Archive for July, 2014

Sometimes there is a concept that is hard to write about. Maybe my thoughts are still too jumbled. Maybe trying to explain something in fewer than 500 words is impossible. If you read this column and sip the coffee and say, “What in the world is he talking about?” don’t worry…sometimes I say the same thing and I write it. I have the felling it will happen today.
A friend and I were having a long discussion about some issues in his life. Eventually I spewed “I think our Christianity gets in the way from time to time.” He looked at me like I had morphed into a fire-breathing zombie. I asked him to forgive me if I offended him. He insisted he was not offended.
What would make me say such a thing?
Christianity with it’s own vocabulary and concepts is very broad. I can say “grace” to one person and it is interpreted like the Corinthians “everything is permissible.” I can say “sanctification” and some will say it comes through Christ while others will say it is what we work at since our justification is by grace. Have I lost you yet?
That is my point.
Christianity has become or maybe it always has been very broad. If I were asked, “What is a Christian?” before the age of 39 my answer after belief in Jesus would have then been full of non-Biblical Christian expectations that basically focused on our morality. That answer was the time in my Christian life when I was not involved in personal ministry and my personal beliefs were formed outside the context of a real understanding of sin and grace. Once personal relationships begin (I believe the only context of Biblical ministry) my “be moral” Christianity quickly changed. Yet, I seldom ministered outside the context of the church.
In each and every one of us there is a twinge of belief that Jesus makes me a morally respectable person. There is also a twinge of belief that in the depth of my secret life I know I am not a moral person…so I keep the deep dark stuff secret. Neither one of these popular “Christian” thoughts is true. However, this becomes our functional faith. Am I making any sense yet?
So? How does this get in our way? Oh, I hope I make some sense here.
The truth…we are depraved. Even Christians, yes those things Paul calls “new creatures” are depraved. I guess that is why I like the two very popular shows “Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead.” One of their premises is that under certain conditions (extreme stress, life/death, and our own sense of success) we will not be moral. In fact, we all will do very bad things. Open the Bible…it’s clear.
The 2nd truth is that grace indeed is our only hope. There is a little catch that gives us trouble. In order for grace to abound, truth has to be a very high priority. Without truth grace will not and cannot function.
For our faith to be “of Christ” and as some proclaim “sola Christos (Christ alone)” than there is nothing we can claim…not even a sense of morality. However, what is often talked about is how we can be moral instead of how we respond to the greatest love and grace anyone will every find.
For us as Christians our faith truly is either focused on man or on Jesus. In order to grow in the love and grace of God we got to get out of the way or what we have turned “sola Christos” into has to go. Either way…sometimes “Christianity” can get in the way of God’s grace and our call to practice it. Are you confused? Be honest.

Scan 6

Recently I posted a picture of my wife and I from our high school days. We are high school sweethearts. After everyone got off the floor looking at the horrid 70’s clothing styles we were able to enjoy (some of us) the memories. One person mentioned, “My, you guys look the same.” Either they were being nice or they were blind. We are nowhere near the same.
It is the slow changes that make us think we are the same when in fact we aren’t. At any given time it is very hard for the human brain to fathom change and aging. It is true that if we look in a mirror today and never look in a mirror for 20 years we cannot comprehend what we look like. We always remember someone based on the last time we saw him or her.
Sometimes I think that is the same problem with the church. We really have changed. We just don’t want to look at it.
The church in America is at a major crossroads. It might not seem like it in the South with churches in every corner. The Bible belt seems to hold onto a sense of God, Country and Family. However, the experts as well as culturally attuned pastors realize the demise of the church and Christianity, as we know it.
Our church as well as others is looking at the issue. On one hand some things need to die. That is for another day. In the last few days as I prepared to preach about it today (the boss is on vacation), I find the same problem in the Scriptures. It is about the church of Ephesus.
They started so good. They were life changers. Great things were happening in and through the church. There is evidence the Christians in Ephesus rescued babies from a “baby dump” where unwanted babies were left to die often immediately after birth. The sanctity of life has been an issue through the ages. The Ephesian Christians would legally adopt them. Wow! That is a church in action.
Jesus confirms their good deeds but has a problem with the Ephesian church in Revelation 2. He says they “left their first love.” They needed to repent.
At first sight it doesn’t make sense. They were doing good things and it actually says they were commended for their stand against false theology. So what could have been the problem?
I do a lot of marriage counseling. Actually, too much if you ask me. Associated with every one is a sense of “lost love.” How does this happen? The list is endless…failed expectations, deceptive loves seeking to steal the first love, and living in a depraved world where priorities and love gets away from us.
It is no different with the church. Jesus says to return to the first love. I have spent too much time over the years trying to figure our gimmicks, sales tricks and consumer means to get people to return to their first love.
We are trying so hard we are missing a very simple yet hard reality of the Christian faith. It is the fact that this isn’t heaven. Life in Christ is hard. It is a constant battle between the glory of God and an easy way out. We teach easy fix it’s. We seek the lowest common denominator ignoring the pain we cause and the pain that flows through our world. Church on Sunday doesn’t want to say the bad news. In doing so it dilutes the good news.
The bad news…our depraved nature is constantly seeking to place the emphasis on “me.” I want Jesus and life my way. It better be easy. If my functional Jesus doesn’t please me than I will seek it on my own. I will then try to attach Jesus to it. In doing so, we leave our first love. The first issue we must face before we address the pain in this world is the pain and suffering I cause.
The good news…there is an answer. Return to our first love. Grasp how far we have fallen! Look at it! Grasp how great the love of God is to us through the sacrifice of Jesus for us. Return to the one who loves ferociously. He always welcomes the wayward one back to the family.
No more gimmicks. No sales job. No attempt to build an empire. No easy steps. We are wayward travelers seeking Shalom. Sometimes it’s hard to find. Church…I don’t need entertainment. I need a fellow traveler who can help me return to the one who loves…Jesus.
Scan 5

My good friends know I love the television series “The Walking Dead.” It is not for the faint of heart. It is not for the immature or young. There is no question there is violence, mature themes and zombies. From time to time there are lots of zombies. They aren’t the fake looking kind. They can make your skin crawl.
I do not recommend that everybody run to Netflix in order to begin watching from the first episode (it’s the only way to understand it at this point). Nor do I expect anyone to jump in with season five and get it.
If you happen to venture into this world you will discover something that makes this the number one viewed show among 18 to 35 year olds. It is not about zombies. It really isn’t. Zombies are the vehicles to look at human nature when your world collapses. It is a show about human nature. That is what makes the series so popular.
I was watching the July 4th marathon (sorry, no war movies this time) and happen to come across a very profound scene. There is this guy, Merle. Well, there was a guy, Merle. You get the idea. Merle was a picture of people who react. They aren’t dumb. They react to the moment. Sometimes you like the guy. Most times you can’t stand the guy. One thing for sure, Merle will live for Merle. Good or bad…Merle makes decisions for himself. Merle would not be found in the church pew on Sunday.
There is another character, Hershel. Hershel is an alcoholic (mostly recovering) who seeks to do the right thing by immersing himself in the Bible. He isn’t a Jesus Freak. He tries to live out the principles set forth by Christ in a way that seeks to make the right decision, love others (sometimes even zombies), and love others especially his family. He is the kind of guy we would love to have in our churches. If he were leading a Bible study we would be blessed. Forgiveness and redemption dominate Hershel’s philosophy of life even in the midst of major crisis.
Hershel is talking with Merle in this scene. He asks him a very profound question. Hershel asks, “Do you even know why you do the things you do, the choices you make?” Merle answer is so dead on. He replies, “I don’t know the reasons for the things that I do. Never did. I’m a damn mystery to myself.”
I ask this question in many forms to many people. I’ve seen so much pain and misery as a counseling pastor. Most people respond like Merle. Is it that our culture doesn’t allow us to look or maybe we don’t want to know.
Churches move more and more away from having people face the truth that is evident in this television series. The funny thing is the more we move away from the truth that we are a mess and much more sinful than we like to admit the further we move away from the profound truth of Jesus being the answer to our condition. Somehow, we think that the issues of Merle are non-believers. Well, my counseling is mainly with Christians. Somehow, we don’t want to realize that being a new creature doesn’t mean any of us are sin free. To live that way and fellowship that way defies the Scripture.
The truth is we need to face our need every day. Doing so we face the truth that we need the gospel every day not just the day of our salvation. We don’t want to. Yet, it is the very truth that makes the apostle Paul’s instruction so profound when he writes “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Every day. Every day. Don’t wait for Sunday. I’m not sure it’s happening there.