Am I Enough?

On the patio under a beautiful Kansas sky grilling steak, I couldn’t help but think about Pastor Steve Furtick and an oft-spoken phrase of his:  “Christ is in me.  I am enough.”  You’ll see it on his Twitter timeline quite a bit.

In full disclosure, I enjoy listening to Pastor Furtick preach.  I love to hear other preachers to get out of my own head.  I enjoy the vast volumes of podcasts, a world of ideas at my fingertips.  I am also a voracious reader.  At the same time, I look for authentic, wise, and intellectually stimulating stuff.  I am not a consumer of the dearth of materials churned out at break-neck speed by the vast evangelical industrial complex.  But I love when something a preacher says makes me think and engages a dialogue of ideas to break up the monotony of otherwise “same-ol” days.

Since I haven’t written for months, mostly because a topic seldom strikes my fancy, I thought I’d chime in on this question:

Am I enough?

Taking into consideration the theological suppositions Pastor Furtick holds out, and appreciating that he is saying something that is new and fresh for many people, I want to say something without undermining the pastoral aspects of his statement.  What he says has tremendous value in the care of souls, but somehow it gives me no comfort.

I know that I am not enough.  My theological pedigree is stellar, my faith moves mountains, I have a knack for accomplishing the impossible, I have a tremendous testimony.  I may have spoken in tongues once or twice, and healed a few people by laying on of hands.

I better stop before I have to let out my hat.

Wealth, check.  Friends in the highest of places, check.  An amazing, gorgeous wife (think Melania Trump type of wife- OK we’re older now, but my wife always be a knockout), check.  Brilliant, sweet and beautiful children, check.  Ministering in the most unlikely places around the world, check.

See, I’m so wonderful I can’t help myself.

I mean, if I really look at my life, it’s a wonder I even need Jesus.

But I do.  Because I’m not enough.  Even with Christ in me, I am not enough.

St. Paul communicated the Gospel differently than Pastor Furtick.  Pastor Furtick probably means to speak to broken people.  The secret about human nature is that even broken people tend to think more of themselves than we ought.

2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'”

And in 2 Corinthians 3:5 he says, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.”

In other words: Christ is in me, and Christ is enough.

Of course, I often joke that the full holiness of the Gospel is too often lost on beautiful people.

I mean, St. Paul, he was in love with a beautiful Jewish girl.  He had a falling out with her father who some traditions believe was the high priest.  She didn’t fight to stay with him.  Some scholars suggest that he was so homely she was relieved to be done with him.  Thus you have Paul’s great speech, “A Pharisee of Pharisees,” he says, talking up all of his monumental accomplishments.

But even with Christ, he knew that he was not sufficient before God.  He knew that Jesus came to fulfill all sufficiency on our behalf.

                             Pastor Furtick                                                 Apostle Paul

So for me it seems to be a matter of point of view.  I mean, look at Pastor Furtick- or is that Drake?  I don’t know.  But Saint Paul?  I mean, can Jesus really do anything for this guy?  His mother tied a pork chop around his neck just so the dog would play with him…

It makes sense that “Christ is in me,  I am enough” is comforting for Pastor Furtick.  But what do you do when, even with Christ and the cross and the promise of salvation, you are still not enough?

For the rest of us, Paul’s words bring comfort: “Christ is enough.  Christ is sufficient.  His grace is sufficient for me.”  The story of my life might be ugly, even hideous- the things I’ve lived through and the things I’ve seen, and I may never be able to be as “whole” as other folks but:

Christ is in me.  Christ is enough.

 

 

Lost Causes

I am a lost cause.  There, I’ve said it.  I am a lost cause.  There is nothing left in me but the smallest grain of a mustard seed.  Nothing.  Praise the Lord that even faith the size of the mustard seed is used by our Lord Jesus to make something, to do something, to save us for eternity.

Truth be told, I don’t remember a time- even since I was 3 or 4 years old- that I didn’t know this about myself.  It is who I am.  It is who God made me to be.

But it is also who God sent me to minister to, to comfort, to show the glories of a miraculous God and a Savior whose love is perfection, to defend the hurting and hopeless from the arrogance of arrogant Christian leaders, to give them over to God.

But mostly I identify with St. Jude because where others see impossibilities and hopelessness, I see potential and the limitless beauty of the human soul made in the image of God.  When others say, “It can’t be done,” I say, “God can do it.”  Of course my wife often reminds me, “I know God can do it, but I’m not so sure you can!”

When I look at a life demolished into rubble, I can see the Cornerstone just waiting for the right moment.  I believe God shows me how to make the impossible possible.  I myself am a pastor who is a lost cause seeing the possibilities of God bloom into fragrant flowers from dead wood everyday.

Somewhere between the impossibilities fueled by human faithlessness and the undisputed miracles of God are believers who don’t shrink in fear from the lost cause.

And this is why, though I haven’t been a Catholic since I was 6 years old, St. Jude has come to represent for me, not only who I am, but who some Christian souls in Dodge City are.

Jude, also called Thaddeus, was Jesus Christ’s Cousin.  His mother Mary was the cousin of the Virgin Mary.  Ancient writers tell us that he preached the Gospel in Judea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Lybia. According to Eusebius, he returned to Jerusalem in the year 62, and assisted at the election of his brother, St. Simeon, as Bishop of Jerusalem.  St. Jude’s cousin St. James- the brother of Jesus and the first Bishop of Jerusalem, was martyred that year.  This is why they needed to select a new Bishop of the Church.  A survey of historians suggest that St. Jude was martyred by the Persians- the leaders of modern day Iran.

Jude was known to carry a club.  Was it to protect himself on his evangelistic travels?  Did he use it to beat off the murderers of Christians?  Was it because he was known for having little patience for the shenanigans of fake Christians?  Maybe he brought it with him to every church council meeting?

You decide.

But read here why St. Jude is known as the saint of  “desperate causes, desperate situations, and lost causes.”

Jude 1:1-25  Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:  (2)  May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.  (3)  Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  (4)  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.  (5)  Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.  (6)  And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day– (7)  just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.  (8)  Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.  (9)  But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”  (10)  But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.  (11)  Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion.  (12)  These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted;  (13)  wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.  (14)  It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones,  (15)  to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”  (16)  These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.  (17)  But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (18)  They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”  (19)  It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.

Could you imagine living like this as a Christian, in your Church, in your City, next door to your neighbors?  Too many of us already do.  But St. Jude is for the lost causes like us.  He reminds us of the amazing and unfathomable love of God even in the midst of the scoffers, of the ungodly people who already crept into the Church but are yet destined for damnation.

Does Jude tell us to beat them out of the temple?  Does he tell us to pour hate and speak death into their lives?

No.

Here’s what Jude tells us, in the most desperate situations and most lost causes:

(20)  But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,  (21)  keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.  (22)  And have mercy on those who doubt;  (23)  save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.  (24)  Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,  (25)  to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

These words don’t say, “Dear Brethren, if you are at a church that is full of nasty people, kneel to the floor and submit to them.

No.

These words of Jude speak directly to today’s American Church.  They are true.  They are happening even now just as you breathe.

These words, and this is very serious, these words of God are true right now.  Not just for the people Jude wrote his letter to:

(4)  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

He speaks of people sitting next to you in the pew, next to you in the boardroom.  And with his club in his hand, St. Jude sends us a warning today.

Somrong Young

One of the greatest pleasures I take in life is teaching young Christians so that they have a larger view of the world, equipping them with knowledge that will help them be successful in this global “Christian Economy” of God’s mission in the world.  English is the official second language of the nation and the Christian Church has grown tremendously the last 20 years in part because of the commitment of Christians to learn English.  English opens up partnerships all over the world, from the U.S.A. to Canada, Austrailia, Britain, and even South Korea.  I believe it is these relationships that helped to train and equip pastors so quickly in Cambodia.

And today, these partnerships are more important than ever, but Cambodia truly is no longer in need of the traditional missionary. Cambodia, still a very poor country, is in need of our financial support, not American agendas.

The finest young men and women of the nation have taken up the call to ministry.  Some are pastors, others are teachers and principals, others worship leaders and administrators.  God has blessed the Cambodian Church with every gift.

In fact, not many American Churches enjoy this “outpouring of the spirit,” this kind of blessing.  I for one have not served as pastor in a single Church that knows Jesus and loves Jesus the same as these Christians of Cambodia.

Maybe that’s because I’ve spent most of my life as a Lutheran, I don’t know.

Mega Churches?  They don’t get Jesus the way the Christians in Cambodia get Jesus.  Multi-staff parishes?  That’s more form over substance than it is Jesus as Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  The pastors making 80k a year in the average American Church?  You will be hard pressed to find one that works as hard and with as much commitment as the Cambodian pastor earning $150 a month.  And oftentimes that poor American Pastor, well kept, is dying of boredom in congregations that have the laziest leadership known to man- positions given to them by birth-right, because their daddy bought some chairs 50 years ago, rather than according to their spiritual gifts.

And the so-called “power is in the local congregations” that denominations like Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ seem to incessantly proclaim when it suits the national leadership, carry no responsibility for the success or failure of the ministries they serve.  Their hands are always clean because they get the big bucks to not get dirty.  Sure they plan one gathering a year and one leadership conference a year.  But why are all their churches dying?

I certainly don’t want to romanticize the Cambodian Church.  Some sectors are fraught with difficulties, particularly when American Missionaries get involved, but the American Church  runs after an idealism much the same as the American Socialists chase after a Communist utopia that is forever out of grasp.

Here, as in much of the world outside the United States, Jesus is the ideal. They are doing what Christians in America, at least in my corner of American Lutheranism, are faithlessly terrified to do.

They are following Jesus.

Identical People

One thing that I’ve noticed more than ever during my travels this month, is that people all over the world really are the same.  They look the same.  They react the same.  I’m not saying that every person is identical, but instead that there are “types” of people that can be found across all nationalities.  I’m convinced, simply by observation, that there really are only 5 or 6 “looks”- 5 or 6 ways that people look.

There’s the long face, the short face, the round face, the square face, the old face…

Then there’s the short and heavy, short and skinny, tall and heavy, tall and skinny, and somewhere in-between.

I can’t tell you what the average white guy looks like, or African or Asian Guy.  After seeing tens of thousands of people over the course of a few days, we all just look the same.  There is not much variety or difference between members of the human race.

And so what is this about diversity?  We get upset about the same things, we listen to music on headphones the same, we like to sit and have a drink of coffee or tea or water or alcohol.  When we call loved ones from the airport, the conversations don’t sound much different than anybody else’s.  In fact, love is so much an important part of the human experience that it is universal.

I watched people walk.  The tall people all walk the same way.  The pretty girls all walk the same way.  The old white guys all walk the same way.  And altogether, they all walk the same way.

I guess what I’m getting at, is it became very difficult for me to tell anybody apart.  After a while, I could see that somebody was asian, but they engaged the world no different than the black guy or the white guy.  I could see somebody was Muslim, but they were just as playful as somebody else wearing a cross and joking around with his college buddies.

Truth be told, I can’t tell white people apart either.  There is a sea of humanity that we all live in with all our hopes and dreams, pains and triumphs.

In the sea of people I encounter while traveling, I realize, there’s nothing at all different about any of us.  We literally are all the same.  We literally have the same values, the same love for humor, the same kindness and occassionally the same complaints about the same things.

So why is the chasm so wide between us?  Why is there war?  Is it really about people?  Is it really about customs?  Is it really about religions?

Or is it about Satan, who turns one against another?

God is in Cambodia Too

We just got back to the hotel from eating Steak Burgers at Spangles in Wichita.  The whole family is here to see me off tomorrow morning to Cambodia.  It’s stressful.  Knowing that I’ll be travelling for the next two days, living in airplanes and airports, isn’t the stressful part.  Being away from my wife and children is stressful.  It’s hard on the children, and hard on Mom who has to take care of everything on her own while I’m gone.

The truth is, I hate to be away from them too, but I’m on a mission.

This trip the mission may have changed, at least a little bit.  I learned today that my brother-in-law, one of the Minnesota 8, is scheduled to be moved by ICE from MN.  We’re not sure where he’ll be moved to.  He is Cambodian and grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He arrived to America when he was only 1 year old.

In Cambodia, his name is on a list at the deportee re-integration center- Cambodia’s resettlement service for deportees from all over the world as well as new immigrants resettling in Cambodia.  His wife and daughter wait.  In fact, it has been a long and stressful and heart-wrenching wait since he was arrested by ICE on a deportation order in August.  He showed up for a routine check-in with immigration services, just as he’s always done, when he was placed in detention.  A national movement and 6 months later it seems that Cambodia is going to receive him- and America is ready to send him- to a country he has never set foot in.

It feels hopeless, but our Christian faith is the substance of things hoped for.  So we hope.  We pray.  We trust God’s wisdom and His plan.

My brother-in-law is a Christian.  I can’t imagine how he feels, how his faith is being tested, or the questions he has of God right now.  The rest of us want to wrestle with the law, with our government, with the Cambodian government, but the greatest wrestling match for all of us is the one we have with God right now.

Jacob wrestled the shadowy figure, the stranger who knocked his hip out of joint.  Jacob wouldn’t let go until the “stranger” gave him a blessing.  Jacob was broken, he was struggling, he was wounded, but he held on for God’s blessing.

And not everything turned out the way Jacob thought it should over the course of his life.  We are like Jacob.  There are many things in life that don’t go our way, that don’t make sense in our understanding of God, that are painful, and that make us examine what we believe and who we are to God.

My brother-in-law might be deported to Cambodia.  It isn’t for lack of faith or prayer or believing.  It couldn’t be a divine punishment for sin.  It isn’t because God doesn’t know or understand our suffering.

But it does force us to face the content of our faith.

The truth is, when we lose everything else- house, home, material posessions, health, relationships, family- we still have all we need.  We still have God.  Even in our brokeness we still have God.  Ours is not a faith that says, “God isn’t faithful because He let me be deported.”  Ours is a faith that says, “Though I lose all, I still have Christ- because Christ will never let go of me.”

God is in Cambodia too.  God is in the dark and light.  He is in our grief and our joy.  He is in our pain and triumph.  He is in our sorrow and our celebration.  He’s there.

For us, the question we have to ask is whether or not we are going to hold on to Him- even after losing the wrestling match.  For us, we have to wonder: if that young man is deported, is it a loss or is God working a victory that we don’t understand- a victory according to His will?

Our greatest blessings are found when we stand in Him- and having done everything we can, to simply stand some more.  There is no greater consolation to a grieving soul than to know that this corrupt world can take everything from us; yet we still have everything we need.

When we’ve lost everything we realize that God was our everything all along.

Jesus Christ is sufficient for us.  He is our all-in-all, not just in America or in this moment, but in all places and all times from here to eternity.