So Tell Me About Your Relationship

“So tell me about your relationship.”

If you would have known the answer that was going to follow that question, you never would have asked it.

You are at your high school reunion. It’s been 20 years since you’ve seen most of the people in the room. You can hardly recognize a lot of them. But after the initial awkwardness, conversation begins.

During one conversation, marriage and relationships come up. Everyone starts talking about their families and how having kids has changed them. You notice one of your old friends is wearing a wedding ring. That’s when you ask your ill-fated question.

“So tell me about your relationship.”

“I got married on June 7, 1997. It was a very special day. Very emotional,” he says bluntly.

For some reason, you feel the need to dig deeper.

“Great! So what are you and your wife up to now? Is she here tonight?”

His response startles you.

“I got married on June 7, 1997. It was a very special day. Very emotional.”

By now, you’re experiencing some combination of curiosity, worry and even anger.

“Yeah. I get that. But what about now? What are you and your wife doing now? What kind of work does she do? Do you have kids?”

“I got married on June 7, 1997. It was a very special day. Very emotional.”

As you turn and walk away, you are certain that all isn’t well in your friend’s marriage, if he is really married.

Marriage is about more than the day of your wedding. It’s about right now. It’s about the future. If all you can tell me about your marriage is the it began, something isn’t right.

In the same way, if all you can tell me about your Christian faith is the day you, “got saved,” something isn’t right.

For far too long we’ve convinced ourselves that following Jesus is nothing more than raising our hands and repeating a prayer after a preacher only to live however we want to live while we wait for heaven. We even spiritualize this by saying things like, “Well, Jesus is my Savior but he’s not my Lord.”

A key indicator of genuine Christianity is perseverance. It’s impossible for someone to lose their salvation. God doesn’t unadopt his children (1 Peter 1:3-5). But it is quite common for someone to fall away from the faith that they once claimed as their own. That’s because the faith that they claimed was never theirs to begin with.

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19 (ESV)

You can train a monkey to walk down an aisle. A bird can be taught how to repeat a prayer after a preacher. And as important as baptism is, you can hold anything underwater for a second. But only a true disciple of Jesus Christ will remain true until the end (Colossians 1:21-23).

The focus of Bible Belt religion is a date in the past when a hand was raised, a prayer was prayed, and a card was signed.

Genuine Christianity is quite different. It’s focus is on a Sovereign Lord who’s grace is needed on both the day of salvation and the days that follow.

Bible Belt Religion gets along just fine without Jesus and his calls for total obedience, thank you very much.

Genuine Christianity recognizes that no matter how the race begins, what really matters is how the race is being run now and how it will finish. It leans heavily on Jesus at every step.

Hell is filled with the victims of Bible Belt religion.

In Genuine Christianity, imperfect hearts are filled with gratitude at God’s grace, repentance for the sins we still allow to creep in and love for others.

If all you have to say about a relationship is the day that it began, it could be that there really was no relationship to begin with.

So tell me about your relationship with Christ.

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Sorry We’re Closed

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend this Christmas and it has nothing to do with people saying Happy Holidays or what the lady at Starbucks does or does not write on your cup. The culprit here isn’t the world. It’s the church.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me over the past month or so if the church that I pastor will be having services on Christmas day. Christmas day, in case you’re unaware, falls on a Sunday this year. The nerve!

Our church will still be meeting on Sunday, December 25th but a lot of churches will not be and I can’t figure out why.

To help explain my confusion, let’s consider another date on the calendar.

Sunday, February 5, 2017.

That’s the date of the Super Bowl. It’s basically a national holiday. So imagine if the NFL decided to cancel the game in order for families to be able to celebrate this national holiday together. “But that wouldn’t make any sense,” all of America would scream. And, in a rare occasion, all of America would be right.

The party and the festivities and the holiday like atmosphere all exist because of the game. Take away the game and you take away any legitimate reason to celebrate. On top of that, on the one day that the NFL is able to reach a significant number of people who otherwise might not watch a game, they take it away.

Such is the case with many local churches this year.

Look, I understand calling off services that night. If the church is big, it makes sense to have one combined service. And when Christmas falls on a Wednesday, I get taking a break from regularly scheduled programming. There are times when it makes sense to not have a service, rearrange other service times and scale back a bit.

But this doesn’t make sense.

Perhaps part of the reasoning behind cancelling this years Sunday morning Christmas services has something to do with the fact that many of us feel like we cannot “have church,” if I may use that phrase, if it’s not going to be a full on, Hollywood worthy production. When the Pastor of Pyrotechnics and the Pastor of Make-Up are both out of town, it can be hard to put on a top notch production. So why bother? We all know that Jesus wouldn’t want us having a service where people are not blown away by our slick production skills.

Would he?

Yes. He would.

Somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten that there is a difference between excellence and mere performance. We should do our jobs with excellence but that excellence must be for the Audience of One, not the audience in the seats and online. So what if attendance is down on Christmas day. Jesus was born in a manger but many church leaders can’t fathom the horror of having to preach to a half-empty room.

Another reason behind the cancelling of services on Christmas Sunday could be that many, even many who lead churches, have forgotten what Christmas is about. In an effort to show that Christmas is not about presents, many have been convinced that Christmas is about family.

It’s not. Well, at least not in the sense that they’re thinking.

Jesus didn’t come to earth so that we could have the day off and watch football with our family. Don’t get me wrong. I love having the day off and watching football with my family. But if that’s all we’re doing on December the 25th, we’re missing the point.

Christmas is about family in the sense that Christ came to earth to transform his enemies into his family. So if you are a believer and you really want to, “be with family” on Christmas day, you’ll grab the family that lives in your house and take them with you to celebrate the coming of the Christ Child with your other family. The family of God.

For decades, Christian leaders have quietly made fun of what has been referred to as Christmas and Easter Christians. That’s the people who claim to be Christians but only show up to church on Christmas and Easter. Or when there’s going to be food afterwards. Or when there’s going to be an intense business meeting. You get the point.

But that’s part of the beauty of Christmas and it falling on a Sunday this year. The people who don’t show up the other 50 or so weeks out of the year are very likely to crawl out of bed on Christmas morning and go to church to hear the story of God lovingly sending his only Son to rescue his people from sin and death.

It’s just too bad that many of those people on Sunday morning will be greeted by a locked door and a sign that reads, “Sorry we’re closed.”

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Does Christmas Offend You?

It’s one of those stories that’s supposed to make us mad.

But instead, it should cause us to take a closer look at ourselves.

The owner of a Florida restaurant received a nasty note from a customer complaining that the Christmas music playing in the background was, “offensive.” He went on to suggest that the owner replace the religious themed music with “holiday music.” Less “O Holy Night” and more “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Wait. I almost forgot. That one offends people too. “Less O Holy Night” and more “Walking In a Winter Wonderland”, played on organically harvested, free range, gluten-free instruments. That ought to do it.

This is the part where some evangelical leader will start a social media crusade urging us to fight for the traditional Christmas. When he starts, don’t listen to him. You’d be better off listening to the offended customer at that Florida restaurant.

Don’t get me wrong. Leaving passive aggressive notes about how Christmas songs offended you is absurd. Just find another restaurant. If my favorite eating establishment decided to play Nickelback’s Greatest Christmas Hits all through December, I’d find another favorite eating establishment. No passive aggressive note needed.

But this offended customer is probably closer to the true meaning of Christmas than those wishing to guilt the barista at Starbucks into writing Merry Christmas on your cup of coffee.

Christmas is supposed to be offensive.

It’s offensive because it’s the true story of a people whose sins were so bad that it took God coming to earth in the form of a servant to live the perfect life that we could not and to die the death that we should have. In case you’re wondering, you and I are included in those people whose sins are so bad (Romans 5:1-11; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:1-10; Philippians 2:1-11).

Are you offended yet?

We should never be surprised when the world acts like the world. That doesn’t make what they do right, it just makes it expected. The message of the gospel is foolishness to them (1 Corinthians 1:18-23). We shouldn’t be surprised when a group of people who are blind to the truth of the gospel don’t line up to sing about how their great sins caused the eventual crucifixion of the Christ Child (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Here’s what should surprise us.

We should be surprised when people who claim to believe the traditional Christmas story do not allow the truth of that story to play out in their day to day lives, both in the month of December and certainly not on a random day in July.

Maybe that’s what’s wrong with the modern American church. We’ve stopped being offended by the gospel. We’ve watered it down so much with self-help and get rich quick schemes that we’ve missed the real power behind it. We think that our power and influence comes from having a seat at the table in Washington D.C. In reality, it’s found in an offensive story about a virgin birth.

Before we start launching our defensive weapons in the war to protect Christmas, we would be wise to take a long look at ourselves.

Sure, we sing all of the old traditional hymns, but why is it that the truth in those hymns often no longer moves us beyond anything more than sentimental memories of Christmas at grandma’s house?

Why do we live more like entitled brats than children who have been lovingly adopted into the family of God through the birth, sinless life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

We have traded in the truth that the gospel is God graciously moving toward his enemies to redeem them in favor of a gospel where God selected us like an NFL team makes a first round draft pick. “After all,” we seem to tell ourselves, “why wouldn’t God want such spiritual and moral standouts like us on his team?”

Secular progressives miss the true meaning of Christmas because they’re too offended to hear it.

But a lot of religious people miss the true meaning of Christmas because they’re too proud to be offended.

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Revelation 3:15-17 (ESV)

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Jesus Didn’t Die For A Christian School

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When I first became a pastor, there was a problem that I had to address. It wasn’t a new problem. For years, ministry leaders have been fighting against the idea that simply joining a church will make you right with God. But recently, I’ve noticed another issue rising up from the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s the idea that the church isn’t really all that important.

There are people who have replaced any involvement in the local church with charity work. They reason that they can do plenty of good work on their own without being tied down by a local church and its drama.

Others use Christian schools as their alternative. Why would someone need to go to church on a Sunday when they spend all week studying the Bible at school? This argument can be heard from pre-kindergarten all the way through seminary.

The people making these arguments don’t claim to be against God. They aren’t atheists. They just don’t care for the church.

While their reasoning may seem sincere enough, it goes directly against what the Bible teaches.

Imagine a wedding ceremony. The groom repeated his vows to his bride. It was a beautiful moment. Tears filled his eyes as he expressed his love and commitment to his soon to be wife. But when the bride’s turn came, she went rogue. Rather than repeating what the minister said, she made up her own vows.

“I love your head. I love the way that your eyes look when you smile. I love your hair. I love the way your mind works. I will follow your head wherever it goes and I will love it forever. But it’s a different story for your disgusting and completely useless body. I have issues with it that I’d rather not deal with at the moment.”

How romantic!

This would never be accepted at a wedding ceremony but, somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s okay in our relationship with Christ and his body.

Jesus is the head of the church and the church is his body.

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. Colossians 1:18 (ESV)

When we claim to be devoted to Christ but completely disregard his church, we are claiming the impossible. Either you love someone as they are or you don’t. You can’t just love the head of your spouse and you can’t just love the head of the church. It’s a package deal. If you really love Jesus, you’ll love what he loved enough to die for.

Jesus didn’t die for your Christian school and he didn’t die for your favorite charity.

Jesus died for the church. His church. His body.

I love Christian schools. I have spent a significant portion of my life associated with them and I hope for that to continue. But I cringe when I hear a parent excuse their lack of commitment to the church because they send their kids to a Christian school, as if walking with Christ is about nothing more than raising kids with a good Christian education. One sure way for parents to raise kids with a lukewarm faith is for their own faith to be lukewarm. And lukewarm faith is about as good as you can expect from yourself when you’re not committed to a local church.

The New Testament was not written to non-profits or Christian schools. Most of it was written to specific local churches. Philippians, for example, was written to a church in Philippi. That means that when Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord always and to put away anxiety (Philippians 4:4-7), he’s telling us that in the context of the local church. There are a significant amount of New Testament commands that are impossible for an individual to obey apart from the local church.

A while back I was talking to a group of ten or so Christian school students. It was a pretty casual conversation covering everything from music to history to, you guessed it, church. I asked them if they went to church every week.

One kid said yes. One out of more than ten students.

So I asked how many go once a month.

No one.

Every six months?

Crickets chirped.

Once a year.

Tumbleweed blew through the room.

It’s been said that if you want to find a really large collection of lost people all you have to do is look on a church’s membership roll. I agree but I think that we can add the Christian school to the mix as well. If you work at a Christian school, you’re in a bigger mission field than you think you are.

Yes, we can do good deeds through a charity instead of the church.

And yes, we can learn about the Bible at a Christian school and remove the church from the equation.

But there’s one thing that we can’t do apart from commitment to a local church.

Follow Jesus.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25 (ESV)

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