The Times and Our Response


Munch's 'The Scream'

I can’t remember a time in my life when more people are on edge. Short fuses and strong emotions don’t mix. Everywhere I look, people are either ready to pop a vein in their heads or to bury those same heads in their hands out of fear or sorrow.

In the last few days, I have had numerous encounters with people who appear to be losing it. What’s even stranger is that I spent most of last week at home sick. That makes the percentage of tense encounters even higher.

While I’m not one for end times speculations, it sure seems to me that the time before the Lord returns is running out. Reading the biblical descriptions of what people will be like in those days reads like America 2010.

Which is why,  more than ever, the Church needs to be at its most humble, winsome, and loving. We cannot be the angry, fearful, hateful people. Because we are called to be like the Lord, and the Lord is a rock and sure foundation, we need to look like Him in the eyes of desperate, angry, fearful people. We must be solid, but humbly so. We must turn the other cheek more than ever before and refuse to dish back what is dished out to us. We must be willing to accept being called wrong even when we are right. We simply cannot afford to repay anger with anger and fear with fear.

How do we get the American Church to that point? The only answer is to die to self.

Fact is, dying to self is pretty much the answer to 90 percent of the questions and issues that face Christians living in these times. If we only live to preserve our material goods, our status, and our positions on negotiable issues, if we live only to ensure that we always look good in the world’s eyes, then we will fail to stake out the higher ground and only descend into the madness around us.

Socks for Christmas


It’s a cliché to say that one of the benefits of aging is wisdom, but the older I get, the more I realize that being clichéd doesn’t make something less true.

One of the things I’m slowly learning is that God uses even that group of people who drives you nuts. You know, the ones who are doing it wrong in your estimation, whatever the it might be. Their way is not your way, so they naturally irritate you.

The Church of Jesus is overrun with people who give advice. They seem to be the mature ones who have it going on. They always have a sure word in season and out. Problem is, most of the time it’s out of season, especially when you’re in the middle of the worst battle of your life and they come around with their Scripture hammer and whack you upside the noggin.

Do these folks ever lend a hand to help you? No. Do they let you cry on their shoulder? No. Don’t they just really hack you off? Heck, yeah.

What we don’t seem to have enough of in the Church are people who DO lend you a hand and let you cry on their shoulder. They’re the compassionate ones. Their eyes mist up when you tell your story. They’re the first ones on the phone to you when the grapevine distributes your bad news.

Everybody should be in that compassionate second group, right?

Well, you would think so.

But what I seem to be finding out is that while the compassionate group is nice, folks in that category aren’t always the best at helping you get out of your rut. A shoulder to cry on is swell, but it may not be enough a few months down the road. Odd as it may seem, the advice-givers may have the advantage here. You know, the one’s who you were about to strangle when they brought their aloof “I’ve got the answer to everything” attitude into the midst of your agony. Truth is, they may actually have something worth hearing. The other truth is that you may not have been in a place to hear it when they first dumped it on you. You needed compassion more than advice. Compassion has its limits, though. Cutting to the heart of the matter, it may also be true that the cause of your pain is your own stupidity, and while a shoulder to cry on is nice to have, sometimes a brain is really what’s needed.

Ideally, the Church would be filled with people who are both advice-filled AND compassi0nate. But if my own experience bears witness to what is normal, I’d say those rare people are just that—exceedingly rare. Most of us are going to run into an advice-giver or a compassion-giver but almost never both in one person.

So the next time you feel like the world is ending and some advice-filled sage comes up to you, drops his load of wisdom on you, and bolts, don’t get riled up because he didn’t hold your hand and say, “There, there, call me anytime, even 3 a.m. Better yet, I’ll come over tomorrow.” Uh, Mom...not what I had on my list...And if you do find compassion with those who will weep with you, don’t expect that they’ll have answers to your dilemma or a good word in season. They may not. Your personal diamond may be the rough-looking rock, and you don’t see it for what it’s worth.

And if you do stumble across person number three, who has both realities going on, recognize that you received a rare gift in the midst of tough times, that highly sculpted and polished stone

In other words, whichever kind of person God sends your way, be appreciative of the gift, even if it’s not exactly what you asked for. Remember, when you were young and green, Aunt Ida’s handknit wool socks seemed like a lousy gift Christmas morning, but when your feet were cold, they were exactly what you needed.

Laying Down “Us” to Reach “Them”


If you were to ask me right in this moment what one thing I would really like to see change in the American Church, it would have to be our devotion to the cause of Us vs. Them.

More and more, it sticks in my craw when I am with fellow Christians and the Us. vs. Them talk starts up. Who are Them ?

Political liberals


Abortion supporters




Other races

Mainline Protestants

The promiscuous

The homeless

The poor

The lost

And so on

That list will look different for different people, but in short, Them are those people who are not Us.

You get into strange conversations with people who always think in terms of Us vs. Them. Try talking with an Evangelical who claims to love Israel yet complains about all the Jews running Hollywood, with its family-unfriendly movies filled with bad language and smutty imagery. A homeless man sleeping outside a churchOr the folks who go on and on about reaching the lost or ministering to the poor, yet who wish the Mexicans would go back where they came from. The disconnect is head-scratching.

I once had lunch with someone who made no pretenses to being a Christian. When I asked her why she liked living where she did, she said it was because the residents were so tolerant of others, not like those rednecks in the Midwest.

Too many American Christians have that same mentality. Its not only irrational, it’s ugly too. And its a large reason why so many people have tuned out the Church here. They know us by the culture war. They know us by whom we oppose. They have no idea of whom we are for. And if they’ve heard that old ’60s-era song “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love,” they wonder inside when it was ever true. (Maybe back in the ’60s. But then, didn’t we all love each other back in the ’60s?)

Look, there’s not a Christian alive who hasn’t heard the parable of the Good Samaritan. Three-year-old kids who still wet their pants from time to time know that story. How come so little of it ever sinks in? The Us passed by. The Them loved. Jesus smashed the stereotype of Us vs. Them to smithereens in that parable.

Many of the greatest novels ever written contain the archetypal story of the hero who does good because he remembers his roots. He never lets himself forget his humble origins, and that remembering helps him change the world for the better.

I think that one thing Jesus Christ would like to impress upon many American Christians is that each of Us was once Them. And that the people who are most effective for the Kingdom of God are those people who never let themselves forget that truth.

The time of forgetting we were once lost is past, folks. It’s time to start laying down Us to reach Them.