Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Ten Totally Trivial Tidbits--Family Holiday Edition

  1. On Christmas Day, some dear friends arrived at our apartment in Lyon for three days of fun and festivities. This isn't the first Christmas we've celebrated together--and something tells me it won't be the last.
  2. I'm reading fiction for the first time in months--oh the JOY! Truly, I love seminary, but I miss reading "n'importe quoi."
  3. We visited the plateau above our neighborhood and took in a lovely view of the city.
  4. We are hoping to spend a day skiing in the Alps--an easy day trip from Lyon. The problem is a lack of snow. So we're praying for snow and begging Chandler to do his snow dance (which always yields positive results). Maybe next week.
  5. This is the first time we've all four been together as a family in 2015. I'm soaking in every minute. We're also making sure that the same thing does not happen in 2016. Which means summer plans are being set in motion.
  6. My mother-in-law sent me some mint m&ms for Christmas. Oh, the JOY! 
  7. We finally visited the beautiful (Free!) Lyon Zoo. The red panda put on quite a show, but these monkeys were my favorites:
  8. By the way, cotton candy is called La Barbe à Papa or "daddy's beard" in French.
  9. We watched all six of the Star Wars movies (one per day) before going to see the new one in the theater yesterday. Such fun! We all loved the new movie.
  10. We got a new game for Christmas--new to us, anyway. It's called Carcassonne. We've played it several times already, and I think we're getting the hang of it. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas Eve

Our little church decided to reach out to those who might be isolated or alone for Christmas by hosting a progressive dinner party on Christmas Eve. We put out notices on FaceBook, and some church members even took to the streets on Christmas Eve Day, inviting anyone who did not have plans for the evening to join us.

The party began at 7 pm in our apartment, with appetizers and a game. We were 16 people all together--strangers sharing an evening of friendship and food.

We divided into four teams, and each team was given two rolls of toilet paper, a carrot, some buttons, and a few other random supplies. We had fifteen minutes to make a snowman.


Chandler was the Master of Ceremonies for the evening, and he had the daunting task of choosing the "winning" snowman. It was serious business, as team members came to the defense of their beloved creations and lively debates broke out! Chandler had us all in stitches as he deliberated,  pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of each entry.


At last a winner was chosen, prizes were given, and at 9 pm we all bundled up for the 15 minute walk to the apartment where dinner would be served. Leaving our home, Chandler stuck the name of a famous person on the back of each guest. During the walk people had to ask each other yes or no questions to try to and figure out the identity that they had been given.


Once we arrived at our dinner destination, we sat around two large tables and shared conversation about anything and everything. The atmosphere was light and cheerful and there was lots of laughter.

All were invited to join us in the future, and some took information about times and locations of our services. The Williamson family was deeply blessed by the experience. I hope it becomes a new tradition. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Scandal of the Gospel

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” --Tim Keller

The love of God is a scandal.

It is so scandalous, that we have to tame it. We rarely see God's love for the raw, unbridled, passion that it is--because it's so crazy huge, it makes us uncomfortable. Instead, we pick and choose the images of God's love that are palatable: Children on Jesus' lap, the Father embracing the prodigal son, the mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings.

But often God uses the imagery of a romantic lover to describe His love for us. Back to Ezekiel 16:
“Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine,” declares the Lord God. “Then I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil."
 God claims us as His bride,...covers us with His love,.. and then he cleans us up. Resist the urge to gloss over the beauty (and akwardness) of these images. This is how God loves.

We would do it the other way around! We would want someone to get their act together, to clean themselves up before we showered our love on them. We might be willing to help with the process, but we certainly would want to see some sign of goodness, or righteousness, or beauty BEFORE we showered another with our love.

Not God.

He covers our nakedness.

He promises His faithfulness.

He makes us His own.

And then, with gentleness, he bathes us.

This isn't the angry scrub-brush type of bath that a mother gives to a wayward child. This is the soft caress of a wash-cloth in the hand of a tender lover.

This is how God loves us.

And we can' take it! Ezekiel goes on to describe how the beautiful bride becomes a whore. She takes all the gifts that God has bestowed upon her, and she uses them to attract other lovers. Rather than being deeply satisfied, she rejects His love.

How could she? How dare she?

And yet, I, too, am guilty.

The problem, I think, is this: When I fail to receive the love of God for the passionate, jealous, intense love that it is, I will look for love in other places. When I diminish God's love to a grandfatherly pat on the head, it will never satisfy my deepest yearnings.

But when I learn to receive this hurricaine of God's love, it changes everything.

God loves so deeply, so purely, so perfectly, that His love not only fills my every longing, but it overflows from me onto a lost and hurting world. It is more than I can contain, and so I spread it around liberally...and in so doing, I enter into the scandal myself.

Yes, I'm learning to love scandalously.

When was the last time you poured out love on someone so undeserving that those around you questioned your judgement? When was the last time you gave so generously that your accountant accused you of being reckless? Have you ever had a house guest that made your neighbors worry about the safety of your children?

We are the objects of a scandalous love. And when we finally get that, we are transformed into scandalous lovers ourselves.

THIS is the Gospel.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

He Saved Me

Ezekiel 16 is not exactly a G-rated chapter of the Bible. In fact, it's rather scandalous. But for some reason, I find myself drawn to it. I'm both inspired and repulsed by the images. I'm both challenged and comforted by the message. It reveals something of God that I think I've watered-down.

I'm starting to realize that we might not actually like God as He really is, so we clean Him up for church. We pick and choose the images of God we want to keep, and we ignore the rest.

Gentle Shepherd--Good! Keep it. Paint it. Hang it in the nursery!

Jealous Lover--Bad! Skip over those verses.

Faithful Father--Good! Use it. Sing it. Write books about it!

Angry Ruler--Questionable. Keep it in the Old Testament. Gloss over it.

Just Judge--Good! Preach it. Exegite it! Use it to evangelize!

Proponent of Social Justice--Sketchy! Too focused on the world. We care more about saving souls.

And while it's a struggle to understand what God says about Himself, it's almost impossible to accept what God says to be true about US. About ME. The tuth is too shocking, too harsh, too raw, so we sugar-coat it to make it more palatable. And again, we pick and choose the images.

Lost sheep--Good! Sweet and fluffy. Poor thing just wandered off. He couldn't really help it.

Cheap Whore--Yeah, that's not so pretty. Let's not talk about that one.

Salt of the Earth--Good! Yes, we are change agents, we add spice, we purify the earth. Yea, us!

Enemies of God--Well, that seems a bit harsh...

Children of God--Good! I like it. One, big, happy, family.

Wretches--I'm not sure that's fair. I'm not perfect, but I'm no wretch!

Ezekiel 16 begins with Jerusalem being represented as an abandoned baby:
As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing; you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths. No eye looked with pity on you to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you. Rather you were thrown out into the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born.
Last year in my Old Testament class I learned that the ancient Hebrew custom was that a baby was not considered "alive" until the father chose to adopt it. If the father rejected a baby, the baby could be left in an open field to die. So the Lord is telling Jerusalem that it was not even considered worthy of life from its very birth. But then he goes on to say this:
“When I passed by you and saw you squirming in your blood, I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’" 
God, in this admonition to "live" has adopted Jerusalem. The baby does nothing to earn this right of life. The baby is a mess. "Abhorred." Squirming in its own blood. Until God gives it life.

God bends down. God has compassion. God shows mercy. God loves and cares for the unwanted child. God bestows every possible blessing. And still, God is rejected.

This is the human condition. This is the reality of our corruption. Our sinfulness is not something that we do every now and then, it's not a blemish on our skin. Our sinfulness is woven through our nature, apart from Christ it is the essence of who we are.

When we don't get that--when we don't grasp the depths of our depravity, we miss out on being able to appreciate the enormity of the grace that we have been given. We love when Paul talks about being transformed from "glory to glory." We forget that John wrote about receiving from Christ "grace upon grace."

Over and over we are told not to forget who we were before we met Jesus. What we are apart from grace. And this rememberence is not meant to shame us. It is meant to hold us. To hold us in that place of awe for the God who stooped down "while we were in our blood"..."while we were yet sinners." For the one who clothed us in His righteousness, because even our very best is like "filthy rags."

The fact is, we want to be worthy. I want to be worthy. I want to be a child of God because I'm lovable. Because I'm cute. Because I'm good. I don't want to think of myself as a discarded baby. I want to think of myself as somehow, in at least some small way, worth being saved. Can't I please play some part in my own salvation?

Does the bloody baby play a role?

When I was replete with sin, as I lay squirming in my own blood, I still bore the image of God. God has graced humanity with His image, and by giving us His own reflection, He placed in each human being an innate worthiness. A worthiness rooted in Himself.

So while I don't play a role in my own salvation, I know that He deems me worthy. So worthy that He sent His only son. In Jesus, the father says, "Live!"

And with that Word of Life, I am recreated. The old, bloody baby is gone, the new has come. But as I live into that reality of who I am in Christ, I stand in awe of the one who rescued me from certain death. Not by works of righteouness that I have done, but according to His mercy, He has saved me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Festival of Lights

Last night was supposed to be the kick-off of the Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights) in Lyon, an annual five-day celebration of the Virgin Mary, who--according to local legend, saved the people of Lyon from the plague in 1643. Mary is greatly esteemed--venerated--worshiped in Lyon. I have already gotten into deep conversations with people about Mary--she seems much more popular than Jesus in this city. But contrary to popular belief, Mary can't save them.

Following the Paris terrorist attacks, all of France has been on high alert. Therefore, for security reasons, the festival of lights was reduced to a one night event. High on the plateau above our apartment, the words #Merci Marie (Thank You, Mary with a hashtag!) were glowing in blue lights next to the Notre Dame Basilica.

The town also sought to honor the fallen victims of the Paris attack by inviting residents to place candles in their windows as a sign of solidarity. This gave a lovely glow to each building. In the photo they look like Christmas lights, but those are all actually candles.

David and Chandler and I went out to wander our neighborhood--which hosts the Festival of Lights. Food vendors and musicians were out in full force! We treated ourselves to hot spiced wine and (for the first time in our lives!) roasted chestnuts!

A band played outside of our window until midnight--it's a good thing we enjoy being in the heart of the action.

A coalition of local churches came together to hand out free Bibles in the neighborhood during the festivities. Each Bible contained a flyer for an outreach event that our church plant is hosting in January. Please pray that those who took Bibles would have their hearts and their minds opened to the Gospel. Pray that they would join us on January 29th to learn more about Jesus and his love for the world.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

I'm the Problem

Another shooting. Another tragedy. And from what I can observe, those who have national level platforms are not turning towards each other in desperation, aching to find a solution. Instead they've quickly set up their camps and and have started lobbing bombs of their own.

And we wonder why there is so much violence?

When will we finally turn towards? When will we stop pointing fingers and blaming? Where are the leaders that refuse to accuse everyone else of causing the problem? Where are the ones who will finally stand up and say, "I'm the problem! It's my fault!"

Where are the Daniels and Nehemiahs? Who will tear their clothes in repentance, confessing their sins and the sins of the nation?

No one?


As long as we see the problem as "out there" instead of "in here," we will not find peace.

Years ago the London Times ran an essay contest where they asked people to respond to the question, "What's Wrong With the World?" The great theologian G. K. Chesterton wrote this famous response:

Dear Sir,

I am.

G. K. Chesterton

I see many Christians postulating that the problem is that our country has turned its back on God, that we as a nation have turned away from him. I think that still makes it someone else's problem. With this approach the Christian takes exception--everyone else, the worldly, humanistic Americans are at fault. This is far from the humble reply of Chesterton, who owned the sickness himself.

The great leader Nehemiah, when he hears that Jerusalem lies in ruin, doesn't point fingers and say, "Why can't those Israelites get it together?" No. He counts himself among the guilty, praying, "I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's family, have committed against you."

Including myself. Nehemiah wasn't even living in Jerusalem at the time, and yet, he counted himself among the guilty.

Church, this is not the time to stand up and point fingers. Praying for our country IS a valuable thing. But God has been clear since the beginning of time that faith without works is dead. Nehemiah prayed, and then he went to Jerusalem to build a wall. What else will we do?

Psalm 34:14 says to "seek peace and pursue it."

Hint: Neither insisting on the importance of gun rights nor proclaiming the need for greater gun control are means of seeking peace and pursuing it. They are exactly the opposite. When we cannot humble ourselves enough to come together to find a solution we are not seeking peace, we are prolonging violence.

The old hymn says, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."

Who will be bold enough to question their own stance? Who will dare to imagine that their current point of view might be flawed? Who might be creative enough to imagine that the solution is beyond the current set of proposed possibilities? Who is courageous enough to turn towards those who have an opposing view and listen, not with the intent to refute, but with the desire to learn?  If we all continue to believe that our current way of thinking is holy, right, and good, then we will, each one, miss the conviction of the Holy Spirit that might reveal where we are wrong. And we are wrong. Every one of us.

What is wrong with the world?

I am.