Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ambiguous Christianity

What is it that sets apart Christians from people who are kind, generous, and generally “nice” yet are not believers? These days, it’s getting harder and harder to tell. At times there appears to be no difference at all between the two groups of people. Yes, there are many things that God calls Christians to do and be- to forgive, to be kind, to serve others, to love- that many unbelievers also do and are. The difference is from whence these values and lifestyle traits stem. In the case of a Christian, these traits are rooted in our love for Christ, and when we promote these values and habits we should present them as elements of the gospel of Christ. As followers of Christ, our relationship with God should be not only the focus of our existence, but also the definition of who we are. To teach and encourage love, kindness, mercy, and so on without acknowledging Christ as the source would be akin to lauding the groundbreaking studies of a scientist without ever giving credit to the scientist himself. Unfortunately, that is exactly what many of we Christians are doing. In an effort to make Christianity appear more accessible (apparently Christ’s life was not enough of a testimony to the fact that God’s love encompasses all and bears no prejudice or divisions), many Christian individuals, organizations, and churches have begun presenting biblical truths in a watered-down, non-confrontational manner. I assume this is in effort to avoid having the gospel of Christ perceived as controversial or offensive to any member of today’s tolerance-obsessed society. As society has become more and more about acceptance and nondiscrimination and free love, so has the Christianity many people are presenting to the world. The result is a severe blurring of the lines between Christians and the rest of the world.

I believe this trend is something we as the body of Christ must work to change. This ambiguity in the presentation of the Gospel and its truths is a tragedy because it is essentially a removal of Jesus Christ from Christianity, and that makes it no Christianity at all. Jesus did not mince words when He was proclaiming His Father’s truth, and I don’t believe we should either. It is clear from His example that it is possible to be compassionate and merciful without dulling the double-edged sword that is the word of God. What is it that makes modern-day Christians think they need to package the word of God in spiritual bubble-wrap in order for nonbelievers to accept it? The Gospel is not something that we are to accept with ease, and then continue on with our lives. No, it is a collection of truths that should turn one’s world upside down, make him question his life thus far, throw him into a state of wonder and awe, and transform him entirely. The world is not a comfortable place for the Gospel. This world was crafted by the Creator and then invaded by evil. Naturally, a world that relishes living under a deceitful tyrant is not going to want to hear news of the rightful King. We would do well to take a look at the reactions of the people who were the first to hear of God’s plan for salvation. Many of them did not initially embrace the message of Christ. There was much to wrestle with- the convicting nature of laying aside pride to admit one’s sinfulness and inability to escape such a desperate state without help- and wrestle they did, until finally they heeded His call.

This is not to say that we should take Jonathan Edwards approach and preach fire and brimstone to every nonbeliever we come in contact with. Nor is it to speak negatively the these elements of Christianity so often adopted by nonbelievers whenever society deems them trendy or politically correct- things such as love, kindness, service to others, peace, and such. Rather, I believe that we as Christians must be bolder about proclaiming Christ’s message in its entirety, without leaving out the more controversial, less-PC aspects (such as Christ Himself). It is possible to present the Gospel, including its most convicting and confrontational parts, without sacrificing any of the love, mercy, or compassion that God calls us to. To proclaim the Good News in this manner would be to follow the blueprint of Christ’s own life on earth. God’s love is a “come as you are” offer to everyone, but He does not intend to let those who come stay as they are. Therefore an insipid call to embrace a lifestyle of “love” and “peace” and other such nice things is worthless if it does not include a call to be transformed by the power of Christ and live in the reality of God’s kingdom.

If we stopped spouting a watered-down, fluffed-up theology and put Christ back at the center of modern Christianity, it’s true that more people would reject the Gospel than do now. Our worries in fulfilling the Great Commission should not be how many people we “win” for Christ, because the fact is that we are incapable of doing that. It is our call to preach the Gospel (and it is only truly the Gospel if we acknowledge Christ as being at the core of every good thing that stems from it- love, grace, selflessness, etc.), but only God can change His children’s hearts. One could go about his whole life proclaiming Christ as Savior and living a life that is a testimony to the goodness of God, without anyone ever accepting Christ as King because of his words or his work, and I believe that when God greeted him at heaven’s gates, that man would hear a hearty “Well done, My good and faithful servant.” We sow the seeds, and God does the reaping. We mustn’t be anxious about the divisive nature of the Gospel but rather embrace that aspect of it, and proclaim it with hearts overflowing with sincere, Christ-like love and compassion. We should concern ourselves with presenting to the world the authentic gospel of Christ. The rest we humbly leave to God.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Out of Darkness

(Note: I wrote this earlier this year, and I had put it on Facebook in my Notes, but I wanted to have it in my blog as well.)

Out of Darkness

Thub thump.

Thub thump.



Slowly and faintly, something throbs away in the darkness. Despite the shadowy murk, it is obvious that this thing, whatever it is, is ugly. As minutes peel away a few degrees of the oblivion of the dark, the throbbing mound becomes more visible. Bloody and raw, at first it looks like something from the side of the highway, probably a slab of fresh road kill.

But wait.

A closer look reveals that this is no dead animal. Rather, it is a piece of some body, an organ. Is it….a heart? The throbbing, which is growing weaker and more erratic with each passing minute, makes sense now. Another minute of inspection explains why the beating has slowed to nearly nothing: the heart is mangled and damaged almost beyond recognition, and each nearly inaudible thub, thump of the organ releases yet more of its lifeblood onto the dank cement floor, the circle of wet scarlet growing wider and wider. Gnarled scar tissue runs like knobby tree roots over almost all of the heart. Parts of it are discolored purple and almost black, revealing badly bruised tissue, accented by cruel lacerations that are gaping open. Festering sores abound all over the heart. No part of it is untouched by some form of mutilation. It looks as though this heart has been stomped on, rubbed across asphalt, hammered, and stabbed. No amount of normal wear and tear could disfigure a heart to this extreme. Something or someone must have brutally mauled this thing, because no natural cause could maim it so. Another minute of studying the heart and suddenly bile rises in the back of my throat. This heart has been here awhile. A long, long while. What was almost unperceivable at first is now an obvious layer of mold, concentrated when the rawest wounds are decaying.

The sight of this pathetic heart, nearly lifeless but still just barely beating, is revolting. It can serve no purpose, benefit no one, lying here on the cold floor. Anyone can see it would be better off in a dumpster, rotting away in an appropriate place rather than soiling the ground and repulsing everyone who sees it. I take one step closer to the heart, and thunder fills my ears. Crashing, booming, earth-shattering, knock-you-on-your back thunder. The sound washes over me and consumes the atmosphere. There is no more air in here, only thunder rolling over and around me. I sink slowly to the floor, trying to get my bearings before I think about what could be causing this magnificent, terrifying noise. Before I am on the ground, a pinprick of the brightest light I’d ever seen pierces through the heavy darkness. My eyes follow the stream of light and it leads me to look upon the most decayed, battered part of the heart, a hundred times uglier now that it is showcased in this light. I realize that the light is getting stronger, covering more of the heart and becoming brighter, if that’s even possible. Within a minute the entire heart is exposed, a revolting, quivering mass of rotted, mangled flesh more grotesque than I had ever thought possible.

I sit there, immobilized by my simultaneous awe and revulsion. The combination of fearsome thunder, exquisite light, and the ugliest sight I’d ever seen overwhelmed my senses and halted my thoughts. I’m not sure how long I was there on the ground, perhaps only moments, although hours would be just as likely. My stupor was shattered when I gradually realized that the thunder had been replaced by a voice. I could not place it, but the voice was familiar. At the same time, it was like nothing I’d ever heard before. I pondered it, listening to the timbre and cadence as the words poured out smoothly. All at once, I realized what it was. The voice was the very same that had centuries ago proclaimed “I am the way and the truth and the life.” It was the voice that had cast out demons and cried out in agony on the cross. Trembling, I listened more closely to what the voice was saying.

“My dear child, get up.”

Miraculously, the heart started to throb. It began to beat, and with each beat it became stronger and steadier. The rotted and decayed and scarred tissue fell away, the gaping wounds began to close, and the bruises faded before my eyes. Somehow, this vile thing had been reconstructed before my eyes. Where moments before had laid a lifeless, disfigured organ, now there was a strong, beautiful heart. Suddenly, the form of a girl grew around the heart. My shock increased a hundredfold as I realized the form was my body, and in that confused, amazed instant, I realized I was not watching this transformation but experiencing it. I was not sitting in the darkness, rather I was being bathed in that pool of the most splendid light. My hands covered my face, and I shook with the horrorific realization that the contemptible heart I had seen was not just any wretched organ, but my heart. I had seen the inside of myself, the darkest, vilest, most sordid parts of me. That thing was me at my most basic, and He had seen me as I truly was. Shame and fear filled me, and I scrambled away into the darkness, hoping against hope that maybe if I stayed in the dark He wouldn’t see me, and yet knowing that nothing was ever hidden from Him. Curling myself into a tight knot, I waited for punishment to come. Again, I heard the unmistakable voice, more insistent this time.

“My dear child, get up.”

I peeked through my fingers, wondering who this magnificent voice was speaking to. I was alone. It began to dawn on me that He must be speaking to me. Squinting to shield my eyes from the brightness, I gradually uncurled myself. Shading my eyes with my hands, I dared to look towards the light once again. I heard the voice call out a third time, gentle but urging. It was nearly impossible to resist. His voice was full of so much- splendor, power, beauty, grace, mercy, and love. Was it possible He was directing this to me, after what He had seen in me, laid bare and ugly in His glorious light?

“My dear child, get up.”

Hope permeated my being and faith propelled me upward. I stood, and took one step, then another. I found myself at the edge of the light. I knew this next step would be both my last and my first.

I stepped into the light.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Anyone who has read the book of Ecclesiastes will know the familiar passage about time. “There is a time for everything…” We’ve all heard it so frequently that often it’s meaning is lost or it falls upon ears that refuse to hear. We all know that life has its seasons, and everything has a season all its own. Frankly, in the thick of life’s most trying times, this wisdom can seem pithy and trite because of its overuse. But despite that, this concept of the seasons of life is just that- wisdom, priceless wisdom.
Think about it in terms of the physical seasons. Spring, summer, autumn, winter. I’m sure there are a few Pollyannas out there who enjoy everything about every season, but most people I know love some seasons and can’t stand others. For instance, I hate summer. A day does not go by from May to October (some years, even into November) that I do not wish God had left summer out of the yearly rotation. I loathe the sticky, strangling heat that lasts long into the night. I abhor the blinding brightness of the sun bearing down on the earth, the heat shimmying up from the pavement in waves. I detest the fact that my sun-heated leather seats burn my derrière every time I get in my car. I hate summer.
Winter, on the other hand, has always been and forever will be my favorite season. Bring on the fog, frost, and freezing temperatures. The cold weather makes me come alive, draws me outdoors to enjoy the haunting beauty of grey skies and icy rain. As far back as I can remember I have been enchanted by any and all of the monochromatic winter landscapes that God paints across the earth. But as smitten as I am by winter’s charms, I admit that that summer is necessary. Without the heat and sunlight of my least favorite season, crops would not grow, and there could be no fall harvest. And there are even a few enjoyable things about summer. The joy of splashing into cool lake water, the magical glittering of fireflies, the smell of honeysuckle floating in on the morning breeze. If it weren’t for summer, there would be no watermelon, no iced tea, no evenings spent watching the sunset from a front-porch swing. Summer teaches me every year to be patient as I pine for winter’s arrival, and I am forced to find things to appreciate about a season that I find most aggravating. Despite all that I detest about the summer months, I recognize it’s benefits, and moreover, its necessity.
Such are the seasons of life. The delights and hardships of life ebb and flow, and no one is going to enjoy every season of his life. Still there is joy to be found and benefits to be reaped from every season of life. Seasons of loneliness can wean one of a dependency on others and lead one to lean on Christ alone. Periods of relationship struggles can teach humility and result in a more others-centered attitude. Spells of financial hardships can equip one with wisdom in monetary matters and release one from a materialistic lifestyle. Times marked by heartbreak can open one’s eyes to the faithfulness of God and His unending love. Yes, these seasons are inconvenient, unpleasant, even agonizing. But just like summer, the unpleasant seasons are often necessary. How often do we grow in character and faith during the blissful, worry-free seasons of life? As the scorching heat and blistering sunlight bring crops to fruition, so the challenges and ordeals of life’s more trying seasons bring about growth in us when we persevere through them.
Like the physical seasons, the sorrowful seasons of life do not last forever- the heat will eventually be replaced by cooler temperatures, the beating rays of the sun will soften, and the long-anticipated reprieve of “winter” will arrive. The “summers” of life will be more bearable if your focus is on Christ and you allow Him to edify you and bless you in each season of your journey through earth. Remember that Old Man Time doesn’t stop for anyone, and he never makes U-turns. Take the time to find the splendor in every circumstance, and make the most of every season, because once a season passes, you can’t get it back. You can’t go back and glean the lessons and growth that you missed along the way. So keep your eyes open, and keep your heart hopeful, because winter will come.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


I grew up a “daddy’s girl” in a post-women’s-lib society, and somewhere along the way I got the idea that I was supposed to be tough and independent, capable of doing everything my dad did and never needing a man’s help for anything. I thought I needed to be Bear Grylls and Lara Croft rolled into one neat little tomboyish package. But recently, I came to terms with something so simple and yet completely new to me: I am a girl, and that is ok. I don’t need to enjoy steak, carpentry, or watching old Westerns in order to be a good daughter. Nor do I need to be able to converse intelligently about football, replace my car’s sparkplugs, or do twenty chin-ups. I am a girl. If I could do that stuff and enjoyed it, that would be fine…but I can’t, and I don’t, and that’s fine too. It’s ok that I like wearing skirts and smelling pretty and drinking herbal tea. It’s ok that I giggle and squeal and believe in the benefits of pedicures. It’s ok that I can start a campfire but can’t watch a fistfight in a movie without covering my eyes. It’s ok that I know how to shoot a gun but don’t like paintballing simply because it hurts like hell. I can’t do everything men can do- and if I could, I’m not sure I would want to. I’m a girl. Not only am I a girl, I’m a wimp, I’m squeamish, and I don’t like being dirty. I wear pink, I hate bugs, and I still would like to be a ballerina when I grow up. “Girly” is not a dirty word, and I am not a tomboy or a feminist. I am a girl- and it’s ok.

Friday, July 2, 2010


When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. And let me tell you- I’ve got to go. I’m not running away from anything, I’m looking for something. I have to go and get out and experience all that I can of God’s amazing creation, and somewhere out there I know I’ll find the place that God made with me in mind. Yes, I’ve heard it all, how “home is where the heart is” and “when you’re with the one you love, you’re home.” That’s fine and swell, and probably true, but there’s just something about certain places, don’t you know? I am by no means a world traveler- I’ve never been outside the U.S. except to go camping in the Mexican desert- and while I haven’t seen the most remote corners of the world, I’ve been here and there. And even with my limited experience I know there is something about a place that can draw you in and speak to you. I’ve heard sweet nothings whispered by the raindrops of a North Carolina thunderstorm and felt that intoxicating embrace in the warm clear waters off the coast of Kona. And because I know how powerful that pull can be, I want to see all that I can, from the lush landscape of New Zealand to the haunting hills of Ireland. I want to find out for myself if the wind feels any different standing on the peaks of the Swiss Alps than it does on the tundra of Alaska. It’s not just the exotic and foreign and extreme locales that I want to visit. I want to explore my own beautiful country. I want to see for myself just what shade of gold the sun appears when it’s rising over a cornfield in Nebraska. I want to smell the fog that winds its way into the atmosphere every morning in Maine. I want to watch the clouds roll across the sky while I lay flat on my back in Montana. I want to hear the crickets harmonizing after the sun goes down in Cajun country. I want to know if a front porch swing rocks any differently in on a South Carolina porch compared to a California porch. I want to go and look and feel and explore and know and be in all these different places- places I’ve been before and places I’ve only dreamed of, places a day’s drive away and places I have to charter a team of caribou to get to. I want to figure out where the air is sweetest, the water the freshest, the moon the prettiest, and my soul the freest. I want to find the place with the voice whose echo is etched into who I am. And maybe when I find that, I’ll finally hear, “Welcome home.”