Monday, April 26, 2010

Practicing What We Believe

I visited a church yesterday and the pastor gave me lots of food for thought. I love when that happens. It's so "Christianese" to say something like, "I was drawn to that church", or "the Lord had a divine appointment with me there", so I won't say that. I will simply say that I'm glad I was there.

I went to the church because their newly appointed pastor was being installed. I appreciate taking in the different churches around town, and I thought the installation service would be a great opportunity to get to know the newest member of the religious community.

The new church leader had invited his childhood pastor to teach before his official installation. The wise older man talked about passing the torch. He said, "If the church does not PRACTICE what it believes, it will be succeeded by a generation that does not believe." Wow! That’ll preach!

I've talked to a myriad of people who grew up in the church, but who quit attending years ago. Many of them gave up on God altogether. The number one reason given is always the same—“I hate the hypocrisy”.

The church is full of hypocrites, and it has been this way since the beginning of time. Jesus often talked of the hypocrisy. He called it like it was and He never sugar coated the truth. I have no problem believing that if Jesus were the guest preacher in our church, He’d still bring our hypocrisy into the light—where it belongs. We are hypocrites. We love to evangelize and take the gospel to the “ends of the earth”, but we ignore the plank in our own eye.

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. Matthew 7:5 (NIV)

We teach our kids to refrain from lying, stealing, gossiping, etc, but WE lie to our boss about being sick, steal paperclips and pens from the supply closet at work, and gossip about the husband who was seen having lunch with the female co-worker who was not his wife. Our kids have watched us have affairs, get divorced, gossip around the dinner table, and pass judgment on the parents of the school bully.

We are hypocrites. Everyone, say it together—we are hypocrites! Now, let’s apologize to our kids for setting bad examples of what being a Christ-follower really looks like.

I desire for God to shine a light into the hidden crevices of my heart and reveal my weaknesses. I want to deal with my own stuff. I want to really see the plank in my eye!

Get off the pew of hypocrisy and into the light of God’s word. We’ve got to practice what we say we believe so that the generation coming up behind us sees something worth believing in. Get off the pew!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Misuse of Scripture

Sadly, Biblical scripture is very often misused in order to make our point. I understand why we do it. I mean, we like believing what we believe and being proven wrong is never fun. However, God’s word is awesome, and understanding it’s truth for all it’s worth should be the goal of every Christ follower.

I did a Google search for the term, “frequently misused scriptures” and I was given 1,730,00 hits! Wow! Nearly two million hits! I know that not everything you read on the Internet is true, but that tells me that a huge number of people are concerned and/or confused about scriptural misuse.

It is our responsibility to study the Bible, get to know Jesus, His heart, and His ministry, and to pray for discernment. If we just blindly accept a pastor’s interpretation, or the words of a volunteer guiding a Bible study, then we could be led down the wrong spiritual path. I have found that one of the enemy’s best tactics is to use scripture to choke us with feelings of unworthiness. Likewise, people use God’s word to guilt us into giving money, donating time, teaching 2-year-olds, or selling off everything we own.

Several years ago a close family member gave birth to a beautiful little girl. That child was well loved, but she was conceived outside of marriage. She grew and was raised by a single good mom and a marginal father. It was made clear to the family that we were expected to give of our time and resources to aid this little family. After all, my mother said, “the Bible tells us to help widows and orphans”.

And there it is…a classic misuse of scripture meant to guilt someone into doing something. The verse being referenced here is found in the first chapter of James. In this passage James begins by admonishing us to consider it “pure joy” whenever we face trials, and to ask God for wisdom. He ends the chapter by encouraging us to be authentic Christians—people who are quick to listen, slow to speak, and who keep a tight reign on our tongue. James ends the chapter in verse 27 with; Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

The real trouble with using that particular passage to motivate us to give our time and resource to care for the little family is that the little girl wasn’t an orphan and her mom was not a widow. She chose to be in a relationship outside of marriage and the result was that she brought a child into a less than ideal situation.

Reaching out to a child in need, or a mom in pain is a great thing—a noble thing. But, taking scripture out of context to guilt a person into anything is just wrong. So, get off the pew and study God’s word for yourself so you can be discerning. Get off the pew!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Religion or Relationship?

A friend posted the following as his status on Facebook today:

"I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of god. I have seen too much religion in the eyes of too many murderers. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What god desires is here." [points to head] - my favorite quote from the movie, "Kingdom Of Heaven"

Do people see you as a religious person, or do they see you as someone who lives each day in pursuit of holiness? We can be religious about many things—work, exercise, diet, or politics. Holiness, however, is what happens in us and through us as a result of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Jesus wants to be in relationship with us. Religion and religiosity is man-made and rules-based. I desire a relationship with Jesus. I pray that I am always in pursuit of holiness.

Get off the pew and seek Jesus. He wants to be in relationship with you—with me! Get off the pew!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pray Them Away

Several years ago a friend of mine was very unhappy with her son’s choice for a girlfriend. One day over coffee, she told our circle of friends that she was “praying” this girl out of her son’s life.

I remember another similar instance when I was at a women’s retreat. I was standing in the cafeteria line when I overheard the woman next to me say to her friend, “The guy is really terrible, and I’m praying him out of my daughter’s life”. So, apparently this is something moms do.

I guess I understand the sentiment behind the need to plead with God to do the dirty work, but I wonder what Jesus would do? In Matthew 5:44 Jesus says, But I tell you: Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. (NIV) Not only are we supposed to love and pray for our enemies, but God’s word encourages us to go even further. We are supposed to (gasp) "do good" for them. Look at Luke 6:35—But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most high, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Wow!

I want to remember that God has brought people into my life for a purpose, and maybe only for a short season. For that reason, I pray that I will love them as God loves them. And, when I can’t love them, I will pray for them. Always. When some of my close family members were buried deep in their drug addiction, I was introduced to some very unsavory characters. But you know what? I prayed for them, I was kind when they were in my presence, and I even sent a Bible to one of the young men when he went to prison. Though I hadn’t invited them into my world, I sensed that they had slipped into my life for a season and I prayed for them.

I started this post by talking about a friend of mine. I’m sad to say that she must not have thought God was working fast enough. She offered to mentor and give Bible studies to her son’s girlfriend, and the girl quickly took the mom up on her offer. When the two women met at the appointed time, my friend pulled out a notepad on which she had listed all the reasons she was praying the girl out of the family and the church. Later that day, the boyfriend called to tearfully end their relationship. The girl never went back to church.

It’s not easy—in fact it’s often unbelievably hard, but get off the pew and love your enemies. Get off the pew and pray for the hard to like person who persecutes you. Get off the pew!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Let Go and Let God (ugh)

“Let go and let God”. “Don’t worry, be happy”. I have come to dislike these two bumper sticker-isms—not because I don’t believe them, but because of how often they are used. We spit out these quips, and others like them, when what we really mean is, “Gee, I have no idea what to say, but I want to say something helpful.”

I’ve written before about what I call “bumper sticker theology”. These are the feel good words and phrases we Christians say to one another. Speaking fluent Christianese is a prerequisite to church membership (or so it seems). Drive through a church parking lot during a Sunday morning service and you’re bound to see a myriad of bursts of happiness plastered on the cars.

Here are a few of my favorite sticker-isms; “It’s not a religion-It’s a relationship”. “Real Men Pray”. "CH__CH—What is missing? UR”. “Jesus Freak”. “Jesus On Board”. And my personal favorite, “In Case of Rapture, Car will be Driverless”. I don’t debate the truth of each of these phrases, but I question the effectiveness.

Jesus walked from town to town and village to village, looking for people whose life he could touch. He didn’t pass through with his arms full of flyers with words printed on fine papyrus using pomegranate ink and touting spiritual fun facts. He found and met the physical needs of the sad, lonely, and hurting. Jesus sought out the hungry, and fed them. He went to the homeless, and offered them hope. He looked for the unlovable, and He put His arms around them.

I believe that if we put a bumper sticker on our car, we should also be willing to act on those proclamations. Prepare a meal for someone who might be sick or homebound (stay away from casseroles—I’m just sayin’). Give a single mom a break, and take her kids to the library for a few hours. Take up an offering for the family who is on the brink of losing their home or having their power shut off. Send a card to a mom whose child is in prison.

There is nothing wrong with the “let go and let God” theology. 1 Peter 5:7 says, Cast all your cares on Him because He cares for you. Make no mistake, however, that there are things we can do when people are in pain.

First and foremost, we need to pray for them. When Peter was in prison, the church prayed “earnestly” for him (Acts 12:5). And when Paul was in prison, he prayed for the church (Romans 1:9). In Isaiah 58:10 God commands us to feed those in want. Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. (NIV) In Matthew 25 Jesus tells us to give food, drink, and clothing to the needy and to visit the sick. He went on to say that when we do these things for the “least of these”, we’re actually doing them for Jesus himself. When we refuse to help the less fortunate, we are “refusing to help” Jesus! (vs. 45 NIV)

I know how difficult it is to watch people hurt. I know what it feels like to want to help, but to not have any idea of just how to go about doing that. Let’s get off the pew and look around us for people in need. A bumper sticker won’t fill an empty stomach. Well-intentioned words won’t pay the light bill for a family out of work. Quips can’t heal a broken heart, and feel-good words won’t bring the prodigal home. Get off the pew and decide today to meet one need of one person. That’s what it is to be Jesus with skin on. Get off the pew!

Saturday, April 3, 2010


The other day the local television news did a spot about Easter. The focus was how church leaders were choosing to provide simpler Easter services this year, and they are doing away with some of the audacious pageantry of the past due to hard economic times. Our church has absolutely cut way back this year.

For the television spot, three pastors from three different area churches were interviewed. The comments of one pastor really stood out. He said, “I think that what people are looking for is authenticity. They want to know that what is being said from the pulpit is what is being lived out in the lives of the people on the stage.” He’s right. My hope for this blog is that I can help to shine a light on the hidden corners of our own spiritual house so that we can be more authentic in our walk—and ultimately in our testimony.

Sadly, the words of the pastor who spoke so eloquently about authenticity did not ring true. They lacked credibility—for me anyway. The man speaking was the very same pastor who several years ago accused me of saying things I didn’t say and doing things I didn’t do. He succumbed to the gossip of one person, who in the end was given my job. Since then I have heard this man preach numerous messages about the importance of truth, relationships, and reconciliation, yet he has again and again refused my requests for restoration. I question his authenticity.

Failing to live according to the values we profess to hold dear is the very definition of hypocrisy. Every one of us have had days when our authenticity could be called into question. Every single one of us have, at times, behaved like a foolish hypocrite. Rather than deny that truth, acknowledge it! I want to get off the pew and ask God to reveal my hypocrisies. I pray for the strength and courage to stand for my convictions and to be a truly authentic child of God.

My desire is that I will be authentic in my life and deed. I challenge you to the same. Get off the pew of hypocrisy and jump into the light of authenticity. Get off the pew!