Changing Your Mind May Be the Most Christian Thing You Can Do.

I find media coverage of politics, particularly the race for the President of the United States, rather interesting. As a guy with a journalism degree, I pay attention to how a story is covered, oftentimes more than the story itself.

One of the more popular attacks from media and fellow candidates when it comes to the POTUS race is people who change their position on things. Perhaps the most notable one of these is Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for President back in 2012. There’s even a whole website dedicated to it.

Now, when it comes to politics, it’s very possible that these position changes are done to appease people based on poll numbers and popularity. But at the same time, the possibility (however little) is that the person’s thoughts on a certain issue have changed. Maybe they’ve matured on something, or they learned a fact previously unknown that caused them to change their mind.

I think this is something that, at least in the political realm, is overlooked and the jump is straight to the instability of thought and position and how that’s bad.

But actually, changing your mind can perhaps be the most Christian thing you can do.

I’m someone who has changed many positions over the years. I used to think that being gay would send you to hell automatically. Now, I think homosexual behavior is still sinful, but I think you can be a gay Christian struggling with his sin just as much as you can be a porn-addicted Christian, a gossiping Christian or a lying Christian struggling with their sin. I used to think profanity was sinful, but now I don’t. I used to think you needed to read your Bible every day to be a good Christian, but now I don’t.

Some people have said that I’m a pretty “liberal” Christian now. I think I’ve matured. At least I hope that I have. Now, I could be entirely wrong. I could be missing out on what God desires of me. But as I’ve read Scripture, particularly the actions of Jesus, I realized that there’s so much I thought wrongly about.

There are many people that change their mind over their lifetimes, and that is a good thing.

2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is profitable for “correction,” among other things. And to change our minds based on what the Bible says is a good thing. In fact, it’s super beneficial, especially if we’re wrong. The idea of “correction” is that something was once wrong and has now been “corrected,” fixed, made right, made accurate, made correct. If the Bible is what we base our position changes on, then we have done wisely.

Not everyone will agree with your mind changes. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong.

So changing your mind is a good thing. Don’t let anyone say you always have to think the same thing all of the time. There are some things that are good to stay consistent on. But if for your whole life you have the same position on everything, you might just be too stubborn.

So yes, Mitt Romney, changing your mind can be a very good thing. Don’t let people drag you down.

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Perfect Love Casts Out Fear. But The Church Hasn’t Been a Place Where That Happens.

A Reddit feed on Christianity had a post back in December 2012 that read like this:

Hi there, I recently Felt i have lost touch with my christian faith. I prayed today that God would hear my cry and forgive me of my wrong and help me to live as christ would in this destructive world, but im so scared sometimes that sin would just be too much for me to handle. I want to be holy and pleasing in God’s eyes and celebrate fellowship with other believers, but whenever i went to a bible study they seemed to gossip and talk about other people and how bad they are for sinning. I don’t know whats keeping me from going back to church, but i just want to be accepted by God and my community and become strong in my faith again. I just am worried my pastor will be angry with me.

The post was titled “Afraid to go back to church.” Commenters on the post shared similar struggles and gave some helpful pointers. I’ll get to them later.

How many people are afraid in or of church? I’d willing to bet you that many people sitting in a church pew are afraid of something in the church building. Some of my guesses of fears…

  • The pastor saying something that will make them question their goodness
  • Being rejected/judged because of their struggles
  • Being rejected/judged because they think differently than the majority
  • Going “too much” against the status quo

The first one of these reasons is probably a good reason to get scared. We should all be questioned of our “inherent goodness” as humans and realize that, well, we suck. We fall short of obedience in just about everything we do. Paul David Tripp tweeted today: “Today we’ll be tempted to deny the sin inside us. Denying reality is never a step toward the grace that’s the help for what we’re denying.”

But every other reason on that list is inexcusable in the church. And here’s why.

1 John 4:18 says this:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

I think this verse has two practical applications. One of them is a personal application, and the other applies to the church as a whole.

First, the more we understand the love that God has for us, the less we will fear Him. So often we live in fear of God and His judgement for our sins. But when we realize the depth of His love for us, and the truth that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), the fear seeps away and is replaced by love and gratitude. We fear the punishment, but when we realize the punishment has been taken, we can accept the love and, hopefully, be “perfected in love” as John talks about.

The second is an application of that idea to the interactions with the people around us, particularly in the body of Christ.

Some more comments from the Reddit feed:

“I know the feeling, I’m still too afraid to go to my place of worship even though it’s pretty much throwing a gift from God away. 😦 I’m just worried other people will judge the gringo in the masjid who doesn’t do everything perfectly. Hopefully we’ll both be able to go and perhaps find a group welcoming of us.” – Doctor_Yi

“A big part of the church’s job is to be a hospital where hurting people go to get healed and then gain the ability to help others. The church should also be equipping its members to deal with the challenges of others. If neither of those is happening, you need to find a different church to go to because yours is broken.” – macrobite

“God isn’t going to bed upset. Your pastor isn’t going to be upset – and if s/he is, you really need to find a new church. As for the cackling hens of Bible study, there is no good way for you to deal with them alone. Enlist the help of Church elders, officials or someone in a position of authority to put them back in their place. Cackling hens who are not called out on their behavior are a cancer in the church and one of the reasons I refuse to set foot in or have any contact with one of my local congregations.” – In_The_News

These comments reveal the real fears and real concerns of people in the body of Christ. There’s a fear to go to a church and be yourself because of the judgement or the gossip or the rejection. Fear of rejection is a legitimate thing that goes beyond a girl turning you down for a date. And in the body of Christ, this should not be happening.

Of course, some people’s fear is based on biases and a refusal to accept that there could be any other way. But even that is often founded in a bad experience within a church where a lack of love from the church led to fear.

When the Church doesn’t actually love people as God loves us, an atmosphere is created where fear is cultivated, and we have ourselves to blame. I’ve been on the side of being afraid, and I’m sure I’ve been on the side of creating that fear in others. It’s not God’s fault that people are afraid of church, because God loves. If people are afraid of condemnation from God, they don’t know God because He offers love in place of condemnation. If people are afraid of condemnation from Christians, we don’t know how to love people. Our call is this: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

There is one difficulty: we will never love perfectly. But we can’t solely accuse those who are afraid of church for not giving us grace and not coming. We must also, and perhaps primarily, blame ourselves and seek to grow in our giving of love.

Perhaps my favorite response on that Reddit post was this:

anybody that gives you a hard time for being a prodigal son needs to get kicked right in the butt. then, they need to do the christian thing and turn the other cheek.

but seriously, if you are worried that people will act unchristian towards you (especially the pastor) because you lost your way, then find another damn church, because the one that gives you crap for not being mr. perfect is not teaching the message of christ.

prayers are with you, and god bless you.

I echo this.

Why Are We So Scared to Be Blunt About Sex?

I taught a Sunday School class for men this summer. Older men, not just young guys like me. One Sunday, I decided to go off-script. I asked the question: “What comes to mind when you think about Jesus and sex?”

“Nothing,” one person said. “He didn’t have it,” another said.

“OK,” I said. “What about Christianity and sex?”

Similar responses. It was there that I felt most truly lost. I figured that, in a church environment, with grown men, this would be something we could talk about, this is something we could be real about. As someone who is now engaged, trying to wait until marriage, trying to think about this properly, I’m seeking answers.

For the most part, all I get is: wait until marriage.

Shouldn’t we do better than that?

As Christians, we claim to be the people that have all the answers, the ones that have the solution to every problem. Yet in most churches, when the issue of sex is brought up, the answers are brief and bland. People got all hot and bothered about Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship & Life Together and its blunt discussion of sexual activity within a marriage relationship. If the word “sex” is said in a sermon or a small group setting, the blushes start coming, the stuttering is audible if there’s any noise whatsoever.

Why in the world are Christian so afraid to talk honestly about sex? A Yahoo Answers questioner posed the same question:

It seems that Christians don’t want to talk about sex at all besides sex is only for marriage. They hate people doing sex before marriage or talk about sex and masturbation to teens. You can’t discuss about male and female private parts or sex toys.

The answers mostly revolved around the idea that it’s a “private” or “intimate” thing that doesn’t need to be talked about openly. But perhaps the best answer came from user Nick (answer edited for grammatical correctness just because).

It is because they don’t have the balls to speak up on topic[s] like sex. Many [C]hristian[s] in my town do have sex but they are a bunch of p***y[s] to talk about it because they are scare[d] to get judge[d] by society.
Many people are only [C]hristian because it is conformity not because some psychopath in the sky is watching them.

Regardless of if you view God as “some psychopath in the sky” or not, I think Nick has a point. I think Christians engage in sexual activity because they’re humans and they love their wives/husbands, but we don’t like to talk about it because we’ll afraid we’ll get judged, mainly by the Christians around us, for being honest and open about it.

Here’s where this is the biggest issue: there are thousands of believers who are 30 and younger who don’t know how to think about sex other than “don’t have it until you’re married.” There are so many nuances when it comes to sex, so many different thoughts and fears that run through people’s minds. And we want to be faithful and honoring to God. But we (it might just be me, but I’m guessing it’s more) are so confused and don’t know what to do, and we’re afraid of judgement if we bring it up in a church setting, so we don’t say anything.

So this is me saying something. What the heck am I supposed to do to stay a virgin until I get married next year? What’s acceptable in this in-between time? How do we manage these desires? What about within marriage? How do kids think about sex properly when they’re being bombarded by all kinds of crazy messages from media and their peers?

I’d like to hear the church’s response. And not, “You can’t talk about this in public.” If we can talk about how bad homosexuality is and the nuances of it in public, we can certainly talk about pure, biblical sex and its nuances in public. My generation is looking for answers.

At the very least, let’s talk about it. Honestly, bluntly, personally.

Refocused Romance, Pt. 3: It’s About Commitment, Not Feeling.

Perhaps one of my favorite movie romances is between Will Hunting and Skylar in the 1999 film Good Will Hunting. I love the movie, but the romance is quite interesting.

Will hails from the dirty streets of Boston, while Skylar is an English lass who has come to America to get an education at Harvard. They couldn’t be more opposite. Will is a janitor at MIT who has a penchant for getting in fights and hangs out with a group of guys you’d avoid on the street. Skylar is intelligent, beautiful, gives piano lessons and is planning on going to medical school at Stanford.

In one of the movie’s many pivotal scenes, Skylar and Will have an intense argument which ends in them breaking up. Skylar asks Will to move to California with her, and Will says no. Skylar asks him why, asks him what he’s scared of.

“You live in this safe little world where no one challenges you and you’re scared s***less to do anything else because that means you’ll have to change,” Skylar says.

Will emotionally responds and ends the relationship. He’s clearly being led by his feelings. He’s afraid to commit, afraid to devote himself to something. He lives his life on emotion, he makes decision based on emotion. Earlier in the movie, he picks a fight out of nowhere with a guy who bullied him as a kid just because he felt like it.

So often, high schoolers approach relationships that way. Their relationships are based on how they feel. We lament the world of teenage dating because it’s so temporary and so fleeting. Well, look around at adult dating and marriage. How many marriages end in divorce? How many times is it because of “irreconcilable differences” where people are living off their feelings instead of the commitment they made?

It’s not necessarily the high schoolers’ fault that they think relationships work that way. That’s how things are displayed on television and movies and in songs. And often we don’t even take the time to explain it to them.

Here’s the crux of this: commitment, not feeling, is the center of any romantic relationship.

Some people might think that so far in this series I’ve been a little lax on things. Let me toughen up a bit.

Dating is not something to be messed around with. It’s not something you take lightly. It’s not something you flippantly enter without prayer, thought and counsel. It’s not something you do just because you want to. There’s got to be serious reason and foresight and purpose behind you dating someone. It’s a serious deal.

That’s why commitment is important. Feelings come and go. They are strong one day and weak the next. Feelings can be the start of something, it’s what can draw you into a relationship initially, but at the end of the day romantic relationships are all about commitment. There are going to be days you don’t want to pursue romance. There are going to be days you’re overwhelmed with other things that you don’t want to invest in a relationship. There are going to be days you simply don’t feel like it.

You don’t need to wait until you get to college or adulthood to be thinking this way. You can start right now. It’s simply an echo of how Jesus relates to us, a commitment.

Something to think about though: if you’re thinking about a relationship, you don’t need to be ready to make a lifelong commitment before dating someone. All you’re doing is committing to seeing if this is something you might eventually want to make a lifelong commitment.

And that’s why dating is a serious business. It’s a good thing, it’s a great thing. But we shouldn’t take this flippantly. And that’s one reason I’m writing this series. I want to help people take this more seriously, but not so seriously they never try. It’s worth it.

Refocused Romance, Pt. 2: High standards, not impossible ones

Author’s Note: This is the first part in a 5-part series called “Refocused Romance,” in which I explore different aspects of dating that often get little attention, particularly in the high school context. By this, I hope to simply bring up thoughts and questions by which we as a body of Christ can grow in our understanding of one another and of how we can honor God in the dating realm.

This second part is about how high standards are important to have, but not impossible ones when it comes to dating.

One of the most common things you’ll find as part of the discussion of dating in the Christian world is how to handle your “negotiables” and “non-negotiables.” Negotiables are the things that you’d ideally want in a spouse, but aren’t required and can be changed. Non-negotiable are the things that are requirements.

For example: a negotiable for me would be that the person I marry would be a soccer fan, particularly of my favorite team, Arsenal FC. That’s something that I could get over if she wasn’t. Fortunately, my lady is! Well, she became one. One of the reasons I love her.

But there’s really only one non-negotiable for believers, and this gets to my point.

Setting impossible standards for who you’re going to date is a waste of your time because you’ll never find anyone. The only non-negotiable that Scripture commands of believers is that they marry someone who is a Christian. That’s it.

I used to end up in this rut where I would have to evaluate the girl I was interested in by so many categories and so many things that I thought she “had to have” or “had to be.” Is she enough of this? Does she believe exactly this set of doctrines? It was overwhelming and exhausting.

What this kind of thought process often leads to is an impossible set of standards that absolutely no one can stand up to. We begin to expect perfection, and expecting perfection in a relationship is a waste of time.

Why? No one will ever be perfect. No one will ever be able to honestly say, “I am without sin.” 1 John 1:8 precludes that – “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” If we expect the person that we date or marry to be perfect, we’re deceiving ourselves, we’re ignoring truth.

So when you’re looking for a date or a mate, don’t look for someone perfect. You won’t find them.

Most posts would end there, but I want to add something: don’t expect yourself to be perfect either.

Like I said earlier, there can be a lot of pressure to feel like you have to fit a mold or be somebody specific before you get married or even start dating. You won’t be perfect either.

Of course, there’s some ideals you’d like to get to. When it comes to dating, it’s ideal that you’re able to afford to drive your date somewhere and you can pay for dinner. But besides that, there’s really no honest biblical restriction. Expecting yourself to reach perfection before you start dating means you won’t date, you won’t marry.

One thing I want to emphasize: dating when your identity is in that person instead of in Jesus is scary and potentially deadly. I’ll talk about that more tomorrow.

As a teenager, there’s a lot of pressure from Christian sources as far as who you “have to be” before you start dating. You don’t have to be anything. You’re going to face a lot the same struggles in teenage dating that you’ll face in adult dating: placing God before that person, physical interaction temptations, arguments and disagreements, etc.

Don’t expect yourself to be perfect or even good at relationships. I hope I never get to a place where I think I’m good at relationships.

But I always want to be learning, striving to know more, be more, grow more. My lady, and my God, deserve more. Just because we won’t ever be perfect doesn’t mean we can’t grow. 

This is the Gospel displayed: God doesn’t ditch us because we’re not perfect. But He desires better for us. And it’s a good idea to bring into the dating world.

Refocused Romance, Pt. 1: Dating in High School is a Good Thing. Here’s Why.

Author’s Note: This is the first part in a 5-part series called “Refocused Romance,” in which I explore different aspects of dating that often get little attention, particularly in the high school context. By this, I hope to simply bring up thoughts and questions by which we as a body of Christ can grow in our understanding of one another and of how we can honor God in the dating realm.

This first part is about how dating in high school is a good idea. 

I remember not even as long as a year ago, maybe even six months, that I’d never allow my kids to date in high school. I said, “Not in my house.”

Since then I’ve realized two things. First, sometimes it doesn’t really matter all that much what you say as a parent. Kids will do things behind your back and “dating” in your eyes might be different than what “dating” looks like in your kid’s eyes. Second, dating in high school is a good thing.

Full disclosure: I had three dating relationships in high school. One lasted three months, one lasted three weeks and one lasted over a year. These were all Facebook official relationships, and they were cornerstones of my high school experience. I’ll share bits from them throughout this series.

Of course, one of the things to keep in mind when you talk about something like “dating” and “relationships” in the high school context is that there are different definitions for different people. For the sake of this piece, this is my working definition of relationship: you have romantic affection for one another and it’s mutually agreed upon that, at least for the foreseeable future, you’re not looking for anyone else.

OK cool. Now that we’ve got that established, let’s get into the real stuff.

One of the main reasons Christians give for not dating in high school is the “distraction” idea. Bloggers can go crazy on this idea. One blogger I read wrote this:

For the Christian teenager this whole business of dating can be very distracting.  As Christians, our primary focus, especially in our single years, should be on our relationship with God.  Rather than spending their energy pursuing the Lord, they are distracted by the dating culture.  Rather than spending their evening in prayer with the Lord, they spend it texting their girl friend. (FYI, Teens don’t talk on the phone anymore, they just text)  Teenage dating is unwise because it can distract you from pursuing the Lord.

First of all, I don’t know if anyone spends their entire evening in prayer with God. If you do, please know you don’t have to do that. God doesn’t judge us or our faithfulness based on how many minutes we pray.

Second, and this is the bigger point: every single situation in your life is going to have distractions. If you’re going to have this caveat that you can’t get into something if it’s going to distract you from your walk with Christ, might as well not get a job, get married, have kids, own a pet, have a hobby, etc. Maybe this is a logical fallacy, but if we follow that line of thinking to its logical conclusion, from my perspective at least, we shouldn’t do anything if it distracts us from following Jesus. Eating can distract us, going to the bathroom can distract us.

One of the reasons you date is so that you can learn how to be a Christian and to be in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex. It can be a delicate balance, but it’s a balance you’re not going to learn by sitting on the sidelines.

Another reason some give is the temptations for sexual intimacy that come in dating relationships in high school. I can speak from personal experience – it’s not like it gets easier once you get older. I’d argue that it gets harder. If we ran away all the time because of that, we’d never get married.

Yet another reason I saw is that “break-ups are messy” and they’re likely to happen. Yet again, if we spent our whole life avoiding awkward situations, we’d never grow and we’d be nice, sheltered little Christians who never took risks.

Not dating in high school just because you might sin or you might do something bad is a cop-out of the highest order. We encourage kids to take this route in order to “follow God” when really we might be scaring them out of one of the most beneficial and beautiful experiences of their lives.

Let’s be honest: the only difference between dating in high school and dating in college and beyond is the age and the likelihood of marriage. Everything else is exactly the same: overanalyzing text messages with your friends, awkwardly wondering when to go in for that first kiss, the nervousness of meeting the parents, the goofy nicknames, all of it. A dating experience is all about learning about yourself, your significant other and how to love someone, whether or not you use the word “love” in the dating relationship. And those are skills that are best developed, oftentimes, within the context of a dating relationship.

What we’re often afraid of is that our kids “can’t handle it” or “they’re too young” or “they don’t know what they’re doing.” I got engaged last week, and I don’t know what I’m doing.

The point of having God on your side is that He can help you through everything through His Holy Spirit, through His Word and through fellowship with believers. Even you teenagers who are dating in high school, pursuing things with your boyfriend/girlfriend in a godly way can be an exciting and challenging thing that, by God’s grace, you can learn a lot from.

Yes, odds are your relationship will fail. But that doesn’t mean it’s pointless.

The story is told about Thomas Edison when he invented the incandescent light bulb that he failed 999 times to get the construction and engineering of the bulb just right and succeeded on the 1,000th time. A reporter asked him what it was like to fail that many times. He reportedly responded with something like this: “I didn’t fail 999 times. I just found 999 ways to not make a lightbulb.”

If you date 30 girls and marry the 31st, you didn’t waste the 30 relationships prior. You just found 30 girls you weren’t going to marry.

Dating in high school isn’t a waste of time. I promise. And I hope over the next few posts to share some wisdom I’ve gotten, however little, in the dating scene, based on questions and thoughts I’ve heard from real teenagers about dating.

I think the Church has often failed youth on speaking to the real thoughts, real difficulties and real questions about dating because we treat it so superficially. There are people who do tackle it properly, who do go about it the right way. But it’s rare, so kids are still left with these questions.

Let’s go for it.

Refocused Romance: A New Blog Series Coming Starting Oct. 12

YES.

I know what all of you have wanted from me is a blog series on dating.

But now that I’m engaged, I wanted to share some things I’ve learned in hopes that I can help those who are single or dating, particularly those in high school but also those outside of high school.

It will be a week-long series that will explore five different questions/thoughts/topics in dating that we don’t talk about a whole lot in the Church when it comes to dating. A lot of time is dedicated to discussing marriage but little time is given to the days and weeks and months leading up to that special day (the wedding day) that kicks off the marriage process.

I call it “Refocused Romance” for a couple reasons:

  1. It’s the first catchy name I came up with.
  2. It sounds awesome and intriguing.
  3. I want us to refocus the conversation we have surrounding dating and relationships, particularly in the high school/college realm.

For those of you that don’t know, I love high school kids. That age group is perhaps my favorite ministry setting. I want to speak into their lives as they navigate the waters that are dating and relationships and give them something different to hear that will actually apply to the issues they’re facing, not just “don’t have sex” and “maybe you should wait until college.”

So starting Monday, we’ll dive in. I’d love for this to be an interactive experience. I’d love to hear your criticisms and complaints about my thoughts, and if you agree, I’d love to hear from you too!

Can’t wait to see how this goes!

On Engagement: The Gospel and Christmas + An Announcement

If marriage is symbolic of the relationship between God and man once justification has happened, what is engagement?

This is the question I was asking myself this morning as I pondered my own engagement, which started around 5:45 p.m. yesterday. I asked my girlfriend if she would marry me, and she said yes. It’s a pretty big deal. Here’s a picture of us below:

IMG_2386

Once it was posted on Facebook a few hours later, the notifications started pouring in: comments on the photo, comments on the “life event” and hundreds and hundreds of likes. I was trying to figure out how I could write about this (typical writer of me), and I had this thought.

Engagement is such an announcement. I’ve had Facebook and Instagram notifications out the wazoo. And I’m so thankful for all of them. I’m thankful for all the people who love and care for me enough to think about Sarah and me.

But of course, I had to think of some spiritual tie-in. And I thought of Christmas.

We often think about Christmas as an announcement that Christ has come and that the forgiveness of sins is at hand. And that’s what I think of when I think about engagement.

Giving Sarah a diamond ring means I’m planning on marrying her. It means I’m planning on making a lifelong commitment. It means I’m committing to be committed. And that’s wild for me, because I’m terrified of commitment, I’m terrified of absolutes.

But when I look at Christmas, I see an announcement. It’s announcing that a wedding is coming, a relationship and a unity is approaching, between God and man. It’s one based on unconditional love, one based not on feeling and emotion but on commitment and faithfulness. It’s God committing to be committed.

2 Timothy 2:13 says this about God: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” God is faithful. He can’t stop being faithful. As Sarah and I prepare for marriage, I’m going to hope that I can be faithful as God is to me. He’s my guide for marriage.

Marriage is designed to reflect the Gospel, first and foremost. And I certainly hope Sarah and I can reflect the grace of God and the relationship between God and man in our relationship.

So whenever you see an engagement posting on Facebook, I encourage you to think about Christmas. Jesus coming is God saying, “Hey, relationship is upon you. Get ready. Prepare yourself. It’s going to be awesome.”


Just for fun, here’s a video I showed to Sarah before I proposed to her:

6 True Statements All Christians Should Be Saying But Most Don’t Say For Some Reason

I’ve seen a number of blog posts in the last few years that are titled something like this: “Things Christians Believe That Aren’t True.” There’s usually some number affixed to the beginning so it becomes a list.

There’s also funny lists of what Christians say. There’s even a really funny video:

I feel like I’ve seen hundreds of things like this. But nowhere have I seen statements that Christians don’t say but should say.

Here’s six for you.

1) “Your political views don’t improve or detract from your status as a Christian.”

For some reason, it becomes imperative that Christians must prove their Christianity by supporting or opposing particular political causes. If I had a quarter for every Christian who posted #DefundPP on their Facebook or Twitter over the past month, I could afford to subsidize the program myself. If I sat here and wrote an article supporting Planned Parenthood or being neutral on the issue, I think some Christians might question what happened to my head. (Yes, I’ve fallen on it a couple times in my life.)

Here’s the truth: you can be a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Green Party, whatever, and still be a Christian. Being a Republican doesn’t make you more of a Christian than being a Democrat. At the end of the day, your political views mean nothing in regards to your salvation, being a Christian. At the most, it might reveal what you view as important or less important, but it doesn’t deny your faith.

For instance, I’m not super all about defunding Planned Parenthood. I believe there are bigger fish to fry, particularly in the abortion game. I wrote a post about it here. But that doesn’t make me less of a Christian just because the majority of Christians might not agree with me, just like tweeting “#DefundPP” doesn’t make you more of a Christian.

2) “Jesus didn’t wait for people to stop sinning before loving them.”

I think this is something that is generally understood, but something that needs to be reiterated. And I think this goes two ways.

How often do you, in your life, think about having to clean yourself up before you pray/read your Bible/lead a group/share the Gospel? Jesus loves you and qualifies you for service in spite of your sin. You’re not thought of less because you sin. You just need Jesus more, and He loves you and wants you even in your sinful state.

And this goes for others and how we treat them as well. If we want to echo Christ in all we do, we’ll love people who are sinful. We’ll love people even the world, but particularly the Church, might consider unloveable. We’ll love the prostitutes, the porn addict, the murderer, the gay person, the rebellious child, all of them, even if they don’t think what they’re doing is sin. Jesus didn’t wait for us to figure out what sin was before offering His love freely to us.

3) “Cussing, drinking alcohol and listening to secular music doesn’t make you less of a Christian.”

Using cuss words is not a sin. There is no word that is naturally sinful. Drinking alcohol is not sinful in and of itself. Alcohol is not naturally sinful. Listening to “secular music” is not sinful in and of itself. Just because the person writing it isn’t a Christian doesn’t make the music sinful or bad.

There are obviously qualifications to each of those. I won’t cuss in certain situations because it won’t be edifying or enlightening to those around me. Drinking alcohol under the age of 21 is sinful because it’s against the law and it’s disregarding the authority God has placed over us. Secular music is like profanity – it depends on the situation.

What’s more important than the actions themselves is the heart behind them. While cuss words may not be sinful in and of themselves, they may be used disrespectfully towards another person or even God, and in those cases the use of them is sinful. Drinking alcohol to get drunk or underage is sinful because the heart behind it is either carelessness of mind or the wrong use of something to escape from issues or rebellion against authority. And listening to secular music to spite parental authority or for some self-seeking purpose that isn’t godly can be a reflection of a discontent or selfish heart.

So you can be a Christian and cuss, drink alcohol and listen to Jay-Z. Yes, it’s possible.

4) “You don’t have to go to church to be in community.”

Justin Bieber made news recently with his comment about church: “You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. If you go to Taco Bell, that doesn’t make you a taco.” Funny comparison, but entirely true. Not that every Christian responded well. Laura Turner of Religion News Service wrote, “Bieber’s point about the church is important, and it shows us how far we have to go. But I also hope that anyone who calls themselves a Christian will, at some point, see the vitality and beauty of a church congregation, and see what’s missing when they’re not around it.”

The Bible is insistent on believers finding community, finding brothers and sisters in Christ to surround themselves with for encouragement and challenge. But nowhere is there a command that says, “Thou shalt visit a church building once a week for at least two hours.” Going to church is awesome and is an easy place to find community, but it’s not entirely necessary. You can be in community, you can be among believers without going to a church building.

If you’re purposefully avoiding church to avoid community, perhaps there might be an issue. But people who leave the church and are still Christians don’t need to be condemned for their decision. Maybe they’re just looking for real community they’re not finding there.

5) “We don’t condemn you for how you sin differently than we do.”

We have a nasty habit in the Church of judging certain sins to be greater than others. Because of this, we tend to treat people according to where their evident sin fits on the hierarchy. We’re more likely to be dismissive of the gay person than the person who struggles with pornography, more dismissive of the person who cusses than the guy who is a serial dater and cares little for women.

My point is this: we shouldn’t be dismissive of either. We should not condemn those who sin because it is only God who has the license to condemn, and those in Christ should never be condemned. We don’t say this enough. We don’t let people know that, just because they might sin differently than us, they’re loved less or thought of less by God.

6) “We suck at following Jesus. But He loves us anyways. How awesome is that?”

This statement is two-fold.

First, it displays the honesty that we must display as believers. In Scripture we get to see realness from people like David and Paul, a realness and honesty and transparency that encourages and comforts us. But we hesitate from it so often, especially when it comes to how we talk about our walk with Christ. Since we sin every day, it’s hard for us to honestly say we’re doing well following Christ. So admitting that we suck at following Jesus is perhaps the most honest thing we can say.

But the coolest part is this: Jesus loves us when we suck at following Him. He loves us when we’re doing well at following Him. He loves us no matter what. How awesome is that?

This is the crux of the Gospel. And if we’re going to be saying any of these six things more, it’s this one. It’s the one message that will save people from eternity apart from God.

‘I Will Return to My First Husband’ And He Will Take Her In: The Gospel Beauty of Hosea 2

I woke up this morning with the intent to start reading through the minor prophets in Scripture. Honestly, it’s not something I often wake up with the intent to do – read the Bible. Usually in the morning I’m dragging my feet trying to get ready for work.

That’s one of the beauties of Sundays. You just might have enough time that you don’t have to drag your feet.

Anyways, I read Hosea 1-3 and it was a fascinating picture of the Gospel.

The story of Hosea and his prostitute wife Gomer was most recently modernized in the popular novel Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. In summary: Hosea is a prophet of God and he is told to “take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD” (1:2). So he marries a prostitute in order to be a living example of the faithfulness of God to His faithless people. God then spells out His punishment on Israel and then His mercy. Then Hosea redeems Gomer, who had abandoned him, by buying her back and saying, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whole, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you” (3:3), echoing God’s love for His people.

I had read this before, but when I took the time to digest this, I got something beautiful out of it, mainly in Chapter 2.

Chapter 2 is entirely prophecy and God or Hosea speaking to the people of the nation of Israel. It roughly breaks down into two sections, and they are quite reflective of our everyday lives following Jesus.

Israel’s Unfaithfulness Punished/Our Unfaithfulness Explained (v. 1-13)

God opens by saying some pretty harsh things about Israel:

Plead with your mother, plead – for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband – that she put away her whoring from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked and make her as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and make her like a parched land, and kill her with thirst. Upon her children also I will have no mercy, because they are children of whoredom. (v. 2-3)

The punishment is severe. But we get to learn why she did what she did in v. 5:

For their mother has played the whore; she who conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, “I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.”

The “mother” here played the whore, she went after sources of life other than God. She did this because she thought that her “loves” would give her bread, water, wool, flax, oil and drink. These are things that are necessary for life: bread, water and drink give physical sustenance, wool and flax are good for clothing, and oil lights the house and helps cook the food.

One reason we daily pursue after things other than God is that we feel they will give us life or help us meet our basic needs. And they will. They truly will. To sit here and say that sinful pleasures bring no satisfaction whatsoever would be to tell a straight-up lie.

We lie to others because we’ll avoid awkward or painful conversation. We pursue sexual intimacy outside of marriage because we want to experience the pleasure without the commitment. We boast in ourselves because we want to feel like we’re worth something. We work super hard super late because we want to have money for security or to buy things to feel good.

We do tons more crappy things in order to find that satisfaction. We’re pursuing things that are good. We’re just pursuing them in the wrong source, as the nation of Israel was here in Hosea.

But we see a change in the “mother” here. God hedges her way so she can’t find those “lovers.” “Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now,” v. 7 tells us. God is the “first husband” here because He is our original creator, the one who originally sustained us. “And she did not know,” v. 8 says, “that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.” Here we see that God is the ultimate source of the things we need, but our “lovers” misappropriate those needs.

Over the next few verses, God puts an end to the opportunities for the “mother” to find her satisfaction in following false gods, in playing the whore. There is punishment doled out.

But then we get to the best part.

The LORD’s Mercy on Israel/God’s Mercy on Us (v. 14-23)

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. (v. 14-15)

Think of what Israel found when they were brought out of Egypt. They found freedom, hope, and (eventually) a new homeland in Canaan. God offers that to the wife of whoredom, His people, who abandoned Him. And there is a new establishment of relationship, spelled out in v. 19-20:

And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.

God doesn’t abandon His people forever. He wants them to learn where they’ve fallen short, He wants them to see how they’ve been missing His commands. But then He “allures” them back to Him.

I love that language of “alluring.” To allure is to be attractive. God makes Himself attractive to us, more attractive than the things we pursued before. This is how He shows us grace: He shows us that what we pursued before wasn’t truly satisfying and then shows us that He is truly satisfying. He gives us what we need – the bread, water, wool, flax, oil and drink – just by being Himself.

The best part: we don’t have to do anything to earn this sustenance. It’s given freely in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The biggest difference between this story and our story is that we have available to us the gospel grace of Jesus Christ earned for us on the cross. The people of Israel had to do work to repent of their sins, and then God showed them mercy. All we have to do is repent and believe. We don’t have to do any certain amount of work to earn back God’s favor. We’ve been given the right to no longer be condemned if we are in Christ (Romans 8:1).

But the relationship is the same: we are betrothed to God forever. We enter a relationship with God that is like a marriage: it’s binding, it’s lasting. And while earthly marriages end on earth, a marriage with God in Christ is eternal. Despite our whoredom, despite our disobedience, despite how we constantly fall short of what His command spell out for us, He loves us and commits to us.

That’s a God I can get behind. I hope you can as well.