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“Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men.”

From the movie “The Boondock Saints”

In the face of poverty, wide spread suffering & abuse, addictions, and greed…APATHY is one of the deadliest sins.

Doing nothing is in fact doing something  It is a passively blatant support of the status quo that allows for millions of uninsured citizens, ever increasing levels of homelessness and poverty (especially among families and children), fear, hatred, and consumerism to dominate the land.

As followers of Jesus, who said his mission was to bring good news to the poor, doing nothing is an affront to God and to the dignity of humanity.

And it’s not a ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ agenda, it’s not about ‘being’ a Democrat or a Republican, for as I’m fond of saying Democrats insult my integrity and Republicans insult my intelligence!  It’s about a biblical agenda.  Let me repeat that: it is not about politics; it is however about people and doing as Jesus did (see Galatians 5:14 and Matthew 11:5 respectively).

When we forget that the Gospel of Jesus is a two-handed Gospel, one hand feeding the souls, the other hand feeding the body, we stop glorifying God and we start losing our humanity (something I see happening all too quickly this day and age…the loss of our Humanness/humane’ness).

Grace and justice for the poor is not about left or right ideology, it is about Gospel Truth.

I love my country, but certainly not more than I love Jesus.   Sometimes I feel like I’m living in the Playground of Babylon, dancing in the Whores’ backyard.  For one of the most insidious ‘sins’ of American Christians is the indifference that happens to our biblical faith when the flag flies higher than the cross Jesus hung upon.  I always have thought faith in God defined our response to culture, but now more than ever culture is defining our faith in God…far too much that is ‘American’ is now confused with being ‘christian.’

But still I pray.  And that prayer is that indifference leaves me quickly.  It angers me at the subtle and not so subtle avarice of the American church.  Poverty rates are as high today in America as they were in 1965!  And in the words of the late Audre Lourde, “If we are not angry, we are not paying attention.”

If the rising numbers of the impoverished is not a wake-up call, then I suggest we go and pray over Matthew 25, Luke 4, Isaiah 58, Isaiah 61, the Book of James (refer to The Bible and the Poor for further reference).

It would do us well to remember what James the Just said: Faith without works is useless.

“God desires authentic dialogue.  As we speak what is on our hearts, we are sharing [the realness of our day to day lives, things] that God is deeply interested in.”

Richard J. Foster

God wants you!

God wants all of you – your mind, body, soul, your cracks, your wounds, your addictions, your joys and hopes…all of you.  Don’t worry, Abba can handle all of that for his love is all encompassing, his grace all covering, his mercy all abounding.  Abba wants to love you; he wants you to learn to trust him, to be able to freely receive his love and freely give his love away.

God wants you…to love him.

And it’s not about ‘falling’ in love with God, for what happens when we fall?  We get hurt, scared, disillusioned, ‘gun shy’ as it were.   You see God hungers for us like no other.  And that hunger is for us to learn trust and love, to grow in love with Abba.  Much like the acorn eventually grows and sprouts into the mighty oak, so we too when planted deep in Abba’s love, grow in the very likeness of Jesus.  Or like the rose bush, transplanted, that eventually grows to the sweetly fragrant bloom of the matured rose bush, grafted into Abba’s love, we become the fragrance of Jesus to the world.

Loving God, being ‘in love’ with God, is just like a new love: all you want is to be with your Beloved.  All your burning desire is to hear their words, see their face, be near them and feel their Presence.  You love every detail in new found love.  So, it is with God!  Abba longs for you as his beloved, his dearly loved child.  Abba longs to be with you, daily, hourly, in every way and through everything and he desires you to rest (assured) in his relentless love.

And like all human love, there are indeed moments where the “growing pains” occur, but growing pains lead to deepness, fidelity, a rootedness like no other; far from the lies we are fed about the notions of ‘romantic’ love.  The love of God is the most torrid of loves: He will always be there for you; he will carry you – in the darkness of absence as much as in the joyfulness of Presence.  When you weep, Abba is so close he tastes the salt of your tears.  When you laugh, he is the butterflies in your tummy.

God desires you…every single part of you, and everything about you.  He longs to be Present to and with you.  Abba’s love is a love of no judgment, pure faithfulness, tenderness in doubt and despair, with none of the ‘rudeness of rightness’ that is so prevalent in this modern day.  Abba loves you dearly and eternally, and he pines for you like the deer longs for streams of water.

Dwell prayerfully on this eternal Truth: Abba longs for you more than you long for Him.  So, let us all today re-member and re-turn to his longing love.

“Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more…and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.  God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love.”  Philip Yancy – What’s So Amazing About Grace?

I am not a theologian.  I am not a learned man.  And what I am writing here is merely a conversation I have been having with Abba.  It may offend.  It may be poor theology.  But as far as I am concerned theology more often than not gets in between me and God rather than lead me to him.

Over the last two years I have seen, heard and experienced God’s tremendous grace about as much as I have experienced the asinine lack of grace shown by many people who cite the title Christian.

So God’s grace has been on my mind a great deal lately, for reasons both personal and public.  And more importantly what has been on my mind is how ‘we’ – Christians and churches – define it as well as how religion defines and how God reveals it.  I am sure there are some who will disagree with the words that follow, even those I love and who love me, but I am OK with that.  I am, if truth be told, a God-work-in-progress and far from perfect and will never be perfected in this body.  And since I know and believe the only thing perfect in this world is God’s grace, I’ll leave this blog and judgment to God and God alone.

There is much talk about grace – real grace and cheap grace.  I’ve heard the term ‘cheap grace’ tossed around quite a bit and it is usually done so in the context of people praying the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ and continuing on in the sin they were desperately found in.  I have also heard used in the context of those ‘accepting’ God’s grace and then abusing it by living as willy-nilly as they please.

I may not know much, but what I do know is this: there is nothing cheap about grace regardless of what we do or do not do with it.  Saying that I have the power to ‘cheapen’ grace equates my power with the power of the cross.  That is my problem with the phrase ‘cheap grace’ for it, once again like much of evangelical spirituality, moves the focus on to me and not where it should be: on God.

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Luke 1:26-38 (New American Bible)

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.  And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”  And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.  And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”

Mary said, “Behold, I am the [slave] of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

I know this is an ‘Advent’ story, but St. Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus to Mary reminds me of one thing we all seem to need right now: Wild Hope!  This story is all about Wild Hope and the power of God to bring such Hope into dark times and dark days.

It is Wild Hope because we are given the momentous news that Messiah is being born anew in the world, into our lives, and into our hearts.  And if you really ponder this, it is just insane: Jesus longs to come into our lives and live in and through them!  There is no rational explanation why the Son of God would dare enter such a profane vessel as myself, or you, none whatsoever aside from pure Love.

But that is Wild Hope.

This story of the birth of Jesus is also an example of one of the times God shows bold rudeness (forgive my anthropomorphizing of God here) as well because as we remember and celebrate the birth of Christ, we must also remember that God did not actually ask Mary’s permission to enter her! God did not ‘knock at the door’ and ask polite permission if He could come and turn her world upside down…if He could come and alter the human world.  Nope.  God just did it.

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Note: I would like to thank Wayne Jacobsen for his insight into Abba’s love and many of the concepts presented here.  Check out Wayne at LifeStream MinistriesAlso, this is a long blog – over 2,500 words to be exact.

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Question: when you first heard about Jesus was the message more about not going to Hell than about how much He loved you?

Thanks be to God, my answer is the latter.  I am grateful to Tony Campolo, who presented Jesus in such a way that it was 80 percent about His love, 15 percent about His Lordship and serving the poor and a measly 5 percent mention of Hell.  So, I was a fortunate one who came to first know and love Jesus through a message of love, hope and forgiveness.  Thanks Tony!

What about anybody else?  I know way too many people who have given their life to Jesus more out of fear (of going to hell) than out of being blown away by God’s crazy love for them and the extent to which God went to open the gates of heaven.

Those who present Jesus as Savior in order to not go to hell are merely preaching “fire insurance” and not “making disciples.”  Preaching Hell points more “to our weaknesses and fears than to God’s intentions” (Wayne Jacobsen).  Focusing more on hell is a not what Jesus did; He presented parable after parable focusing more on love than hell.  Yes, He did speak of hell but love and mercy were the core of His message and the core of His presentation of Abba’s love for us.

When Jesus is presented out of fear, we corrupt God’s true intention established from the foundation of the world: a desire for unbroken and unbridled intimacy based on love and trust, not fear (Wayne again).

Now I am not saying there is no hell, but that is not my focus here, I will leave that to the hundreds of fundamentalist out there to preach hate and fear over love and mercy.  Jesus said that he did not come into the world to judge for the world was already judged and this due to sin (See John 3).  But true love – God’s true love – always gives us choices, for divine love does not manipulate or coerce (like so many pastors and religious folks I see and hear today).  No, true love gives us choices and some choices do indeed have painful consequences both here and in the hereafter.  But other choices have pleasant benefits, both here and in the hereafter.

So do we love God out of fear or love? 

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“If you know Me, you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.”  “Lord,” said Philip, “show us the Father, and that’s enough for us.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been among you all this time without your knowing Me, Philip? The one who has seen Me has seen the Father.  How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?    In that day you will know that I am in My Father, you are in Me, and I am in you.” (from John 14)

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)

From the Hebrew for Christians glossary website: Abba – Aramaic. n. Abba means “Daddy,” “dear Father,” or “Papa”.  Abba is a term of endearment for one’s father (Mark 14:26; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).  Abba is a more intimate expression than the normal Hebrew word for “father.”

Abba” is the Aramaic word Jesus used every time He spoke of His ‘Father.’

More and more every day I am realizing how much baggage I have put upon God and my relationship with God.  I understand that most days I have absolutely no Truthful concept of just Who this God is Who hungers and pines for me, Who chases after me wanting me to enter deeply into His unfathomable Love.  Whether it is from my childhood (no blaming mom or dad), my teenage years or pastors, priests or well-intentioned (and not so well intentioned) Christians, I understand that plain and simply put: most days, I have a screwed up understanding of God (both Father and Jesus).

So over the next few months, many of the blogs might sound like a broken record because I am bound and determined (for it is a matter of life and death) to let go of every image I have of God and let God replace those graven images with His infinite and indescribable Love – a Love that no created being could ever emulate or come close to.  So, I am going to challenge myself over and over again to “let go” of God in order for Abba to reveal Himself to me as He is, not as I have thought of Him; as He is in the Scriptures and not as some religious folk have told me what to think.

I pray you all will join me as well in this unknown adventure to intimately experience and share Abba’s true desire for us: that of a profoundly life-changing mutual relationship based on immutable love and a passionate desire for fellowship (which in Greek means “a shared intimate experience” or koinonia).

Below, I have taken the liberty of substituting ‘love’ with “Abba.”  Now read 1 Corinthians 13 with the above taken seriously, namely that God is our Heavenly Papa.  I have challenged myself to read this every day and to focus on Abba saying to me: “This is Who I truly AM.  This is Who Jesus was revealing to you, not what any pastor or priest or church is saying, but Me.”  And Abba is saying this to each and every one of you!  Now pray it with me!

“Abba is patient,
Abba is kind.
Abba does not envy,
Abba is not boastful,
Abba is not conceited,
Abba does not act improperly,
Abba is not selfish,
Abba is not provoked…
Abba does not keep a record of wrongs.
Abba finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth.
Abba bears all things,
Abba believes all things,
Abba hopes all things,
Abba endures all things.
Abba never ends.

Now these three remain: faith, hope, and Abba.
But the greatest of these is Abba. “

Last week I finished reading Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What (the writer best known for Blue Like Jazz) and it got me to thinking – which is always trouble for me.  The book is about (sadly summed up by me) his struggle with Christianity (and more specifically evangelical spirituality) as being so formulaic. I have personally struggled with that for over 20 years, and still do, so what do I normally do when I am struggling: I write.

Miller is right: the Bible has become more a manual for niche markets than the story of God’s utter love for humanity and constant seeking after us. But somehow we have reduced faith to a formula.

But it is not a formula…and neither is there some special ‘quickie’ secret formula for getting closer to God. It is a relationship. It takes time, talk, closeness, and trust to build any relationship. And Jesus never once gave us formulas.  He gave us Himself…as the ultimate representation of God and just how much God loves us and what lengths God will go to show us that love.

When Jesus healed the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years, he did not say to her, “well, if you pray 3 times a day, tithe 10 percent, and don’t smoke cigarettes or drink wine, I will heal you.” No, Jesus related to her…as a human being.  And knowing she had come in fear, He said to her: “Daughter…your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be free from your affliction.”  Jesus immediately established a relationship with her by calling her, ‘daughter,’ and calmed her by telling her to ‘go in peace’ (note here that in Hebrew the word for peace, shalom, means the total wholeness and well-being of a person) and to be ‘free from her affliction.’

In short, Jesus loved her as a person, related to her as a daughter of God and not as some statistic or formula, and healed her because He loved her.  Every time Jesus healed someone, it was to reveal His love for them and to glorify Father.

Jesus was all about relationships, no formulas to be found anywhere.

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As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And [Matthew] got up and followed [Jesus]. While he was at table in His house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and His disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” [Jesus] heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

I am a student in a lifelong education program: the School of Mercy. I am taking Jesus at His word and I’m going and learning the meaning of the words, “I desire mercy [and] not sacrifice.” The School of Mercy is one that I am quite familiar with, but have also flunked out of, re-enrolled, made good grades; flunked out…you get the picture.

Learning mercy is a lifelong journey – a journey of receiving, learning, and giving mercy…the mercy that Jesus continually gives to us.  I do not believe we can give mercy to another, especially God’s mercy, unless we have experienced it ourselves, deeply and firsthand.

Let me repeat myself: We cannot give what we have not received or do not have.

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I was walking around one of my favorite places the other day – the Abbey of the Holy Cross – in Berryville, Virginia and the proverbial poop hit the fan as I came to a brutal realization: I hold the hammer. 

I hold the hammer that nails Jesus to the cross. 

I do.

Every person I have hurt, used, abused, manipulated, and ‘murdered’ in my head, heart, or actions – all of them are reminders that I re-crucify Jesus every time I sin.  Every time I neglect the poor, every time I walk away from an opportunity to see and share Jesus, every time I neglect the poor one “within” I crucify Jesus all over again.

I hold the hammer…

And yet as I slam the mallet down as hard as I can upon the spike, smashing it into the wrist of Love, I see His face look over at me, and covered in spit, filth and blood…and I see Him tell me “I love you…I love you this much,” His arms stretched so wide they seem as if they could rip from His Body.  “Come Home, my son, come back to Me…come back to Mercy!”

And in disgust, I hit the nail harder.

If I just hit it hard enough, I think the ‘thwacking’ sound of metal into flesh will drown out my guilt, my shame, my sin.  I am human and I can not take such Love so easily.  I sometimes try and crucify that which I Love and is Loving to me.

But still that Face…He keeps looking over at me telling me no matter how hard I slam down on the spike, no matter how hard I try to lift the Tree, no matter how far away I run, that He will still welcome me into Paradise.  His love is that insane, that Crazy that He would forgive me both in spite of myself and because of His self.

For in His tender eyes, all bloodied over and bruised, He tells me I am still made in the Image of His Father, in the Image of Love.

But still, I hold the hammer that nailed Love to the Cross.

And He bled forgiveness, mercy and love…

I realize more and more how much difficulty I have forgiving myself and receiving forgiveness.  I find it, plain and simple, a hard and painful thing to do.  I know many people who can relate to this dilemma. There are some things about forgiving myself I have thought and prayed about and experienced quite personally; and there are others that will only come through surrender, prayer and trust.

I understand the paradox of forgiving myself.  I understand that when I do not forgive myself two distinct things are simultaneously occurring: I am, in essence, blocking God’s forgiveness and setting my standards of forgiveness above those of God’s standards.  The first is selfish (and self pity), the second is idolatry.

When I stand in front of the mirror and look at the man I am, I mean really look hard I am confronted by a variety of paradoxes.  I am a wounded man who is called to be a healer.  I am a fallen man who feels called to ministry.  I am an addict who is struggling with recovery.  I am a man who has done many years of ministry for God.  I am a 44 year old man with not much to show for in the way of ‘success’.  I am a man who has made certain choices that may lead to severe legal consequences.  And I am a man who has destroyed many relationships I hold dear and not to mention quite a few burned bridges (addicts and broken people are infamous for burning bridges while still trying to cross over them).

But when all of these paradoxes are seen through the lens of the Greatest Paradox, I am set free.  And the Greatest Paradox is this: in (and through) Jesus, every single screw up, every wound, every single sin, every moment of evil, pain, or dread I have felt or caused is Forgiven.

I know that not all the consequences of my paradoxical nature are taken away or erased, but I know that in Jesus there is no more condemnation and that the pain and suffering of unforgiveness and sin is washed away when I hear the words from Jesus, “My son you are forgiven.” (See Mark 2:5)

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