Reflecting on a Purpose-filled Life

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:10-17)

bowThere is something incredibly profound in the relationship Paul has with Timothy that speaks of Paul’s integrity as a follower of Christ. After warning Timothy about those who are not true followers of Jesus, he reminds him of what is true, encouraging him to remain steadfast because of what Timothy has seen in Paul. I find this incredibly challenging and convicting in my own life, desiring to be able to say this to my children and those I disciple. Paul seems to have gotten it all right:

Teaching – Paul is confident that all he has taught is right and completely in sync with all that Scripture reveals.

Conduct – This takes the teaching to the next level, because he’s confident to say that his conduct has matched up with his teaching. One never points this out unless it’s demonstrable.

Aim in life – Timothy can see what Paul sees as his purpose and what is valuable based on his priorities and goals. Again, this must match up with both teaching and conduct. If the teaching is not right, the conduct not in line with the teaching, then the priorities will be skewed.

My faith – Paul clearly believes what he says based on his actions. He truly trusts the Lord in all things as demonstrated by the way He lives His life. This is obviously more than lip-service.

My patience – Now he’s getting personal. If he believes and trusts Christ, he is content to wait on the Lord which includes showing patience for God’s work in others. Rather than trying to “fix” someone or manipulate a situation, Paul will speak the Truth, live the Truth, encourage growth, but leave the results to God.

My steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings – In the face of great suffering and challenges, Paul stays the course. His faith and belief in Christ and the Word of God motivates Him to persist regardless of the circumstances.In spite of the fact that evil will continue and even increase, Timothy is to continue to become more Christlike through what he has learned and seen and what he has read through Scripture, the very words of God. Because of his life and discipline, Paul has “street cred” and can encourage Timothy, with confidence, to persist. Paul need not depend on the “do as I say, not as I do” cop-out. Rather, he can simply say to Timothy, “Follow me.” What power that carries and what a difference it makes in a life!

Admittedly, it is so hard to live this kind of life.  Frankly, though, if Paul can do it, anyone can. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that changed Saul, an enemy of Christ, into Paul, arguably the most influential of all of the apostles of Christ, and it is that same power of that same Holy Spirit that can do that in me!

I Am a Hypocrite

HypocriteHeader

Listen to an audio version of this post.

 

Yeah, it’s true…I am a hypocrite.

There.

Said it.

You want to try it? Really, you should give it a shot.  Ok, say this with me, “I am a hyp…”. Wait, not yet.  Let’s make sure you should say it.  I suppose it’s possible (though not likely) that there may be someone to whom that label doesn’t apply.

Let’s find out:

1.  Are you perfect?
2.  Have you ever been perfect?
3.  Do you ever plan to be perfect this side of the grave?
4.  Have you ever acted like you are perfect?

Alright, let’s evaluate a little bit because, frankly, I think it would be pretty easy to come up with a big negatory on all four of those.  That is, unless we explore question number 4 a little bit closer.

So, you’ve never acted like you’re actually perfect…I mean literally perfect…but have you ever acted like you have it all together?  What I mean by that is, you don’t have any really serious sins in your life; you’ve managed it all pretty well so that if anyone looked at you, they would say, “Hey, he’s got it all together” (or something like that).

Let’s look at it another way:  Would people be shocked if they knew how you really were on the inside?  Would they be disappointed if they saw the ugliness that you know is there, but can’t bear for anyone else to see it?  Would you be embarrassed or downright humiliated if you let them know the real struggles you deal with regularly?  You talk the talk, but the walk doesn’t look quite so polished and pretty.  Do you feel the pressure to hold it together so that you don’t disappoint or discourage someone who may be looking at you as an example?

Congratulations…you’re a hypocrite.

Ok, so back to where we started.  Altogether now:  “I am a hypocrite.”  No, really, because I know you did not say it out loud.  Once again and for real this time…with feeling:  “I…”  You can do it… “I am a hypocrite.”

There, now.  Feels better, doesn’t it?  Owning it is the first step in killing it, and kill it, we must.

Hypocrisy is one of the greatest enemies of the Church.  Think about it:  What is the number one reason unchurched people give for being unchurched people?  Right!  “That place is full of hypocrites.”

You know what?  They’re right.

Before you go and jump to conclusions about what we hypocrites look like, let’s unpack it a bit, shall we?

If you’re like me, the first thing you think of is this:  “I need to bring my actions in line with my words.”  In other words, “I need to try harder to actually LIVE the life I SAY I live.”

Uh, yeah, thanks for playing, but WRONG!
If that’s your game you will simply solidify yourself as a life-long, devout, professional hypocrite.  Look, did the Old Testament teach us nothing?  The WHOLE THING was written to unveil God’s plan of redemption and I assure you, it had nothing to do with your goodness or Super Christian…..ness.  Whatever.

What it DID have to do with was God giving us His Law and saying, “Keep it.”  The problem?  Nobody could do it.  Ah-hah!  Now, we’re on to something!  Nobody could…that’s the point.  What happens when you are told that the ONLY way to have relationship with God is to keep the Law fully only to realize it can’t be done?  (check out Galatians 3:10 – For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”)

What happened in the OT was that people finally began to realize their inability to please God through the Law.  What does that lead to?  Yep, hopelessness.  What’s the point in even trying, right?

Unless…

See, what happened at that point was God stepped in with some really great news. Catch this:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

You got that, right?  God steps in and says, “Hey, you know that covenant I established that you didn’t keep?  I’m replacing it.  See, the reality is that you couldn’t keep it because you are fallen humanity.  You had to experience the hopelessness of trying in order to learn that you couldn’t do it.  Now that you realize that you can’t earn your own salvation, I’m stepping in to do the job myself…because I’m the only One who can.” (That’s from the New Modern, Uninspired Davidic Paraphrased Edition).

Then you get word through the prophets that a Messiah (or Deliverer) is coming and it just sweetens the pot!  So, you get that kind of news, what do you do?  Uh-huh…you start looking for that Deliverer!

Then He comes!  That’s where the New Testament picks up.

Alright, all of that and where does it leave us?  Back to that passage in Galatians 3:10, but now we go a little bit further.  Let’s run by verse 10 again and then go from there:

Galatians 3:10-14 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

So what Paul did there was establish that anyone who tried to be justified under the Law is cursed because they can’t do it though commanded to in order to earn eternal life.  Then he points to Jesus who did fulfill the Law! Perfectly. Every proverbial jot and tittle.  Then, having fulfilled the Law through His life, He satisfied the wrath of God towards sin in us through His death (taking our place) and then secured our eternal resurrection through His own from the dead.  That, then, is the free gift of salvation given in Romans 6:23.  That’s incredibly cool!  Seriously…think about that…cool!

Now, back to the hypocrite issue.

Life under the Law declares you must be perfect, but get this:  CHRISTIANITY DOESN’T!!!

It is precisely THAT you are a filthy sinner that you NEED a Savior.  If that is the case, why do we act as though we don’t!  (The exclamation marks are evidence I’m getting fired up, huh?)

So, seriously.  When we ACT as though we have it all together, failing to be honest before the world about our sin and short-coming, we are actually communicating that, though we may have needed the Gospel INITIALLY to save us and deliver us from sin, we really don’t so much any more because we’ve got this sin-thing managed pretty well.

That, my friend, is called deception.  YOU are deceived into thinking that you must look good to be a good Christian and you are deceiving the WORLD into thinking the very same thing.  Further, it puts you in a position of looking down on the other filthy sinners who haven’t done nearly as good of a job as you have to cover up their sin.  At least when they flaunt it, they’re being honest (and don’t forget, lying is a sin).

In fact, to be a good Christians assumes you’ve been a very bad person.  Because you screwed up being a perfect human before God, you need the God-Man, Christ Himself, to do what you failed to do.

Alright then.  If this is true, what, do I just own my sin and flaunt it?  Um, Paul says no.

Warning: This is a little bit long, but very important.

Romans 6:1-14 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

This means that sin no longer has me under its spell, but does not mean that I will be sin-free.  It means that I am free to live honestly about my sin nature; that I can openly communicate to those around me that I am still wrestling with this sin, but that I am no longer destroyed by it; that I am no longer a slave to it.  I can confess that I am no better than anybody else and that my sin bought me a ticket to hell just like the rest of humanity.  The ONLY difference in my sin and someone who has not trusted in Christ is that mine has been paid for.  See what Paul later said in Romans 8:1-4:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

No condemnation!  None.  Zilch. Nada!  This means very simply that I don’t have to walk according to the flesh anymore, but I don’t have to act as though I’m perfect, either.  I can admit the fact that I needed the Gospel initially to save me and I need the Gospel NOW to sustain me.  It’s all about Jesus!Now, rather than trying harder to actually LIVE the life I SAY I live like I’m tempted to, I simply need to submit honestly and humbly before Christ so that HE can live His life through me, killing the sin in me, not trying to hide it (like we hypocrites are prone to do) but rather flaunting the work of Jesus so He gets glory in re-making a sin-soaked guy like me.

What happens if we can finally get this?  We can at last live in the freedom of Christ, having been liberated from the pressure to appear perfect, while demonstrating to the world around us that they can find the same solution for their own sin problem, AND the Church will become a much nicer place when the Christian elite stop thumbing their noses at fellow sinners who haven’t learned to wear the masks yet.

Then the Church can move from being a museum full of spiritual relics (I believe Jesus called them “white-washed tombs”), setting examples of what it looks like to fake it well, to what it is intended to be: a hospital full of people being healed and made whole by a Great Physician.  A place where He gets the full glory and man gets a very…yes, cool…blessing!

Come and See

wpid-Photo-May-7-2013-958-AM.jpgAs someone who has studied apologetics extensively, I know and have used all of the logical arguments for the existence of God, the deity of Christ and the reality of miracles. I have talked with people about the rationality for believing in the reliability of Scripture and the resurrection of Jesus. As a natural skeptic, I tested my inherited faith against reality until it became a proven faith to me. I began to have a confidence in what I always thought was true as I scrutinized it and it began to make sense beyond the “blind faith” responses we often hear to questions about how we know it’s true or why we believe.

I was reading in John 1 yesterday and was reminded of how people initially came to Christ during His time on earth. Take a look at this passage:

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.[h] 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus[i] was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Look at how that played out. When Andrew and the other follower of John asked Jesus about where He was staying, Jesus didn’t convince them to follow Him based on His trustworthiness or He deity. He simply said, “Come and you will see.” Whatever the rest of that day held, it was enough to convince Andrew that Jesus was the Messiah. So what did he do? He told his brother, Simon, which apparently roused Simon’s curiosity that resulted in Peter going to check it out for himself. Something tells me there was something that Simon saw in the way his brother had become so quickly convinced that set things in motion.

My favorite, though, is Philip with Nathanael. This guy is no push-over. He has questions. He’s not into “easy believe-ism”, even doubting that it can be possible that this is the Messiah because of where Jesus is from. Now, I would be tempted at that point to dive right into the apologetics and give the reasons as to why God could, in fact, bring the Messiah from Nazareth or anywhere else He chose since He is, as it were, you know…God.

Philip let’s me down, though. Not a word of defense. He doesn’t argue the historicity of Christ’s having actually been born in Bethlehem which lines up perfectly with the Old Testament prophecies or anything. He doesn’t engage in any arguments at all. Doesn’t he know that God needs these arguments? Please!

What he does say is awesome!

I love what Philip actually said: Come and see. It’s like, “Dude, I don’t know…see for yourself.”  That is incredibly powerful and how often I forget that part!

If Christ is real and alive and well, there is no need to try and argue someone to Christ. Just point them in the right direction and let Jesus do the rest.  Am I swearing off apologetics because of this? No. There is a place for helping people understand the reasonable nature of Christianity, but in my opinion, it’s not the strongest apologetic. You know what is?

A life well-lived.

That’s it. It’s like the apologetics of life. If I live my life according to the power given me through the Holy Spirit of God, my life will be the greatest apologetic there is. Joy in all circumstances. Hope. Purpose. Power. Love. Kindness. Grace. Man, if my life bleeds these things and they’re on display for all to see, then all I have to do is say to people, “Jesus is the power source for a life lived well. Come and see for yourself.”

I still struggle to get my mind around that…that “come and see” was all that these guys said, but think about what they did: they left the rest up to Jesus. They really trusted that Jesus would take care of revealing who He is Himself. Actually, I think there is more faith in that than the attitude we often take that it’s up to us to convince people of God’s existence. It’s almost as if we don’t really believe this stuff, so we have to make a really good argument so they realize this is a bargain they can’t refuse.  That’s not the heart of apologetics, but it can be our own attitude.  If it is, we have to ask whether or not we really believe in the working of the Holy Spirit and the power of God to draw to Himself anybody He chooses.

What does a “come and see” approach look like now?

Well, when Jesus was here on earth, it was possible to literally take them into his physical presence. Obviously, He’s not here anymore. Now, what?

Now, we are His physical presence. His transformational work within us is evidence of His presence so we can essentially say, “Watch what He’s doing in me and if you like what you see, follow Him. Believe in Him. Swear off following your own path and doing your own thing and watch what He does in you, too.” This is about living authentically, loving people genuinely, and not being afraid to give a reason for the hope that is in me. (1 Peter 3:15)

That last part is important, so make sure you hear what I’m NOT saying.

I’m not encouraging you to live according to that old saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” I think words are most always necessary. Without words, our hope and joy can be attributed to anything: exercise, good fortune, positive thinking or Tums.  Paul certainly used an abundance of words in his reasoning for the faith.  Look at his life, though, and you can see why his words were so powerful.  They backed up a Spirit-fueled life.  If my life isn’t “preaching the Gospel” first, my words are probably weak.  That’s when we look hypocritical.  On the flip side, if my life is already communicating the results of faith in Christ in how I am living, my words will carry a tremendous amount of weight.

Yeah, I’m still big on apologetics. I still believe that reasoning with others about the legitimate claims of Scripture is important. I believe it is imperative that we know Scripture that points to Christ. I also believe, though, that a lack of knowledge in the area of apologetics keeps many people from feeling confident in sharing their faith and answering questions they have about God, but a life well-lived coupled with accrediting the One who empowers it is the strongest apologetic there is. In that, I don’t have to know all of the answers. Philip certainly didn’t know whether or not anything good could come from Nazareth and didn’t feel compelled to try. He just said what anybody can say: “Come and see for yourself.”

“Taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” ~Psalm 34:8

Walking in the Shadow of the Resurrection

Life's enjoymentEaster’s over, the crowds have dispersed, eggs found, rabbits eaten, services conducted, Monday came and went…now what?

Maybe the answer lies in how Monday went.  Did it seem like Easter to you?  Were you walking in the shadow of the Resurrection?  Was it filled with hope and grace, forgiveness and joy?

It’s so easy to forget that Easter is not a one time a year thing, but for those who have been transformed by the power of the Spirit of God because of the satisfaction of the Father’s righteous wrath towards sin, every day is Easter!  Everyday is marked by the forgiveness of Christ so that today I can take a deep breath and, with hope rather than dread, embrace the adventure that is “today”.

Whatever you’re dealing with today, if you’ve trusted in the One who overcame death, deal with it with the resurrection power that is able to say, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Death couldn’t defeat Christ and, because of that, you and I “are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37, with context)

Idols of the Heart

Rarely do I teach a class or deliver a message that hasn’t already penetrated my soul and taught me first.  I think that the only way a message is really exceptional is if the Holy Spirit has brought the hammer down first in the teacher/preacher’s life so that the passion can come from a place of real, deep conviction.

Last night, however, as I taught on really believing the Gospel (*see below for explanation of “Gospel”), the real weight of that came at that point and later as I reflected on it more and more.

I taught about how we say we believe the Gospel and and we do a lot of things that would be considered right for a disciple to do and yet it seems we tend to battle with the same surface sins over and over.  Why is that?  I say surface sins because those are the ones that we can see.  However, usually the surface sins indicate something much deeper: what Bob Thune and Will Walker, authors of The Gospel-Centered Life, call “Idols of the heart”.

Here’s the example we looked at last night – gossip.  Everybody knows when they gossip, right?…usually.  Anyway, so we realize we’re gossiping and so we feel convicted by it and repent.  Then we run along and gossip somewhere else. Doh! Why can’t we break that?! What’s going on that I keep gossiping when I know it’s wrong and don’t really want to (or do I?)

The question we explored last night was, “Why do we gossip?”  Here are some reasons suggested by the above-mentioned authors listed as “heart idols”:

  • »  The idol of approval (I want the approval of the people I’m talking to)

  • »  The idol of control (Using gossip as a way to manipulate/control others)

  • »  The idol of reputation (I want to feel important, so I cut some-one else down verbally)

  • »  The idol of success (Someone is succeeding—and I’m not—so I gossip about him)

  • »  The idol of security (Talking about others masks my own in- security)

  • »  The idol of pleasure (Someone else is enjoying life—and I’m not—so I attack her)

  • »  The idol of knowledge (Talking about people is a way of show- ing I know more)

  • »  The idol of recognition (Talking about others gets people to notice me)

  • »  The idol of respect (That person disrespected me, so I’m going to disrespect him)

What’s the problem?  I haven’t really believed the Gospel to the point that I don’t need these idols to make me feel successful, validated, accepted, respected, etc.  I haven’t realized that IN CHRIST, I am complete so that my validation, acceptance, respect and on and on are found in and completed in HIM.  I don’t need to serve and/or be held captive by these idols IF I TRULY BELIEVE THE GOSPEL and so I am freed from fear, anxiety, low self-image and all the other deep-seeded problems that are MANIFESTED through actions like gossip, lying, etc.  Make sense? 

So, I’m left with the question of whether or not I truly BELIEVE the Gospel.  If so, it should have an absolutely RADICAL affect on my entire life.  As we said last night, my whole life and everything in it should be leveraged for the sake of the Kingdom of God. That includes my family, my stuff, my money…everything.

Are you content to give lip-service to your “belief” in the Gospel of Christ?  Do you feel the same level of conviction I’ve felt?  If so, it’s time to do some spelunking of the soul and figure out what idols are living why down deep in caves and crevices of your heart.  Ask God to shine the helmet light on them and start breaking them down.  Clear them out! Be free from fear, depression, anxiety, anger and all the other manifestations that come with failing to believe in the deliverance and power of the Gospel. 

Am I minimizing or over-simplifying deliverance from things like depression, anger, etc? Absolutely not! Many, if not most of these things require some help both in identifying and removing them.  Seek Godly, qualified help and accountability if you are wrapped up in these things, but I encourage you to follow my example on this and start addressing it today. Stop saying you believe the Gospel but living as if you’ve never even heard it.

————————

* In this post, I am referring to the Gospel (which literally means “Good News”) as the revealed message of the work of Jesus Christ to bear the wrath of a just God towards sin and, thus, serve as a substitute for sinners in order that they can then be at peace with God, having been cleansed and adopted by God Himself. The only proper response to hearing the Gospel is to believe it and repent of the sins that evoked the wrath of God and precipitated the sacrificial death of Christ.  For more information on the Gospel, feel free to email me.

Fear Factor

    

I’ve been thinking alot about fear lately.  As a matter of fact, it’s what I talked about this past Sunday at The Gathering.  I’m not talking about just any fear, but the fear of living honestly before people.  Being authentic without feeling the need to alter who you are to please someone else based on what you think they want you to be.  Living that is as crazy as all that sounds!

Our culture has gotten to the point where living what used to be considered deviant lives is now the norm; it’s cool.  It’s what’s expected.  Living a life of faith in Christ, let’s face it, is not.  Now, to be clear, saying you’re down with Jesus is fine, so long as it doesn’t alter your lifestyle from what everyone else is doing; so long as there are no demands placed on your autonomy. Make sense?  To do otherwise takes a great deal of courage. 

So, I’ve tried to come up with how we can overcome this fear.  Are there the typical 3 steps  to overcoming fear of man?  Can I will myself to do it?  Is living an honest life of faith in front of everyone something that should just come naturally?  All good questions, I think…few good answers.  To each of those questions, I’m left with a resounding no (if I’m honest).  Though that third one is a little tricky.  No, it doesn’t come natural to me because I want to be accepted by other people.  That’s sort of the way we’re made.  Yet, shouldn’t it come naturally for someone who has come into relationship with Christ?  Ah, there’s the rub.  It should, but the key there is the word relationship.

Relationship comes through spending time with someone.  With that comes intimacy.  The more time I spend with Christ, the closer I get to Him and the more influence He has over me.  The old saying is that you become like the person you hang with the most.  True here.  The deeper my love-relationship with Christ is, the less room fear has in my life because “perfect love drives out fear.”  (1 John 4:18)  It’s like the old hymn goes: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim…”.  There is something mysterious at work as we focus more and more on Christ, there is less room to care about what other people are thinking about that relationship.

Did you see the movie Shallow Hal?  Hal gets to know Gwyneth Paltrow’s character and falls in love with her even though everyone else (especially his “best” friend) thought he was crazy.  The more he got to know her (even when he discovered what she really looked like), the less he cared about what anybody else thought.  Same principle.

So, is there a quick and easy way to get over the fear factor involved with living your life of faith honestly before everybody?  Nope.  It’s just like any other relationship: it takes time, effort, investment and intimacy.  But before too long, you’ll begin to experience a healthy case of apathy in regards to others opinions and a freedom to be exactly who you were created to be.

Agree or disagree?  Let me know.  Do you experience this fear factor now?  Have you overcome it? If so, what got you to that point?  I’d love for you to leave a comment here, since I’m sure others could glean from your experience or struggles.  Plus, I’d love to interact with you.  Thanks!

Hypocrisy

The charge of hypocrisy is the one I most often hear levied against the Church and used as an excuse by those who want no part of it.  “I don’t want to hang out with a bunch of hypocrites”  This is often the claim made by those who fail to realize that that statement is incredibly…well…hypocritical.  It is the equivalent of saying, “I don’t want to be a hypocrite by hanging out with a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites who judge people.”  That is, of course, in their judgment.  Hellooooo.  But I digress.

The truth is, they’re right.  There are a bunch of hypocrites inside the church just like outside.  The goal, though, is for us to strive for obeying Scripture consistently so at least if we’re accused of something, it’s not that we’re wishy-washy.

Case in point:  I had a great conversation this week with a person who told me they know of someone who won’t come back to The Gathering because I made an unmarried couple mad when I told them that until they were married, they would have to stop living together (yeah, literally move out) and repent of that sin before I would consider performing their wedding and before they could consider joining our church.  That was, in their judgment, too much to ask.  We were accused of being hypocritical for “judging them” and making them feel uncomfortable.  They were essentially upset because we insist on labeling what the Bible calls sin…well, sin.

OK, so this person was right.  Guilty as charged: we do call sin, sin (though it is Scripture that is doing the judging…they’re not my rules).  They are also right that we call people to repentance (just like Scripture does).  We do not, however, do it to be hypocritical but to prevent us and them from being so and we strive to be consistent.

It is OK not to be OK, but it’s not OK to stay that way and for us to say we believe Scripture yet dismiss what it says as unimportant to live by would be fatally flawed.  The unpopular fact is that God cannot and will not bless a life that is characterized by willful sin and we really want to see lives blessed.  It’s that simple.  What would be hypocritical on any church’s part is to say, “they are sinners but we are not.”  But we all have to repent and turn from our sin.  Every single one of us!

We work really hard to communicate this in a compassionate way, but at the end of the day, we don’t want any of us to be comfortable in our sins and so we address it.  To do otherwise would be like the crew of a cruise ship refusing to point out to passengers that it’s sinking because they don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable.  After all, they came on a cruise to escape stress and discomfort.  Sheesh, everybody knows that!

Unfortunately, (and this is a bit of a side note) too many churches have allowed the “abandon ship (read: sin)” to be silenced because (to adapt my metaphor) they’re afraid someone might decide to get off of their boat!  So the ships are full to overflowing with sinking people who don’t even realize it.  The popular (though, thankfully, not universal) solution?  Just build bigger ships.

So, we must call for and expect more, from ourselves and each other.  See, what is hypocritical is when we use the label “Christian” to characterize ourselves (see 95% of FB profiles) yet neglect or refuse to structure our lives according to what that label dictates.

Deception

Do you have a pet peeve? Is there that one thing that just sets you off quicker than anything else? I heard one person whose pet peeve was people who have pet peeves. Hmm.

I think one of my greatest pet peeves is deception. I hate when people try and deceive me…especially when I know they’re doing it. One of my spiritual gifts is discernment, so very often I find people trying to feed me a line and I know it. I may or may not say anything, but I know as well as I know my name I’m being deceived.

It happened last night at church when a lady and her grown son came in needing gas money so she could go see her ailing mother in the hospital and then get back to Sale Creek. It happens all the time and for some reason, it’s always the same hospital and they always need to get back to Sale Creek. Go figure.

I actually thought of this because I was reading in Joshua 9 where the Gibeonites pulled the wool over the Israelites eyes by dressing in stanky clothes, acting like worn out travelers from “a distant country,” rather than coming as the neighboring people that they were. Why? They knew Joshua was cleaning house, defeating all of the peoples in the land God had given them. So they made a covenant that they would not be defeated. It worked, too (at least in the short term…deception never works in the end).

I get that a lot as a pastor, too. People not only coming dressed as beggars so they can get a handout, but well-dressed people come as devoted Christ-followers. They feed a line they think you want to hear and act a certain way (for a time), when all along they are “white-washed tombs”; sometimes actual wolves in sheeps clothing. Since it is almost always revealed sooner or later, why not just be honest from the start? I have so much more grace and compassion (and respect!) for those who come admitting they are broken people like I am, but am disgusted with the games.

I think God is, too. Actually, I think we all play this game with Him. You know that game where we dress ourselves up for Him and act like we’re OK, but all along we’re broken. It’s a sad little game. Today, I’m going to try and stop playing it, though, and get honest with God and the people around me. Because, you know, it is a pet peeve of mine…and besides, He already knows anyway and prefers we just ‘fess up so He can demonstrate the depths of His grace and compassion towards us.

The eyes of the Lord  search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are  fully committed to him. [2 Chronicles 16:9a]

A Rant.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of The Gathering and where we’re going and how we will get there.  I am incredibly encouraged by the spirit of the people who currently make up this Body and the excitement that is present about our future.

There is a focus on the Mission here that I have not seen over the past three years, a desire to seek God’s will and plan for us, and a hope to make a positive impact on our immediate community.  There is a unity like never before and, as a result, really much to celebrate about what God is doing.  We have developed some strong, healthy relationships/partnerships with some really great, missional sister churches in the area that I’m so excited about and grateful for.

We are getting somewhat serious about discipleship.  I think we are starting to understand that simply to gather together is not to be a church.  A church is made up of faithful, authentic followers of Christ who are committed to becoming more like Him every day and fulfilling His instructions that He gave us, including taking the Gospel to all nations.

But here’s the problem as I see it:  Though we are getting serious about taking the Gospel around the world, we are not yet serious about taking it around the block.

I am concerned because we are not yet focused on being a witness everywhere we go.  I am concerned that we are not looking for opportunities at every turn to tell people about the great news that there is hope in life, both here and for eternity, or living the kind of lives that make them hungry for something more.  We’re not there yet.

This is my prayer and my hope for us.  I am focused on my own life and my own weakness in this area and praying that God will ignite within me a hunger for taking the Gospel to the world and a repugnance for the complacency that too often defines who I am.

I look around at so many churches with an apparent focus on that which does not make a healthy church and find myself getting disgusted.  If I am honest, though, we’re all pretty disgusting.  We’re all too often focused on things that are more in keeping with kingdom-building (small “k”) rather than the Kingdom of God.  Isn’t it really just time to get over it?  Isn’t it time for us just to embrace what we believe and actually live it consistently? Isn’t it really just that simple?

When does the Truth of the Gospel define us?  I mean that in contrast to the way followers of Christ too often define the Gospel, giving off a false perception of who Christ is and what He really lived and taught while He was here; of what was and is important to Him?  Is it just me or is anybody else just sick to death of the weak, country-club, self-centered, homogenized, pasteurized, ego-centric, Westernized version of “church” that has dominated the landscape for far too long?  Is this really what we’ve become?  Is anyone else sick of the dualism that we, as Christ-followers, live – acting, thinking and speaking one way outside the walls of the church than we do inside, compartmentalizing our faith from the rest of our lives?  Just look at our Facebook posts.  How often are principles found in passages like Ephesians 5: 3-4 taken very seriously there?  Gosh, I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that…it’s so “old school,” isn’t it?  So yesterday.  We don’t worry about those kinds of things anymore.  Maybe that’s the problem.  Scripture hasn’t changed…we have.

So, my rant’s over…but my frustration isn’t.  I don’t want to sound too harsh or for it to be misunderstood that this is focused simply on others.  It’s focused on the collective us.  The Gathering has to decide to be different from the status quo.  We have to determine that we are going to be authentic and honest, focused on Jesus…period.  That’s why our slogan has simply become, “A church. Following Jesus.”  That simple. We just have to remember that “to follow” is “to become like”.  We can’t forget that.

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