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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When faith becomes a show, it’s not about God anymore

I like food. Except turnips. I draw the line at turnips. I’ll eat just about anything else. Food is one of my favorite parts of being a human being, and it’s one of those gifts God gave us that I’m thankful for every day. And I’ve always been that way.

So imagine my shock when I found out about a little thing called fasting.

Where you don’t eat. You just pray. Like all day long. Or longer.

What? People actually do that? Yes, they do. But fasting is one of those things I don’t think a lot of people understand. I know I didn’t understand it for a long time. I mean, why would you give up eating for any length of time if you didn’t have a medical exam? I’ve only fasted a few times in my life for reasons of prayer. I struggle with blood sugar issues, so fasting isn’t usually the best choice for me. But fasting isn’t always about food. Sometimes it can be a technology fast or a fast from other influences in life that affect us.

But there are some things about fasting that we need to remember, and they’re as true today as they were 2,000 years ago.

174H_1000x768Today’s verses are Matthew 6:16-18.

And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

Fasting shouldn’t be a challenge you give yourself. It’s not about proving your strength or resilience. It’s not about demonstrating how much faith you have that you can go a certain length of time without eating or checking Facebook or whatever. It’s not about putting on a show at all. Fasting is worship. Fasting is to be so intent on prayer that you aren’t even thinking about food or entertainment or what’s on sale at Old Navy. It’s trusting the Lord for everything you need, even for something as basic as feeling hunger, and focusing only on Him. It’s acknowledging that you are weak, but God is strong.

You shouldn’t go around talking about how you’re demonstrating your devotion to God by giving something up. No. just do it. And if people notice and ask, tell them. But don’t go in search of the spotlight. The minute you do that, your fast becomes about you and not about God. It becomes the opposite of what it’s supposed to be.

Jesus never looked for the spotlight. It kept finding Him, sure, but He was always quick to redirect it to God so that others would worship the Lord. We should do the same thing.

Fasting is a good discipline to get into, whether its from food or technology or other things in our lives. As Americans, we are far too comfortable, far too focused on what we have or what we don’t have. Taking time to demonstrate to God that you care more about spending time with Him than eating means a lot, especially in our super-sized American culture.

Just remember if you go that route your fast is to worship the Lord. The moment it becomes about what you’ve sacrificed for God, it’s not about God anymore. And if it’s not about God, seriously, what’s the point?

Backstage at a puppet show

Backstage

I like drama. Not in life. Not between friends. But on stage. I like to listen and watch stories play out live. Stories are great to read, but watching them told through talented actors with beautiful sets is just as much fun. But there is a part of drama that doesn’t get much spotlight — because it’s not meant to. Beyond the actors, beyond the directors, beyond the writers, the crew of the backstage is essential to a great production.

If the backstage doesn’t function, the piece doesn’t work. The backstage is the well-oiled machine that keeps a show running. Yes, your actors can be phenomenal. And your director can be visionary. And your writing can win awards. But if your backstage isn’t organized enough to bring all the pieces together, nothing will work.

Backstage at a puppet show

Juan, Andres and Jay backstage at a puppet show - Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Matthew 6:2-4.

When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

When I read today’s verses, I thought of the backstage.

No one ever talks about the backstage. No one ever talks about the people in the trenches on movie sets. The stage managers, the prop masters, the grunts who do the difficult work usually fade into obscurity. They are the ones listed in the end of the credits in small type that few pay attention to. They are the ones who make the movie or the play happen, and no one will ever see them. If someone ever sees them, especially during the movie or the play, that means they’re not doing their job.

Backstage is invisible. Like shadows. You’re never supposed to see them. Backstage is designed to help the actors and the directors and the writers shine, while they receive little to no credit at all. And the irony is that I don’t think they mind.

Maybe this is a bad example. But I think Christians are supposed to live like they work backstage at a theatrical production. That’s what this statement from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount says to me.

People who help others in order to draw attention to their good works are hypocrites. That’s what the religious people of Jesus’ day did. They wanted to make sure everyone knew that they were sacrificing to help people around them. But what Jesus is saying here is that when you help someone, you shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. You should keep it private. You should keep it between you and God.

I love what Jesus said that those who call attention to their good deeds have received all the reward they will get. When we help others just to show off how compassionate we are, all we do is demonstrate that we crave attention and adulation and praise from our peers. And, yes, you may be helping others. But if you only help others to obtain the credit for it? Those good works don’t mean anything.

But if you help someone in secret–if you help someone quietly, without fanfare and without expecting praise–that’s different. That says you care more about the person you’re helping than what you can get out of helping them. And that kind of humility is something that God will bless.

Granted, we are supposed to give God credit for everything. We’re supposed to be ready with an answer if anyone asks us why we live the way we live. So don’t be a backstage Christian when it comes to explaining your faith. That’s not what I’m talking about.

When it comes to helping others, stay in the shadows. Don’t desire adulation or credit, and don’t seek after the spotlight. God knows what’s going on in your heart, and He will make sure you receive the reward you deserve for your actions, either in this life or the life to come.

Stick to the backstage. You can get all the action you can stand without having to make a fool of yourself in front of millions of people. Sounds like a good trade off to me.

Masquerade

Does anyone know why Christians feel the need to maintain a facade of perfection when their lives are actually falling apart? I do this all the time. Even (and especially) if my life is crazy and feeling wildly out of control, I still keep my Good Little Christian Mask in place. And it’s the same when I sin. I sin just like everybody else, but I don’t like to talk about it. Because I don’t want people to think less of me.

Are those the same reasons every other Christian hides behind the mask of the Holier Than Thou? I don’t know. But it seems likely to me.

I don’t like people to know my weaknesses. I don’t like people to think that I’m a bad person. I don’t like people to know that I’m not perfect in every way. Of course, everyone knows all those things already, but there’s something in me that makes me want to put forth an image of perfection in spite of that. But it’s a lie.

So if every Christian is like this, wearing masks to cover up their failures and their flaws, what happens in a church? You end up with a bunch of people who are faking life. They’re fine. Their life is fine. Their family is fine. Everything is fine when it really isn’t. And I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with that . . . until someone who knows they’re not fine walks through the doors.

That’s something that has always fascinated me. Christians have this concept that we’re supposed to be “fine” all the time just because we know Jesus. But people who don’t know Jesus already understand the fact that they’re screwed up . . . and they don’t have a problem with it. Most of the time, they try to be better. Christians cover it up.

So that’s why people who don’t believe in Christ feel like they don’t belong in church. They know that they’re not perfect, and hanging around a bunch of people who are pretending to be perfect is frustrating.

The verse this morning is James 5:16.

16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

We’re supposed to confess our sins to each other. Not to a priest for forgiveness. But to each other for accountability. It’s a lot harder to go back to your specific sin if someone is holding you to your word not to do it anymore.

Christians are people, and all people are flawed. It doesn’t matter what you believe, where you live, how you grew up or who you are; everyone sins. And trying to cover it up not only hurts you as a person, it alienates you from other people. Am I saying we should be proud of our sin? No. That’s kind of funny though. Taking pride in our sin. I know some people who do that, though, but I think those people just don’t understand how serious sin is.

How does covering up our sin help us? Just think about that. Jesus didn’t come to die for us so we can deny the fact that we’re sinners. He came to die for us to make a way for us to escape sin altogether. Covering up, denying the fact that we’re all imperfect, flawed failures, cheapens His sacrifice and it takes glory away from God.

When you get right down to it, denying your own sin is pride.

It’s so odd to me, personally. Because I have no trouble listening to other people confess their sins. I never think ill of them, and I always pray for people to help overcome whatever sin they struggle with. But when it comes to confessing my own sins to others? No. My pride takes over and I don’t want to admit to anyone that I struggle with the same things they do. I have this idea that I’m supposed to be better than everyone else and that everyone expects so much of me that I’m not free to admit any failure of any kind. And that’s wrong. Because I have failed. More times than I like to think about. And the beautiful part of my failure is that God has always been there to pick me up again. He’s never given up on me. Not once. And when I act like nothing’s wrong — when I act like I’m fine and everything is going perfectly in my life and in my relationship with Christ — I take all the credit for anything good in my life, and I don’t deserve it.

Masks are only appropriate in a place where you don’t want to show your face, where you don’t want to admit who you are or where you want to make people guess. People wear masks at masquerade balls with dresses covered in feathers and sequins and weird stuff like that. And while masquerades are fun to attend on special occasions, life was never meant to be like that. But that’s what we turn it into. We hide our faces — our real selves — from the world because we want people to like us, but all we accomplish is pushing the world away because we are hypocrites.

No one is perfect. Everyone has fallen short of the goal. It’s time we stop acting like we haven’t. And once we are free enough to let everyone in the world know that we have all failed, God will be able to show the world that He never has.