15 Reasons I Left the Church: A Response to Rachel Held Evans

The local church I attend in Mattoon, IL

Recently I read a post from Rachel Held Evans called “15 Reason I Left the Church.” I don’t know Ms. Evans, but her post seems to be intended to reflect a common experience (and thus motivations?) of all 18-29 year olds who have left the church. To be fair, in much contemporary usage “leaving the church” does not mean abandoning faith but rather  walking away from “organized religion” – traditional Christianity as known and practiced by Evangelicals world-wide.

I love the church. I don’t love the church just because I’m a pastor. I love the church for what it is and what it does. I love the church because of WHOSE it is – not mine (though we often refer to a building as “that’s my church”) but God’s.

In the Bible the word “church” is ekklesia which quite literally means “called out”. The church is the group that God has called out of the world to be different; to be HIS. That being said, church is never about us. It’s always about HIM. Too often we get caught up in personal desires and wants when it comes to the local church. I believe this to be one of the primary errors of the generation Ms. Evans claims to represent – their focus is directed in the wrong direction. There is too much focus on the self instead of on the One who established and called out this group.

But I do want to look at the reasons she gives for walking away:

1.      I’m better at planning Bible studies than baby showers…but they only wanted me to plan baby showers. Bible

I’m not exactly sure what Ms. Evans means by this reason. Perhaps she’s trying to make a point about gender roles in the church? Without her explaining we’re left to guess, but my guess seems reasonable. I’m not sure why her church didn’t want her to plan Bible studies. I would encourage all Christians with the words of Paul:

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? (1 Corinthians 12:14-17)

Paul’s point is this – there are many parts and roles within the body of believers, the church. One part is not better or worse than the others. Each must fulfill its role to have a healthy and fully functioning body. We can’t always have our ideal role – sometimes we fill roles that don’t fulfill our personal desires. That’s when we have to remember that it’s not about us – it’s about the body. Sometimes we are called to put ourselves on the back burner for the benefit of the group.

2.      When we talked about sin, we mostly talked about sex.
Sin

Some churches do this, I’m sure, but not all. The Bible talks about all sorts of sin. Here’s the thing, when the Bible does talk about sin lists, i.e. here are things to avoid (as in Ephesians 5:3-5), sexual sins are always on the list. Our sexuality is a big part of who we are, and it keeps coming up in the Bible. So, while churches should talk about all the different ways sin destroys our connection with God, young people shouldn’t be surprised when sexual sin becomes part of the conversation.

My question is this: is the problem that churches are mostly talking about sexual sin or is the problem that sexuality is not an area where young people want to be told that God has an ideal right and wrong?

3.      My questions were seen as liabilities.

I can imagine that there are churches that try to quash questions. I know there are some road-sign-63983_1920churches and pastors who embrace questions. It means people are thinking! Since I know there are churches and pastors where questions are encouraged I have a hard time accepting this sweeping generalization as a legitimate complaint against The Church. One church’s behavior doesn’t mean The Church worldwide has the same attitude.

4.      Sometimes it felt like a cult, or a country club, and I wasn’t sure which was worse.

There’s really nothing to say about this complaint. It’s about a feeling, and you can’t argue with feelings. I would ask why she felt that way, but feelings are subjective. It’s dangerous to judge people or organizations on subjective grounds rather than objective. Feelings change. “I don’t like the music there. I don’t like the pastor here. I don’t like the color of the carpet.” The subjective complaints could go on and on and on. Rather than merely leveling complaints, what is it Ms. Evans is looking for? What feeling would be acceptable?

5.      I believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that humans share a common ancestor with apes, which I was told was incompatible with my faith.

There are churches where this is not an issue. I agree with the idea of an “old earth”. As for the humans and apes bit, I tend to believe that the commonality reflects a common creator rather than a common ancestor, but I can still worship with people who disagree. The Bible is not a science book – it is a book of faith. Our relationship with God is not based on science but on faith. Christians around the globe can agree on the basics of faith and choose to lovingly disagree on non-essential issues. Again, Ms. Evans is making broad generalizations based on limited (or singular) church experiences.

6.      Sometimes I doubt, and church can be the worst place to doubt.

Yes, some churches frown on doubt. But an honest reading of the Bible shows that even some of the “greats” go through times of doubt. Will you turn your back on what God has instituted based on some who cannot allow an expression of doubt? You discredit those churches that would express it with you.

7.      I didn’t want to be anyone’s “project.”

Without further explanation from Ms. Evans I really don’t know what she’s talking about other than to say that she seems to have a specific example in mind. There are people in the church who will try to make others into projects. Sometimes those people are well-intentioned. Sometimes they are not. But the church is not a perfect place – it is a group of sinners who are part of a new community – a kingdom community. That means that our humanity is sometimes going to get in the way. It means that church and church relationships can get messy. It’s not a reason to walk away.

8.      It was often assumed that everyone in the congregation voted for Republicans.

This excuse amuses me. I think the voting record of a church changes based on geographic location. While some churches are largely Republican, I know of congregations that are largely Democrat. Then there are some churches that hold to neither side but try to preach Jesus and the Gospel regardless of politics. As a pastor I firmly believe that neither party has it all right. Sometimes the Bible will side with one and other times it will side with the other.

9.      I felt like I was the only one troubled by stories of violence and misogyny and genocide found in the Bible, and I was tired of people telling me not to worry about it because “God’s ways are higher than our ways.”

Again with the “feeling.” It’s impossible to argue against subjective criticisms. You felt that way but were you really the only one? There’s no one else?

10.  My own selfishness and pride.

I think a lot of these 15 reasons could actually be subcategories of #10…

11.  I knew I would never see a woman behind the pulpit, at least not in the congregation in which I grew up.

There are Christian traditions that frown on women in ministry. There are other traditions that do not. Why walk away from the Church because you are unhappy with a single tradition? I am the son of an educated (Ph.D) and ordained woman. I grew up in a home and church where mom was a contributor to the theological discussion and service. I am married to a woman who has a graduate degree in Biblical Studies and has preached the gospel on multiple continents. Your sweeping complaints do not represent the whole of American Christianity.

12.  I wanted to help people in my community without feeling pressure to convert them to Christianity.

I agree that the church should be involved in helping the community! And we should offer help with no strings attached. At some point, however, we have to come to a realization that physical help has limits if we never tell people about the gospel. It’s saying, “I care about your well-being but I don’t care about your eternity.” While we may not be balanced, the Church (even 18-29 year olds) needs to know that telling people about eternity is important.

13.  I had learned more from Oprah about addressing poverty and injustice than I had learned from 25 years of Sunday school.

True, many churches do not really approach the subject of poverty and injustice. But you’re really talking about a political endeavor rather than a spiritual one. I agree that Christians ought to be concerned with poverty and injustice, but many people seem to want these elements to be the sole mission of the Church. They are not. The mission of the Church is Jesus and disciple-making – helping people grow in their own faith and worship of Him. The Bible says that when the early church got together:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. (Acts 2:43-46)

While helping to assist other believers was part of what they did it was not their primary raison d’etre. They were there for prayer, worship, spiritual growth, and fellowship. Taking care of each other was a natural expression of the love they developed for each other. Please don’t mistake the Church for a political or social activism group. Oprah is great on the poverty and justice issues – she’s not so hot on promoting worship of the One True God. The Church is not supposed to be Oprah – it’s supposed to be the Church.

14.  There are days when I’m not sure I believe in God, and no one told me that “dark nights of the soul” can be part of the faith experience.

Dark nights of the soul can be part of the faith experience. Now you can come back to us.

15.  One day, they put out signs in the church lawn that said, “Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman: Vote Yes on Prop 1,” and I knew the moment I saw them that I never wanted to come back.

It grieves me to see the church get involved in politics. Ed Stetzer writes, “When you mix politics and religion you get politics.” I believe that churches ought to stick to preaching Jesus and the gospel and not promote any particular political measure. I don’t know if your church put up those signs or if others in the community put them up, but the church shouldn’t promote any political activity. That being said, the Bible DOES address issues that come up in politics. There are good Christians who differ in politics.

Well, there you have it. Probably not the most eloquent response to your 15 reasons, but I wanted to give another perspective to all of the 18-29 year olds who have walked away from the church. The church is not perfect because it is filled with flawed humans. Nevertheless, God has instituted the church – it’s about His kingdom here on earth.

Perfect? No.

Growing in God’s grace? I pray so.

p.s. I don’t really imagine this ever getting around to Ms. Evans, but if you do know her shoot a copy of this over to her, would you?  😉

How about you? Have you had positive experiences with the Church?

_ _ _ _ _ _ _
I welcome all discussion, just keep it civil and polite. If this post resonates with you in any way, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email!

Is Barack Obama the Antichrist?

...and even now is already in the world.
…and even now is already in the world.

Is Barack Obama the Antichrist?

No.

He is not.

This is one of those conversations I wish we didn’t even need to be having. Yet here we are. I can’t believe the amount of hatred I’ve seen directed against President Obama. And yes, I’ve seen many accuse him of being the Antichrist.

But he’s not. In fact, the Bible barely makes mention of any single person being a mega-villain, end of the world, apocalyptic Antichrist. There is one paragraph in 2 Thessalonians that refers to the “man of lawlessness” but it is vague in typical apocalyptic style and is not even close to a description of President Obama.

For the most part, the supervillain antichrist is the stuff of Christian fiction (that means it’s made up out of a writer’s imagination as opposed to non-fiction which is literature that is true, like history, biography, science, etc.). It’s not even good Christian fiction at that. It gives us this image of Nicolae, a super-evil dude who is the epitome of all things evil who ushers in the end of the world and the eventual reign of Christ.

Fiction.

Not real.

The Bible does talk about antichrist, but probably not in the way you think:

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist – he denies the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:18, 22)

John did not consider there to be a single cataclysmic figure, but established that many who oppose Christ are already in the world. Rather than a personal villain, John sees the antichrist as anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ (Anointed One or Messiah). If that’s our criteria for antichrist then John was right – many antichrists have come. And I’m sure many more will come.

John continues:

Every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1 John 4:3)

We don’t have to wait for the antichrist to come. It’s not some far-off distant event. John said nearly 2000 years ago that the spirit was already in the world. Stop waiting for that apocalyptic, Hollywood villain.

Now as to Mr. Obama specifically – he has publically declared that he is a Christian, a believer in Jesus. If he is not denying that Jesus is Christ then Mr. Obama cannot be the antichrist. It seems like pretty clear logic to me.

So what is our beef with Mr. Obama? It seems that we’ve taken our political animosity and clothed it in religious terms and ideas. We’re not happy with how he runs the government. We’re not content with his direction and vision for the future. So we take our political unrest and couch it in apocalyptic language. This is detrimental on several levels:

  1. It does not allow for genuine political discourse. Any time someone uses the God-card it immediately shuts down conversation. I knew a guy one time who told me that God told him that he was supposed to leave our college and move to the northwest. What can you say to that? “No, God didn’t tell you that.” The God-card is a conversation ender. It’s used by angry, political Christians. Instead, let’s actually talk about ideas and policies. Let’s use our words to express why we are upset about the vision and direction of the government. Then let’s use our citizenship to affect change through our voting.
  2. It perpetuates bad theology. The Bible never talks about a single antichrist villain. The idea that there is one big baddie who is the binary opposite to Jesus is bad theology. There is no power that is equal to God. The idea of polar opposites is dualism. It’s not Christian faith. Instead of looking for one person to usher in the end of the world, let’s focus on living kingdom lives here and now. Jesus preached, “Change your way of thinking, for the kingdom of heaven is here and now.”
  3. It damages Christian credibility in this world. How can people take us seriously if we’re running off at the mouth putting spiritual villain labels on any politician we don’t like?

We have to take Mr. Obama at his word when he says that he is a Christian. Who are we to disagree? We don’t know his heart or his relationship with God. Stop using faith as a catapult for your political ammo.

Is Barack Obama the antichrist.

No. He is not.

Free Food Stamps for Everyone!

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of my favorite uses of Google is as a dictionary. I simply type: “define __________ ” and fill in the blank with whatever word I want defined. Today I typed: define integrity. This is what I got:

the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.

It’s about honesty. I would add that integrity means that quality of character that acts according to principles even when no one else is watching. Integrity is being consistent in our moral behavior. Just because I can get away with something does not mean that I should do it. Integrity says, “I know that I shouldn’t be doing this, so even though I could, I won’t.”

This week a lot of people had the opportunity to display integrity. Many failed. It seems that there was a system glitch that oversaw the EBT debit cards (food stamps) in Louisiana. For a brief time the cards had no limit—none. When people found out many flooded Wal-Mart and other supermarkets. Some people went to check out with multiple shopping carts filled to overflowing with groceries!

Free Food Stamps Glitch

Let’s be honest – the people who took advantage of the glitch did nothing legally wrong. They were using the cards that had been given them. The glitch was not their doing (in a funny sidenote, Wal-Mart is blaming Xerox and Xerox turned around and is blaming Wal-Mart!).

While there was nothing illegal going on there was most certainly an issue of honesty and integrity. Just because a glitch allows you to do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Every one of those people knew better. But when the restraints were removed there was no personal integrity to say, “Wow, what a funny glitch! I’m not gonna be a free-rider and take advantage of this.”

The Bible talks about integrity:

The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me. Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous—you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God! (Psalm 7:7-9)

Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways. (Proverbs 28:6)

This post is not at all about poverty or social justice. I’m not opposed to the “haves” making sure that the “have nots” receive help. But this story does illustrate a human problem – when we think we can get away with something we will often do things we KNOW to be wrong.

Our issues may not be with food stamps. But we have other hidden issues that we wrestle with when we think no one is watching, when we feel like we can do it without consequence or repercussion.

Instead, let’s strive to be people of integrity. Let us live up to a quality of character that acts according to God’s principles even when no one else is watching.

Integrity.

Live it.

Jesus & The Government

Image courtesy of nirots at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of nirots at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I am delighted to have Kevin Linzey as my first guest blogger. Kevin is husband to Britt, dad to 3 awesome boys, and loves bromance movies. Oh yeah, he is also an Army Finance Officer who did his undergrad studies at West Point (The United States Military Academy) and his graduate work at Syracuse University. Take it away, Kev!

What is the role of government? What SHOULD BE the role of government? These questions are easy enough to ask — difficult to answer. Many people are bothered these days by the government shutdown. Even our national leaders cannot agree on what the role of government should be. Should the government force health insurance on people? Should the government pay for this or subsidize that? What about the debt ceiling?

My education (and personal interest) is in economics. There are many branches of economics from macro-economics (performance, structure, behavior, and decision-making of an economy as a whole) to international economics (market relationships among the nations) to micro economics (the study of individuals’ interactions in markets). The one thing that ties it all together is that economics is the study of choices and incentives. It is the study of behavior and trying to figure out why people, firms, or countries behave the way they do.

The basis for most of economics is that people want stuff. People are creative problem-solvers and generally find a way to provide stuff to each other. Over time people specialize based on skills, talents, and interests. One person might provide labor as a handyman. He sells his skills and time fixing people’s houses. Money is used as a common exchange system so we don’t have to barter and trade. The person needing the washing machine repaired doesn’t give the repairman dinner. The repairman gets money that he can then use to buy whatever he wants. Currency is a great system to enable specialization!

Ok so enough of the basics. Back to the question; What is the role of government?

All types of goods have markets. This is the exchange of goods and services where some people provide the goods and other people consume them. The meeting point between the people selling and the people buying? That is the price. Most people are familiar with the interaction of supply and demand. If something has a lot of supply but low demand, the price will be low. If demand goes up, the price will go up. Since we have currency as a medium of exchange, working in free markets where suppliers and consumers can come to an agreement on price it is a great system. Everyone gets a choice. Some people will line up outside the Apple store 3 days before the new iPhone comes out and pay $400 for a new phone. Others will wait a couple years until the supply has increased and overall demand has gone down and the price has dropped to $100 for the same phone. In cases like this, no government is needed (except maybe police to keep the Apple fanatics from fighting for a place in line!).

However, there are some markets that fail. Some goods or services are not provided in the right quantity for the good of society. These are generally called public goods. Public goods are defined as non-excludable (you can’t stop people from consuming it) and non-rivalrous (my consumption does not stop your consumption). The classic public good is defense/security. An Army provides defense to everyone. Just because I am safe doesn’t mean you are not safe. We all consume security. And if we live in a secure country, there is no way to stop someone from consuming that security.

So the problem with public goods is that there is little incentive for the individual to pay for that good. Everyone else will pay for it, so why should I? That’s how we get the free rider problem. The problem is that if everyone tries to get a free ride, NO ONE will pay and we won’t get the public good! Other examples of public goods are lighthouses, clean streets, flood control, etc.

Another type of market failure is when there are negative externalities. This is just a hoity-toity way to say some choices have bad consequences that affect other people. A company many save money by producing as much as it can and just ignoring pollution. However, the rest of the community has to deal with the pollution whether they want to or not!

A third type of market failure is information asymmetry. This means that not everyone shares information equally. Buyers may not know the bad things about what they are buying because the company doesn’t tell them. Or it could be individuals buying and selling a used car. How does the buyer know whether or not he is buying a lemon? How does he know the guy selling it is being honest? Unless he’s a mechanic and very knowledgeable about cars he may never know! So he offers a lowball price to cover the risk he faces that he might have to spend money to fix up the potential lemon.

Another information related problem is copyright/patent enforcement. In today’s information society, it is pretty easy to find out how something is made. If anyone could reproduce anything, what incentive is there to be creative and come up with new products? If you won’t get to profit off your invention, why bother inventing it?

There are still more market failures but you probably get the point. Individual incentives sometimes don’t lead to the best situations for the whole of society. This is where government comes in.  A legitimate government (i.e. all people recognize its authority) can effectively enforce solutions to the market failures. It will tax everyone to pay for public goods so there are no free riders. It will make sure people don’t make bad choices that affect their neighbors (pollution, etc.). It will protect consumers who might not otherwise have the right information to make good choices. It will enforce patents and copyrights so people can benefit from their ideas.  Addressing market failure is a commonly agreed to role of government among economists.

The Bible talks about the role of government many times. In the time of Samuel, Israel decided they wanted a king. Prior to Saul, the nation had no king. Judges and priests were the social leaders. They helped resolve disputes and enforce justice. They were recognized as legitimate by the people because the people acknowledged the authority God placed on those judges and priests.

But then God set the precedent for peaceful voting when he allowed the people to (in effect) revolt against his social order. The people thought they knew better and demanded a king. God gave them a king but warned them about all the bad that would come of it. When the people again demanded a king God allowed it.

Unfortunately we focus so much on our earthly incentives, the economic gain from exchanging goods and services. We focus on getting more money and getting more stuff. We think and ponder about the forms of government and even God’s people complain just as we have been doing since the Israelites complained to Samuel. We argue and fight but don’t take heed of the warning God gave about earthly governments.

Jesus took a different approach to teaching priorities. He said multiple times that his Kingdom was not of this world. He was not concerned with politics. The fighting among people for power has nothing to do with God’s kingdom. When he was asked about money he said, “Give to the government what belongs to the government. And give to God what belongs to God.”

We need rules. We need enforceable processes to protect people during disputes. While a free market is the most beneficial system for exchanging goods and services, in a fallen world greed, pride, deception, and all the bad things will surely be present. Even when God’s people had no king, God still gave them judges to help resolve problems.

Letting people make their own choices for their own best interests rather than being told what to do by an oppressive government is usually the best way. But markets do fail. Greed and power spur people to take advantage of one another. But in all the wrangling over political power and crashing markets let’s remember some of the benefits of God’s kingdom not being of this world.

God will never fail.

You can’t shut down God.

And he has paid our debts in full.

Related Posts:
– Thus Spake Jesus: It’s the Economy, Stupid!

A Lesson From My Daughter

Image courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Our “baby” is almost 2 years old. She does great walking and running. She’s starting to practice jumping. One area she still needs a lot of help is going up stairs. The other night she taught me a lesson.

She wanted to follow her big sister and brother upstairs. Of course, they bounded up the stairs (it really does sound like a herd of elephants). She was doing her best to catch up. She made it up a few stairs while holding on to the banister. It was slow, tedious, and scary as she tried simultaneously to hold on and climb. I walked over to her and asked if she wanted help and she said yes.

I stood beside her, took her little hand in mine, and together we walked up the stairs fairly quickly (for an almost-2-year-old). When she was trying to make her way by herself she was timid and nervous. Holding Daddy’s hand gave her a level of confidence and surety that no mere banister could give.

That’s how it is even as adults, isn’t it? As we try to work through things on our own we can become anxious. Life can get scary. We become unsure of ourselves – of our footing. When we hold on to Dad’s hand we can be filled with a quiet confidence that allows us to ascend to new heights. If Jesus lived in my house I imagine he’d try to turn my daughter into this kind of parable.

He tried to lead people to having a quiet confidence in God as Father that could eliminate anxiety and worry. He once said:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34)

It’s hard to let go of our anxiety. If we don’t worry about our stuff who will? We’ve got bills to pay, deadlines to meet, and on and on it goes. But Jesus tells us: “Walk beside your Father and rest easy – you’re in His hands.” Walking hand in hand with God can change the way we live and move and behave. I’m reminded of the old song “Put Your Hand In the Hand.”

No matter what you’re going through, God cares about you. He’s not an absentee creator of the universe who is absent from life. He’s an ever present help and comfort. Put your hand in His. Walk beside Him. Let go of your worry and care because He cares.

Climb the stairs with confidence.

He’s got you.

Related Posts:
~ If You’re Lost and Feeling Far Away

They Imprisoned the Wrong Man

Image courtesy of sakhorn38 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of sakhorn38 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), or Mounties, have the motto, “We always get our man!” But it’s not always easy to get the right man. Sometimes authorities get the wrong man. In the United States, it is believed that .5% of all major crime convictions are wrongful convictions. While .5% may not seem like much, we’re talking about 10,000 men and women wrongfully accused, convicted, and imprisoned. Perhaps some of you know what it is like to be on the receiving end – to be wrongfully accused, criticized, or attacked.

Jesus was the wrong man. We pick up Jesus’ story in Mark 15.

6 At the festival it was Pilate’s custom to release for the people a prisoner they requested. 7 There was one named Barabbas, who was in prison with rebels who had committed murder during the rebellion. 8 The crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do for them as was his custom. 9 So Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release the King of the Jews for you?” 10 For he knew it was because of envy that the chief priests had handed Him over. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd so that he would release Barabbas to them instead.

12 Pilate asked them again, “Then what do you want me to do with the One you call the King of the Jews?” 13 Again they shouted, “Crucify Him!” 14 Then Pilate said to them, “Why? What has He done wrong?” But they shouted, “Crucify Him!” all the more. 15 Then, willing to gratify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. And after having Jesus flogged, he handed Him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:6-15)

They Imprisoned the Wrong Man. We see a striking contrast between the prisoners of this story. On one hand you have Jesus, whom was accused of being a rebel and a threat to Rome. His real crime was that he was a threat to the chief priests. They couldn’t allow this “Messiah” to continue to go around and make trouble for them. So they accused him of being a rebel. On the other hand you have Barabbas, a revolutionary fighter who was arrested with an actual group of murderous rebels! But the irony goes even deeper.

Barabbas’ name is Aramaic and literally means “son of the father.” Here stands Jesus, the real Son of the Father, and Pilate asks, “Shall I release this Son of the Father?” and the crowd cries out, “No! Don’t give us that Son of the Father – the one who brings peace and gives life. Give us Barabbas, the son of the father, who is murderous rebel!” In the most cruel of ironies, they imprisoned the wrong man. And so Jesus is handed over to be crucified.

32 Two others—criminals—were also led away to be executed with Him. 33 When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. [34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”] And they divided His clothes and cast lots. 35 The people stood watching, and even the leaders kept scoffing: “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked Him. They came offering Him sour wine 37 and said, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” 38 An inscription was above Him: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

39 Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at Him: “Aren’t You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? 41 We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:32-43)

They Crucified the Wrong Man. As Jesus hangs on the cross between two criminals, one starts to ridicule and mock him. But the other stops the first and says, “We deserve this – this man does not.”  They crucified the wrong man. It’s the story of Third Day’s song Thief.

50 There was a good and righteous man named Joseph, a member of the Sanhedrin, 51 who had not agreed with their plan and action. He was from Arimathea, a Judean town, and was looking forward to the kingdom of God. 52 He approached Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Taking it down, he wrapped it in fine linen and placed it in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever been placed. 54 It was preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed along and observed the tomb and how His body was placed. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.

1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. 3 They went in but did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men stood by them in dazzling clothes. 5 So the women were terrified and bowed down to the ground. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” asked the men. 6 “He is not here, but He has been resurrected! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, 7 saying, ‘The Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’?” 8 And they remembered His words. 9 Returning from the tomb, they reported all these things to the Eleven and to all the rest. 10 Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things. 11 But these words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. When he stooped to look in, he saw only the linen cloths. So he went home, amazed at what had happened. (Luke 23:50-24:12)

They Buried the Wrong Man. There’s an age-old joke that asks, “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” The answer is that no one is buried there. You don’t bury in a tomb – you entomb them. But it’s the same purpose. It’s the final resting grounds for the deceased. But they entombed the wrong man! You see, Jesus never was gonna stay dead. It was never part of the plan. Jesus even tried to tell his disciples: The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill Him, but after He is killed, He will rise three days later.” But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him. ~ Mark 9:31-32. So when the women go to look for Jesus in the tomb the angel asks, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” They buried the wrong man.

So here is Jesus. Wrongfully imprisoned. Wrongfully crucified. Wrongfully buried. This is not supposed to happen to an innocent man. This is not supposed to happen to the Son of God. It’s just not right – at least not from our eyes. But it had to happen this way.

Because, in actuality, Jesus was the right man.

They Imprisoned the Right Man. Jesus was imprisoned so that you and I might have freedom. He became a captive so that we might escape. No one else could take our place. Jesus was the right man.

They Crucified the Right Man. He died as the ultimate sacrifice for sin. He was crucified in our place. When we look at what our sin deserves, it should have been us on the cross. Left to ourselves our paths will lead us to destruction. Jesus paid the price for our sin so that we could be reconciled to God – so that we might have a living relationship with the creator of the heavens and the earth. Buddha didn’t die on your behalf. Mohammed didn’t die on your behalf. No, they crucified the only man who could take the penalty for our sin. Jesus was the right man.

They Buried the Right Man. It was necessary for Jesus to die and then be raised again. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. But Jesus defeated death, and now we have no fear in death. Jesus’ resurrection points to the day when those who believe will be resurrected and live with Him forevermore. Death has been swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting? Thanks be to God who give us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! No, Jesus was the only one who could defeat death once and for all, paving the way for the new life we will one day live. Jesus was the right man.

There was no one else – there is no one else – there never will be anyone else – who could do what Jesus did for you and me. Peter declares in Acts 4:12: There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.

2 Corinthians 5 tells us:

21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Maybe you’ve made the decision, but you haven’t really been living up to the person that God has intended you to be. Jesus paid the price – are you living up to your purchase price? Are you living in light of the cross? In your personal life? In your relationships? Jesus was the right man. He died so that we could live in freedom. Do not take the cross for granted. Don’t let His death mean nothing to you. My grandma always used to say, “Never put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do today.”

Choose Jesus.

Related Posts:
~ Breaking G.I. Joes

Finding an Inner Peace that Can’t Be Shaken

meditate-1851165_1920Peace seems to be one of the best ideals people can think of in this world. If you Google the word peace you will get over one billion results. The top 10 results include the Wikipedia article defining peace, the website for the Peace Corps, and the website for the Nobel Peace Prize. Personal peace is so highly sought after that pharmaceutical companies have flooded the market with dozens of anti-anxiety medications like hydroxyzine, lorazepam, clonidine, clonazepam, atenolol, and diazepam.

It is conservatively estimated that some 39 million Americans suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder. But where does all this anxiety and lack of peace come from? I believe that the root cause of the lack of peace in our lives is the perceived lack of control. Please do not misunderstand – there are some legitimate needs for being on anxiety-related medications, and I thank God for health care professionals. Still, we ought to realize that much of the anxiety and stress we face is not due to genuine psychological and physiological trauma but our own feeling of being out of control.

Think about it – when are you most at peace? When you have everything under control. Anxiety hits us when we feel out of control. Everyone wants peace; peace in marriages, peace in the workplace, peace in family relationships and friendships, peace in our personal lives.

The Bible talks about peace. In the Old Testament, the word for peace is Shalom. In the New Testament, the word is eirene (where we get the name Irene). Peace as Shalom is multi-faceted, but basically comes down to relating to war, human relationships, and tranquility in the midst of hardship. And while a preacher could spend weeks preaching a series about Shalom, today we’re just focusing on tranquility in the midst of hardship and difficulty. When it comes to hardship and difficulty, there is very little that we actually can control. Things happen to us all the time, but at any moment something unforeseen can happen. If we focus on how little we actually control our lives, we can feel overwhelmed! But confidence in God’s power and ability results in an inner peace that cannot be shaken.

The Bible tells us a story about three guys named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were three men who loved God. They were Jews, God’s people, who had been part of a group captured from Israel and transported to Babylon. But they were such good guys (trustworthy, dependable, etc.) that the king made them governors to manage a region in Babylon. In the meantime, the king gets this great idea that he is going to unify the kingdom and insist that everyone take a loyalty oath, a test to make sure that all of the people would recognize the king as the big dog. This was not uncommon in the ancient world. So he builds this monument 90 feet high and nine feet wide. It probably looked something like this.monument-1493054_1920

And everyone was told, “When you hear the sounds of the horns, the flutes, the bagpipes, the guitars, the drums, the tambourines, the tubas, the kazoos…(well, you get the idea) – when you hear all of these instruments playing, then take a knee and make your loyalty oath to the king and the gods he serves. So when the horns, the flute, the bagpipes, the guitar, the drums, the tambourines, the tubas, the kazoos…(again, you get the idea) sounded, everyone in the province pledged loyalty to the king and the gods he served. Everyone except for these three guys, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Even today we go through all sorts of loyalty tests. People and things vie for our loyalty almost daily. Will we show allegiance and loyalty to this or that? Will we show loyalty to this person or that person? But everything else and everyone else is merely temporary – the only permanent One who deserves our loyalty is God and God alone. Our loyalty is founded on what we know about God’s character and on the hope we have in Him! His character proves true time and time again. God does not fail. When He decides to do something, you can guarantee that it will happen. His timing might not fit our timing, but God does not fail – ever! People will pull at you, demanding your loyalty. Things in life will pull at you, demanding your loyalty. To whom and to what will you be loyal? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego know that they can only be loyal to God – nothing else.

But the king, Nebuchadnezzar, is not pleased with this, so he calls in the three and says, “Fellas! What’s goin’ on?!? Didn’t you get the message about the monument and the instruments and the loyalty thing? Is it true that you won’t take a knee before the monument and publicly proclaim your loyalty to me and my gods? If you don’t do it, you’re gonna be tossed into a furnace of blazing fire – and who is the god who can rescue you from my power?

These three God-fearing men were not anxious at all. They tell the king, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. 17 If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. 18 But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the monument you set up.” You see, confidence in God’s power and ability results in an inner peace that cannot be shaken. They knew the character of their God. They knew the power and ability of their God. Their confidence resulted in unshakable peace.

Even if God’s power did not save them from the fire, they still had confidence that God could, and because they knew that God has everything under control, they did not have to be anxious about it. I think this is where we sometimes drop the ball. We believe that God has everything under control but then expect Him to swoop in at the last minute and deliver us. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego realized that God is in control even if He doesn’t swoop in and save the day – the big picture is still God’s to direct. Oh, that we could have that kind of confidence. That is the confidence that leads to unshakable peace.

But their answer really ticked off the king, and he put those three into a blazing furnace. He commanded his soldiers to heat the furnace as hot as it could go, and ancient kilns could be heated over 1700 degrees Fahrenheit! It was so hot that the soldiers putting the men into the furnace died. But the king looked again and couldn’t believe his eyes. He asked his advisers, “Didn’t we throw in three men?” His advisers said, “Yes, of course, your majesty.” And the king says, “Look, I see four men walking around unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” So King Nebuchadnezzar gets as close as he can to the furnace and yells, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – come out of the fire!” And they come out untouched by the flames. The king then turned the tables and said, “Anyone who says anything offensive about their God will be torn apart and their houses turned into garbage dumps, for no other god can do what their God can do.” Who has the power, and who can save you? God has the power, and He can save.

In his letter to the church in Philippi, the Apostle Paul, who wrote about 31% of the New Testament, says: “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Notice that Paul does not say, “Tell God about your problems and He will take care of everything.” He says, “Tell God and let God’s peace, a peace that the human mind cannot understand, wash over you.”

There’s an old hymn from 1752 called “Be Still My Soul”

Be still my soul the Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change He faithful will remain
Be still my soul thy best – thy heavenly Friend
Thro’ thorny ways leads to a joyful end

Thorny ways are going to come. Tough times are going to happen. We are not promised rescue – we are promised peace in the midst of troubled times. Some of you are in desperate need of peace. Anxiety has you tied up in knots, and your worries lay heavy on your mind. Surrender your worries to the God of the Universe.

Confidence in God’s power and ability results in an inner peace that cannot be shaken.

Forced Gay – Part Two

Image courtesy of nuttakit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of nuttakit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Permit me to get out my soap box. I waited a couple days, debating whether or not I should even bring this up again. But the firestorm that I caused in my circles only solidifies in my head that we need to be talking about this…

If you had told me a year ago that I’d be arguing against Evangelical Christians in support of civil rights for same-sex couples I would’ve told you that you were nuts. Yet here we are.

A couple of days ago I wrote a post revolving around the wedding photographers in New Mexico that refused to provide services for a same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court of New Mexico ruled that the photographers had violated the couple’s civil rights – and Evangelical Christendom roared.

After a lot of thought about it and an eventual change in my own position, I publicly stated that I think the photographers were wrong to discriminate against the couple and that all Christians should think twice about refusing service to same-sex couples (I’ll post the link to my full post below).

I know that my position would clash with mainstream Evangelical thought, but I never expected the backlash I saw. And, not being one to back down from a verbal sparring, I’m going to write about it some more. I’m convinced more than ever that the Church has got to make some changes in how it approaches the LGBT community – for Christ’s sake. So…here we go.

I am a conservative Evangelical Christian (at least I thought so). I believe that God designed sexuality to be between one man and one woman who are married to each other. This means that adulterous relationships, fornication, and same-sex relationships are not part of God’s intended design. I believe that the Bible makes this case. I believe that nature and human physiology itself bears this out.

At the same time I believe that the Church should not be party to mistreating and discriminating against people – any people. I believe that the Church has been complicit in such discrimination. In my last post I compared the photographers’ behavior to establishments in the south that used to post “Whites Only” signs out front. I received criticism from Christians who told me that I cannot compare the racially charged civil rights movement with same-sex issues. I was told that the gay marriage issue is different from REAL civil rights.

To me it’s not an issue of gay marriage, racial equality, or any other issue. The topic at hand is about businesses refusing to serve certain elements of the public because of a personal disagreement with that element. Who gets to decide who is worthy of service or not? If conservative Christians can refuse to serve the LGBT community, who’s to say that racist business owners can’t refuse to serve other races?

I know, I know. “Racism is different.” That’s what I was told by other pastors. “You can’t compare racism with LGBT discrimination because racists distort the Bible for their own ends while we understand that the Bible is clearly against homosexuality.”

Excuse me?!?

Do you understand what was just said? “It’s wrong for racists to discriminate because they believe the wrong thing. It’s okay for us to discriminate because we believe correctly.” This infuriates me. The whole idea of freedom of religion is that we don’t hold another person’s private beliefs against him. You can believe anything you want and I can believe anything I want and we still come together as citizens in the same nation.

You can’t claim that your discrimination is okay because you read the Bible correctly and say another person’s discrimination is wrong because they misread it. So the civil rights laws step in and say, “We’re going to make sure that all people are treated the same no matter what their status or what your personal beliefs may be.”

If you have a business that serves the public you are not allowed to say, “Well…I won’t serve THOSE people.”  I was told by other Christians that vendors ought to be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples because a gay marriage might violate the vendor’s idea of marriage as a covenant between the couple and God. I agree that marriage is designed to be a covenant between the husband and wife and between the couple and God. Being a vendor does not endorse the views of the couple.

A baker can bake a wedding cake without endorsing the couple. The florist can arrange flowers without endorsing the couple. A Christian waiter can’t refuse to wait tables if it were an engagement party for a gay couple.

A Christian owner of a candle store doesn’t vet her customers to make sure that no Wiccans buy candles. “Excuse me, are you Wiccan? Because I won’t sell these candles to you if you’re going to go conjure up spirits with them.”

In all honesty, I sincerely doubt that Christian wedding vendors are performing background checks to make sure that every couple they serve fits the biblical model of marriage. Would the vendor refuse to provide services for a man who divorced his wife so that he could marry his mistress? They never even ask that question. At least I was never asked about my relationship background when my fiancée and I visited vendors. No one double-checked to make sure it wasn’t an adulterous relationship.

Rather than pretending that we care about God’s ideal for marriage, we should simply admit that we’re picking a particular segment of society to discriminate against. It’s the thing to do. Gay relationships offend our sensibilities more than an adulterous relationship. It’s become socially acceptable within the Church to single out the LGBT community for condemnation.

The natural follow-up question I received: “If you believe this way would you marry a same-sex couple?” And without hesitation I answer all who ask, “No, I would not.” As I said, I believe that God’s design for sexuality is for one man and one woman who are married to each other. It was at this point that I was called a hypocrite, putting myself and other pastors up on a pedestal while calling out non-clergy Christians.

I don’t see it as hypocritical. I genuinely see a difference between a wedding vendor and a pastor. I was told by one Christian that there is no difference between a pastor and any other vendor or justice of the peace. Am I not obligated being licensed by the state to perform same-sex marriages?

Let me clarify in case you did not know: pastors are not licensed by the state. I have never been nor will I ever be licensed by the state. I am ordained by the church. The state merely recognizes the church’s endorsement of the clergy. I am not a vendor – I am a pastor and spiritual care-giver. I do not claim to serve the public through my service. Pastors are not the same as vendors. We’re not the same as a justice of the peace. When I marry a couple it is more than a ceremony. I pastor them – talk to them about what marriage looks like from a biblical point of view. I talk to them about God’s ideal for healthy relationships. I read Scripture to them. I’m not a vendor, I’m a pastor. That might not make a difference to you – it makes a difference to me.

A friend commented to me that any issue combining civil issues and moral issues is messy. It is messy. There is no easy solution or answer to this stuff. But I do see too many Christians behaving poorly. We’re not acting like Jesus.

There were several times in Jesus’ public life that he encountered “sinners”. In these encounters we see him acting the same way. He talks to them. He touches them. He cares for them. He loves them. THEN he tells them to go and stop sinning. Not so much the Church today. Our attitude is often, “Go and stop sinning. Then come back so we can love you.”

I’m ready for the Church to lead the way in loving people. Too many Christians think that loving people means encouraging and allowing sin. I’m not for a soft-sell faith. I’m not for white-washing Jesus. I still believe in the Jesus of the Gospels who proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” But we forget that he loved first, called for change second. And, honestly, I think most people in the LGBT community know my position as an Evangelical pastor. I don’t have to beat people over the head with my view of the Bible. I can love them in spite of our differences.

So…call me hypocrite. Quote Proverbs to me. Tell me you think I’m going against sound judgment. Tell me that you can’t believe I’ve fallen away.

Me? I can’t believe the Church has become so coldhearted.REPENT We don’t have to stop preaching righteousness. We don’t have to stop talking about Jesus, the cross, and forgiveness of sin. But we don’t have to discriminate, no matter what our differences may be.

We can still love people, no matter who they are or their type of sin. At least – I think that’s what Jesus would do.

So I’m off my soap box. Please feel free to send this to CNN. Or Oprah. It would be kind of cool to be on the air as the Evangelical pastor who is against gay marriage but for civil rights. But keep it away from Fox News – I don’t want to be crucified… 😉

I welcome all discussion, just keep it civil and polite. If this post resonates with you in any way, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email!

Related Posts:
~ Forced Gay
~ A Christian Response to Gay Marriage

What’s Holding You Back?

What's Holding You Back?
What’s Holding You Back?

Creating significant change is tough. In America 25% of us blow or discard our New Year’s resolutions in the first day. Change can be so difficult that even people who want to change will most likely fall back into old patterns and not make change permanent. One reason permanent change is so hard is because we continue to hang around people who knew us before the change – we maintain old relationships and patterns of life that don’t want to allow or recognize change in us!  The Apostle Paul wasn’t always a stand-up guy. Before he became a Christian he used to arrest and terrorize Christians. Then God got a hold of him and turned his life around. But even after God changed him, the Bible tells us in Acts 9:26:

“he tried to associate with the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple.”

It’s often easier to change who you are when you make a clean break and get a fresh start. No one knows your old mistakes or the way you used to be. You get a chance to make brand new mistakes…

I remember my first week on the job as an associate pastor some years back. On Monday morning, the senior pastor was taking me around to introduce me to people in the office. In one room the maintenance guy was laying down some tiling. The pastor introduced us and I stepped forward to give the guy a warm handshake. I didn’t realize it but I stepped right into some tiling mud that he was using to tile the room. The pastor looks down and says, “Watch it – you’re steppin’ in some mud.” And I say, “Oops” and step back.

Then the pastor took me over to introduce me to an office admin lady. After about 30 seconds of talking, he looked down at the carpet and said, “What?!? What did you do?” There were gray footprints from the door way right over to where I was standing! I quickly stepped out of the room to wipe off my feet and, being the good Christian man he was, the pastor whipped out his cell phone and began taking pictures! What a great start, huh?

Saul did not get to start a new job and make fresh impressions. He had to change even when people did not believe he could. Similarly, when we decide to follow Jesus, we need to make permanent changes as we leave behind the old “us” and walk a new path.  Romans 12:1-2 says:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Paul’s words are just as appropriate today as they were thousands of years ago. We need fresh starts. There are three things I want you to understand from what Paul is saying here, and then four things to do about it.

I. Our change is motivated by God’s mercy

1Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God…

God cares about you – the Bible says, “Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.” The Bible says that we know Jesus loves us because when we were still sinners he died for us. We didn’t have to get right before he gave his life for us. This is what Paul is trying to say here in Romans. “By the mercies of God….” Because of God’s compassion, he acts on your behalf. All of God’s interaction with humanity is summed up with one pattern: action; reaction. God acts and we respond. The mercy of God compels a response of continual sacrifice – a life of worship. The result of encountering God is that we are forever changed, completely transformed.

There’s a story I once heard about a mother who approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offense twice and justice demanded death. “But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I plead for mercy.” “But your son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied. “Sir,” the woman cried, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for.” “Well, then,” the emperor said, “I will have mercy.” He spared the woman’s son.

We do not live out our Christian lives because of a massive guilt trip or fear but as a loving response to what God has already done for us. Because he has mercy and compassion and acts on our behalf, our response should be to offer Him our very best-our everything. We accomplish this by turning from the world and living out a different kind of life.

II. Surrender your entire being to God

…to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice

The sacrifice is pleasing to God. What Paul is talking about is our attitudes and the contrast in who we please before we meet Jesus and after we meet Jesus. In our old lives, we lived to bring pleasure to ourselves. Now we should live to bring pleasure to God. It’s easy to picture when you think about children.

A child has only one focus in life – find pleasure. My wife and I hung a humorous little plaque in our daughter’s room that says: Toddler’s Rules: If I want it – it’s mine. If I see it – it’s mine. If it’s mine – it’s mine. Nevertheless, as children mature into adults they realize that the world is not all about them (at least they’re supposed to – I think we all know adults who have yet to mature to this point!). But that’s exactly what I’m talking about! When we make the decision to follow Jesus, our focus needs to be not on us but on Him. In this regard, I think we all have room for improvement. Have you surrendered 100% to Him?

In Romans, Paul sees the Christian life as a sacrifice. In the Old Testament, sacrifice meant killing an animal. Paul does not do away with sacrifice. He only changes what it looks like. Instead of the dead body of an animal, the sacrifice is now the living body of the believer in surrender to Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice for all! Worship now moves out of the temple and into everyday life. Worship is not just what we do – it is now who we are.

III. Life now needs to be different than it used to be

2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind

It is no longer acceptable to be the way we were.. Paul writes that a transformation is needed. The Bible is serious about our need to change! In Ephesians Paul writes:

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Later he says, “…put off your old self…to be made new in the attitudes of your mind.”

The Apostle Peter writes:

“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do…”

He calls us to be changed. Do you admit that you need a change in your life? In your marriage? In your habits? In your attitudes? In your relationships? In your thinking?

It’s time to change. But how do you make change last? It’s like working out. I want to change. I want to get fit.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I know how to use gym equipment. I know things that can help me get in shape. So what’s the problem? I will never get in shape if I never do the exercise. How do we make change permanent?

1. Pray that God will help you change ~If you’re not praying about it, you must not want it that badly! God can do what we could never do. If you really desire to change, start talking to Jesus about it.

2. Become vulnerable and accountable to someone else to help you change ~ It is hard to change without help. When God turned Saul’s life around, God sent good godly men into Saul’s life to help him as he matured as a Christian. We need good godly people in our lives who can be real and honest with us an help us become the people we are supposed to be.

3. Refuse to let people, circumstances, or sin hold you back ~ The disciples did not accept that Saul had truly changed and become a disciple. But Saul continued to pursue God and live a changed life. Sometimes old friends will want to drag us back into old habits and patterns of behavior. Don’t let them. If you have to, make new friends.

4. Take it one day at a time ~ Saul did not become the Apostle Paul overnight. He spent a lot of time growing and maturing with other Christians before he became the man who wrote ½ of the New Testament. Likewise, we can get overwhelmed when we try to live for the big picture change. Focus on one day at a time, and before you know it you will actually be that person that God desires you to be!

God calls us all to be changed. Is it time for change in your life? How is God calling you to change? What are you gonna do about it?

_ _ _ _ _ _ _
If this post resonates with you in any way, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email!

Related Posts:
~ Sustaining Change in Your Life

Leave Your Bible on Your Shelf

Image courtesy of -Marcus- at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of -Marcus- at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I recently read a blog post admonishing pastors to bring their physical Bibles to church and to stop using electronic media instead. You can read that blog here.

I’ve never written a post directly responding to another blogger, but I really felt that I had to this time. You see, I think that Dr. Barrett couldn’t be more wrong in his assessment of Scripture, technology, and culture – and the idea of reprimanding Christians based on his faulty assessment drives me up the wall.

Just so that you don’t think I’m some crazy, anti-Bible nut-job, let me write a couple sentences about myself. My first graduate degree was in Biblical Studies, where my Master’s work was on the authority of Scripture. My second graduate degree was in Pastoral Preaching. I am FULLY committed to the authority of Scripture in shaping the life, thought, and action of Christians. I am FULLY committed to preaching the truth of Scripture from the pulpit and not watering down the message and removing Jesus and his exclusive claims from God’s story. I have a deep love for the Bible. On my desk right now I have two Bibles (one English and one Greek New Testament). On my shelves I have 3-4 different translations, a Hebrew Old Testament, and two collector’s Bibles (a 1942 Bible produced for the Army and an 1895 printing of a Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament).

I love my Bibles. But the idea that using tech in the pulpit instead of one of my physical Bibles is doing damage is erroneous teaching and needs to be corrected. Dr. Barrett lists 5 “dangers” of using tech Bibles instead of print Bibles:

  1. A Different Message: the tablet represents many things besides a Bible. It represents apps, magazines, games, and much more. “A print copy of the Scriptures in the pulpit represents something far more focused and narrow: a visible symbol of God speaking to his people….”
  2. Biblical Illiteracy in the Pew: the tablet may…encourage biblical illiteracy in the pew. People won’t know where things are in their Bibles because no one is asking them to “turn to chapter such-and-such.” They fail to see the big picture of God’s story.
  3. Flesh and Blood: reading from a tablet removes the reality of having something “there”. As physical beings who gather in a tangible place, God is really with us as Lord of space and time. “This God has made himself known by sending his own Son in flesh and blood.”
  4. Visual Reminder: We risk the Word of God becoming lifeless when we take away the physical book. “And should an unbeliever walk in for the first time, would he know that we are a people of the book?”
  5. Nonverbal Communication: Carrying your Bible around with you communicates to others that you are a Christ follower. Forget the physical Bible and we lose our witness to the world.

Now let me tell you why he’s flat wrong:

  1. You cannot reduce the Living God to a symbol: If you believe that you need a visual symbol of God speaking to talk about God’s story then your god is too small. Yahweh cannot be contained or limited to a mere symbol. No matter what the delivery method, the power of the Gospel is not the literal word but in how the WORD of God pierces our hearts and souls. God can do that through a preacher who uses a print Bible, a Bible app, or an audio Bible while you listen to the Bible on CD.
  2. Biblical illiteracy goes far beyond what happens on a Sunday morning: There are many people who love God dearly and live their lives to conform with the desire and will of God but don’t know that Lamentations is somewhere after Leviticus. The Gospel is not about knowing the order of the books of the Bible. It’s not about being able to find a particular passage whenever asked. The Gospel is about surrendering our story to God’s story. In the history of the world illiterate people have usually outnumbered the literate. For the first1600 years of Christianity most people did not even own their own Bibles. It was only after the advent of the printing press and Reformation that it gradually became commonplace for families to own Bibles. Dr. Barrett’s accusations create a false superiority of literate Christians over illiterate Christians. It says that Christians in underdeveloped nations are lesser Christians because they can’t read the Bible or know the order of the books. This mindset actually does DAMAGE to the Gospel.
  3. A flesh and blood Savior does not necessitate a “flesh and blood” book: Jesus is the center of our faith – not the book. The Gospel is his story, not the black (or red) words printed on a page. The only flesh and blood that matters are HIS. Whether I am reading from the Bible or simply telling someone the story of Jesus, HE is all that matters, not the book. Books deteriorate, get torn, fall apart – but the Gospel will go on eternally.
  4. No visual necessary: as stated above, the hard-text is not necessary for telling God’s story. In fact, holding TOO tightly to being “people of the book” places too much emphasis on the printed word – it elevates the book to the status of idol! It creates two Bibles: the “real” Bible that is printed and the “faux” Bible that comes in other media. It does damage to the Gospel to create this dichotomy.
  5. Jesus didn’t tell his disciples that people would know them because they carried Bibles: he said that people would know they are followers of Jesus by their love. Behavior is more important than outward symbols. We’ve all seen people who wear crosses around their necks or tattoo a cross or fish on their bodies. It doesn’t make them Christian. I once heard a pastor state that wearing a cross doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sleeping in the garage makes you a car. Outward symbols do not mean anything about the condition of our hearts. I would rather people see Jesus in my character and behavior rather than because I lug around a book.

There is a real function to the sacred text. As Paul writes:

For everything that was written long ago was written for our instruction, so that we might have hope through the endurance and encouragement that the Scriptures give us. ~ Romans 15:4

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work. ~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17

There is a real purpose to Scripture, and that purpose involves shaping and forming the believer. There is a relationship between the text and our life. There is nothing neutral in claiming the Bible as Scripture. The Bible must be “normative and life-shaping” because the writers were commissioned by God (whatever your view of inspiration). The divine voice demands response.

I do not impugn the authority of the text for Christian life and thought. We must not, however, substitute true authority, i.e. the story of God’s redemptive actions through human history, for cheap bibliolatry. The printing press was revolutionary technology in its day, giving the common person access to words never dreamed possible. Technology today is no different, giving us the Bible in new ways. But it isn’t really a new Bible, is it? It’s still God’s story – unchanged. And when we learn this then we can access HIS story through any means.

The Bible doesn’t change. We do.