Giving Jesus a Bad Name

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Ghandi

Author Anne Rice recently announced that she is renouncing Christianity. I can understand her feelings. It is quite easy to look at the world today– full of legalistic, condemning statements, judgmental attitudes, hatred spewed publically in the name of Christ– and wonder why anyone in their right mind would want to be a Christian. Most of the air time dedicated to Christianity highlights the ranting of Pat Robertson or the alleged affair between Benny Hinn and Paula White or Ted Haggard proudly delcaring that he now says “hell” from the pulpit (and he isn’t referring to the place) or Westboro “Baptist Church” protesting at soldiers’ funerals. We see people teaching their children to protest by allowing 5 and 6 year olds to carry “God hates Fags” posters. It’s enough to make me want to tell them that the closest Jesus came to hating a group of people was his disgust not with sinners but with the Pharisees, the religious legalists who hated the sinners that He came to save.

Some have apparently already been quick to pass judgment on Rice’s announcement and on Rice herself, only further confirming that many in Christianity have bypassed Jesus and returned to a legalistic rule-keeping religion that couldn’t be further from the relationship Jesus died to provide for us. I wish that my friends who are not believers would have the opportunity to hear and see true faith in a widespread realm like social media or the evening news. Unfortunately, calm, rational, and loving but firm grace isn’t interesting enough to make the news. So I wanted to share this post from Russell Moore as an example of what “real” Christianity looks and sounds like. Not harsh, judgmental and self-righteous. But wise, forgiving, calm and humble. Real Christianity doesn’t lord over unbelievers (or the wayward brother or sister) as if we have done something to deserve the salvation we claim to be our own. Rather, true Christianity remembers daily, “Were but for the grace of God go I.”

If all you know of Christianity is the close minded, hateful rants of the self-righteous, read this, and know that most of us dislike them as much as you do. But we don’t rant against them. We try to follow our own advice. We pray for them. We encourage them to compare their lives to Scripture. We hope they meet Jesus and recognize (or at least remember) their own sin and need of a Savior. And we firmly hold to the faith that God is Sovereign and the loud screaming of a few will not so defame his glory as to derail His plans for his people.

Jesus didn’t condemn people into saving faith. He challenged them. He spoke truth, but he spoke it in love, with compassion. We would be wise to do the same if we wish to consider ourselves capable of carrying the title Christian, which means “Little Christ”. If your attitude and actions don’t make people see Jesus in you, either change your actions or change your title. The Gospel itself is offensive enough on its own; it doesn’t need our help.

Is Your Greatest Liability God’s Greatest Asset?

On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:5-10

This morning I was having a conversation with a young woman I disciple and we were talking about old responses like anger rising back up within us. Our conversation went something like this:
“I don’t know where it comes from,” she said. “It hasn’t been this bad in weeks.”
“Well, you’ve said yourself that you’re stubborn. Use that stubbornness for God’s glory and stubbornly refuse to give in to the temptation.”
“What do you mean?”
“God created you with a strong spirit intentionally. Use it for his glory instead of your own. Being stubborn is a good thing when you are stubbornly standing for truth.”
“That’s the first time someone has said my stubbornness isn’t a bad thing.”

But then one day I was preparing a lesson for a class while I was in seminary. I was studying Romans 10 in which Paul discusses the misdirected zeal of the Hebrew people. I thought about his life. He was so zealous for the Law that he persecuted and killed Christians. But when he was converted to a saving faith in Christ, his zeal didn’t go away; instead, God redirected that zeal to be used for His glory. God took Paul’s greatest character flaw and redeemed it to turn the world upside down.

The lights clicked on in my heart and mind! If we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139), then God knew that I was going to be a stubborn, independent knowledge-seeker. The very qualities I had been working in my own strength to repress in my life… What if they were characteristics God had intentionally given me to be used for His kingdom and glory? How could my weaknesses be made strong in Him if I would just allow him the opportunity to work in and through them?

What a revolutionary and freeing thought! God didn’t desire to obliterate my personality and identity—he wanted to use them for himself! He wanted to keep me, but make me better by fashioning me into a unique image of His Son.

So what about you? How could God use your character flaws and besetting sins for His glory? If you are a notorious talker or gossiper, could God use that love of speaking for his glory by spending time each day talking with elderly shut-ins? Do you shop for things you don’t need when you’re stressed? What if you started buying things for the less fortunate and focusing that stress on serving others instead of serving yourself? Are you a stubborn know-it-all like me? How about using that thirst for knowledge and desire to debate to study the Word and teach it to others? Do you find yourself in unhealthy, emotionally entangled relationships? What if you allowed God to meet your needs and then focused on pouring your life into others in discipleship relationships?

How can God redeem your greatest weakness instead of repressing it? Can your greatest liability become the greatest asset for the Kingdom? Give him all of you, not just your supposed strengths and gifts, and just see the strength He can display in your weakness.

His Love is Better

Psalm 63
1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.

3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6 when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

Read closely the words of David. Take note of the words above that are in bold.

If you didn’t know that David was talking about his desperate desire to know God, you could think that he was describing his praise and adoration of an absent lover. Many modern love songs use similar words and phrases to describe our attempts to have this type of need met by another human being.

But David declares that HIS steadfast love is better than life. Better than life.
Did you catch that? Think about your life. Think about your strongest love, whether familial, platonic or romantic.

Think about your most loyal friend. He is more loyal.

Think about your most caring parent. He cares for you more faithfully.

Think about your most affectionate relative. He embraces you in an eternal love.

Think about your most passionate lover. He loves you more passionately and sacrificially.

David says His love is better than all that. And David would know. He was half of one of the most loyal friendships recorded in history. He experienced passionate lovers. He was adored by shouting fans. He was the king of a nation. He had it all! Yet he still said that the love of the Father was better than all of that.

Do you doubt Him? Have you ever given him the chance to prove His love to you? I’m not asking if you’ve gone to church or practiced religion; the church is made of people and no person or group of people will meet the need we all have in the depth of our souls to know and be known. Have you ever taken Jesus up on his offer of steadfast love that is better than life? Or are you so enamored with the creation that you have missed the infinite love and satisfaction found only in the Creator?

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Can Pain Ever Be Good?

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 1 Peter 4:12-16

While I was at the Exodus Freedom Conference last month, I attended a workshop for ministry leaders led by Jeff Buchanan. The workshop was entitled Moving Forward into a Culture of Discipleship, and Jeff’s purpose was to equip ministry leaders in the work of growing grace-saturated disciples of Christ within both our ministries and the Church at large. Part of what he taught has particularly stuck with me the last couple of weeks and I wanted to share a few points that I have been able to put into immediate practice both in ministry and in my own life.

Jeff stressed the fact that, as believers, we must learn about and embrace a theology of suffering. So many today seek a life of comfort and ease and happiness. Televangelists preach a prosperity gospel that is anything but biblical. Some teach that if we do God’s will, then God will bless us with material prosperity and physical well-being. I find that thought interesting considering that even the Son of Man had no place to lay His head. If Jesus was homeless and suffered horrendously on our behalf, the idea of comfort and ease should be foreign to his followers as well.

But what do we do with the equally true concepts that God loves us and desires what’s best for us but also allows suffering and tremendous pain in our lives? To 21st Century Americans, pain and hardship do not equal good. All pain is bad pain and personal happiness is the ultimate goal. The passage at the beginning of this post flies in the face of American entitlement and once again shows that, sometimes, pursuing the American Dream requires us to pursue the exact opposite of the Christian life.

Peter addresses two types of suffering in 1 Peter 4: suffering brought upon ourselves by our own poor decisions, and suffering on behalf of Christ and his Gospel. How do we know the difference? There can be two types of physical pain: destructive pain like the pain that is caused by illness and injury, and growth pain caused by exercise and rehabilitation. Pain caused by illness or injury can be destructive for the rest of your life if you do not also experience the temporary pain of physical rehabilitation. Growth pain usually alleviates destructive pain, at least partially if not completely.

In this workshop, Jeff included two very helpful bullet pointed lists that help us determine what pain is good, growth oriented pain, and what pain is destructive in our lives.

The Pain in your Life is Growth Pain if you are:
• Becoming more vulnerable in your relationships with God and with other people
• Humbly recognizing your own character flaws and are allowing God to correct them
• Taking relational risks; stepping out, learning to trust, revealing your true self to people
• Relearning healthy and godly relational skills and boundaries
• Dealing with the emotional wounds and trauma of your past
• Overcoming passivity and learning how to stand up for Truth and righteousness
• Overcoming destructive patterns that you have become dependent upon and are learning to depend on God
• Dealing with grief and loss in an expressive and productive way.

The Pain in Your Life is Destructive Pain if you are:
• Refusing to face character issues
• Choosing wrong relationships and unsafe people
• Repeating destructive patterns and not assuming responsibility
• Harboring unforgiveness
• Living with a false perception or romanticized ideals
• Living in a state of self-pity

So what causes pain in your life? Are you suffering because of the sinful choices of others and your suffering is beyond your control? Are you suffering because you stood up for what is right and are now experiencing persecution for it? Or are you suffering because of your own choices? There is good news for each situation!

If you are suffering due to the sins of others, God is clear in Scripture that He is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18) and deals justly with the sinner (Romans 12:19). If you are suffering on behalf of Christ, Scripture tells us to take joy in sharing in his suffering because we will also share in His glory! And if you are suffering because of your own foolish choices, there is repentance and forgiveness in the cross and the time spent in destructive pain can be redeemed through growth pain.

Whatever kind of suffering you may be currently experiencing, don’t waste it! Allow God to use it for your good and his glory. Cling to him. Grow in your faith. Share what you’ve learned with others. Be a testimony of his grace to a suffering world. When you suffer for the right reasons, don’t deny the pain, but make sure you acknowledge the accompanying grace and peace and joy of Christ. If you’ve lived your life in destructive pain and are now experience growth pain, don’t give up on the healing process. See the difference in the two types of pain and take comfort in the fact that this season of growth pain will prevent you from experiencing a lifetime of destructive pain. Keep your eternal perspective.

Tweens and Facebook

A friend of mine posted the link to this blog today and the author states quite clearly my feelings concerning tweens with facebook accounts. There are children as young as 8 or 9 with facebook accounts, and the legal agreement for facebook clearly states account holders must be over the age of 13. This is me stepping on the toes of everyone I know who has a child under the age of 13 with a Facebook account, but this lady has a point. Cracks in integrity show up in the “small” things long before they show up in the “big” ones. Teach your children to live above reproach in the smallest of things. Scripture teaches we will be trusted with the big things when we prove ourselves faithful in the small.

Not only is it an integrity issue, but it is a relationship issue as well. Adults have enough trouble defining relationships; why add to the struggles of a late elementary school or middle school student by giving them another misuse of the word “friend” and just one more place for them to torture one another socially?

I by no means believe that all parents who have children under 13 are purposefully teaching their children to be deceptive. I know that 9 times out of 10 I check yes to agree with the terms of service without ever reading them. But ignorance does not release us from responsibility. The question remains: now that you are aware, what will you do?

If you were aware of the policy and ignored it, and being called out makes you mad, I do not apologize this time. But I do pray that you will look past your anger or frustration and prayerfully consider the example you are setting for your child. Are you living above reproach or are you passively teaching your children it’s ok to break the rules if you think no one is going to get hurt?