What We’ve Always Done, Only Louder

I don’t know if tragedy changes us as much as it reveals who we really are. Sure, the changes come over time. We miss things. We stop doing what we once thought was normal. We pick up new habits. But these things take time. They develop over weeks, months, and years.

In the hours and days following a disaster, we tend to do what we’ve always done, only louder.

Seemingly before all of the bullets hit the ground and the casualties were recorded, political pundits were doing what they always do, namely blaming the folks on the other side. That should tell you how far we’ve fallen as a culture. We can’t even come to an agreement to grieve together after nearly 60 people are killed in a matter of minutes. So the folks on the right ramble on about Chicago crime statistics, as if what happened in Las Vegas wasn’t all that bad and the folks on the left preach about what the government needs to take away, as if a bigger government will somehow choke out evil.

Politicians are always campaigning. They certainly won’t stop after this week’s massacre. Have you watched any of the press conferences from Nevada? Each one is ten percent information and 90 percent elected officials basking in the glow of the media’s spotlight. Politicians are among the many false gods that we worship in our society. We run to them when things go wrong and condemn them when salvation doesn’t come fast enough. And yet, when the next disaster strikes, we do it all over again.

And then there’s the folks on the Internet. Within minutes of news of the Las Vegas massacre breaking, there were those on the Internet passing around fake reports. Some were trying to convince their followers that the whole thing was staged. And there were those who allegedly had the whole thing figured out because, after all, they did consume an entire season of NCIS over the weekend.

Pundits share their opinions, no matter how off base or untimely they may be.

Politicians never miss an opportunity to get a few extra votes.

Conspiracy theorists are always trying to convince us that things are never as they seem.

This is nothing new. It’s always been that way. It’s just that it all gets a little more bombastic in the wake of a tragedy.

The Christian faith comes under attack after horrific events like the one we saw in Las Vegas. And I don’t mean that in the sense of, “Where was your all-loving and all-powerful God on Sunday night?” Sure that happens but a new cynicism has developed over the years. We see it in Internet memes, commentary from pundits and even stump speeches from politicians. It goes something like this. “Thoughts and prayers aren’t helping us. We need action.”

The implication is clear. Prayer doesn’t work. Government and low grade political activism do.

In spite of the cynical attacks, Christians must resist the temptation to join in on the noise. Rather, we must do what we’ve always done.

If we wait until the unthinkable to do what is commanded of us, we’re missing the point. We shouldn’t just pray for the victims and their families and those who lead us. We should already be praying for our neighbors and their families and those who lead us. We shouldn’t go find our loved ones and give them a hug and tell them we love them. We should be demonstrating love to them already. It shouldn’t take a tragedy for Christians to start acting like Christians.

If we are to be salt and light, we must be salt and light on a regular Tuesday afternoon, not just after a tragedy. If we are to be peacemakers in an increasingly noisy and violent age, we must be pursing peace in our little worlds during those mundane days when the pundits, politicians and Internet prognosticators forget that regular people exist and have nothing better to talk about than what one of the Kardashians tweeted the other day.

Pundits will always talk.

Politicians will always campaign.

It’s who they are and what they do. But may the same be said of the body of Christ. May it be said that we always love, not in the ethereal way that our culture prefers but in the way that we see demonstrated on the cross where Christ laid down his life for his people. May we always love God with our total being. May we continually love others as we love ourselves.

Disaster has a unique way of revealing what’s in our hearts.

Christian, the next time trouble comes, may the first and most noticeable thing that the world around you sees not be your punditry, politicizing or theorizing.

May they instead see that you love God and you love them like you’ve always been doing.

Only maybe a little louder.

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The Most Dangerous Kind Of Racism

All racism is dangerous. But there is one particular strain that is even more deadly than the rest. It does more damage than the Klansman in a white hooded sheet could ever dream of. It’s deadlier than the rich, young college student fighting over a statue.

The most dangerous kind of racist is the one who has convinced himself that he is not a racist. After all, he doesn’t like the Klan. He’s never showed up to a white supremacist rally. She loves that black running back on her favorite football team. She even likes a few Outkast songs.

But deep down in her heart, there is hatred. And it feels perfectly normal. As a result, her kids grow up never really being taught what it means to love their neighbor. In word and in deed, they are taught to look the other way when an entire race of people suffers. Even worse, they’re taught to blame that entire race of people for the suffering they endure. So the racist jokes told in the church parking lot aren’t really all that bad. It’s just humor. And the segregation of the last century is most certainly condemned but it’s replaced with a much more acceptable variety of segregation.

And it all feels perfectly normal.

I’m 42 years old. To put it another way, I’ve been sinning for over four decades. Sure, I’ve been a Christian for most of those years but that doesn’t change the fact that I desperately need the gospel. Without it, my heart is bent toward selfishness, pride, envy, lust, murder, and yes, even racism.

Not one person on the earth can truly say, “God, I thank you that I am not like that racist over there” (Luke 18:11).

Rather, we must prayerfully and honestly address our sin and repent. The answer is not found in self-righteousness or life-long, low-grade guilt.

Only when we pray, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” will we truly know what it’s like to be reconciled to God and one another (Luke 18:13-14).

In the book of Acts, we are given two examples to help us as we try to live this out in our day to day lives. The first example shows us the importance of repentance and the second the importance of discernment or critical thinking.

The early church was growing by the thousands. And they did it without giving out free iPads to the first 100 people to show up or by mailing out risqué flyers about how the next sermon series is going to be on sex. Imagine that! Their growth was the result of God’s work but everything wasn’t perfect.

Church leaders had to care for hundreds of widows without any assistance from a government welfare program, the Internet or even phones. They failed. But they didn’t just fail. They failed in a way that looked like racism.

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. Acts 6:1 (ESV)

Here’s a translation of the complaint that was made by the Hellenists or Greek-speaking Jews.

“Hey, Peter and John. I know it’s hard to feed everyone but why is it that our people are always the ones getting left out?”

The response of Peter and John and the rest of the church leaders is one that we would do well to follow today.

“It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, who we will appoint to this duty.” Acts 6:2 (ESV)

Notice what they did not say. They didn’t say, “Oh, you don’t understand, we have plenty of friends who are Hellenists.” And they didn’t tell the Hellenist widows to, “Pull themselves up by the bootstraps.”

Instead, they changed their system. For them, loving others was more important than saving face or doing it the way they’ve always done it. I pray that the same could be said of today’s church. May we be a people who are quicker to repent than we are to defend an old human system that hurts others.

This requires critical thinking. It means that the thoughtful Christian will not jump on every bandwagon just so he can be, “on the right side of history.” We need more discernment and less Group Think. We need to follow the example of the Bereans in Acts 17.

Paul had just been kicked out of Thessalonica for preaching the gospel and he found himself in Berea. The biblical description of these people is noteworthy.

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:11 (ESV)

God used Paul to write a majority of what would later come to be known as the New Testament. But when he preached to the Bereans, they still wanted to measure everything he said against the Scriptures.

Such wisdom and discernment isn’t only unusual these days, it’s not allowed.

Some on the right would have us to believe that daring to question a Republican president when he is wrong means that you are a “snowflake” who hates America.

And some progressives would have us to believe that if we question Colin Kaepernick’s affinity for Fidel Castro, we are somehow blind to the injustices of the world.

Both assessments are wrong and are the result of misplaced worship and a lack of critical thinking. Many Christian leaders have soiled their garments because they worship the idea of having a seat at President Trump’s table. They have forgotten that it’s more important to have a seat at the table of their neighbor who has a different skin tone than they do. Many Progressives care more about Colin Kaepernick’s next job after he walked away from millions from his former employer than they do their neighbor’s next job after he was laid off with nothing more than best wishes.

Navigating our way through these complexities requires less group think and more of the wisdom of Christ. It requires more repentance and less self-righteousness.

Before I see that they are the problem, I must see how I am the problem.

Before I condemn their hatred, I must carefully examine my heart for my hatred.

Otherwise, I’m much more dangerous than I think I am.

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A Call For Cooler Heads And Broken Hearts

I just read a paragraph from a respected political commentator that startled me.

I might as well plant my flag in the ground on this point. I will actually be really surprised if we make it to December 31st of this year without people in this country taking up arms against each other. The rhetoric is so overblown, so heated, and so believed by a bunch of people who should know better.

It startled me because he may well be right. Listening to the way people talk these days and watching how they respond to tragedy leaves me no reason to believe that this was mere sensationalism. That’s the startling part.

Here’s the sad part.

The church is supposed to be different. We’re supposed to be salt and light. We find our identity in Christ, not a statue, a flag, a color, or a president. Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten all of that.

We don’t care about the truth anymore. We just care about what we want to be true. On social media, some of the biggest spreaders of fake news are Christians. You know, the ones who belong to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And it’s all in an effort to stick it to the biased media.

Here’s the thing. Everyone is biased. MSNBC is biased. Sean Hannity and Fox News are biased. The guy sitting in his mother’s basement in Bulgaria making up those fake news stories that so many Christians share is biased. I am biased. You are biased. That’s why we need discernment. Without it, we just stick to hearing what we want to hear and reinforcing stereotypes. With it, we can actually look and act different in an angry world.

It appears that many in the church have settled for life without discernment.

This anger is on both sides of the political aisle. And on both sides of the political aisle, the hypocrisy runs deep too. Conservatives use words like snowflakes when describing the students who walked out on Mike Pence, forgetting that just days before the election there were several conservative, middle-aged snowflakes who promised to march on the streets with guns if Donald Trump was not elected.

Liberals all of a sudden care about journalistic integrity now that an easy target is in the White House. With the exception of Jake Tapper, no one at CNN seemed too concerned when President Obama threatened the media and targeted citizens with the IRS.

Liberals love to talk about resisting the power while at the same time gladly taking handouts from that very same power and laying down and rolling over when it’s their guy in power. Conservatives ramble on and on about respecting the office of the presidency now that a self-identifying conservative is in power. However, I lost count of how many memes I saw over the past eight years comparing the Obama’s to Fred Sanford and Aunt Esther.

Blindly identifying with a political party makes good men into hypocrites. Identifying with Christ actually makes a difference.

In our own country, armed guards are patrolling city streets while people remove statues. It matters not to me what you feel about Lincoln, General Lee or the Civil War. Here’s what really matters. What is your neighbor thinking? As a follower of Christ, I am called to love my neighbor before I’m called to love a flag, whether it be confederate or American, or a statue, whether it be Jefferson, Lee or Lincoln.

One day we will stand before God to give an account for our lives. In spite of what you may have read in some whitewashed, Americanized study Bible, you will not be asked your opinion of a statue or a flag. But your love for neighbor will come into play.

When the black kid across town got shot and killed, did you write him off as just another thug or did you seek to minister to a family and a community that you were already engaging long before tragedy struck?

When the gay activists mocked the God of the Bible, did you hate her as if she were your enemy or did you hate what the real enemy was doing to her and pray for her eyes to be opened?

Did you go on long rants online about justice in regards to the president and the FBI but ignore lesser reported miscarriages of justice in your own community and workplace?

Did you bend down to help the least of these or did you step up on them to promote your own brand?

Were you longing for the Kingdom of God or were the kingdoms of this world enough for you?

Did you care more about the speck in your neighbor’s eye than you did the plywood in your own eye?

That’s what Jesus really cares about.

It’s just a shame that the church doesn’t seem to share in his concern.

I’ve spent most of my life in the church. I’ve heard a lot of preacher types talk about what needs to be done to save this country. It started with rock music.

“We need to get rid of this rock and roll music if we want to save this country.”

Eventually they moved on to politics.

“We need to elect this one and get this one out if we want to save our country.”

All the while the real problem was neglected.

I don’t know anything about fixing our country again. That’s too complex for me. But I can tell you how we can fix the church. And believe me, that’s a big need.

The church needs to repent.

We need to repent for abandoning truth for what feels or sounds right.

We need to repent for rejoicing over those who weep and making distinctions among ourselves by being judges with evil thoughts (Romans 12:15; James 2:4).

We need to repent for placing our identity in a president, whatever party he or she may belong to, instead of a King.

Everyone is angry. Even the church. And for all the wrong reasons.

We must be different.

We must be the ones with cooler heads.

We must be the ones with repentant hearts.

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 1 Peter 4:17 (ESV)

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The Deadly Mistake Of Minding Your Own Business

He was the rock. He was a foundational leader of the church. But he wasn’t above being called out when he was wrong.

 

Peter was eating with Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-14). At first, that doesn’t seem like much to me because, well, I’m a Gentile. But Peter had spent his entire life living by the strict dietary restrictions we find in the Old Testament. Things changed in Acts 10 when God gave Peter a vision of several unclean animals in a sheet and said every hunter’s favorite Bible verse, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 10:9-13). My friend calls this the first pig in a blanket.

So a little while later Peter finds himself doing the unthinkable. Eating with Gentiles. And I’m sure that he loved the taste of those pulled pork sandwiches and catfish. Something like that. You get the picture.

But then some of the Jewish elites showed up. And when they did, Peter was caught. Should he stay at the Gentile table at that proverbial New Testament high school cafeteria or should he go back to sit with his old friends. Peter went back to his old friends. But it was more than just nostalgia that pulled Peter away from the Gentile table. It was fear.

The message was clear from Peter. “Gentiles, I’m with you and this new covenant until my people show up and then it’s back to the old way. It’s been real.”

Thankfully, Paul was there and his message to Peter was even clearer. He opposed Peter publicly.

[14] But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas (Peter) before them all, “If you, though a Jew, llive like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” Galatians 2:14 (ESV)

Here’s a translation of what Paul said. “Peter, why do you hold the Gentiles to standards that you can’t even keep?”

This was a pivotal time for the church. Peter was influential and his hypocrisy could have led the young movement back into the self-righteousness that they had been delivered from. Paul’s open confrontation could have caused a major split between he and Peter and, by extension, the church as a whole.

But it didn’t. And for that, we have Peter to thank.

Paul doesn’t tell us how Peter responded to being held accountable by the former murderer turned missionary to the Gentiles. Did he storm out of the room? Did he post a vague Facebook status in all caps about people needing to, “Mind their own business?”

One of Peter’s letters, written years after this incident gives us a good clue.

[15]  And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, [16] as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 2 Peter 3:15-16 (ESV)

Peter refers to Paul, the one who rebuked him years earlier, as, “Our beloved brother” and speaks of him having God-given wisdom. He acknowledges that Paul’s words can be hard to understand and easy to to distort but he finishes with a very important assessment of Paul’s letters. They are part of the Scriptures. That is, they carry the authority of God’s word.

We need Paul’s in our life. We need people who care enough about us and the gospel to lovingly correct us when we are wrong. The very worst thing that could happen to the church or to you as an individual is for everyone around you to, “Mind their own business.”

And when those people do step in to lovingly hold you accountable, it does no good unless you respond like Peter and accept their authority and wisdom. Use their words as an opportunity to examine your life.

My growth in my walk with Christ has little to nothing to do with my own individual perseverance. It has much more to do with God putting people in my life who love me too much to, “Mind their own business.” I pray that he does the same for you.

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Your Church Might Not Be As Relevant As You Think It Is

When the new church came to the small town, there was a lot of promise. The building looked nice. The new church had the financial backing of a main campus in a larger city. The staff was well-trained. The music was trendy.

Within a matter of months, that building that was once full of so much promise was sitting empty on Sunday mornings with a For Sale sign out front.

What happened?

For a lot of churches, relevance means nothing more than gimmicks backed by a large budget. It’s marketing with a Jesus stamp on it. And the gimmicks that work in one area aren’t necessarily going to work in another one.

But there is one guaranteed way for a church to be relevant to its surrounding culture. No smoke machines are required. It’s much easier than that. Well, I should say that it’s much easier said. The doing part can be quite difficult. If a church really cares about being relevant, that church needs one single focus.

Love.

A truly relevant church will have an unyielding love for God. Everything that church does will be an act of love for Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Rather than seeking their own prominence in the community, this church will pray and live, “Hallowed be your name.”

The genuinely relevant church will have a bold love for each other. In this church, love, not personal preference, will rule the day. So rather than fighting over musical styles and carpet color and the best way to educate kids, this church will devote itself to fighting for the good of each other. Rather than gossiping about the tenth grader who got his girlfriend pregnant, this church will see that he is corrected and restored in love. And they’ll walk with him through the difficult days ahead.

But the love won’t be contained within the walls of this church. It will spill out into the streets. So the people in the community who vote differently and look differently than most of the members of this church will still feel the love of this church. When disaster strikes, this church will not get its marching orders from the politicians or pundits on TV. They’ll just keep right on doing what they’ve been doing all along. They’ll love people.

The relevant church will have a prophetic voice in the community. No, they won’t hold up signs on the town square telling people who God hates. But they won’t endorse sin for the sake of “reaching” people. They’ll make a bold stand against sin but not just the sins of others. They’ll be even bolder as they fight against their own sin. But through it all, they’ll lean on a gracious God who hates sin but loves forgiving sinners.

I fear for the church.

Yes, I know that in the end, the church wins. But there are a lot of local manifestations of the church that have me concerned. These are the churches where authentic relevance was abandoned decades ago in favor of a marketing scheme meant for nothing more than larger crowds and more money in the offering plate.

I fear for the churches that cannot possibly love their communities because they’re too busy hating each other.

I fear for the churches that only stand against the sins of others while turning a blind eye to their own.

I fear for those churches that no longer have a prophetic voice because they lost it screaming for the things that don’t really matter.

I fear for the churches that have been compromised by politics, believing the lie that ultimate salvation is found in a political figure rather than Jesus Christ.

Your church might have a smoke machine and a worship pastor in skinny jeans who has won a couple of Grammys. Or your church’s worship service might be led by a guy in a bad suit with a cassette tape. It doesn’t matter.

Trends come and go but truth and love are forever.

Truth and love are always relevant.

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What America Needs More Than Trump And Clinton

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America doesn’t need Hillary Clinton.

America doesn’t need Donald Trump.

I’m a Southern Baptist pastor so here’s the part where I’m supposed to say that America needs Jesus. While I believe that to be true, that’s not the angle I’m going with this. Of course we need Jesus. But quite often, Jesus likes to make himself known through his people. Even a quick reading of the Bible reveals flawed followers of God who were beams of light in a dark world.

That’s what America needs.

America needs brave young people like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who remain standing while everyone else bows. And make no mistake, there are a host of 90-foot statues to kneel before today. The most prominent one in our culture is naked and painted in rainbow colors. We need young people with the courage and love to say, while standing outnumbered, “I love you but I worship a different God.”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18 (ESV)

But that isn’t going to happen if parents care more about raising great athletes who make the family a lot of money than they do bringing up men and women with godly character. And it isn’t going to happen if students at church are fed a steady diet of entertainment and sermons about following their dreams. We need young people who stand for truth when everyone else bows but that only happens if the parents and pastors of those young people are committed to teaching them the truth.

America could use people like Daniel who aren’t afraid of the threats of the tolerance police because they know that the Lion they belong to is far more powerful than the lions sent to kill them. When the world opens up our closets to find a skeleton or two, they need to see us in there praying (Daniel 6:4-5). And when praying suddenly becomes an act of terror, they need to see us doing it anyway. Continually. With the windows opened.

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Daniel 6:10 (ESV)

America needs prophetic voices like John the Baptist who aren’t afraid to speak up against evil, even when it means a trip to the guillotine. Far too many of our pastors are too preoccupied with building their brand or being buddies with the world to go through the trouble of being a light in the world. Others have no problem speaking out against the evils of the world but they do so in a way that leaves them only preaching to the choir. And that choir is made up of their own family members. Yes, I’m looking at you, Westboro Baptist Church.

John was different. He wasn’t afraid to confront sin but he did so in a way that the very man he confronted wanted to hear more. That’s because, unlike many today, John was fueled more by grace than anger. America could use a voice like that today.

And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. Mark 6:19-20 (ESV)

America needs churches filled with people like the Apostle Paul who care more about winning people to Christ than they do winning people to their favorite political party (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). The church today has consumed itself with either fearing evil or embracing the supposed lesser version of it. We could do worse than praying for the human instruments of that evil to come to grips with their sin, repent and put their trust in Christ (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Paul had to stand trial for the terrible crime of lovingly proclaiming the gospel. As he stood before the king, he didn’t respond with the proverbial middle finger to the government, as many are quick to do today. Rather, he responded with compassion, boldness and gospel truth.

And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” Acts 26:28-29 (ESV)

America doesn’t need Hillary Clinton.

America doesn’t need Donald Trump.

And America doesn’t simply need a better candidate. The best president history has ever known would have no real success in leading a people whose hearts are turned from God. Our Lord can work through any means he chooses. He has worked through tyrants before to accomplish his will. More frequently, he works through his people. But he doesn’t work through his people so that he can make America great again.

His aim is to accomplish his kingdom purposes. And regardless of the opposition, his kingdom purposes will be accomplished. The only question is this. Will we be a part of his kingdom purposes or will we be too busy clinging to our own tiny, crumbling kingdoms?

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The Devil’s Dictionary Of American Religious Words And Phrases

Think

With words and phrases, there are the actual definitions and the practical definitions. The actual definitions are the ones that have been assigned to words for centuries. The practical definitions are what we really mean. Here’s a look at what a lot of people really mean when they use certain religious terms.

Sin – an archaic term that has largely fallen out of use in modern times but is occasionally used to describe how hot it is outside or how bad people other than me are

Sample Sentence 1: “Man, it’s hot as sin out here.”

Sample Sentence 2: “Jesus didn’t care near as much about sin as today’s Christians do.”

Church – a group of people with nothing better to do with their weekends than sitting around with a bunch of hypocrites

Sample Sentence: “I’m glad I’m better than all of those people at that church who think that they’re better than everyone.”

Hypocrite – anyone who disagrees with me

Sample Sentence: “No I do not have a meth problem. I have it completely under control. Now let’s talk about all of those soft drinks you gulp down, hypocrite!”

Bible – an instrument intended for selective use in order to win an argument or prove a point; anything more than selective use and argument winning is only for hypocrites

Sample Sentence: “Well, the Bible says, ‘Judge not lest ye be not judgeth,’ so take that you block-headed little fool!”

Pharisee – any person whose devotion or self-discipline forces me to come to grips with my own lack of meaningful devotion and/or self-discipline

Sample Sentence: “Yeah, I guess he’s an alright guy but he’s sort of a Pharisee. I mean look at him. He’s been married to the same woman for over five years. Oh, and that perfect little haircut. Give me a break!”

Organic – any music, teaching, book or worship service that meets my approval and contains no unnecessary ingredients such as people, music and/or ideas that I do not like

Sample Sentence: “I love our small group because it’s very organic. I just hope no one else comes and messes things up.”

Judgmental – when one person addresses the sin of another person, regardless of the sin and no matter how horrific the sin is

Sample Sentence: “Stop being so judgmental! What I do with my neighbor’s wife at the pool hall is my business.”

Authentic – when I or someone I approve of indulges in a horrific sin

Sample Sentence: “Did you hear about him and his neighbor’s wife at the pool hall? He’s so authentic. I hope he writes a book.”

Love – when other people affirm me or someone I approve of in our sin, no matter how horrific said sin is

Sample Sentence: “I want to thank all of those who have committed to love me as I have committed to continue hanging out at the pool hall with my neighbor’s wife.”

Jesus – a great teacher who lived a long time ago and, if he were with us today, would most certainly approve of my horrific sin

Sample Sentence: “The Jesus I know would be at the pool hall with me and the neighbor’s wife before he’d ever be seen in some old church.”

So now, thanks to The Devil’s Dictionary of American Religious Words and Phrases, you can finally understand what’s really being said in the comments section.

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Don’t Come To Our Church

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It wasn’t one of my finer moments. The conversation started off just like hundreds of others that I’ve had. But by the time that it was over, I realized that I was more like a Pharisee than I cared to admit.

The man told me that he was interested in visiting the church where I am a pastor. I told him the times and that we’d be glad to have him. And then he started telling me about his church and the reason why he wasn’t happy there.

He wanted to find a new church because too many blacks were coming to his church and he didn’t like being around them.

My immediate response was, “Well, if that’s how you feel, I don’t won’t you at our church.” I didn’t say that out loud, of course. Just to myself. When our conversation ended I kept thinking about what the man said. And then I thought about how I responded in my heart.

If I don’t want this man coming to my church, who do I want coming?

What the man said was wrong. His words obviously came from a heart that was not loving God and neighbor like the Bible commands us to. To put it plainly, he was a sinner. But isn’t that exactly the kind of person we should want coming to our churches.

Churches talk a lot about reaching out to society’s outcasts. In reality, I’m afraid that we’re just interested in reaching out to society’s acceptable outcasts. Churches brag about reaching out to homosexuals, prostitutes and drunks. But let’s be honest. In our culture, those lifestyles are fairly accepted.

Thankfully, blatant racism is less accepted than it once was in many parts of the country. But that doesn’t mean that the sinners behind the racist comments should not be accepted in our churches.

When I was a kid, I heard a preacher say that churches should move the altars out in the parking lot so that people could get their act together before coming into the church. I’ve spent my entire ministry ridiculing that argument. It wasn’t until quite some time after my conversation with the racist that I realized that I was becoming the preacher I had been criticizing. I wanted the racist who was interested in coming to my church to get his act together first. I wanted altars in the parking lot.

Jesus doesn’t call us to get ourselves together before coming to him. He comes to us. Even while we are still his enemies.

That goes for prostitutes and homosexuals.

And racists.

Our churches, if we take the Bible seriously, should be open to sinners. Not so that sinners can feel comfortable and affirmed in their sin. And not so that sinners can take things over and start running the place. But rather so that sinners can become saints by the grace of God.

As Christians, we should all ask ourselves the following question.

Am I reaching out in the love and truth of Christ to social outcasts in need of the gospel because I love them or am I simply reaching out to society’s acceptable outcasts so that I can feel better about myself?

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If I win a political argument, but have not love, I just add to all of the other noise.

And if I have the power to bring about change, and understand how things work and know more than most others and even have enough faith to make the impossible a reality, but have not love, I am wasting my time.

If I promote social justice, and even sacrifice my own well-being, but have not love, I am being counter-productive.

Love waits for those who have not yet arrived and it is gentle with them along their way. Love is content with the success of others and it is not self-centered.

Love is not vulgar or always trying to stir something up. Love recognizes when there is another way that is better. Love is not cranky or bitter.

It does not delight in evil or the sufferings of others, but it celebrates the truth.

Love carries the load when no one else can, it seeks what is best for another, it desires the best for another and it sticks around when all others have left.

Love is not temporary. Powerful words and teachings will die. Great talents and gifts will come to an end. There will be a time when an expensive education will no longer matter.

We don’t know it all and we certainly can’t explain it all.

But when everything is finally made right, most of the things that caused us to forget how to love one another will be gone.

When I was a kid, I said the silly things that kids say, my thoughts were childish and even what little logic I had was very immature. Once I grew up, I grew away from those juvenile characteristics.

Right now, we aren’t able to see the whole picture, but there is coming a time when we will look Christ in the face. When that happens, everything will make sense because I rest in the middle of God’s perfect knowledge.

In eternity with Christ, there will no longer be a need for faith or hope but there will always be perfect love between God and man. Love matters the most.

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