Giving Blood – 2 Diaries, 2 Entries

Dear diary 1

Dear Diary,

I gave blood today for little Jack T. Lots of people from the church were there serving, giving blood, chatting, laughing. First I filled out a questionnaire about the purity of my blood. Had I taken this drug or that drug, been exposed to AIDS, etc. One question was “Have you ever been born in: Mexico, South America or Central America?” I don’t think I ever was, but I might have been.

After filling out the form, a pleasant lady reviewed my questionnaire then led me to a comfortable reclining chair with an arm rest. A professional young woman swabbed my arm with a brown liquid to sterilize the area where they would insert the needle. Then she removed a new syringe from a package. I was slightly nervous, but saw an elderly lady giving blood a few feet from me and she seemed fine, so I figured if she could do it I could too. I just didn’t want to start screaming like a woman or pass out in front of everybody.

“Little pinch” said the girl and stuck a needle in my arm. It was definitely more than a pinch, but only lasted about 2 seconds. I lay there comfortably. Mary B. took a photo of me and others came along and poked fun at me, asking if I was going to make it. After 15 minutes, a young man carefully removed the needle, applied a bandage, sealed up the bag of my blood, and instructed me not to have any coffee for the rest of the day. Right. I planned on heading to Starbucks as soon as I left.

Then Gary D. escorted me to the snack room, ready to catch me if I fainted. I capped off my ordeal with a couple glasses of orange juice, a sloppy joe and some kettle-cooked potato chips. Becky, Jack’s mom, thanked me, as did numerous others, and I congratulated myself for my incredible act of heroism.

….

Dear Diary,

I gave my blood today for all those the Father has given me. First, Judas turned me over to an angry mob who had come with swords and spears. The disciples all ran away. The soldiers dragged me into a kangaroo court, where false witnesses lied about me and twisted things I’ve said. They hauled me before Pilate and Herod, then Pilate handed me over to Roman soldiers who tied me to a post and whipped me repeatedly with a cat o’ nine tails, with its leather thongs embedded with pieces of bone and metal. My back was completely shredded and my sides, arms, and the backs of my legs were torn to pieces. My face was black and blue and puffy from the soldiers’ fists.

They made a crown from a thorn bush and pressed it into my head. They draped a purple cape over my shoulders, they paid me mock homage, bowing before me, spitting on me and smacking the crown with reeds, driving it in deeper. Tiring of their fun, they led me staggering out into the streets carrying a cross.

There were noisy crowds, pushing and yelling. I was so weak I fell beneath the crushing weight of the cross. After a couple falls, I couldn’t get up. The soldiers forced a bystander to carry my cross as they pushed me through the crowds.

On a hill outside the city, the soldiers tore off my bloody robe, ripping open the wounds on my back again. Then they stretched me out on the cross and pounded spikes into my hands and feet. I thought I might pass out from the pain, but I didn’t cry out. They hoisted up the cross and it dropped into its hole with a terrific jolt – pain shot through my arms like lightning. I hung there for 6 hours, convulsing in racking pain. My lips were cracked and my throat burned with thirst. I was suffocating. I would push up on the nails in my feet for a few seconds to catch a breath of air, until the pain became unbearable in my feet, then I’d slump down and hang by the nails in my hands and begin suffocating again. People all around were cursing me, laughing at me, shaking their heads.

Worse than all the physical pain – I hung there under my Father’s curse – his infinite wrath descended upon me. Desolate, alone and in infinite misery, grief, and sorrow, I plunged into total darkness of soul, the darkness of utter abandonment. I hung between heaven and earth, all alone, for what seemed like an eternity, until I had no more blood left. A spear pierced my side and a trickle of blood and water drained out.

It is finished. I’ve purchased my beloved ones.

What To Do When You Have An Enemy

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“O Lord, how many are my foes!” (Psalm 3:1)

Foes. Enemies. Opposition. If you read through the Psalms, you’ll find those words occur about 130 times. Apparently for the psalmists having someone out to get them wasn’t an uncommon experience.

How about you? Do you have an enemy? That probably sounds melodramatic, but it’s not. Think about it. Sin is one of the most basic themes in Scripture. “Sinners” leads inevitably to “sinned against.” That’s a biblical, realistic view of the world. Sometimes the sins committed against us are minor, and reconciliation can occur. Sometimes even major sins can be forgiven and reconciled. But not always. The sinner who sins against you may have no intention of stopping and no desire for reconciliation. In other words, you may have an enemy.

I’ll let you color in the “enemy” picture: someone in the community. Someone on the internet. A boss. A coworker. An estranged family member. The question is how do you respond when you have enemies? What’s the godly reaction? In the rest of Psalm3, David is going to tell us. First hear him describe his situation.

“O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God” (Psalm 3:1-2).

He elaborates in v.6: many thousands have set themselves against him, surrounding him on all sides.

Does it feel that way with your enemy? Maybe not. You might read David’s words and think your situation is miniscule by comparison. That’s okay. David will teach us in the extreme how we should respond to opposition in every circumstance, great or small. It’s the same kind of situation. No matter who it is, no matter how large or small the attacks are, simply having someone doggedly against you wears you down. You feel either a burning desire to take control, justify yourself, and silence your enemy – or you feel helpless, out of control, and despondent. Both of those feelings have a centrifugal power. They draw you in, consuming more and more of your inner world. But there’s a way out.

“But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” (Psalm 3:3)

Now there are three parties involved: you, your enemies, and your God. And God’s is the decisive word. Do you hear who God is in this verse?

God is your protector. A shield takes the blows instead of you. God is your shield. No, it may not always feel that way – your enemy’s words and deeds may still hurt, and hurt deeply. But if you’re a child of God, here’s the promise: they won’t destroy you. They don’t define you. And they cannot derail God’s plan for you.

God is your glory. Wait. Glory? Yes, glory. Worth. Honor. Perhaps it feels like, through slander or accusations, your enemy has stolen that from you. Not if you’re God’s. He is your glory. You call him Abba, Father. You wear his colors. He smiles – even sings – over you. Your glory, your honor and significance, is beyond the reach of your enemies.

God is your vindication. An implacable enemy makes you long for vindication. You want it known that they are in the wrong and you are in the right. You can try to make that happen in your own power, but it’s a dangerous road. You become like the one you oppose. Here’s a different way. Wait, on bended knee, until God lifts your head. He will.

A God like this completely alters the experience of being sinned against, of having an enemy. And if you’re convinced this God is your God, you can respond in a new way. Look what David says and does. He talks to God: “I cried aloud to the LORD” (v.4). He rests in dependent trust: “I lay down and slept.” He makes resolutions: “I will not be afraid” (v.6). He cries out, passionately, for deliverance: “Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God!” (v.7). And he ends with the ultimate hope for all of God’s people: “Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people” (v.8). Isn’t this exactly what you need when you have enemies? Salvation. Deliverance. Rescue. It’s a straight line from this verse to the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. He defeated his enemies and turned us, his one-time enemies, into friends. Salvation belongs to him. And not even our enemies can stop his blessing from flowing to us.

Photo by Ms Sara Kelly

Our First Hatemail, Competition On Social Media, and Other Happy Rant Topics

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It’s time for yet another episode of The Happy Rant! We’re really grateful for all the support and encouragement we’ve gotten from listeners. THANK YOU!

In today’s episode we talk about:

  • Our very first piece of hatemail, and how we deal with it.
  • Why social media has turned everything into a competition.
  • Is it a good idea to tell kids to follow their dreams?
  • And other brilliant topics.

You know what to do:

5 Reasons You Should Journal

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I don’t think everyone needs to journal. But I have a hard time thinking of any legitimate reason why someone wouldn’t. Some might think it’s girly. Some might think it’s time consuming. Some might just hate to write. Well, here are my five best reasons you should take up or, keep up, journaling.

1) It is not log book or a daily diary.

I think one of the biggest obstacles to journaling is the perception that it has to be done daily and you have to record everything. That’s not journaling. That’s a waste of time. A journal might be a place to record memories, but really it’s more of a place to process thoughts or experiences. You can journal weekly, daily, every couple weeks, whatever. Try to to do it regularly, but don’t be burdened by it. It should unburden you.

2) Journaling is a dumping ground for all the stuff you aren’t sure you should say or write elsewhere.

Anger, pain, venting, fears – they’re all scary and/or hurtful to offer publicly. So start in a journal. As you write you might see that yes, you really ought to keep that to yourself; it’s that bad. But you might find an idea developing that is beneficial to share with others. Journaling is what got me started as a writer. As I worked through different ideas some of them coalesced into something worth sharing (or at least I thought so). Regardless, you will find yourself free of some of the burden of those confusing, scary, hurtful thoughts because you dumped them in a journal

3) It’s the easiest way to pray.

You know what’s really doggone stinking hard? Sitting down, closing your eyes, and praying in any sort of focused coherent way for longer than about 18 seconds. You forget what you were going to pray for. You get distracted by everything including the mere thought of being distracted. You slip into “prayer language” and don’t quite feel free to really say what you’re really thinking and feeling. You know what fixes all that? Writing it down. It automatically takes focus. It slows you down. It is easier to write sensitive things than speak them. And it is between you and God, almost like a letter.

4) It connects you to your past and points your way forward.

Your journal is a photo album of your state of mind. As you look back you’ll see where you’ve been, how you’ve progressed or matured. Or maybe you’ll be reminded of a better place, a time when you were on more solid ground and can find some encouragement in it. In either instance it gives you a means to look ahead. So does using the journal for prayer. They show trajectory and correctives. They offer hope. They remind you of obstacles to avoid and paths to retread.

5) Writing begets writing.

Not everyone will care about this, but for those who want to make writing a habit or who want to develop as writers journaling is a wonderful way to do so. At the simplest it is regular practice and makes a habit of composing. On the creative side it allows you to explore ideas all the way past their limits, jot down all your crazy, push the limits of what works. In the process you figure out what you should write and gain new ideas you would have never thought of otherwise. Journaling will make your writing richer, more honest, more refined, and more creative.

When A Brother Or Sister Is Ensnared In Sin – What To Do (And Not Do)

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Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Galatians 6:1

Ever been caught in a sin? The word translated “caught” in Galatians 6:1 means “overtaken.” It has the meaning of becoming ensnared. Overpowered. Caught in a trap.

Not only unbelievers, but believers can get tripped up by sin. Ensnared. Unable to break out easily.

How should we react?

How should we treat someone who is overtaken by a sin? What if someone comes to you and confesses they’re ensnared in pornography? Or they’ve been giving into anger or overeating. How should we react to them?

Unfortunately, believers don’t always react with much gentleness. When a teen confesses a sin, parents say things like, “How could you do such a thing?” Or “What were you thinking?” Sadly, there were times when my children confessed sin to me that I expressed my disappointment by dropping my head or displaying a pained look.

God’s word says that if anyone is caught in ANY transgression we should restore them with gentleness. ANY transgression – believers fall hard at times. Believers get ensnared in bad things. Sin is deceptive and very often believers fall prey to its wiles. Although it’s disappointing and sad and at times shocking when a fellow believer confesses falling into a serious sin, we must be careful in the way we react to them.

Our goal: restore them to Christ

Our first goal should be to RESTORE them to Christ – “you who are spiritual should restore him.”  We should point them to Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy. To remind them that he paid for every single one of our sins on the cross. To assure them that Jesus is a sympathetic and merciful high priest who waits on his throne of grace to show them mercy and give them help in time of need.

Even if they are unrepentant our goal should be to rescue and restore them to Christ. Church discipline as described in Matthew 18 is not punishment but a rescue operation that seeks to win straying sheep back to the Lord.

Gentleness, not exasperation

And as we seek to restore someone we should do it “in a spirit of gentleness,” not exasperation – “I can’t believe you did that again!” There’s no place for anger or disgust. Sin has painful consequences, and sinners are often hurting. Hurting people need to be handled with gentleness.

This doesn’t mean we can’t bring correction, especially if they aren’t listening or repenting. But we should always treat others as we would like to be treated.

And one of the greatest motivators for gentleness is to “keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” We should never judge anyone caught in a sin, because next time it might be us. We could be tempted and fall into the same sin, or a different one, and find ourselves needing to be restored. Never think, “How could this person do this?” Or “I would never do that!” It’s always best to think, “I’m a sinner too. I could fall too. Our roles might be reversed next time.”

I haven’t always done these things well. I haven’t always been gentle. I have been arrogant in my heart. But I want to be more like Jesus who didn’t wait for us to have our acts together before he had compassion on us. And I want to fear God, knowing that I can be tempted and fall just like anyone else.

What Does It Mean To Be A Responsible Charismatic?

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Ah yes…the Holy Spirit. What are we to do with Him? On one extreme you’ve got Benny Hinn, stalking back and forth across the stage, wearing his spotless white suit, talking Holy Spirit nonsense and “slaying” people in the Spirit by pushing them backwards. On the other extreme, you’ve got John MacArthur creating a conference called “Strange Fire”. And then there are a whole bunch of people in the middle who don’t know exactly what they believe about the Holy Spirit.

I don’t want to be Benny Hinn (although his white suit is pretty awesome). As much as I like and respect John MacArthur, I don’t believe that his position regarding the cessation of the spiritual gifts is biblical either. Is there a middle ground? I think there is.

I like to call myself a “responsible charismatic”.

What is a responsible charismatic? Let me spell it out. A responsible charismatic…

…BELIEVES IN THE FINAL AUTHORITY AND SUFFICIENCY OF SCRIPTURE

One of the assumptions people often make is that if you believe in spiritual gifts like prophecy or tongues or healing, you can’t believe in the final authority and sufficiency of Scripture. The assumption is that you either believe in prophecy or you believe in the final, ultimate authority and sufficiency of Scripture. It’s one or the other. Door one or door two. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Except that you can.

How do the spiritual gifts and the authority of Scripture work together? I’ll explain more about that in a future post. For now I simply want to make one thing clear: every part of my life, including my use of and understanding of the spiritual gifts, falls under the authority and guidance of Scripture. My belief in the gifts of the Holy Spirit does not in any way undermine or contradict my full confidence in the sufficiency and authority of God’s word. Scripture always has the final say.

Some might object that it is logically impossible to believe in something like prophecy and to also believe in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. If that’s your position, you’re gonna need to take that up with the Bible itself.

The biblical authors did not see any tension between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he was writing as a divinely commissioned apostle. He was aware that his words carried divine authority. He knew that his words were authoritative in the same way the rest of Holy Scripture was authoritative. And yet Paul didn’t seem to have any problem in telling the Corinthians to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1). Paul didn’t have any hesitation when he told the Christians at Rome to use their spiritual gifts for the building up of the church (Romans 12:3-8). He told the Thessalonians to test every prophecy, and to hold fast to what was good (1 Thessalonians 5:16). How were they to test prophecy? Presumably against the teaching of the apostles and the Old Testament scriptures. Scripture does not create a conflict between the authority and sufficiency of Scripture and the ongoing use of the spiritual gifts.

So, a responsible charismatic believes that the spiritual gifts are for today and also believes that Scripture is sufficient and has the final authority.

A responsible charismatic also…

…EMBRACES THE BROAD WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Unfortunately, when people hear the term “charismatic”, they immediately think of extremists like Benny Hinn or Todd Bentley. They think of people laying on the ground, “slain” by the power of the Holy Spirit. A responsible charismatic, however, doesn’t limit his understanding of the Holy Spirit to just the spectactular spiritual gifts. Rather, the responsible charismatic embraces the broad work of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit works in a massive number of ways. The Spirit convicts us of sin. He inspires us to give generously. He creates true fellowship between believers. He comforts us in our distress. He empowers us to share the gospel boldly. He strengthens our marriages. He gives us the ability to be content in weakness. The Holy Spirit is at work all the time in his people. To only pursue the flashy spiritual gifts, like prophecy or tongues, is to miss out on so many other things the Spirit does.

At church this past Sunday, I asked a guy if he would be willing to help out with running our lighting system. He immediately responded by saying that he wanted to serve in any way possible. That response is just as much the work of the Holy Spirit as someone speaking in tongues. The Spirit works in many, diverse ways, and a responsible charismatic pursues and embraces the broad work of the Holy Spirit.

I want to be a responsible charismatic. I want to hold fast to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. I want to embrace the broad work of the Holy Spirit. And I also want to actively pursue the presence and gifts of the Spirit.

How do I pursue the gifts of the Spirit while still submitting to the authority of Scripture. More on that to come…

The Secret To Loving Jesus Much

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The more we realize how much Jesus has forgiven us, the more we will love him.

In Luke 7 a woman of ill repute shows up at a meal Jesus is attending in a Pharisee’s home. She breaks open a flask of expensive ointment, then, weeping over Jesus’ feet, wipes them with her hair and anoints them with the oil. The Pharisee, named Simon, most likely disgusted that Jesus would let this unclean woman touch him, thinks if Jesus were a prophet he’d know the kind of woman this is and have nothing to do with her. Jesus tells him:

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” (41-43)

Then after mentioning Simon’s lack of courtesies – he didn’t wash Jesus’ feet, welcome him with a kiss or anoint his head with oil – he pointed out how the woman washed his feet with her tears, kissed his feet and anointed them with oil. Then he delivers the punch line:

“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (47)

Before he saved me, Jesus let me sink into a self-made miry pit of sin, selfishness, and misery. I couldn’t get out and couldn’t stop sinning. God is sovereign.  He could have kept me from sinning.  But he allows us to plunge deeply into sin.  One of the reasons is so that when he does rescue us, we’re far more amazed and grateful than if we’d never sinned.

The same thing happens even after God saves us. He could keep us from ever sinning again. He could deliver us instantaneously from all pride and anger and self-centeredness. But he allows us to fall and struggle at times so we’ll have a fresh appreciation of his grace, forgiveness and love. And as a result we will love him all the more.*

John Newton said:

“…when, after a long experience of their own deceitful hearts, after repeated proofs of their weakness, willfulness, ingratitude, and insensibility — they find that none of these things can separate them from the love of God in Christ; Jesus becomes more and more precious to their souls. They love much, because much has been forgiven them!”

Have you blown it repeatedly? Messed up so many times you can’t recall? If you haven’t turned to Jesus yet, do so today! He paid for every one of your sins on the cross and freely forgives all who call upon him in faith to save them. He’ll cleanse you of your every sin, and in turn you’ll love him much.

Maybe you’ve believed for years, yet you’re discouraged in your struggle with sin. Remember, Jesus paid for all your sins long before he saved you. Ask him for forgiveness and he’ll forgive you and cleanse you of all unrighteousness. Not because you deserve it, but because he loves you. And you too will love much because you’ve been forgiven much.

I don’t advocate continual, morose, Eeyore-like dwelling upon our sins. But I DO advocate contemplating how much Jesus has forgiven us, because the more we realize the height and width and breadth and depth of Jesus’ forgiveness, the more we will love him.

The secret to loving God much: contemplate the immeasurable debt Jesus paid for you and how vast is his mercy and grace to you.

…..

*The reality of God in his sovereignty allowing us to fail to reveal the depth of our sin, our weakness and need and the greatness of Christ’s mercy and love is explained well by Barbara Duguid in her book “Extravagant Grace: God’s Glory Displayed in our Weakness”

Two Things We Must Be Clear About When We Talk About Homosexuality

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You don’t have to read many headlines to recognize that homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and a host of other related topics are hot-button issues these days. In previous generations Christians only had to give passing thought to the Bible’s teaching on these matters, but no longer. We may want to avoid the controversy, but it’s coming whether we like it or not. In some way, at some time or place, every Christian will have to take their stand on this question: what does the Bible say about homosexuality? Let me suggest two points I think we must state with both compassion and clarity.

1) Homosexuality is a sin

There are six texts that explicitly mention homosexuality: Genesis 19, Lev. 18.22, Lev. 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9, 1 Tim. 1:10. In addition, Jude 1:7 references the Sodom and Gomorrah story in Genesis 19 without using the word “homosexuality.” The clear teaching of these passages, Old and New, is that homosexuality is a sin.

Despite the clarity, however, there are many who argue that Scripture doesn’t actually say what it appears to say. Some pit the Old Testament vs. the New Testament – sure, there may have been some obscure law under Moses that forbid homosexuality, but the New Testament is about love and compassion and acceptance. But the obvious flaw with that line of reasoning is that the New Testament is just as clear in its labeling of homosexuality as a sin.

Others, noting that those three New Testament passages are all in Paul’s letters, pit Jesus against Paul. “Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners,” they say. “Of course he would have accepted homosexuals! It’s Paul whose the problem, introducing rules and polluting Jesus’ religion of love.” Notice what happens if we take this view. We’ve put ourselves in the position of judging which parts of Scripture we accept and which we reject. We stand above the Bible and render a verdict of true or false. But we’ve lost the ability for Scripture to ever confront us and tell us something different than what we already believed. It’s just those times when Scripture challenges us and brings us up short, even angers us with its audacious claims, that prove it’s the word of a living and active God. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, it’s only dream furniture that never stubs your toes and only a dream “God” who never corrects you.

There’s at least one more nuanced approach to explaining away Scripture’s clear teaching. This view argues that the commands against homosexuality are only against sexual excess, not committed homosexual relationships and that the Bible knows nothing of the modern concept of sexual orientation. But here’s the problem. The Bible not only gives commands about sexuality and condemns homosexual behavior, it also tells us why. And it’s that why that is so important.

The commands against homosexuality (and all heterosexual sin as well!) are set in the context of the story line of Scripture, and especially the goodness of creation in Genesis 1 and 2. There we learn that gender – male and female – is part of our very essence. There is no such thing as a gender-less human; we are either men in God’s image or women in God’s image. Sex cannot be divorced from gender. It is a gift of God with specific purposes that all take place in the context of the marriage relationship in Genesis 1-2. Appealing to “homosexual orientation” as a way to bypass God’s prohibition against homosexuality doesn’t work because God has already told us what our sexual orientation is supposed to be: one man for one woman, in the context of a marriage covenant. Just as you wouldn’t use an iPhone to hammer a nail (Steve Jobs didn’t design it for that), so too you cannot use God’s gifts for purposes that are contrary to his.

Despite the arguments against the biblical texts, it’s clear that Scripture says homosexuality is a sin. But there’s more we must say.

2) Homosexuality is a sin

The first point speaks to those who argue homosexuality really isn’t a sin. But now we have to emphasize that homosexuality is only a sin, not the sin. Some rationalize homosexuality, others demonize it. Think of the news clips of people screaming and holding “God hates fags” signs. This is just as much a distortion of Scripture as trying to make Scripture approve of homosexuality. “God hates fags” is a gross caricature of the gospel message, one that draws the line between “us” and “them,” with “them” defined as “sinners who do things I don’t do.” In truth, God hates sin in all its manifestations. Sometimes it marches in gay parades and sometimes it gossips over the fried chicken. Both are equally hateful to God.

No passage is clearer in labeling homosexuality as a sin, but only one among many sins, than 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (emphasis added).

Note what Paul says. Men who practice homosexuality are among the unrighteous. So are idolaters and verbally abusive people. But the gospel changes the identity of just such people: “And such were some of you” – until God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit intervened!

Here’s the heart of the matter. The Bible refuses to let us label them as the problem. We are the problem – and that we includes kindly old grandmothers, card-carrying lesbian activists, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth farmers, and everyone in between. Our problem is much bigger than any one expression of sin. Our problem is a planet of 7 billion people each going his or her own way, with thousands of years’ worth of backstory to that rebellion. The tangled web that all of those rebels weave, a web of sinning and being sinned against, creates chaos and confusion that impacts every corner of the planet and every nook of our lives. Yes, homosexuality is part of that rebellion. But it’s not the sole cause of the rebellion. Labeling it as the sin causes us to miss our own culpability for vandalizing God’s good creation.

Homosexuality is a sin, but only a sin. In our current cultural climate, with pressures from multiple sides, faithfulness to Scripture requires us to say both.

Photo by Ethan Lofton

Why You Shouldn’t Give Up On The Church

 

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This article was originally Published at RelevantMagazine.com.

I grew up in the church. No really, I grew up in the church. I am a PK and spent countless hours in church and doing church activities. I am a church native and familiar with all its quirks and cultural oddities, with all its strengths, and with all its failings. As the son of prominent evangelical pastor, John Piper, I not only saw the inner workings of my own church I was exposed to church leaders from around the world and saw the good and the bad from their churches too.

Many people like me, who grew up immersed in church, have given up on it. Church is archaic, domineering, impersonal, hypocritical, irrelevant, contentious, petty, boring, and stale. It’s institutional instead of authentic and religious but not relational they say. I have seen all this in church and can agree that each accusation is true in instances. A PK sees all this up close and far too personally and feels each fault even more intensely. It really is enough to make one want to bail on church.

And I had my chance. Despite growing up steeped in sound Bible teaching and a loving context, I grew up empty in my soul. I believed but didn’t fully believe. I obeyed but kept parts of my life for myself, bits of dishonesty and secrecy. I knew Jesus and knew He was the only way to be saved from my sin, but I didn’t give my life to Him. In the end it blew up in my face and I was faced with the decision: stay in church and work through my mess or leave and be free. I stayed.

While leaving was an option, it was one that I looked at and saw emptiness. Sure, the church can cause a lot of pain and annoyance, but it’s where Jesus’ people are connected. And really, that’s what it is about – Jesus. That’s what made it so clear to me that staying was best.

The church is a messy place by nature. That’s what happens when a bunch of sinners come together anywhere. But it is a messy place designed by God to be his face to the World, and all those sinners reflect Him in unique ways. Nothing reflects God to the world like the church does. No, we don’t “do” church 100% correctly, and we never will. No, church is not a perfect place. Yes, church displays the sins of all its people very publicly. But none of that changes what it is or can be.

To leave the church is to hurt yourself and to hurt others. I don’t mean hurt like a slap in the face (though in some cases it’s a bit like that). I mean hurt like malnourishment. We were created by God to connect with others and, in that connection, reveal more of Him to each other and to the world. When we depart we deprive ourselves of those aspects of God others reflect and we deprive them of those aspects we reflect. Leaving is starving our souls and others’.

Solitude is wonderful. But many things in life, maybe most things, are better enjoyed with others. Including God. That’s why we’re called to worship with others, to study with others, to pray with others. And church is the outlet for that, an imperfect outlet, but the outlet nonetheless. God wants us to experience Him to the fullest and that is done with others in song, in study, in reflection, in prayer, in tears, in confession in celebration – with others, doing church.

Leaving the church is escapism. You may find stresses relieved and conflicts avoided. It may feel like a breath of fresh air to leave behind traditional stuffiness and legalistic hypocrisy. Even now, I often want to slap the stupid out of the church. It can be such a maddening collection of people. (And I suspect I contribute to the stupid that needs slapping just as often.) But none of that changes what it is: the organism of God’s presence and kingdom in the world. It is His means of connecting people to the gospel, to hope, to life. No matter your frustrations and hurts, it cannot be abandoned. You need it now whether or not you know it, and someday you will have a need nothing and no one else can meet. And the church will be where Jesus shows himself to you.

 photo credit: Bradley N. Weber via photopin cc

When You’re Tempted To Be Annoyed At The Weakness Of Others

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And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 1 TH 5.14

God saves all kinds of people, puts them together in his church and says “Now love one another.” The family of God includes those who have walked with God for years and those who are still rubbing their eyes in amazement that God saved them two weeks ago. God joins weak and strong, and tells us to live together in a way that will glorify him.

Sometimes we need to admonish others.

Apparently there were those in Thessalonica who weren’t working. Perhaps they’d quit their jobs believing Jesus’ return was imminent.  Perhaps they were simply lazy, but Paul says to admonish, them, warn them. Exhort them to work, provide for their families, and be diligent.

But be patient with them. It’s easy to feel annoyed at someone who’s lazy. When you get up early, endure rush hour traffic, slog away at your your job, put up with a demanding boss, then come home to find that this brother sleeps till noon and then wants to borrow money from you it’s easy to be irritated. Talk to him. Admonish him. But be patient with him.

Notice that out of the three types of people Paul mentions, two thirds are “fainthearted” and “weak.” Apparently, more Thessalonian believers were tempted to discouragement than idleness. That’s been the case in my experience pastoring over the years.

Paul says, “encourage the fainthearted” – the discouraged, feeble, and timid. They want to give up. They’re fearful. They have a hard time having faith. You spend a couple hours encouraging them, they leave confident and trusting the Lord, then the next day they’re back as discouraged and unbelieving as ever. Be patient with them.

It’s easy to become frustrated with the fainthearted, especially if you don’t struggle like they do. God has given some of us a gift of faith or we’ve grown in faith over the years so we’re able to trust God when he takes us through flood and fire. Others don’t have this kind of faith. They’re constitutionally and continually “fainthearted.” They can’t seem to believe God’s promises. They want to. They try to. They do for a while. Then they sink again. Don’t look down on them. Bear with their sinkings. Be patient with them.

Other believers are “weak.” They don’t have much spiritual strength. They fail repeatedly and can’t seem to conquer sin. Be patient with them.

It’s easy for those who are strong to judge others out of their strength.

My dad was a great guy but just couldn’t understand why people had such a hard time quitting smoking. “I smoked for twenty years, then one day I just decided to quit and I did. Never had another cigarette after that. You just decide to quit and you quit.” It wasn’t so easy for me. I’d only used tobacco for a few years when I quit as a young believer. It was so hard for me. I failed repeatedly and it took me quite a while to finally quit.

It may be sexual sin or bulimia or anger, but many of us are weak in some area. Those who have never struggled with a particular sin can be tempted to look down on those who do. It’s easy to be impatient with someone if you haven’t been through it.  Rather than just telling someone to buck up, get over it, just quit or just do it, Paul says “help the weak.” Help them with prayer. Help them with encouragement or gently holding them accountable. And be patient with them when they fail. Jesus will help them. They’ll grow. Maybe slowly, but they’ll grow.

God has been incredibly patient and longsuffering with me. How can I not be patient and longsuffering with others? Jesus has put up with my failures, unbelief, laziness, and multipe weaknesses for years, yet he’s never given up on me. How can I not be do the same for others?