Faith


I love my idealized self. The me that I imagine in my head is really amazing.

I have a far more difficult time loving the self who actually exists in the real world. The real me has weaknesses and flaws.

The story of Jesus shows us that God loves us, the real us, weak and flawed.

Tom Wright helped me see this in Jesus’ appearance to Peter in John 21:9-17, in ways that are not obvious in many of our English translations.

Setting of the Story: The smell of a charcoal fire burning was in the air as Jesus cooked breakfast. Peter had smelt a charcoal fire burning earlier in the Priests Courts where he had denied Jesus three times.

Jesus: Peter, do you love me?

Peter: Yes, Lord I am your friend.

Jesus: Feed my lambs.

Jesus: Peter, do you love me.

Peter: Lord, I am your friend.

Jesus: Feed my sheep.

Jesus: Peter, are you my friend?

Peter was grieved that he could not say more, and that Jesus had to adjust the question.

Peter: Lord, you know everything. You know that I am your friend.

Jesus: Feed my sheep.

A couple of observations on this story:

First, Jesus meets Peter where he is. Surely, both men would have preferred for Peter to say that he loved Jesus. He could not do it.  Jesus accepted what Peter could give.  Likewise, Jesus graciously meets us were we are.

Second, Jesus’ forgiveness comes in the form of a commission for Peter. That pattern still holds true today. We are forgiven and we are sent. All authentic ministry is rooted in the forgiving love of God.

May we learn to accept the love of the God who has taken our denials and our imperfections and has graciously dealt with them in Jesus.

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Sometimes I feel a little claustrophobic.
There are times when my plans, setting and ideas feel small. Sometimes that means I need a change something in my life. Sometimes it is just my own internal issues and restlessness. Sometimes I simply need to place everything in the context of the biblical story.
The story of the scriptures is large enough to capture the corner of the world that I experience and the world that I sense is beyond what I know. The biblical story feels like a wide open field, a vast ocean, or a majestic mountain range to my claustrophobic soul.
Here is a quick summary of reality as I see it revealed in the bible:
God created everything.
Sin warped everything.
God is healing everything.
God invites every person to experience healing in every area of life.

Now that is a big story! It is a story in which everything matters and everything belongs.
I find freedom to run, explore, play and work in the picture of reality described in the biblical story.

My faith became real to me in high school. In my excitement, I took in all the information about God I could get. If someone said that God said something, I took their word for it. I thought that was they way to growth – just accept what you are told.

Those were the days of the first Gulf War. I occasionally watched “bible prophecy” preachers on TV. They claimed that the war was fulfilling a long list of prophecies from the Bible. They insisted that the war was the beginning of the battle of Armageddon, and that Jesus’ return was just around the corner.

The preachers on TV said that it was all in the Bible. I wanted all the Bible that I could get, so I believed them.

Then I was faced with the reality of events. The predictions that the prophecy preachers made did not occur! Jesus didn’t return in 1991. The first Gulf War ended, and it was not the Armageddon of the Scriptures.

Then I was faced with the reality of what the Bible actually said. I majored in Bible in college, including a semester in Jerusalem. I discovered that the TV preacher’s favorite bible prophecies had nothing to do with the Gulf War.

Reality taught me some difficult, but important lessons. When a person declares that the Bible says something, it doesn’t always mean that is what the Bible really says. A preacher shouting that God says something, doesn’t always mean that is what God really says.

While I once believed that the most spiritual thing you can do was to accept everything you were told without question, I have learned that sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to ask questions about what you are told.

I am not referring to hostile, fearful agenda-driven questions. Those normally do more harm than good.

I am speaking of the questions that you ask when you hear things said about someone you love, the questions you ask when you hear things about someone you long to know more fully. I would not believe everything said about my wife. Nor will I believe everything said about God.

In that spirit, I have discovered one of the best spiritual disciplines and one of the greatest acts of worship is to question what we are taught about God. God will be delighted to meet you in your questions.

In the final weeks of a seminary class, the professor began to do something that drove me crazy. He had a lot of material to cover, and in order to save time on complex topics the professor began to just say, “The conservative position is …, OK.

The school that I was attending was on the conservative end of the spectrum on many theological positions, so his statement was code for “the right position.” It worked for most of the class. Most heads in the room nodded in agreement.

It did not work for me. I did not care that it was the “conservative” position. I wanted to know what was true.

I was not against having a “conservative” position (If so, I would have attended a different school!), nor was I interested in having a “liberal” position. I was not in school to signing off on the company line, or adopt the party platform, or buy all the products with a certain label.

My goal was to encounter what was real and good. While labels are quick and easy, they do to answer the deeper questions: What is true? What is real? What is good? A label just can not go there.

At best, a label simply tells you what tribe currently holds the position. However, labels often mean different things in different circles. For example, this same professor was considered “conservative” by some scholars, but he was under attack in other circles for being too “liberal.” Labels are often meaningless.

At others times, the labels are just plain wrong. I pastor friend recently told me that the more he understands the Bible and teaches what it says, the more he is labeled “unbiblical.”

I see labeling increasing in both church and culture. People place simple labels on complex ideas, people, or movements. We use a label to quickly embrace or reject something without doing the hard work thinking and discerning its real validity or value.

We simply nod or shake our head at the label, and we miss discovering what is true, what is real and what is good.

This month the Impact Community is doing a series called “Conversations.” It is series designed to foster better relationships between the mainstream white evangelical church and four different marginalized people groups. Each week will include an apology letter from the church to that community.

This week we discussed other religious communities. This is our apology.

Dear People of Other Faith Communities,

I’m sorry.

I know it’s not every day you hear those words from me.

But that’s where I wanted to start.

I’m sorry.

I am sorry that I too often confuse who you are as a person with certain beliefs or traditions of your religion. I have too often equated your humanity with your doctrine or practices, and sometimes not even accurate understandings of those things. In doing so, I have treated you less than human.

I am sorry that I have held to my convictions in a way that has forfeited true dialogue with you. Rather than engaging in meaningful conversation, I have simply been afraid. By doing this, I perpetuated the isolation and division of our tribes.

But there is more.  I have confused God’s revelation with my own cleverness. Too often I have elevated myself to a position that belongs solely to God. Instead of being a grateful recipient of grace, I have acted as if truth originates with me. In doing so, I have put myself above you.

I am sorry that I have confused an act of love with an act of war. I have taken what God intended to be “good news for all people” and turned it into “reasons why I am right and you are wrong.” What God intended to be a healing balm, I turned into a battle axe. In doing so, I have treated you as my greatest enemy rather than a fellow beggar looking for bread.

I do not want to minimize your beliefs or mine by saying something sappy like “our religions are the same.” We both know that our faiths have some important differences as well as similarities.  But those differences are no reason to minimize who you are as a person – God’s image-bearer.

For this I am sorry.  I’m sorry. You deserve better.  Jesus’ name deserves better.

Please forgive me,

Signed- The Church

(Letter by Jim Vining and Sarah DePriest)

This month the Impact Community is doing a series called “Conversations.” It is series designed to foster better relationships between the mainstream white evangelical church and four different marginalized people groups. Each week will include an apology letter from the church to that community.

This week we discussed the homeless community. This is our apology.

Dear Homeless Community,

I’m sorry.

I know it’s not every day you hear those words from me.

But that’s where I wanted to start.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that too often I have chosen to overlook you. I’m sorry for every time I have crossed the street in order to avoid awkwardly passing you; for every time that me eyes glance downwards, refusing to look into your eyes; for every time in my actions I have made you feel as though you are less than human; I am sorry.

In my better moments I have compassion.  In my bad moments I wonder what you did to find yourself in this situation.  In my worst moments I simply and arrogantly ascribe your loss to laziness, assuring myself that no respectable and hard-working person could ever wind up in your shoes.  I rarely, if ever, stop to think of the dizzying array of circumstances, some completely outside of your control, that might have led you to this point.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that I refuse you basic generosity while refusing myself not even the smallest of pleasures.  I’m sorry that I tell you I have no money while walking into Starbucks.  I’m sorry that too often I deprive you even of the basic generosity of conversation and touch.  More often than not I have believed lies about you.  I have told myself that I’m better.  I have done anything but follow the gracious, loving and compassionate model of our Savior and Lord.

For this I am sorry.  I’m sorry. You deserve better.  Jesus’ name deserves better.

Please forgive me,

Signed The Church

(Letter by Benj Petroelje and Sarah DePriest)

This month the Impact Community is doing a series called “Conversations.” It is series designed to foster better relationships between the mainstream white evangelical church and four different marginalized people groups. Each week will include an apology letter from the church to that community.

This week we discussed the L.G.B.T. community. This is our apology.


Dear  Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community,

I’m sorry.

I know it’s not every day you hear those words from me.

But that’s where I wanted to start.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for the words of hate I have used towards you. When speaking with you and about you my words have not been marked by grace the way our Lord’s words so often were.  Too often I have traded kindness for hate, compassion for cynicism, and grace-giving love for judgment.  From our leaders to our lay-people we have spoken of you in a way that makes you less than human – I have painted with broad and aggressive brushes when sensitivity was so desperately needed.

Sadly, almost worse than my words have been my actions.  I too often have been the bigot.  While some of my more outspoken brothers and sisters hold up signs and protest your lifestyle, I silently laugh at you and mock you behind your backs.  Worse yet, I arrogantly declare your sexual choices sinful, prying at the speck in your eye with a crowbar while I sit blinded to my own sexual deviance by the log that diminishes my vision.

Perhaps most devastating, I have not taken the time to even know you – to truly know you.  I have made assumptions about you and guarded myself from your “wicked” touch in my castles of ignorance.  I have not truly sought to hear your voice.  I have hidden behind the Bible as a way of making myself feel better than you rather than as a way of truly extending God’s grace and love to you.  I am content to form my opinions about you devoid of actually knowing you.  Better has been modeled for me; but I have not chosen His way.

For these things I am sorry.  I am sorry. You deserve better.  Jesus’ name deserves better.

Please forgive me,

Signed-The Church

(Letter by Benj Petroelje and Sarah DePriest)

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