The Same Old, Same Old Salvation Story, And How My Cynicism Got Punched in the Gut.

My church-related cynicism took a fresh hit of reality this weekend, one that was well-needed.

At a church event, the people leading it shared their testimonies. They were (separately) dealing with similar issues. They had heard of Jesus-related things when they were young, but they shoved it aside. Instead, they pursued drugs and alcohol, sex and sports, just about anything else to find happiness in life. Traumatic events shook them. Eventually, they found themselves ready to end their lives, sinking in desperate situations.

But God intervened. Maybe it was a Gideon Bible in a cheap motel room. Maybe it was a kind word from a family member or friend. Whatever it was, God intervened, pulled them out of the gutter and brought them to a place where they chose to follow Him for the rest of their lives.

When I heard these testimonies, I shook my head and thought, “Not again. How old and tired is this narrative? Are they just embellishing to make a bigger point? It couldn’t have been that bad.”

I carried that thought with me for an hour or so. See, not every salvation story is that way! I didn’t do drugs and drink alcohol in high school. I never hung with the wrong crowd. Not for as long as they did, at least, maybe for a couple hours at most before I realized they were the wrong crowd. So what does this have to do with me?

Eventually, I got reminded of something that’s amazing about God.

He’s the same yesterday, today and forever. And there’s something about that sameness that is ubiquitous in these kind of salvation stories.

See, humans are, at their core, the same. We’re all looking for the same thing. Happiness, fulfillment, contentment.

And, for the most part, we go to the same thing to find that. Attention from others, substances of some kind (drugs, porn, alcohol), pouring ourselves into our work.

And the same thing happens every time – it doesn’t fulfill it. It doesn’t do the trick. It doesn’t really help us.

So we all often find ourselves in the same basic situation – stuck, lost, hopeless. Maybe it turns to us wondering why we should even live anymore, but we essentially wonder what the point of life is.

And then God reaches us with the same message – “I love you. I care for you. In me, you will find rest for your souls and forgiveness for your sins. I am the same yesterday, today and forever.”

Then we ask God the same thing – to forgive us of our sins, come into our lives, make us whole again.

And the same thing that happened to everybody else who accepted Jesus happens to us: He does it.

I realized something else today as I was writing this: Those testimonies can perhaps be the most powerful because we can all find some way to relate to them. We may not have dabbled in drugs, but we’ve got something that gets us high but ultimately leaves us unfulfilled.

And that’s one of the many beauties of the Gospel. It relates to every single situation that man faces and provides the same answer: Jesus, on the cross, taking on sin, so we could live forgiven and fulfilled. The ultimate answer doesn’t need to adjust based on what we’re going through.

You know how one medicine doesn’t fix everything? You can’t take Advil to cure internal bleeding (at least I don’t think so). You don’t need chemotherapy for a flesh wound. That’s not how it works with Jesus. Every illness, every disease, every problem has the same cure.

That’s something to celebrate every time we hear the same old testimony of death to life. Because really, my testimony isn’t that different. I didn’t do drugs, but I was pursuing things that didn’t bring true fulfillment or joy. Then Jesus intervened, and I began to pursue the thing that did.

Cynicism can be a good thing in the right and proper context (that’s a whole other conversation for another time). But sometimes I’d wish it would just go away and let me rejoice in the beauty of the Gospel.

That’s the same thing I’ll be working on for a while.

So please, people, go on and testify.

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(For)Getting All the Feels: Rethinking the Way We Follow Jesus

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve ever learned about following Christ is that you can’t base your relationship with Jesus on emotions. Just because it “feels like” it’s not going right doesn’t mean that it’s not. And vice versa.

But after going to church and being around the Christian culture for 23-plus years now, I’m left to ask this question: Why does it so often seem like we try to get people pumped up emotionally?

Let me explain what I mean.

The Emotional Church Experience

Ever been to a megachurch? You know, the ones with the lights and the full band and the backup singers and so on and so forth. I’ve visited a couple, and in that atmosphere, it’s so easy to get caught up in the emotional side of faith.

That one song comes on and you’re swept up in the butterflies of the piano chords, the melodic harmony of voices, the dimmed lights, the rising choruses. Perhaps it’s a song about how good God is, or maybe how His love is so great.

Or maybe the song is about us, that we’re children of God, and how awesome it is. The hands get raised. Tears start streaming down your face.

Then the preacher comes on. He utilizes the most powerful story of death to life, with all the appropriate pauses and voice-raises he can muster. The band comes on as he closes and those guitar strums as he hammers home his point.

Then one more worship song where you surrender your emotions to the Lord, let Him “lead you” while you sing with all your feels.

But during the week, the emotions get lost. Maybe you don’t listen to Christian radio for whatever reason. So by the time you get to Sunday, you’re emotionally-starved again. So it’s back to church, back to the worship, back to the tear-jerking stories.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Now, two caveats:

  1. I’ve visited a megachurch with the lights and the full band and have had genuine worship with genuine songs that weren’t about making me feel good. The pastor spoke about reality and was honest about himself and his own sin. It wasn’t fluff. It was real worship and real truth.
  2. The worship songs are often all true theologically. Completely accurate. But…

The Loss of the Intellect

I haven’t done a lot of serious research into church culture (I’d really like to someday), but I’ve done a lot of observing. I’ve thought a lot about why churches do what we do, and I’ve come up with a theory. This theory could be disproven by some serious research, but I’ll take a stab.

Humans are emotional creatures. Always have been. Adam and Eve were swayed by the emotional draw of being like God. David’s lustful feelings drove him to pursue Bathsheba. When Stephen’s being stoned to death in Acts 8, Paul “approved” of his execution; there had to be an emotional element to that.

And emotion is not all bad. Sometimes God uses our emotions to help us realize we need Him. Our sadness following a loss of a close friend or family member can lead us to remember that God has them now if they’re a believer, and rejoice in that. My great excitement and happiness on my wedding day pumped me up even more for the beauty of the ceremony and the marriage that I’m now two months into.

But what happens, unfortunately, is that we often shove aside the intellectual part of it and cling to the emotional side when it comes to being a Christian. That’s what happened to me.

When I was younger in the faith – late high school, early college – I really began to dive into the emotional side of following Christ. I would raise my hands during worship, close my eyes and sing, and sometimes I might shed a tear or two.

But when I wasn’t in worship mode, I was wondering where God was. I didn’t feel Him, so was He really there? I didn’t feel saved, so was I really God’s child? I saw my sin and felt like crap. I felt bad, so obviously God wasn’t with me and wasn’t happy with me.

Things started to take a turn during my senior year of college. I’ve written about this before, but I’ll write it again – a guy named Curtis Allen spoke at a college ministry conference I was attending and said the most important thing I’ve ever heard about following Jesus:

The secret to Christianity is not changing how you feel, the secret to Christianity and obedience is changing how you think.

Boom.

I started to (slowly) recognize that I had been living my life with Christ based on how I felt I was doing and that was not at all what it meant to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is first and foremost an exercise of the mind, an exercise of faith in the truth. And faith is not emotional. Faith is something you think, something you believe with your mind.

The Reality

It’s not sexy to present faith in Christ as a mind exercise. It’s not something that, on the surface, will draw in thousands of people to a worship service.

We want to feel good. We want to feel that emotional high.

But like any other kind of high, it won’t last. So we have to go back. And churches love when people return again and again and again.

Church leaders and bloggers and authors wonder why my generation, the college-aged, is leaving the church. I’d wager one of the reasons is this – there’s no substance to their faith. It’s built on that emotional high that they got at camp one time or maybe that one night they had a serious conversation with their youth pastor. Perhaps we were genuine in that moment, but without any serious intellectual foundation or building upon that moment with truth, we lose the drive, the desire.

It’s in the moments when we lose the emotional side of following Jesus that our faith is really tested. And often it’s in those moments where we lose our faith.

If we’re going to follow Christ, it has to be first and foremost about what we think. Belief isn’t about emotions; it’s about truth. To my knowledge, the Bible never speaks about trying to “feel” a certain way, but to think a certain way. A few examples:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… – Philippians 2:4-5

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. – Romans 8:5-8

So What Should We Do Instead?

I’m not an expert. Let’s just go ahead and get that out of the way. But I can’t help but think there need to be changes in how we present church and worship and truth.

I’m not saying we need to get rid of megachurches and that all are bad. As I said before, I’ve been to one where there was genuine worship, genuine preaching that wasn’t just intellectually true but stimulated a real approach to faith. I do believe there are some that are not helpful. And I think that you can go to churches that aren’t mega and find worship and preaching and teaching that stimulates an emotional response.

I also understand there’s another challenge: You can do everything you possibly can to make faith an intellectual thing in your church, but people will still respond primarily with their emotions.

I’m also sure there are plenty of preachers and churches that have the best intentions in the world that are doing this. They’re not trying to lead people into making their faith emotional, but for whatever reason that’s how it’s turned out.

We can’t change how people respond to what we do in church. But we can change what we do.

I wish there was a fix-all, but here’s a couple thoughts:

I wish that we’d be more careful in how we choose our worship songs. Maybe break out the old favorites every once in a while for some emotional worship time, but not lean on them.

Before we sing, explain to us what the lyrics mean. What truth are they presenting? What should we believe? What are we affirming when we sing?

I wish we’d rethink the way we preach, presenting more of the Bible and more of truth rather than concocting the best emotional plea. Prosperity gospel preachers somewhat make their living off of this idea. And some non-prosperity gospel preachers do too. Tell us how we should think, not what we should feel, and base it on the Bible.

That’s just a couple thoughts.

I really hope you don’t walk away from this emotionally-charged.

Desiring Sex Doesn’t Make You a Pervert. It Makes You Human.

WARNING: This post is probably PG-13 on a rating scale for discussion about sex. So if you’re squeamish, you might want to skip this one. And, unfortunately, there’s no discussion of (500) Days of Summer, although it is one of my favorite movies of all-time.

I’ve recently started writing more about sex on this blog. I think it’s something that is a taboo subject in a lot of Christian circles, something we’re afraid to discuss, something that’s uncomfortable and awkward, something that needs to stay behind closed doors.

And while sex itself is a private occasion designed for a husband and wife, discussing it in public shouldn’t be so awkward to do. Sex is a human act just like eating, drinking, sleeping, etc. The only difference is that sex was designed for a specific circumstance in life, marriage between a man and a woman. Eating, drinking, sleeping, etc., has no such limits.

And because those limits are there, we assign limits to discussing it. I understand the need for some of those limits – I’m not going to try to have a conversation with my kids about it in the future when they’re 4. I’ll wait until I feel like they’re mature enough to handle a conversation about it, and then I’ll be open about it and have a real conversation.

One of the things that I’ll tell my son or daughter, whichever one I have, is that having sexual desire doesn’t make you a pervert or sexually deviant. It makes you human.

Because sex is something that’s so off-limits for single people, we get in this weird state where even thinking about sex can feel bad.

Here’s what I mean: I’ll be going along in my day, and a thought about sex comes up. Then I’ll kick myself because I shouldn’t be thinking about sex. Right? Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?

Not necessarily.

Dwelling on sexual thoughts with someone other than your wife – this includes your boyfriend, girlfriend, fiancé, fiancée – is sinful. It’s pursuing sexual pleasure in a means other than your wife. It can easily become something lustful, and that’s not good. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says,

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

The “body” in this instance includes your brain, includes your mind. So the call in this verse includes this question: Are you glorifying God in your mind? By spending significant time thinking about sexual thoughts, imagining things, etc., you’re sinning. You’re not glorifying God.

However, what about the split second thought you have about desiring sex, that urge to find pleasure in a sexual way? Well, that’s just human.

It’s human to want sex. If God truly created all things, as we believe, He created human beings with parts and drives to have sexual intercourse with our spouses, with the one we’ve dedicated our lives to in marriage. We see it in Genesis 4:1 –

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.”

God is involved in our sex lives. He created us with a desire for it to build intimacy between man and wife, for pleasure and for procreation.

So desiring that doesn’t make you weird or perverted. It simply makes you human. So please don’t beat yourself up or think you’re weird just because you want to have sex with your husband or wife some day.

If your thought process goes beyond that and you start imagining it, then there’s a need to slow down, to clear your mind. We want to pursue purity in how we think about sex.

Purity doesn’t equal never having a thought about sex. It means thinking about sex properly in the proper context.

And that’s the war we wage.

My 10 Favorite ‘Christian Organizations’ and Why I Love the Crap Out of Them

Let me just be honest here: I can spend way too much time in my mind and on this blog focusing on the things the Church is missing out on or doing wrong.

I think there’s a place for thinking and talking about those things. If we’re too scared to talk about how we screw up, what are we really accomplishing? But there’s also a huge place for encouraging and praising the work the Church has done in this world. That’s why I’m going to list my 10 favorite “Christian organizations” and why I love the crap out of them.

Note: I say “Christian organizations” because, while some of these organizations are comfortable with the “Christian” label, others wouldn’t necessarily want themselves to be called a ministry but they discuss the things of God, Jesus, the Bible and the Church. And I want to respect that.

So here we go!

The Anima Series | “Giving local artists a global platform for Christ” | theanimaseries.com

Started in July 2013, the Anima Series is a group of young guys and gals who make music, spoken word videos and other ministry tools to reach out mainly to young people. Their YouTube channel has over 162K subscribers and their most popular video – “Who You Are: A Message to All Women” – has over 4 million views. anima

My favorite piece of ministry of theirs is a spoken word called “Not Qualified.” It typifies their work: reaching out to the youth or other believers who may feel like they’re not enough. The Anima Series recently went on a brief tour around America, and post videos on their channel regularly of either funny happenings or spiritual messages.

Bad Christian | “A thriving community that focuses on interacting with culture from an alternative Christian point of view” | badchristian.com

They would hesitate being called a ministry, but what they do has ministered to me. The main outlet of Bad Christian – started by Emery (the band) guitarist Matt Carter and lead vocalist Toby Morrell and their friend and pastor Joey Svendsen – is their twice-weekly podcast where they talk openly and honestly about different issues in Christian culture as well as their own lives. One episode each week includes an interview with someone in the Christian or music scene.

bad_christianMost Christians wouldn’t like some of the things they do – they cuss openly, talk about drinking and sex and have some different views than most evangelical Christians. But it’s their openness and honesty that has drawn me in to loving what they do. They also have a blog and have started a music label with artists like Emery, Kings Kaleidoscope and The Classic Crime.

Cru | “A caring community passionate about connecting people to Jesus Christ” | cru.org

Formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ, Cru’s main ministry is on college campuses, but also does work in military installations, churches, sports teams, politicians and across the world. There’s something inspirational about a ministry that seems to want to take every opportunity possible to spread the Gospel around the world. I love it.Cru-10-24-11-MASTER-TM

I mainly love them because of their college ministry. Along with other organizations such as Campus Outreach and InterVarsity, Cru is reaching students in one of the most vulnerable places in their lives with the most important message. I was involved in CO in college, but what Cru did was known on campus. Those kids were some of the most joyful, most passionate kids who were involved in their community and involved in encouraging and building up one another.

HeartSupport | “A raw and authentic community where no music fan has to struggle alone” | heartsupport.com

Begun by August Burns Red lead singer Jake Luhrs, HeartSupport is an online community that has grown into a ministry to music fans who need a place to share stories of their addictions, abuse, depression and related things without fear of judgement. It’s a place where mostly young people can find love and acceptance and help for their struggles.

heartsupportA lot of bands are invested in HeartSupport, mainly in the hardcore scene. Bands like Family Force 5, Sleeping Giant, Emery, The Devil Wears Prada, Hawthorne Heights, A Day to Remember and For Today are all a part of the Heart Support community, offering support for people’s hearts, as the name implies. I heard about HeartSupport when Luhrs was interviewed on the Bad Christian podcast, and loved what they do.

NewSpring Church | “Exists to reach people far from God and teach them how to follow Jesus step by step” | Anderson, S.C. | newspring.cc

Yes, a church is a “Christian organization” too. Founded by lead pastor Perry Noble, NewSpring has 19 locations, six of them house churches, across South Carolina with a mission to see over 100,000 South Carolinians give their lives to Christ. Noble’s preaching is open and honest and isn’t afraid to get blunt and honest, and ministries within the church include KidSpring (for kids), Fuse (for youth) and small groups to help people grow in their relationship with Jesus.Website-EVENT-SPOTLIGHT-602x348-NewSpringChurch

I visited NewSpring in Anderson a couple months ago with my now-fiancée and really enjoyed the service. It’s super laid-back – I wore an Arsenal jersey and they played “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd over the speakers when the service ended – and the topics are relevant and faithful to Scripture. Noble has come under fire from some in the Christian community for some of the things he’s said, but I love his heart and his message.

One Fair Chance | “Each One – Reach One, Each One – Teach One” | Hyderabad, India | onefairchance.org

The next three will be smaller, lesser known on a national scale but each have been very personal to me. The first is “One Fair Chance,” started by my friend Billy Judson. Billy, named after Billy Graham and Adoniram Judson, came to Sanford a couple years ago and completed a seminary degree in Cary, N.C., for the purpose of being equipped to give each Indian “one fair chance” to hear the Gospel. It’s connected to Good News Bible College and Seminaries in Hyderabad, run by Billy’s father, a school which has graduated over 11,000 students. Sixty percent of those graduates have their own ministry.

one-fair-chance-sceneI love the heart of this man, one of the most joyful people I’ve ever met. His passion for his people is unmatched. I wish every Christian could talk to Billy for 15 minutes just to get a glimpse of the vision that he has for his homeland. I miss having him here in America, but I know what he’s doing in India is far more effective for the Gospel than him being here.

Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters | “A Gospel-centered, high adventure discipleship camp in North Carolina” | Andrews, N.C. | swoutfitters.com

This camp for students located in the North Carolina mountains is one of the few places where I have been seriously shaped spiritually. Their main ministry is their summer camp, where college students come and work for the summer to invest themselves in the lives of the middle and high school students that come for a week. There are also year-round retreats and conferences focusing on missions and purity for youth and men’s, women’s, marriage and student ministry conferences for adults.snow

I went five summers as a camper, worked one summer on staff and have been as a chaperone twice. I can’t say enough about the amazing Gospel-centeredness of the teaching and the staff. Their passion for Jesus and for seeing students’ hearts changed is amazing. I certainly plan on hitting up their marriage retreat when I get married, and I see the effect of their ministry on the youth group I hang out with every week. I love that place.

Turner’s Chapel | “A non-denominational church that emphasizes Biblical teaching, missions, prayer, discipleship and family” | Sanford, N.C. | turnerschapel.org

This is my home church, and I love my church. I love the personal ministry from my pastor Bruce MacInnes, I love the community that I have, and I love the youth group that I help serve in. I don’t always agree with everything the pastor says (wrote about that here), but that’s totally OK. It serves the Sanford community with outreach to the homeless and needy and runs Connect Groups where members meet and talk about the sermon and pray for one another. It also gives a significant portion of its budget to missions each year.

Turnerschapel.org_misc_image19512I have the privilege of helping out with the youth group, the same youth group that I grew up in and learned how to be a Christian in. It’s where I’m getting married next summer. It will always have a place in my heart. And as much as I might get frustrated by certain things, I can’t help but call it home. It’s where God has brought me, and I can’t complain about that.

Wycliffe Bible Translators | “Translating Scriptures in more than 70 countries” | wycliffe.org

Wycliffe is by no means the only Bible translation ministry, but it was the first one that came up when I searched “bible translation ministries” on Google. Other ministries include Biblica, The Seed Company and Elam Ministries. These ministries focus on translating the words of Scripture into other languages so that those who don’t have the Bible in their native tongue can get one and read it and grow and know Jesus. wycliffe-logo351

I’ve always been pumped about Bible translation. It started back when I was in high school and I learned about how the first Bible translators who tried to put it in English were martyred for trying, and how much of a blessing it is that we have the words of God in our language. So for me, the value of these ministries is really hard to measure. I love what they do.

XXX Church | Helping people with porn and sex addictions find healing | xxxchurch.com

XXX Church is a ministry focused on helping people battle addictions to pornography and other sexual sin through a number of areas. They’ve created a filtering software called X3 Watch that helps people who want to avoid porn. Their website has a blog that is updated daily with helpful tips. They have small groups called X3 Groups where small groups of people meet online weekly to discuss their addictions and seek freedom together.

UtaIcIm_I’ve given several times to their ministry and have written several times about how much I love what Craig Gross and his team do. The same people also run outreach ministries for porn stars and also provide guidance in areas of sex, marriage and family. They’re blunt, honest and real. I’m so thankful for their ministry. It’s one I would love to be involved with some day.

We Must Learn to Be Content in Any and Every Situation, Even If Culture Goes Awry

No, you can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need – The Rolling Stones

The Stones had their finger on something. I wish the Church would grasp it sometimes.

Whether it’s homosexuality, abortion, religious liberty, etc., some Christians come out sounding like petulant toddlers when we don’t get what we want. Some churches become shacks of whining instead of bastions of strength.

Not all Christians are this way. Some Christians go with the flow, handle the punches given to Christians in America. They say, “OK, this is a blow, but let’s see what we can do positive instead.” Abortion is legal? OK, let’s host a ministry for single-mothers-to-be to encourage them to have the baby and either help raise the kid or give the kid up for adoption. Gay marriage is legal? OK, let’s talk about the value of marriage God’s way and the joy that comes from following Jesus, and let’s love people without asking them to change who they are first.

If things don’t go the way we want them to, we get all up-in-arms like we’re owed things to be exactly how we want them. And that’s not the case.

The basic foundation of Christianity is that we’re owed nothing, and God freely gives us something so great and beautiful called the Gospel. So why do we act like we need the world to behave and act just like we’re supposed to act? That’s right, not “act like we act” but “act like we’re supposed to act.”

This is perhaps my biggest frustration with evangelical culture. We don’t like something, so we go out of our way to complain. And I know that I’m doing the same thing right now. But sometimes it takes doing what you hate to point out that something you hate is going on. If we’re supposed to hate sin, why don’t we hate our own, our grumbling, our complaining?

Since the Church is full of sinners, there will always be sin. But I get the sense that we’re coming off as whiny toddlers, and that’s not what the first church members did.

You never hear Paul or Peter complaining about their circumstances or whining about the governmental policies enacted in their day. In fact, we hear the opposite:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

So isn’t there a chance that we’ll be more reflective of Christ by accepting the situation we’re in as a Church and simply make the most of it? Finding out how to be content while, admittedly, the culture is going opposite of how we would like it to be?

This is a difficult balance to find. And I know plenty of people will disagree with me. But I’ve read the book of Acts. We don’t see the apostles going out of their way to speak into the culture. They’re not going to war with the culture. Jesus didn’t go to war with the culture either. I might be misinterpreting Scripture, so if I’m wrong please let me know. Paul argued spiritual matters, he reasoned in the synagogues. But he didn’t go grandstanding.

We often interpret not taking a strong stand as approval of a certain sin. And that’s just not true. You can disagree with certain decisions your sports team makes, but that doesn’t mean you go picket outside the team’s headquarters until something changes.

Yes, in the United States of America, we have the right to petition the politicians and make our voice heard. And I understand the desire to help people see the right way to live. But it starts with the Gospel! It’s always started with loving God and loving people. That’s the greatest commandment:

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

And you see some ministries doing that. XXX Church (my favorite example) is pursuing loving those in the pornography industry without actively campaigning for the end of the business. They’re loving God and loving people.

And that’s what’s most important.

Jesus Loves Porn Stars. Just Making Sure We Were All Aware.

One of my favorite ministries is Fireproof Ministries. It’s a multi-faceted ministry with several branches, including XXX Church. One of their primary goals is to reach out to those that work in porn and simply love them by showing them the love of Christ.

I recently received, as a perk for donating to a recent fundraiser, a copy of the Bible in the picture above. It’s the Gideons-like copies of the book of Luke they hand out at porn conventions and other events. It says on the front, coupled with a drawing of a man with a “porn ‘stache,” “Jesus Loves Porn Stars.”

I wanted to get a physical copy of this Book of Luke because I wanted to see what exactly they were handing out. I love the work they do and would love to be a part of it some day, Lord-willing.

As part of the colorful intro, Craig Gross, the founder of XXX Church, wrote this:

You see, the Bible says we’ve all blown it. Whether we’re making porn, working in a coffee shop, or running a church, we are all sinners who have “stuff” we need to clean up. It doesn’t matter how much stuff we have; it all makes us imperfect.

The good news is that Jesus knows this and loves us anyway. It doesn’t matter if you got high yesterday or masturbated five minutes ago. He still loves you. In fact, he desperately wants to have a relationship with you. Your “stuff” doesn’t change this fact.

Whether it’s liberals, murderers or porn stars, we in the Church have a complex of avoiding people we disagree with or people whose lifestyles we don’t like. I’m entirely guilty of doing this.I don’t like hanging out with super crazy, Westboro Baptist-echoing, super-Republican fundamentalist Christians.

But when I read things like that, I’m convicted. If my call is to love like Jesus loved, no matter who I’m around, then I’m failing miserably. The Church, for the most part is failing miserably.

What I love about XXX Church is that they’re not going to try to get people out of the industry. That’s not their main goal. I’ve read and heard interviews with Craig Gross and other XXX Church staff. They would love for that to happen, they would love for these guys and girls to get out, but their main hope is that they feel and know the love of Christ.

In their work I see what the Church could and probably should be. Instead of first trying to change behavior, perhaps we should simply try to look at ourselves first and ask ourselves: are we really loving the porn stars? Are we really loving the Democrat in our workplace who vehemently disagrees with our stance on abortion? Are we really loving that guy we saw on the news who murdered his wife?

And I’m not necessarily saying we have to go all out and love by taking action, although that is the ultimate form of love. The question is this: at the base level, is our heart at a posture of love towards that person? Even if we never meet them, do we love them? We can love people without ever meeting them.

I can love the person on Facebook I haven’t seen in years who negatively comments on my blog post. I can love the politician who says everything I don’t like. I can love the woman who drowns her baby in a bathtub.

Why? Jesus did. And I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

And so can we, the Church, the people Jesus has called His own.

As Far As It Depends on You, Just Get Along With People on Social Media

We live in a culture of vehement disagreement. Just take a look at your News Feed.

Every day, I see (and am sometimes involved in) conversations on someone’s Facebook post that revolves around a vehement disagreement on some political or societal issue. Sometimes that disagreement can be over something trivial and the disagreement can be joking and playful. But sometimes it can be bad and vitriolic.

These kinds of interactions have led some people I know to stay out of conversations on Facebook altogether, and I applaud them. Perhaps it would be better for me to take that route. I’ve been in quite a few of those bad conversations and said some things that were out-of-line or had a sinful attitude and approach.

Romans 12 has some words for me. Verses 16-18:

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Live in harmony. Live peaceably. If we look at social media, there’s not a lot of harmony and peace.

There is a place in society for disagreement and people having a conversation in which opposing viewpoints are presented. People are different, so we’ll have different ideas and opinions on how certain things “should” or “ought to be” run or thought about. That’s just part of being human.

But we shoot ourselves in the foot as a society and as the body of Christ when we resort to vehement vitriolic disagreement.

I’m guilty of this. I’ve tried to stay away from being mean in my comments but my attitude has gotten sour over some things said on Facebook. I have done little to create an environment of harmony and peace on social media.

But these verses challenge me, and hopefully challenge you who might read this, to think through how we behave on social media. Are we creating an environment of peace and harmony on social media?

To be fair, there’s only so much we can do, right? We can’t control how other people behave on their Facebooks and Twitters. Romans 12:18 takes care of that, saying that “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” It’s saying that we must do whatever we can to pursue peace in our relationships with everyone. There are going to be times where the other party isn’t as willing to pursue peace, and in those times we can be content knowing that we’re trying to do the right thing. But remember that doesn’t give us license to be spiteful and unfairly critical of the other party.

My fiancée once told me something very wise. We were talking about fighting sin and she said, “You need to do what you need to do to not do what you don’t need to do.” I was like, “Brilliant!” We need to take whatever steps necessary to avoid sinful behavior. Particularly online.

I need to think five times about what I’m about to post. I need to think about something that my dad tells me all the time – “Is this thought helpful?” I need to think about how what I’m about to say can create an environment of peace, even in the midst of disagreement.

It is possible to disagree well.

 

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.

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.