Jonathan Martin

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the night I cried at Spiderman the musical.

I know it has been way too long, guys.  But I wanted to start the New Year by sharing some of the overarching things I’ve been learning/feeling/experiencing in the last year or so.  They may feel all over the map.  Some are reflections on the beauty of God that continues to capture me, some are more reflections on my own brokenness.   Of course these things are never mutually exclusive.  But I’m starting with brokenness…I hope it speaks to all of you who want to be used of God, but sometimes wish you could stay home.  This is kind of a part one.  The next installment is on the “gratuitousness of grace.”

It was a brisk December evening in Manhattan, the city under the spell of Christmas lights.  I was warm in my seat in the crowded theater on what should have been a joyous night.  We were there to see the kitschy, fun musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.  I knew the show had got mixed reviews, but I didn’t care.  It’s Spider-Man on Broadway, and Bono and Edge wrote the music–how bad could it be?  I had just signed my first book deal 2 weeks prior, and my parents had invited Amanda and I to celebrate with them by spending a few days before Christmas in the Big Apple.

The show works on the level of sheer spectacle at least, so I was having a good time.  Until all of a sudden, I felt my eyes fill up with hot tears.  You should know I do not cry easily nor often, a fact I find more troublesome than encouraging.  And I most certainly do not cry at anything I consider sentimental or otherwise designed to pull on my heart strings.  I am immune to sap.  I would not cry if you sat me in front of a 1,000 tear-jerker Lifetime movies.

And yet the simplest, silliest of things wrenched my heart with shocking velocity.  It was toward the end of the musical, and young Peter Parker had decided he had enough of the Spider-Man business and all of the complications it had brought to his life.  He knew that he loved Mary Jane Watson, and he knew that he didn’t need the trouble of fighting super villains and feeling misunderstood in the city.  So he had just hung up the tights to be an ordinary guy.  And then, all hell broke loose.  All of the classic Spider-Man villains were plundering New York, and he was the only one who could help.

And in a flash, I felt a pang of sorrow in my ribs.  Why exactly can’t Peter Parker stay home with Mary Jane if that is what he wants to do?  What would be so wrong with that?  Why is he obligated to save New York City?  What does he owe anybody, and how could anyone have the right to place such expectations of him?  What’s wrong with being with the one you love at night rather than prowling the streets fighting crime?   The tears spilled hot on my cheek as this irrational emotion gripped me, and I honestly felt like I could have stood up and shouted: “HEY! It’s Peter’s life!  He ought to be able to stay home if he wants, damn it!”

No one knew about my reaction that night.  It’s not the sort of thing you want to bring up at dinner.  Of all the moments to feel this sudden surge of emotions, why on a trip to New York City celebrating my book deal with my family…at Spider-Man the musical?

That was December of 2011.  Since then, I have a bit of perspective on the wild emotion of that night. Dr. Sonja Lyubominrsky addresses this phenomenon in The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make you Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does.  In her well-researched book, she deals with the odd reality that things (including major, “positive” life transitions) often leave us in the cold, whereas in many cases it is the unexpected little things where we derive much of our happiness.  “We may think we know whether a particular turning point should make us laugh or cry, but the truth is that positive and negative events are often entwined, rendering predictions about consequences—which may cascade in unexpected ways—exceedingly complex…when we consider the single best thing that has happened to us during past years—and the single worst thing—we may be surprised to learn they are one and the same.”

Indeed, this has been a pattern of my life in recent years.  My darkest and loneliest seasons have not been a product of my failures and disappointments per se, but upon the fulfillment of “hopes and dreams.”  These moments seem to be almost correlative to my greatest moments of elation.  I do not consider myself overly ambitious, so I was not aware of how much stock I must have placed in said hopes and dreams.  Until beginning to taste of them, and instead of feeling stronger and more powerful, feeling like the fact that God would seem to use me greatly only seemed to underscore the reality of my own brokenness.  That in so many ways I feel like the opposite of what my 6’5” frame and confident demeanor would seem to suggest.

I did not feel such empathy for Peter Parker because I have a Messiah complex, or have delusions that the world is in need of me to save it.  I resonate with Peter because there is a calling on my life that pulls me along with a force of inevitability, where I often don’t feel like I have a choice.  I often think of a letter John Wesley wrote to his brother Charles during a dark moment where he questioned whether or not he ever loved God.  He felt like God was using  him to save others, but had no confidence in that moment that he was saved himself.  He said he wanted to enlighten other men to a joy he himself did not know (again, at least in that moment).  The words that haunt me are Wesley saying that even through all of this he felt he was “borne along” by God’s Spirit.  That’s the phrase: “borne along.” He recognized God moving him, animating him, working through him, even while feeling completely broken himself.

I am aware that my life is comfortable and too much so.  I am aware of my blessings and I don’t take them for granted.  I know that life and ministry and health are unspeakable gifts, and I am privileged to do what I do.  And yet the weight of what feels like divine destiny is so heavy at times.  I do not want to be Spider-Man; I do not feel qualified to fight super-villains.  Sometimes I just want to stay home.

And yet by Holy Spirit, I am still borne along…

 

On Israel, the Church, and the Politics of Jesus.

I had multiple questions on the relationship of the Church to Israel for our town hall Sunday (during the Politics of Jesus series) we weren’t able to get to.  It would be presumptuous to think I could answer these questions in any sort of a comprehensive way in one blog entry (or really any number of blog entries).  I do not feel qualified to sort through the sociopolitical chicken or the egg debate as to which injustice comes first—the mistreatment of Palestinians or terrorist acts against Israel, etc.  (It is especially interesting these days when both sides accuse the other of a massive media conspiracy to keep “the truth” of the conflict from being reported).  As a pastor, I am well aware that in my context people’s theological beliefs about Israel as a modern nation-state largely shape their approach to these issues.  So I will limit my response primarily to how we should think about these matters theologically–ever mindful that our theology has very real-life implications for real people in the world.

Disclaimer first: I am not bashful about the fact that I have been greatly shaped by people who minister to Arab/Palestinian Christians, first and foremost by my “spiritual grandmother,” Sister Margaret Gaines.  I find that many evangelical Christians are still surprised that they have Arab brothers and sisters in the west bank, given our over preoccupation with Israel as a nation state.  Just last week, I got a beautiful e-mail from an Assemblies of God missionary I’ve never met who serves the Arab population in East Jerusalem and the West bank.  I cried as I read her description of driving through protests full of rubber bullets, rock throwing, fire crackers, and tear gas to make it to Ramallah to teach her four English students a lesson about Thanksgiving–while listening to our Politics of Jesus series.  She said she had listened to each of those sermons twice. I was encouraged, but overwhelmingly convicted as well.   I am able to pontificate on ideas about the Politics of Jesus in relative comfort.  For people like her, living out the Politics of Jesus comes at a great price. Their example demonstrates to us just how high the stakes are in how we think about these global issues.

So with the weight of those stories and the events of recent weeks pressing on my heart, let’s start with this: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is endlessly complex, and if anyone attempts to tell you it is not, please be suspicious of anything they do tell you about it.  There are forces at work in organizations like Hamas that are willing to do terrible things indiscriminately for their cause.  The rocket attacks into Israel are inexcusable.  And we are regularly reminded of scary rhetoric from different quarters of the Middle East that would like to eradicate Israel altogether.

It is also true that the Palestinian people live in legitimately deplorable conditions that create an inevitable breeding ground for radical voices.  In my travels in the Middle East I have heard first hand accounts over and over from brothers and sisters in Christ there of injustice.  In  the tiny (and historically Christian) village of Aboud where Sister Gaines served, Israeli military would come and do random things to antagonize peaceful villagers, like mow down their beloved ancient olive trees.  Or there was the sweet old Christian couple we traveled with whom we personally saw endure unnecessary harassment at checkpoints.  The aged mother in the Lord had a sister a couple of miles away dying of cancer that she would never see again because of how the boundaries are drawn.  Or there is the Christian family I know now here in Charlotte from Aboud who were forcibly kicked off the land their family had owned for generations (whom are incidentally some of the biggest givers to Christian missions throughout the world that I know).

Yet still for many evangelical Christians, these matters are simple: Israel is God’s side and therefore should be our side, and this about good versus bad, light versus darkness.  Anything less than a ringing endorsement of all Israeli policies is seen as an affront to the living God.  This position is largely determined by eschatological convictions (beliefs about the end of the world), in which Israel (as a modern nation-state) exists as a fulfillment of prophecy.  For some evangelicals, if you send money to an organization that wants to bring Jews from around the world to Israel then you are less likely to get cancer or speeding tickets, or more likely to get a promotion at work.

I have many suspicions about this entire project for many reasons, but I’d start with this simple premise:

a) God is deeply, desperately in love with Israelis and Palestinians;

b) Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace;

c) God longs to bring His Shalom/peace to the middle East.

Thus I do not believe that people who claim the name of Jesus should pick “a side” in the conflict.  I believe we are the peacemakers commissioned by the Holy Spirit of God to embody Christ’s peace in the world, and that we should pray for, work for, labor for peace, reconciliation and justice on all sides of the conflict.  Ultimately, any approach that leads you to place your hope in Israel rather than Israel’s Messiah is leading you to a dead end street.

This may sound so simple as to be unhelpful, since such basic claims do not begin to address how this might work or what it might look like—and in fact allows for a wide diversity of views on these matters.  But I am convinced that for evangelicals, that simple or not, these claims might be quite radical and in fact would still be an enormous step forward for many of us.

So let’s set a few things straight:

1)  Knowing “the Bible” will not help you at all in these matters if you fail to understand the narrative framework of the story Scripture tells.

I am very aware in advance that a number of sincere Christians are going to attempt to challenge some of the claims of this piece, and will have a literal avalanche of Scriptures at their service.  All you have do, it seems, is do a keyword search of “Israel” in an online Bible, and you can cut and paste hundreds of references that speak of God’s love for Israel.  The problem is that no matter how much chapter and verse you can quote or cite, if you misunderstand the movement of the entire story of God’s activity among humans as told in Scripture, you don’t get very far.  If you don’t understand the fundamental flow, the frame story upon which all of Scripture is hung, “using” Scripture out of context will only bring confusion rather than clarity.  Because what Christians believe about these matters theologically does in fact affect real people in the real world, there is a lot at stake if we get the narrative wrong. With that in mind…

2.  The story of God’s activity in the world does begin with a tribal promise.

God did in fact choose a particular man and a particular tribe in a particular land in a particular part of the world to accomplish His purposes.  He told Abraham he would make him a great nation; he would bless him and his descendants; he would give them a great name; he would bless those who blessed them and cursed those who cursed them.  (Genesis 12.1-3)

3.  The goal of the tribal promise is “the healing of the nations.”

But the ultimate end of this blessing establishes the basic storyline upon which the entire story of Scripture is built: “You shall be a blessing…and in you all of the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12.2-3)   The blessing upon Abraham surges through the centuries as God raises up Israel out of Egypt through Moses on through the exile.  The blessing reaches it’s climax when Jesus of Nazareth enters the scene.  He’s a rather impossible act to follow, as in Him all the promises are fulfilled.  Through the lineage of Abraham, God’s light, the light of the world, has finally come to the nations.  It is through Jesus that all the families of the earth will be blessed.  It is through Him that the covenant love of God for Abraham is now extended to the whole world.  This is the story that will culminate with “the healing of the nations” in Revelation 22.

4.  Jesus of Nazareth is now the only hope for any and all people from any and all nations.

Does this mean that God no longer loves or has a special plan for “His people?”  Paul demonstrates great hope and compassion for his fellow Jews in the book of Romans.  God deeply loves the Jewish people.  But the hope of the nations is now no longer the establishment of Israel as a nation-state being reestablished to a particular kind of prominence or power.  Only Israel’s Messiah is the hope, for any and all people from any and all nations.  Only Jesus and Jesus alone.  There are not two covenants or two means of salvation, with apologies to John Hagee.  For Jews and for Gentiles, indeed for all the families of the earth, there is no hope apart from the rightful Lord and Messiah who is Jesus the Christ.

Ironically, the trouble in a lot of evangelical traditions is that for as much rhetoric as there might be about Jesus as the Lord who is worthy of our worship, there is a surprisingly low Christology at work.  That is to say the significance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are largely undervalued.  The message of orthodox Christianity is that the world fundamentally changed when God raised Jesus from the dead (which is why His resurrection is accompanied in the Gospel of Matthew with apocalyptic signs–thunder and lightning and earthquakes and dead people walking around Jerusalem).  It is now only a matter of time before His kingdom comes in its fullness and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.  When Jesus ascended, He was not leaving us to our own devices, but rather ascending to take His rightful place as Lord over the world.  Since we believe that Jesus is Lord over the world already, we do not have to be anxious about helping prophecies along to make sure things work out right in the end.  We are not awaiting Israel or America or any nation to take their proper place on some sort of prophecy chart, as we believe that salvation, hope and restoration is available exclusively through Jesus as the Lord of the world.

This is why I say many Christians have a surprisingly low Christology: they do not believe resurrection has already changed the world and feel the need then to force “prophecy” toward some kind of fulfillment.  They do not believe that Jesus is Lord over the world, thus they put their faith in human governments or systems to “take their place” in order for God to accomplish His purposes in the world.  Starkly put, they only half-believe in the resurrection of Jesus and the Lordship of Jesus.

5.  Loving people on both sides of this conflict does not make a person “anti-Israel” much less anti-Semitic.

I do not think Christians should be anymore pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is pro-humanity.

But if Christians do not take an explicitly “pro-Israel” stance, they will sometimes be accused of displacing Jewish people.  Some people say that Christians who believe that the promises of God made to Israel are fulfilled in the Church believe in “replacement theology.”  Let’s be clear: the covenant God made to Abraham is not “replaced” by the Church.  There is one covenant God made with Abraham (of which Gentiles now share) that culminated in Jesus, enabling Gentiles like myself to be grafted in.  This is not “replacement,” this is the same covenant and the same promise. The Church does not replace but is now grafted into the same blessing, Jews and Gentiles alike.  But that blessing comes only through Jesus of Nazareth.

It is true that there is indeed a terrible and grievous history of Jewish persecution in some quarters of the Church in both its Catholic and Protestant forms, and that is reprehensible, truly a perversion of Christian faith and doctrine.  Sadly, there are conspicuous examples of this in mainstream Protestant Church history (Martin Luther being a prominent example).  But just because one does not believe that the modern nation state of Israel has enormous prophetic significance, or simply that God deeply loves the people on both sides of this conflict, certainly does not make one “anti-Semitic.”

6.  The best way to love the people of Israel is to love the Prince of Peace and pray/work for His peace among all the people’s of the world.

Christians must repent of our past sins against Jewish people.  But the way we love the people of Israel today is not through an over-correction of sentimentalized, zealous Israel worship, but rather to be the Church for the whole world.  We believe that in Christ, that God’s heart is for reconciliation for Israelis and Palestinians.  Reconciliation is what the whole world is longing for whether they know how to name it or not.  The creation itself is longing for the manifestation of the sons and daughters to God to take their place as agents of the change and peace that is to come.  The best way for Christians to love their Israeli friends is not to take a side, but to take the side of cross-shaped peacemaking in the world.

The really sick truth is that in some of these end-times scenarios, in the name of “loving Israel” some Christians cheer on doomsday scenarios in which many actual Israelis would be hurt or killed.  That’s because they do not love them as people, but as pawns in a prophetic game of chess.  They “love” them not in that they care deeply for their well-being and safety, but only insofar as they help move the ball up the field on a prophecy timeline.

7.  The kingdom of God will not come through the violence of men.

There are still a distressing number of Christians, many of whom citing Scripture as quickly (and as recklessly) as the micro-machine man Jack Van Impe, who believe not only that Israel as a modern nation-state is especially chosen by God, but that the will of God is for us to stand by Israel in war.  In fact, many of them express a perverse pleasure when there is suffering in the Middle East, because these are mere signs that the end is drawing near.  That end is not defined first and foremost as the reign of the prince of peace breaking into the world with healing for the nations, but the vindication of those on the right side of Armageddon by the heavenly godfather.  The means by which Jesus will come to rule and reign will not be the cross (which failed) but a larger sword than that of the infidels.  “With the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other,” they sincerely and wrongheadedly expect the reign of God to be manifest in human violence.

I do not have time in a short treatment here to say all I’d like to about what’s wrong with these systems.  But at heart is a fundamental misreading of the Book of Revelation.  The apocalyptic language and imagery can easily be misinterpreted.  Revelation is a book about how God overcomes the evil of the world through the cross of Jesus.  It is through the blood of the Lamb that God wins in the end.  His people do not share in His victory by beating their enemies with bigger weapons, but by sharing in the sacrifice of the Lamb, “following the Lamb wherever He goes…loving not their own lives even unto death.”  The subversive victory of love and sacrifice over the forces of the evil make a mockery of the so-called principalities and powers of the world, from the Roman empire to every tyrannical and oppressive empire in our own time.

The cross is not just the message of the kingdom, the cross is the means of the kingdom.  The trouble with a lot of popular eschatology is that it assumes Jesus did not win through the cross and resurrection, and will have to resort to something other than the way of the cross to accomplish His purposes in the world.  There is of course much language of judgment in Revelation.  But judgment does not come through guns—“Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.”  God will judge His creation by the same means in which He brought it into existence—by His word.

8.  The response of the people of God to conflict in the Middle East is not to take a side but to take up a cross.

Don’t get me wrong: Jesus Himself said that the days to come would be full of wars and rumors of wars.  But the manifestation of the sons of God will not be through us being on the “right” side of any of those wars, but on the side of radical enemy love.  We want to be on the side of the one who, even on the cross, said “Forgive them Father for they know what they do.”  There are no other sides besides the way of the kingdom and the way of the world, the way of the cross and the way of the sword.  There are no middle ground alternatives.

No matter what your persuasion or how you interpret the sociopolitical dimensions of this conflict, all authentic followers of Jesus should be able to agree that “God so loved the whole world that He gave His only begotten Son;” and that God’s desire in and through Jesus Christ is for all people in all parts of the world to be blessed and whole.  I think to simply get the people of God together on these handful of basic assumptions could make all the difference in how we learn to be the Church for the world.

The world tells us to take sides; we are told to take up our cross.  We are called to bear witness to the kingdom of God by living our own lives as peacemakers.  We pray for peace, we work for peace.  We learn as much as we can about our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and we support kingdom work among them–from the preaching of the gospel to caring for the poor, the marginalized, the orphan, the widow and the oppressed.  We refuse any options that are presented to us other than the cross–which means we look for ways to sacrifice our own comfort for the sake of hurting people all over the world.

Reconciling my views on “the politics of Jesus” with MLK’s social justice.

Sunday was the conclusion to the politics of Jesus, and I had a blast answering your questions for Town Hall Sunday!  I did regret, however, not getting to all the questions, and wanted to answer as many as I could here on the blog.  So in the next few days, I’ll be posting some of the great questions we missed along with my responses.

Here is today’s, via @ThomasMarlowe: Reconcile your political sermons with your support of MLK’s social justice (strongly advocating the legal system to effect change).

(Note: I am presuming Dr. Marlowe is referring to the way I have emphasized living out life in the Kingdom in our community, more so than overt activism in the American political process here.)

This is a question that often haunts me.  I’ve told before about my “accidental” trip to Memphis 2 years ago, where I unexpectedly found myself at the Lorraine Motel where King was shot (now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum).  The holiness of the ground itself stunned me, another story for another time (I share it in Prototype).  But one of the significant revelations both on that trip, as well in the year prior when I had been doing a lot of reading on King, was that while King was largely venerated by the American public by death, just how much his message was marginalized both before and after his death on the topics most pressing him in his later years—economic injustice and the Vietnam war.

It would seem that nothing could get you into more trouble than challenging people’s long held prejudices, but there may in fact be nothing in this life people are more protective of than their wallets and their wars.  The fastest way to be rejected in American society is to raise difficult questions about how people spend their money or why they fight.  As Chris Hedges demonstrates so potently in his book War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, nations are largely ordered around the way we narrate our wars.  Our money and the mythology created by our wars are often what society holds to be the most sacred.

The more I thought about this, the more it bothered me.  Everyone loves a martyr.  Even people who hated King ultimately came to accept him as an icon in matters of race.  Yet King’s critique of our economy and war would not be much more palatable after his death than before.  If death brought vindication, speaking his heart on those matters had long brought marginalization.  I began to wonder, as a preacher, what this means for me.  Will people be willing to tolerate anything that I say about Jesus and His Kingdom—as long as I stay away from the temples of money and war, where their idols sit?  It is of course impossible to critique money and war without political critique.  When you are speaking to matters that are central to how people order their lives and society, politics is the name of the game.  Thus, it would seem that to assert the Lordship of Jesus in these issues would entail political claims that would threaten the principalities and powers today as much as it did before King’s death.

Indeed, I do believe that calling Jesus Lord is a political claim that has real implications for how we approach real issues of life and society—so I would not want to say that there is no place for Christians to articulate their concerns in the political arena, much less the public square.  But I would add this—it seems that since King’s time, our two-party political system has become more broken and more polarized, not less.  Hence, while progress in those arenas is not impossible, it is treacherously difficult.  And for many followers of Jesus, like myself, the alternatives offered between right and left simply are not comprehensive or radical enough to encompass the scope of our concerns.

I suppose my goal, then, would not be to completely marginalize the role of Christians in American politics, but to minimize it, or at the least, relativize it.  People interpret King’s legacy differently, but my own reading of his life and work is essentially this: when King was being educated in liberal seminaries, the faith of his childhood was deconstructed in a way that made it at least tempting to abandon it altogether in favor of the bourgeois liberalism of his time.  I think the further King got away from the academy and the more invested he became in the actual work of the Kingdom, the more disillusioned he was becoming with having the faith of his forefathers co-opted by bland liberalism, and the more he relied on the explicit nature of Christian faith to shape him.  He was still speaking in the public square, but the older he got, the more he did so as a preacher of the gospel.

Here is the really interesting thing: while, indeed, King made great progress in his lifetime politically, and that side of his work was vitally important—it was ultimately the message of the cross embodied in his own death that changed the world.  Think about it: as it was for Jesus on the cross, as it is for the two witnesses in the book of Revelation, change could only come through death.  His life would have be to offered up, tapping into the intrinsic power of the cross, for there to be a resurrection of King’s dream in the world.  While the political activism was important (fair wages for black sanitation workers, etc.), King’s death became the spiritual center for the cause of racial justice in America.

So to come to the question, I feel like the best thing I can do as a pastor is to form people in the shape of the cross and the hope of the resurrection.  This will have political implications, but they do not come first.  It may be that God works through us to an extent in the sphere of American politics, but that will be an extension of people shaped and formed by the message of the Kingdom of God and cannot work the other way around.  If we do impact that political world, my sense is that it will also come as it did for King—less through lobbying and more through sacrifice, less through legislation and more from not loving our own lives even unto death.  I also think as it was for King, it will come from power exercised underneath the established powers rather than from on top of them.

So I would want to draw people deeper and deeper into the heart of the Kingdom and even more so, the heart of the King.  Ultimately, the witness to the world that will be most powerful (from the New Testament Church to the “beloved community” King loved to speak of) is the creation of an alternative community.  To put it bluntly, I think we, on the whole, been far too unsuccessful at creating such an alternative community to the structures of the world to be overly concerned with trying to tell the world how to live.  It seems to me the time is right to invest ourselves in Christian communities that truly demonstrate to the world that another kind of life is made possible by the resurrection.  In our own cultural climate, it is hard for me to envision any project more important than showing the world a community where the poor, the alien, stranger and the widow (no matter where they come from or what they’ve done) can receive the transforming love of God through the touch of human hands.

At the end of the “Town Hall Sunday” we did this weekend to close out the Politics of Jesus, I interviewed Jyothi Reddi, a powerful Church of God pastor and overseer in India, specifically talking about the profound work he is doing through the orphanage he runs in caring for the most disreputable people in their society.  The government in his country is not interested in helping them, nor are the wealthy in his country.  Truly Jyothi is showing the world a radical alternative to the systems of the world in his own care for the broken and marginalized.  It was a stark reminder to all of us that all this language about the Kingdom of God is not and cannot be abstract—this is real life; Kingdom come.

A call to put away your swords and your sound bites.

Every four years, the candidates change.  But the message remains the same: “Everything that is wrong with the world is the other guy’s fault. Vote for me, and I’ll make all things right.”

It’s never been true. And it’s not true this time around.

Elections are about blame and accusation.  Elections are about false hopes and empty promises. That’s why this election season, it’s time for a different kind of candidate and a very different kind of platform.

It’s not a campaign to accuse the bad guys, whoever you think “they” are. It’s a campaign that advocates for the accused and even the guilty.

This is not a conservative or liberal platform. This is the platform of the Sermon on the Mount.

It’s not a race to decide the next Caesar or the next president—it’s not an election with national implications. It’s an opportunity to proclaim the Lord over the world—an election with intergalactic implications.

This is bigger than a one-time vote. This is about voting with your life.

It’s not a candidate who gives false hope or makes empty promises. It’s a candidate whose very name is called “faithful and true.”

The world is calling you to the voting booth to make a decision for a candidate to run the country. We are calling you to the bread and wine at the table to make a decision as to Who will run your life.

We don’t care about your political party. We don’t care what side you come from.

Put away your swords and your sound bites.

Drop your rocks and even your nets.

Come to the table that is not just for the rich and powerful, but for the broken.

Come and receive the body of Christ broken for you,  the blood of Christ shed for you.

This is bigger than changing a country. This is about coming to see a world that has already been changed by resurrection.

This election season, it’s time to cast our vote for a different kind of candidate, a different kind of platform, a different way of life.

This election season, Jesus of Nazareth is our only candidate…and our only hope.

This election season, it’s time for you to proclaim Jesus as Lord.

*******

P.S.: Four years ago, I did a series at Renovatus called “The Politics of Jesus.” It was not explicitly based on John Howard Yoder’s great book by the same title; it was a call during that election season to re-focus on the kingdom of God that transcends all our pale categories. I am more passionate about these ideas than ever, which is why on October 21st we are going for the jugular with a 3-week series on The Politics of Jesus where I’m holding nothing back–I think of it as a 2.0 version of what we did in 2008. I hope you can join us in Charlotte and Fort Mill.

For those of you who are pastors and leaders, I hope you will join Renovatus along with many other churches across America in celebrating Election Day Communion. I think this is the most simple, brilliant thing on the landscape of another volatile election–calling the Body of Christ together after all the votes are cast to make the declaration that matters most. You can find out more here.

If you want to help us spread the kingdom message across social media, please declare your hope in Jesus as Lord using #JesusisMyCandidate, and help get the word out on this table that is more determinative than a voting booth with #electiondaycommunion. Thanks so much!!!

disruptive faith (or, why we choose karma over grace)

Sometimes I think that most of us don’t really believe in God-at least not in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

I think that many of us, perhaps most especially Christians, believe primarily in some form of karma–what goes around comes around, you get what you deserve, clear cause and effect–and our “god” is nothing more than a shadowy embodiment of that. Somebody has to be there to reward us when we are good and punish us when we are bad to keep some kind of cosmic order. Good little boys and girls will get all kinds of beautiful presents underneath the tree at Christmas, but Santa god is also keeping a list of who’s been naughty so they don’t get any gifts.  For whatever ways we might chafe against this belief system, it is ultimately helpful–because whether or not we actually believe in God, we need to believe in order. We need an ordered universe with a divine referee to ensure fairness so the rules can be enforced.

Even growing up in churches where we emphasized the power of God, there were many times when I could not seem to access that power and wondered whether or not God was real. It of course would have been the worst thing imaginable for God not to be there, because I was trying to be a good rule follower and I desperately needed someone to reinforce my ordered world.

Yet I am increasingly convinced that it would be far scarier for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to exist than not to exist-precisely because He does not prop up our sense of order. He is not there to enforce karma. He does not make sure the good children get presents and the bad ones get a wagging finger. As Jesus said, He makes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust (and in His context mind you, both the sun and rain were good gifts-rain was not a symbol for hardship).

Long before the extravagant grace of God is revealed in its fullness through Jesus of Nazareth, we get story after story in the Old Testament that demonstrates this. Belief in God is disruptive because He never allows Himself to be confined by the parameters we give Him of human fairness. He will not don the black and white uniform and run up and down the field making objective calls. He is subjective, passionate, and seemingly arbitrary.

When we were finishing up A Song of Ascent, the teaching series I did on David a few months ago, I could not get away from this-how often God insisted on being tender to David in a way that seemed to flagrantly violate His own rules, His own ordering of the world. I find myself reading narrative after narrative in Scripture and wanting to say the same thing to Him that I want to say in my own life-”you can’t still be kind to us NOW! I don’t deserve this.” When I break the rules, it is more painful to be treated as a son than it is a hired hand. But He doesn’t seem to care about our protests.

No wonder we do not want to believe in such a God, because He subverts our sense of order. It is not a deity we want but certitude, a tribal religion we can learn to manipulate. Religion generally says less about God and more about the human need for an ordered world we can understand. We don’t want God nearly as much as we think we do; we mostly want control over our lives and of the world around us.

In light of this, there is perhaps nothing more disruptive than real faith. No wonder so few of us choose it. When I was young and full of doubt, the worst thing imaginable was for Him to turn out to not to be real. Now that I am an adult living an ordered, well-constructed world, the worst thing may well prove to be that He is far more real than I ever cared to imagine.  If the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob turns out to be real, my hope of maintaining order and control is forever lost.

I used to think that faith brought order and doubt brought disorder. Now it turns out to be quite opposite–there is in fact nothing more disruptive than to really believe in that God and that kind of love.

I do not blame Christians for wanting to choose karma over grace. It is much, much safer.

Bill Clinton and the art of preaching.

Let’s get this straight: I believe the kingdom of God to be a radical alternative altogether to the politics of the world. I get very nervous when politicians on either side attempt to co-opt the church for political purposes. I get nervous about civil religion in any form. It is very important to me to maintain the “over/againstness” of the kingdom to both right and left.

That said, I’m a student of rhetoric. I love speeches in general and preaching in particular. It’s art to me. I love to hear speakers of all kinds, because I’m always looking for ways to sharpen my craft. I’ve taken notes from everybody from Martin Luther King to Chris Rock on what effective public speaking looks like. And from a rhetorical perspective, whether you love him or hate him, agree or disagree with him–Bill Clinton’s speech last night at the DNC was frankly stunning. That wasn’t just a speech, that was jazz. It was Michael Jordan in game 6 in his last finals with the Bulls. It Picasso at the height of his powers.  It was everything that has ever worked about Clinton speeches on steroids–folksy, charming, funny, perfectly paced, combative–throwing punches and pulling them when needed.

Before you write me that scathing e-mail, I am making no value judgements as to whether or not he was right. You may have hated every word, found it disingenuous, disagreed with the policies. But there was one thing in particular about the Clinton speech I loved that I find to be a glaring issue in contemporary preaching, and it makes me wish every preacher I know watched it. It’s just this simple: Clinton doesn’t talk down. Clinton doesn’t patronize his audience. Clinton talked substance last night. For all the rhetorical flourishes and homespun charm, that was a speech chock full of statistics, facts, ideas–in a word, CONTENT. And you can put facts in quotation marks, question the math, say he took things out of context–have at it, I really don’t care. What I’m saying is that today, after the fact, people are doing a remarkable thing: they are talking about whether or not they agree or disagree with the content of his speech. These days, that’s a novelty.

What makes contemporary politics so insulting to me right now is the shameless parade of soundbites. Both sides do it all the time. Politics have become reduced to sentimentality. You say the right word to the right crowd (“Jesus,” “the wealthy,” “the poor,” “the middle class,” “values,”), and nobody cares about whether or not there is an agenda or a plan-they respond emotionally to the words. In political conventions in particular, when folks are playing largely to their party base, real content is conspicuously absent. We have never been dumber. We are accustomed to being talked down to, we are used to being patronized. So it is honestly surprising these days when anybody attempts to engage us with anything like actual ideas.

And while I’m sad to say it, this is just as true about preaching in this day and age. We preachers, like everybody else, largely play to the lowest common denominator. Preachers speak in buzzwords and soundbites. Preachers don’t talk to people as if they are intelligent.

This is getting worse not better, because most people don’t care and aren’t going to know the difference. In a culture that values style over substance, you can get a sermon to go over just fine without challenging a congregation. We are far past the days when preachers were prophets who paint an alternative vision of the world. We are not expected to be visionaries, but mere marketing experts.  We don’t have enough “prophetic imagination” (in Brueggemann’s phrase), or for that matter, real content to actually shape culture.

Part of what makes Clinton so effective these days, beyond decades of just honing his craft, is that he really does traffic in ideas. I’ve listened to multiple interviews with him post-presidency where he was downright brainy, almost frustrating to interviewers in his insistence to talk substantively about the issues. Whether or not you agree with him, you can’t deny he is a guy who does his homework. No wonder he can go off script for roughly 40% of a speech that big and be so effective–he’s practiced enough and researched enough to trust his instincts, there has been enough discipline to bring freedom in delivery.

I’m a Pentecostal preacher, so I place a high premium on “leaving room for the Spirit” in a sermon. I think the best messages are less like delivering a speech and more like surfing, a constant awareness and sensitivity to what I feel God doing in the room, what I feel like people are receiving or not receiving. There is so much more to it than intellectual preparation. My grandfather turned in his badge and gun as a Charlotte police officer and was preaching revivals weeks later, so I don’t think everybody has to go to seminary to be qualified to preach. But I do believe that in preaching as well as political speeches, you’ve got to do your homework!!!

I don’t think I’m a great preacher. I really don’t. But I think not believing I’m great is my greatest strength as a communicator. Every single week, I’m scared to death that I’m going to forget how to do this, that I’ll fall flat on my face, that God won’t show up, that it will just be me in my underwear up there babbling about Lord knows what. As a result, I stay hungry. I read more than I have to read. I study more than I have to study. I prepare more than I need to prepare. I think about sermons when I don’t need to think about sermons. There is very little in life or culture that is not potential ammunition for the next Sunday. I try to be attentive to what God is saying in the world everywhere I am and whatever I’m doing.

When it’s time to deliver the message, I go off script ALL THE TIME. And if it works, first and foremost it is because of the Spirit of God is faithful to get the right word to the right people at the right time–it’s about His love for people, not my skill as a communicator. But that said, I still find that it takes a lot of work and discipline to have enough in me for the Spirit to use/leverage/organize/direct when I’m in those moments. The WORST preaching I’ve heard in all of my life is from people who “open up their mouths and let the Lord fill it” as they would say, when in reality they just flat haven’t put in the time and done the work.

I long for the day when we as preachers re-learn the work ethic to put in the time pouring over Scripture, roaming through commentaries, looking at the texts from all angles–studying the information yet giving room for revelation. Being attentive to the context in which the texts were written, being attentive to the context in which our message will be received.

And then stepping to the stage and speaking a challenging word that calls people to rise up instead of dumbing down. I’d love for us to stop insulting the intelligence of our people, and being unafraid to give them a meal that may not be easy to digest. Do not misunderstand me: I’m not talking about cluttering a sermon with technical theological jargon. That is self-congratulatory at best and cowardly at worst. We don’t want to be smug or impressed with ourselves. I’m talking about, as Jesus did, speaking plain and using metaphors/images that our culture understands–and yet being okay to share hard sayings that people may not be able to immediately receive. I’m talking about not saying the reactionary thing, but the nuanced thing.

I saw a bumper sticker years ago that said “If you won’t make me pray in my school I won’t make you think in your church.” Ouch. While overstated, there is truth in the indictment. We’ve got the most important job in the world. We’ve got to be literate in Scripture and literate in culture, because we are charged with painting a vivid picture of an alternative kingdom to the world, and even with the Spirit on our side it’s going to take all we’ve got. We can’t afford to get pulled into the soundbite stupidity of our times, much less speak in soundbites ourselves. There is no place in the world where people should be forced to think harder about God, life and the world than where the people of God gather.

The message that we’ve got is too important to be unprepared, and too particular to to not be presented with  nuance and precision. And people are too valuable to God to be treated like cattle. We should love people enough to aim high, assume the best, play to the highest common denominator rather than the least. We shouldn’t speak in platitudes, we should deliver substance.

After all, our job is more important than giving campaign speeches. While I am fascinated by politics, I have never been more convinced that our current political process is far too broken to bring the kind of change the world needs. I still vote and participate, but I have staked my hope exclusively in the power of the Church to be God’s embodied presence in the world. Thus while the stakes might seem high for a speech like Clinton’s last night, the stakes for what we are given to do on Sunday are considerably higher.

To be certain, real preaching does not work apart from God’s Spirit. We have to look to Him to do that which only He can do. But that doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility to do what we are called to do-to study Scripture in context, study our culture in context, and generally prepare like mad. There are no shortcuts for the preacher. We have to completely immerse ourselves in a prophetic vision of the world where the peace of God reigns, and then let God infuse us with the other-worldly confidence to speak the unspeakable. We can’t use the Word as a tool to accomplish our goals, we have to become the tool the Word uses. We can’t just deliver the Word, we have to let the Word deliver us. And that takes time.

Unlike Clinton at the DNC, we aren’t charged with matters so trivial as getting people to vote for our favorite candidate for president. We are charged to give people a vision of Jesus as King–and that’s a much bigger deal.

more than a symbol: why we moved to weekly communion at Renovatus

Yesterday, I announced formally that we would be celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly at Renovatus.

I have been moving in that direction for many years, and have even ironically claimed it to be the best way to orient a weekly worship gathering. Why precisely I have been so reluctant to pull the trigger, I do not know. We just wrapped up our Love Feast series, which was intended to be about Christian community.  And indeed it was, but to my surprise it became as much about communion—or to be more precise, the way that communion must be the basis of our community. We came to the Lord’s table weekly during the series. And as God continued to confirm so much of what we had been sensing for years-that much of our destiny and calling as a church is wrapped up in this path of sacramental Pentecostalism, the time was right to make it our ongoing practice.

There is so much I could say about this. I believe there is a move of the Spirit in the world right now to bring the people of God back to the table from all traditions. Just today, I was fascinated to read in this piece that Brady Boyd, the pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, announced to their congregation this week that they would make the move to weekly Eucharist as well. (New Life was of course famously led by Pastor Ted Haggard, but in the wake of all the events surrounding his resignation, this is yet another way that Boyd and New Life have beautifully reinvented their community.)  Also today, my friend Dr. Chris Green’s book, Towards a Pentecostal Theology of the Lord’s Supper: Foretasting the Kingdom, was released-a powerful witness to the way God is calling my own tradition back to the table (available here).

There are many reasons I am compelled to lead our congregation to the table weekly: from Scripture, from early church tradition, from following my own Pentecostal tradition back up the line to Wesley, from the simple prompting of the Holy Spirit. But today I want to focus only on one. When Chris and I tag-teamed the message a few weeks ago, he shared something of his own journey to discover the power of the Lord’s Supper as a Pentecostal. He said it all started with a simple remark from a mentor who said that grounding the worship service in the sacrament is the only way to keep it from being too oriented around the personality of the preacher. That stung me. I do feel powerfully compelled and even used by God to preach, and there are many ways/forms that people respond to the preached word in our church. Perhaps this still seemed to be enough before now. Perhaps some of it is the blind optimism of youth, thinking that while I’m far from perfect, the work of the Spirit in the preaching is enough to sustain the congregation.

I have continued to ponder those words. Lord knows I have a big personality, so big it scares me. Thus I have no desire for anybody to ground their faith or their life in me. But when the preaching gets more press (and more space) in the worship experience, perhaps this is still what we invite people to do. I know for my part, I am feeling my fragility these days. I have as great a confidence in God than ever to change lives, but a much a more sober estimation about the value of my own life to the church.

Like the teacher in Ecclesiastes, the limbs of false assumptions about myself and the world are being broken branch by branch. The message seems much bigger, but I feel much smaller. The goodness of God is more pronounced, but so is my inadequacy. I find myself with fear and trembling wanting only to point people to the table Christ has spread for the broken. I find myself with my own trembling hands only wanting to come to the table with them. Preachers will always agree theoretically with John the Baptist that “we must decrease so He might increase,” so long as nobody cuts into our stage time. But not me…at least not any more.

I proclaim mysteries I understand less and less clearly the further I go, not more. And because I cannot explain, I can only extend the invitation that has been extended to me over and over, at my best and at my worse: “Taste and see, that the Lord is good.” Every mystery about life and God that I believe in is wrapped up in that meal; everything I would ever want anyone to receive is bound up in that table.

We have made a cottage industry out of convincing the world that we are stronger than we are, so that our message becomes (implicitly if not explicitly), “come to our church and let us introduce you to Jesus-so you can have the kind of great life that I’ve got!” The problem of course is when your own life is not great, or at least does not feel great. When life is less like the tightly ordered world of Proverbs, where the righteous always seem to win if they do the right thing, and more like the disordered world of Job or the Psalms, where even those who strive to be righteous find their own lives in shambles. Or when we simply turn out not to be the super heroes we falsely advertised ourselves to be, and are as human as anyone else. When we fall apart, when we are proven not to be full of blistering faith, what do the people we lead have left? What do we ourselves have left? Is there anything more objectively true, is there anything more solid for us to stand on—than the soft flesh of another fragile man or woman?

We all prove to be broken, and God will in fact heal through our brokenness. But it is only the broken body of Christ Himself that ultimately we have to offer. It is only His sacrifice that is redemptive. When everything else goes to hell and we have nothing left to give, it is His table that still satisfies, the bread and wine that still sustains. It is the bread and wine that is the truth at the bottom of things, when words have run out and the preacher and his tired old words sputter until they fall.

I do not hold to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation-it is too speculative for my taste. But I do believe very much in real presence, that there is a mysterious way that we partake in the presence and power of God when we come to eat and drink. That said, I love the emphasis in Catholic tradition that there is something objectively true on the table, something you can stake your life on. When I finally got around to Thomas Merton’s famous memoir of conversion, The Seven Storey Mountain, I was surprised to find myself largely unmoved. But the one part that haunted me was where he wrote that the main reason he wanted to live in a monastery was to abide under the same roof as “the host,” to be in the same space as the elements. Even as one who doesn’t believe in transubstantiation, that moved me-the hunger to be where the meal is, because you believe that deeply that God is at work in it.

I was also moved by Flannery O’Connor’s candid observation on the Eucharist, “Well if it’s a symbol, the hell with it.” She went on to say to a friend in a letter, “it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.” I love the idea that the table of God can be that central to a person’s life and faith.

The doctrine of real presence is the birthright of the whole church, including many of the Reformers. I think often of Martin Luther’s observation that the marks of the true Church are that “the word of God is rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered”—and wonder how so many of us who consider ourselves sons of Luther would only agree with the first part. I think of John Wesley, the father of Methodism and grandfather of Pentecostalism, charging his preachers to celebrate at the table every week for service, and himself partaking of communion as often as possible. These were great preachers, but they believed something far holier and more powerful than great preaching was offered to them and to their people when they came to the table.

I am hardly a Luther or Wesley. I have never been any more aware than I am now that I proclaim the gospel in weakness, a man called by God but a fragile man nonetheless. I have no great hope within myself to offer anybody. But I have such hope in that table, such hope in His body and His blood. My hope is that as I extend the invitation to the table, I am increasingly aware that even I am invited too (the most mysterious truth of all), that I am the broken one Jesus has called to share in his suffering and His power.

The more I hear stories of people like me coming awake to the hard, tangible grace available at that table, the more I’m convinced this is part of something bigger that the Spirit of God is doing in the world in these ambiguous times. I am convinced that the remedy for our ambiguity is not in the certitude of the preacher, but in the mystery of His presence at the table. I’m convinced that the remedy for our wholesale adaptation of celebrity culture is in the celebration of His sacrifice. I’m convinced that the only way to keep from putting too much weight down on the power of persuasive preaching is to demonstrate tangibly in practice that there is power in the blood.

What could be more Pentecostal than that? I shared a story the first week of love feast about a friend of mine from Honduras who had a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit in communion that changed his life. Two weeks ago at Renovatus, we had a lady who had been sexually abused receive powerful healing from the Holy Spirit for the first time in her life when she came to the table. There is more than symbolism at work in the Lord’s Supper!

The great move of God in the early 20th century was about power. I believe the great move of God in the 21st century may well be about brokenness.  Both that we recognize our own brokenness, but also come to believe all over again that the broken body of Christ is the only hope of the world. When we come to the table, both of these things happen simultaneously. We see our brokenness, and yet all of our brokenness is consumed in the brokenness of the healer. Perhaps it is nothing less than the sacrifice of Christ Himself, which we are drawn into whenever we come to the table, that brings the fire of God this time around

(If you want to hear more of my thoughts on communion, check out any of the messages from the Love Feast series, including my on-stage conversation with Dr. Chris Green, on itunes or here.)

How I learned the Facts of Life.

Things have been heavy around here for a while.  So I hope you will be pleased to know that this post has no discernible “point” except to hopefully make you laugh.  And cringe a little. 

I want to tell you the story of my first love.

I first became aware that I was male by virtue of Erin Gray on TV’s Buck Rogers in the 21st Century.  I was in early elementary school, but I knew I liked her futuristic jump suits.  So I spent much of the time I rode my bike thinking of elaborate peril Erin Gray might find herself in, and how I’d have a heroic and grandiose entrance onto the scene to save her, which in turn would win her heart forever.

But Erin Gray and Wonder Woman’s Lynda Carter were only infatuations.  Then came my first love.

Growing up in the parsonage of a Church of God preacher, I developed a peculiar interest in the 80’s sitcom The Facts of Life early in life.  I watched it for hours on end.  We got our first VCR when I was in the second grade, and it changed my life.  I liked to watch movies on it.  But the first and primary reason I was excited about the VCR was much more primal: I could record episodes of The Facts of Life onto videocassette and see Blair WHENEVER I WANTED.  And thus to this day, there still exists an old box of videotapes where I taped every episode I saw, one 6 hour reel after another of Facts of Life goodness.

Blair was the pretty blonde played by Lisa Whelchel, a spoiled rich diva we could not help but love.  I thought she was charming and beautiful all along, but then came the discovery that took me over the top in adoration for fair Lisa: she was even a Christian.  I was a preacher’s kid, so as much as I might like how Erin Gray looked in those jumpsuits, I also knew the very fact she would wear them demonstrated she probably did not love the Lord.

It was for similar reasons I was giving up my lengthy flirtation with Amy Grant. I could sit in my room listening to “Angels Watching over Me” over and over again, wishing I could watch over Amy.  I started playing drums in adult church when I was 5 years old on a full set, and I’d play the drums to that track.  But my affections for Amy were cooling by the time she put out her Unguarded album.  I didn’t judge her, but when she appeared on the cover wearing that leopard print jacket, I knew she was too much woman for me.  Nobody either at the Lane Street Church of God in Kannapolis nor any of the teenage beauty queens at camp meeting wore leopard print anything, even the edgy ones.  That jacket signified a carnal knowledge, an understanding of the things of earth I knew I was not yet prepared for.  The fact that Amy was a Christian singer wearing leopard print made her seem like the ultimate bad girl in my world.  She might as well have been Madonna parading around on stage in a cone bra as far as I was concerned.

No, I was ready to settle down with a wholesome girl, the kind of all-American beauty I could comfortably take to camp meeting.  And that was Lisa Whelchel.  Not only was she a Christian—she put out a contemporary Christian album called All Because of You.  I had it on vinyl.  And I think I may be the world’s foremost expert on this album, because I owned tracing paper and my favorite pastime for a year was to put the sketch paper over the album cover and trace Lisa’s picture repeatedly.  It is difficult to find the album today.  But the album only made me more deeply head over heels—here is a woman who loves both Jesus AND SYNTHESIZERS.  I’m telling you, it’s a keyboard bonanza.  As cool as she was on the show, this took Lisa to near mythic status in my mind.

And then came the day when I found (what grace!) that Lisa Whelchel had a family-run fan club.  I used my allowance to pay the fee and signed up.  I never will forget when that dense long envelope came in the mail, bulging with happiness.  I opened reverently to discover my very own Lisa Whelchel fan club membership card and this 8 x 10 glossy black and white picture.  It was the holy grail.  Every so often I would get more pictures in the mail.  Here is Lisa cooking in the kitchen with her brother!  Here is casual Lisa, formal wear Lisa, Lisa on the Facts of Life set!

She was 15 years older than me.  But true love waits.  And I was sure that by the time I was grown enough to move to LA, she’d be there waiting for me.  Until the day I got the most bittersweet fan club letter of them all. Lisa was getting married.  And adding insult to injury?  She was marrying a pastor on staff at Jack Hayford’s Church on the Way in Van Nuys, CA.  The horror!  She was marrying a PENTECOSTAL PASTOR!  This simultaneously confirmed that she was perfect for me, and yet dashed my hopes of a future in LA.

I continued to be an adoring fan, and carried the membership card in my wallet for years.  That way, I could glimpse her wherever I was and whatever I was doing.  Though my membership expired in 1988, I never removed the card.  It was how I would have wanted to be identified and remembered: this was Jonathan Martin.  He was a member of the Lisa Whelchel fan club.

Lisa went on to home school her kids and write books about parenting.  From contemporary Christian music populated by synthesizers to the parenting books—it is a Christian subculture tragedy romance from start to finish.

It was heartbreaking to be certain, and yet it confirms the profound truth of a wise song I once heard about the realities of growing up.  I’m not sure, maybe Dylan wrote it.  I conclude with the haunting words of that tune: “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have…the facts of life, the facts of life.”

Yes friends, it does indeed take a lot to get ‘em right…when you are learning the facts of life.