When we are terrible at being Christians

­I have a confession.

I have been watching The Voice lately.

Let the public stoning commence.

I don’t watch it all the time, but when it is on, I keep it on. If you haven’t seen it, some of the contestants are really incredible singers. My son Patrick also loved dancing around the room when people sing.

The show welcomes young vocal talent to audition while 4 professional judges sit with their back to the singer. If the singer is good enough, the judge turns their chair around and tries to convince the singer to join their team for the season.

The judges are all successful musical acts, but they don’t sing, they coach. They train up the musicians until the next show and then the musicians preform on their own. It’s just them out there. The lights come on, the band kicks in, and the judge and coach is over in the chair not on the stage.

Sometimes I find myself seeing God this way. He is there to coach me, to give me insight, but when the spotlight is on, I am on my own out there. And he will let me know if I succeed or fail.

Pastors do this so often. If the sermon was great, all the credit goes to God. If it was terrible, that falls squarely on us.

I think I kind of suck at following Jesus sometimes. I know I am the only one who feels that way.

Many Non-Christians think they could never preform for God, or never would want to. Many Christians worry that their performance is never good enough.

Christians can get so caught up in our performance that we trade partnering with God to preforming for God.

And that is when we are terrible at being Christians.

I gain a lot of confidence when I read the Gospels however, because I read about how the disciples were sort of terrible at following Jesus too.

In Mark 8, Jesus had this huge crowd come to see him speak. He didn’t even have to offer them pizza or coffee, or comfortable chairs. They actually didn’t have any food there. And there were four thousand of them!

And they got hungry.

Jesus didn’t send anyone to the store. He didn’t send someone to fish. Jesus took seven loaves and a few small fish and fed four thousand people.

Miraculously.

Everyone had enough food, and there was some to spare.

Next, Jesus and his close followers got onto the boat.

The disciples realized they had only taken 1 loaf of bread. At that point they are likely blaming each other for not remembering to bring the food. They know it wont be enough for the whole crew for the trip.

Seriously?! Jesus literally just few four thousand people with a few bits of food and these guys are moments later trying to figure out how there are going to eat.

They so quickly forgot what God had done in place of remembering what they think God can’t do.

Jesus knew what they were saying so he reminds them, “watch out of the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

They thought Jesus said that because they didn’t bring enough bread.

So Jesus chimes back in, reminding them of how he made food when there was not food, how he fed everyone, how he came through.

The Pharisees and Herod were not baking companies or yeast merchants, these were people who refused to see who Jesus for what he was. And Jesus knew that his disciples were missing it too.

And Jesus wanted to remind his disciples who he is.

and he wants to remind us who he is when we forget what he has done in place of remembering what we thing he can’t do.

He isn’t a judge. He isn’t sending you on stage on your own. He is going ahead of you and he is there with you.

We miss what God is doing because we are focused on what we are doing. We miss that God can feed four thousand because we worry how we are going to feed twelve.

If we want God to do big things in, through, and around us, we have to give up the small things we are too focused on. 

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>My elementary teachers were such liars

When I was in high school I was part of a group that held a bible study on our campus. Once a year we would do a lock-in where student would stay overnight in the building.

I remember in our final planning meeting out adult leader looked at us and said, “Hey guys, when it gets late, people can sometimes get edgy. So I want you to remember that Philippians 2:14 says, ‘do all things without grumbling or complaining.’ If you seem on edge at night, I might come by you and say, ‘hey man just 2:14 it.”

I wanted to tell him that if he said that to me at 2am, I might punch him in the face. He was a far bigger guy than me though, so I decided not to tell him that.

It is interesting how easy we can find ourselves fall into complaining mode.

It really was a shot to my childhood imagination when I realized that there was likely no real meal that was shared between pilgrims and Indians during the birth of the New World.

My elementary teachers were such liars.

But nonetheless, every year we are reminded of the value of thankfulness in our lives.

We don’t have a day called Complaints Day.

That day would pretty much be everyday for most of us.

We will finish dinner on Thursday discussing how we are thankful and then wake up at midnight to shop on Friday and complain about how someone cut in front of us in line.

We don’t need a special meal for that.

We complain about what we don’t have. We complain about the political atmosphere. We complain about the cold, or the heat, or the rain, or the drought. We complain that our kids don’t behave. We complain that we haven’t gotten the promotion. We complain.
It pretty much comes second nature to us.

I would like to say that as a Christian, I no longer complain. I would be just as much of a liar as those who told me there was a real Thanksgiving dinner.

So why would Paul waste his time telling people not to complain? Why would he risk being punched in the face?

Because grumbling robs us of the opportunity to be thankful.

What is interesting is that complaining and thanking are both contagious. The more I complain, the more I find to complain about; the more I give thanks, the more I find I am thankful for. Paul wanted to breed contagious gratitude because he knew the natural human inclination is grumbling.

Instead of complaining I want to challenge myself to focus on how my current circumstance enables me to be more thankful.

If I am sick, I gain more of an appreciation for what is to be healthy and I have an opportunity to be thankful for the service of others.

If I find myself wanting something, I gain the opportunity to have provision which I have no control over or I learn to appreciate what I have in new ways.

When I am alone or in conflict, I gain the opportunity to be more thankful for peace and the opportunity to seek peace.

The reality is, we don’t need to choose to complain. We do that with about as much thinking as it takes to blink or breath. But learning to be thankful is an art I a, not good at yet am trying to learn.

Maybe me day we can all celebrate a fictitious meal where a group of people got together and complained. We can take a day off work to focus on all the ways we want to complain, because we are too busy being thankful the rest of the time.

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They are judgmental. They are hypocritical. They care more about rules than they do about people. They are exclusive. They are elitists. They are all about rules. They restrict the fun in life…

What is interesting is that these are some of the most common criticisms of Christians.

And they were some of the same criticisms Jesus had of the religious followers in the first century.Image

I remember walking to class my first year of college. Right before I entered the building, I was confronted by large signs with red paint informing me that I, as well as all those on the Indiana University campus that day, were in fact going to Hell.

I thought I was just going to French class. 

I knew the Hoosiers had a terrible football program but I was unaware that it was that serious.

I was a Christian already, and I remember thinking how disappointed I was that this was how the faith that had changed my life was being communicated to a group of strangers.

I know plenty of people and hear plenty of stories of people who believe it is their job to condemn the world. Yet Jesus reserved his harshest criticisms with those who did likewise in his day.

But when Jesus came across someone who was truly far from God, he met them with empathy, love, respect, and still truth.

He didn’t scream at Zacchaeus, a man who exploited the poor, while he hid in a tree, he went and shared a meal with him.

He didn’t stone the woman caught in adultery, he defended her from those who were about to stone her.

Jesus defended people from the ugliness religion can turn into. He shared his love in relationship, not judgment, and he calls us to do likewise.

Paul writes in Ephesians to speak truth, but he says speak truth in love.

I heard a speaker once give an analogy of how to speak this truth.

He said if your friend wants to go to New York but they get on a train headed for LA, it is not loving to not tell them, to let them go off to LA.

I disagree; I think the unloving thing is to let them go alone. Speaking the truth in love means sticking by people even when they wont hear it. 

Instead of judging people because of the truth we know, we need to love people because of the truth we know. I didn’t propose to my wife by holding up a big sign saying “you are going to Hell.” No one would suggest that’s how I express my love for her.

Pastor Dan Kimball suggests that as Christians we need to judge people more. But instead of judging those who are outside the church, we need to judge people as Jesus judged them. We need to offer rebuke when our fear of sin interferes with our love of God and others. he suggests that maybe then there will be a whole lot more loving and a whole lot less judging going on. 

I don’t suggest that sin isn’t real, truth can’t be absolute, and that Jesus just wanted everyone to be happy. I am just suggesting that we approach those who are far from God in the same way that Jesus did, that we love before we judge. 

May we love as Jesus loved, and may we judge as Jesus judged.

Judging like Jesus

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YouTube Prophets

It doesn’t take much channel surfing, or browsing clips on YouTube to find some pretty outrageous and outlandish people speaking in the name of God.

I when remember a group of friends and I huddled around a computer to watch some online sermons of a guy who through his yelling and screaming condemned the country, the president, other Christians, other non Christians, the gopher under his porch, and kids who use training wheels past age three.

Or maybe you can think back as people have come on TV after natural disasters or tragedy and proclaimed it God’s judgment for some reason.

These people claim to speak for God. The word that we find throughout history is the word prophet, which is initially a word that means “spokesperson”. The people you have likely seen or heard from on YouTube are not God’s spokespeople. But is anyone?

The Old Testament contains 17 prophetic books. Now there are about 48 people mentioned as prophets who spoke over various size groups however there are 17 unique voices inspired by God speaking to a people who have lost there way separated into unique books. Here’s how God identified prophets:

1) God’s people would fall away from him.

2) God would identify someone to speak truth to his people.

3) God would give that person a unique message.

Now the result would vary. Sometimes, God’s people would listen to his prophets, sometimes, they wouldn’t.

But a prophet’s success wasn’t dependent on if people listened. It was their business if they listened. A prophet’s success was dependent on their faithfulness to the message God has given them.

Prophets were also called to speak against God’s people more than they were called against people who didn’t follow God. Prophets were sent to speak against foreign rulers and kinds, Moses to Pharaoh, and Jonah to the Assyrians to name a few, but more often God called prophets to speak truth into the people who were already supposed to be following him.

And the message God called his prophets to speak was almost never safe. The could lose everything. They could be killed.

God doesn’t need to call people to speak safe messages.  

As Christians, all to often we are concerned with speaking a prophetic word to the world, when instead we should be listening to the prophetic word God has for us. God’s people are not exempt from him judgment, Paul actually talks about how we are held to a higher standard.

I believe God still give’s people messages of truth that he wants us to speak over communities, businesses, churches, small groups, families, or friends. They aren’t safe messages, but they are important. The question is: Are we listening to God and are we speaking his message?

So might we remember

1) No one else will be saying it, God called you.

2) Your success is not determined by people listening, it is determined by speaking truth.

3) God always speaks consistent with his character 

3) God more often speaks truth against people who call themselves his followers as opposed to those who don’t.

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Marx was right

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Karl Marx, the father of communism, isn’t known for his favorable perspective on religion. He once famously said, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” What Marx meant is that we use religion to pretend the world is something that it is not and that we are something that we are not.    

Marx was right.

And I don’t think Jesus would have disagreed with him. A relationship with God should bring more truth to our life, not necessarily more confidence. Religion, in the sense Marx was describing it, makes people arrogant because we begin to believe we are better than others. A relationship in the way Jesus intended it helps us into humility, because we realize how fallen we are and how much we need God.

A real relationship with God first gives us an honest picture of who we are, then gives us an honest picture of who God is.

Jesus once discussed this idea with the followers around him

He told a story of two men who entered the temple to make right with God. This would have been common practice for most everyone hearing Jesus that day. You would be required to go offer prayer and sacrifice to cover over the wrong that you had committed against God.

Jesus tells the crowd, in Luke 18, a story of a Pharisee and a Tax Collector. Pharisees were professionals at keeping the Torah, the religious rules of the day. They were also professionals at pointing out when others did not keep it. They were the Michael Jordan’s of keeping the religious rules. Tax collectors worked for the Empire, they made their riches making other’s poor. They were despised by the people.

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

People probably heard that and thought, “yup, he’s right, be is better than all of us.” But then Jesus turned the story to the tax collector. The crowd probably wondered what business he had being in the temple.

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Jesus then told the crowd that one of the men went away making things right with God. Guess which one.

Both men in the story made others poor. The tax collector did so in an obvious way, by exploiting others financially. The Pharisee did so as well however, by exploiting others spiritually.

Both men were sinners but only one realized it.

One focused on how much he did for God, one, on how much God did for him.  

The Pharisee, a man devoted to the Law and a man who spent his life trying to learn about and understand God, didn’t actually understand who he really was.

The tax collector, a man the crowd likely perceived to be as far from God as possible, knew where he stood, but also knew God’s grace.

Might I always remember where I stand, not to feel better about myself, but to feel God’s grace.

 

 

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Marx was right

Karl Marx, the father of communism, isn’t known for his favorable perspective on religion. He once famously said, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” What Marx meant is that we use religion to pretend the world is something that it is not and that we are something that we are not.    

Marx was right.

And I don’t think Jesus would have disagreed with him. A relationship with God should bring more truth to our life, not necessarily more confidence. Religion, in the sense Marx was describing it, makes people arrogant because we begin to believe we are better than others. A relationship in the way Jesus intended it helps us into humility, because we realize how fallen we are and how much we need God.

A real relationship with God first gives us an honest picture of who we are, then gives us an honest picture of who God is.

Jesus once discussed this idea with the followers around him

He told a story of two men who entered the temple to make right with God. This would have been common practice for most everyone hearing Jesus that day. You would be required to go offer prayer and sacrifice to cover over the wrong that you had committed against God.

Jesus tells the crowd, in Luke 18, a story of a Pharisee and a Tax Collector. Pharisees were professionals at keeping the Torah, the religious rules of the day. They were also professionals at pointing out when others did not keep it. They were the Michael Jordan’s of keeping the religious rules. Tax collectors worked for the Empire, they made their riches making other’s poor. They were despised by the people.

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

People probably heard that and thought, “yup, he’s right, be is better than all of us.” But then Jesus turned the story to the tax collector. The crowd probably wondered what business he had being in the temple.

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Jesus then told the crowd that one of the men went away making things right with God. Guess which one.

Both men in the story made others poor. The tax collector did so in an obvious way, by exploiting others financially. The Pharisee did so as well however, by exploiting others spiritually.

Both men were sinners but only one realized it.

One focused on how much he did for God, one, on how much God did for him.  

The Pharisee, a man devoted to the Law and a man who spent his life trying to learn about and understand God, didn’t actually understand who he really was.

The tax collector, a man the crowd likely perceived to be as far from God as possible, knew where he stood, but also knew God’s grace.

Might I always remember where I stand, not to feel better about myself, but to feel God’s grace.

 

 

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Nextel Church

When I was starting high school I had a Nextel phone. I could page or “chirp” my friends like a walkie-talkie. If you were anybody, you had a Nextel. Texting packages didn’t exist, Facebook wasn’t around, I didn’t have any apps.

The major selling point was that I could use a phone (one that I could already call people with) as a walkie-talkie. And you could only chirp someone with a Nextel. If you wanted the feature, you needed a Nextel.

Times have changed however. We now have phones we can customize. Apps we can develop from our home computer. Web-pages created by a stay at home mom or a middle schooler. The world has become a place, more than ever, where we can create. You can run your company from your blackberry. 

The world is customizable.

But sometimes, in the church, we can find ourselves still psyched we can use a walkie-talkie. And we want everyone else to get one too!

but being someone who is younger but working in the church I have to ask the question, what is the next generation seeking form the church?

The answer?

People are seeking a place where they can theologically form their community while being formed by it. They don’t want a church to talk at them, they want a church to talk with them.

And the beauty is, the more ownership someone has to create, the more they stay invested in it because it’s their’s

Not only that but the community become richer and deeper with the involvement of others.
My friend who is a pastor once said to me over dinner after his message, “I feel like I am always teaching the same thing.” I replied, “well that’s good, if you start teaching something new, we have a problem.”

This is not about creating new theology, deviating from tradition, or abandoning who God has proven himself to be throughout history.

This is about allowing the church to be the catalyst by which we communicate God to the world.

People want to create. They were created to create.

Might we continue to move to a place where the church no longer sits static, but stands as a living representation of the people has gathered together, and unique expression of how He has gifted them to communicate Him to the world. 

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