Showing posts with label Good News. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Good News. Show all posts

Monday, May 10, 2010

ROBERT : I am stealing your words . . . .

I am stealing your words, fine ones that they are —
There is enough tension between the confidence of life and the chaos of dying and the misery of returning to dust and the mystery of rising again to keep us clinging to our prayer . . . .

Confidence, chaos, misery, mystery — clinging.
These may not be all the words that I am willing use to describe my journey of faith, but I will take them as a start, and a fine one at that. ( In fact, the race is on, dear friend; if you do not manage to publish these words that I am stealing from you before I do, then the fault is yours. They are well-written ones, and certainly worthy of theft. )

The only words I would add to your list of confidence, chaos, misery, mystery — clinging — might be these : returning, rest, salvation, sabbath — letting go. And I should not have noticed my own poor ones without your fine ones.
I am thinking these days that somewhere in the midst of your words and mine may well lie the News.

Almighty God ; You have taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, that in quiet and confidence shall be our strength : By the might of your Spirit lift us to your presence, we pray, that we may be still and know that you are God . . . . . Amen.
Thanks, pal.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

BEN : I too spent time as a cadet . . .

I too spent time as a cadet in God’s Army, as one might say.

I remember one particular event where we strategically captured one intersection in suburban Houston. We were armed with cold Coca-Colas and tracts on a brutally hot afternoon. The pitch was this: “Coke says that they are the real thing, but I want you to know that Jesus is the real thing.” We were so proud that we had distributed hundreds of ice-cold beverages to unsuspecting people who were in need of the Gospel. Mission accomplished.

Perhaps there were one or two people who peeled off and then read the tract that was pasted to the side of the can by way of the intense condensation. My guess is that most used it like a napkin to keep their hands dry while they consumed a cold beverage in the heat of a Houston summer.

Looking back, I was that obnoxious evangelical who always wanted to lock horns in a verbal debate and prove someone else wrong. The goal was to get the other person to see the flaw in their logic, give up, concede, and then admit that I was right. The sad reality is that there is probably some person I went to middle or high school with that will forever hold me as a reason why they do not want to be called a Christian.

So much has changed in my life that I’m not sure I even recognize the guy I was back then. And more and more, I feel less inclined to tell others that I am a Christian for fear that they might think of me as the obnoxious guy I once was.

The practice of my teenage years left me quick to speak but empty inside. So much so that when the structure of the weekly “sales” meetings ended after I left for college, I felt let down and lost. It was not be until I sat in silence and saw the light in the flicker of a candle lit by one of the holiest men I know did I realize that the path to God is one that should begin and end with silence, for the “real thing” often reveals that which should never be spoken of or written.

My greatest failure was this: the practice of my faith centered around the flaws of others rather than myself. The story of the woman brought before Jesus after having been caught in the act of adultery resulted in the condemnation of the elders who set her up, not the naked woman standing before him. Is there a more compelling reason to believe in the promise of the Gospel?

I am a Christian not because I was able to find proof that I was better than someone else but because God saw me naked and yet did not condemn me either.

Salvation comes not in the saying of magical Sinner’s Prayer but in the seeing of ourselves naked and realizing we no longer feel condemnation.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ROBERT : I am always nervous . . . .

I am always nervous when the conversation turns to evangelism in some way. Perhaps I am unnerved by my sense of not being worthy enough to have even heard the Good News much less be responsible for telling someone else about it. Perhaps it is just shyness, I do not know for certain.

Three moments from my back pages always come to mind.

One is the memory I have of being fifteen and standing on a street corner in some wild and unevangelized city like Memphis or Louisville with my hands full of Four Spiritual Laws booklets. They were given to me and my fellow members of our youth group in Nashville to hand out to folks in such pagan cities in order to save the city and its residents from eternal damnation. Why we were not so concerned about our own city, I do not know. Perhaps the kids from Louisville had gone to Nashville to cover our backs. I am not sure I did much good.

The second moment has to do with the title of a book I edited back in the nineties, a title that has always stuck with me — A Life That Becomes the Gospel. Which sounds to me like a pretty fair witness to having heard the Gospel, the sort of witness I would like to make some day. I was struck by the double entendre for the word becomes in the title and still am. Does it mean to reflect well on the Gospel or to turn into the Gospel? I thought then and still think now that it means both. And I think I am being called to live that out in some way that affects others, maybe even draws them nearer to the kingdom.

The third is the simplest and most powerful expression of the Good News I ever heard. My friend Russell once said to me that he thought three things were true. The first is that God is love. The second is that that Love got loose here on earth somehow in the person of Jesus Christ. The third is that if you believe the first two, then everything about your life is different — the way you talk, the way you act, the way you work and think and love.

I believe that somewhere in between and around and through and up under and next to ‘becoming the Gospel’ and ‘everything about your life is different’ is the kind of bearing witness and preaching of the Gospel to which we are called.

Monday, August 10, 2009

BEN : To tell or not to tell. . . .

To tell or not to tell. Perhaps that is another question that Hamlet might have found himself reasoning had things not ended up as they did.

I come from the part of the pew where ‘telling’ is a large part of what we are supposed to do. It is our job to learn the pitch and become corporate spokespersons for the Kingdom. We are the chosen sales reps, and we are the polished business development folks responsible for fulfilling [sic] the Great Commission. We go forth armed with our elevator speeches to tell folks the Truth. Those who are the best at this, receive the highest honors.

There is stark contrast between the posture of the One Who Came and those who come from my part of the pew when it comes to seeking and saving the lost. I am amazed at how many times the Messiah acts in miraculous ways and then asks the subject of that particular miracle to keep silent and tell no one. This is so confusing that theologians have decided they don’t know either, so they relegate their explanation to an elusive phrase – “Messianic Secret” – whatever that means.

It is an odd thing to carry within you a guilt, deeply seeded from a childhood of Sunday School and Vacation Bible School where one is told time and time again that those who do not tell out the Good News are those who have not really been changed by The Red Letters. That is a lot to process, especially when you believe there is eternal significance attached to the act.

The redemption, if you want to call it that, is that the majority of the people who occupy this part of the pew hear the message from the person in the pulpit and disregard it as a pollyianic cry for new recruits from God’s publication relations department. This part of the pew publishes research [sic] that uncovers the fact that most people who claim to be “evangelical Christians” will never tell [sic] a non-believer [again, sic] about their faith.

I am wrestling very hard these days with the notion that the part of the pew that seems to tout this position also seems to be the part of the pew that is shrinking. In fact, people are scooting across The Great Divide by the millions. And in the middle of a disastrous evacuation, the company messengers just keep getting louder and more obnoxious.

Silence and prayer preserved the Way of Christ after it was in danger of the normalization of Christianity in Rome and beyond. It was those who fled to outlying areas and agreed to preserve the words and practice of the One Who Came through community, study, and practice who are responsible for my hearing of the Red Letters. Were it not for these brave men and women, the Gospel would have been entirely lost. And yet nowhere in The Rule they left for us are the words “Go and tell.”

Perhaps the way to tell the world and fulfill The Great Commission, if such an editorial comment from one telling of the Gospel story is appropriate in the first place, is to read and struggle through the call to love, forgive, and sacrifice in the midst of our tendencies to hate, begrudge, and protect what is ours for the taking.

A wise friend once said, “The Good News is this: After centuries of attempts to erase, diminish, and subvert that message of the One Who Came, it survives today.” The great irony is that the message of faith, hope, and love has largely been spread since the beginning, no matter what words have been said.

Perhaps the One Who Came requested silence because he knew that, in our speaking, our faith would be held captive by the vocabulary most readily available to us rather than set free through our transcendent behaviors — a smile, a glance, or a tear that speaks clearly to all humanity, even those at the very ends of the earth.

These days, my mouth is shut. My heart is open. My prayer is constant.

Perhaps my silence will tell no one, perhaps my silence will tell anyone who will listen — with their soul, the only part we were given by the One Who created us that is blind and deaf to anything less than eternal — perhaps my silence will give voice to the Good News.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

ROBERT : I have long thought . . . .

I have long thought that we Christians were pretty good folks. At least for the most part.

We do our fair share of helping people in need and teaching our children the faith and offering up our prayers. Though whether we do that more often than or better than or with more fervor than people who are Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist is open to discussion, I suppose.

I have long believed that we were pretty good folks and might even be better folks if we actually believed the Good News that Jesus came to tell us. Which begins with actually listening to it.

We spend most of our time wrestling with the Gospel stories rather than listening to what was said by the One Who came, the One Who came to announce the Good News in the first place. It is hard to blame us — it is way more fun to argue over the historical accuracy of the accounts we have received from the Evangelists, or wander our way through a discussion of the social mores of the time in which He lived, or have these theological quilting bees where we connect the old scriptures to the new. Who wants to listen to Someone Who says we should give everything to the poor, love our enemies, live in the kingdom that has already come, love all of our neighbors, and otherwise completely change the way we live and move and have our being in the world? Let there be flannelgraphs, I say, I liked studying the Gospels that way.

We who claim to be the Body of Christ would do well to spend more of our time listening to the Christ than we do talking about the Christ.

I wonder sometimes what might happen to us and among us and within us if we spent a year only reading the red letters.
Perhaps we would grow up to be pretty good folks. Or maybe something even better.