What’s wrong with the Church?

I learned a long time ago never to write when I’m angry. So I may delete this post before it goes live. If you’re reading this now, you can assume the Holy Spirit shouted at me loud enough to keep it, because I don’t usually do this.

I’ve about had it, folks.

Never in my memory have I ever seen so many people who claim to follow Jesus point so many fingers. Social media has become a hub of bitterness and resentment, even more than it usually is, but it’s not the “worldly” people who are causing the biggest stir. It’s those of us who claim to follow Jesus. And we’re not going after people who don’t believe. We’re going after each other. Maliciously.

What is wrong with us?

I’m not surprise to hear it from people who don’t believe in Jesus. Honestly, this post is for Christians. Because if you say you follow Christ, and you are lashing out at other Christians, my friend, you are wrong (1 John 4:20). I don’t care what the issue is. I don’t care what you think you’re standing for. When your words and actions are intentionally damaging, you are not representing Jesus, and if you say you are, you are literally taking His name in vain—putting His stamp of approval on actions He would never sanction.

There are so many issues floating around right now, and everyone is so divided. Your political stance doesn’t matter. That’s not what this post is about (even though some people will make political). This post is a broken-hearted cry to anyone who believes in Jesus to get your heads out of your proverbial asses and start taking personal accountability for the words that are coming out of your mouths (Matthew 12:33-37).

If you don’t think the country should accept refugees, take the Bible verses you used to make your point and live by them on every other subject—not just the ones that stroke your ego. If you don’t use the Bible to direct the way you live normally, you have no place using it to justify this one point. You’re a hypocrite.

If you think the country should accept refugees, that’s great, but first, you should open the door to your own home and let strangers live in your house, interact with your children, and use your resources. If you’re willing to put your own happy home life at risk for the sake of someone else, you can urge the rest of the country to do it too. If you haven’t already done that, keep your naive opinions to yourself.

Nothing has changed

This is the same problem the Church has always had. We point fingers without personal risk (James 1:22). We sit on our blessed assurance and tell everyone else how to do their jobs, but when it comes to actually serving someone else, we close our doors. When it comes to putting our own lives on the line or sacrificing our own resources, we turn a blind eye. It’s perfectly fine to demand that the country as a whole should follow God, but when we are faced with a choice between a Godly option that will cause us discomfort and a worldly option that will be convenient, we often choose convenience.

Welcome to Club Humanity, where everyone’s screwed up but nobody will actually admit it.

Do you think that knowing a few Bible verses makes you eligible to speak for God? Do you think that dropping an occasional 20 in the offering plate makes you a generous person? Do you think having a family of your own gives you the right to hand down judgment on what other families should do? Do you think your church membership makes you more qualified to determine whether someone is worthy of salvation or not?

God, have mercy on us. All of us. We have no idea what we’re doing.

We’re taking sides and loading our weapons and facing off with each other when we should be united. We’re focusing on the issues that divide us rather than on Your love that should be binding us together. We’re listening to flawed human logic when we should be building our lives on Your eternal truth. And we’re taking Your truth and twisting it to suit our own needs rather than Your wisdom—wisdom you make plain in your Word.

How do we fix this mess?

I don’t have the answer. No human can fix us. Only God can do that. But He won’t until we all stop acting like we are the source of righteousness, when all we’re doing is adding to the noise.

Stop screaming and shouting. Stop with the impotent Facebook status updates that only stir up conflict and aggression. Just stop. Listen. Pray. And when you feel the need to be cruel to another believer, don’t. Because you’re not helping. It doesn’t matter what side of the fence you’re on. It doesn’t matter whether you call yourself conservative or liberal, right-wing or left-wing, Republican or Democrat. If you call Jesus Lord, you belong to God’s family, and God’s family is never supposed to act like this.

Stop trying to be the loudest voice in the room. That’s not what the Church is here for. We’re all so caught up in trying to prove to the rest of the world that we’re right that we’re forgetting our most important job: To love each other (Matthew 22:37-40).

And I’m not talking about loving foreigners. I’m not talking about extending grace and mercy to unbelievers. I’m talking about loving our fellow Christ-followers, our brothers and sisters in the faith. That’s the only way the world knows we’re different. That’s the only clue the world has that God is real (John 13:35). It’s how we love each other, especially when we disagree with each other.

What can we do?

You want to honor God? You want to do what God says is right? Start there. Love each other. And show that you love each other by extending kindness and grace to the people you don’t agree with, regardless which side of the political arena they’re sitting on.

Take what you say you believe and live it. Take how you’re telling other people to live and put it into practice in your own life. Then you can talk. Then you expect other people to listen. Until you do that, you’re no better than the politicians who write laws that they don’t have to obey. And you’re part of the problem instead of the solution.

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God’s grace isn’t a Get Out of Jail Free card

Everybody screws up. It’s just part of life. And when you screw up, you should do what you can to make amends. You should pay what you owe. You should take responsibility for your actions, and often that means facing up to the consequences of your choice.

Maybe you have to pay a fine or fee. Maybe you have to do community service. Maybe it’s something like losing privileges at work or even at home. Either way, it takes a good deal of humility to accept punishment or correction after you’ve done something wrong. It’s a lot easier to play the role of a victim, but if you choose that route, you’ll never learn what you need to learn.

Either way, don’t be surprised when consequences come your way after you make a choice. Good or bad, every action causes a reaction, but unlike physics, consequences are rarely equal or opposite of your original choice. If you make a bad choice, you’ll always face bad consequences, and usually they’ll be on a much larger scale.

So what about grace? If we’re saved and we follow Jesus, doesn’t that mean we’re in the clear? Doesn’t that mean we don’t have to face the consequences for our actions?

3BBC051F8BToday’s verses are Romans 6:14-16.

Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. 

Christ-followers, we get this whole grace vs. consequences concept all turned around somehow. When Christ saved us from our sins, He freed us from our eternal death sentence in hell. That’s grace. That’s 100% right. If you trust that the price for your soul is paid by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross alone, you’re saved. Absolutely.

But what happens if you take something that doesn’t belong to you? What happens if you lie or cheat or gossip? Do you think you’ll get away with it? Or when you get caught (because you will get caught), do you think people will just let it go? Do you actually think you won’t have to face some kind of consequence for the bad choices you make?

Because of God’s grace, we won’t face hell if we belong to Christ. But if we choose to sin, we will have to face the results of our choices. Like sowing and reaping. Cause and effect. Action and reaction. It’s a natural law.

We blunder through life making foolish decisions without asking God what’s right. We run over people. We run into people. We hurt others without thinking. We selfishly chase our own ambitions and ignore God’s warnings. We do it our way because our way is easier, faster, more fun. And we end up doing things God says we shouldn’t do. And then we’re shocked when God expects us to take responsibility. We accuse Him of abandonment. We shake our fist at heaven and demand to know why He’s treating us this way.

Friends, God’s grace isn’t a Get Out of Jail Free card. We still have a responsibility to live a life that honors Christ. And, no, there’s nothing we can do that will separate us from God’s love, but God loves us enough to not let us act in ways that will ultimately lead to our own destruction.

But God is so good. Even in the midst of our own messes, God is still with us. He’ll step in and give us strength to face our consequences. He’ll give us wisdom when we need it, patience when we need it, peace when we ask for it. But that’s not grace. That’s mercy.

Are you facing consequences today because you made a wrong choice? Or because someone in your life made a wrong choice? Don’t be a victim. Maybe you are innocent in all of it, but take the opportunity to get humble before God anyway. Accept responsibility. Own up to it. And ask God to help you face the consequences of your actions with faith.

He has never turned anyone away who came to Him truly seeking. He won’t stop now.

If God gave you shoes, why don’t you wear them?

To say the last two weeks haven’t exactly gone according to plan would be an understatement of massive proportions. I didn’t plan to need four new tires on my car the day after I left my job. I didn’t plan to get sick. I didn’t plan to have my car battery die the morning we were leaving for Colorado. And I didn’t plan to still be sick after a week of trying to hack up my lungs.

Funny how the little bumps in the road can be really discouraging, isn’t it? In other circumstances, they might just be inconveniences, but when they start piling up, they tend to drag you down.

745989_48427234Today’s verse is Ephesians 6:15.

For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.

I love the passage in Ephesians that talks about the Armor of God. Always have. But even I tend to focus on the other parts of the Armor of God that are mentioned in the passage. The helmet. The shield. The sword. The breastplate.  But–the shoes?

Come on. Who focuses on the shoes? Who even thinks about shoes? I mean, I’ve been told that you can tell a lot about someone by what shoes they wear, but this isn’t talking about fashion. This is armor for battle. And out of all the pieces of armor that someone would wear, why are shoes important?

Shoes protect your feet. Without your feet, you can’t walk. Yeah, you need to protect your head and your chest and your arms, but that’s from the big attacks. You don’t see major attacks aimed at your feet. No. Your feet run into small things. Pebbles. Sticks. Sharp rocks. Sand burrs and goat head stickers. They’re not enough to bring you down, but they are annoying. Especially when they come one after another.

That’s why you wear shoes. See, my default is barefoot. I hate shoes. But I can tell you stories about stepping on things that hurt. Shoes matter. So apply that concept to shoes in God’s Armor.

The struggles we face in our life aren’t physical. Maybe they feel like it, but there’s something bigger at the heart of every difficulty we face. No, that doesn’t mean to see Satan in every paper cut, but it does mean there are little irritations and annoyances that will come at you for no reason other than to distract you. Satan doesn’t just throw fiery darts. He litters your path with pebbles and rocks, and if you aren’t outfitted for them, they’re going to slow you down.

So what do the shoes of God’s Armor look like? Peace. That’s what the verse says. Peace that comes from the Good News. That’s the Bible. There is no greater peace in the world than peace with God, and God Himself made it possible for us to find it through Jesus’ sacrifice.

When we read the Bible and apply it to our lives, when we understand who God is and what He’s done for us, and when we allow Him to transform our minds and our perspectives and our thoughts, we see the world differently. We see our troubles differently.

When we run into those frustrations and little annoyances of life, don’t get angry. Don’t despair. Remember you’re wearing God’s peace. He knows what He’s doing with your life. He knows where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

Maybe you’ll step on a pebble every now and then. Maybe you’ll stub your toe. God gave you the shoes you need, and it’s your job to just keep walking.

Otter playing in the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Choosing to love when you won’t be loved back

When somebody does something mean to me, my first inclination is to do something mean back. I tend to hold to the Golden Rule. I treat other people the way I want to be treated, but there’s a part of me that wants to treat other people the way they treat me. I want people to understand that there are consequences for their actions. If somebody hurts me, I want them to hurt too. Not out of a malicious spirit necessarily (unless we’re talking about bad drivers, and then I just get mad) but because I want them to understand that actions have consequences, which is a lesson our world doesn’t seem to teach anymore.

But whose job is it to teach that lesson? It’s certainly not my job. I’m not responsible for someone else’s behavior. And if I weigh myself down focusing on how other people treat me, I’m going to lose focus of the things in my life that actually are my responsibility.

Otter playing in the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Otter playing in the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:38-41.

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.”

This set of verses is still from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus is talking about the way His followers should live. It started with the Beatitudes, which were (and still are) a revolutionary approach to living. What was so shocking about these statements that Jesus made was that in the past it was just the actions that caused the issue. There was only a problem if you did something, but what Christ is saying is that even if you think it, it’s as good as doing it. Because what you think affects what you do.

Likewise, He goes on to say that revenge isn’t something that we need to pursue. If somebody hurts us, we shouldn’t hurt them back. You’ve heard the old saying about turning the other cheek? Well, this verse is where that comes from.

True, some people take this to extremes. And I’m not one of those ones who believes that we shouldn’t go to war if we’re attacked. Nation versus nation is a very different concept than person versus person, and this statement is talking about our relationships with each other. So I don’t see that this applies to a government standpoint. Government as an entity has a different set of things to focus on. But I’m not involved in the government. I’m just me. Just a regular person and what I’m supposed to focus on in my life is my relationship with God and my relationship with people.

And that means when some one does me wrong that I’m not to reciprocate. I’m to love them. When someone hurts me, I’m supposed to do something kind for them. When someone steals from me, I’m supposed to give more to them. When someone takes advantage of me, I’m supposed to apply myself cheerfully.

Granted, I think we need to communicate. I think we need to make sure they know they’ve hurt us or that they know what they’re doing is wrong, but then we need to communicate why we’re showing them kindness when they deserve to be shown something else. Otherwise they won’t understand. People who don’t follow Christ don’t understand love. Half the time, people who do follow Christ don’t understand it either. But that’s the point here.

Loving people. It all comes back to that. If you want to know what matters to God, that’s one theme that is repeated over and over and over throughout Scripture. Love people. Love people. Love people. And let God take care of everything else.

We aren’t going to prove to the world that we’re different by how many Bible verses we know or how much money we give to the church or how well-behaved our children are. None of that matters to them. What will show them that we are different is when we love them when they don’t love us back. That kind of love takes a power greater than all of us, and that’s the kind of love that God gives us when we choose to follow Christ.

So if you’re walking into a circumstance today where you know you’re going to be hurt or you know someone is going to take advantage of you, be honest about it. Don’t lie to yourself about it. See, that’s my tendency. I live in denial half the time because I don’t like conflict and it’s easier for me to shrink away from it than to face it. But denying circumstances doesn’t do anyone any good. Be honest. If someone is treating you wrong, recognize it. And make a conscious effort to treat them kindly in return. And when people ask you why (and they will), tell them. You’re choosing to love people who don’t love you because that’s what Christ said to do. And that will make more difference than you know, not only to the people who are watching but also in your own heart.

Rusted chain on the schoolhouse door - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Ignorance of God is a luxury none of us can afford.

Who is God? Who is Jesus? How do we answer questions like that? If people demand to know what we believe, are we able to tell them? I blogged about our response to people who ask us about our faith last week, but it’s one thing to speak harshly to people who don’t believe; it’s something completely different to be unable to answer at all.

Rusted chain on the schoolhouse door - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Rusted chain on the schoolhouse door – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 15:34.

Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t know God at all.

One thing you need to know about the Book of 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote it to a church. Granted, as a church, they were having some major issues. But they were still a church. They believed the truth. Paul himself had brought the Gospel to them. So how can he get off saying that they don’t even know God?

This is another instance where I like to go to other translations just to make sure I’m understanding it right.

1 Corinthians 15:34 (Amplified Version)

Awake [from your drunken stupor and return] to sober sense and your right minds, and sin no more. For some of you have not the knowledge of God [you are utterly and willfully and disgracefully ignorant, and continue to be so, lacking the sense of God’s presence and all true knowledge of Him]. I say this to your shame.

I love the Amplified Version just because it gets into so much word detail that other translations avoid. Yes, Paul is saying that the people of the Church of Corinth need to think carefully about what’s right, but according to the Amplified Version, they need to come back to their right minds. Which means at one point, they were thinking clearly.

This is important to me because if the Church of Corinth, one of the first churches, can stumble and get all confused, it can happen to any church, anywhere, anytime. And we don’t have a Paul around to write us personalized letters telling us how screwed up we’ve gotten.

The Church of Corinth let a lot of bad stuff in. They were heavily influenced by the culture they were living in, and they allowed what should have been holy to be corrupted into rituals that meant nothing. Basically, they were flipping God off and daring Him to do something about it.

Sadly, believers now aren’t much different. We say we believe the truth. We say we follow Christ. We say the Bible is important. But when you get right down into the nitty-gritty of our lives, all of that “religious stuff” takes second chair to the pressures of the everyday. And after all, Jesus said we’re supposed to be in the world, and we need to relevant. Right? So what’s wrong with bending to society a little? What’s wrong with living together before we get married? What’s wrong with writing our kids off because all kids misbehave? What’s wrong with sacrificing our relationship with God because there’s something else we’d rather spend our time on?

It’s not like we’ll go to hell for it.

No, we won’t. But what is the point of being a Christian if you refuse to know God? Fire insurance? You just accept Christ so that you won’t suffer in hell for eternity and then you live your life however makes you feel good? I guess you can do that. But if you are, you’re missing the point.

I know this is harsher than I normally like to be, but I was reading and this verse jumped out at me. I just know so many people who say they follow Christ … but they really follow the world. They follow the trends and the culture. They only care about what makes them happy. And I think it’s time that those of us who truly believe in Christ and who truly follow Him day-to-day, need to stop.

We need to wake up, Christians. We need to hold our brothers and sisters accountable to what they say they believe, and we need to stop making excuses for their obvious sin. I’m bad at that. I hate confrontation, and I hate telling anyone that they’re wrong. But sin is wrong. And it’s not me being judgmental; it’s me warning them that if they don’t stop what they’re doing, their actions will eventually catch up with them. And if they go on sinning and still claim to follow Christ, what kind of damage are they doing?

So let’s start thinking clearly. Let’s stop willfully choosing to sin, no matter if it makes us feel good or not. And let’s not refuse to know God because if you don’t want to know God, why do you want to be a Christian? What do you think it’s about? And what exactly do you think eternity is going to be like?

You believers who think this world is all there is are in for a nasty surprise when you get to heaven. Yes, you’ll be in heaven, and, yes, you’ll have escaped the flames of hell. But then you’ll understand that the life we have on Earth isn’t about getting everything we want and living so that our days are full of pleasure. Life on Earth is a chance to share Christ with other people, to bring as many people as we can with us. Life on Earth is a chance to build a relationship with God before we go home. And if you spend these few short years on Earth doing nothing but accumulating treasures that will eventually be destroyed, when you get home, you’ll have nothing.

I love the Message paraphrase. Many times it actually nails the Greek, at least in context, better than any other translation.  I think it’s well said.

1 Corinthians 15:34 (The Message)

Think straight. Awaken to the holiness of life. No more playing fast and loose with resurrection facts. Ignorance of God is a luxury you can’t afford in times like these. Aren’t you embarrassed that you’ve let this kind of thing go on as long as you have?

Good question.