Jesus Tag

What do you do when it starts raining and then it never stops? Somebody asked me that question yesterday. I was sitting across the table as this friend poured out the details of some really difficult things that are going on in his family right now. Really difficult things that I honestly can't understand or relate to because I've never been there myself. So for that reason, I wasn't sure how to answer his question. What do you do when things get dark and there's no light at the end of the tunnel? Actually, let me ask the question this way, because this gets right at the heart of things: What do you do when you pray, beg, cry out for Jesus to step in and calm a storm in your life, and then you wait and wait and wait for the peace to come and it just.....doesn't?

I'm sitting in Starbucks looking out the window. This is a typical Friday for me. Today, I'm trying to write a sermon for an event I've been asked to speak at in West Virginia in a couple weeks but I'm having trouble focusing. I often find a place to work away from my office where I can sip some coffee. And today, in less than an hour, I've seen no less than four cars drive by with "Jesus For All People" window decals. One person wearing a "Jesus For All People" t-shirt came in to order a non-fat latte. I was talking to two people I know who are part of the community of First Christian Church, where our vision, motto, and heartbeat is "Jesus For All People", and as we were talking, two more people who attend FCC that I've never met stopped to tell us how glad they are that God brought them to FCC. I'm sitting at the same table in Starbucks where I sat two-and-a-half years ago in an interview for a job that everything within me (and a few close friends) told me I shouldn't take. It meant taking a pay cut to move to a city I didn't know, to become the leader of a struggling ministry within a church that many on the inside and outside thought was dying, in a city that has been struggling economically for well over a decade.

I'll bet that if you and I were to sit down over coffee and I asked you if anything is worrying you or stressing you out, you'd be able to rattle off a handful of things without even thinking about it. I could too. There are a few things I've lost more than a little sleep over. Maybe you can relate to this: sometimes there are extended periods of life where it feels like that's my reality. It's more than just a season or a phase...stress just becomes part of the routine. You've most likely experienced the same feeling. We explain it away, try to ignore it or brush it under the rug, or do what we can to endure it. But worry is toxic. It's a slow-moving poison that is deadly. And because it tends to creep in a little at a time, we usually don't do anything about it until it's too late.

The past few days have made me sad. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, comment threads on news articles, conversations outside Starbucks...everywhere I look, everywhere I am, I hear anger. Hatred. Even rage. At the same time, I hear hurt. Pain. Sadness. In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision regarding homosexual marriage, it's all over the place. I know you've seen it too. I'm not assigning a certain behavior, action, attitude or feeling to one "side" or another. I see it all on both "sides" of the issue. This past week, I've heard one phrase more than almost any other. I've seen Christians, even well-intentioned, compassionate, grace-giving Christ-followers, use this phrase:

"Love the sinner, hate the sin."

But is it working?

As far back as I can remember, I've always had a very particular perception of Jesus. I don't think my version of Jesus was shaped by any particular person or event more than any other. Just years and years of filtering and layering and processing that have all worked together to create a finished product that fits my mold. My version of Jesus was a white guy. I don't mean that to be racist in any way. That's just how I grew up picturing Him in my mind. Maybe you did too. Probably had something to do with all the Bible bookstore paintings that hang on walls of churches and homes of people who like Bible bookstore paintings.

If you're a youth pastor or leader, how would your students respond if I asked them what the most important thing you want them to know is? There are so many important things you want to teach. So many things you want them to hear, to own, and to hang onto. But I want to suggest something to you. Just something for you to chew on. This is the single-most important thing I tell my students, and I hope every one of them knows that. It's even more important than telling them:
  • God loves you.
  • Jesus died for you.
  • You need a Savior.
  • I love you.
  • Love each other.
  • Care for the poor.
  • Share your faith.
  • [insert your favorite thing here]

I don't know if you're like me, but whenever I read the Bible I look for the hidden truths. I'm always looking for the part I might have missed at first glance. I was reading a story Jesus told in Luke chapter 15 last week and had one of those moments.

"If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won't he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.' In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven't strayed away."

He told this story to communicate an important truth to two specific groups of people: