe, healthy, and in control of their own lives.

Declarations about the collapse of civilization because of same sex marriage ring hollow when we consider that Americans toss 31.1% of our food while allowing millions to go hungry, fail to ask whether our ridiculously high incarceration rates ruin thousands of lives that could have been set right through treatment programs, and Christians in the Middle East have to flee their villages after ISIS invades, steals their women and children, and threatens to kill anyone who refuses to convert.

If God is going to condemn us over anything in America, it’s going to be our indifference and inaction when it comes to feeding people, giving out clean water, offering shelter, visiting the sick, and helping the prisoners, not a Supreme Court ruling.

It boggles the mind that evangelicals in America have long seen this ruling coming, but we have fought tooth and nail in what many suspected to be a losing cause. So many millions of dollars and hours were tossed into legal battles that were a long shot at best.

And yet, we have always had financial resources, competent charities, and passionate workers who are more than willing to travel to the ends of the earth to fulfill the very words of Jesus. If we collectively gave these most basic causes just a fraction of the time and energy that we had devoted to fighting same sex marriage, who knows how many thousands or millions of lives could have been saved.

We have been given a gift: The Supreme Court ruling means we can stop throwing our time and money into fighting same sex marriage and fulfill the words of Matthew 25.

We need not lament, lick our wounds, or bemoan the “terrible” world that our grandchildren will inherit. For millions of people around the world and even in our own neighborhoods, the worst has already happened and will continue to happen.

We need not wave the white flag of surrender on same sex marriage and pray for God’s mercy. If we’re going to take the words of Jesus seriously, know this:

God’s judgment has been upon us long before a single state allowed same sex marriage.

God’s judgment came upon us when we left people hungry, thirsty, sick, unclothed, and alone.

It’s time to stop blaming the court system. If we disagree on same sex marriage, that is our right. That doesn’t change the call of Jesus for his followers, especially American evangelicals at this time. We have our marching orders. We shouldn’t act surprised at who we’re called to serve.

We aren’t called to fight against someone. We aren’t called to litigation.

We are called to fight for everyone—especially those suffering in the most basic ways.

The longer we engage in legal fights against same sex marriage, the more apparent it becomes that we’d rather throw ourselves into any losing cause than obey the most basic commands of Jesus.

Let’s take our tenacity, energy, and resources and throw them into serving the people who are suffering the most in this world.

We may even hear the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant,” one day.

 

UPDATE: July 1, 2015

Comments will be closing soon on this post, so I wanted to add a quick note that will hopefully address one of the leading concerns among those who have commented thus far:

The majority of the dissenting comments have accused me of overlooking or downplaying the relief work that evangelicals have done around the world.

However…

Some of the most enthusiastic shares, comments, and private notes I’ve received in support of the post have come from missionaries and aid workers around the world who said I put their exact thoughts into words. Not to say all such folks agree with me, but it’s just a general trend.

In addition…

No dissenting comment I have yet seen has made personal mention of being an aid worker who feels overlooked or disparaged. Not to say this won’t happen, but it’s just a general trend.

To be clear, I assumed that it’s common knowledge that American evangelicals are involved in all sorts of relief work and missionary work. I had not intention of downplaying what anyone has done in helping those in need or in preaching the Gospel. My intent was calling attention to the needs that remain in our world and the importance of focusing our energies to meet them. My apologies if this post unintentionally minimized anyone’s generosity or service.

We’d Rather Stay with the 99

church stage performance Christianity

 

Have you seen the size of our congregation?

Can you fathom how many lives have been transformed by our hard-working ministry… I mean, by the Gospel?

Our outreach programs and community service teams are missionally engaged in the surrounding culture. We have strong attendance numbers. Our baptism services are more packed than an MTV beach party—at least, what we imagine an MTV beach party would be like if everyone dressed super modestly.

While everyone’s writing about the decline of the church in America, we’re celebrating new salvation decisions every week. Our membership classes are always packed. We’re going to open a new campus next year that will expand the reach of the Gospel into yet another unreached suburb.

It’s true that some people have been damaged, spiritually abused, and manipulated by our pastor. We’re the first to admit that he has some flaws.

We say let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Our pastor is a sinner like everyone else who is no longer under condemnation. We are all under grace, and the least we can do is extend that same grace to the leaders who are running ministries that are too big to fail… I mean blessed by God with astounding attendance numbers.

We can’t let the gates of hell prevail against the church, can we?

We know some wounded people keep criticizing the spiritual abuse, manipulation, and all-male elder boards who use church by-laws and covenants to control people. It’s not our fault that these critics, at one time at least, wanted to follow our biblical model and signed up to join our congregation. It’s not our fault that they refused to abide by the covenant that we established through our culturally bound and arbitrary… I mean inerrant interpretation of God’s Word.

Yes, it’s true that some people have left the faith or have been deeply wounded because of our ministry. Shouldn’t any business… I mean empire… I mean church, expect some collateral damage?

Those calling for “accountability” and changes for our church and our leaders simply don’t understand the numbers involved in successful business… I mean church growth… I mean Gospel-centered ministry. It really all comes down to math… and some grace… especially for our leaders… but usually not for the people they hurt since aren’t preaching to thousands of people every Sunday.

Let’s deal in some round numbers for the sake of simplicity.

Say there are 100 people in our church (Not that we’ve ever had less than 150 since our launch in our pastor’s massive basement). Through the spectacular preaching of our pastor and the extremely male headship of our elder board, 99 of those people come to a saving knowledge of the Gospel, join the membership class, pledge to tithe regularly, volunteer on a regular basis, and begin reaching friends with the Gospel in order to expand our empire… I mean ministry. That’s amazing, right? What church wouldn’t dream of a 99% conversion rate?

However, let’s say that one person out of the 100 has a run in with our pastor, perhaps while he’s jet-lagged from speaking at a conference, or a disagreement with our elders who are simply asking for accountability that requires acquiescing to their demands despite everything that person believes about healthy personal boundaries. For the sake of argument, let’s say that person is deeply wounded and even spiritually manipulated, although we’re not sure how that could happen since people living under godly accountability technically can’t be manipulated. They just need to submit to their leaders and call it a day.

The wounded person may leave our church or the faith altogether. Either way, it’s not our job to cater to the whims and needs of one person. We have important work to do. We have 99 people to instruct in theology, to train in outreach, and to engage in our latest giving campaign.

It’s an unwise allocation of resources and the highly valuable time of our leaders to chase one person out of the hundred who wanders away.

If that one person out of 100 simply wanders away from the Gospel altogether in order to pursue a sinful lifestyle, then our hands are truly tied. If the Gospel has been preached and the elect have responded, what use is there in seeking out the one person wanders away?

Whatever the reason may be for one person wandering away or leaving our ministry, the key point here is that leaders need to keep focused on their vision and mission. If someone doesn’t want to “get on the bus” or play ball with your God-given vision and mission, then let them go.

Don’t leave the 99 behind in order to pursue the one who wanders away. That’s a terrible way to manage an organization or to fulfill a vision.

Pastors literally can’t afford to leave the 99 behind in order to pursue the one who wanders away.

Can you imagine the CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies doing such a foolish thing?

Stop thinking about the one who wandered away! Invest in the 99 who are committed to your vision… and to the Gospel.

We want to see the Gospel reach all people, not just one person. Judging by the size of our congregation, you should stop listening to our few critics and start taking notes on our church management… I mean, disciple-making process.

 

[A Note to Readers: In case you were wondering, yes, this is satire. It’s not based on a particular church. It addresses some broader trends I’ve observed and experienced in many churches and materials written for church leaders.]

 

 

Rohr for Writers: Your Downfall Can Lead to Resurrection

 

Rohr forWriters

“If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own. What a clever place for God to hide holiness, so that only the humble and earnest will find it! A ‘perfect’ person ends up being one who can consciously forgive and include imperfection rather than one who thinks he or she is totally above and beyond imperfection.”

Falling Upward

 

There’s a rule that many writers and artists follow: some of your best work will come out of your deepest pain. If I quoted every time I’ve heard that at a writing conference or read books about this, I would just have a blog post full of quotes from other people.

So much of what we crave in our lives comes by first confronting our pain, failures, and struggles.

If you want intimacy with someone else, it will be forged by facing both relational and external struggles together.

If you want to excel at writing, you need to at least face your lowest points in life, your failures, your fears, and your anxieties. This is where some of your most authentic experiences can be found.

By the same token, if you want to grow in prayer, you also need to bring your sins, shame, and deficiencies to God. These are the raw materials of spirituality because they reveal all of the false commitments, false gods, and false identities that keep us from God and each other.

Our pain and failures aren’t just enshrined as a monument to our misery. They are transformed in the act of confrontation. Most importantly, we are transformed as well. In fact, if you want to reach any kind of lasting change that could make a difference in your own life or in the life of anyone else, you need to start here.

No matter what else you stick in front of failure, pain, or fear, these things will keep eating away at that false veneer.

No matter how much we force ourselves to get over it and to move on, we’ll continue limping until the source of the injury is healed.

We won’t experience relief and wholeness until our pain and struggles are transformed. You can’t find a way to go around this, you can’t make up enough rules to keep you safe, and you can’t teach yourself into becoming better or healed.

We’ll have the most to offer others, either through our prayers or our writing if we prioritize the fearless uncovering of our pain before God and on the page as we write. We don’t have to shout our imperfections in the street for all to hear or post them on our blogs for all to read—in fact, please don’t do either of those things!

This is the deeper soul work that takes place in quiet, secret places.

This is the foundation for our lives that determines the power of our art, the potency of our prayers, and sturdiness of our relationships.

Our pain and our struggles are most certainly an affliction in many ways, but that doesn’t mean we should run from them. Our greatest healing, creative work, and ministry to others will come through these very things that we had once seen as our downfall. If we bring the causes of our downfalls to God, we’ll find that they’re the very things that lead us to resurrection.

 

For a bit more about this topic, check out my book:

Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together