Selfish Holiness Never Gets Me Anywhere

What was I doing this past Saturday afternoon? Oh, nothing, just going on a rant against Christians.

One thing that frustrates me a lot is that when Christians go on rants against people – particularly other Christians. Most notable recently is the case involving Mark Driscoll, the recently-resigned pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. I had actually written a blog post about it which I have decided not to post. In the post, I wrote this:

Thing is, instead of being carried around by whatever form of doctrine that’s being spouted about, we’re to speak truth in love, we’re to grow up in every way into Christ. Is saying what we say about Mark Driscoll and Michael Gungor and Joel Osteen and Steven Furtick and such “speaking the truth in love” and seeking unity among believers? We look at them and think, “Well, they’ve gone down the drain, there’s no hope for them. Guess they’re doomed to hell.”

When we make a pastor’s words or mistakes or bad judgements out to be much more than what they are (sins), we as a church look just like entertainment television: making way too much out of humans doing what they do, messing up. Because we all sin! We all fall short of God’s glory!

So please, for the good of the gospel and the unity of the church, PLEASE stop doing this to people. If you’re concerned about their spiritual health or doctrinal rigidity, pray for them! Love them. Stop feeling like you have to take a stand against them or their teaching or any issue really without actually doing what Scripture tells us to do. Show people grace.

If Jesus did to us what Christians often do to others, we’d be without hope.

Do I agree with everything I wrote? Yes. I still believe it. However, I chose not to post it because, while I was writing it, I was being the very thing I was criticizing others for: not speaking the truth in love, but in vitriol.

I was having quite a heated discussion with my mother about it and she brought up (a couple times) how I was being exactly what I was mad at them for being. It didn’t really hit me until later that day and in Sunday school yesterday when we went over Ephesians 4, which discusses unity in the church.

I realized I was not pursuing unity in the church with my attitude or my words. I was trying to win people to my side.

That’s not how we’re called to live as Christians. We’re called to live together, united in purpose and intention, that purpose and intention coming from Scripture, not my mind or anyone else’s. We still speak truth, yes, but for the goal of building up the body of Christ towards Christlikeness, not for winning an argument. We’re not called to pursue selfish holiness, but a self-less, Christ-exalting, others-encouraging holiness.

I close this with a quote from Robert Morris, the pastor at Gateway Church who welcomed Driscoll to a conference at his church a couple weeks ago. You can see the whole clip here, but I’ll type out the quote here for you. Emphasis mine:

We could crucify him (Driscoll), but since someone has already been crucified for him, the other choice is we could restore him with a spirit of gentleness considering ourselves lest we are tempted. It’s sad that in the church we are the only army that shoots at our wounded.

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Let’s Be Careful with Our Message of Hate

Hate the sin, love the sinner. It’s an evangelical cliche as old as “grace through faith.”

Fun fact: that cliche is not in the Bible. The concepts are there and are true, but there’s no one verse we get that exact phrasing from. Apparently the phrasing was originated by Augustine and then modified a bit by Gandhi.

Whenever the sin of the day – currently homosexuality or choosing to have an abortion – comes up, we know we’ve got to show the love of Jesus, but we qualify, “You’ve got to hate the sin, love the sinner.” And it’s true. We can’t sit idly by while our sin tries to drag us away from God, but we can’t forget that God loves us and cares for us.

Wait, what? Don’t know if you saw what I did there, but I just turned that cliche on its head.

We love to spread the cliche, we love to make it a catchphrase because it removes the burden from us. It takes away our responsibility to really challenge ourselves to love others.

Two quick questions on this phrase:

1. Do we really hate our own sin, or do we spend more time hating others’ sins?

When we see the world express their love for sin, their love for doing things their own way, we come at the world with the cliche: hate that sin, love those sinners. It gets to be so much sometimes that we forget that we sin too.

A believer who has a healthy view of their own sinfulness will realize that they are just as worthy of that cliche as anyone else. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8,10).

There can be a tendency in all of us to look over our own sin and instead worry about the sins of others. It’s good to be concerned about the sins we see in others. If a brother or sister in Christ comes to us with a sin they want prayer or counsel for, we should jump at the opportunity to bear their burden, because in doing so we will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

But if we get too concerned about the sin of others and overlook our own, we just might miss out on the fact that we sin too, and are in desperate need of the reminder that we should hate our sin so much that we should fight it with every bone in our body, seeking the Holy Spirit for help all along the way.

2. Do we really love the sinner? 

I think sometimes we can use “hate the sin, love the sinner” as an excuse to not care too much about the sinner we’re speaking of. As long as it’s not hate, we’re good, right? As long as there’s no vitriol, no nasty words, etc., we’re straight.

From Brennan Manning’s wonderful book Abba’s Child (which I’m currently reading through for the second time, HIGHLY recommend):

“The command of Jesus to love one another is never circumscribed by the nationality, status, ethnic background, sexual preference, or inherent lovableness of the ‘other.’ The other, the one who has a claim on my love, is anyone to whom I am able to respond, as the parable of the good Samaritan clearly illustrates…This insistence on the absolutely indiscriminate nature of compassion within the Kingdom is the dominant perspective of almost all of Jesus’ teaching.”*

Our love for others should not be affected AT ALL by whatever sin they might be engaged in or anything else. You don’t see Jesus withholding his love from the tax collector or the prostitute. We should love without restraint.

“But that doesn’t mean we should accept what they do!” you might exclaim. And you’re right. We shouldn’t love what they do. We should not accept their choices. Part of loving them means speaking truth into their life, even if it directly contradicts their lifestyle.

But ask yourself: do you truly love them the way Jesus does? Not just speaking truth into their life, but also being a friend and loving them in spite of their sin. That’s what Jesus did for us.

I know I struggle with that. I know that I don’t love everyone around me the way I ought. I know I need to grow in that. I confess that I tend towards apathy much more often than love. I don’t care about people the way I should, and I should be seeking God, begging the Holy Spirit to grow me in that area.

If you struggle as I do in these areas, I would encourage you to ask for forgiveness, something God freely offers those who trust in Him, and ask for the strength and grace to grow to be more like our Savior, who could have very easily looked at us and taken the attitude we take towards sinners in our day.

I’m so thankful He didn’t.

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* Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Navpress, 2002), 75.

 

Wrestling with These Bad Memories from My Past

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I was headed out to a school in my county Wednesday to help teach someone how to use our video conferencing software and I drove by a youth baseball field I had played at when I was a kid. I thought about it for a second and then kept driving. I got to the school and realized I had 15 minutes to spare. So I drove back to the field, got out of my car and walked onto the field.

It had been a long time, so a lot of specific memories had faded, but a couple came to mind. I remember getting a game ball outside the third-base dugout. I remember trotting out to my old position at third base and taking warm-up grounders before the inning got underway. Following the culture of today, I even took a selfie of myself at that third base spot.

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Maybe it’s hard to tell I’m actually at third base, but I promise you I am.

Anyways, I was reminded of the good memories and I thought, “How can I turn this into a blog post?” Good or not, that thought goes through my head sometimes. I asked God if there was anything worthy of writing about and the first thing that came to mind was the bad memories of my past.

When it’s a quarter past midnight and the grey skies fade to black, the waves splash and set me off track. So my vessel might crash or collapse when I’m attacked, and start wrestling in my head with these bad memories from my past.“*

Bad memories are some of the most damaging things that can enter our minds during the day. If you’re like me, the emotional shift can be so shocking that you struggle to concentrate on where you are and what you’re doing because all you can think about is that memory. All you can focus on is how whatever happened made you feel then and how it makes you feel now.

I’ve got a lot of bad memories in my past, and they tend to come up at the most inopportune times. Sins I’ve committed, mistakes I’ve made, not-so-nice things that people have said to me, sins committed against me. It sucks when those things come up. I hate how I feel, so much so that I try to forget them as soon as they come up. It feels better to not think about it.

But I think about how those things have shaped me. I think about how that relationship ended badly, but I learned a lot from it. I think about the many times sin seemed to have a tight grip around my soul, but I remember the beauty of grace in that situation, that God doesn’t hold it against me, that sin really isn’t winning. I think about what that person said that cut deep, but I remember the reconciliation we had and a friendship renewed.

When I was in high school, I came up with this sweet analogy that I love and I still think is true. (Side note: I love coming up with analogies, and I tend to get prideful in them, so please call me out if it gets to be too much. I’m calling myself out here.) Bad memories and situations are like a can of your favorite soda, say Mountain Dew. You open the can of Mountain Dew and you drink the soda, then you chuck the can (recycle, trash, whatever you do with your soda cans).

This is the analogy. The can with the soda in it is the situation playing out. The soda itself is the growth, the lessons learned, the good parts of it if there were any. The empty can that you throw away is the bad memories, the negative part of it, what you don’t want to remember. Then imagine you’ve put all the cans, all the situations, in a pile in your closet. Whenever you go to open the closet, you’re reminded of the situations that didn’t turn out as you hoped. But you’re also reminded of the soda itself, what you learned, how you grew, the good parts of it, if there were any.

Paul wrote: “…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13b-14). Paul probably had lots of bad memories from his crusade killing Christians, from the time he spent mocking the Jesus he grew to love and serve and ultimately, we believe, give his life for. Even while he was sharing the gospel with many, I imagine the thoughts came up, particularly when people asked him, “Hey, weren’t you that guy who killed Christians?”

From third base.
From third base.

Maybe he didn’t feel that way or have those emotions, I don’t know for sure. But he didn’t dwell too much on the past. He forgot what was behind him. He forgot his old life of Pharisaism and legalism and chose to press forward in his calling. But he clearly didn’t forget it completely; he was able to share about it and what he learned from it many times, particularly in Philippians 3:4-11.

Now, some of you might have bad memories I wouldn’t be able to comprehend – maybe abuse or neglect or abandonment, things I’ve never experienced. But in those moments, you can remember even more: God loves you and cares for you, no matter what your past is. He wants you to be His child. He wants to adopt you. If you’re a believer, He already has.

If you’re not a believer, you’ve just got to trust Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Give up meditating on the past and believe you can be forgiven of all your sin and be given new life here and now. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Thessalonians 5:17).

So when those bad memories come up, don’t try to stuff it immediately. Remember what you learned, remember how God grew you. He may use those memories. Allow yourself to go back to the ball field or the classroom or wherever those bad memories occurred just for a second and remember how God has grown you, how He’s loved you through it all. Then embrace the grace, embrace the love you have and know you don’t have to be defined by those bad memories.

In God’s eyes, you’re not. You’re loved.

Evil intentions will not disturb God’s purposes or interfere, so who shall I fear if my anchor is secure?
Learning to consider it pure joy when I’m facing tribulations – praising God instead of complaining and getting overtaken with bitterness.
Looking at the pages of the book of James and seein’ the ways that God works through the trials to make us more mature in our faith,
And it reminds me how desperate I am in this desert land, thirsty for Your mercy and plan while You give me the strength to stand.
You’re my greatest pleasure, yeah, no matter the weather I face, Lord. You never forsake my fragile life – I’m safe under Your sovereign grace.”^

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* Beautiful Eulogy featuring Josh Garrels, “Anchor,” Satellite Kite (Humble Beast Records: 2011). Songwriters: Brian “Braille” Winchester, Thomas “Odd Thomas” Terry, Josh Garrels, Courtland Urbano.

^ Beautiful Eulogy feat. Josh Garrels, “Anchor.” Listen to “Anchor” here. Download Satellite Kite for free here.

Freedom for Slavery?

I was sitting in an FCA meeting this morning at one of the high schools here in Lee County and the song “Liberty” by Shane & Shane was playing on some speakers. Here’s the song.

The chorus goes: “For freedom He set me free/and yes, I am free indeed/You rewrote my name, unshackled my shame/opened my eyes to see/I am free.”

I imagine the song is based out of Galatians 5:1, which says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

The reason Christ set us free is freedom, that we’re no longer slaves, not for us to go back into slavery.

In the whole of the Old Testament, we see an excellent example of how this is not followed. In Exodus 14:12, you see the ancient Israelites say, “Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” They were set free from 400+ years of harsh, cruel slavery, yet they desired to be back in slavery rather than to trust God’s plan of freedom. We do the same when we go back to the slavery of sin instead of trusting God’s plan of freedom.

Friendly reminder: slavery can seem appealing sometimes in light of God’s freedom. That seems counterintuitive, but look at the Israelites. They said, “Is not this what we said to you in Egypt?” They were thinking this from the beginning. We can have the same mindset.

What’s most important is that we realize God’s plan of freedom is so much better than the slavery of sin and disobedience to God. God brought the Israelites out of slavery so He could restore a nation to Himself. It was for their good. It wasn’t an easy thing. But it was ultimately for their good.

Yet, as you see throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites went back to what they wanted – slavery. They found themselves enslaved to many kings and kingdoms that were not God. Even when the King of kings came – Jesus Christ – they rejected Him. Only the Israelites who believed in Jesus, even though they were initially under the rule of Roman authority, experienced true freedom.

At that FCA meeting, a couple students shared about Lamentations 3:22-24 (read that here), and one of those students closed with this statement: “Life is hard but God is good.” When we believe it’s true freedom Christ has set us free for, not to go back into the slavery of sin, we are truly free.

Sin is bondage, ya’ll. It drags you down. It masters you. It controls you. It offers you things here and there, even freedom, but it’s bondage. It wants you. When you run away, it wants you back.

margaret garnerI was looking for a picture to go with this blog and I found the one on the left here. It’s a clip from the Anti-Slavery Bugle, reporting a story from the Cincinnati Gazette of Jan. 29, 1858. The headline reads: “Arrest of Fugitive Slaves: A Slave Mother Murders Her Child Rather Than See It Returned to Slavery.” It tells the story of a slave woman named Margaret Garner who slit her own daughter’s throat and tried to kill her other children rather than see them go back to being slaves, which was about to happen after her family had run away from being enslaved in Kentucky. It’s a tragic story (read more about it here) but it illustrates two points.

First, sin (represented here by the slave owners) will do anything to get you back into its clutches. It will chase you down, arrest you and bring you back to where you once came. Second, freedom is worth doing anything for. Even if it means fleeing continually from your old life.

I wish Margaret Garner hadn’t killed her daughter or tried to kill her other children. I wish she had thought of a better way. I hate that part of this story. But her well-intentioned desire was for her children to experience freedom. When she died later that year, Margaret Garner’s last words to her husband Robert were reportedly to “never marry again in slavery, but to live in the hope of freedom.”

That’s the kind of attitude we need in following Jesus. To not go back to slavery, to not marry ourselves to that old life, but to live in the freedom that we have in Jesus Christ. When a sin takes over you, you struggle to think about anything else, you struggle to know the peace and love of God that was displayed through Jesus Christ. Choose freedom. Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. You already have many times. Choose every day to not submit again.

And remember, when you do submit to the slavery, which we inevitably do as sinners, we have the freedom to runs to the arms of our liberator, Jesus Christ, and find love, peace and forgiveness.