Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Good news

Most of us have an appreciation for a really good story. Complex characters, a well constructed plot, action, adventure, sorrow, redemption, romance. A well told story captivates us. But don't most of us love the great stories that are actually true, not merely fiction? I know I do. That's why I love the story of God. There are so many ways to tell it, and still, language falls so short. His story must also be experienced.

Imagine with me a homeless woman on the bus. I'm being stereotypical here for a purpose. Her clothes are soiled and smell foul, like she has sat in her own urine for days. Her hair is greasy and matted to her head. On her breath is the bitter stench of alcohol. Her skin is tough and weathered and beneath her fingernails are black. She doesn't give eye contact, because it seems no one cares to look her in the eyes.

Now imagine God enters the bus. He sits down next to this woman. He doesn’t gag, hold his breath, plug his nose or look away. Instead, he looks her in the eyes and engages her in conversation. Within a few short minutes, the woman that no one ever talks to; the woman that people avoid sitting next to on the bus; the woman that no one wants to touch; feels understood for the first time in her life. Instead of pointing out her filthiness, God leans in and gives her a hug, and then he invites her over to his house. He offers her a place to take a hot shower and a new, clean pair of clothes. He discovers her favorite food, cooks her a meal, and they sit down to eat together. She pours out her heart to him, and he pours his out in return. Finally she is known. Finally she is accepted, and she is no longer ashamed. She has inexhaustible debts, and he explains that his Son has already paid them for her. God offers her a key to the house and adopts her into his family.

This is the embrace of grace.

At some point, we all are or have been this woman. And God has sought us out on the crowded bus, alone in our seat, where he has engaged us, embraced us, and invited us home with him. He has bathed us, clothed us, prepared a meal for us, and dined with us. He has offered us a new identity, so that we do not remain homeless, hungry, filthy, destitute, and alone. This is the God of grace. And this is his embrace. All he asks is that we have the faith to receive.

Still, as nice as this metaphor is, I know it falls short of an all-inclusive view of the gospel. It is, at best, perhaps a snapshot somewhere in the middle of the gospel story. The lengths to which Jesus has gone to save and redeem us from our sin, the forgiveness he offers, and the power with which his life, death and resurrection transforms us is beyond metaphor. The story of the gospel is so good, it stands alone. Sometimes metaphor simply opens the door to the full story.

I love the gospel ("good news"), and I find I've fallen more and more in love with this story - and the God who has so brilliantly crafted it - over this past year. Growing up "in the church", I think I kind of lost my awe of the gospel. Or perhaps I never really had it, because it's like it was always there. I took it for granted. For some reason this year, I've been seeing God's story through fresh eyes, and each time it blows my mind and unravels my heart. It truly is the greatest Romance ever. As we approach Easter, a holiday that culturally means little more than baskets of candy and decorated eggs and cute little bunnies, I am marveling again at the wonder of the good news of the gospel of Jesus. And without Easter - the death and resurrection of Jesus - this story would not exist.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The danger of laptops

Oh dear. Instead of sleeping, which I should be doing, so I can spring out of bed at 4:50 am (yeah right - about the springing part)... I'm sitting here editing and uploading pics online and looking up airline tickets to Mozambique. Not that I have the money to purchase a ticket to Mozambique at this moment (Apple took a sizable chunk of it, mind you), but a girl can dream, right? It's been awhile since I dreamed of Africa...

So for now: goodnight, friends. Goodnight, Africa.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The age old Judeo-Christian face off




And for the record, though it may be biblically unpopular, I cast my vote for goats.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I came across a quote posted on a fellow believer's facebook page the other day, and it troubled me. It read: "What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do." What initially troubled me was how good it sounded. After all, what could be more important than what we do in life, than how we live? In my days of wrestling and questioning and refining my beliefs (a lifelong process, but especially intense during this period), mostly while I was immersed in the world of "academia", I remember feeling much the same as my friend quoted above. Gradually, I allowed my perspective of the gospel to be redefined by the particular complexities of our culture, world affairs, and my own life experiences. Things were no longer black and white, but appeared to me as quite gray, confusing, ambiguous, uncertain. Now I'm not denying that life is colored by a deep shade of gray, that it isn't filled with its share of heartbreaking complexities and questions too big for us to answer satisfactorily, and that this does not impact our faith. My issue is when we take that perception about life and apply it to God. Let us be clear, those of us who are in the faith: Life may be complicated, but Jesus Christ is not. Issues may be ambiguous, but the gospel is not. We must guard ourselves so we do not confuse the two.

Dare we build our lives on questions? What kind of foundation is that? No, we must build on the truth, and that truth is found in Jesus. If we cannot accept that truth, if we find it too offensive, politically incorrect, biased, intolerant, narrow-minded, or whatever terminology we wish to attach to it, we will come to the end of our lives and find that we have merely built a structure on a faulty foundation. And in the end, regardless of our works, that will not stand; it will dissolve. "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11).

One of the other issues I have with the assertion that the thing of most consequence is what we do, is that it implies a self-reliance contrary to the gospel of Jesus and His grace. Doesn't Paul emphasize in Romans, "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly"(Rom. 5:6), and again, that "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us"(Rom. 5:8)? Which part of that statement can we actually dare to take credit for? That Jesus came to us because we were inherently good, because "God helps those who help themselves"? Well, Jesus already burst our bubble when He said we can't even lay claim of choosing Him... (John 15:16).

Who are we fooling if we profess that this life and beyond is all about Christ, yet live as if it all depends on us? By God, someday when my life is over, I don't want my legacy to be that I was the "nicest do-gooder"! The greatest thing that could ever be said of my life is that I knew Jesus, that I was crazy in love with Him, and that this love was experienced by the people who came in contact with me. I could never take credit for that. It's only God's grace working in me that has brought me where I am today and will continue shaping me into who I am to become. Those are not words of false modesty, for it is impossible for God to ever receive too much credit.

And some may ask, what about all the good people out there in the world doing good things who don't share this belief in Jesus? I don't deny there are many such people - that would be naivety! But sadly, while they may improve the conditions of life here on earth, and may even be able to postpone the deaths of others, they can in the end offer no solution for salvation. And I'm not talking only about the after-life kind of salvation, but also "the kindgom of God is at hand", heaven on earth, abundant life, freedom from the bondage of sin kind of salvation. It begins now, not just after death. I'm beyond caring if that type of thinking meets with the approval of a postmodern culture, let alone a postmodern church. I'm not ashamed to say that the thing of most consequence is that I exist because of Jesus, I live through Jesus, and I live for Jesus. And He alone is to receive all the glory for whatever fruit comes from my life here on earth. This is to be the measure of our lives: "For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord" (1 Cor. 4:5).

Friends, in an age of information, technology, multiculturalism, pluralism, relativism (a host of other "isms"), and many complex issues I have no desire to make light of, we must resolve to stand fast in the simplicity of the gospel. If it's complicated, it's not God, "For God is not the author of confusion but of peace" (1 Cor. 14:33). There is good and there is evil; there is truth and there is deception; there are some who understand and there are many who do not. This may be sobering, but we cannot philosophize it away: "But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them... For it is God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 4:3-4, 6). Certainly, to some the truth of the gospel is veiled. But how much more that compells me to pray that the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the person of Jesus shines in their hearts - hopefully in part through my life - so that they may know the abundant life God offers! Yes, let us walk in humility and respect, in grace and love, in mercy and justice - and let that be shown in what we do. But let that not be what we hang our faith on. Our faith hangs on Christ alone, in what He has done for us so that we can now experience life and spread those seeds of hope in the world.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My kids

With the birth of two new babies amongst my Starbucks coworkers, we began a little photo display on the front of one of our registers. Customers love it. Over time, many customers inquired which kid was mine. Some, when they heard my reply, would follow it with, "Well, when's your turn?" It's not that this little exchange irritated me, as much as I realized I had a creative solution to it. So I began posting pictures of my own kids...

I recently took a trip to visit my kids at the farm. Well, by kids I mean adopted kids, Bert and Ernie, twin Alpine dairy goats. Unfortunately, I cannot take these kids home to Ballard, because for one, the farm would not look kindly on kid-napping, and two, they would eat the inside of my apartment to smithereens. Kids will do that, or so I hear. So, I brought Mom with me on this particular visit, because she, like any good grandma, wants to bond with her grandkids. We were both anticipating the visit, but when we arrived, the kids were out to pasture and didn't pay us much attention. We waved and hollered, cajoled and whistled and waited; still, the kids ignored us. It appeared we'd come at an inconvenient time.

Bert and Ernie dismissed us, but in their absence, another kid whose name I don't know, came shuffling quietly over to us beside the fence. [On a side note, visiting the kids does have a bit of a prison visit feel to it, with the wire fence and all between us, but I try to overlook that.] This kid had fairer hair and squinty green eyes that wouldn't look directly at us. Kind of a nervous kid, I'd say. I called to the kid and reached my fingers just far enough to scratch the kid's side. I continued scratching the nervous kid's tummy, and when I commenced with the petting, the kid took one nonchalant step closer to the fence. Now I could reach the kid's nose. So I scratched and petted him on his nose and behind his ears and atop his head, without him so much blinking one of his beady little eyes. And when I paused an extra long pause - he scooted even closer to the fence. We continued this little dance until said kid was pressed against the fence. This kid, so quiet and sad and socially awkward, with each "meehhh"-less movement closer to the fence seemed to be shouting, "pick me, pick me!" What could I do? I melted.

So while I didn't exactly get to see my kids up close this visit, I did adopt another kid, and that made me very happy. Very happy, indeed. After all, as the saying goes, "no goat, no glory."