Seven Churches Series- Smyrna the Brave and Faithful Church

Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them- Hebrews 11:36-38

There was no place in the ancient world where it made sense from a practical perspective to be a Christian. Everywhere in the Roman world there was always a very real chance persecution would break out. Men, women and even children were put to death simply for professing Jesus as Lord.

That said. 

There were some places where it was easier to be a Christian than others. This is because most persecution against Christians tended to center around a practice known as Emperor or Caesar worship. 

The Roman Empire was massive. Its territory covered most of Europe, Greece, all of Asia Minor (Turkey), much of the near East, Israel, Spain, much of Africa and then some. The sheer vastness of the territory created a complex problem for Roman rulers. 

Unity. 

How exactly does one unify millions of people from literally hundreds of diverse cultures and all sorts of religious backgrounds? This was a critical question. Without something to unify all those diverse people groups mayhem, rebellion and anarchy would break out all over the Empire. Clearly, none of the emperors wanted any of those things on their watch.  

This is where Caesar worship comes in. 

All adults living in the Roman Empire were obligated by law to go to a temple in their city once a year. While there they were required to throw some incense onto an altar and declare to a Roman official that whatever Caesar happened to be in power at the moment was God. If the person declined for any reason they would be transported to the nearest arena posthaste where they would be crucified, torn limb from limb, fed to a wild animal or beheaded ASAP. 

This ritual was quite effective at unifying the territories. 

However.

It also created all kinds of problems for Christians who refused to worship anyone but Jesus (Exodus 20:3, Psalm 16:4, 1st Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:5). 

There were cities where Caesar worship was not always strictly enforced. Christians were safer in those places. Jews were one of a handful of groups lawfully excluded from Caesar worship. If the synagogue leaders in a city allowed the church to be recognized as a sect of Judaism the Christians in the area would be given a break as well. 

The Christians in Smyrna got no breaks. Zero. Zilch. Nada. 

 The bureaucrats in Smyrna gleefully engaged in Caesar worship and were more than happy to execute anyone who refused to give Caesar his “due”. Moreover, the Jews in Smyrna loathed Christians. Not only did they refuse to protect Christians. They were so meanspirited towards the Church they would routinely report Christians as a deviant (anti-government) cult. Jewish leaders would suck up to government officials by suggesting Christians be given the “test” of Emperor worship, thus ensuring their death. The Jews were so off-the-charts cruel to Christians in Smyrna Jesus referred to the whole lot of them as a “synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9). 

Further complicating an already difficult and scary situation, a person’s ability to work anywhere in the Roman Empire was always tied to idol worship. Because the Christians in Smyrna refused to compromise on this issue they were the poorest people in arguably one of the richest cities anywhere in the Roman world. There are two words commonly used for poverty in the Greek language. One means worker. It describes someone who worked with their hands for a living. The other means utter destitution. Jesus used it to describe the poverty of the Church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:10). The Christians in Smyrna were—by any measurable human standard— a rather sad and pathetic group of people. 

But. 

Jesus loved them. A lot. I don’t know if Jesus has favorites, but if He does they were for sure a favorite.  Smyrna is one of two churches out of the seven Jesus does not criticize in any way.  The Christians in Smyrna held a special place in Jesus’ heart for one reason and one reason only: they were faithful. They refused to cave to the immense social pressure they were under. They could have chosen to avoid taking unpopular stands on certain social issues. They could have chosen to pay lip service to Caesar and then told their church friends they didn’t or that they didn’t really mean it (Matthew 10:32).  They could have worshiped in pagan temples to keep their jobs. They could have lightened up on teaching Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). Those choices would have helped them gain favor with those in power. Those choices would have allowed them to make a decent living. Those choices would have kept them alive. 

Instead. 

The Christians in Smyrna loudly and proudly declared Jesus to be the only God and took the many lumps that came with that declaration.  Jesus did not promise them life would get easier, in fact, He did the exact opposite. He forecasted more suffering in their future (Revelation 2:10). However. He also promised He would be with them through the trouble. He also promised He would personally and lavishly reward them for their faithfulness (Revelation 2:10-11).

 Smyrna was not the polished church (that was Ephesus). Nor was it the wealthy church (that was Laodicea). It certainly wasn’t the popular church (that was Sardis) but it was a church Jesus loved passionately because it was the brave and faithful church that was unafraid to take a stand on the things that mattered most. 

The Seven Churches Series- Ephesus

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart- Proverbs 3:3 NIV

I have this theory that all Christian churches, denominations and organizations follow the same basic development pattern.

It always begins with a dream, desire or idea God plants in the heart of a person or a group of people.  This dream ultimately produces the birth of something new and beautiful (Isaiah 43:19, Acts 2:42-47).

Then comes childhood.  

Childhood is an exhilarating time in a church or ministry. Childhood is all about beginnings and growth. All the activity of this phase is born out of genuine love for Jesus, passion for the mission of Jesus and a desire to honor and glorify Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).   Leaders seek to obey Jesus above all else and as a result this phase typically results in an abundance of fruit. The childhood phase is also marked by some chaos. Leaders don’t always know what they’re doing, important things don’t get done and there can be disputes between key leaders (Galatians 2:11-14).  Because this stage is naturally volatile, if an organization stays in childhood for too long the ministry or church will die. No ministry or church can endure the disorganization and volatility of the childhood stage for long. 

It’s just too dang messy. 

If the organization or church survives the birth and childhood phase (some don’t). It moves into adulthood. Adulthood is the sweet spot for a ministry or church. There’s still a lot of excitement but there is also a clear vision for where the ministry is going. The vision is firmly rooted in biblical principles and prayer. The ministry is still very Jesus centered but there’s more discipline than in the childhood phase. The policies and leadership structure developed in the early adulthood phase provide the stability necessary to keep the thing from flying off the rails. This is typically a very long phase that is even more effective and fruitful than the childhood phase. The organization or church earns a good reputation in the community and it does a lot of good. People are saved, lives are transformed and Jesus is glorified in a big way (Romans 10:9, Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:5). 

Then comes middle age.

If an organization makes it to the middle age stage everything is going super well from an optics perspective. Money is being raised, there are a ton of volunteers and the stated mission is still solid. 

However. 

There is a subtle shift that begins with leadership. Leaders become, usually without realizing it, much more focused on building the organization than they are on Jesus and glorifying Jesus. Jesus is still valued, but Jesus is no longer the main thing. He’s more of a figurehead at this point. Passion for Jesus and devotion to the mission gets lost in the day-to-day of “doing ministry”, “raising money” and “growing the church” (Matthew 28:18-20, Matthew 10:7-9, Ephesians 4:11-16). It not unheard of for shady conduct to become a common occurrence at this point, and because leaders are focused is on how things LOOK rather than holiness, righteousness and pleasing Jesus, it is also not all unusual for shadiness to be swept under the rug, rather than being dealt with.   All or most of the ministry work of this phase is centered on programs and fund raising rather than transforming people and glorifying Jesus.  On the surface the ministry activity APPEARS to be people and Jesus centered. However, most of it is focused firmly on keeping the ministry machine going, raising money and justifying the continued existence of the organization. 

This is exactly what happened to the church in Ephesus. 

The first church Jesus addresses in Revelation chapters 2-3 arrived at middle age and their love for Jesus and concern for the spiritual and emotional needs of people became lost in their desire to maintain the status quo. Jesus called this “losing their first love” (Revelation 2:4-5).

But here’s the thing: 

No one looking at the Ephesian church from the outside would have suspected there was a problem. Even most folks who attended the Ephesian church were likely unaware of the issues. The leaders were undoubtedly clueless. Leaders at this stage almost always lack any kind of real self-awareness. As a result, they thought everything was fine. And why not? All the externals looked awesome. The pastors were skillful, polished and well-educated. The doctrine was solid.  They avoided getting involved with problematic or divisive issues. The people attending gave money and willingly suffered hardship for Jesus (Revelation 2:2-3).  

But. 

Their hearts were far from God. The people stopped caring about the things Jesus cared about. The Ephesian Church was still very busy kingdom building. It was just the wrong kingdom. It was a human kingdom instead of Jesus’ kingdom.  

Jesus’ instruction to the Ephesian Christians is straightforward: “do what you did at first”.  

Jesus knew that one of two things happens at this crossroads.

Most of the time the ministry continues a slow drift further and further from the original mission. Bit by bit it loses its ability to make a spiritual impact on the world. The church remains but the power it once had to make disciples and transform the culture is gone. The people lose their saltiness and the church or organization becomes spiritually worthless (Matthew 5:13). If it endures it becomes more of a social service agency than an actual ministry. 

Or.

There is a spiritual awaking.  The people who attend and lead these churches recognize the problem. They see the drift. It breaks their hearts and they repent. They fully rededicate themselves to the cause of Christ. Jesus becomes the main thing once again and the church or organization continues to be a vital part of the body and a solution to the brokenness in this world (Revelation 2:7). 

However.

Spiritual awaking’s don’t just happen.  

We need to ask God to help us see the drift in our lives and our churches and our ministries. It’s imperative we pray daily for wisdom and self-awareness and a heart that is willing to see the problems and our role in those problems. Most importantly, must be eager to do what we did at first (Jeremiah 17:9-10). We have to fight to go back to that childlike state of spiritual existence where Jesus was our everything and our obedience was a gift we joyfully gave Him.  

Is There a Difference Between Conviction and Condemnation?

 I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us– 2nd Corinthians 7:9 NIV

We live in a very judgy world.

Cancel culture is just one example. Canceling is an increasingly common practice that can be done in either a global or private kind of a way. 

 It works like this: 

Canceling happens globally when someone gets caught doing something or saying something a person or group of people do not like. The disapproving person or group goes after the “sinner” and punishes them for their language and/or behavior. The poor schmuck is then publicly disgraced and shamed. They lose their job, reputation and social status. They essentially become an outcast or a social pariah. 

A person is privately canceled when a friend or family member cuts them out of their life and gives them the silent treatment without explaining why they are giving them the silent treatment. 

Sigh. 

Supposedly, the whole point of cancelling someone is to get them to a place of conviction in their lives, where they acknowledge their misdeeds so they can grow.  Anyone who has actually been cancelled (either in a global or a personal way) will tell you being canceled feels more like hardcore condemnation without any mercy whatsoever. 

For the record.

I am not an advocate of cancelling. It is, in my opinion, perhaps the least healthy, least virtuous thing we do in this raging-dumpster-fire of a culture. However, the nature and stated purpose of cancelling raises an important question for believers:

Is there a difference between condemnation and conviction?

This is a question that needs answering.  

Both are biblical concepts (Romans 5:16, 1st Thessalonians 1:5, 2nd Corinthians 7:10-11). However, the Bible teaches there is a difference between the two. It matters because our view of these issues has a massive impact on how we see God, work out our salvation and treat other people when they sin against us (Philippians 2:12, Luke 7:47, Luke 6:37, 2nd Corinthians 2:9-11).   

So. 

Condemnation can be defined as a decree or sentence of guilt.  It is always accompanied by a sense we have failed and are unworthy of forgiveness. 

Condemnation always leads to hopelessness.

Conviction, on the other hand, is something the New Testament calls “godly sorrow” (2nd Corinthians 7:10-11). Conviction is a little different. It’s more like a deep and heartfelt sense we have gone off the rails and missed the mark. It is always accompanied by a sense we need to correct our course in some way. 

Conviction can be every bit as painful as condemnation. However, conviction is good because without guilt it is impossible to experience repentance and the spiritual restoration repentance brings. 

Here’s the struggle:

Condemnation and conviction sound a lot alike and condemnation can look a lot like conviction and conviction can feel an awful lot like condemnation. This is especially true if we’ve been up to no good in some area of our lives. 

Because condemnation and conviction feel so similar, some Christians are inclined to write off any guilty feelings they experience as condemnation and therefore irrelevant (Romans 8:1). Ignoring feelings of guilt is a profoundly bad idea because the Bible teaches ignoring our conscience is a spiritually risky thing to do (1st Corinthians 8:7-12) because it can lead to a hardening of the heart (Ephesians 4:18). Therefore, it is always best to pay attention to feelings of guilt. Guilty feelings should drive us to seek the Holy Spirit so we can figure out if there’s something we need to deal with in our lives before sin takes root and produces chaos and pain. 

Condemnation is a tool the enemy uses to discourage us. Therefore, it is not uncommon to experience condemnation AFTER we have already confessed our sin to God and corrected course. Condemnation will sometimes come from an unexpected source like an off-handed comment from a friend. It can come from our own hypersensitive conscience. Condemnation never gives hope. Instead it leaves us with an overwhelming sense of despondency and hopelessness. Condemnation screams into our souls that God will never be happy with us again. Condemnation almost always leads to more sin rather than less.

The whole point of spiritual conviction or godly sorrow is to facilitate change. Therefore, it is often accompanied by a feeling that we are guilty and have offended God. However, conviction also always comes with an understanding of what we need to do to get things right. God never leaves us in the dark or wondering where stand with Him. Godly conviction never leaves us feeling hopeless, despondent or like we will never be good enough. The path to repentance and healing is sometimes difficult. Repentance always means making some sort of a change. It might mean breaking off a relationship, changing a behavior, apologizing, making restitution but the path to a pure conscience is always clear. Conviction (godly sorrow) always leads to repentance.  

It is critical Christians understand God only condemns those who refuse to embrace Jesus as their Lord and Savior (Romans 8:1, Jude 1:4). It is equally important to understand guilt is good as long as we know what to do with it (Acts 3:19). 

How Peace can Become a Bad Thing –

Prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace- Jeremiah 10b-11 NIV

We are hardwired to pursue peace. 

Deep down in our souls we know every good and valuable thing human civilization has to offer was developed, advanced and flourished during times of peace. The finest art, music, theology, medicine and literature are all the outcome of extended periods of peace. Minus peace marriages dissolve, mental health declines, churches splinter, governments breakdown and societies crumble.  

Peace is a critical element of Christian doctrine. 

Jesus’ official title is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). He got that title by coming to earth, dying on the cross and rising from the dead in order to pay the penalty for human sin and rebellion. His purpose in doing all that was to broker peace between a sinless God and sinful humanity. Because Jesus is the bringer of peace Jesus’ followers are instructed to make peace whenever possible (Matthew 5:9, Romans 12:18, Hebrews 12:14). The Bible teaches that the mere presence of an obedient Christian has the power to bring peace to a place or situation. (Matthew 10:13). One of the most profound benefits of knowing Jesus is the peace He brings to our hearts even in the midst of the worst kinds of trouble and chaos (John 14:27, John 16:33). 

Because peace is so vital to human flourishing most folks will go to super human and sometimes even sinful lengths to get it and keep it. A craving for peace is why we have divorce lawyers. Peace is the reason our culture loves pharmaceuticals so much. It’s why society collectively spends billions on police and it explains the existence of the military industrial complex.  Peace is so critical to human health people will fight wars just to keep it.  

It’s critical we understand. 

 Peace has a dark side.  It’s not all sunshine and gummy bears. There are situations in life when the presence of peace is neither good, beneficial or life-giving. Peace quickly becomes toxic anytime we: 

Get it in the wrong way-

Interestingly enough, the most totalitarian and repressive countries on earth are also, at least on the surface, some of the most serene and peaceful places on earth. You don’t see a lot of dissent or griping in dystopian regimes. The people in those places are not peaceful because they are thrilled with their circumstances. Beneath the veneer of peace and tranquility, there is a tyrant who rules with an iron fist. No one is allowed to tell the truth or say what they believe unless the tyrant gives them the go ahead. The same thing can happen in our families, churches, businesses and friendships. A strong personality or leader keeps the peace, not by leading well, working through interpersonal problems or helping people to figure out their conundrums. Rather, the leader keeps the peace through intimidation and coercion. Sometimes the coercion is stated verbally. Most of the time it’s implied. Sometimes the threat is physical, but usually it’s social or relational. Typically, anyone brave enough or dumb enough to refuse to “submit’ to the leaders demands ends up on the “outside” of the church, family or friend group. The only way to deal with a leader who sows false peace is to refuse to leave the situation. 

Want it for the wrong reasons-

Some people make peace simply because they are so averse to any kind of conflict, even healthy conflict they will do anything tolerate anything just to avoid the social discomfort that comes with rocking the relationship boat. Psychologists call this kind of peacemaking: codependence. Codependence is bad. The peace we broker through codependent capitulation never leads to anything healthy or lifegiving. Instead, codependent peacemaking always leads to repressed anger, game playing, bitterness and passive-aggressive revenge seeking, none of which pleases God (Hebrews 12:15, Matthew 5:37). The only way to achieve real peace is by moving forward with hard conversations in spite of any personal embarrassment or discomfort we feel.  Hard conversation is hard but it allows us to work through the issues in the relationship honestly and come to a place of real peace where people can flourish and grow.  

Take shortcuts to get it-

There are all sorts of shortcuts we can take to achieve a pretense of peace in our marriages, churches, friendships and workplaces. We can gloss over real problems, limit hard conversations, crush dissent, hide the conflict, avoid people who make us uncomfortable or pretend everything is okay when it isn’t. All of these shortcuts do give an illusion of peace, at least for a season. The problem with shortcuts is they also inhibit intimacy, limit growth, and kill straight forward communication.  There really is no shortcut or easy way to achieve real, authentic and lasting relationship health. We just have to be willing to be patient as we work through the conflict to get to the good stuff (cooperation, intimacy, friendship, trust). 

The pursuit of peace is a good, upright and noble thing—if we go about it in the right way. If we go about the wrong way we might get a short-term payoff that feels good in the moment but is in reality a cheap counterfeit, that brings with it a lot of long-term pain. 

How Should (and Shouldn’t) a Christian Live?

Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.  – 1st John 2:4 NIV

 Today I read an article about a well-known Christian “influencer” who made his living crafting pithy little sayings to encourage other Christians. Well— it turns out that a bunch of those sayings were not really his, they were “borrowed” from other speakers, authors and historical figures. 

 Yikes. 

 The article made me feel kind of navel gazey and got me thinking about a lot of things. Like grey areas, right and wrong and how easy it is for “influencing the world for Jesus” to morph into self-promotion and how hard it is to see our own junky motives when that happens. As I mused these uniquely twenty-first century issues it occurred to me that there is very little agreement about what a Christian should “look like” in our day and age.

 The standard definition of a Christian is someone who has dedicated their life to following the person and teachings of Jesus Christ. Figuring out what the Christian life should look like in our world is not as cut-and-dried as it once was. Even concepts as basic as love can be difficult to navigate in this world. What Christianity should look like is something we need to figure out fast because if we don’t we will ultimately fail at the most basic assignment Christians have been tasked with (Matthew 28:19-20).  I came up with a couple of should’s and shouldn’ts that if followed will empower us to live the Christian life successfully in our grey area world.

Christians should-

 Judge sometimes-

 The notion that Christians should never judge is a lie straight out of the pit of hell. It is true Christians should never judge whether or not another person is worthy of forgiveness or heaven, that’s always God’s call to make (Matthew 7:2, Luke 6:37). That being said, Christians are told all the time in Scripture to make judgments about all kinds of moral issues (Luke 12:57, John 4:18-20, 1st Corinthians 5:12). Anytime we stop judging the actions of ourselves and others we quickly devolve to an ugly reality where everyone does “what is right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25). When that happens, moral chaos becomes the new normal and we forfeit our power to influence others in a healthy way (Matthew 5:13).

Love People-

 Okay, so, this is a bit of a given. Even demons and pagans understand love is the defining mark of a Christ-follower (John 13:34-35). However, some Christians do not seem to understand the basic fact that Christian love is more complex than just being nice and accepting. Christian love protects, encourages and believes the best in others but it also cautions, corrects and even rebukes (1st Corinthians 4:14-20, 1st Thessalonians 5:14).  Jesus loved the Pharisees enough to die for them but that didn’t stop Him from warning them of the consequences they would encounter if they continued to live in opposition to the will of God (Luke 11:11-53).  If we really want to love like Jesus loved we have to embrace every aspect of Christian love—not just the parts and pieces that make us comfortable and the world happy. 

Do good-

 Christians are told all the time in Scripture to “do good” (Galatians 6:9, 2nd Thessalonians 3: 13, Titus 1:6, Titus 2:7, 1st Peter 2:12). The specifics of “doing good” are left somewhat up to the discretion of each individual Christian. In the New Testament “doing good” always involved helping people, providing for the less fortunate and avoiding sin. Doing good is not about being “the next big thing” or “a big deal” in the Church. It’s about doing what God called you to do to the best of your ability right where He put you. 

Tell the truth-

 Christians shouldn’t lie. We all get that (or we should). But telling the truth goes above and beyond simply not lying.  It also means we live our lives openly and we fight the human tendency to compartmentalize and hide our sin rather than confess and repent (Matthew 3:8, James 5:16).   

 Obey Jesus-

  Obedience is a mark of an authentic Christian (John 14:23-24). When we obey Jesus we love people, hate sin, tell the truth and honor God. If we would all just do our best to obey Jesus most problems we have in the body of Christ would be a nonissue.

Christians should not-

 Mess with the word of God-

 Contrary to popular opinion not every biblical issue is always black and white, there are some grey areas. It’s reasonable for Christians to debate (among other things) how often to take communion, the role of women in the church (Judges 4-5, Romans 16:1), whether or not Christians should use alcohol and exactly how political a church ought to be.  However, most issues hotly debated today (homosexuality, premarital sex, gender issues, adultery) were settled long ago and should be treated that way.  

 Hate people-

 This one is easier in theory than in practice. (Matthew 10:22).  This is especially true when we are hated, openly mocked and persecuted just for loving Jesus.  Nonetheless, our calling is clear: Jesus wants us to love those who hate us and to do good to people who hate us (Luke 6:27-28). It is simply impossible for anyone to obey this command in their own power. It can only be accomplished through the emboldening and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit (2nd Corinthians 12:8-10)

 Christians who wish to make a difference in this world never shy away from the calling we all have to repent and be constantly transformed into the image of Jesus even if that means being a little less popular and successful by worldly standards.

Five Ways We Made the Facts Feel Sad this Week

 

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free~ John 8:32 NIV

 It was a tough week to be a fact.

 During an interview with Anderson Cooper, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said something that implied she might be a-wee-bit intolerant towards certain facts:

 “I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.”

 Later in the week Kirstjen Nielsen (Secretary of Homeland Security), presented some statistics (a fancy word for facts) concerning the number of migrants, drug smugglers and gang members crossing the Southern border in a given year, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi interrupted Ms. Nielson’s presentation to say:

  “I reject your facts”

 Hmm.  That’s all I have to say about that.

 Dems were not the only ones coldshouldering the facts this week. During an interview with Mike Wallace, Whitehouse Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders stated that accuracy regarding the number of terrorists captured at the Southern border did not matter so long as the overall numbers of terrorists captured in the country were accurately reported.  

 Sigh.

 If I were a fact I would be a bit miffed.

 As I considered the flagrant fact-shunning, I found myself thinking some rather scornful thoughts regarding worldly people and their lack of logic.  Then I had a weird and fairly awkward epiphany. I realized that Christians do the same kinds of things with a different set of facts. We sometimes disdain, disregard and disrespect facts or truths simply because we do not like them. Following are five things Christians say when we just don’t like certain facts.    

 I think that God just wants me to be happy –

 Folks typically whip this weary line out when they really, really, really, want to do something that the Bible explicitly prohibits (adultery, bitterness, homosexuality, divorce without biblical grounds, premarital sex, etc.). Like it or not, it is a fact that God forbids certain behaviors (Galatians 5:19-21, 1stCorinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:3-6, Revelation 22:12-16). That said, I do not believe God forbids things because He is indifferent to the feelings of people. God is not an uncaring monster who gets a kick out of seeing people living out their lives in abject misery. Truth-be-told God just cares more about our eternal wellbeing and holiness than our momentary happiness.  God sees the bigger picture and potential consequences we are incapable of seeing in our fallen, finite state. He knows what making a specific choice (like committing adultery or becoming bitter) will do to our souls, our families and our ability to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. God loves people and He knows that we are all just stupid enough to forgo our future health and spiritual wellbeing on the altar of pleasure and expediency. God loves people too much to simply let us be led by something as stupid (and subject to change) as feelings.  

 My God wouldn’t do that-

 People typically say this in response to being told that God judges sinners who refuse to repent of their sin. They might say “my God doesn’t judge” or “my God loves everyone”. The biggest and most basic problem with this particular line of reasoning is that it is firmly grounded in willful ignorance. There is only one God and He does love everyone. However, God makes it clear in His word that He will judge anyone who refuses to repent (John 5:28-29, 1stTimothy 2:5, Job 21:22, Revelation 6:9-11, Revelation 20:12-13).

 That’s not my conviction-

 Conviction is a firmly held belief concerning whether or not something is right or wrong. Christians should feel conviction (a sense of guilt) anytime they knowingly violate God’s standards. In recent years some have concluded that if they don’t feel conviction (guilt) over something then it’s not a sin. Their lack of guilt or conviction makes the thing okay. But, here’s the thing, one does not have to feel conviction or guilt about something for it to be wrong (Romans 1:28-32, Jeremiah 8:12). There are people in thisworld who do not feel an ounce of conviction about doing really terriblethings (murder, bigotry, infidelity, blasphemy, theft). Their lack of conviction does not make a sin any less sinful.  The Bible clearly states that the only time our feelings should dictate whether or not something is right or wrong is when the issue is not clearly a sin (grey area). If we feel guilty doing something (even if that thing is not clearly violating Scripture) then God does not want us to do that thing (1stCorinthians 8)

 I haven’t experienced that so I can’t say if it’s right or wrong-

 There are actually people who sincerely believe that one must experience something in order to judge whether or not something is sinful. This simply does not pass the logic test. If you carry this line of thinking out to its reasonable conclusion it means one cannot know if it’s wrong to kill someone until they have actually committed murder. Please. That’s just stupid.

 I reject that reality-

 Reality is a fact. Facts cannot be debated or rejected (sorry, Nancy). Reality is what it is. Only crazy people reject reality and they are crazy precisely because they choose to reject reality.  People who do not wish to be labeled as crazy should not reject reality.

  Please be courteous to the facts this week folks. Last week was a rough one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, Christians Still Need the Bible, Here’s why-

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path~ Psalm 119:105 KJV

 

 A while back I listened to an interview with mega-church pastor Pastor Andy Stanley. Like, most American Christians have read several of Andy Stanley’s books.  I liked some of his books, others not so much. To be perfectly truthful, up until about ten minutes into the podcast I would not have classified myself as either a fan nor a detractor of Mr. Stanley. I was fairly middle-of-the-road on the whole topic of Andy Stanley.

 But then.

 He did something that quite frankly shocked me, Andy Stanley (a pastor) made a case for minimizing the use of the Bible in preaching and evangelism.  He believes Christians should stop steering people towards what the Bible says about issues and instead we should point them to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and teach them to love others. The following quotes were taken directly from the interview. They sum up the essence of the program fairly succinctly:

 The Bible did not create Christianity. Christians created the Bible…. What created Christianity was the first Easter morning…”

“In the culture and in the marketplace and in the public square, we have to shift the focus from the Bible to the Resurrection. Because the Resurrection is completely defensible now just as it was in the first century.

“I think [some people] put [the Bible] in the place of Jesus.”

 All the New Testament imperatives that we find after the gospels are simply applications of Jesus’s new covenant command to love as I have loved you. The Apostle Paul wasn’t coming up with new rules and new laws.”

 Sigh.

It is not my intent to malign, besmirch or vilify Mr. Stanley (I generally try hard to avoid that sort of thing). Rather, I want to highlight five things that inevitably happen anytime Christians intentionally or unintentionally choose to minimize the importance of the Bible.

First,

We lose our true north-

 The Bible is more than just simply a book filled with dusty old ideas. The Bible is our true north. It is the one thing fallible humans can count on to act as a reliable guide anytime human wisdom fails us (as it inevitably does). Without the Bible to act as a compass we quickly begin to lose our way and devolve into doing our own thing and our own thing is rarely the right thing. Without the Bible guiding us we become like the Israelites in the book of Judges where every person did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).

 We devolve into myth and superstition-

 Andy Stanley correctly points out that few (if any) early Christians had access to personal copies of the Bible. This is because few people could read and books as we know them today simply did not exist. The scrolls that did exist were prohibitively expensive for all but the most outrageously wealthy of people.  However, this situation was far from optimal. Because few people had access to the Bible the church frequently fell into fits of heresy and individual Christians were prone to superstition, mystical thinking and believing all kinds of weird things about God.  This problem reached an apex just prior to the reformation when even well-educated church leaders were commonly biblically ignorant and spiritually lost. Without an ongoing emphasis on the Bible we will almost certainly follow their path.

  We construct our own standards of right and wrong-

 The great thing about the Bible is that it spells out in no uncertain terms exactly what is right and what is wrong. This prevents Christians leaders from playing favorites (most of the time) and applying standards of behavior to some people and not to others. It also keeps Christians from simply adopting the standards of an everchanging culture.

 We become hopelessly reliant on subjective definitions of right and wrong-

 We know exactly what sin is because sin is clearly defined in Ephesians 5:3-7, Galatians 5:19-20, 1stCorinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:21-31. We know what love is because God spelled it out for us in 1stCorinthians 13. We know when divorce is morally acceptable because of Jesus’ teaching on the subject in Matthew 19:4-9. Without these and other teachings found in the Bible we are left to decide for ourselves the definitions of key issues. Anytime foolish humans are left to define right and wrong for themselves there will be some monster who decides that it is a loving act to kill people he or she finds distasteful or burdensome. It’s simply a fact that life gets really weird, really fast without hard and fast definitions of right and wrong.   

 We doom ourselves to repeating the mistakes of the past-

 Most of the New Testament letters were written to correct wrong thinking concerning various doctrinal issues. When we willfully ignore the vast storehouse of wisdom and knowledge contained in the Bible, we doom ourselves to making the same mistakes early Christians made. The only difference between those early believers and us is that we are without excuse because God has graciously given us everything we need in the word of God to avoid the doctrinal errors of the past. 

 All we have to do is obey it.

 

 

Four More Reasons the Church in America is Failing-

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace~ Acts 20:24 NIV

The evolution of a blog-post can be a chaotic thing for me. 

 This week’s post was originally going to be a post on parenting.  Then I decided that the issue I was writing about was not exclusively a parenting issue. Then the piece mutated into something far more inclusive. Then early Wednesday morning I came across something on Facebook and all bets were officially off. I immediately felt compelled to write about something entirely different.

 Sigh.

 The Facebook post I came across was posted by a friend who is a nice person but categorically not a Christian. This friend frequently posts things critical of Christianity. Occasionally their posts are annoyingly insightful.

 This was one of those posts.

 I will not share exactly what was posted (it was far too foul). That being said, I will tell you that it was a critique of the church that although undeniably obscene was sadly spot-on. The post reminded me (for the millionth time) that the church is not impacting our culture with the message of Christianity and that we have (at least to some degree) become a sad caricature of ourselves. Here are four (more) reasons we aren’t getting the job done (Matthew 28:18-20).

 Our priorities are a flaming hot-mess-

 I am not a Catholic. However, I do believe that when one segment of Christianity has a problem we all have a problem (1stCorinthians 12:26). The Catholic church has a huge problem that really is a problem for the entire body of Christ.  There is a huge scandal in the Catholic church regarding children, sex and gay priests. The sin that has gone on for years in some Catholic churches is simply heartbreaking (on every level). Alas, most evangelical Christians are either apathetic towards the issue or entirely ignorant of the problem. On top of all that most Christians appear to care more about Colin Kaepernick and his decision to kneel during the national anthem (and a million other idiotic things) than they do about the thousands of kids who were raped by or pressured into sex by their spiritual leaders. Christianity is in a sorry state when the body of Christ gets more worked-up over a deal a football player made with a company to sell shoes than we do about the long-term implications of the countless sex scandals that have plagued Catholic and Evangelical churches in recent years. Christians of all denominations should be praying for justice and insisting we deal with the sin in our camp before anyone else gets hurt.

 We have forgotten the point and purpose of church-

 I do not believe Church was ever meant to be a place where unbelievers go to get evangelized. Church was intended to be a place where Christians go to learn the Bible and grow in their faith, so they can evangelize their friends, coworkers and family members (Ephesians 4:11-16).  Churches ought to be sensitive to the feelings and needs of non-Christians when planning their services (1stCorinthians 14:22-23). That being said, services should never be planned primarily around the spiritual needs or personal preferences of unbelievers because Church is not really about them.   

 We butcher the Bible to get it say what we want it to say-

 This is the one that could ultimately be the ruin of the modern church. Too many pastors and Bible teachers search the Bible looking for verses to back-up what they think about an issue or want to say rather than going to the Bible and doing the study necessary to find out what it actually says about a given subject. This has created a situation where there is almost a Medieval level of biblical ignorance in some Christian circles. Christians and non-Christians are not really learning what the Bible actually says about much of anything. Instead, they are learning the opinions of people and quite frankly we don’t really need to learn each other’s opinions. We need to learn the word (1stPeter 2:2, Hebrews 5:11-14).

 We are weirdly infatuated by celebrity-

 Over the course of the last four decades there have been innumerable scandals (mostly over sex) in the Evangelical Christian community among “celebrity” pastors. The Church in America has come to the pathetic place where a guy who can put butts in the seats and bucks in the offering plate can get away with almost anything.  Sadly, too many otherwise intelligent people will completely overlook sloppy doctrine, weak preaching and even catastrophic moral failure if it keeps their Churches growing numerically.  Because we have become enamored with superstar pastors many newer Christians have looked to celebrities to be their spiritual examples rather than their pastors or the faithful men and women in their own congregations (1stCorinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17, Titus 2:2-4). This has created a state of moral illiteracy in the church that hurts everyone.

 Sadly, we will continue to get more of the same until we come to place where we expect better from our leaders and ourselves.

 

Six Ridiculous Lies Christians Believe-

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised~ Romans 1:25

 I have observed that a lot of folks are becoming less and less troubled by the whole notion of lying.  

 Seriously.

 Hardly a day goes by when I don’t turn on the television and catch a broadcaster or politician saying something with a perfectly straight face that is demonstrably and provably untrue. The truly tragic thing about all this is that no one seems to be calling anyone out on it.

 Sadly, this phenomenon is not unique to the secular realm. Lies are proliferating in our Christian culture as well. The lies Christians tell are especially dangerous for two reasons. First, unlike heathens who lie,  Christians typically believe the lies they tell. The vast majority of Christians who spread spiritual lies don’t want to hurt anyone. They are simply operating out of biblical or moral ignorance. Nevertheless, a lie told out of ignorance is no less harmful than a lie told maliciously.

 Secondly, when Christians lie the lies they tell almost always concern issues that have eternal consequences.  It’s one thing to lie about who-did-what-to-who. Those kinds of lies are ultimately between God and the liar and I for one am more than happy to let Him sort all that out in whatever way He sees fit. Spiritual lies on the other hand, inevitably lead to wrong thinking, wrong thinking leads to wrong behavior and wrong behavior has eternal consequences (Matthew 15:18-20, Ezekiel 18:20-23). So, in the interest of truth-telling following are five of the biggest lies Christians tell about life and God:

 As long as someone loves Jesus what they believe about life and God is basically irrelevant-

 Most people who have bought into this lie don’t even realize they believe it (Matthew 24:4-9, Luke 21:8, 2ndTimothy 4:3-4). The lie has simply become a part of our operating system as Christians. This particular lie has become so widespread that it has literally transformed the way we do church and Christianity. It is the underlying reason professing Christians don’t attend church services. It is also the reason churches have ditched Bible studies, midweek services and Sunday school classes for “connect groups” and “fellowship nights”. It is time for us to once again embrace the fundamental fact that acting on the truth laid out for us in God’s is what sets us free from sin and spiritual bondage (John 8:32).

 Love is the end-all-be-all of everything Christian-

 This lie is almost true and that makes it more believable and therefore very dangerous. Love is a really big deal to God. Christians are straight-up commanded nineteen times in the New Testament to “love one another”. The problem isn’t with love. Love is awesome. The problem is with how we have chosen to define love in our society. Christians have taken their cues from a godless culture and chosen to define love in feel-goody kinds of terms. The current definition presupposes no one should ever say anything to anyone that might make them feel bad about their choices. This is not love, it’s a form of deception (2ndTimothy 4:3-4).   

 Christian kids need to experience “life”-

  Too many Christian parents have bought into the lie that their kids are missing out on something vital and formative if they don’t get ample opportunities to sin like their peers do. I am all for Christian kids having experiences that will enrich their lives and expose them to different kinds of people (missions’ trips are great for this). However, too many worldly experiences without a lot of teaching and training will inevitably turn Christian kids into worldly people with zero interest in God. 

  God is nicer than He used to be-

 Contrary to popular belief God hasn’t actually changed since Old Testament times. He is exactly the same God He’s always been (Numbers 23:19, Psalm 55:19, Hebrews 13:8). It is far less burdensome to be forgiven than it was once was (Leviticus 9:7, Leviticus 14:19). However, that does not mean God’s opinion of sin has changed the tiniest bit (Isaiah 1:16, 1stCorinthians 15:34).

 What I do in private won’t hurt anyone-

 This lie presupposes that sin doesn’t actually affect the sinner in anyway. This is simply not true. Sin changes us, it hardens our hearts and makes it much harder to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit when He is speaking to us (Hebrews 3:13). Sin also changes the way we view other people. Sin diminishes our compassion for others and makes us far more self-serving. Self-absorbed Christians who lack compassion and empathy hurt everyone.  

 God loves me just the way I am-

 This is another lie with a kernel of truth at its core, making it more believable and therefore more dangerous. It is absolutely true that God loves everyone no matter what they have done (John 3:16). It is also true no one has to be perfect or have life all figured out to become a Jesus follower (Ephesians 2:8). That said, God does not want anyone to stay stuck. God wants everyone to change and grow and become better people after we begin a relationship with Jesus and if we don’t something is seriously wrong. In John chapter eight Jesus tells a woman that He had just forgiven to “go and sin no more”.

 He wants the same thing for all of us.

A Really Big Church Peeve-

 

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing~ 1stPeter 3:9 NIV

Regular readers of this blog have probably figured out by now I have some issues with how many contemporary Christians do church. My various church peeves have been documented ad nauseum in previous posts. To be truthful, I decided recently that the peeve posts were getting a bit old and I probably wasn’t going to write another one. Then I came across a “Christian” video on Facebook and discovered I still have something to write about. 

 The video features a Christian guy who has a bunch of tattoos. He begins his harangue by telling a story about another Christian (a woman) who informed him his tattoos made him look trashy. She also said that his tattoos were so offensive she couldn’t stand to look at him.

 For the record.

 I sincerely believe that other people’s tattoos are none of my business. I do not care if he or anyone else gets or has a tattoo. Please do not assume that this is some sort of anti-tattoo screed. Because it’s not. I repeat. I do not care about his stupid tattoos. I do care about how he handled the situation with the woman because it hurt the reputation of Jesus. Badly.

 I will begin with what he did not do.

 He did not tell her she hurt his feelings with her harsh words (Luke 17:3).  He did not inform her that there are people in this world who have tattoos who need the forgiveness and grace that only Jesus can offer (John 3:16, Mark 2:17). He did not tell her that her attitude towards tattooed people might make them reluctant to become followers of Jesus (2ndCorinthians 6:3).  He did not attempt to educate her on the differences between Old Testament Law and New Testament freedom (Romans 7:6, Galatians 5:13, 1stCorinthians 10:23). He did not, at least from what I can tell pray for her (Matthew 5:44). He did not take his concerns to the elders of her church and ask them to help him work out his issues with her (Matthew 18:15-16).

 In other words, he did not handle the situation biblically.

 Instead he posted a video where he proclaimed loudly and proudly that he “hates Christians and the church” because of “people like her”.

 It has become nauseatingly trendy for Christians to declare passionately that they love Jesus but hate the church and all the people in it. They feel justified even righteous in saying these things because they believe that all Christians, other than themselves of course are hateful, judgmental and pretentious. They also nearly always believe that the church is simply a misguided, human-run organization that has nothing at all to do with God or Jesus.

 Insert eye roll here.

 This idiocy is hurting everyone, especially unbelievers. It needs to end now for at least four reasons:

 It’s not about our stupid, trivial, easily-wounded feelings-

 It’s about people who do not know Jesus. When a non-believer hears from a Christian that all Christians are terrible people; that unbeliever is given every reason in the world to never become friends with a Christian, attend church or consider the truth-claims of Christ. Some will undoubtedly spend eternity in hell because of Christians who didn’t have the sense or self-control to stop hating on other Christians in public forums. The very thought that our actions or words might keep another person from a relationship with Jesus ought to put the fear of God into us all (Luke 17:1, Matthew 13:41). If it doesn’t something is seriously wrong.  

 Christians who hate on other Christians are disobedient and placing themselves in danger of judgment (2nd John 1:5, 1st John 3:10, 1st John 2:9) –

 It is unloving and judgmental to hate someone because of their tattoos or hairstyle or how many earrings they have. It is equally unloving and judgmental to hate someone because you have concluded they are unloving and judgmental (Matthew 7:35).  We are commanded to suck it up and love the unlovable. That includes Christians we don’t like or always agree with (John 13:34-35).

 God will set us all straight someday- 

  Everyone says thoughtless and hurtful stuff, frequently without even realizing it. It’s part of being stupid and human. It’s critical we remember someday God will call each of us into account for our insensitive and foolish words (Matthew 12:36). Rather than rail against Christians who say stupid things we ought to examine our own words carefully and pray we all have the foresight and good sense to repent before our day comes.

 We are commanded to keep “family” stuff in the “family”-

  Christians are a family (Psalm 68:8, Galatians 6:10, Hebrews 2:11, 1stPeter 2:17, 1stPeter 5:9). Paul makes it clear in 1stCorinthians 6:5-7 that it is far better to be wronged by a fellow believer than to shame Jesus and the church by publicly airing family junk to those who are not part of the family. In Matthew 18:15-16 we are given the pattern for working-out issues between Christians.

 We would do well to follow it.