The Last Days of June

CC BY-NC, aouniat, Flickr

CC BY-NC, aouniat, Flickr

Bladder cancer meant the last year of my grandmother’s life. That’s how it was. The doctor had told us that it wouldn’t be serious. Somehow this was a friendly cancer that would let Grama live to die of something else, like her diabetes maybe, but he was dead-wrong.

The clock had already been ticking. Christmas that year, six months and four days before the end, the eve of which was her birthday, had been unusually joyful. Grama, with all her grandchildren around, laughed until she cried, until it seemed that delight could be her cure, yet we all saw it coming.

When to Say Nothing

I returned home to live from Indiana in early June of 2006; Grama had not long been in a nursing facility in Martinsville, the next town over. She was my father’s mother and the only grandparent I knew well. I planned my visit to see her as soon as I could unload and place my belongings. I hoped the surprise wouldn’t backfire and be mine to loathe because I wasn’t sure what I might find. I could only wish for my granny healthy as possible, recognizable, and glad to see me.

That day I strode down the corridor past open doors and the oddities and odors that claw at passers-by in such sad places of the physically marooned, hoping that Grama’s room was a refuge. I slowed as I approached the doorway, which was open; I didn’t hear visitors inside. I took a deep breath and entered the room confidently.

It was bright and sterile, spotless in fact, and peaceful, with the sun in full glow like a gift for the moment. My grandmother was lying in the far bed next to the window and neatly tucked under a white blanket. She was looking out the door when I entered. “Michael,” she said plainly, the inflection revealing her surprise and bewilderment.

I’m not sure how I reacted, but I went and kissed her on the forehead. Grama looked herself. She turned her face toward the window and cried; I didn’t try to console her. I wondered then and many times since if she wept for seeing me, her eldest grandson come to see about her or because she knew that it might be my last chance.

Bittersweet is hardest to swallow.

In that moment I had no context to understand how she could be feeling, so I respected those deeply profound seconds by waiting. What is it like to face your own death? To know there will be no more living? The future isn’t scary when it means you’re alive and prospering, but the future is perfectly inconceivable when it means you’re dead. I know what my Christian faith explains about the afterlife, yet a human creature, indeed any living thing, designed to grow and reproduce abhors the thought of death.

Grama knew that she was dying because she was already discussing her final wishes. I recall the few times I heard her exclaim “I thought I was gon’ die!” when in the past she had fought off a bad bug or complications. The comment would always make me hide my laughter and still brings a smile to my face for its superstitious absurdity. But seeing Grama cry, however, was in its own way a door of finality.

Tomorrow?

Grama always assumed my return the next day. She wanted to see her family daily simply because she was there. I suppose that I would want my folks near me too for less grievous reasons. But I didn’t always make it back to Grama daily despite the easy thirty-minute drive. Sometimes it was no reason more than the monotony of the place: watching her sleep, no TV, window watching, book boredom, the nosy roommate.

We all lapsed a time or two, for different reasons, and not because we didn’t care but for the cares that consumed our time. Where there wasn’t work and business matters to tend, there was indifference that often trades substantial things for indulgence and always counts on tomorrow. I’m not sure that brand of tomorrow exists though whether we’re living or dying.

I cringed at the fact that when I could have and maybe should have been with Grama, I was busy doing nothing. Sometimes I was lying around watching TV while she was lying down waiting to die. The self-interest disgusted me. Yet I would think this way of Grama, too. Didn’t she realize that we couldn’t possibly be there all the time? Did her dying lend her more right to need? I hated myself for thinking this way. I’ve learned that human nature is a demanding, self-centered circus of a thing—even when the animals are calling it quits.

“Mirror, Mirror…”

Grama forgave us for missing days but not for leaving her there. She wanted to go home and was belligerent about it. The first day I saw her she wanted me to take her home. I could be Hercules with her hoisted in my arms plucking off every resistance until I laid her down in her own bed. It was that mythical at least.

Conversation became awkward at times. “I can bring you lunch if you’d like,” I would say. “What do you want?” The reply would come like a blow and deadpanned: “I wanna GO HOME.” The most I accomplished for her was to get a new chair in the room to make her more comfortable and allow us to sun on the patio.

There soon came a day when I entered the room and noticed signs of the inevitable peering back at me. Grama was gaunt. The volume in her face was gone, completely, and she appeared skeletal. Her skin had become ashen. Her mind and morale remained but her body had been taken hostage. This alarmed me because it happened quickly, and I’m sure she had no idea of it.

One day she requested a mirror from the nurse to look herself over. I couldn’t know how long it may have been since she had seen herself. The act of something so simple seemed so primitive and animal-like to me watching her do it. Research shows us certain animals, like chimpanzees and elephants, querying themselves this way to demonstrate self-perception. Did Grama recognize the person staring back at her? I expected an exclamatory remark but she said nothing.

The Final Night

A few days from that time we got the call to come because our friend—the cancer—had turned foe and would wait no longer. I walked in the room this time and Grama was but a shell now and clearly in her final hours. She was lying on her right side into the bed railing, her eyes partly open, her mouth twisted.

Death is such an indignity.

Her roommate was a Christian woman and an unfortunate soul for the trials she had endured to this point. She had come to the facility with her husband roommate, in that very room, but he had died beside her; she was given a new roommate who also died there; now it was my grandmother’s turn. The staff moved the lady to another room to give us privacy, but I considered it an act of compassion for her own sanity.

Yet the roommate didn’t leave without first detailing my grandmother’s final night. She spoke as frankly as possible. “That woman drove me crazy!” The way she bellowed the word—CRAAZI!—with a distinctly Southern drawl, I found more embarrassing than insensitive, especially standing there with my mother and the pastor.

She said my grandmother had kept the nurses running all night and screamed for the pain in her body—“callin’ on Jesus and askin’ God to kill ’er.” Her words were chilling. That kind of pain must be hell itself. “But she was a good lady,” she affirmed, noticeably in past tense. She repeated herself then quickened, lifting her hand to God. From her account I figured that my grandmother was lucid into the day until her condition turned sometime that afternoon.

The Shadow of Death

Family and many from the church soon packed the room, presences casting their farewells. I was surprised by the show of people and most remained into the early evening. The night came and with it my decision not to stay to the end, whenever it arrived, but I was sure there was no tomorrow.

It was now the very end of June, less than a month since I had first burst in and kissed Grama’s forehead. This time, my last moment with Grama, I walked to her bedside, took her right hand, and bowed in silent prayer to the God who had numbed her soul against a ravaged body. I offered thanks for all the care and fun and meals and counsel she gave me, along with a request that I might pray and trust as she had, until my very end.

I was told by a family friend of a peculiar moment that happened after I had left when she recited Psalm 23 to my grandmother, which was also Grama’s favorite reading of the Bible. Science suggests that hearing is the last of the senses prior to death, presumably the reason—and a good one—why people venture to talk to the unconscious. Our friend leaned down into Grama’s ear and recited the passage; at the line “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” my grandmother made an audible drone, the only sound any of us heard out of her that day and forever.

The End

Joy and Cheryl, two of my sisters, were determined to keep vigil and not leave Grama to die alone. They were the saddest of anyone having been the closest to Grama of the five siblings. They had taken the most of her care and heed through the years, especially Cheryl who had now managed her affairs for a long time.

It was no surprise to me that they waited. I was sad in theory. I loved my grandmother and my heart had suffered some whenever I sat with her. Still, I saw death as a natural part of life and it no longer rattled me as it did when I was half my age. And I think that’s how you get through it, by remembering that death is personal for us all. Grama had now lived to be eighty-nine years old, well past life expectancy, but one expects old people to die. Young deaths and tragic ones are tougher, for their abruptness and intrusion, but the elderly just fade away. I wondered if I was supposed to feel sadder.

Grama passed at 3:30 in the morning. It was June 29, an otherwise happy day on the family calendar because it is Joy’s birthdate.

Joy reported that Grama sat up suddenly and looked around. My sister jumped out of her seat calling aloud to Grama trying to arrest her attention. Whether Grama saw her cannot be known. When I heard this I thought of the Resurrection account of the dead supposedly returning to the streets of Jerusalem at their pass into the heavens; and out of a cancer-eaten body my grandmother’s spirit lifted, too.

She very well might have caught a glimpse of the room and my sisters, but I imagine that the vista into which she rushed was rapturous. No sooner than she had sat up, she lay down again, and like that she was gone.

Advertisements

The God We Cannot Hear

CC BY-NC, davidgsteadman, Flickr

CC BY-NC, davidgsteadman, Flickr

I drew comparison between a parable of Jesus and an idea being debated in a group discussion. A person quickly replied, “You can easily use a scripture to justify your own point.” It was the last statement of the session before we all dispersed; however, I left a little irritated.

The comment offended me for a few reasons. First, it came from a person who knows me very well, my love of the scriptures and diligence with them. So it peeved me that he could think that I should be guilty of sloppy study and a sleazy hermeneutic. His comment was a slap in the face that charged, “You’re like the rest of ‘em, twisting God’s words to prove your own point.”

Second, I recognized how that attitude renders Holy Scripture an abstruse, even esoteric, text irrelevant to 21st century life and modern thought. For either we believe as Solomon said—“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun”—and accept that moral and ethical values have been fairly consistent throughout history, making the wisdom of the Bible very much relevant for us today; or we deem life now and ourselves to be exceptional and devalue the Bible and all historical wisdom since they cannot make sense of our experience.

In that case, my only advice to my friend would be, “Okay, just make sure you never use the Bible or some ancient proverb to make a point”—or to live by. We cannot have it both ways, or feel that God’s words comport with any measure of moral relativism.

The truly frightening thing is the possibility that some of us have made the scriptures to say only what we’ve cared to hear. Yet in so doing, we would have merely elucidated falsehoods, which is something Jesus tackles in his Sermon on the Mount.

“You have heard it said”—because oral tradition, reinterpretation, and commentary had altered and appended God’s own words to claim something he had not said—“but I say unto you…” Jesus’s point stands: don’t misconstrue God’s sentiments. And don’t use him to push your own program but chafe when the Word finally judges you.

The real issue here, in the remark made to me, is certainly not my agenda with scripture, but rather the glaring admission of a poor spiritual foundation and lack of deep study.

Friends, we are not charmers or peddlers of a religious snake oil. We haven’t died to sin and reckoned ourselves ready to die for Christ’s sake for a false hope. No, God’s words are true and powerful, very relevant to life, and will forever stand.

Fellowship, Plain and Simple

CC BY-NC, Geoff Reedy, Flickr

CC BY-NC, Geoff Reedy, Flickr

If you were to ask me what I like to do, there are many things I could tell you. I like moseying through bookstores. I like Sunday afternoon drives. I like thoughtful conversation and debate. I really like baked goods with big bowls of vanilla ice cream.

But more than all of these things I like being with others. I love people. I love acquainting and enjoying folk. Beside God there is no greater subject in life, and our things serve the backdrop for vibrant relationship.

Losing Our Humanity

I wonder if many of us do not value one another as we should—or if not one another, then our time spent with each other. It’s a conversation worth discussing. Technology is seriously privatizing our lives in ways we could have never imagined in the past. Face-time has drastically decreased and impersonal relationships are the trend. Frankly, traditional family life and meaningful communication is eroding. We are spending more time looking into cell phones and computers than we do into one another’s eyes.

We’ve become people afraid of the silences—the long car rides, the between-bites at dinner, the beckoning, open doorways that invite us into a person’s day or life. Instead, we opt for noise. We get in our cars and instantly turn on the stereo. Television sets the mood for most homes. We lounge together in our living rooms each transfixed on a device perhaps texting one another.

We would be lying or terribly unmindful if we denied that innovation could be helping us unravel our inner well-being by nipping and tucking at the parts of our humanity that need not be altered.

Humanity Regained

Things mean more to us when we experience them with others. I’ve been fortunate to take my dream vacation, and I was lucky enough to have it at Christmas. Yet I was alone. It was a fantastic time, but I kept saying to myself, Oh, I wish _________ were here! Things can never replace people. Too often we get the message when loved ones die and we realize that we didn’t know them the way we should have known them, and that’s a true sadness. Humans are designed to be relational.

I encourage you to develop a habit of simple fellowship, something I can call a healthy habit of mine. It could be viewed as a combination of two spiritual disciplines—simplicity and fellowship—with the goal of being truly participative in the lives of the people around us in ordinary, even artless, ways.

Shut the TV off, take the family outdoors, and have wild fun—remember the joy of spraying each other with water and playing badminton in the backyard? There is no greater enjoyable relational tool than the board game: keep them around. And why not invite over the neighbors you’ve only ever waved to and grill out. Didn’t you love it when the whole neighborhood was like family?

Do these types of things. Draw on those modest activities that thrilled you when you were young, perhaps before the Information Age, and create ways to share time with others. Practice them regularly as a way of pushing back against society’s redefinition of social acceptance and importance. Perform them to reclaim normalcy in your life. Let your actions be replete with the affection, harmony, and mutual respect that make us human and keep the world beautiful.

And never ever forget that being fully human is deeply spiritual and God’s only design for us.

The Goal of Religious Practice

CC BY-NC, Hezi Ben-Ari, Flickr

CC BY-NC, Hezi Ben-Ari, Flickr

Do not be hastily critical of Christianity as religion. It is the door by which we enter faith. We are to blame, however, should we not walk along far enough and discover relationship, for it is the heart of the house. What do you seek? If religion is what you seek, then religion is all you will get. But if it is Christ whom you desire, then he will surely be found by you—and your religion will lead you to him.

There are the passionate believers who gripe that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship—and then there’s me.

Trust me: I’m not looking for a fight or trying to be right; I just need to add some depth to the discussion. After all, in a purely superficial way, none of us would be Christians if Christianity wasn’t a religion, its earliest defenders having fought to the death for its doctrines and orthodoxy.

So there is more to be said about what is meant by these comments and still more that some of us need to understand about the worth of religious practice.

Religious Practices

My first task here is to pare down the word “religion” to emphasize the practice and ritual aspects of the word, which is broad and encompasses far-ranging elements, like culture, belief systems, and deities; and focusing on religious practice, enjoin it with our faith and beliefs in the Christian God.

Being so mindful then, what any of us will learn about all religions is that they entail personal and corporate rituals that connect adherents to a deeper reality, spirituality, or divinity. What Christians may find surprising is that their disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting, and the like are very much the same practices found in other religions, although they may be performed differently and toward a different end.

Spiritual disciplines (or practices, habits) are tools of the interior life that usher a person into a deeper and more meaningful experience and interaction with his or her value system or divinity. They achieve this by introducing behaviors that eliminate vice, produce virtue, develop restraint, and refine sensibilities; personal results can be highly transformational. Such ardent practice will achieve its purpose whether one is Christian or Hindu.

Christian Spiritual Habits

Christian spiritual formation uses religious habits to develop a loving fellowship with Jesus Christ. Christians practice a catalog of spiritual habits to achieve this: (more common ones like) study (devotional and academic) to know God through the Bible and theology; meditation to fill the soul with God’s words and thoughts; prayer and fasting; confession; worship; (and less common ones like) hospitality and secrecy.

These are very much aspects of religion and an essential part of Christian faith.

Spiritual habits, however, do not guarantee that the one practicing them is connecting (in this case) to God. We all should seek to be very devout persons, but not all will be because, truthfully, they don’t care to be. We should be more concerned, however, about those who do go through the motions…pray, read their Bibles, church, yet their lives evince little evidence of Christ. Either way, there is always more waiting for us.

The beleaguered Christians I referenced earlier are really insisting against being caught up in a system of rules and legalistic injunctions that would extinguish a vibrant faith rather than enhance it. I understand this. But religion and religious practice, although we can personally make it tedious and false, is not the problem.

Buried Treasure

I find that we skip to the relationship aspect of Christianity so quickly that we largely miss the depth and range of Christian religion, in general, and certainly its practice. Ask most people in our churches today anything about classic Christian spirituality, and you may both stand there embarrassed. People convert to Christ with excitement then predictably grow stale and frustrated because they don’t know what living a Christian life entails.

Many of our churches have altogether missed the point. Our purpose seems to feverishly get people saved, an important thing, but we have often not produced a clear picture of discipleship, which encapsulates everything we do, from conversion to converting.

I believe the spiritual habits rest at the very center of a vibrant relationship with Christ and a wholesome church. Furthermore, I think it is imperative that we do more looking back to our moorings and earliest practices to not only avoid sin, but also to ward off the spiritual frothiness of this generation and the proliferation of Christian pop culture that characterizes very many churches.

Means to an End

Jesus was a Jew and practiced the rituals and habits of Judaism. His denunciation of the Pharisees and religious leaders was not an attack on religion, but their legalism.

Christ is indeed the heart of Christianity, but the way we acquaint him is through conscientious religious practice. It is the corridor leading to where he reposes. Remember, the presence of God was at the heart of the Temple, but there was a (God-ordained) manner in approaching it.

God’s message to us has always been “Be ye holy, as I am holy,” but to answer the question of how we become holy, Jesus says things like, “When you pray…when you fast…”

“Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship.” I think it’s both.

“I am Square,” Said the Circle

(Look carefully) CC BY-NC, zorro013, Flickr

(Look carefully)
CC BY-NC, zorro013, Flickr

More commonly you’ll read in an article or hear someone on television say something like this: “I believe it’s important for you to unashamedly live your truth” or “I have become more successful as I’ve discovered what is real for me.” What is alarming is to hear Christian people pick up this notion.

The “live your truth” idea is a fashion of moral relativism, which purports that there is no absolute moral law that objectively applies to everyone everywhere at any time. It’s a “have it your way” philosophy for which there is no right way and belongs to a secular humanist worldview that shuts God out and elevates the value of humans and human contribution.

Apart from the impossibility of living strictly by relativist notions (what happens when my relativism conflicts with your relativism and whose is right?), live your truth people or “truthers” have to deceive themselves to believe that there do not exist moral and ethical boundaries regarding what they ought and ought not be or do. The argument is simply impossible to overcome logically. It becomes slightly easier, however, when God or a moral lawgiver is excised.

What the Ducklings Teach Us

In psychology the term imprinting is used to describe a period or stage in the life of a person or animal, generally young, when behavior is acquired from its parents or perceived parent. We’ve all learned how crucial it is for certain animals to be with their parents after birth and not with humans or inanimate objects that they could take to be their parent.

The young one’s identity and safety are at stake, so it’s important for it to grow up to live and act as it should and not as it might wrongly think of itself. A boy that would be raised by apes never becomes an ape and certainly no Tarzan; instead, he lives as a severely limited human.

Christian people who sincerely pose as truthers are confused. To start, Christians believe in an open system where God is real and acts providentially in the world and for human life. Christians also believe that God is the only moral lawgiver and that his ways are essentially “written in the wind” and apply equally to all humanity and always have. Humanity, although ingenious and capable of great good, is morally fallen and gains spiritual significance as it adheres to God’s moral and ethical duties.

God has never told us to discover what is right for us but to learn his ways, understand his truth, know his will. We are to be holy as he is and lovingly do his bidding. He stands as the rightful imprint of our lives, for we bear his moral image. We walk the way he walks, exactly how he walks, and no further than where he walks. There is no place for “our truth” because we have none to offer. The Battle Hymn of the Republic has it right—“His truth is marching on!”

Further, it’s inadvisable to define ourselves by things we discover about ourselves—what if it is unbecoming or antagonistic to God’s will for us?  This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t learn more about who we are, our strengths and weaknesses or the issues or vices that operate in our lives. But it does mean that what we discover is placed under the lordship of Christ and either serves his will for us or is diligently eliminated from our hearts.

John the Baptist

CC BY-NC, david_shankbone, Flickr

CC BY-NC, david_shankbone, Flickr

John the Baptist—the more I think of him the more I consider how his peculiar upbringing must have resembled Jesus’s.

The archangel Gabriel had detailed John’s life and purpose to his father Zechariah in the temple. John would be great and greatly used by God. Certainly Zechariah and Elizabeth were proud to know this, declared by the chief emissary of Heaven. “He will be a joy and delight to you,” Gabriel had promised.

But I wonder what became of their mood as John grew. This son of the priest bore a deep spirituality, but did it look like it was going off the rails as it evolved? Did his attitude toward Israel, fierce message of repentance, and uncustomary baptism of Jews seem radical to his parents? And were they maxed out and questioning God when John left the comfort of home for the wilderness, a preaching ascetic and possible embarrassment to his father?

I don’t know. Perhaps Zechariah had learned well from his first bout of unbelief and muteness and fully trusted despite his concerns. Furthermore, how do we respond to our relatives and acquaintances when their pattern of life or spirituality takes turns that throw our minds into tailspins? It can be scary to watch.

Everything’s Gonna Be All Right

Most of us haven’t had the assurance of an angel that our Johnny was gonna be okay. It would be great if there were a way to be certain that the people we love would turn out all right in their emotional and spiritual development. Since there isn’t, we have to do the next best things, which I will explain.

Concerns or problems do not exist in vacuums; people are involved. We must remember that dealing with potential issues is necessarily relational. We must avail ourselves to people about whom we have concerns. No one appreciates being viewed as a problem or problematic. Even mentally ill people deserve the respect of being treated as persons.

True care for people makes it easier for us to hear them, see the issue fully or discern whether there really is one, and offer our knowledge and counsel. We cannot help people we do not love.

Moreover, we must sometimes release people to discover their own way. This can be hard but none of us like hearing stories about folk hard-pressed by religious rearing who rebel. We would never want to create haters of God.

Freedom grants a person the ability to detach from all he or she knows to rummage through the piles of acquired wisdom and decide for themselves what they believe—and we should respect a person’s right to think and choose for themselves. Joshua expresses this marvelously: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served…or the gods…in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (24:15).

We should not view this negatively, as though we release a person to their doom. This is to forget the providence of God. Sometimes people go through periods of questioning, conflict, or gloom like stages in birth without which we would never see the light of greatness within them. No, we never give up on others but can be certain that God will control what we cannot.

The process may not always feel good or look glamorous, but just because it doesn’t look like what we expected doesn’t mean God isn’t in it. We just have to trust him.

Now, Back to John…

We see the full picture of John the Baptist and know that he was among the greatest Hebrew prophets. He must have owned a deep spirituality and interaction with God, for he sensed a profound call and exercised astute spiritual discipline.

I can imagine that John would have been viewed as uncouth by many of his society when, in fact, he was spiritually avant-garde. But he was what he was—by some an assumed religious quack roaming the back country—because of what was inside of him. John’s process was the only way for his greatness to come forth.

John’s testimony of Jesus (John 1:29-34) is pretty revealing to me of God’s power and reality in his life. John and Jesus didn’t know one another, and John had no reason to know that Jesus was the Messiah until he baptized him. But it wasn’t merely the baptism that pointed out Christ to John; Jesus already existed in John’s pronounced spiritual aptitude. Look and ponder carefully:

I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit’ (1:32-33).

If Zechariah and Elizabeth could have only seen how their boy turned out.

More on this topic: God, Our Contender

Explaining God’s Mystery

CC BY-NC, BlueStar, Flickr

Christian leaders who have the opportunity to address issues publicly should be careful to give accurate explanations for God. Common inquiries range from why evil exists to cultural changes to how God judges matters. Sometimes, however, many in our faith community offer responses that only engender more questions or those to which we default with basic salvation answers—“The scriptures say that if you do not confess Jesus as your Savior, then hell will be your eternal home.” But these responses are wooden and difficult for the un-churched.

I don’t dispute anything the scriptures explain. I do believe, however, that formulated answers to really tough questions may create unnecessary problems for Christians rather than solve them. Besides, being formulaic doesn’t truly represent a deep, coherent theology or the heart of a loving and wise God.

As a seminary student I always felt that theology is rooted in 1) the truth about God as he has revealed to us, 2) faith in God and his character, and 3) a healthy acknowledgement of mystery. Most believers score well on the first two. But our faith in God rests at a deeper level when we can confess that many times we simply don’t understand him and all the things he says and does.

I believe the Bible is God’s revealed Word to humankind, true in its message and perfect in its intent. Yet I also believe that some of that record can be difficult to understand. I acknowledge that God and his ways, other than what has been explained in Christian theology, are incredibly shrouded in mystery.

Mystery fills in all the space surrounding the hard questions of life that century after century have stood as stalwart as when they first troubled the minds of humans. But we allow ourselves to get in trouble when we let our theology nail God down to an exact science.

I must learn to answer many questions outsiders ask with God’s heart. I know what the Bible says and often they do, too. But God is more than dogma and easy answers. He is feeling and caring and loving; sometimes we fail at presenting this side of God. I feel that if the world wants real answers from the Church, we would do well to risk explaining truth along with God’s heart.

For instance, I don’t fully know how God deals with people for whom it isn’t apparent they believed on him before dying, especially people who never knew of Jesus. These are things none of us understand. And, yes, I know that not believing on Jesus as Lord is unforgivable. But what about those who walked uprightly by the light of their conscience and those implications Paul alludes to in Romans 2:11-16? I just don’t know, but I can be honest about the mystery of it all.

So we all struggle with God’s revelation and to interpret scripture in order to know how God thinks about a matter—and I must say that for most things the truth is not hard to figure out. But I deplore those who have all the answers. They often do more damage than good.

What our theology has given us, let us learn well. Let us also do well to communicate it with grace, tact, and the honesty to say “I don’t know.”

On Religion

Flickr cathedral spire

Mike Smail, Flickr

Do not be hastily critical of Christianity as religion. It is the door by which we enter faith. We are to blame, however, should we not walk along far enough and discover relationship, for it is the heart of the house.

What do you seek? If religion is what you seek, then religion is all you will get. But if it is Christ whom you desire, then he will surely be found by you—and your religion will lead you to him. It is not possible to enjoy relationship apart from religion. Godly practice guarantees fellowship and fellowship sanctifies the practice.