Swan at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Too much to ask?

Is it wrong to have expectations for people? Is it bad to expect certain behavior from certain people? For example, if you proclaim Christ — if you say that you believe in Jesus and that you are following Him, I would expect that you would behave like a Christian. You would put others first. You would love God more than anyone else (or at least you would try). You would read the Bible and obey what it says. That’s the very bottom line of what I would expect. But anymore, I really feel like maybe that it asking too much.

Many of the “Christians” I know live for themselves, give God a nod on Sunday and even though they own a Bible, they have no idea what’s in it. And even of the Christians I know who do , who manage to grasp one of those three basics, usually let down in the other two. Some know a lot of Scripture, but they don’t care about people. Some care about people, and they couldn’t care less about obedience.

Is it wrong to expect them to behave like a Christian if they say they are one? Obviously, I can’t change their heart and anything I say is going to pass through their filter that tells them that I’m a goody-two-shoes. But what am I supposed to think? What am I supposed to do? Should I lower my expectations?

Swan at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Swan at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 5:12-13.

It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.”

The whole book of 1 Corinthians is really a letter from Paul to the Church in Corinth. Paul started the Church, stayed there for a year and a half or so, and then he moved on to other works, but then he got word that things in Corinth had fallen apart. In a major way. So he sent them this letter, which is basically a kind but harsh reminder of who they are, who they serve and what their purpose is.

Paul is saying that it’s not his job (nor is it the Church’s job) to judge people on the outside who are sinning. If you are a Christian and you are judging people who don’t know Christ, what are you doing? Of course, they’re sinning. They don’t know Christ!

But if you are a Christian and you know someone in the Church, a fellow Christian, a God-follower, who is sinning — judging is your responsibility. Part of the reason for the Church is to help keep Christians on the path. The world is so easy to fall into. It’s alluring and it seems wonderful for the moment, but it’s dangerous and deceitful. And part of the reason God gave us each other is to help us stay accountable. The Church is there to keep us honest. And if you can’t find accountability at your church, why are you going there?

Everyone hates the word “judging” and with good reason. Judging has a connotation of someone standing from a far distance looking down their nose at you thinking that they’re better than you. That’s not judging, at least not in this context. That’s arrogance and pride. Judging, in this context, is recognizing that a fellow brother or sister is sinning, and that they need help.

So help them.

Ask them about it. Be concerned for them.

I’m kicking myself because I had the opportunity to do this last weekend, and I didn’t. I saw someone (someone I know; that’s important) who I know has gotten into trouble and who doesn’t really seem repentant about it as far as I can tell, and I didn’t stop to talk. I didn’t stop at all. Granted, I was in between services and probably would have been late. But all I would have had to do was ask her to wait until the service was over so we could talk … because I was worried about her … because I wanted to make sure she was okay and that she had her head on straight.

Now … that Christian will either accept your concern with grace … or they’ll hate you. Actually, I this one would have hated me. But has anyone bothered to talk to her? Or is everyone just shrugging it off as a mistake?

And I’m certainly not saying that I’ve got everything put together yet. I don’t. But I’m tired of seeing Christians passing through the Church, living their lives as though Christ means nothing to them, and no one saying anything about it. If it were me, I really do think I would appreciate someone loving me enough to point out what needs to change in my life, as long as they do it in love. With kindness and compassion. With the heart of a servant.

It’s not wrong to expect Christians to behave like Christians. It’s not asking too much. If the Corinthian church could ask it of themselves, why can’t we? So don’t lower your expectations; just learn how to communicate. And remember that nobody’s perfect. None of us have this figured out. But that’s why we have each other.

Pine cone on stone steps - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Being good

There’s an old saying. “God is good all the time and all the time God is good.” Have you ever heard that? I think I learned it in Sunday School, or maybe my parents taught me. I can’t remember. Usually people recite it back and forth to each other. It’s one of those stoic old formulaic things that really rubs me the wrong way … except it’s true.

But what does it mean to be good? Do we really grasp that? Because none of us are good. I mean, there are some of us who are okay. I don’t consider myself a bad person, but then, what is bad? What standard do you use to judge good and bad, right and wrong? If good is perfect, none of us are good enough.

Pine cone on stone steps - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Pine cone on stone steps – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is 1 Chronicles 16:34.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
    His faithful love endures forever.

This is actually part of the chapter I blogged about yesterday, but I just couldn’t get this phrase out of my head. The text actually comes out of an Old Testament history. The Chronicles are the history of the kings of Israel and Judah with a little more detail. And this is during the time that King David is bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem.

Yes, the Ark of the Covenant really existed. No, it was nothing like Raiders of the Lost Ark. And, since Jesus is our Mediator between God and Man now, the Ark is no longer needed, which is why it’s not around anymore. Just FYI.

Just a brief bit of explanation: the situation with the Ark started back during the time when Saul was king. I can’t remember exactly, but he did something foolish and allowed the Ark to fall into the hands of the Philistines, one of Israel’s enemies. I don’t remember the verse, but it’s a somewhat entertaining bit of Philistine history. So as king, David decided that the Ark needed to be returned to Jerusalem. But his first attempt was shoddy and not according to God’s rules. That happens in 1 Chronicles 13, and one of David’s people ends up dying because he touched the Ark when he wasn’t supposed to. So David left the Ark halfway to Jerusalem for three months before he realized that he had done it wrong. He comes back in Chapter 16 to do it right. And this verse comes out of a song that David sings when they get the Ark back to Jerusalem.

As a child, when I read this story, I didn’t understand it. Even now, I still struggle with it somewhat. Because it seems to me that these peoples’ intentions were true. They wanted the Ark, the symbol of God’s presence, to be returned to Jerusalem where it belonged. And just because someone who wasn’t in the right “class” of people touched it, he was killed?

That sounds harsh to me even now. But the truth is, God had told them a specific way to move the Ark. And David thought he knew better. Yes, his motivation was true, but even if your motivation is true, that doesn’t excuse your actions if they’re wrong.

This story is just one indication that we really don’t know what “good” is. We can tell you our interpretation of good. We can tell you the “good things” we’ve done. But are our “good things” even good? If we don’t know what good really is, how can say anything we’ve done is good?

What is good? And what does it take to be good?

Only God is good. And He’s good all the time. So if you’re trying to define “good” you have to look at God.

Good is the opposite of bad. Good is genuine and real, striking a balance between a true heart and correct action. Being good requires perfection. None of us can be good. Period.

Random people on the street who’ve lived in sin all their lives can’t be good. People who’ve grown up in the church and have decided to do their own thing can’t be good. People who’ve grown up in the church and have never left the church can’t be good. None of us can be good. Maybe we can try, but I guess what I’m saying is that none of us can be good enough.

God is good. In every situation. In every circumstance. In every life. Even when you feel bad, even when you are bad, God is good. He can’t be anything else.

If we want to be good, we need to run our actions through the filter of God’s goodness. We need to ask ourselves if the choice we’re getting to make is based on our own selfish desires or on what God has clearly told us in Scripture. We need to ask ourselves if the way we’re treating people is based in anger or love.

Are we living like Jesus did? Are we living like God has told us? Whether that means addressing your thought life or your pride or your improper relationships, we need to change. And even those of us with the best most pure intentions need to re-examine our hearts. Because even if we have good intentions, we’re still not good enough. And our good intentions can easily become something that destroys other people if our actions don’t match up with what God has said is right.

Another reason this verse won’t get out of my head is the new Casting Crowns song that’s been played all over the radio recently. I embedded it below. It’s a little creepy, but all music videos are, so I suggest getting it to play and looking at something else while you listen.

Just remember that nobody’s good enough. We’re all just beggars that Jesus gave bread. And while we are supposed to help each other and keep each other accountable, not one of us is better than someone else.

Only God is good. The best we can do is imitate Him, but we can’t pick and choose His qualities to imitate. Like Scripture, it’s all or none. He is good and righteous and just; but He is also merciful and loving. It’s a hard line to walk. But that’s why He gave us the Holy Spirit. That’s why we have Christ’s example in Scripture.