Not All Sin Is Equal

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Photo: Edu Bayer/The New York Times/Redux

By now you have heard what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. By now you have seen how your friends and neighbors have responded. How the media responded, how the president responded, how the president re-responded, and how he re-re-responded.

We hear lots of accusations, but mostly a pointing out of the problems on one side or the other. We hear there were “many sides” to the conflict. We hear there were fine people on both sides. We hear that rights were violated, but just whose rights has come into question.

I personally addressed only one side of the conflict. Then publicly and privately received questions and comments like:

“Why don’t you condemn the counter protestors who were using violence?”

“The Nazis were assembled peacefully, Antifa is in the wrong.”

“We should be against any hate and violence, not just the one side.”

“Black people hate white people too, why do you only address white people?”

I don’t think the “what abouts” and the “many sides” arguments hold much water. I don’t think they are morally equivalent. And I don’t think it is remotely helpful to suggest they could be.

Not all sin is equal.  

The Bible certainly does not define all sins as equal. Jesus talks about varying degrees of judgment, even mentioning one sin that is unforgivable. He compares one person’s sin to a speck of dust and another’s to a plank of wood. He says it is too easy to pay attention to the little (and easier) stuff while ignoring “the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith.” Paul lists particular sins that will exclude a person from God’s Kingdom. Proverbs lists seven sins God specifically hates.

The idea that all sin is equal is not scriptural. This doesn’t mean that all sin is not serious or without consequence, just that all sin is not the same. Not in its impact, not in its origins, not in its destruction.

Our experiences teach us this as well. Would you rather be lied to or murdered? Would you rather someone gossip about you or burn down your home? It is no contest.

How we respond to the events of Charlottesville (as well as past and future situations) needs to be taken in this light.

As a follower of Jesus, I practice non-violence. I agree that hate cannot drive out hate and I believe with all my heart that loving our enemies is the way of true transformation. I stood in the pulpit on Sunday and said that all people, even white supremacists, are made in the image of God.

As such, I hold that punching an unsuspecting person in the face is wrong. Even if that person is a literal Nazi.

But I believe it is more wrong to be a Nazi.

Both are wrong. One is worse.

There were various things that were wrong in Charlottesville. But the first wrong, and the worst wrong, was people showing up in the name of white supremacy.

Rallies of people carrying Klan flags and chanting Nazi slogans and hoping to intimidate other people should not be met with, “but whatabout” excuses, exceptions, or distractions.

There is no “yeah but.”

White supremacy is wrong. Full stop.

It was the worst kind of wrong this weekend. Not only did it lead to injury and death, it was the cause of all the trouble in the first place.

White supremacy carries with it the weight and repercussions of our history.

White supremacy has systemically oppressed people of color in our country since day one.

It enslaved, it segregated, it lynched, it dismissed, it intimidated, it wounded, it terrorized. White supremacy elected officials and passed laws and waged war and built an empire.

And I realize I just used past tense here as if this is only a thing of the past. It still goes on doing most of these same things today. It is not locked away in history books. It is alive and well and marching down the street in broad daylight.

It is unjust. It is ungodly. It is evil.

So when you show up under that banner, your sin is the greater one. You don’t get to “yeah but.”

To do so attempts to level a playing field that is not remotely level. It seeks to eradicate painful abuses that have been suffered at the hands of one side of the conflict for centuries.

It does not matter to me who threw the first punch. It doesn’t matter to me that you had permit. It doesn’t matter that you supposedly didn’t plan to use the bricks and bats and guns and vehicles you brought. 

You hate people because of the color of their skin or because of their religion. You applaud and fight for the oppression of human beings. You use fear. You seek to eliminate. You incite. You have and continue to make life miserable for people who are different than you.

Whatever other wrongs may have transpired, you are the problem here.

Even if there had been no violence or death or counter protest, you and your behavior should be loudly opposed by those who have any moral fiber. Just because it is legal doesn’t make it right. 

Any response to your vile hatred is not comparable to the vile hatred that you have chosen.

All sins are not equal. And this weekend we saw deep and tragic sin.

This is incompatible with the things that make our country great. And it is completely incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

To my white sisters and brothers, let us reject this kind of thinking and behavior. Let us examine our hearts and root out any hate and prejudice that lies within. Let us educate ourselves on the struggles of those who are different than us. Let us learn in humility and be moved to action.

Let’s stop the “whatabout” nonsense and get down to business addressing our problem with race as a nation, as a people, as a church.

Not all sins are equal and this is one of our worst.

To my sisters and brothers on the receiving end of this and other forms of racism, my heart breaks for you. You do not deserve this. I am praying for you. You belong here and you are not alone.

“Justice is a joy to the godly, but it terrifies evildoers.” Proverbs 21:17

Reclaiming Patriotism

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On July 4th 1776, the writers of the Declaration of Independence penned this iconic phrase “all men are created equal.” These beautiful, nation-defining words are in our founding document. They are central to who we are as a country. But when they were written there were people who expressed concern over them.

Not concern because they disagreed with the premise, but concern because many of those who signed the Declaration didn’t extend that phrase to all people. For example, our nation’s constitution includes the understanding that slaves would only count as 3/5 of a person. Not terribly equal. And of course then there is the fact that many of the signers of this great word on freedom actually owned other humans.

The same year the Declaration of Independence was signed Thomas Day wrote:

“If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.”

And I think he was on to something.

While our founding fathers did a lot of good and laid the groundwork for the country we enjoy today, they were not perfect. Their desire for individual rights was traced back to God, but was not extended equally to all people.

Many owned slaves and others allowed the continuation of slavery under the law. Women were overlooked or intentionally left out. Relations with Native Americans were already fractured due to mistreatment by those writing this document and their constituents.

We were, and in many ways continue to be, a walking contradiction.

All men should have included all women.

All men should have included all slaves and their descendants.

All men should have included the first people to call this land home.

Thankfully there have been patriots from that time to this who have worked to help us understand that “all men” includes all humanity. That at the core of who we are as citizens of the United States of America lies this belief that every person has value and rights.

The patriot believes that there are self-evident truths: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

The patriot then believes that all men includes those who come as immigrants.

That all men includes those who are Muslim.

All men includes those who don’t speak American English.

All men includes people who vote differently than me.

It includes women. All of them.

That all men includes racial minorities.

That all men includes the rich and the famous and poor and the forgotten.

It includes the refugee and even the terrorist.

All men includes every single person. Christian, Atheist, Buddhist, Republican, Democrat, Communist, Anarchist. It includes New York Yankee fans and even people who drive under the speed limit. It includes every shade of skin and people from every corner of the earth.

All men is not restricted to citizens of this fine country.

All men includes all people.

I’m tired of patriotism being synonymous with nationalism. I’m tired of watching people cherish Lady Liberty while ignoring her message and history.

I’m tired of being told I hate my country because I want to make room for people coming in desperation.

I’m tired of seeing patriotism reduced to how many beers you can shotgun and how much stuff you blow up on July 4th. There is more to being an American than owning a flag bathing suit or wearing a cut off t-shirt to a barbecue.

I believe it is time to reclaim patriotism.

Patriots fight for “the other.” Patriots seek justice where there is none. Patriots don’t exclude foreigners or oppress others. Patriots long to see all people enjoying their God given rights, whether they are here or afar. Whether they look like us or not. Whether they believe like us or not.

To borrow from Thomas Day: If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, singing “I’m proud to be an American” one moment and in the next yelling “Speak English or get out!” Or hearing a person say that all people are created equal and then watching them deny new or different people equal access. Or seeing a country become more and more divided by race and income. More divided by political party. What is more unpatriotic than people who practice their 1st Amendment rights and then want to deny others theirs because they disagree with them in thought, religion, or politics?

Patriots are far better than that. Patriots make room. A patriot refuses to be polarized. Patriots work hard to ensure that all men really means all people.

Being a patriot is hard work. It is lonely work. It is a task that makes others uneasy. But it is work that is necessary.

If we want to be true to the words that founded our country and if we truly believe that human equality comes from God, then we cannot afford to not be patriots. To settle for inequality or partial equality is to deny to others what God has intended for them. I’m not comfortable with that. May I never get in the way of what makes our nation great and what God would have for all people.

Let’s reclaim what it means to be a patriot. When it is hard and when it is scary. When our natural desire is to retreat and to build walls.

May we be patriots when others want to silence or push out or exclude. May we desperately desire equality for all people. And may we then truly be America the Beautiful.

Church, We Don’t Need Religious Liberty

 

I hear regularly on the news and online that the Church is under attack. 2017-05-04 14.39.36

I think those who say so are right, but I think they have gotten confused about where the battle is coming from. The attacks are not from the people we are often told to fear.

The greatest threat to the Church is not godless liberals or a politically correct government that wants to do away with the 10 Commandments in public places. No, the greatest threat to the Church comes from within our own ranks. It is sitting in our pews and writing our books and blogs and standing behind our pulpits.

The threat is us.

The people who say they have faith in God but who put their faith in other things. The people who will trade most any value for the chance at political power. The people who love to be comfortable and in charge. The people who are infatuated with the concept of religious liberty.

We are a threat because we have let these things distract us from the things Jesus called us to. We are a threat because we sing “the world behind me, the cross before me” and then act as if we are doomed should an election not go our way. We are a threat because we bear false witness by pointing people to a hope that is built on politics and circumstances rather than faith.

Now before you start your rebuttal, know I sincerely believe in religious liberty.  I believe in liberty for people of all faiths and creeds and will work for and defend everyone’s right to be here and have the same freedoms I enjoy.

I am thankful for my freedom. I use and probably exploit it. I stand multiple times a week in front of people and proclaim the Good News of Jesus. And if it were outlawed tomorrow, I’d show up on Sunday and do it anyway.

I’m guessing there are many Christians in many churches who would say the same thing.

What then are we after when we say we want religious liberty? What are we chasing? What is our end game? We say we want religious freedom but religious freedom does not make our faith stronger, it does not make our churches come alive, it does not claim that people will come to faith in Jesus.

What we are after is what that freedom brings us: We want comfort. We want control. We want political power.

Take a stroll through the Gospels and show me a place where Jesus is after those things. He lived in an occupied land. He had no votes. He had limited freedom. He couldn’t pass religiously based laws. He had none of the things I see Christians saying were their top priorities this last election cycle.

Never once was he worried about the threat of Caesar showing up and telling him to stop. He never once said the way to be faithful is to hang the Scriptures in City Hall or stamp In God We Trust on our money. He didn’t say, as the people wanted him to, that we need to overthrow the haters and install God’s government.

He didn’t say those things because they simply did not matter to his ministry and work. Not ultimately.

He wasn’t chasing after an earthly kingdom because his Kingdom was not of this world.

Jesus didn’t get his power from government. He didn’t need Rome to give him permission to speak. His freedom was not wrapped up in the laws of the land.

And neither is ours.

The faithful Christian life is lived out regardless of where we find ourselves or what government we happen to be ruled by. This doesn’t mean we don’t work to make our culture and government better, but we certainly don’t put our hope there or take our marching orders from them.

The faithful Christian life has nothing to do with who has political power and instead has everything to do with who has our heart.

I’m telling you right now that religious freedom is one of the biggest idols in the Church today. And idolatry will kill us far sooner than persecution will or making room for people of different faiths and practices will.

I’m convinced we are being led away from Jesus. We are giving our heart to things that will not bring us abundant life. Religious liberty has absolutely nothing to offer the Church.

Just like Jesus we do not need political power, comfort, or control. Not only do we not need them, they will ruin us.

Power corrupts. Comfort lulls us to sleep. Control is the antithesis of a love.

We are killing ourselves and the faiths of our children and our witness to the world as we chase after these things. Things that don’t look like Jesus.

I can’t imagine Jesus saying, “What the North American Church really needs is pastors telling people who to vote for.” I can’t imagine him saying, “Christians need special laws and protections so they don’t have to bake cupcakes for so and so” or “Blessed are those who wield the power.”

Jesus invites us to serve, to become uncomfortable, to give up so much control that we’d risk everything to love people unlike us. He invites us to lay down our lives. He invites us to trust him on this journey of faith.

Jesus invites us into a Kingdom. A Kingdom far more beautiful and powerful and life giving than anything democracies or monarchies have to offer. A Kingdom that is not run by coercion or violence or deal making but by sacrificial, extravagant love. A Kingdom where laws give way to grace. A Kingdom that changes hearts and minds. A Kingdom that never ends.

So while I hope our nation will live out its identity as a land of freedom for people of all faiths or no faith, I will not be chasing after or applauding things marketed as Christian religious liberty. I will not be schmoozed by politicians who hope to gain my vote by promising me something that isn’t theirs to give.

Church, the government does not give you your voice. The government does not give you your power. The government does not give you your freedom. It does not give or transform life.

Stop putting your hope there. We must stop clamoring after religious liberty as if only then will we experience the life God wants for us. As if only then will God show up.

God will show up when we assume the posture of Jesus. When we love our neighbors as ourselves. When we live a life of faith. When we eschew power and comfort and control in order to look more like the God we claim.

We are better than this. And our Kingdom is better is than this.

May we never bow down at the feet of religious liberty. May we stop chasing after worldly things only to find that we’ve left Jesus and our neighbors in the dust. May our allegiance be to an eternal Kingdom. And may our free or persecuted lives look just like Jesus.

 

 

 

This is not okay.

© UNHCR/A.McConnell

Syria has been at war with itself for years. Countless lives have been lost. Most of the country has been displaced. Many fleeing with only the clothes on their back. And our response to this disaster has largely been a shrug. This is not okay.

Those aware of the situation have turned it, like most things, into a political issue. We’ve reduced a humanitarian crisis to a partisan talking point. This is not okay.

Meanwhile, today in Syria citizens were killed through the use of chemical weapons. Weapons unleashed by their own government. Men. Women. Children. Today. Burned. Poisoned. Suffocated. Dead. The pictures on Twitter are unfiltered and haunting. If that isn’t bad enough, planes then launched rockets at the clinics where the wounded were being treated. This is not okay.

These are people that we are reluctant to welcome when they beg to come. These are people that we have wanted to shut the door on. These are people we’ve largely turned our back on. Men. Women. Children. This is not okay.

The government needs to figure out what they will do for the those remaining in the country, the refugees who’ve fled, and the evil Assad regime. Hopefully this administration will take the issue more seriously than the previous one. It is complex and I don’t have all the answers. 

But you and I need to have our hearts broken by the evil in this world and let it change our attitudes, opinions, and behaviors.

You and I need to consider our response to atrocities like this. It should shake us.

You and I need to decide that this is not okay.

Don’t tell me things like, “America first.” That just does not fly for me as a Jesus follower.

Don’t tell me that Saudi Arabia and whoever should be doing more. Aren’t we supposed to be a “shining city on a hill?”

Don’t tell me “Veterans before refugees.” Certainly our vets need help and resources but the people being choked to death by Sarin gas from their government should be moved to the front of the line. (And you will see shortly we have more than enough cash to go around for refugees and veterans.)

Don’t tell me they can’t be trusted. Don’t tell me we have to do more “extreme vetting.” Don’t tell me one Skittle might be poisoned. 

None of that. Look at the pictures of boys and girls who lost their life today gasping for air that wouldn’t come. Read the stories of the conditions of refugee camps. Listen to the people.

Enough is enough. This is not okay. 

Don’t want to bring them here? Ok, what can you do feed, clothe, and medicate them where they are at? Can you love them as people and be moved by their desperation?

This is a heart issue, not a resource issue.

The US spends around $2.5 billion on Halloween costumes every year. For one night of trick or treating and a party or two. In 2012 we spent $370 million on dressing up our pets on October 31st. None of this includes decorations or candy.

We spend nearly $14 billion on ice cream annually, and that doesn’t include restaurant sales.

The amount of federal dollars that goes to resettling refugees in the USA each year is approximately $585 million. Peanuts compared to the way we spend elsewhere.

Look, I love Halloween and I love ice cream, but I love people more. Maybe I could do without.

Without ice cream or fancy costumes or even safety.

This may sound crazy, but I’m willing to risk safety for the sake of these people. I’m willing to risk it in the name of love. That’s what a Jesus follower does. 

Despite statistics showing that refugees have not been terrorists 99.99938% of the time, some will say this makes me foolish or naïve or something else, but that’s the part I am okay with. I’m not okay with people suffering like this. I’m not okay with saying no to people who are being killed just because of where they live.

Who are we as a nation if we don’t help these people?

Who are we as a Church if we don’t use our voice to bring attention to this?

Who are we as people if we can’t set aside some things in order to save the lives of people?

This is not okay.

God have mercy on them. God have mercy on us.


Give/Learn/Get Involved:

Charity Navigator lists some reputable organizations assisting in this crisis:
https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=1523#

Preemptive Love Coalition is on the ground feeding and treating people. http://www.preemptivelove.org/

Catholic Relief Services: Get to Know Refugees
http://www.crs.org/media-center/syrian-refugees-meet-the-people-everyones-talking-about

Catholic Relief Services: Ways to Help
http://www.crs.org/stories/helping-syrian-refugees-numbers

My own tribe, the Church of the Nazarene, has good folks on the ground caring for refugees where they are at, donate here: https://give.nazarene.org/donate/f/125347

 

 

A Seat at the Table: Lead Like a Girl

Note: One of my strongest convictions is that we need to hear a variety of voices. I think hearing from different perspectives will bridge unnecessary divides and cure unhealthy polarization. I think we will become more empathetic, more grounded, and have more influence in our world. I want to provide a seat at the table for those voices we may not always hear or those who can provide us with insight we would otherwise miss. I will present them unfiltered so that I can learn right along with everyone else, even if we end up disagreeing. Today I present Kristin. She leads a variety of ministries in the local church and is pursuing ordination in the Church of the Nazarene. – Chris

A number of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a conference geared toward women in ministry.  The opening speaker began by stating something similar to this: “As women who are called into leadership roles, we are not here with a chip on our shoulder or an ax to grind.” I hope and pray that my message is not now nor ever steeped in bitterness toward the injustices in our world. Rather, my purpose in speaking out is that a new voice might be heard. A voice that has the potential to show the world another side of the same coin. A voice that is equally cherished by God, equally inspired by God, and equally part of God’s original plan for humanity.

As a woman called to ministry, I cannot say I’ve faced a lot of blatant sexism in my life. I honestly don’t recall anyone telling me I couldn’t do something because of my gender. In fact, my experience has mostly been the opposite. My parents have always been my biggest supporters. They modeled equality in a marriage as far as I can remember. I always thought of them as two halves to a whole, each of them holding the value of exactly half, no less, no more.  I don’t remember them ever mentioning gender equality or lack-there-of, but somehow I have always believed that men and women are equal.

When I went to college as a religion major, for the first time, I realized the unusualness of my worldview on this issue. Nobody ever told me that I couldn’t be a pastor and my professors were supportive, gracious and inclusive.  Yet even in this atmosphere I encountered countless people who assumed that my role in the church would be to support a lead pastor and minister to a small portion of the congregation – youth, children, women—rather than taking the lead position. And we need good people who will fill each of these roles, but the ability to lead is not gender-specific.

You see, sometimes prejudice doesn’t show itself through nasty words or outright hatred.  Sometimes prejudice is seen in the expectations we hold or the terminology we use. Sometimes it’s the side-long glance or the questioning eyes.  Sometimes it comes in the form of a question like “Do you need to check with your husband on that theological issue?” As if my education isn’t enough. Or a determination of my value based on how well I “pastor’s wife,” as if I am defined by my husband’s job. And sometimes it comes in the form of jokes and teasing, like calling a man “Nancy” when his physical strength is deemed lacking or blaming a woman’s passion on her hormones. It may seem harmless, and it’s probably not always intended to degrade women, but it is a contribution to gender inequality none-the-less.

So for the better part of the last ten years I have questioned what exactly I can do in leadership. What role can I possibly play in the edification of the church? Am I ‘less-than’ simply because of my gender? Am I capable of speaking in public and bringing sound doctrine to the people of God? Is God really calling ME?

Maybe these questions and fears are rooted in my own insecurities.  Or maybe these insecurities have been fed by the biases of other well-intentioned, although misguided, Christians. Either way, I do not believe that God’s intention for me is to be lost in a sea of doubt. Nor do I believe that He desires for me to be silent, to be inferior, to be powerless.

In fact, the more I pray and study and discuss with other spiritual leaders, the more I am sure of it. When I read in the Bible that I am chosen and dearly loved (Colossians 3:12), and that I can approach God’s throne with boldness (Ephesians 3:12) I feel the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit, telling me: “Be bold. Be strong. Be exactly whom I have created you to be.”

Sometimes it’s easy to listen to the voices that say women should not be leaders among men or that a husband and wife cannot function as true equals in a marriage.  After all, those voices are often the loudest.  But just because a voice is blaring as if through a megaphone, that doesn’t make it right.  Wasn’t it Elijah who searched for God in the wind and the earthquake and the fire? And after all the other “voices” had died down, it was instead the whisper of God that spoke to Elijah.

When the voices that ring like thunder surround me, trying to lessen my credibility, I seek the one who speaks in a whisper.  And as one of our congregation’s favorite songs states “I’ve heard the tender whisper of love in the dead of night. And You tell me that you’re pleased.” God is pleased. With me.  Just as I am: with a passion for leading others into His presence.

I am blessed to have a husband who believes in empowering women, and to be part of a church that celebrates women in all levels of leadership. Not every woman can say that. But a woman, just like a man, is an image-bearer of the one true God. When the voices of women are silenced, the entire church misses out on part of God’s creation. On the other hand, when women are valued and encouraged to embrace their God given gifts, the church is blessed. Inspire her to use her voice, make room for her in your circles, give her a seat at the table. You may just find that this is pleasing to God.
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Kristin Gilmore studied Religion at MidAmerica Nazarene and is a locally licensed minister at Corbin Church of the Nazarene. She is a worship leader, bible study teacher, and budding preacher. She is a mom to three who enjoys running and coffee, just not at the same time. You can find Kristin on Facebook here and Twitter here.

Have Mercy On Me, a Sinner

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What we think of ourselves says a lot about how we approach God and how we treat others. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus uses a story of two men at the Temple praying in order to teach us a thing or two along those lines.

One of the men is a Pharisee. He is devout and schooled in theology. He knows the Scriptures in and out. He has mastered the disciplines of his faith. He knows he is good.

His prayer is a picture of self-righteousness, “Thank God I’m not like everyone else.”

The other man is a tax collector. He is considered a traitor to his people and his faith. He gets rich working for the bad guys while lining his pockets with the neighborhood’s money. He is despised. He knows he is broken.

He prays from a place of humility and contriteness, “O God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Jesus explains it is this man, not the “good” one, who leaves the Temple right with God.

Now sometimes us church folk fall into the category of Pharisee. We start thinking we are better or more holy than others because we do the right things or avoid the wrong ones or at least don’t do them as much as other people. The problem with the Pharisee’s prayer is not that it isn’t true, but that it is built on what he has done and dripping with pride.

This mindset is graceless. Here being right with God is about behavior modification. Here we forget we need God just as much today as we did at our lowest point. And here we become hypocritical judges in our assessment of everyone else. We reassure ourselves of just how good we are and miss out on God’s work in our lives and transformational relationships with people around us.

This is a dangerous place to live.

There is another mindset that isn’t mentioned in the parable but is prevalent in our culture. Sometimes we model a similar prayer, “Thank God I am just like everyone else.”

Here we aren’t bothered by our brokenness, we are just glad we aren’t the only ones experiencing it. We excuse our behavior/thoughts/attitudes because everyone else seems to be on the same page and, hey, we’re just human after all. Here the idea isn’t to elevate ourselves over tax collectors, but to lower the bar for what is required of us.

We like being broken, so we don’t change. We rest in the comfort of knowing there are other broken people, so we don’t want to see them change.  We enjoy our sin. Or perhaps its too hard to resist so we’ll just stay right where we are.

This too is a dangerous place to be. Here we find cheap grace. Cheap grace is as useless as no grace.

The only proper approach is that of that tax collector. It is here we realize how much work needs to be done in us. That scandalous sinner or pious preacher, I need God. It is here we see regardless of how good or bad our behavior is we must have mercy.

Change without mercy is fine, but cannot save anyone. Mercy without change is easy, but meaningless. Mercy, when experienced with a humble heart, has the power to bring about change in us.

This is the mindset the Church is to have: acknowledging our need of mercy and allowing mercy to transform us.

That means more than mouthing these words in prayer, but allowing this understanding to shape us through and through. We are to embody this concept in attitude and action. It should guide the way we take inventory of our hearts. It should affect the way we approach our neighbors and our God.

O God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

May these words be on our lips and in our heart. May we pray them and live them. May we be humble and contrite. And may we find the mercy we so desperately need.

O Come All Ye (Not So) Faithful

invitedOne of my favorite Christmas carols begins with the line, O, come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. I imagine shepherds and wise men singing these words and asking others to join them as they visit the newborn and long-expected Savior. It is an invitation to gather around Jesus to celebrate his coming. Come all you faithful.

But what about the not-so-faithful? Are they invited as well? Can only the joyful and triumphant come to Jesus? If so the guest list will be remarkably small. Even those who are the most enthusiastic about Jesus are at times unfaithful. We all fail to live up to our own standards, let alone God’s. We’ve all felt defeated. Honestly, some of us find ourselves here quite often.

As we read the gospels we find that the invitation is much broader than the faithful and joyful. There we see that it is Christ himself who does the inviting. Jesus reveals that his kingdom and his table and his grace are for all people. That he came for the whole world and he invites any and all to come to him. Jesus embodies a love that is for people wherever and whoever they may be.

Sometimes we don’t communicate that message very well. Sometimes we exclude folks who are messy or who sin differently than we do. Sometimes we find it difficult to make room for people who aren’t just like us. Sometimes we act as if we’ve been faithful when we haven’t. Sometimes we pretend to be joyful and triumphant when we are anything but. Sometimes our behavior builds barriers between Jesus and the people he loves.

But Jesus is better than that. And its his party, not ours. And he says you’re invited.

So yes, come all ye faithful. And come all ye not so faithful too.

Come all you who feel defeated and who feel hopeless.

Come all who are worn out and carry heavy burdens.

Come you who are stressed and at the end of your rope.

Come all who feel dirty and unlovable.

Come you who grieve.

Come wise men with gifts fit for a king.

And come drummer boys with nothing of value to bring.

Come lepers and tax collectors and prostitutes.

Come you who feel overlooked or pushed out or rejected.

Come shepherds and doctors and inn keepers and waitresses.

Come people from every tribe and every tongue. Come young and old.

Come you who feel betrayed. And you have done the betraying.

Come all who blew it this year. And last year.

Come doubters and skeptics. Come with your questions and your intellect.

Come all who hunger and thirst for something more.

Come all of you with baggage.

Come all of you with fear.

Come you with broken hearts and shattered dreams.

Come you have already quit. And those who wish they could.

Come refugees and CEOs.

Come you who are enemies. Come you who are strangers.

Come you anxious and come you hiding behind a mask.

Come you who can barely muster a prayer and you who cry out daily.

Come wanderers and seekers, legalists and charlatans.

Come me. Come you.

“Come and behold him, born the King of Angels.”

Come and see that the Lord is good.

Come and find hope and help and healing.

Come find rest.

Come and find meaning.

Come and find belonging, find family.

Come find forgiveness and salvation.

Come and find light.

Come find a fresh start.

Come and find grace.

Come and find Jesus. He is Christ the Lord.

When you come you will find that he is better than we have demonstrated and more marvelous than we deserve. He is trustworthy and he is true. He is for us. He is with us.

And you, whoever you are and wherever you’re at or however you feel, are invited. Come.