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.

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.

Reformation or Resurrection?

Religion is about reformation. Reform the world. Reform your actions. Reform your appearance.

Easter is about resurrection. The dead coming back to life. Jesus doesn’t want to help us reform our old life. He wants to kill it. Then give us new life instead.

The old life is marked and marred by a constant struggle by our Self to have its own way and do its own will. The old life is permeated by moral failure. We try, but we can’t even live up to our own meager standards, much less God’s. Sometimes that failure (which God calls sin) is a conscious choice. Often it is an ingrained habit. It may have even become an addiction. The result is damage to ourselves , pain to others, and separation from our God.

The good news of Easter is that through the Crucifixion Jesus has broken the stranglehold Sin has over us, and through the Resurrection He has demonstrated His power over death. His offer to us is one of hope. Not a cheap, simple, self-help hope. Not a reformation project, but a complete tear-down and rebuilding project. He offers us death and resurrection. By allowing Him to kill our old self, He is then able to create a new life in us that has the ability to say no to sin (moral failure) and is able to follow Him in doing good .

This offer is given to every person, but each one of us has to personally accept it. We must recognize our failures, and earnestly desire to be rid of them. We must accept his forgiveness for our sin. We must acknowledge that he has the right to direct our life.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:1-10 (NIV)

The Value of Social Media

It occurred to me today that social media plays a very important role in my life. It forces me to recognize that there are people who don’t think like I do, or enjoy the same things I do, or even share a common value system with.

I, like many people, have spent most of my life surrounding myself with those who look like me, sound like me, and think like me. Specifically, I have spent my life surrounded by church goers of a conservative bent. When I have had to be around those ‘others’, I have been uncomfortable and couldn’t wait to get back to ‘normal’ people.

Now that I spend quite a bit of time on Facebook, it being my primary source of interaction with friends, I am finding a great big weird world out there! With over 400 friends, most of whom are friends of friends, it is not uncommon for me to see posts that challenge my thinking, annoy me, even revile me. Every day I find myself rehearsing a snide comment or a sharp rebuke to a post, only to choose to let the opportunity go past. It would be easy to ‘un-friend’ people who are different or to verbally look down my ‘oh-so-righteous’ nose at them.

But is that what my Lord would do? No! He would find ways to engage them in conversation and kindly, lovingly show them His way. He would not berate or call names. He would not attempt to right every wrong or tell people they were ignorant or stupid. He would try to draw them to Himself with friendliness and love. I don’t believe He would shrink from engaging in a difficult conversation about morals or values nor would He stop short of calling sin what it is at the appropriate moment.

Now, I am not my Lord, so there are some conversations He could have that I cannot. Specifically, I can’t read someone’s heart, nor do I have a perfect understanding of His plan and will. What I do have is His Word. Where It speaks to a subject, I should let It speak for itself. I have the Spirit within me so that, if I am listening to Him, He will tell me what I should say (or not).

The Apostles spent time at the social media of their day, the temple and the places where people gathered to discuss the issues of the day. They were called to engage ideas and culture for the Lord. I must do no less. I cannot be afraid of offending for the message I bring is offensive to those who choose to ignore it. That does n0t mean I should be offensive in the way I present it. While I am convinced of the Truth of the message I bring, I must remember that even my Lord does not force His will on those He seeks to minister to. And like Him and the Apostles, I can expect to be rejected and abused for my faith.

Lord, give me

the Courage to speak the Truth in Love at the right time,

the Self-Control to refrain from speaking when the time is not right, and

the Wisdom to know the difference.

Love?! What is that?

We hear a lot about love in our world and in our church. But what does it mean? And more importantly, how do I show love to others?

The world says love me by not disagreeing with me. Lovers say love me by meeting all my selfish desires. One church says love people by telling them about Jesus. Another church says love people by helping at a soup kitchen or mission.

While these have some element of truth to them, they all fall short of being satisfactory to me. The Apostle Paul said:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a (NIV)

Now I am starting to see what is but I still don’t get how to do it. From the gospels:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”  “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31 (NIV)

He then went on to tell a story about a man:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’  “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Luke 10:30-37 (NIV)

I think maybe I finally understand:

  • I must get out of my comfort zone to really show love to people.
  • I must get face to face with people to find out what their needs are.
  • I must not care so much about what the right crowd might say about me being with ‘those people’.
  • I must give of ‘my’ stuff to ease the sufferings of others.
  • I must go out of my way to check in on them.

So, what does that mean to me in my day to day existence? How do I get face to face with people when I may have only 20 minutes of actual face to face contact with all people in an average day? How do I check in on people from hundreds of miles away? Should I give to panhandlers on the street when I see them smoking and wearing better clothes than I have?

  • Maybe a good start would be to actually notice others in the truck stops instead of going in on a mission with my head down. Hmmm, actually notice other people?!
  • Maybe getting out of the truck and going in would help too instead of just sitting alone in the cab. Meet real people!
  • Maybe make up some give away food bags that I can hand out as needed.
  • Actually smile and be nice to people, even ones that are… grumpy.

To quote a movie (Mask of Zorro), ‘this is going to take a lot of work’….

Love & Hate

I am shocked! I think I have discovered one of the reasons there is such discord between Christ followers and unbelievers. We have wildly different definitions of words.

First this is how the words are defined to the world (from Merriam Webster):

Love

  • strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
  • attraction based on sexual desire :  affection and tenderness felt by lovers
  • affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests 
Hate
  • intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury
  • extreme dislike or antipathy
  • an object of hatred
 

And this is how I have always understood them to be defined:

Love, whether used of God or man, is an earnest and anxious desire for and an active and beneficent interest ins the well-being of the one loved.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

Hatred: A feeling of strong antagonism and dislike, generally malevolent and prompting to injury (the opposite of love); sometimes born of moral resentment.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

Please note the difference especially in the definition of Love. The world says if you love me, you must like me, and if I don’t like what you do, I must hate you because I fear you. The church says love wants what is best for you. So when we tell someone that what they are doing is, according to our understanding, harmful or detrimental to their spirit, then are we not being loving? Of, course we can say it in a way that demeans or disrespects and then we have stooped to hatred. But to just say what we believe to be true should not be taken as hatred.

But the question is often asked, ‘what right have I to criticize another’s actions?’ The right of a Brother living in the same Family.

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:1-2 (NIV)

That is assuming that I am truly interested in helping my brother and not just playing some game of ‘I’m right, He’s wrong’, or one-upmanship. Now when there are honest differences of opinion over what is right or wrong, we should carefully go to the source of our knowledge (the Bible) and make sure we are hearing from it what God is saying.

Another common question is ‘Doesn’t the Bible tell us to not judge?’ Let’s take a look at that.

 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  Matthew 7:1 (NIV)

The word translated Judge is also used elsewhere with the fuller meaning of condemn, as in pronounce eternal judgement. We are not to take the place of God and pass judgement on someone but we are to inspect each others’ lives and help them to be more Christlike.

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back,  remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. James 5:19-20 (NIV)

To those outside the Family I believe the first thing is to clearly show that we Love them and want what is best for them, then cogently lay out God’s salvation plan:

  • God loves each and everyone of us and wants to have a relationship with us.
  • Each of us has chosen our own way and spurned Him, thus killing any relationship with Him.
  • Jesus is the ONLY way back to a relationship with the Father.
  • All we have to do to have that relationship is to trust Him and believe.

After that the only thing we have to say is what Jesus said:

 “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Mark 8:34-38 (NIV)

Resolution or Covenant?

Today many people will be making promises to themselves to ‘do better’  this year. Whether it’s to lose weight, get in shape, get organized, or any number of other good things. We lightly call these resolutions. As we all know, these resolutions last, uhh, a short time! I too have made my share and very few, if any, were really followed for any length if time.

Instead of a resolution I am instead entering into a covenant with God.

What is the difference you ask? A resolution is a decision that I make and unilaterally implement. As such, anytime it becomes hard I can choose to reject that decision without any regret because, after all, it was just my own choice. A covenant involves two persons and is an agreement between them for a particular purpose and for a particular time. So, while I may still break the covenant, I know that I will be disappointing the other person if I do. This gives me accountability and gives me pause to consider should I want to abandon my decision.

I covenant before God:

  1. As He gives me the grace and power, and

  2. Until He gives me leave to stop,

  3. I will devote myself to fulfilling my life’s mission statement:

To know and be known by GOD through regular study and worship, and to make HIM known to family, friends, co-workers, and strangers in need, by speaking the truth in love, acts of service, and sharing GOD’s provision. Ever more consistent, honest and open, quick to forgive and ask forgiveness. Choosing to make evident the Fruit of the SPIRIT in my life, asking in all circumstances, “What Would Jesus Do?

  • Practicing daily spiritual disciplines as He leads, and

  • Reviewing and refining my daily actions to conform to the goals laid out here:

Upward – My experience with GOD

Worship
Prayer
Study

Inward – Learning to live as He would have me

Chastity
Temperance
Simplicity

Outward – Relating to other people in His name

Charity
Meekness
Generosity