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 Strongest Gentle Man

I would like to tell you a story today about the strongest gentle man I ever knew.

I met him when I was quite young and he, to my childish eyes was very old. (I am now almost 15 years older than he was at that time!) He was always safe. I knew that even when he was angry or disappointed with me, I had no worry about his displeasure showing in an abusive way. When I was young I thought he was perfect, but as I aged, I found that he had faults just like everyone else.

He grew up in a time and a family where men did not readily show emotions, although as he aged he learned to let them out a bit. He expected great things from me, sometimes it seemed more than I was able to give, but I learned that was his way of showing love for me. He showed his love most readily by sacrifice and service. When his family needed to move to a safer locale, he left his tenured job that he enjoyed to give them a chance at a new life. He spent many years surrounded by kids in scouts and church groups, helping to teach and lead them, rather than take his summers to pursue his own interests. Nearly every Sunday and many nights he could be found at the church, leading and teaching and helping.

His faith was important to him. While he did not make a big show of it, his life was run the way he believed God would have it. As I grew older he and I had many disagreements about God and faith. He never tried to force me to believe his way, but neither did he back away from his beliefs, even when as a teenager I said some ugly, hateful things. As a young married adult, I moved my little family into his home, and he welcomed them with open arms. Even when I emotionally abandoned them he loved them and me. He never berated me for my poor choices, but simply offered help and support.

It was only after I had matured a little that I began to see him as he really was, good and bad, and to truly love and respect him.

He went home to be with his God yesterday and I know that there will always be a hole in my heart for my Daddy, the strongest gentlest man I ever knew.

Charles Walter Reader

April 16, 1926 – December 22, 2014

Choking on Air

We all know the story of the kid who wants to get his own way and threatens to ‘hold my breath until I die’ (some of us even tried it! ). How well did that work out for him?  It didn’t work because as soon as he gave up (or passed out), nature took over and the air that surrounds us all filled his lungs and revived him.

The Spirit of God surrounds every one of us like air surrounds our bodies. If we are His followers then His Spirit fills our spirit also. His Presence will work in us, pruning out harmful things and producing in us a crop of beauty and wholesomeness.

So why are there so many Christians who don’t show the fruit of His Spirit?

Are we:
Loving or Self-Centered?
Joyful or Dour?
Peaceful or full of Strife?
Patient or Angry?
Kind or Mean?
Wholesome or Vile?
Faithfull or Wayward?
Gentle or Harsh?
Self-Controlled or Uncontrolled?

The boy is full of life and energetic when he is breathing,  but when he chooses to selfishly demand his own way he loses the benefit of the life giving air all around him.

In the same way, when we selfishly demand to do things our way,  we lose the help that is available from the Spirit. But as we immerse our self in the Spirit, He begins to change all the unhealthy, destructive habits and thoughts into ones patterned after Jesus’ own way of being.

Unlike the boy, who doesn’t have a choice about breathing after a time when his body overrides his will, God will let us ignore Him for as long as we choose, to our own detriment.

May we choose to stop being brats who foolishly stomp around, choking on air, who choose instead to bask in God’s glorious Presence and allow Him to heal us.

Stepping on Toes

Recently I stopped by a chapel at a truck stop hoping to introduce myself and maybe learn a thing or two from the chaplain there. We did have a nice chat and I stayed for the evening bible study. One thing he and I discussed before the study was the importance of focusing on the important matters of the faith and not getting bogged down in discussions of secondary issues.

In essence we restated the old adage;

In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas

in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in everything, charity (or love).

The problem came during the meeting, when a common bible topic was raised, to which there are several valid interpretations. He told the group “what it meant”, and when I mentioned one of the alternatives, I was shut down quickly. While he was not rude, his posture and tone made it clear that “this is the only way to read that passage”. That bothered me. Ok… I was peeved. By God’s grace, I wisely shut my mouth and the meeting went on. But that got me thinking….

  • How do we understand what Truth is?
  • Are some Truths more important than others?
  • How should I respond when there are conflicts in our understanding of Truth?

What is Truth?

First and foremost, far and above all else, the Bible is Truth. God supernaturally superintended the writing of the scriptures. Because of that, what the original authors wrote was exactly what God wanted written. Our problem understanding is because we live in a different culture and we speak a different language that the writers did.

So we learn all we can about the author and his audience (the historical and cultural context) and we rely on scholars to translate the text into our language. We also make every effort to keep passages in textual context. For example, in psalm 14:1 David says “there is no God”. That is contradictory to the rest of scripture. But in context it reads “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God”. That is in line with the rest of scripture.

So what do we do when even in context a passage doesn’t make sense? Or when several passages seem to be contradictory? We turn to two friends, reason and tradition.

Reason, our mind, intellect, and logic, controlled and directed by the Spirit of God, is the first path to an understanding of a passage. We can compare passages with each other. We can use logic, ie if A its true and B is likeA then B must be true also.

Tradition can be viewed as a record of the interpretation of scripture through the church’s history. Another way to view it is as a compilation of godly men’s reasoned attempt to understand scripture.

Unfortunately, Much of our beliefs about the bible come not from personally wrestling with it, but rather from hearing someone else (usually our pastor) tell us what he thinks it means. Problems occur when we accept our own reason and our favorite traditions’ version of a complicated or debated doctrine as the ONLY acceptable understanding.

Are some truths more important than others?

Of course! I once heard the are four kinds of truth: the 4D’s

  • Truth you would Die for
  • Truth you would Divide over
  • Truth you would Disagree about
  • Truth you would Discuss over coffee

The problems arise when we put a truth in the wrong category. Say we elevate a “discuss over coffee” to a “divide over”, for example, was Paul right or left handed? Or worse, we demote a “die for” to a “disagree about”.

And that is what happened the other night. We were talking about a topic I thought was a “discuss over coffee” or maybe a “disagree about” and he thought it was a “die for”. That’s when toes got stepped on. I was hurt that my view was squashed and he thought I was bordering on heretical.

What should I do when disagreements arise?

  • PRAY! For and with the other person.
  • BE KIND! Remember, he is your brother.
  • Seek to understand the other’s view
  • Review my own points to see if I have misstated anything or maybe misunderstood scripture.
  • Look for points in common.
  • Disengage BEFORE harm is done.
  • PRAY!

ps. I have intentionally used examples that I thought were non issues. I sincerely apologize if anyone was offended.

pps. For me, the authority and inspiration of scripture is a “die for” doctrine. All authority and truth comes from Jesus, passed to the apostles, who then wrote it down. If He was and is God as the apostles claimed He said, surely He is powerful enough to have overseen the writings. As all but one book of the Old Testament is referenced or cited in the New as authoritative the church has historically accepted all 66 books as divinely inspired. All of true doctrine flows from a right understanding of scripture. If, as some claim, it is just a man-made book, then it has no authority and no claim to be truth or even true. In that case, we could not trust any of it including Jesus’ own story.

Anti-Pigpens

Remember Pigpen from the Peanuts comic strip? He was always dirty and never seemed to be aware of it. Everywhere he went he left a trail of dirt and dust.

Many people (myself included, at times) are the same way in our lives. Wherever we go, behind us we leave a trail of pain, hurt feelings, anger, mistrust, and we aren’t even aware we are the cause. We may even think we are doing good! If we become aware of the devastation we are causing, we say things like, “I just said what they needed to hear” or “people just need to take me as I am”. We excuse our bad behavior as personality traits, or worse, as “speaking the truth (in love?)”.

The good news of Jesus is that part of what He came to accomplish, part of His re-creation of the world, is to remake each of us back to what we were designed to be. Thankfully, He doesn’t do this through some self help book or 12 step program (although those are useful tools). Instead, He puts His Spirit, and His guidance, and His power within us. He actually remakes our deepest self. That’s how we can answer His call to “be holy as I am holy” with “yes, Lord, work in me”, instead of “I’m doing the best I can”.

Now with Jesus living in and through us, we can leave a trail of love, joy, and peace, by practicing patience, kindness, and goodness, in an attitude of faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control.

Only then with Jesus in us can we become anti-pigpens, leaving a wake of clean in place of dirty, wholesome instead of profane, happy rather than angry.

Go be Anti-Pigpens!