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.

American flag on the Galveston ferry - Galveston, TX

Freedom is a responsibility

What do you do with freedom? Sometimes I wonder if my generation really understands what freedom is. There’s a concept I’ve encountered among people my age and younger that freedom means you can do whatever you want to do. And maybe that’s true in some counts, but being free is more than that: being free is a responsibility.

American flag on the Galveston ferry - Galveston, TX

American flag on the Galveston ferry – Galveston, TX

Today’s verse is Romans 6:15-16.

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 to 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.

Yesterday we celebrated America’s birthday. Some of us celebrated by setting off fireworks. Others of us (who live in a county so restricted we can’t even light a match) celebrated by getting together with friends. Why? Because freedom is worth celebrating.

The people who founded America more than 200 years ago had a dream, and they were willing to sacrifice everything they had to achieve it. Most of my generation has forgotten that the people who founded this country were branded as traitors. And I know the majority of the next generation hasn’t even been taught the basics of what our Founding Fathers stood for.

America was founded with an awesome purpose, not just because the colonists wanted to do what they wanted to do. Maybe that had something to do with it. But the American Revolution wasn’t a study in chaos, not like the French Revolution was. The American colonists did everything they could to avoid war, but it was becoming necessary for them to declare themselves independent from England.

But freedom from England meant everything would change. America’s needs would no longer be England’s responsibility; they would be America’s. Declaring independence, being free, always means that you will take on more responsibility than you had before.

Jesus died to set us all free from the power of sin. If Jesus hadn’t come, we would have no hope of salvation. We’re all born into sin, and without Christ, we can’t escape it. Even with Christ, we still choose it sometimes. But Jesus made a way for us to live apart from sin. He offered us the option to choose Him rather than choosing sin, when before we didn’t have a choice.

So since Jesus has set us free from sin does that mean we can do whatever we want without consequences? Does that mean sin has no power over us because we have escaped its grasp? Does that dearly purchased liberty mean we can run wild and break the laws just because we can?

Why not? We’re free, aren’t we? We aren’t subject to the Law. And this world isn’t our home anyway. Right?

No.

If you’ve accepted Christ, if you’ve been freed from the power of sin and the power of the Law, you have an even greater responsibility.

Maybe sin won’t drag you into hell if you’ve accepted Christ, but even as a believer, you are still vulnerable to the consequences of sin in your life. If we lived in a world without sin, it would be one thing. But our world is still broken, and sin is still in charge here. And believers aren’t immune to the consequences of doing what is wrong.

If you give in to sin and live a life where you do whatever feels good, you will be a slave to that kind of life. You can be a believer and live this way because you’re free. You can choose this.

If you live a life according to the Law where you trust your own good works to justify you, you will be a slave to that kind of life. You can be a believer and live this way because you’re free to make your own choice.

But how are we supposed to live?

If you have accepted Christ, you have a choice. You have the freedom to live however you want to live, but whatever choice you make will have consequences. Choices always do.

Living free doesn’t just happen. It requires discipline. It requires sacrifice. It requires making difficult choices. It means sometimes you have to do the right thing especially when you don’t feel like it. This is true in both the Christian life and in your political beliefs, whatever those may be.

If you choose to follow Christ, beyond just simply believing in Him, those choices are up to you. God won’t force you to make decisions. Those are choices you will have to make along the way, and they won’t be easy. At least, not right away.

If you have the freedom to choose, you have the responsibility to choose the right path, because if you choose the wrong path the consequences will fall on you. You can’t shift the blame to someone else. You can’t point fingers. That’s what freedom is: responsibility. And even though Christ has set us free spiritually, we are still responsible for the lives we live on Earth.

So we can sit back and let others do the work for us and reap the benefits of indolence. We can demand all the attention be put on us and on our hard work and live for glory and admiration. We can do nothing and detach ourselves from the world. Or we can do what Scripture says: love God and love people and wait for Christ to take us home.

The choice is up to you. Just remember that whatever you choose to follow will become your master. Whatever path you choose has consequences you have to face.

It’s a huge responsibility.

So is freedom.

The State of the American Christian

Many Americans are distraught about the state of our country these days, and I’m not speaking politically. Politically, we’re a mess. But many American Christians have given up on this country because it’s so evil.

It’s ironic though, because the Bible makes it pretty clear whose responsibility it is to keep a country or a nation from being evil. The responsibility belongs to the people who believe in Christ. You can’t expect someone who doesn’t know Jesus to act like Him. You can’t expect someone who isn’t a Christian to make choices based on Scripture. God doesn’t expect nonbelievers to obey Him, so why do we?

But those of us who believe in Christ are expected to act like Him, to live our lives based on Scripture, and to obey God. That is our responsibility. So isn’t it possible that America has fallen so far because those who believe in Christ haven’t fulfilled their responsibilities?

America’s trouble isn’t based on the fact that we don’t believe anymore. It stems from the fact that American Christians have forgotten God.

The verse this morning is 2 Chronicles 7:14.

14 Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.

This verse is part of God’s response to Solomon after Israel completed the temple where they would worship for hundreds of years. God tells him basically that He will cherish the Temple but that if Solomon’s people turn away from Him, He’ll bring oppression and conquerors to chastise them until they turn back to Him.

Christians are a fickle breed.

We say we follow God but most of the time we follow our own desires. We say we believe in Jesus but we’re too afraid to tell our friends that’s why we don’t act like them anymore. We say we read the Bible but we really spend most of our time watching television. When God directs us to do something, we fabricate reasons why we don’t have to. We say we love everyone but we really only love ourselves. We say we give sacrificially but we really only give enough to make ourselves look good.

Christians are more interested in reality television than reality itself. We hear about destruction and devastation around the world and wonder how the government is going to help. We spend hours on chat rooms and forums debating political opinion with total strangers but won’t talk to someone we love about Christ.

Come on, Christians. Wake up. America is in trouble. And the fault is ours.

No finger pointing at current or past administrations. No blaming specific laws because even if the government took prayer out of schools, there’s no law saying it was outlawed in our homes.

Is it too late for our nation? I don’t think so. At least, I hope not. As long as we’re still here, there’s still hope.

14 Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.

My people. God’s people. Us.

Let’s get humble, guys. Let’s stop thinking that the world owes us something. Let’s go back to the God who saved us and forget about everything the world tells us should make us happy. Love God. Love people. Live your life like Christ lived His, and God will sort everything else out.

If we as Christians can do that, God will honor it. And He’ll restore this country to what it used to be.