Five for Friday (7.18.14)

5Here are five great articles to keep you thinking through the weekend! Go to church (somewhere) this Sunday!

Balancing Justice and Mercy in Immigration Reform – A great perspective on this divisive topic.

Catalyst’s Brad Lomenick on Secret to Success – Great interview with the guy who helped build the Catalyst Conference, a conference I look forward to going to every year.

The Road to Jericho & the Border Crisis – Another strong perspective on the border crisis from the top Baptist mind on the subject.

The Pastor’s Wife Who Went Crazy – Amazing first-person perspective on mental illness.

Why Are So Many Christians Afraid of Hollywood Bible Movies? – With more and more Bible epics coming out, this is a good word.

BONUS Video – For the guys, a history of hair fashion over the past 100 years.

Why Attending Church Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

7.15.14Maybe you did it Sunday. Woke up, got the kids looking decent, scrambled out the door a little late, snuck into the church service a few songs into it, but at least you didn’t miss the main part (the sermon). Maybe you stay for the last song, maybe you sneak out early to beat the traffic (or just to avoid another awkward conversation with “Sister Betty”). In and out. Smooth. Clean. Hazardous to your health.

I would make the argument that attending church can be hazardous to your spiritual health. You attend shows. You attend ball games. You’re not supposed to attend church. When you attend something, you sit and watch as a spectator. If you like it, you offer some applause, perhaps you pay to get in or make a donation, but that’s as far as your involvement and commitment go.

The picture we see of the early church is just the opposite. They didn’t just attend church services, they did life together. They broke bread in each others homes. They got involved in each other’s lives. They gave to those in need. They sacrificed for each other. They practiced biblical community. They were the church for each other.

There is a difference:

  • Attending church is about you. Being the church is about us.
  • Attending church is about getting. Being the church is about giving back.
  • Attending church is about meeting your needs. Being the church is about also meeting the needs of others.
  • Attending church is about being entertained. Being the church realizes that you’re not the audience, God is.
  • Attending church stays skin deep. Being the church goes deep into the lives of those around you.
  • Attending church will eventually dry up your soul. Being the church will enrich your soul and those around you.
  • Attending church is easy. Being the church takes work.
  • Attending church is optional. Being the church is not.

Don’t settle for attending church this Sunday. Be the church.

7 Things You Can Do To Make This Week Different

7.14.14Small things can make a big difference. If you want this week to be a little (or a lot) different than last week, here are some small things that could have a big impact on your week.

1). Set your alarm (or set your alarm 30 minutes earlier). If your morning is a frantic last-minute race to get out of the house to get to work, or if you have the mornings off and like to see how long you can sleep in, change things up. Get up earlier, don’t be frantic and stressed before you even leave the house. Don’t sleep in. Decide that you want to be productive this week.

2). Declare a “TV Free” day. Pick a day where the tv doesn’t come on all day. Choose to let something else besides the media influence your thoughts and actions. Read a book, play a game, just keep the tv off.

3). Listen to the Bible on audio. As you’re on your commute, as you’re doing things around the house, plug in those earbuds and listen to the audio Bible on free apps like YouVersion. See what happens when you allow words of truth to wash over you and settle on your soul.

4). Exercise. Yes, you know you need to do it, so do it! Get out and go to the gym. Walk around the neighborhood. Do something. As you take care of your physical health, your mental, emotional, and spiritual health will benefit as well.

5). Help someone accomplish something. To momentarily break the power of selfishness, choose to help someone else accomplish something they need. Help them with yard work. Help them finish a project. Do something intentionally for someone else and not you.

6). Don’t be a slave to lists. Just live!

The Religious Right Would Have Hated Jesus

5.29.14Full disclosure: I consider myself a Republican. I don’t delude myself into thinking that the Republican party is by any means infallible, but their emphasis on fiscal responsibility and smaller government is the best hope to save America from the entitlement/welfare state that will bankrupt us in my lifetime. But I digress.

More than being a Republican, I am a Christian. I should be a perfect candidate for the Religious Right, a political faction built on conservative/biblical values.  But I never have considered myself a part of that voting demographic. Why? I truly think the Religious Right would have hated Jesus if he lived today. Now, I am the first to admit that I might be wrong (and those in the Religious Right will be quick to point out faults because that is one of their less than desirable calling cards). If I’m a Christian, then I’m supposed to vote Republican. And not just Republican, but conservative Republican. Surely Jesus would have been a Republican. He probably would have been a card-carrying Tea Partier as well.  I just received a card in the mail from my religious denomination subtly telling me who I should vote for by ranking the candidates “conservativeness.” Surprisingly enough I’m supposed to vote all Tea Party candidates. I’m most likely going to vote for the other guy just because the Religious Right is attempting to dictate my vote.

The premise behind the Religious Right is to legislate morality. Vote the right people into office and they will enact laws that will dictate a biblical culture on the entire country. Think of it as a Christianized version of Sharia law. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a conservative that espouses conservative values, but the idea of legislating morality on others misses the entire point of the gospel. Our Kingdom is not of this world. Our mission is to make disciples, not control the legislature.

Where do I get the audacity to make this assumption that today’s Religious Right would have hated Jesus? The Religious Right existed in Jesus’ day. They were known as the Pharisees. They were the ultra-religious who enforced their version of spirituality on the populace at large. It was suffocating. When you look in the gospels, you’ll find Jesus fighting with the Religious Right of his day more than anyone else.

I think if Jesus lived today he would infuriate the Religious Right. He’d be too unpredictable. He’d advocate conservative values but then you’d see him hanging out with liberals and homosexuals (the ‘sinners’ and ‘tax collectors’ of his day). Some his disciples would even be Democrats (gasp!). The Religious Right would attempt to dictate his beliefs and he’d refuse to be manipulated by a narrative looking for power. At the end of the day, he would refuse to help them gain political control, because his Kingdom is not of this world. And they would try and take him down for not being ‘conservative’ enough.

QUESTIONS: Thoughts? Let’s get the debate going!

 

And Then She Told Me She Was a Lesbian . . . (Part 2)

5.27.14Yesterday I shared about a recent conversation I had with a woman where I had the opportunity to practice what I preach in the most uncomfortable fashion. While sharing the good news of grace and forgiveness from John 8 (the story of the woman caught in adultery), Leslie* asked if she could ever be forgiven because she was a lesbian and didn’t want to change.

The easiest thing to do would have been to give into the temptation that too many evangelicals fall into: sweeping judgment and condemnation. But I had literally just shared about how Jesus offered grace to a woman caught up in sin. Was the sin of homosexuality outside the bounds of God’s grace? What’s more, I knew Leslie. I liked Leslie. We had built a relationship. She wasn’t an abstract idea I was judging from a safe distance. She was a human being, filled with inherent worth, sitting five feet from me. It’s easy to judge someone you don’t know and condemn a community with whom you have no relationship. But what if it’s someone you know and care for? (And let me beat some of you to the punch. You might counter, “But Leslie is unrepentant! She has to repent of her godless lifestyle before she can be forgiven!” Look in John 8. We have no biblical record of the adulterous woman repenting or showing any remorse. Lack of repentance isn’t a good rationale for judgment and condemnation.)

Here’s how I responded to her and the entire group of ladies I was sharing with that day:

  • I acknowledged the reality that homosexuality is seen as the ‘unforgivable sin’ in churches today. They already know that and sense that. Leslie shared that her church friends communicated that to her, so there was no use in me denying it. I apologized on the church’s behalf for elevating that one sin above all others when we have no biblical right to do so.
  • I reaffirmed that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is sinful. There is no way around it. To teach otherwise would be to try and do theological gymnastics around passages that teach on this subject pretty clearly.
  • I also acknowledged that my job as a preacher wasn’t to teach what was popular or culturally acceptable, but to be faithful to the Bible. I realize that the biblical teaching on homosexuality is increasingly unpopular today. I know that this will be one of the defining battlegrounds for the church in my generation. But my call was never to be popular. My call was to preach God’s Word.
  • Should the Bible be modified as civilization progresses and we become more ‘tolerant?’ I don’t dare make the prideful assumption that I know more than God. Some churches have embraced the homosexual lifestyle by cutting and pasting around sections of the Bible they don’t agree with. As uncomfortable and unpopular as the Bible’s teachings may be at times, I dare not assume that I know more than God. That is a slippery slope that never ends well.
  • I told Leslie that as a practicing homosexual, I would treat her like all the other sinners that show up at my church each week. In my eyes, she would be just like the liars, cheaters, gossipers and adulterers that fill the church each week. She would be like every other person sitting in that sanctuary: a sinner in need of forgiveness. I would love her and befriend her and value her like I value everyone else that comes to my church. Homosexuality is a sin, but it’s not the ‘unforgivable sin.’
  • What I really tried to do was to get Leslie to look at how Jesus interacted with sinners in the gospels. He took a strong stand for truth and didn’t back down to popular demands, yet at the same time sinners loved hanging around him. That is the balance we all need to embody: grace and truth.
  • I told her I hoped that she would consider Mt Vernon a safe place to explore her faith. I do not believe she is a Christian. I told her that for me, her homosexual lifestyle wasn’t my primary concern. I want her to give her life to Jesus. Once she does that, the Holy Spirit can begin to change her from the inside out. My job as a pastor isn’t to ‘cure’ her of her homosexuality. It’s to introduce her to Jesus.

It wasn’t the easiest conversation, but I tried my hardest to speak to her how I believe Jesus would have spoken to her. I didn’t condone her sin, yet at the same time I didn’t condemn her.

QUESTION: How would you have answered her?