Review of “Messy Grace” by Caleb Kaltenbach

Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing ConvictionMessy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction by Caleb Kaltenbach

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a challenging book for me as a conservative pastor. I appreciate Caleb’s story, and I am thankful for his testimony. And it isn’t that I have a problem with loving members of the LGBT community without sacrificing conviction. It’s that I haven’t figured out how to do it yet in a way that they will believe I am actually loving them.

I know all about “hate the sin, love the sinner.” Let’s not go there, because most of my gay friends have a hard time believing I love them if I call who they are a sin. Sexuality is so wrapped up in identity that they literally cannot hear me say, “I love you, but I don’t love what you are doing.” Caleb does a better job with this than anyone I’ve read who takes the Bible at face value (without trying to make the argument that the Bible doesn’t really mean what we’ve translated it to mean when it condemns same sex behavior). In fairness to the author, that is beyond the scope of his book. He is simply telling his story, and its a story conservatives need to hear. But we have to figure out how to engage in compassionate dialogue when we disagree on whether or not something is a sin. For me, it’s like trying to have a conversation with someone who is absolutely convinced their gossiping is really just sharing prayer requests, or that their bigotry is really just a desire to preserve their southern heritage. I can love them, I can accept them, I can plead with them to change their minds, but if they don’t see as sinful what I believe the Bible calls sinful, we get to the end of our conversation very quickly.

And when we are talking about someone’s sexuality, it becomes an attack on a whole different level. Calling out gossiping or bigotry is calling out behavior. Calling out homosexuality, from the perspective of the gay or lesbian, is calling out identity.

The most helpful line in Caleb’s book is that “God doesn’t call us to make gay people straight. He calls us to help lost people be found by Jesus.” Everything else is up to the sanctifying work of Christ. My prayer is that our churches will give all sinners a refuge and a haven for that sanctifying work to be done. And I fear the door won’t be open (or even if it is, that members of the LGBT community will never walk through it) if we don’t agree on what is sin and what isn’t.

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In the Middle of My Complaining…

Can you find joy in the midst of sorrow? Jeremiah did. Literally. In the exact middle.

lamentations 3

This morning my daily Bible reading took me to Lamentations. When it came up on my Bible reading app, I groaned a little. Because, full disclosure, and knowing that no Christian is EVER supposed to admit they don’t like anything that’s in God’s Word…

I don’t like Lamentations.

Lamentations is the most depressing book ever. It follows Jeremiah, which is also the most depressing book ever. Nor for nothing is Jeremiah called the weeping prophet. His assignment was to communicate a VERY unpopular message to a group of people who didn’t want to hear it. His message:  the Babylonians are coming. God’s people are going to be in exile for seventy years. And it is because of your sin and idolatry that this is going to happen.

 

Because his message was so unpopular, and because there were false prophets who were proclaiming that this whole exile thing would blow over in two years (see Jeremiah 28:1-4), Jeremiah’s words were ignored. The king of Judah actually cut apart the words of the scroll Jeremiah wrote, column by column, and threw them into the fire (Jeremiah 36). Jeremiah himself was thrown into a well and accused of treason  (Jeremiah 38).

Not to put to fine a point on it, but Jeremiah’s ministry assignment sucked.

Jeremiah hated it. He actually accused God of deceiving him (Jeremiah 20:7). Later in the same chapter, Jeremiah will say,

Cursed be the day
    on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
    let it not be blessed!
15 Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father,
“A son is born to you,”
    making him very glad.

(Jeremiah 20:14-15)

Much of Jeremiah’s 52 chapters is about how much he hates the assignment God has given him. Yet, he can’t NOT fulfill it. In 20:9, he writes:

If I say, “I will not mention him,
    or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
    shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
    and I cannot.

Apparently, 52 chapters were not enough for Jeremiah. So he followed it up with Lamentations. Which on the surface seems to be more of the same. Five solid chapters of complaining.

But when you start looking at the structure of Lamentations, there is more than meets the eye. Chapters 1,2,4,5 each have 22 verses. They are written as an acrostic, where each verse begins with the corresponding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Chapter three is 66 verses, also written as an acrostic (three verses per letter).

Why such a careful, methodical, precise structure? I think it is to make it easier to find the exact center of the book. The central verse of Lamentations is 3:33. It’s worth backing up a little in order to get Jeremiah’s run-up to this magnificent verse:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[b]
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man that he bear
    the yoke in his youth.

28 Let him sit alone in silence
    when it is laid on him;
29 let him put his mouth in the dust—
    there may yet be hope;
30 let him give his cheek to the one who strikes,
    and let him be filled with insults.

31 For the Lord will not
    cast off forever,
32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
33 for he does not afflict from his heart
    or grieve the children of men.

In the middle of his complaining (literally) Jeremiah remembered the unceasing, unfailing love of the Lord. He remembered that He renews His mercies to us every morning. That even though God can be the cause of our grief, He is also the source of our comfort. Verse 33 says that God does not afflict from His heart– he is not mean-spirited.

What do I remember in the middle of my complaining? Jeremiah found joy. Literally. In the exact middle of his sorrow. Joy is found when we focus not on our circumstances, but in the character of God.