You’d never think that a “good church kid” from a staunch Southern Baptist background would willingly hang out with a bunch of addicts, but I do and I love it! More than that, it’s one of the favorite ministry things I get to do each month. Mt Vernon church works together with Recovery House (a local in-residence treatment facility) to help ladies battle drug and alcohol (and more and more prescription drug) addictions that are ruining their lives.
Every Sunday a dozen of the ladies from phase one march into church two by two. For many of them, it’s the first time they’ve been in church in years, if not decades. Once a month I get to go out to Recovery House and spend two hours with these ladies, getting to know them and answering any spiritual questions they might have. Yesterday was my day to go to Recovery House, and I walked away (as always) reminding myself that it was for afternoons like this that I got into ministry.
Like most months, the current group of clients for Recovery House is a motley crue of broken and damaged lives: we had an exotic dancer, a preacher’s kid, and a mousy-faced, harmless-looking lady who was actually a murderer (she sat right next to me!). I learned about their stories, their hurts, their broken homes growing up (four of them grew up with parents who were addicts), their children, their divorces, their abuse. Being insulated for so long in the antiseptically clean environment of a Baptist church (not saying that hurt like this doesn’t go on in the church, just that we weren’t supposed to talk about it), it’s shocking to realize just how much brokenness exists in the world.
Here’s what I love about hanging out with a bunch of (recovering) addicts: the gospel shines so brilliantly against the backdrop of their broken lives. They are all hungry for religion, for someone or something greater. So I get to tell them about the Jesus of the New Testament, and there’s none of the arm-chair theologians, stiff-necked traditionalism that can sometimes obscure the beauty of Jesus. They are broken and hurting. Jesus is grace and truth. And they embrace him like the woman at the well or the blind man receiving his sight.
It’s fresh. It’s refreshing. It’s free from any church politics. It’s a group of sinners encountering and embracing Jesus. That will never get old!
This past Sunday at Mt Vernon I told the church to “add a little crazy to your life.” Looking at John 2when Jesus cleared the temple, I talked about how Jesus was so fanatical about his Father’s name and his Father’s honor that when he saw his Father’s house being desecrated, he went off.
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” John 2:13-17
To the world he looked a little crazy, but a true fanatic will always look crazy to the world.
As Jesus fanatics, we’re always going to look a little crazy to the world. It’s unavoidable. And that’s okay. Rather than trying to conform and fit in, I think we should be intentional about “adding a little crazy” to our lives. Let the world know how much we love Jesus. Make our devotion to Jesus blatantly obvious to all we encounter.
I asked the question at the end: how specifically can you “add a little crazy” to your life? Through the YouVersion Bible app, our members were able to answer the question personally and submit their answers anonymously. Here are a few of their responses. Here’s how my folks from my church can “add a little crazy” to their lives:
- Get up with my wife at 5am to study the Word together.
- Stop drinking and partying and spend more time in the book.
- Go on a mission trip out of the country. Start a private protective recovery home for girls and women rescued out of the sex trafficking trade.
That’s my kind of crazy!
QUESTION: How can you “add a little crazy” to your life?
2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” But how can we know the condition of our hearts? This short video looks at three diagnostics that Jesus gives us:
Here’s the first sermon in our new “Underdogs” series:
Okay so the title was a bit of a tease, but at least you’re reading. Here’s my beef with seminaries today (I understand most of you reading this aren’t preachers, so we’ll chalk up this blog post to #PreacherProblems). The overwhelming way they are training new pastors to preach is verse-by-verse. (This approach preaches through an entire book of the Bible verse-by-verse, then picks another one and preaches through that. This style is in contrast with ‘topical,’ where preachers take a topic or theme and preach about it from Scripture). Verse-by-verse is the latest rage. I recently had a conversation with a seminary student on his preaching style. He said that he preached verse-by-verse, because that was the safest way to preach the totality of God’s word. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Noted theologian John MacArthur was subtle enough to write on the merits of verse-by-verse preaching and name his book “How to Preach Biblically.” Case settled, right?
My beef with verse-by-verse isn’t its form or function (I’m actually preaching verse-by-verse through Ephesians this summer, the first time I’ve preached verse-by-verse at Mt Vernon). My beef is the prevailing mindset coming from seminaries today that assumes that verse-by-verse is the only true way to preach, and all of us ‘topical’ guys are somehow mishandling the Word of God.
Here’s what I would say to that mindset: we never see Jesus preaching verse-by-verse. From our records in the gospels, Jesus was a straight ‘topical’ guy. You never see Jesus taking his disciples on a verse-by-verse exposition through the book of Leviticus. Rather, he’d pluck a verse or two from Old Testament scripture (Luke 4:18-19 is a good example) and expound on that. Even more frustrating for verse-by-verse folks, sometimes Jesus would teach simply by using stories (parables) with no Scripture involved. By today’s seminary standards, Jesus would have been a horrible preacher, reckless with Scripture and too cavalier in handling the holy texts. But as sacrilegious as it sounds, Jesus’ number one preaching goal wasn’t a verse-by-verse exposition of the Scriptures of the day. It was to teach people about and introduce people to his Heavenly Father. Jesus wasn’t a slave to verse-by-verse exposition, and neither should we be today.
QUESTION: Is there a ‘best’ way to preach? What’s your preferred style?
Full 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!
Yesterday 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?
Recently I got a chance to practice what I preach in the most unusual and uncomfortable fashion. One of the great privileges I have is working with a group of ladies at an in-treatment facility center in Columbus who are dealing with a host of addiction issues. One of the things I try and do is help the ladies dig deeper underneath their addiction to discover what’s really driving it. We’ve talked through traumatic events, bad-guy boyfriends, abortions, abusive homes, you name it.
One of the ladies at the facility for the past few months (we’ll call her “Leslie”) has been a tough nut to crack. She shows no emotion. She doesn’t talk. The most I’ve been able to get out of her is that she doesn’t go to church. She seems to be still deciding whether recovery is for her. Recently I was leading the ladies through the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman in John 8:1-11. It’s a classic story of grace and forgiveness, perfect for a group of ladies who are dealing with guilt and shame.
During a question and answer time afterwards, Leslie spoke up unsolicited for the first time in two months (believe me I’d tried my hardest to get her to engage). She put the core truths of that story to the test. She said, “Is it true that you can’t be forgiven if you don’t want to change because that’s what my friends told me because I’m a lesbian.” And . . . things . . . got . . . weird.
Maybe it was just me. There’s no reason why it should have gotten weird. We had literally been discussing abortion, self-mutilation and crack cocaine in the previous ten minutes. If there’s an issue out there, these girls have lived through it. But homosexuality, that’s the ‘unforgivable’ sin for evangelicals today. Adultery is frowned upon, alcoholism is scoffed at, but homosexuality is, well, just read the newspapers. Watch the culture war being raged between the church and society over tolerance and acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle.
Leslie’s quiet, but she knew what she was doing. She dropped that bomb on me to see how the preacher would react. If God forgave the adulterous woman, what about her? Did John 8 apply to her, or is homosexuality the ‘unforgivable’ sin? After Leslie threw that grenade into the middle of the room, the entire dynamic of the conversation shifted. They didn’t want to know about dinosaurs anymore (yes, that was a previous question), they wanted to know why the Bible was so out of touch with modern culture and why it condemned a lifestyle that everyone else seems to accept. If Jesus was so ‘loving’ and ‘forgiving’ (as they put it), why would he be so hateful to condemn the homosexual lifestyle? Especially if it’s something that you’re ‘born with’?
My response was . . . what I’m going to write about tomorrow. Stay tuned!!!
In John 3, Jesus gives us one of the most commonly used terms to describe a Christ follower: “born again.” But what does it really mean to be ‘born again?’ Watch this short video as my daughter helps me explain.
In John 5 there’s a verse that puzzled me for years. One of the times Jesus entered Jerusalem, he encountered a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. What he asks this man almost seems insulting at first: “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?'” (John 5:6). Was this a rhetorical question? Was Jesus mocking him? Why would this man not want to get better? Shouldn’t it be obvious?
But as I got older and I began to interact with more people in ministry, I realized the penetrating nature of this question. Sometimes people who are sick don’t want to get better. Sometimes people who need to make a change are unwilling to do so. You’ve lived through this. You have a family member. You have a close friend. You know they need to change. You’ve had an intervention where you’ve pleaded with them to get help for something. In a moment of clarity they’ve even admitted that they need to change. And yet they haven’t. They’re not ready to get well. They’re comfortable in their brokenness. It’s painful, but it’s what they know. They’re not ready to make a change.
Before you rehash old arguments and get angry at your family all over again, stop for a moment and ask yourself this same question: do you want to get well? What area in your life do you know you need to change? What habit or addiction has your family pleaded with you time and time again to change? In what area have you been unwilling to fully surrender to God and make a change?
Like the man who had lived with a debilitating condition for 38 years, Jesus still asks you, “Do you want to get well?”
Well, do you?