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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Whose side are you on anyway?

I thought the nation was divided before, but I hadn’t lived through this November. And here we are, more than a month later, and we’re still reeling. So is the rest of the world. And the only thing that’s certain is how uncertain everything is.

The last year has been about taking sides and switching loyalties and who you support and why. And once everyone made up their mind about all that, it turned into a mud-slinging event, where everyone who disagreed with everyone else made an extreme effort to offend as many people as possible. The last year has been one side against the other, and I’m not sure anyone actually won.

People are really good at taking sides down here. It’s a common topic of conversation, especially around election time. Are you on Donald Trump’s side? Are you on Hillary Clinton’s side? No? Then you must be on a third-party candidate’s side, right? Which one? Who’s side are you on?

If you side with someone, that means you agree with them. That means you believe the same things they believe and support the same causes they support. You stand for what they represent. Right? Isn’t that how it works?

That’s the thought that kicked me in the head during a worship service at my church a few weeks ago. “Our God” by Chris Tomlin is one of those classic worship songs that I never get tired of singing, and I love the way my church sings it. Loud and bright and joyful, because it’s so very true. But as the words of the bridge left my mouth, I stopped.

In case you aren’t familiar with the song, the bridge lyrics are: “And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us? And if our God is with us, then what could stand against?”

Bold words. Powerful words. And true, because they’re based on Scripture. Romans 8:31 says, “What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” And if you think about it, who wouldn’t want God on your side?

This is God we’re talking about. Maybe I speak for myself, but having God on my side sounds like a pretty fabulous idea. I mean, if God is on my side, that means I’m right about everything.

If God is for us, that means He supports us. He agrees with us. He stands for what we represent. Right? As we understand the concept of taking sides, isn’t that what it would mean?

That’s how we live. That’s how we treat God sometimes. We look at Him like He’s some genie in the clouds, who exists solely to fulfill our wishes. He’s all-loving, and that means He supports us in every path we take. And He wouldn’t ever correct us or discipline us or discourage us from making a choice He doesn’t like. He’s a good God, after all.

Personally, I’m not sure a god who lets us get away with everything can be classified as good. Children who are allowed to get away with everything aren’t usually liked. Parents who let their kids get away with everything aren’t usually considered role models. So why do we think God is different?

But God is on our side. That means He agrees with us.

Maybe not. See that tiny little two-letter word, if? That’s a huge word. If. It means the statement that follows may not be true. It means the statement that follows is conditional.

If God is for us. If God is on our side. If means He may not be.

So what do you have to do to get God on your side? What price do we have to pay? What task do we have to accomplish?

The answer isn’t easy, but it’s very simple.

If you want God on your side, you need to be on His side.

See, God isn’t overwhelmed by our greatness. Compared to Him, we’re less than fleas. He doesn’t play favorites (Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11), and our fantastic attempts to doing good don’t impress Him (Isaiah 64:6). We can’t convince God to be on our side through our own merit.

And, frankly, why would God want to be on our side? What can we do for Him? What can we offer Him? He’s God! Maker of the Universe. Inventor of gravity. Creator of quasars and feathers, to quote singer Chris Rice. He can do anything. He can be anywhere. He knows everything. Time has no meaning to Him.

We are nothing. And the only thing we can offer Him is our hearts.

Exodus 32:26
So he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him.

Who’s on God’s side? That’s the question we should be asking. Who represents what God stands for in our culture? Who agrees with God? Who supports God?

There are only two sides that matter, God’s side, and the world’s side. I don’t have a side. Neither do you. Neither does the President or your senator or your town mayor or your teacher or your annoying little brother or sister.

Whose side are you on?

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to choose sides. But this world isn’t perfect. And we do. But when it comes to who you support or what you choose to do or how you choose to do it, you only have two choices for what side to take. You can either choose to do what the world says is right, or you can choose to do what God says is right. There’s no middle ground. There’s no third party.

If you want God to be on your side, you have to be on His side first.

Don’t rate Jesus by the failings of His followers

I don’t have a good feeling about politicians. It doesn’t matter what side they take, what party lines they walk, what policies they promote, I just have a hard time trusting them. But you know what? I don’t know any politicians. I’ve never met one, not really. Never spent time with one. Never shaken hands with one. I had lunch at the governor’s mansion in Topeka once while I was in college. We were visiting for Associated Press Day in my beat reporting class, and I saw the governor across the room, but I didn’t speak to her.

So how can I say that I don’t trust politicians when I don’t know any? Well, I know of them. I hear them speak. I see the damage they do. I watch them break their word over and over again. So in my distant, third-person perspective of politicians, they can’t be trusted. But is that any way to rate someone’s trustworthiness? Just because other people “like” them aren’t trustworthy, does that make them untrustworthy too?

DV0EKCTSGSToday’s verses are Romans 3:3-4.

True, some of them were unfaithful; but just because they were unfaithful, does that mean God will be unfaithful? Of course not! Even if everyone else is a liar, God is true. As the Scriptures say about him, “You will be proved right in what you say, and you will win your case in court.”

People seemed to be running into this same conundrum when it comes to God during the writing of the Book of Romans. Paul addresses the unfaithfulness of people who’d been trusted with God’s Word, how they hadn’t done what they were supposed to do. But Paul’s statement is that just because people let you down, you should assume God will too.

I can’t speak for politicians, and maybe that’s a silly example. But I tend to lump people into groups. Maybe I stereotype them. Legalistic Christians. Good Church People. Mac Lovers. Engineers. Homeschoolers. Bad Influences.

Stop laughing at me. You do it too. Maybe your labels are different, but we all are guilty of categorizing people.

But just because one Legalistic Christian hurt your feelings doesn’t mean that the next Legalistic Christian you meet will do the same. Just because one Mac Lover annoys the crap out of you doesn’t mean the next Mac Lover you encounter will too.

The same principle is true with God. There are a lot of people who claim to follow God, but they go around hurting people, making life difficult, causing conflict at home, in the workplace, at school. Some folks who claim to be Christians lie and cheat and steal. They don’t respect authorities. They are bad influences on people. And they’re unrepentant about it.

But you know what? Just because a Christian acts that way doesn’t mean God is pleased with him or her. God has a specific list of traits that He expects His children to live by, and just because someone calls themselves a Christian doesn’t mean they’re actually living like one.

Many people have been hurt by Christians, and that’s a sad thing. But just because a Christian fouls up doesn’t mean that Jesus will too. An ambassador can be a poor representative of his country. So too a Christian can be a poor representative of Christ.

So the next time you are tempted to give up on God because you had a bad experience with one of His followers, think twice. People are people, and God is God. People will let you down, but God never will.

Sign on the Galveston Ferry, crossing between Galveston Beach and Jamaica Beach - Texas

Leadership

I love my country. I respect my authorities. I pray for the people in public office because that is what God has commanded us to do, whether we voted for them or not. But I’m thankful that my future doesn’t depend on whoever wins in November.

We need to remember that this life isn’t all we have. This life isn’t even going to last for much longer. A day is coming when none of this will matter anymore, and all that we’ve invested, all that we’ve hoarded, all that we’ve acquired will come to nothing. Our political leaders will come to nothing; they’ll be reduced to regular people just like us. The same with Hollywood celebrities and dignitaries and anyone else we put on a pedestal.

We’re all just people, people. But until that day, those in leadership have a responsibility to lead in the way God has called them. They don’t have to, of course. God doesn’t force anyone to do things His way, but a day is coming when God’s way will be the only way. And if we’ve been chasing our tails doing things the way we want and ignoring Him in spite of His patience, we may not enjoy it when He takes over.

Sign on the Galveston Ferry, crossing between Galveston Beach and Jamaica Beach - TexasPsalm 2

Why are the nations so angry?
    Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
    the rulers plot together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
    “and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
    The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
    terrifying them with his fierce fury.
For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne
    in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.”

The king proclaims the Lord’s decree:
“The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son.
    Today I have become your Father.
Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
    the whole earth as your possession.
You will break them with an iron rod
    and smash them like clay pots.’”

Now then, you kings, act wisely!
    Be warned, you rulers of the earth!
Serve the Lord with reverent fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
Submit to God’s royal son, or he will become angry,
    and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities—
for his anger flares up in an instant.
    But what joy for all who take refuge in him!

We all have a responsibility to follow God, but for anyone in a leadership position, we have a responsibility to lead people to God. And if you think about leadership that way, it becomes a lot less popular.

So if you’re in a leadership position of any kind today, think about the way God leads. Think about the way God works. Think about the way God treats us. Is that how you’re treating people? Is that how you’re leading people? Can people who work for you see God in you? Do you submit to God’s Son and God’s will and God’s plan?

If you don’t, why should anyone else?

Lamp at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Juggernaut

I said yesterday that the world needs unstoppable Christians, even though the world doesn’t want them. But what does it mean to be an unstoppable Christian? What does it look like? What does it sound like?

Lamp at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Lamp at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Matthew 16:18.

Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’),and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.

This is one of those verses that causes some confusion, mainly because English is such a strange language and doesn’t translate well. It’s a good example of how you can’t just pick a single verse out of Scripture and proclaim it to be how everyone should live without trying to understand it in context. This is Jesus speaking, and many people think He is saying that He will build the Church on Peter. That’s not the case, and that’s a discussion for another day. The Church is built on Jesus; He’s the real Rock.

But the statement I really want to focus on this morning is the fact that the Church is to be so strong that the gates of hell (or the gates of Hades) won’t be able to stop it.

Whenever I read this verse, the only word that comes to mind is juggernaut. It’s a fun word to say, besides, but the concept is true. The Church was intended to be a juggernaut. An unstoppable force that charges through life unafraid and uncompromising. And for the most part, I think the Church is there … except for the unafraid and uncompromising part. Because from what I have seen, the Church is afraid and because we are afraid, we have compromised on the things that really matter, allowing the things that don’t to turn us into something Christ never intended.

I’m not trying to start a discussion. This isn’t a political blog. It’s a daily devotional. And I had intended to post on how hope makes us unstoppable ever since I finished the post yesterday. It just so happened that today is August 1, Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. I hadn’t planned to post anything about it, but this is what God laid on my heart last night. He actually didn’t let me sleep much because of it; I spent much of the night arguing with Him about saying anything at all.

I’m not taking sides with anyone other than God on this one. It’s too politically charged, no matter how much people say it isn’t. No one is listening on either side; everyone is angry on both sides. So I’ll stay on God’s side and let everyone else fight it out. All I’ll say is I believe the Bible. By all means, go eat a chicken sandwich; I think it’s good to support a business, and I applaud the folks at Chick-Fil-A for being courageous enough to stand for something, especially when that “something” is an unpopular opinion. I appreciate that they have comported themselves with dignity and respect.

But I’m not so sure the rest of the Christians attending Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day will behave the same way.

I think many Christians have bought into the idea that the Church is a juggernaut barreling through life, mowing people over, throwing its weight around. And the perception the world has gotten from that kind of “unstoppable” is that the Church is a bully. Whether that was our intention or not, I think that’s what the world sees.

Christians, we don’t need to bully people who don’t believe. We need to love them.

I posted yesterday that hope is part of a process. You have to have faith before you can have hope. Guess what? You have to have hope before you can love.

Do we understand the hope we have in Christ? I mean, really? Think about it. We all make mistakes. Without Christ in our lives, we would be lost and wandering around with no guidance and no direction and no security. Without Christ in our lives, we would have no purpose. I can’t imagine my life without Him. He’s my closest friend, my biggest supporter, the shoulder I cry on, the one person I trust with everything I am. He is my hope.

And people with that kind of hope are unstoppable. Not because they are confident in their own abilities or their own wisdom or their own translation of the Bible. No. They are unstoppable because that kind of hope gives them the freedom to love everybody … no matter who they are or what they’ve done or what they believe.

That is the kind of hope the Church needs. That is the kind of unstoppable the Church needs to be. Not a bully barreling through the streets, crushing the hopeless under our wheels. But a light that people can’t ignore and can’t say anything bad about.

I am upset that a respectable business (with darn good food) is being threatened simply because their CEO expressed something that people don’t agree with. The inequity of the situation isn’t lost on me. But it doesn’t surprise me either. Come on, Christians. Didn’t you see this coming? We aren’t the first ones the world has hated. The world hated Christ long before it hated us. But just because they hate us doesn’t mean we have to hate them back.

If we understand the hope we have in Christ, we don’t need to resort to hatred; we have access to something stronger. Love. If you follow Christ, you have the Holy Spirit, Who will give you the power to love people beyond what you are capable of doing alone.

Our culture is childish. This entire situation is evidence, and the world’s reaction proves it. And how the Church responds to this will determine many things. The culture wants what they want no matter what the consequences; they don’t believe in consequences. They want to do what they want to do.

Let them.

And love them anyway. It’s what Christ did for us. And let them see through our love that everything they think is important and everything they think matters most is dust in the wind. And that there is something better than what they can see right now.

If you are a Christian and you are attending Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, I beg you to remember your witness. I beg you to ask yourself why you’re going. And I beg you to take every opportunity to show love to everyone you meet there. Don’t make this about politics. Don’t make this about bullying. Make it an opportunity to show the world what real unstoppable hope looks like.

Pay your taxes.

I’ll be brief this morning, mainly because the verse is so straightforward. It’s verses like this that make me love the Bible. Yes, the Bible is full of deep wisdom and mind-bending truths, but it’s also full of practical advice and instruction for living.

I love it.

Romans 13:6-7

6 Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.

It’s also very funny becuase today is tax day . . . April 15. Or did they move it back? I can’t remember. In any case, that’s probably why this is the verse for today.

In either case, I know I tend to gripe about paying my taxes because they just seem to keep going up and up. But taxes are a part of life, and you will have to pay taxes no matter where you live. And I can tell you that no matter how high my taxes have gotten, God has always provided for me financially so I have still had everything I needed and most everything I wanted.

The set of verses before this one are talking about submitting to authorities. The whole of Romans 13 is really good. If you have a chance to read it, I’d really recommend it.

Basically, the reasons mentioned in verse 6 are stated pretty simply: “All authority comes from God.” Period. It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with your authorities. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t vote for them. It doesn’t matter what your opinion is. If they are in authority over you, God appointed them.  So by rebelling against who God has put in authority is the same as rebelling against God’s plan.

Don’t you think that God can use anyone, no matter who they are? Or do you think it was an accident certain people were elected?

The government we have right now isn’t perfect. No, it’s not even close to perfect. But the people who are in authority over us have been put there because that’s what God wanted. So not matter how much I disagree with them, I still need to respect them. I do struggle with this, though. It’s very hard to say good things about people you don’t think highly of.

So pay your taxes.

It’s the right thing to do.

And realize that all authority comes from God. And if the people who are in authority over us make poor decisions and lead us wrong, it’s not us that they will answer to in the end.