Who’s Really a Hypocrite? Let’s Not Forget Me.

One of the more popular tropes in Facebook pictures in recent days is the “hypocrite” meme regarding U.S. President Barack Obama. Let me share a few that I found doing a Google Images search for “Obama hypocrite.”

obama-abortion-hypocrite383119489_OBAMA_GITMO1_xlarge HYPOCRITE DEMAND OBAMA AHA

Brutal. Poor guy. I do love the graphic design of the last one. Putting the Obama O in “hypocrite” was a smart move.

But, in the interest of making all things equal, here’s mine.

HYPOCRITE GRAPHIC

 

The one on the left is the me that I like to present to the world, the one that I want to be in the church and like to show myself to be around Christians. It’s what I generally hope to be, and I think there are times, by God’s grace, when I am all of those things. But the right is what I really am a lot of the time. Sometimes, Jesus is Lord in my life. Sometimes sin is too fun to think that it’s awful. I deal with lust in my heart and my eyes all the time. And the Bible, while I want to put out that it’s always the primary lens through which I view the world, sometimes it falls down the list.

Hypocrite.

Is it an accurate statement to call President Obama a hypocrite? Sure. It’s also an accurate statement to call me a hypocrite. It’s also an accurate statement to call Paul a hypocrite. He said it himself in Romans 7:15 and 18-23.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

What did Paul have a beat on in his writing? There’s a natural conflict within the heart and the body of man. We may desire to do what is good and what is right, but oftentimes we don’t do those things. We desire to not do something, but we do it anyways.

EVERYONE is a hypocrite. Think about your own life. What are things that you’ve said in the presence of Christians or in a church setting? Have you gone back on those things? Have you broken your word? Have you been a hypocrite? Odds are, you have. In fact, I’m about 99.9 percent sure that you have.

I know 100 percent that I have. There are days where I pray against me doing something, fully desiring to avoid that thing, but I do it anyways. In that way, really, I’m a hypocrite before God. I’m willing to put my hypocrisy up against anybody’s and dare it to be worse than mine. I’m not trying to brag on my sin, I’m simply trying to say I’m pretty crappy most days, if not all days.

If it weren’t for the grace of God, I’d be damned to hell in an instant. But the beauty of the Gospel is that my hypocrisy, unlike Obama’s, doesn’t lower my approval rating with my constituency. God sees my hypocrisy and loves me the same. Nothing I do can remove His love from me.

So what’s the best way to kill hypocrisy? Go ahead and say you’re a sinner. Make it plain to the world. 

A couple years ago, I stopped making promises to God and have tried to cut out making promises to people. It’s not because I don’t care about God or people, it’s because I know that I will never be truly faithful to everything I promise them. If I promise to pray for someone, I’m lying if I never do. If I promise God that I will never sin in that particular way again, it’s likely that promise will be broken in a week. I don’t do resolutions either, because I’m going to break that junk quicker than you can ask me, “What are you resolving to do for New Year’s?”

I’m trying to be straight up with people and simply saying, “I suck. I sin. I do bad crap. Part of who I am. I hate it. I wish I never sinned. But I do. And the grace of Jesus covers me when I screw up, and it’s a daily thing.”

I don’t want to be a hypocrite. But I am. Just like Obama. Likely, just like you. And I’m OK with that.

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The Real Victims of the Planned Parenthood Christian Outrage

Perhaps one of the most beautiful scenes in the 2009 film The Blind Side is when Sandra Bullock’s character finds Big Mike walking on the side of the road clutching a paper bag. She makes her husband stop the car and gets out to see what’s going on.

Leigh Anne Tuohy didn’t ask anything of Michael, didn’t seek any conditions, she simply offered him a place to stay, some food, and the rest is history.

We make movies about situations like this and praise people who invest themselves in others’ lives so deeply. And these things should be praised.

But they should be a lot more common. It’s what Scripture commands us to do:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27).

But when it comes to dealing with those who choose to have abortions, rarely ever do we see a case where the Christian community rallies to take the same approach as Leigh Anne Tuohy.

I did some research this morning about women who choose to have abortions, and I found some interesting numbers (source here):

  • Women who have never married and are not cohabitating account for 45 percent of all abortions.
  • 42 percent of women obtaining abortions have incomes below 100 percent of the poverty level ($10,830 for a single woman with no children).
  • 18 percent of US women obtaining abortions are teenagers.
  • “The reasons women give for having an abortion underscore their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life. Three-fourths of women cite concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths say they cannot afford a child; three-fourths say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and half say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner.”
  • Half of the pregnancies among American women are unintended, and 4 in 10 are terminated by abortion.

Of course you can’t fully rely on statistics, but even if half of these are accurate, there reveals a deeper problem, and one that the Church is more responsible to take care of. If we are to live out the command in James 1:27, we will help those considering abortions.

A widow is a woman who previously had a man in her life, but he is no longer there. That first number, the 45 percent who have never married and aren’t cohabitating (read: don’t have a man in their life consistently), are like widows. They need our aid.

An orphan is a child who is without parents, without someone to take care of them. A child destined for abortion is basically an orphan already.

If our command is to “visit widows and orphans in their affliction,” couldn’t we be doing a lot more than simply bashing Planned Parenthood? It’s a “Christian thing” nowadays to go around and criticize everything that “needs” criticizing. Instead of rallying together to help those women who are considering abortions, we rally together to protest an organization.

Also, side note: Have you ever sold anything that would be considered a sin to sell? Have you ever given anything away that would be considered a sin to give away? Have you ever sinned? I have. Good gracious, I have. I’m no better than Planned Parenthood. So if you’re going to condemn them, condemn me too.

I know there are many organizations and churches who do help women who have had an abortion or are considering abortions. Surrendering the Secret is a book and study curriculum used by women around the country to deal with the effects of having an abortion. Churches like Saddleback Church in California have similar groups to help women.

But wouldn’t that be a better thing to offer the world than our vitriol over Planned Parenthood? Let’s be real for a second: we get fulfillment and contentment from condemning things. It’s like the Church can’t go a week without making sure they criticize what “needs to be criticized.” Are we putting so much effort into our criticism that we’re missing out on real opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus and care about people?

Let’s reconsider where we put our energies.

I want to close by liberally quoting Teddy Ray, a Methodist pastor in Lexington, Kentucky, whose blog I found online. Read something he wrote about abortion and women (full post linked here):

First, if you’ve experienced any sort of emotional trauma, can I encourage you to find some help? It’s not surprising that some intense emotions would follow such a big event in your life. And yet while we have opportunities to talk through so many other traumatic events, it seems that women who have had abortions are more likely to suffer through those emotions in silence. If you search “abortion recovery” and a city near you, you should be able to find someone offering services.

Second, if you’ve felt judged or condemned by the church, I apologize on our behalf. If you’ve felt like you can’t be a Christian or a church member because of your abortion, it’s not true. If you’re a church member and kept your abortion(s) a secret for fear of the repercussions, I’m sorry you’ve gone through this in silence, or in fear of what would happen if anyone found out. If you’ve struggled with an inability to forgive yourself, I can assure you that God still loves you, still offers forgiveness, has not written you off or condemned you.

The church isn’t intended to be a place where everyone comes, puts their smiles on, and keeps all the skeletons in the closet. Nor is it intended to be a gathering of people who have never done wrong. At our best, the church must be a place where people can come with their full histories, where we can console and forgive and help each other recover. At its best, the church probably would have a lot of similarities to a recovery program.

In that light, I hope you won’t consider the church a place that’s off-limits, or where truth about your abortion(s) is off-limits. I hope you might find a church and a pastor that you can tell about your experience––especially if you’re dealing with any emotional or spiritual trauma related to it.

God Feels, But Commits. We Feel, And De-Commit.

I’ve got a confession to make, and perhaps it makes me un-American. And I’m OK with that.

I can’t stand Top Gun. I like Tom Cruise about 75 percent of the time, and I love America, but I can’t stand the movie. I don’t see what’s so fantastic about it. Along with Forrest GumpTop Gun is one of the “American movie classics” I don’t like and would never choose to watch.

One of the trademark scenes in Top Gun is when Tom Cruise’s character sings the song “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” to Kelly McGillis’ character in a bar. The song was ranked No. 34 of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone in December 2004. The second verse goes:

Now there’s no welcome look in your eyes when I reach for you
And now you’re starting to criticize the things I do
It makes me just feel like crying (baby)
‘Cause baby, something beautiful’s dying

Maybe it’s my cynicism, maybe it’s my maturity, but I find the premise of this song to be rather childish. And maybe that response is too harsh. Let me explain.

Real love can never be about the feeling. It should never be about the feeling. When you’ve lost that “lovin’ feelin’,” there’s no need for the relationship to die. And we see the perfect example of that in the God of the Bible.

Throughout the Old Testament, we see God’s displeasure with the people of Israel, but also His passion for sticking with them. In Jeremiah 3, God is speaking to the prophet about the unfaithfulness of His people and we see an interesting juxtaposition. Verse 10 says that Judah returned to God but not “with her whole heart, but in pretense.”

In verses 11-14, God says:

Faithless Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, ‘Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD, I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the LORD. I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the LORD your God, and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree, and that you have not obeyed my voice, declares the LORD. Return, O faithless children, declares the LORD; for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion.

God sees His people being faithless to Him. He says He is angry, but He will not hold His anger forever. There is a sense where He’s not letting His anger, the feeling, the state of mind, be the driving force behind His decision-making.

An article on MSN.com (admittedly not the greatest source and I couldn’t find the survey they cited) listed the top eight most common reasons for divorce. Among the top reasons were lack of commitment (73 percent of those surveyed), infidelity (55 percent) and unrealistic expectations (45 percent). Each of those things, as well as the rest of the list, involve a great deal of submission to feelings.

How many times have you heard in TV shows or movies the sentence “I don’t love you anymore”? Have you said that to someone? Has someone said that to you?

We are a very emotional people. We have been and we always will be. We can’t escape the fact that we are guided by emotions and feelings, particularly females. But there are also dudes (like me) who let their emotions get the best of them and submit to them. The thing about our feelings is that they come and go, sometimes by the second. We can be totally on board with something like marriage, but then a few feelings later be questioning our commitment and then breaking it.

I’m afraid that often we are addicted to happiness, constantly seeking after things that will make us happy and forget about the cares of the world. This is prevalent in Christians. I can’t tell you how often I’ve gone to church and hoped that I would get emotionally psyched about following God. But if I’m honest, those times are few and far between. There’s little to no consistency about it. In fact, I’m often the opposite of emotionally psyched. I’m either emotionally drained, emotionally bored or emotionally vacant. No feeling. But I can’t let that keep me from pursuing Christ. I can’t let that keep me from loving God or loving anyone else.

I think the biggest cause of church-raised college kids dropping out from following Christ is the loss of the emotional high they get from being in a church environment every week. They get busy and miss church, and they weren’t raised to think properly above everything else. So when they get to college and their emotions are dragged about by the temptations at hand, they go to what makes them feel happy, what makes them feel good. They get tired of the rules and religion associated with Christianity and they ditch it, looking for that emotional high. They didn’t learn – perhaps weren’t taught – that what’s truly important in life is thinking the right way. And when two things happen – their emotions captured by the college lifestyle and their thinking challenged by academia – they lose their faith. No shock, because there wasn’t much of a foundation to begin with.

Just some thoughts I’ve had kicking around. If you take anything from this post, take this:

Following Jesus is much more about how you think. How you feel plays a very small part.

That One Time I Cursed at God for Allowing Me to Sin

I remember one night during my freshman year of college and I was confronted very closely with the sin in my life. It sucked. I was angry and frustrated.

I went to the school’s racquetball courts by myself and began to “practice.” It was really just me pounding the ball as hard as I could against the front wall. In my mind, I was screaming at God. Why? I asked. Why must I deal with this sin in my life? Why can’t I be perfect? Why must I deal with this? Why can’t I just get over this crap? I cursed at God. I did. I was ticked.

I look back on that night as one of the many in college when I was frustrated with God and His ways. College was a rough period for me spiritually. I dealt with a lot of doubt, a lot of fear and a lot of sin. Good gracious. I was a Christian the whole time, but I was overwhelmed spiritually in a lot of ways.

I was flipping through my Bible this morning and found Romans 11:33 underlined. Verse 33, along with 34 and 35:

Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’

In my journaling Bible, I have a note beside that set of verses: “How could I question God’s plan for my life or others’ lives? God doesn’t let anything happen to me that wasn’t part of the plan. Nothing surprises Him. I can question God, but I’m not near as smart as Him.”

I think it’s natural for humans to question God, natural for man to ask God why in the world certain things happen the way they do. It’s the cry of the non-believer in the face of a tragedy, the cry of a mother when her child dies prematurely, the cry of a wife when her husband is sent to jail for a long time. Why would God let this happen to me?

I ask God that about my sin. “God, why would you allow me to sin? Why would you allow sin in the world?” If you believe that God is in full control of the world, is all-powerful, I think you can’t escape the idea that God allowed sin to be a part of the world. He didn’t have to create a snake. I think God planned everything out from the beginning of the world, including the fall of man. Again, nothing takes Him by surprise.

I come back to these verses in Romans 11 praising the “judgements” and “ways” and “wisdom” of God. And I ask myself, “How in the world is it wise in God’s eyes to allow sin?” Wrong phrasing. It’s not “in the world” that it’s wise in God’s eyes. God’s ways are so unsearchable and unknowable that we have no business trying to understand it all the way. I think we can grow in that understanding as we mature in our faith, but there’s a sense where we won’t get it all.

So how do I deal with the fact that God allows me to sin? If I believe that all things work together for good, even my sin, I’ve got to accept that even the crappiest thing – my sin – is part of God’s plan for my life. I believe it’s ultimately to bring me back to understanding something.

He is the only way I will ever overcome sin or the grips of sin. I will not defeat sin on earth without God doing an incredible work in my life. It’s a miracle every time we defeat sin because we’re overcoming our natural inclinations. It’s also a miracle that we get to escape the eternal grip of sin on our lives and be held by a God who forgives us of that sin.

I think He allowed sin to be in my life to show me I’m insufficient. Since the fall, He’s allowed my sin to be in my life to kill the need for the self-sufficiency I struggle with on a daily basis and just trust Him, trust His Word and trust His plan.

His plan is perfect. There is nothing wrong with the plan God has put in place for us. Nothing happens outside His approval.

So next time I question God (which will probably be in the next hour or so), I need to come back to this point, the point that says His ways can’t be understood. But I know that they can be trusted fully, trusted without a doubt. That doesn’t mean the doubts won’t come, it just means I have an answer for them when they do.

He knows what He’s doing.

Sin Isn’t Totally Bad.

One of the more frustrating moments for me in my life is when I’m confronted with sin in my life. In fact, it’s one of the quickest triggers for my anxiety and depression. Pull on that reminder of my weakness, my insufficiency, my sinfulness, and I’m likely to be frustrated, which makes me anxious, which makes me depressed. It’s a vicious cycle.

The thing we’ve been told in our Christian culture is that sin is the worst thing that can ever happen to you. And it’s true. It is. But I think there’s two things to keep in perspective when reflecting back on sin. Because let’s be honest: sin isn’t totally bad. Here’s why.

Sin feels good.

Committing sin can be awesome. If we ignore this, we ignore one of the vital facts of being a human. Somebody told me recently that not all humans are Christians but all Christians are humans. Since we are humans, we naturally desire to sin. We naturally crave to satisfy ourselves in ways that are not glorifying to God or honoring to man. For us to think that we don’t sin is a lie. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Two verses later, the implications of saying we’re sinless are even worse: “If we say we have not sinned, we make (God) a liar, and his word is not in us.”

I say it is impossible for us to walk this earth without sin. And I think it’s dangerous for us to carry around the idea that we could ever fully defeat sin and everything that comes along with it this side of heaven. It’s an unfair standard we set for ourselves because we forget this vital piece of information that sin feels good. I think this is something we often forget or fail to mention when it comes to sin because it is the very reason we sin. Either committing the sin itself feels good or what we get from committing the sin feels good, so we do it.

Of course this is not license to commit sin, but it’s reason. So sin is not totally bad because of this. If sin was totally bad, we would not desire to do it, we wouldn’t desire the outcomes from sin.

Sin is for our good.

If we are to believe Romans 8:28, this is a truth we must cling to. If “all things work together for good” for those who are believers, then sin is included in that. Sin is not a healthy behavior. But it shows us two things.

Our sin shows us how much we need Jesus. When speaking about the law in Romans 7:7, Paul says, “…if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” If we did not know what sin was and what it meant in our lives and how it made us feel, we would not know just how much we need Christ, how much we need grace, how much we need the Gospel. I believe that part of sin’s purpose in our lives is to redirect us towards the Savior. We commit sin and sometimes we realize that this is not the way we’re supposed to live, not how we find fulfillment and purpose.

Our sin gives us a task to accomplish. When we see we have sin, we are given something to do, something to accomplish. Ideally, killing that sin. We may never kill that individual sin, but we have the tools and the weapons to fight it for the rest of our lives. And this ties into the last point in that we will never defeat sin in any way without Christ working in our lives.

Our sin grows us as believers in faith. If I had not seen the sin of my mind and my heart, I would not need to cling to the Gospel. I would not need to grow my faith in the grace of the Gospel, in the understanding of redemption, in the power of forgiveness. If without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), I’m thankful for my sin for causing my faith to grow.

Our sin gives us opportunity to speak truth into others’ lives. I firmly believe that God has put certain sins in my life so that I can speak to others about them, whether that’s in a “we’re both struggling with this” way or “I was there, let me tell you about it and help you” way. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man,” 1 Corinthians 10:13 says. If you struggle with a sin, you’re not the only one. By dealing with sin, you become qualified to be in fellowship with someone who is dealing with the same thing and mourn together, encourage together and fight together. Personally, I love encouraging those who deal with or have dealt with the same sins I’m dealing with or have dealt with in my life.

The fact that sin isn’t totally bad is a contrarian idea, but one that has been incredibly freeing to me. It’s helped me learn more about myself and more about how I relate to God.

In fact, it makes me worship God more. He wastes nothing! God doesn’t even waste our sins! How crazy is that? Of all the things that God could just shove aside and do nothing with, it would make sense for it to be sin. But the fact that He uses it for our good and His glory makes me love Him even more.

Three Keys to Talking About “Hard Stuff” in the Church Context

This is part five of five in my five-part series on talking about the hard stuff within the church context. Check out Part 1, Part 2Part 3 and Part 4 by clicking on the links. 

I’ve been a lot more outspoken recently in groups of people about how I think the church is not willing to talk about certain things, and I’ve gotten an interesting reaction.

What I’ve found is this: those over 35 are quicker to say that that’s not true, that we can talk about things, even hard things, in church without a problem. It’s got to be in the “right” context, yes, but we can talk about. On the other hand, younger folk feel as if certain topics aren’t allowed to be talked about, aren’t allowed to be discussed, particularly the ones most pertinent to their lives. For instance, some of the things I’ve written about in the previous posts in this series.

Why is that, I wonder? There’s a few possible reasons.

  1. The older generation does talk about these things but the younger folk feel excluded from these conversations.
  2. The older generation thinks that these conversations happen but they actually don’t.
  3. The younger folk are not seeing/taking part in these conversations even though they’re happening right in front of them.

I don’t know why, but for some reason that’s what the perceived reality is in the current church context. And there’s only one way to fix it, in my mind. Have the conversations in a broader context. Just talk about it, for goodness’ sake. From my reading of the Bible, there are no restrictions on who you should talk about things with, when you should talk about them, how much you should share. In fact, Scripture says, “Confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16), “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). So whether it’s sins we’re talking about or difficult culturally relevant topics, the command in Scripture is to talk.

But how do we talk about it? What are the keys to having conversations about difficult issues and topics and growing the church to a place where we talk about these difficult things?


 

Remember the Gospel of grace is your foundational identity.

There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

If we have a full grasp of the Gospel, we will talk about our sin without worry of condemnation. The central point of the Gospel is that we have been given new life in Christ and our sin no longer has a grip on us and our eternity. The more that I’ve grasped this, the more I’ve felt comfortable talking about the things in my life I struggle with.

So often I think we hide things because we’re afraid of what people will think of us. I think that a lot for myself. I want to share current personal struggles, but I’m afraid of what people will think of me. I’m afraid people will trust me less, will think of me as less of a Christian, will not allow me to serve in ways I want to serve in the church. But if my identity is firmly set in Jesus and the cross and the forgiveness and grace the cross offers, the less I will worry about what people think of me. That doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle with people’s views of me. It’s a process that takes time, but it’s one worth investing in.

Be intentional about including all ages in your conversations. And do it in love and understanding and patience.

If you’re going to start discussing things like racism, mental illness or profanity, it’s very likely that those under 18 are struggling with those things. If you’re going to talk about social media, technology use or modern dating/relationships, it’s likely that those over 35 aren’t as comfortable with those things. We as a church need each other. In 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Paul tells his young companion: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” There seems to be an emphasis on building relationships between age groups, not curtaining them off all the time. I think there’s good to limiting some groups to specific age groups for certain conversations, but there’s also a point to where we need each other.

One fear, especially from the younger crowd pertaining to including the older crowd, is that there won’t be a mutual respect of opinions. There are times I’ve definitely felt that older men don’t respect my opinion or even my feelings on a topic simply because I don’t have the same “life experience” as them. There is some truth to that opinion, but there is no quicker way to make a young person feel less valuable than to say (audibly or by your actions) what they think or feel doesn’t matter because they haven’t experienced enough. Some of us have experienced a lot. Eighteen years is a lot of life. Heck, fifteen years is a lot of life.

Please, be inclusionary. And don’t write us off just because we were born much later than you.

For the love of all things raven, don’t use “Christianese” all the time. Be specific.

One of the most obnoxious things I find about talking about hard stuff in the church today is that we throw out all the churchy phrases we can come up with to mask what’s really going on or what our real thoughts are. We bash politicians for being “politically correct” and then we get all “Christian-politically correct” in church. We end up sounding like these guys:

He’s really T’ing me off. I’m gonna kick his A.

Just talk about how you really feel and what you’re really dealing with. Not just what you dealt with many years ago, but what sins you dealt with earlier this morning. Just talking about things in a general way accomplishes nothing but glossing over the issue. If you’re a doctor, you don’t speak about cancer to your patient in general terms. You speak specifically about what kind of cancer it is, what the specific treatment is going to be. Let’s do the same. Let’s not gloss it over with phrases like, “I’m really struggling with sin” or “There’s a lot of gray area.” Just be specific!


 

This wraps up my series on talking about the “hard stuff” in church. Would love to dialogue with you about it if you want to discuss anything I’ve said. Just shoot me an e-mail at zacharyhornereu@gmail.com or tweet at me at @zacharyhorner.


 

10 More Pieces of “Hard Stuff” We Need to Talk About More/Differently in the Church

This is part four of five in my five-part series on talking about the hard stuff within the church context. Check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 by clicking on the links. This is an extension of Part 3, kind of a Part 2 to Part 3. Basically, Part 4.

11) Technology use. 

I love technology. I use it every day in my workplace and at home. There’s man-made rules and blog post after blog post within the church about the use of technology and how it might be ruining our society. It’s one of those things that I think we rarely sit back and think deeper about how it can be used for good and for the Gospel.

12) Body image.

I wrote a blog post about this back in April about how I’ve personally struggled with this issue. Because it’s such a personal thing, we shy away from it. It’s uncomfortable. But, like a lot of these topics, it’s something that needs to be discussed because people are struggling with this and they feel alone. Your body is something you see in the mirror every day. Therefore, if you struggle with this, it’s something that confronts you every day. So it’s vital to have conversations about it.

13) Absent parents.

As someone who loves spending time around teenagers, I’ve seen many who have one or two absent parents, parents that either abandoned them before birth or during their life or divorced each other. And I’ve seen the devastating effects that it’s had. This goes along with No. 3 in this list. Not only do we need to talk about it, we need to get more involved in these kids lives.

14) Social media.

This goes along with No. 11. How can we use social media to benefit the spreading of the Gospel and the glorifying of God? Also, what is the appropriate behavior of Christians on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter? It’s a gray area because the Bible doesn’t give us straight forward thoughts on it. But it’s worth talking about.

15) Profanity.

This might be the most divisive one on this list. Christians have sworn off (no pun intended) profanity for the most part, and I was once there. But as I’ve grown, I’ve realized something. What is profanity but something that society says is profane? What makes a word in and of itself “sinful” to use? Scripture doesn’t have a list of words we shouldn’t use. In my opinion, it’s more about the thought and intention and the heart behind it. Just like we use stronger non-curse words to convey certain things, would it be the worst thing in the world if we used what might be considered a “curse word” to strongly emphasize how we feel about something? Since this is a gray area, I don’t know for sure. Something to talk about, but ideally not in a condemning way.

16) Pastors sinning.

This is a theme that recurs every once in a while when a pastor of a prominent evangelical church steps down because some sin in his life is revealed, whether by him or by someone else. There seems to be a push to forget about those people or condemn them for doing such a bad thing. Best example: Mark Driscoll (I wrote about it here). Shouldn’t we think about this differently? I doubt that Jesus would handle things the way we have. He used a bunch of sinful dudes. Why should we expect our pastors to be any different?

17) Hierarchy of sins.

This is a difficult topic that I don’t think I fully understand. Recently, it seems as if the evangelical community has placed homosexuality on the top of the pyramid of sins, over sexual sin in the church, over lying, over gossiping, over bitterness. I don’t know what the right answer is. What usually happens in conversations like this is personal opinions getting scattered all over the place, which makes things real tricky. Personally, I just struggle to think that one sin is more important than another save for what 1 Corinthians 6:18 says: “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” But why do we make homosexuality more important?

18) Reformed theology.

The thing that ticks me off most about those in the Reformed camp is their arrogance about their theology. There, I said it. I’ve been there. I’ve been that arrogant one who won’t listen to anyone else or won’t consider that I might be wrong. I’ve been in that place where I’ve thought people who weren’t Reformed weren’t Christians. And there’s a lot of that in the Reformed evangelical camp. Why must we be so rigid to Calvinism nowadays? Have we ever considered that there’s more to Christianity than adhering to Reformed theology?

19) Consuming mainstream news media.

I’m sitting in the waiting room of a Toyota dealership right now getting my car worked on and Fox News is on the TV. Christians tend to flock to Fox News because it suits their worldview the best. That leads to a condemnation of MSNBC and CNN and more liberal news outlets. Can I be honest with y’all? I LOVE watching clips of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and old clips of The Colbert Report. They get it right more than any mainstream media effort. Anyways, who do we trust? What’s the right approach? This is tricky because people get offended and upset if you don’t agree with them.

20) Our own personal current screw-ups.

We’ll talk about the sins of the society, of others, of ourselves in the past all day long. But we shy away from talking about our current struggles. There is nothing more important to be talked about than this. If we say we believe in the Bible, we should be seeking to obey James 5:16 – “Confess your sins to one another.” There’s no qualification about who we confess to, how much we confess, when we confess, who should confess, etc. It’s simply, “Confess your sins to one another.” It’s hard and it sucks, but it’s so important to our own spiritual health and for the health of the church.

Check back soon for Part 5 – How do we talk about these things? What are some good ways to get the conversations started? 

10 Pieces of “Hard Stuff” We Need to Talk About More/Differently in Church

Note: This is the third part in a five-part series about talking about the hard stuff. Find the first part here, and the second part here

Enough prefacing. Here are 10 things we need to be talking about more or speaking about in a different way in the church context.

1) Sexual sin/addiction.

I’ve written about this before. The church often approaches this topic in one of two ways. Either we’re super condemning of it, and by default those who struggle with it, or we don’t talk about it at all. Especially overlooked in this area are pastors who fight against these things on a daily basis on a personal level. But this should be primary among our conversation topics because, as 1 Corinthians 6:18 reminds us, “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” Since this kind of sin cuts deeper than every other sin, we must talk about this more and more.

2) Mental illness.

I wrote about this in the same post as sexual addiction/sin. I’m just going to quote that here:

When you deal with something like mental illness – depression, anxiety or anything like it – you feel alone, like you’re the only one suffering. I think back to my church experience and I can’t remember anyone in my local church context really tackling this. I read an excellent book by Perry Noble called Overwhelmed in which he actually talked in-depth about it from his personal experience, but for the most part it’s touched with kid gloves if it’s touched at all.

This is the absolute last way it needs to be handled. I’m not saying we need to overwhelm people who are already overwhelmed. We just need to be open to the conversation actually happening and be willing to not know all the answers.

3) High school kids.

A lot of what I’ve heard in the church echoes a lot of what I hear in the education world in which I am currently employed when it comes to high schoolers. You judge it by the numbers, take little time to actually invest in the lives of students and speak disparagingly of the kids when you’re not around them. I was at church about a month ago when I overheard someone talking about some high school-aged kids they ran across while driving and they were super critical of them and their parents, without even having spent time with them. So we do talk about them, but we don’t take the time to actually invest, to consider them as people, to love them as we would want to be loved.

4) Actually loving LGBT people.

This one is particularly relevant. With the recent SCOTUS decision, there’s been a lot of talk of loving gay people but still standing for truth. Unfortunately, we spend more time standing for truth and not actually loving gay people. We also spend more time talking about what it means to stand for truth. Those are conversations that need to be had, yes, but let’s not forget to actually talk about what it means to actually love those in the LGBT community.

5) Alcohol.

The common narrative, particularly for young people, about alcohol is that it’s bad always, and you should never do it. We speak about the negative consequences of getting drunk and all that. Let’s not forget that it’s illegal if you’re under 21. Like sexual sin, we most often take a condemning approach instead of saying, “Hey, alcohol is illegal to consume if you’re under 21. Here’s the reasons why it’s not good for you to participate in consuming it. But once you turn 21, here’s how to be smart about it.” We’re too busy telling kids not to do something instead of why not and then how to be smart about it.

6) Feelings and emotions.

This is one that is particularly close to my heart because I deal with feelings and emotions in a more intimate way than most, at least that’s what I’ve been told. I sway back and forth with feelings and emotions sometimes by the minute, and it can drive me up the wall without any real reason for those feelings. This one can be tied in with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Anyways, I don’t feel like I’ve read much in how to deal with feelings and emotions in a proper way, other than the occasional conversation or blog post on dealing with anxiety or stress. It’s a tricky subject to discuss because it’s different for everybody. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it.

7) Racism.

There isn’t a better time than now to be honest about this and have in-depth, personal, loving, gracious discussion.

8) “Secular” music.

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that we handle this wrong most of the time, particularly with youth. We act as if this is the end-all, be-all problem, that if only we could get them to listen to Christian music alone we could fix them. Not all “secular” music is bad. In fact, there’s some that have positive messages that I’m pretty sure Jesus would endorse in songs like “Honey, I’m Good.” by Andy Grammer (even though it has three pieces of profanity) and even “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West (even though it has much more profanity). For the most part, we just write it off without giving it time.

9) Dating relationships/marriage.

Gosh, I feel like I was never prepared properly for dating. It became so much about “seeking God’s will” that I would quit relationships or pursuing relationships whenever I “felt like” God was “calling” me away from dating. It was such an unstable mindset to have. I’m afraid that, to single people, we’re not always honest about all the difficulties in feelings especially. The proper expectations aren’t discussed, and therefore things become particularly uncomfortable and awkward. Yes, we can never be fully prepared for dating because it’s different things for different couples, but we could do so much better than we are now if we actually talked about it honestly with guys and girls.

10) The Gospel.

If we actually dove deep enough into the Gospel, I think it would shatter what we view as Christianity. Christianity is so much more than being good enough. It’s being not good enough and seeing Jesus be good enough for us. If we let the Gospel permeate our faith as it should, we’d have a whole different approach to this thing we call life. We’d be able to see that sin is just a part of who we are. We’d be able to see that we will sin the rest of our life. We’d be able to see that it’s OK that we do that because Jesus was sinless for us. We’d be able to see that no one is beyond saving, that God can redeem the harshest of sinners. But that kind of talk is crazy, right?

Check back soon for part 4 – 10 More Pieces “Hard Stuff” We Need to Talk About More/Differently in the Church.

10 Reasons Why We Need to Talk About the Hard Stuff in Church

Note: This is the second part in a three-part series about talking about the hard stuff. Find the first part, “10 Reasons Why We Don’t Talk About the Hard Stuff in Church,” by clicking on the title. The third part will be the 10 most important “hard stuff” that needs to be discussed in church. Expect that soon.

One of the more interesting parts of being in a dating relationship as a young evangelical Christian is determining when to have the DTR talk. DTR stands for “Define the Relationship.” Someone brings it up and then you have to examine how you feel and where you are in the relationship. It happens in every dating relationship, but it’s a big deal in Christianity.

There’s a lot of different ideas as to when to have it, how much to say, where to have it. It’s become a pretty serious thing that there’s a lot of conversation about. It can be a really hard conversation to have because it requires us to be open and talk about feelings, thoughts, personal desires, and often it’s tough to have those conversations. But it’s entirely necessary.

These tough conversations are entirely necessary to have in the church, whether it’s about a little-mentioned social issue or the sin in an individual’s life. And here’s 10 reasons why.


1) Scripture commands it and displays it.

The first part of James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” The command is clear. In the imperative, Paul says confess sins. Confessing sins is probably the hardest part of being a Christian because it goes against our very nature, to look good before others. But if Scripture commands it, it’s a good thing that we must do. Scripture also is excellent at talking about the hard things. Jesus gives us the perfect model, and the Bible itself discusses serious things right out. We would do well to follow its example, as it is God speaking to us directly.

2) If we don’t talk about the hard things, we may not know to pray for them. 

The second part of James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Following the command to confess sins and pray for those people who deal with those sins is the truth that prayer has great power. We in the church have an opportunity to accomplish great things through praying for others and for different situations in the world. But if we don’t talk about them, we won’t know what’s happening and therefore we won’t know what to pray for.

3) The world is already telling us (wrongly, in most cases) how to think about things, and they’re having conversations about it. 

Society already has hundreds of narratives on many subjects the church won’t touch, not even with a 10-foot pole. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of accepting what the world feeds you if you’re not discussing things with brothers and sisters in Christ who will remind you of the truths of Scripture.

4) We don’t have to pretend.

If we’re real and honest with what we think about the hard topics or the sin in our lives, we don’t have to pretend. One of the most exhausting things human beings do is pretend that we have it all together or that we know what we’re talking about when those things really aren’t true. If we begin to have those conversations, we don’t have to hide!

5) People are suffering with loneliness and depression because they feel like they can’t talk about certain things.

I’ve been in this place. I’ve wanted to talk about things in my life – sins that I’ve struggled with, thoughts and feelings I’ve had – but I’ve felt like church wasn’t the place to do it. So I was lonely and depressed because, well, I felt alone and depressed. There are many like me. If we don’t talk about these things, more people will suffer through these feelings.

6) The church should be the best place to have these conversations.

If we, the body of Christ, claim to be the keepers of truth and righteousness because of the Word we claim as our guide, why wouldn’t the church be the best place? If we’re a people who claim to love as Jesus loved, why wouldn’t the church be the best place? If we’re a people who claim to care so much about the world and the people around us, why wouldn’t the church be the best place?

7) The Gospel applies to Christians. So we are free to talk about what we do wrong.

I believe that one of the biggest weaknesses in the church today is a fear of believing the Gospel too much. We hide because we don’t recognize the forgiveness and the freedom from fear we have in Christ because of the Gospel. We don’t have to be afraid of condemnation from God, therefore we have no real reason to be afraid of the condemnation of people. People’s condemnation is nothing. Much easier said than believed, I know. I’ve been there, and I still am there. But as I’ve grown more and more in my understanding of the Gospel, I’ve grown more and more accepting of my sinfulness and more and more willing to share.

8) In church, we’re surrounded by people who are doing the same things we are. 

No one in the church does something that no one else does, at least at the heart level. Each sin comes back to a selfish attitude and sinful desire for pleasure in things that God has not designed for our ultimate joy and pleasure. Even if I’m the only person in my church that struggles with lying to my boss, I can relate to others on a heart level. It’s like being at a comic book convention with a bunch of other Batman fans. If you’re all passionate about the same thing, or in the case of sin, struggling with the same thing, why not talk about it?

9) We need it mentally and psychologically.

How often have you used the phrase, “I just needed to get that off my chest”? Secrets or difficult thoughts weigh on us mentally and psychologically. By talking about it with others, that weight gets lifted. We need to talk about these difficult things before we get overwhelmed by them.

10) We can be obedient to God’s calling on our lives.

Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in doing so fulfill the law of God.” This relates specifically to sins. If a brother shares a sin struggle with me, I have the opportunity not only to help him, but to “fulfill the law of God” by doing so.

In the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Jesus tells us our mission is to make disciples. I believe this is a multi-level calling. It’s not just “go make converts,” it’s a life of investing in each and every step of discipleship. I can be part of the discipleship process of someone who is younger in the faith than me, at the same “age” in the faith as me and older in the faith than me. By talking about hard things, God can use me as part of that refining, sanctifying process of being a disciple of Christ.


I really do believe in the second part of No. 10. I’m big on that.

I can’t stress the importance of this enough. This is important not only for me, but for the body of Christ, and for the world. If the church is known as the place that doesn’t talk about the hard or important things, we’re missing out on our calling.

In Part 3 of this series, I’ll examine the 10 things we need to be talking about but aren’t, or at least as much as we should, or are talking about (what I believe) in the wrong way.

Being a ‘Christian Nation’ is Not the Point of the Gospel

I love America. Don’t ever get me wrong on that point.

I was in Dave & Buster’s the other night with a few friends. We had just arrived and were standing in the front of the restaurant and the gang was trying to decide what to do. I was watching the US women’s soccer team playing Germany in the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup on a nearby TV. The U.S. was already leading 1-0, and while I was watching, they scored again. Skip to 1:32 in this video.

In the restaurant, in front of my friends and a bunch of strangers, I literally jumped in the air and got excited. I mean, it’s America. I haven’t followed the tournament super closely, and I know who maybe a quarter of the players are. But it’s America. I’ve gotta get pumped.

So now that you know I love America, let me say probably the most unpopular opinion in one half of the evangelical world right now: “returning” America to being a “Christian nation” is not the point of the church’s existence in the world.

With the gay marriage decision right behind us and many fears of the future ahead, there are lots more cries recently about how we’re becoming further and further from returning America to the “way the founders intended it.” Who am I kidding, I’ve been hearing this ever since I could hear and process and understand words. Sin is legal, people are saying, and now we’re even further down that path.

We’re not a Christian nation. We never have been and never will be. And that was never the point of the Gospel.

Let’s get technical for a second: To be a “Christian nation,” I think there has to be two things. First, every person living in the nation has to be a Christian. Second, every law and statute must be taken directly from the Bible. America stands for the opposite of that kind of religious oppression. From the beginning, the United States was meant to be a home for those who who found religious persecution in other nations.

That was the point of the free exercise clause in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” You can argue that this right is disappearing, but let’s be honest: rules are made to be broken, even by the institutions that made them. We shouldn’t be surprised.

At most, we have been a nation that is open to all religions and all peoples. What’s the inscription on the Statue of Liberty?

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Side note: Sounds a lot like Jesus to me. He wasn’t discriminate about what people believed or where they were in their spiritual walk, He just wanted to love them.

Anyways, the laws of this country restrict us from ever being a “Christian nation” in the technical sense of the term. And thank goodness! The whole “Christian nation” thing never really worked in the past. See England with the Catholic Church and then the Anglican church running things, and the people who made the Crusades happen. Yikes.

But I’m getting away from my main point. Politics aside.

It’s not the point of Jesus to make America a “Christian nation” in any sense of the term. If we focus too much on “healing the nation” and not the people in the nation, we’re missing the point of Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to fix the government, He came to heal the sick and the lost.

When Jesus came to earth, some of the Jews thought He was going to lead a revolution against the Roman government and restore things to being friendly and un-oppressive to Jews. He was asked about this idea when He stood before Pilate hours before His execution.

John 18:33-37 says:

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

The kingdom of Christ was never meant to be established in this world. And by trying to make America a “Christian nation,” we’re missing the point of Jesus coming. Our goal as Christians is not to make the government better, pass laws or stop people from sinning. Our mission as Christians is to make disciples of all nations.

What happens is that we forget who we really are and where we’re really from and where we’re really headed. Our primary identity is not that we are American. It’s not that we are patriots. It’s not that we are from whatever state we’re from or whatever city we’re from. We can be those things and refer to ourselves as those things and enjoy those things.

But our primary allegiance is not the flag we say a pledge to or sing an anthem about. Our primary identity and primary allegiance is found in one place: God dying for us on a cross.

Ultimately, we’re not citizens of America or citizens of earth. Christians, we’re citizens of a place that’s going to last a lot longer than America. It’s a place where there’s freedoms unimagined, joy unrestrained, peace unbound.

That doesn’t mean you can’t love America. In fact, it should mean that we love America more than everyone else because we want everyone in America to see the beauty of Jesus, the beauty of forgiveness and the beauty of a life fulfilled by knowing Jesus.

I’m afraid that if Jesus came to America right now, people would ask Him to go to Washington, D.C., and talk to Obama, talk to Congress, get them to pass better laws. I’m guessing and hoping (and I could be wrong and I’m OK with that) that He would shake His head, and repeat something He said during His earthly ministry (Matthew 11:27-30):

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.