Hospital or Cruise Ship?

An Open Letter to the Church in America

A phrase that’s been bandied about lately is, ‘Don’t judge others for sinning differently than you’. The sentiment behind that is that the world looks at us and sees that we are no different than they.

As a group, we watch the same entertainment, talk the same trash, buy the same toys, have extramarital affairs, live together outside of marriage, get divorced and remarried, just like they do. We’re mean, critical, abusive people. We cheat, we steal, we lie, just like them.

We’re hypocrites.

Not all of us, of course, but enough that our reputation is destroyed.

The church has been described as a hospital. A place where broken, hurt, wounded people come to get healed and in turn, go on to help heal others.

We have become a cruise ship. A place where you come as you are, be entertained, and leave just the same as you were. No one dares to call out our sin to us for fear of offending and driving us away. If someone dares to try to live holy, they are mocked as self righteous.

If we ever hope to be the Church that God calls us to be, our churches need to become hospitals again. We need to know each other on a deeper level. We need to call each other out and be eager to be called out.

Brother, if you see a brother sinning, go to him and righteously counsel him. Sister, if a sister points out a sin to you, fall on your knees before God in confession, then rise in His power and DO something about it.

Only then will the world see us as His bride and not as hypocrites.

On Whose Authority?

One of the most common phrases I’ve heard this past week is some variation of ‘what gives you (narrow-minded, bigoted, hateful) Christians the right to tell anybody how to live?’ And they’re right. I have no authority, of myself, to tell anybody else anything.

IF, as most people assume, I am here by chance and there is no god, or only one of my own imagining; If religion is only a construct of culture and social engineering; if there is no absolute truth; then the only constraints on me are myself and whatever social and cultural constraints I choose to accept.

BUT, if there is an absolute truth, an absolute reality outside of any human construct; if there is a Being who created us, then that Being has the Right to direct me and correct me and constrain me.

  • The Bible says God created everything, including me.
  • The Bible says mankind rebelled against God.
  • The Bible says God chose a particular tribe to bring His message of love and peace with Him to all mankind.
  • The Bible says that He himself came to this world and lived as a man, to show us what a perfect man looks like, and to make a way for each of us to come back to Him.
  • The Bible says He taught His followers how to live in such a way as to please Him.
  • The Bible says that He was killed, was buried, and that He rose from the dead never to die again, went back to heaven, and is returning soon to settle all accounts and re-create this world perfect again.
  • The Bible says it was written by men who actually talked with God, and were directed by Him to write it.

Our choice is extremely simple:

Either the Bible is our authority for understanding who God is and what He wants from us, or we have made ourselves our own authority.

God help us to choose wisely.

God Speaks, Culture Responds

God says, ‘I alone am God, there is no other’.
Culture says, ‘What god? There is no god at all.’

God says, ‘Worship only me, do not make anything higher than Me.’
Culture says, ‘Self and pleasure are the highest good, that’s what’s important.

God says, ‘Respect My name and My character.’
Culture ignores God’s character and uses His name as a swear word.

God says, ‘Take one day a week to worship Me and to rest and reflect on all I have done.’
Culture says, ‘Go flat out 24/7 until you drop.’

God says, ‘Respect those who have come before you in this world.’
Culture says, ‘The elderly are washed up and need to be housed away from productive people.’

God says, ‘All human life is precious, don’t end it gratuitously or in malice.’
Culture says, ‘I’m important, you’re not, if you’re in my way, I will dispose of you.’

God says, ‘Marriage, between one man and one woman, is MY invention and is the only place where sex belongs.’
Culture says, ‘it’s MY body and I can do whatever I want, with whoever I want, whenever I want.’

God says, ‘Respect other people’s things, don’t take things that aren’t yours.’
Culture says, ‘Take all you can, give nothing in return.’

God says, ‘Honor, respect, speak, and live out truth.’
Culture says, ‘Tell people what they want to hear. Don’t offend them. Make up a good story to protect yourself.’

God says, ‘Don’t want what I haven’t given you.’
Culture says, More, More, More. Grab everything you can. Keep up with, and surpass, the Jones’s.’

God says, ‘There will come a day when I will suffer their sins and affronts no more.’
Culture says, ‘Yeah, right. When?’

God says, ‘I will come like a thief in the night. Behold, I am coming quickly.’

Even so, Lord Jesus, come.

The Coming Conflict

There is a conflict coming.

A struggle between people who believe, teach, and strive to live out the concepts embodied by a traditional understanding of biblical principles and those people who do not hold such views (I will use the terms traditionalists and moderns as shorthand). If some moderns have their way, traditionalists will be silenced, not only publicly but privately also. This will be a fight for the very existence in any meaningful way of traditionalists in our culture.

We have already seen the beginning of this, such as;

  • Extracurricular bible study groups being kicked out of schools that allow any other type of group.
  • Private small businesses being forced to provide services that violate their beliefs.
  • Selective enforcement of zoning and parking laws to inhibit church and small home group meetings.
  • Selective enforcement of free speech issues such as public preaching, demonstrating, discussing faith on the job, office cubicle decor, etc.
  • Selective enforcement by Child Protective Services against traditionalists (and anyone who does not share their rigid view of child rearing).

While it has not happened in the U.S. (yet), I have seen examples of extreme modernism that advocate stripping all parental rights from traditionalists, stripping tax exempt status and even the legal right to exist from any traditionalist congregation, criminalizing traditionalist preaching (even within a church setting), and many others.

There are three camps in this struggle:

  • Traditionalists who wish to see moderns eliminated from the culture.
  • Moderns who wish to see traditionalists eliminated from the culture.
  • Moderates on both sides who wish to see a live and let live attitude preside along with a healthy debate

For many years those in power held a traditionalist view for society, even if they didn’t personally live it out. Sadly, they marginalized all with whom they disagreed. Many people were hurt by a system that could only see ‘my way or the highway’.

Over the past few decades, moderns sought, fought for, and finally achieved a seat at the table of cultural debate (and rightly so). But now that moderns are in power, they seek to do the same thing to those they disagree with that was done to them and their forerunners.

One of the clarion calls of modernism has always been that every voice should be heard and no viewpoint should be silenced. Yet now they seek to do that very thing to traditionalists.

  • How long will moderates stand by and watch as the moderns in power chip away at traditionalists’ right to a seat at the table of public discourse?
  • How long before moderate traditionalists find themselves perceived as extremists, therefore to be silenced?
  • How long before traditionalists, fearing for their survival, rise up violently, and bring condemnation from the culture and retribution from those in power on themselves?

I do not know if these things will happen or if the pendulum of culture will start swinging back toward traditionalism. But I do foresee, that if nothing changes, a conflict is coming, and it will not end well (from a cultural perspective) for traditionalists.

So what can traditionalists do to retain and regain a seat at the table of cultural influence?

First, two things that would be extremely bad for us:

  1. To do nothing at all, and watch what little influence we have now evaporate.
  2. To rise up in armed insurrection and be marginalized by the culture and criminalized by the powers that be.

What’s left for us to do?

Love and Pray.

Jesus taught us to ‘love your enemies and pray for those that despitefully use you’.

What does it mean to ‘love your neighbor’?

  • Does it mean agree with them? No.
  • Does it mean argue with them? No.
  • Does it mean accept all behaviors as normal or good? No.
  • Does it mean take anyone into your fellowship of believers, regardless of whether they’ve shown heart change? No.

It means pray for them, go to them, care for them, feed them, clothe them, visit them, let them know they are important to you as a person, not a statistic or conquest. Only then will we have the opportunity to invite them into the kingdom.

We need to clean house.

Live out what we say we believe.

The early church, while hated for it’s message, was respected for it’s authenticity. They were known for actually being the kind of people they preached you should be.

Sadly the way many people see Christians is as hypocrites, and for good reason. Many that are in our churches ARE hypocrites, or worse yet, false teachers and brothers.

  • We need to fall on our face before God and let Him expose and convict us of the garbage that entangles us… and then get rid of it.
  • We need to purge our churches of the snakes, and lions, and false brothers and teachers among us. Not by indiscriminately kicking them out but by showing them their errors and urging them to get right. Only if they steadfastly refuse to repent MUST the church sever ties with them.

Only when we become and are seen as authentic followers of Christ who truly love others and truly live out what we say we believe will we begin to have an impact on our culture again.

We need to separate being a Christian from being an American.

Our identity is in Christ, not in the Constitution. As long as we continue to conflate being holy with being patriotic, we will continue to drive people away. We drive away three groups at the same time:

  • Those who are Americans, but not Christians.
  • Those who are Christians, but not Americans.
  • Those who are not Americans and not Christians.

I’m not saying don’t be patriotic, but rather, understand that governments come and go, our ‘rights’ can be taken away, our freedoms can be limited or withheld, but God is forever.

The Wishing Well

When my beautiful bride and I got married (many many years ago), one of the cherished memories we created was using a crystal wishing well as a cake topper. That sparkling piece was a symbol of the hopes and dreams we each held for the future. It was also a reminder of the uncertainty that lay before us. Would we be happy? Could we learn to adjust to each other? What was just around the bend for us?

Not very long after, that shiny object was sitting on a shelf, observed but rarely thought about. Within a few short years, as we were moving to a new home, the wishing well became cracked and broken. It truly symbolized our lives at that time. Like the pretty glass, our marriage was crumbling around us. I was pulling away and she was glad for it, as I was not a pleasant person then. By God’s grace He saved our marriage and healed both of us. (read our story here)

I’m not sure what ever happened to the original piece, but we soon replaced the broken well with a new shiny one to symbolize (again) our newly reformed union. And like the first one, it soon ended up on a shelf gathering dust.

One of the strategies we have learned to keep our relationship vibrant and growing through the years is to take time together to love and study each other and to learn new habits for life. We recently enjoyed a time we called ‘A Weekend to Remember‘. Our weekend included laughs, love, and learning. One of the special things I planned for my princess was that I would do all the cooking (and cleaning!). I set a special table with our best dishes and tablecloth, and even got out the (now dusty) wishing well.

As we looked over and past it that first evening, my lady jumped a little then started laughing. It seemed that even though I had dusted off the wishing well and it was sparkling clean on the outside, a bug had decided to crawl into the bucket and die! We spent the better part of the meal discussing how much that wishing well mirrored our marriage. We talked about our resolve to continue cleaning not just the outside of our marriage (how we look to other people), but the necessity of cleaning our hearts and desires and motives. In short, making sure that the important part of our relationship is whole and wholesome and healthy.

I would encourage each you to plan your own Weekend to Remember. Find a marriage seminar or get a DVD of one. Plan special meals and events. Act as though the only other person that is important is your spouse. If you need ideas, contact me… I have tons of ’em.