“The story is not so much about how to simply clean up the mess, but how creative you can get with the mess you have. This is what God seems to be up to — creating good, mysterious things out of messes.” ~Curt Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul
My daughter, Carley, emails me every now and then with “If you had a Twitter…” in the subject line and a really funny meme or otherwise internet hilarity attached. I cannot resist sharing with you what she sent me today. If you have a Twitter, maybe you’ve already seen this. If not…
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.” ~Romans 13:8-10
If you don’t love everybody, you can’t really call yourself a Christian. Seriously. If you don’t love everybody, then you have to deny the most basic things all Christians believe.
If I harshly criticize anybody, if I refuse to forgive anybody, if I discriminate in any way, if I ignore or neglect anybody, if I make a move to harm anyone, I have to abandon almost all the basic points of Christian doctrine:
~ Christians believe that all men and women are created by God in the image of God
~ Christians believe God loves all people
~ Christians believe Jesus died on the cross because God wants all people to be forgiven and saved, including you and your neighbor, equally
~ Christians believe in treating others the same way we want others to treat us
~ Christians believe our God calls us to show his divine love to all people everywhere, no exceptions
Serving others in love keeps all the commands. Serving others in love makes all the beliefs real — not just something we know in our heads, rather something we do with our lives that changes us and fulfills the eternal will of God.
It’s not a law system that governs our behavior and keeps us in check. It’s not an honor system that forms our morality and shapes our ethics. It’s a love system. The whole thing is based on and flows out of and through love.
That’s true freedom. Because when you love like that, when you consider the needs of others more important than your own, then whatever controls you doesn’t anymore. People who used to be stressed about being famous don’t care anymore if anybody knows their name. People who used to chase power are now serving. People who used to pursue money are now giving it away. People who used to live in fear for their own safety and security are now living in liberty and risking their lives to love people who’ve never felt safe at all.
We only know love because we have seen Jesus on the cross. Once you’ve seen that love and you know it’s for you, you can’t help but show that same love to others.
The apostolic letter to the churches in Galatia begins with a reminder that “the Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.” The letter ends by telling us what that’s all about, where this whole thing is headed: “What counts is a new creation!”
The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus has put to death the structures, values, and ways of this world and inaugurated the new, glorious, and eternal creation. We are no longer bound to the ways and means and goals of this fallen world; we are set free by Christ to live in the glory of God’s new creation. So why do we insist on grabbing the old and fading and refuse to embrace the new and everlasting? Why do we invest so much of our identity and energy into a world that’s been given a death sentence?
I am increasingly distressed at the way American Christians flock to this country’s current President and giddily embrace his politics of force and fear. This sell-out of our Christian principles was never more glaringly on display than when Mr. Trump hosted one hundred “evangelical” church leaders Monday for a dinner meeting at the White House.
The President gathered these church pastors and Christian authors to gin up support for his agenda and for all Republicans in the November mid-term elections. He used both force and fear to rally these Christian leaders. And they ate it up.
According to everything I’ve seen and read about that meeting (please see these stories from the Washington Post, New York Times, Rolling Stone, Jennifer Rubin, and CNN), Trump claimed that he has given so much to Christianity, he has protected Christianity, he has even helped revive Christianity, and if the Democrats prevail in the November elections, Christianity will be devastated as a religion in this country.
Trump told these Christian pastors the mid-term elections are “a referendum on your religion” adding, “You’re one election away from losing everything that you’ve got.”
He used force. He appealed to strength. He promised increased advantages if these pastors and preachers would only use their power for his cause. “You have tremendous power,” he said. “You have people who preach to almost 200-million people. I just ask you to go out and make sure all of your people vote. Because if they don’t — it’s November 6 — if they don’t vote we’re going to have a miserable two years and we’re going to have, frankly, a very hard period of time because then it just gets to be one election — you’re one election away from losing everything that you’ve got.”
He told these Christians that he was delivering their power to speak: “You’re not silenced anymore.” He declared Christianity to be plateaued (I can’t argue with him there) and that hitching the Church’s wagon to his agenda would cause the Church’s stock to rise (I would suggest it’s getting in bed with this country’s politics that is damaging Christianity).
The President also used fear at this Monday meeting with preachers and pastors. If Democrats are successful in November, “they will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they’ll do it quickly and violently — -violently. There’s violence.”
“The level of hatred, the level of anger is unbelievable,” Trump said. “Part of it is because of some of the things I’ve done for you. You’re one election away from losing everything that you’ve gotten. Little thing: Merry Christmas, right? You couldn’t say ‘Merry Christmas.'”
Force is how the world operates. The world gets things done by using force. But our Lord brings death to the use of force. His death and resurrection dooms force as a method to accomplish anything. Jesus shows us the way to really get things done, the way to really save the world, is by sacrifice and service, it’s in submission and obedience. And love.
Fear is how the world operates. This is how the world gets its way, by spreading fear and making people afraid. The world makes decisions out of fear. The way of the world is to react out of fear; to be motivated by fear to do the wrong thing and to be paralyzed by fear in the face of doing the right thing. But our Lord brings death to fear. His death and resurrection obliterates all fear as any kind of factor for anything. Jesus shows us the way to face life and death and everything in between is with faith, not fear. The way to overcome is with trust that God is in charge, that God is working all things together for your good and the good of the world, trust that God will vindicate the way you live and die.
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” ~Galatians 6:14
The new creation, the new life we live in Christ, happened at the cross and Paul’s banking on it. He’s all in. For Paul, the world no longer has any power, authority, or control over him. The world’s standards and rewards mean nothing. The world does not determine Paul’s status or place. It’s all dead to Paul in exchange for this new life in Christ. Jesus says we are not of this world, just as he is not of this world.
So why do Christians fall all over themselves for Trump?
In that dinner meeting Monday, these one-hundred pastors embarrassed all of us by fawning over this worldly leader. According to the tapes and the reports, one of them said to Mr. Trump, “We love you and we believe in you. You are doing amazing, amazing things.” Another added, “Now we have a warrior at the helm who is willing to stand up and fight. Amen. Sir, I commend you for your courage. It is an amazing thing. So, team — let’s fight and we’ll win. God bless you.”
Fight? To win what?
We’ve lost our way. We’ve lost who we are in Christ and where we live in God’s new creation.
This world that rewards you for putting yourself first, this world that promotes and glamorizes violence and greed, this world that divides people and motivates by fear and accomplishes its goals by force — this world is destined to die. It’s not going to last. It’s dying. Stop chasing it. Stop identifying with it. Stop defending its ends and using its ways.
Our crucified and risen Lord, our reigning and coming King, is the only one who will save us. He is our only hope. His ways are love and humility. His methods are sacrifice and service. His goals are mercy and grace and forgiveness and peace. His reign will ultimately prevail. His rule will eventually win the day.
America’s mid-term elections are not a referendum on Christianity. Give me a break.
Even as I’m writing this post, two weeks after she finished her race, I’m worried that somehow Mrs. Adkins will appear with a red felt-tipped pen to correct my grammar or my spelling. More likely, if she were to appear, she’d make fun of me for something, she’d point out a physical flaw or remind me of something really dumb I had done in the past, and then she’d laugh really loud(ly) and throw her arms around me and tell me she loves me and that she’s super proud of me.
That’s Mrs. Adkins. Our junior high English and Grammar teacher at Dallas Christian. Our high school counselor and psychology teacher and senior class sponsor. The mother of one of my closest friends. And a big fan of every student who walked through her doors or sat through her classes.
I was providentially hindered from attending her memorial service this past Saturday at the White Rock Church of Christ in Dallas. So Todd, her son and my long-time partner-in-crime and roofing, asked me to record a video with some memories and nice words on behalf of all Mrs. Adkins’ students.
Here’s a link to the video. Several of you are asking for it. Please share it responsibly. Anything I would write about Mrs. Adkins in this space, I already expressed in this 13-minute video. I loved Mrs. Adkins, like all of her students, because she first loved us.
When Todd first saw the finished video, he told me it was a weird mix of Goose Gossage and Eddie Haskell. Perfect! Exactly what I was going for! He texted me Wednesday evening and said, “My dad is watching it now. His first words were, ‘He’s put on some weight.’ Thanks, Lefty.
According to my sisters, Rhonda and Sharon, and the dozen or so emails and texts from high school classmates and one out-of-the-blue phone call from Coach Richmond, the service Saturday was a Dallas Christian reunion. And I hate that I missed it. The picture above was taken as they were turning the lights off in the church building. I’m told there were double that number of DC folks in attendance. But I would have loved to have seen all these great people and to get caught up with each of them in person.
I played football and sang in the choir with Tracy Hauck (bald, yellow shirt) and Mark Cawyer (big smile, purple shirt) and Jeff Majors (“Low Budget”). Brad Yurcho (blue shirt behind Rhonda) and I sat on the top row of the bleachers at Chargers Field during JV football games and did the play-by-play out loud together, preparing for what we wanted to do professionally for the rest of our lives. Caitlin McAuley (yellow flowers in the front) was my consistent companion, rival, and great friend from 6th – 12th grade. Mike Fitzhugh (bald with the beard in the back-right) was part of our fabled Greenhill Bell Crew. Robbie Beene (next to Fitz) was so over-the-top, loud, and in-your-face funny. Mrs. Straughn (far right, next to Todd’s sister, Tracy) was my Creative Writing teacher and encouraged me to “keep writing, keep writing, don’t ever stop writing.” Lynn Davis (far left, next to Sharon), Mrs. Sorrells (front middle), Mrs. Dickson (between Caitlin and Traci), Joanna Farrar — such great people, such great friends.
I have so enjoyed spending time on the phone with Todd the past couple of weeks. Todd and I grew up together. For a long while there we did almost everything together. High school running buddy, roofing partner, college roommate — he is the co-star in my favorite and funniest stories. We always pick up right where we left off. We can still crack each other up with just one word. We can recall a month’s worth of the same memories with just one phrase. Todd is that old friend. I’m so grateful to him for the great privilege of contributing to his mom’s service. And I thank God for the great blessing in my life of Mrs. Adkins.
I’m told there are a dozen or so older ladies at White Rock CofC who are still very confused about my opening remarks regarding prison and house arrest. Excellent. I’m also told Tracy Hauck is keeping those questions and rumors alive on Facebook (thank you!).
May God bless Lefty and Todd and Traci and everybody in their super-fun family. May God receive Mrs. Adkins into his faithful arms. And may God bless all of us with the faith and the confidence that he is able to keep everything we’ve entrusted to him until that great day.
“In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” ~Galatians 5:6
There’s only one thing that matters; don’t mess it up. There’s only one thing that’s important; don’t miss it. Our forgiveness, formation, and eternal life, our righteous relationships with God and with all people hang on just one thing; pay attention to it. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Circumcision? Doesn’t count! Uncircumcision? Who cares? In Christ, none of that stuff has any force. It doesn’t exercise any power. It’s got nothing. Christ Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord, has all power and all authority. He alone saves. So our faith, focus, and attention is only and always on him.
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” ~Romans 8:1-4
God in Christ has fulfilled the entirety of the law’s purpose on our behalf. Not individual commands — not circumcision, not the Ten Commandments, not purity rituals, not feast schedules — the singular requirement, the whole point of the law is fulfilled for us by Jesus. That’s the whole point of Jesus.
Do we trust that or not?
The perfect Son of God, the only one who’s never broken the law, became sin for us. He became your sin. He took on your sin. He took your transgressions with him to the cross. And when your sin is condemned in him, you become in God’s eyes as if you’ve never sinned. Jesus intervened to do what you can’t do. Christ became what you are so you can become what he is. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice and he has taken care of absolutely everything to set you totally free from sin and death. Now, is your faith in that, or is it in something else? The only thing that counts if faith. That’s the only thing we need to be concerned with. That’s the freedom for which Christ sets us free.
But for some reason, we feel more comfortable in the chains. We have a very difficult time with the only thing that counts. We’ve got a whole list of things that count! We’ve got dozens and dozens of things that count!
It’s not circumcision; it’s acappella. It’s not food laws; it’s weekly Lord’s Supper. It’s not feast days; it’s Wednesday nights. It’s not you must become a Jew; it’s “Is he a member of ‘The Church?'” And it’s baptism by immersion and women’s roles and bishops and kitchens and KJV and crosses in the sanctuary, um, I mean, “auditorium.”
We judge people and we draw lines and label others and decide who we’re calling brothers and sisters and who we’re not when there’s only one thing that counts! We’re paying too much attention and spending too much energy on the things that don’t count!
We are freed from all that. We don’t have to worry about those things. Having the same worship styles and the same church structures and the same name on the building is not how we’re united. Or saved. That’s not what makes us brothers and sisters. We are united in Christ alone! We are made one in Christ alone!
The Bible says there is one body, not just one expression of that body. There is one faith, but not just one expression of that faith. There is one baptism, yes, but not just one expression of that baptism. These are the very things they’re discussing in Jerusalem in Acts 15 and the decision is “We should not make it difficult for the people who are turning to God.”
We spend valuable energy debating worship styles and doctrinal positions and denominational differences, but there’s only one thing that matters. We fuss and divide over methods and traditions and structures and rules, but there’s only one thing that’s important. We get worked up over interpretations and translations and obligations, but only one thing counts: faith expressing itself through love.
That’s true freedom. When we give ourselves completely to the fact that our salvation has already been secured, that there’s nothing left to do, it’s all been done, when we embrace that in faith, then we’re living in freedom. We’re free from our sins and anything that’s ever happened in our pasts. We’re free to stop worrying about ourselves and our rights and our honor to serve other people so that walls are torn down and wounds are healed. You’re not anxiously fretting about your standing with God. You’re not looking for physical signs or proof of who’s in and who’s out. You are free to become what God created you to be, what you always wanted to be — you just didn’t know what it was!
And whatever rules there are, whatever obligations remain, we’re free to live above them and through them. We don’t worry about any of that because our faith in Christ has us loving others.
The Gospel truth that you are righteous because Jesus Christ has become for you your righteousness, holiness, and peace compels you to love God and others. It moves you to defend the weak and stand with the accused and speak up for the oppressed. It motivates you to give and forgive. It empowers you to let go and live the way God lives, erring on the side of grace and giving everybody the benefit of the doubt.
Whatever you do, don’t mess it up. It’s the only thing that counts.