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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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We Can’t Talk About This Sin…

Once upon a time the church talked about it. It was even considered one of the seven deadly sins.

Yes, I’m talking about gluttony. Junk Food

The dictionary defines it as greedy excess or indulgence, especially when it comes to food and drink. No, this blog post isn’t about healthy living and nutrition. I’m actually very fond of junk food. I’ve hardly come across any ice cream flavors that I wouldn’t eat. My favorite candy is Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, followed closely by Twix. I’m also a big fan of meat lovers pizza and bacon cheeseburgers.

No, I’m not going to talk about proper nutrition. Ultimately, I guess, I’m talking about self-control (or the lack thereof). Because in my own life gluttony and self-control are inextricably linked.

This topic has been on my mind recently – I’ve been hit from multiple sides. My wife shared an article with me about 9 sins the church is okay with now (when it didn’t use to be). On the MSN homepage I saw an article about foods you should never eat – ever! On top of that, add in the very public mess with the hack and release of users of the Ashley Madison website designed to help people looking to commit adultery (why can’t people be satisfied with their spouses?).

So I don’t really want to write about food, but self-control. It seems to me that the lack of self-control is actually at the heart of many of the sins humanity wrestles with. But we don’t like self-control. Shoot – we don’t like ANY control. We prefer to live like my 8 year old, who bristles any time she is told that she can’t have her way right now. That part of our humanity seems to stick with us even as adults.

The problem is that self-control seems to be a REALLY big deal to God. The Bible has multiple passages relating to self-control:

– A fool always loses his temper, But a wise man holds it back. (Proverbs 29:11)
– But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
– Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. (2 Peter 1:5-9)

There are more, but you get the idea. Self-control seems to be one of the characteristics of God that we are supposed to embody ourselves. Can you even imagine a world where we demonstrated self-control consistently?

I will confess that I struggle with self-control. Self Control For me one area where my lack of self-control manifests is in my eating.

“Oh, here we go, Chris. We KNEW you were going to bring it around to health and fitness.”

No, I’m not really going to spend a ton of time there. But I do confess that it’s a personal struggle. I’ve had to find tools the help me combat my own weakness – and even with good tools I have a hard time. A book I read once (for the life of me I can’t remember the name) in seminary asked how pastors can possible hope to preach about self-control as a godly virtue when so many pastors are obese. It was personally convicting.

Perhaps food isn’t an area where you struggle, but the lack of self-control can hit us in so many different areas of life. If you stopped to think about your life, you might be able to pinpoint how your spiritual life (and perhaps even your physical or mental life) could benefit from greater self-control.

If we understand what the Bible says about self-control and believe that the Bible ought to be the standard for Christian life and thought, then perhaps we ought to examine how we can implement self-control more. For me it’s how I eat. And my anger triggers and responses to my wife and kids. And…

Geezy-Pete, I’ve got some work to do.

How about you?

Crippled Christians and Religious Fanatics

Japanese FansPeople get really passionate about some things, don’t they?

I’m talking about C.R.A.Z.Y. passionate.

Like these guys…

 

 

Or this guy…

Ghana Fan

 

 

 

 

And, just so you don’t think it’s only foreigners who are crazy, what about this guy?

Bears fan

When we are really and truly passionate about something we go to great lengths to embrace that passion. We don’t care what others say. We don’t care what others think. All we know is, “This is my passion and nothing will stand in my way.”

This is the kind of thing Jesus is talking about in Mark 9. When you’re passionate and dedicated to something, you will go to any length to support it.

Jesus said:

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’

How aggressively do you attack the obstacles that stand in your way? When a person is diagnosed with cancer, doctors sometimes have what they call “aggressive treatment.” They hit the cancer hard and fast and with everything they’ve got. This is the very attitude Jesus talks about here. How hard and fast will you hit the sin areas in your life? What will you chop off so that you can avoid the danger of eternal separation from God?

I’m not sure how many of us even think about our eternal destiny. We go through life and can get so bogged down in the daily grind that we take our eyes off of eternity. One of my favorite movies is the movie Gladiator. There’s a scene where the Roman general Maximus is inspiring his soldiers to fight well and he tells them, “What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

Do you hear what Jesus is saying? What we do in life echoes in eternity. So make sure that your behavior here is not creating echoes you never want to hear in the next life. Because separation from God is no joke. Many people have been caught up in the book and movie, “Heaven is for Real.” But God is clear that hell is for real, too. The image Jesus uses for hell is Gehenna.

Gehenna was a real place, a valley south of Jerusalem. In the ancient days of Israel, Gehenna was the location of a wicked cult that practiced passing children through fire. It came to be a metaphor, to represent the Jewish idea of hell. Jesus is not trying to give us a literal vision of hell but trying to help us understand how bad it is to be eternally separated from God. The worms that eat them do not die means that the flesh is forever rotting. Once the flesh is all gone from a corpse there is nothing left there for maggots. They die. But these maggots feed eternally, and the flames burn forever. Not a place you want to go. What’s it worth to you to be in the presence of God? Jesus says, it should be worth giving up your very limbs. Whatever in your life tempts you to drift away from God, discard it decisively – aggressively.

My hand is causing me to sin. Whack! My eye is causing me to sin. Spoink! My television is causing me to sin. Whoosh! My tongue is causing me to sin. Cu I ou! My mind is causing me to sin. Lobotomy!

Get the picture?

Jesus isn’t really telling us to mutilate ourselves. He’s using vivid imagery to make a point. Our eternal destiny is so important that we ought to be aggressive and intentional about making sure we stay away from the things that separate us from God. Take a moment and reflect. Let me ask you to think on this: What is something you did this week you know God wouldn’t want you to do? You can’t help it – almost all of us thought of something. There are no perfect people on earth. 🙂

Now – to what lengths will you go to get that out of your life?

No, God Does Not Love the Way You Are

jesus loves you

This week Christian singer Vicky Beeching came out to national media in Britain – she’s a lesbian. In the interview she gave she told the reporter, “I feel certain God loves me just the way I am.”

The purpose of this post isn’t to argue the rightness or wrongness of the homosexual lifestyle. I’m squarely within the Christian camp that believes active homosexual behavior is contrary to God’s design and plan and, thus, wrong.

Rather, I want to focus on her statement itself. “God loves me just the way I am.”

This seems to be the cry of many people nowadays. While some people do believe it, too many people use this line as an excuse to remain spiritual stagnant.

Rather than examine their lives to see where God would desire growth and change, they play the “God loves me just as I am” card to escape any kind of changed behavior.

But we misunderstand God if we cling to that expression. Instead, we should be telling people:

Yes, God DOES love us. Just as we are He loves us. Messed up sinners but He loves us.

He loves US the way we are, but he doesn’t love the WAY we are.

A relationship with the living God ought to mean that we continue to grow and develop spiritually. It ought to mean that the way we are grows more and more dim in the review mirror as we move towards the new way we are as Christians. The Bible cannot be overstated when the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:2

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.

Not remaining like this world but being changed to be more like Jesus.

It’s too easy to make excuses for not making any changes in who we are. God loves me just as I am.

Yes, He does. He died for me just as I am. But He died for me just as I am so that I no longer have to be just as I am.

I can be something new. I can be something different. I can be something better.

Why You’re Going to Hell: Part II

Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In Part I we looked at how a person isn’t saved by reciting magic words – it’s a matter of faith. While saying the Sinner’s Prayer is a great way to express one’s faith, it is faith that saves and not the prayer.

We also talked about what Christians mean when we use the word “saved.” It’s an understanding of the condition of your soul in relation to eternity. Life as we know it is merely one part of our journey. Death does not stop the journey but continues it.

Those who are “saved” (i.e. have faith in Jesus) will be spending eternity in the presence of God – this is heaven. To be totally honest the Bible doesn’t give explicit details about the nature of heaven. There is a lot of symbolism and imagery when people describe it (streets of gold, etc.), but no solid, “This is what heaven is like.” The most we can say about heaven is that it is the opposite of hell – it is the presence of God and a place that is wonderful, enjoyable, and the place where we are free from any problem, care, or worry.

Those who are “lost” (i.e. have no faith in Jesus) will be spending eternity outside the presence of God – this is hell. And, again, to be totally honest, the contemporary image of hell is not from the Bible as much as it is from the imaginations of writers, artists, etc. The most we can say about hell is that it is the opposite of heaven – the absence of the presence of God and a place that is generally unpleasant, uncomfortable, and not a place you want to be 😉

But the question I hear most frequently from non-Christians is:

Why would a loving God send people to hell?

People have a hard time hearing the message that God loves them when we simultaneously send the message that God will punish them if they don’t become part of the faith. While some Christians do send that message, the Bible does not. The Bible is clear:

God is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

The verse speaks for itself – God doesn’t CHOOSE to send people out of his presence. He wants everyone to be in His presence (heaven). So then…who goes to hell?

Hell is for those who do not choose God. He doesn’t send – we decide. The Bible says:

The works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar, about which I tell you in advance-as I told you before-that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

For know and recognize this: no sexually immoral person or impure or greedy person, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of the Messiah and of God. (Ephesians 5:5).

Hear me out – I’m not God, and the Bible doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty of a lot of these. The point is, though, that certain behaviors and actions are not acceptable to be in the presence of a Holy God (holy means set apart or different).

It comes down to love and punishment. I think about it as a parent. I love my kids. But I have certain standards for their behavior. There are some things that are not acceptable. Because they are human individuals they are going to choose to do things with which I disagree.

Sometimes their behavior warrants being put in time-out. What is time-out? It’s removing the child from the family system – they cannot be part of the family system because of the choices they made to behave the way they did.

My children want to live by their own rules (or lack thereof). Then they’re always surprised when they go to time-out. Adults are no different. We want the freedom to live our own lives the way we want and then complain when we are told that there are eternal consequences for our behavior.

The Bible says:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

Ultimately, we all deserve the BIG TIMEOUT (hell). But Jesus paid the price for our brokenness. Now we can once again be in the presence of God. But we can only approach him through faith and repentance.

When all is said and done, God is the one to judge our hearts and behavior. Not me. Not you. Not any human. I fully believe there will be people in heaven that will completely surprise us. Similarly, there will NOT be people in heaven that we always expected to be there.

In the meantime, we do our best in this life to live the life He has called us to live.
That means I may not do some things I want to do because it goes against what he wants me to do.

Because his way is supposed to come before my way.

Related Posts:
Why You’re Going to Hell: Part I

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?

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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!

How Bad Can I Be and Still Be a Christian?

 

Image courtesy of fotographic1980 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of fotographic1980 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We are masters at justifying our behavior. If we REALLY want something then we will find a way to convince our brains and our hearts that it is okay to do it. Those of us who are really slick and have a little bit of the Bible tucked away in our heads will bring up Scripture to justify our behavior.

The Apostle Paul once heard a report from the church in the city of Corinth that blew his mind. It seems that one of the church members had an affair with his father’s wife. The church was so proud of their liberty and freedom and openness. Paul was not proud. Instead, he wrote:

Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? (1 Corinthians 5:2)

I would guess that a good many of us have never tried to get frisky with our step mothers, there are other areas in our lives where we do what we want to do even when we know we shouldn’t be doing it.

Someone once talked to me about the two types of Christians: law-driven people and grace-driven people. When it comes to justifying our behavior we all suddenly turn into grace-driven Christians, promoting God’s grace above all else.

“God’s grace covers all.”

Paul had to fight this mentality from the church in Rome. His response:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2)

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big believer in God’s grace. If God were not gracious with us we’d all be toast. But we must walk that line between receiving grace and abusing grace.

Grace does not give us carte blanche to sin and willfully make unrighteous decisions. Grace does offer to catch us when we fall. Grace helps us get back on track. But as we grow in our faith and in our relationship with God, our new life should pull us away from the old behavior into a new way of doing things. It’s spiritual maturity. Paul continues:

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires….For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:11-14)

Remember when you fell in love for the first time? Most of us will go through a lot in order to change ourselves so that we can be the perfect partner for the one we love (many young people foolishly pretend to be something other than what they really are, and that will blow up later). The point is this – grace isn’t about abusing the freedom God has given us. It’s not a get out of jail free card to continue making evil choices. Grace should be drawing us in a closer relationship with God to the point where we WANT to be different.

It’s not about “How bad can I be and still be a Christian?”

It’s about “How much do I love Jesus, and what am I willing to do to belong to him?”

Related Posts:
Making Waves: Behaving Badly
Becoming a Better Me
Creating Life Change

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