We love our boxes.

Boxes keep people isolated and crumpled up.  And religious people can be experts at building boxes with labels to put people in.

A young woman wears something deemed inappropriate and a so-called “Christian” slaps a box on her labeled “tramp” or “whore” or “slut”, and then goes on their way.

You see, if I can place another person who is different from me in a box labeled “liberal” or “conservative” or “weird” or “snob”, etc. then I am off the hook.  I don’t have to do the hard and uncomfortable work of building an actual relationship.  Or, dare I say, loving that person!

But Jesus Christ is in the business of cutting boxes and breaking neck irons (I will explain that one below), and loving people for exactly who they are.

Three exchanges take place in Luke 5 and 6 that back this up.  First, the Pharisees ask Jesus why his disciples don’t fast (abstain from food for religious purposes).  Jesus explained that they didn’t fast because they were with the Bridegroom himself.  No asceticism was called for.  Celebration was more appropriate.  Later they would fast, Jesus told them, but now was not that time.

But wait!  The Pharisees didn’t understand that.  It was outside of their religious box.

A little while later, Jesus and his disciples were walking through a field on a Sabbath and they picked grain and ate it.  The Pharisees considered that a violation of the law.  Now technically it was not because they were poor travelers, and the law made that food available to them.  But for a recognized Rabbi, the action was outside of the religious box.

The third examples happens again on a Sabbath, but this time in a synagogue.  A man was there with a withered hand.  He could not open it and stretch it out.  The Pharisees (expert box-makers that they were) actually preferred Jesus not heal him rather than do a “work” on the Sabbath day.  Jesus told him to stand up in front of them all and “STRETCH OUT YOUR HAND”.

You and I are supposed to stand tall and strong and enjoy the freedom and liberty of a lively faith that Jesus paid a dear price for us to enjoy.  We should not be cramped and crumpled inside a box of our own or anyone else’s making.

When John Newton (the author of Amazing Grace) was a slave-ship captain, God was beginning to move on his heart.  On his last journey he saw that the slaves he was transporting were actually mothers and brothers and fathers and children.  They were people and they deserved dignity.  He felt an urge to unshackle them all but knew his crew would mutiny if he did.  He recognized one thing he could do, however.

Remove the neck irons.

One of the most undignified and cruel devices used on slaves was the neck iron.  It would prevent people from lifting their heads.  They had to walk and moved in a hunched over position.  John Newton ordered the neck irons removed.

Apparently, the Holy Spirit was stimulating Jesus-type action through John Newton.

Will you continue that work?

Start with yourself.  Lift up your hands, your heads, your life itself!  Stretch out to your full height!  You are free!  You have liberty.  Jesus has cut that box and removed those neck irons.

Now look around and see if anyone else needs a box cut open or a neck iron removed.

That’s what Jesus does.  Hallelujah!

What Terrifies Screwtape

January 9, 2014

On January 18, CS Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” will be presented on stage at the Granada Theatre in SB.  Based on the best-selling book, this Broadway production is coming to our town!  Tracey and I are excited to go and hope you too will get tickets.

CS Lewis is such a colorful writer.  His prose is so lively and expressive.  It really is no wonder that he was such a master at fantasy and science-fiction tales as well.  His imagination was free and unbounded.

How about yours?

If you are a follower of Christ, I encourage you to let your holy imagination for the spiritual realities of God be free and unbounded like Lewis’ was.  While a faculty professor at Cambridge and Oxford, CS Lewis nonetheless held to the orthodox beliefs of the Christian faith which acknowledge SUPERNATURAL activity.  The Virgin Birth, the Incarnation of God, Resurrection from the Dead, Heaven, Hell, Angels and Demons.  These we profess.  Why?  He writes, “I believe (all) this not in the sense that it is part of my creed, but in the sense that it is one of my opinions…It agrees with the plain sense of Scripture, the tradition of Christendom, and the beliefs of most men at most times.  And it conflicts with nothing that any of the sciences has shown to be true.”

A holy imagination recognizes these realities and engages them at appropriate levels (not obsessive ones, mind you).  It’s then that faith can really come alive and a follower of Christ can engage in the kind of life that frustrates the Kingdom of Darkness.  Don’t you want to be part of “the church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners”?

A holy imagination can see “her”.

Nurture yours.

Gay, but not Happy

July 3, 2013

Landmark decisions by the Supreme Court, concerning gay rights, were made this last week, and it appears the momentum gained by this social movement over the last decade is truly unstoppable.  The first decision by the Court was the striking down 1996’s Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.  The second was striking down the major portions of California’s Proposition 8 which declared marriage to be strictly between a man and a woman.  Interestingly, the argument which overturned DOMA was that individual states had the right to determine marriage parameters/definitions themselves.  Then, in the next breath, California’s decision to define marriage between a man and a woman was deemed illegal.  Hmmmm. 

Perhaps in anticipation of the week’s pending decisions, the SB Independent ran a series of short articles and testimonials titled “Gay in Santa Barbara” as its cover story.  It pictured several couples kissing and described in various ways how wonderfully tolerant Santa Barbara was of their sexuality.  There were also references to on-going challenges among the homosexual community, such as social pressures against public displays of homosexual affection, but they were minor footnotes.

After reading the articles, I was surprised at my reaction.  I actually began to weep.  Throughout the day I have been pondering why I reacted so strongly.  It didn’t seem to make sense to me.  Being a conservative evangelical Christian, am I not supposed to get angry, picket somewhere, and introduce some kind of legislation to fight back?!  Well, I didn’t and don’t have any desire to at all.

As a pastor, I have the role of trying to help people become holy.  I see this as more important and primary a task than getting anybody “saved”.  Now, please don’t understand.  I hope everybody gets saved…meaning, they enter into the life of the Kingdom of God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.  And I want to do my part to help in that as best I can.  That’s terrifically important and wonderful in every way.  But it is the first job of a pastor to ‘shepherd’ people in the way of Jesus Christ.  This includes knowing him more intimately, resourcing His life, words, ways in all circumstances, and being transformed into His likeness through the Holy Spirit.  It’s about people becoming like Jesus.

So when I finished reading all of these stories I think I felt deep down something like a pediatrician must feel when she has set a broken bone incorrectly into its cast and one day takes it off to a horrifying discovery.  The bone has been set wrong!  What was designed to bring healing and wholeness has resulted in disfigurement.

The homosexual agenda is, I’m afraid, like that.  It is setting untold thousands in the wrong direction.  Wholeness, happiness, and holiness come through an ordered, obedient, self-denying, sacrificial lifestyle patterned after the life of Jesus Christ.  It’s the life the godly, celibate Catholic priest spoke of when he confessed to a group of condescending married evangelical pastors who did not think his lifestyle was Biblically sanctioned or warranted.  “You think my lifestyle choice misdirected, but we priests see the sacrifice of our sexuality as a small, even a miniscule way of honoring the sacrifice Christ made.  It is not a burden.  It is an honor.”