Saturday, April 30, 2016

9 Sins the Church is Okay With

Are we changing the Bible to fit our culture or are we changing our culture to fit the Bible
By Frank Powell

I was in an engineering class the first time I watched the tragic explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Even though I wasn’t alive when it happened, I caught a glimpse of the horror thousands must have felt as the events unfolded.
And, the first question everyone wanted to know was, “What happened?”
After months of investigation, here’s what the Rogers Commission (the group commissioned to investigate the explosion) discovered: an o-ring seal in the right solid rocket booster failed at take-off. I won’t bore you with the details, but an o-ring is a small device relative to the size of a space shuttle. Very small.
It wasn’t something huge, like a puncture in the rocket booster or a hole in the cabin, that caused this disaster. It was a small, seemingly insignificant, o-ring failure.
I think there’s a lesson here for the church. What if the big sins, you know the ones you try hardest to avoid, aren’t the greatest threat to your joy and the church’s mission?
Maybe it’s the sins lying underneath, the ones considered normal or acceptable, the ones going undetected, that are affecting the church the most. I want to address 9 of these sins.

1.) FEAR
The phrases “do not fear” and “do not be afraid” appear 365 times in the Bible. Ironic? I think not. And here’s what I think the church misses about fear. Let me pose this as a question.
What is the opposite of fear? Courage? Bravery? William Wallace?
Wrong. Wrong. And right, but you’re ruining my point.
The opposite of fear is…LOVE. Add to this the reality that God is love. So, according to the Transitive property of mathematics, the opposite of fear is…God.
If you’re a child of God, the one sin that shouldn’t plague you is…fear.
Yet, Christians are the most fearful people on earth. Even our salvation is rooted in fear. Does it bother anyone that the primary method of bringing people to Jesus has been to scare them away from hell?
That’s fear language, the antithesis of God. Look at what John says.
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.1 John 4:18
The church is scared to make decisions out of fear. Christians are hesitant to step into dangerous situations out of fear. The catalyst for our obedience is fear. Where’s the love?
Several weeks ago, I decided to remove the words “fear, scared, and terrified” from my vocabulary. Maybe you should do the same. It could change how you see the world. And God.

Apathy’s best friends are passivity and entitlement. Together, they’re a vicious threesome.
There’s nothing mediocre or normal about God. His power is beyond comprehension. His beauty is beyond description. His love is beyond measure. The same God who created the universe and formed stars desires a relationship with you.
Yet, the attitude is often, “Okay, God loves me. That’s great. What’s for lunch?” No. You don’t get it, bro. God loves you. And you’re content with, “That’s great.”
Our apathetic approach to God explains a lot about why people in America aren’t lining up to become Christians.
I mean, think about it. How many Christians have you met that left you thinking, “Wow, I want to be like them?” But this should be the norm, right? Am I way off here? Shouldn’t you be so transformed by God that people want to ask about your life, even if they hate God?
In Scripture, when men and women truly experience God, everything changes. Everything. So, that begs the question, “Have you experienced God?”

In my younger days, I would literally eat myself sick. I mean, if I ordered food, I ate all of it. Period. Naturally, this presented a problem when I ate buffets.
Looking back, I see that my attitude was gluttonous. And the gluttony wasn’t that I ate myself sick. It was that I used a gift God gave me on myself…in excess.
Gluttony is primarily about the heart. It’s a craving for excess. Gluttony says, “Those voids God is supposed to fill…don’t worry about that. I will fill them.” Gluttony happens when you lose your awe of God. You see, as long as your eyes are fixed on Jesus, your heart’s desire is for him.
Is the world not desperate for this message? As we gorge our stomachs with food and flood our houses with trinkets, our discontent only increases.
Where are the Jesus followers who will fix their eyes completely on him, throwing away anything that treads the line between want and need? Where are the Christians who will feast in excess on God?

Worrying gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.
The great philosopher Van Wilder once said, “Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” That’s right. But Van Wilder isn’t the only one who talked about worry. Jesus said you shouldn’t worry about anything (Matt. 6:25-34). But Jesus wasn’t serious was he? I mean, really Jesus? Anything?
He was serious. You see, worrying is symptomatic of a larger issue…lack of faith. And for followers of Jesus whose primary mission is to show the glory and nature of God to the world, worrying is a problem.
Recently, I asked a good friend why worry plagues the church, and he said something profound, “My greatest concern is that we don’t want to need God. We’re Americans. We’re independent.”
That’s hard-hitting stuff right there.
Americans will do anything to maintain the illusion of control and responsibility, so no wonder worry plagues us. Worry is the by-product of bearing a weight only God can bear.
Do you see the irony here? The more independence you desire, the more worry you will experience. So, why not give everything to God and let his peace reign over your life?

I erased this like five times, but God kept telling me to put it back. So, I did. With hesitancy. I love you, God.
I like performing. I always have. And while there’s nothing wrong with the spotlight, there’s a lot wrong with making yourself the center of it.
If your identity is tied to man’s praise, you’ll be eternally discontent.
If your identity is tied to man’s praise, you’ll be eternally discontent. People are fickle. They’re here today and gone tomorrow. They’re for you one day, against you the next.
They love you when you agree with them, dislike you when you don’t.
Yet, we love human praise, at least I do. Exhibit A: Instagram, SnapChat, and Facebook. While I love social media, they’re also platforms that perpetuate flattery. You post pictures about your life hoping the world will “like” it. Who cares if it’s not the real you? You need the approval. So, even if you need 30 minutes to find that perfect selfie, it’s worth the time.
Jesus, however, didn’t need the praise and glory of men. He didn’t care what they thought. His only concern was doing the will of God. This attitude is what the world is desperate to see.
It’s hard to point people to Jesus if you need their approval.
Let’s be honest, it’s hard to point people to Jesus if you need their approval.
And when you need the approval of others, your life will have more ups and downs than the Goliath at Six Flags in Atlanta.
I rode that beast. I know.

Comfort might be the patriarch of the “church approved” sins family. When the church becomes comfortable, Christianity starts to die.
Christians must be extremely intentional with their thoughts and actions to avoid
comfort. If not, you become resistant to change. You start making secondary issues primary. You begin to see the mission as catering to insiders rather than reaching outsiders.
And here’s the thing about the sin of comfort. Once it shows up, it’s extremely difficult to remove. When you challenge comfort, people don’t just get angry. They get fightin’ mad. Comfort will even tell you to crucify an innocent man.
The church can’t be missional and comfortable at the same time.
The church can’t be missional and comfortable at the same time. It’s time to make a decision.

I grew up watching Sesame Street. My favorite character?…Cookie Monster. I felt like we were the same person. And what I mean is we both loved cookies. I would often go around the house saying, “Gimme da cookies.”
It never worked.
Many Christians are like Cookie Monster. Their mantra is, “Gimme more…well anything. Just give me more. More. More. More.”
The essence of this sin is a false understanding of God, that God is a taker. But nothing could be further from the truth. God is a giver. He’s the Giver. And, as a man or woman created in his image, you should be a giver.
So, what are you creating? What are you giving back to the world? What are giving back to others?

Cue the nasty e-mails. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t picture Jesus waving an American flag while showing off his “I love ‘Merica” tattoo. Jesus wasn’t against the government. In fact, if you’re a Jesus follower, the Bible calls you to pray for your nation and for your leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-4). But Jesus was very clear about how God’s name would become famous throughout the world…the church. Not the government. Not a nation. The church.
When your allegiance is torn between your country and your God, American ideals begin to shape your faith more than God. And you transpose American values onto God, believing God would be an American and think like an American.
Celebrate American values. That’s great. But, at the end of the day, your citizenship is not with America. It’s in heaven.

If gluttony is the elephant in the room everyone sees, but no one talks about, lying is the elephant in the room no one sees. Lying is so socially acceptable, even in Christian circles, that it often goes undetected. We’re desensitized to it.
And here’s why this is dangerous for Christians.
There’s a rarely-discussed passage in Matthew 5:33-37 where Jesus confronts the Pharisees about oaths. Most Americans only hear the word oath when a celebrity lies in court (under oath). But Jesus isn’t talking about oaths in this passage.
He’s talking about INTEGRITY.
Here’s what Jesus is saying. You should live with such high integrity that your word doesn’t need attachments to make it legitimate. So, typical phrases like, “I promise,” “I swear,” and “I put it on my mom’s grave” should never come from your mouth.
“Frank, c’mon on man. Are you interpreting that correctly? Say you promise.”
These words are a kick in the pants, right? If you’re like me, you say things all the time and never follow through. You lie to make yourself sound better. You lie to stay out of trouble. You lie to get ahead. Sometimes you lie just to lie.
Jesus says there’s no place for that if you’re a Christian. Your word matters. If you say something, God expects you to do it. It’s better to tell the truth and lose your job than lie and keep it.
How serious is this? Jesus says anything more than our word is from the evil one, Satan. That’s real.

Sometimes the undetected sins are the most toxic. My hope is you will see this as an opportunity to grow. I also realize there are some “church approved” sins I didn’t mention. It’s your turn.

About Frank Powell

Devoted follower of Christ, college/young adult minister, husband to ‪@tiffanipowell, dad to Noah and Micah, avid blogger/writer, sports fan. You can follow him on twitter here and read more blogs here!

Friday, April 1, 2016

5 Stupid Things the Church Needs to Stop Doing to Make Progress

By Carey Nieuwhof

“Sometimes criticism aimed at the church is unfair. Other times, we shoot ourselves in the foot.”

The church has more than its share of critics these days.  Sometimes the criticism is unwarranted. People project their issues onto a congregation or onto the church, which is never healthy.  And, of course, the church will inevitably run into criticism.
What we’re doing is counter-cultural and will never be met with universal applause. The Gospel, even when powerfully shared, got John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, Jesus and the prophets killed, just to name a few. While it seems strange to say it, even love, when seen fully and magnificently, gets rejected.
But other times, we absolutely deserve the criticism that comes our way.  Often these days, it seems, we’re not ridiculed or persecuted because we’re fighting nobly. Nope, sometimes we just shoot ourselves in the foot.
Here are five things that, in my view, would help the mission of the church become more authentic and more effective if we could just stop doing them. 

1. Being So Weird Online

Too many Christians come across online as either:
--Toxic  (Hello angry ranters, trolls and haters);
--Cynical  (Yes, we know you’re disappointed with everyone all the time and no one gets it as right as you); or
--Syrupy  (So sweet we can’t stand the taste and are not really sure you live in the real world).
Why do so many Christians think their social media feed is a place to show the world their weirdness?  It gives the impression that if you’re going to follow Jesus, you also need to become socially awkward.
I know people might say, “No, I’m just being authentic.” But being authentic does not mean being weird. (I shared my personal criteria for what I share online in the name of authenticity in this post.)
I think a general rule is, if you can’t imagine saying it in real life to a person, you shouldn’t say it online.  If you go to post something and you think, well, that would be braggy if I said that to someone, that’s a healthy check. It means you’d be bragging. So don’t post it.
Similarly, if you think, “Well, people would just walk out of the room if I said that in real life,” then maybe don’t say it.  If you’re always angry or cynical or all you do is complain online and you think, “Well, I wouldn’t want to be friends with someone like that in real life,” then that’s a clue that maybe you shouldn’t say it, or be like that.
And if you think, “Well, then I’ll have nothing to post,” then you’ve likely put your finger on a deeper issue.  Christians, let’s just stop being so weird online, OK? 

2. Commenting on Politics

Part of the weirdness is political.
God is not a Republican or a Democrat, or in my country, a Conservative, Liberal or New Democrat. Nor is God an independent.
God is God.
When your church becomes a mouthpiece for a political party, you cease to be the church.  Your job is to share the Gospel, not to change the government.  As I shared in more detail here, Jesus and Paul spend surprisingly little time trying to influence the government. Jesus completely rejected the idea of becoming the government when people asked him to become their political leader.
I know some will say, “Well, God has opinions about things happening today.”
I’m sure he does.  But when authentic Christians sincerely share different views on subjects, we should be very careful about speaking for God.  And, after all, when God happens to have all the same opinions you do, you’re probably not even worshipping God anymore.  You might be worshipping yourself.

3. Handling Conflict So Poorly

The church should be the best in the world at handling conflict. We were taught by Jesus exactly how to do it.  Yet we often side-step.  We gossip.  We talk about other people rather than to people.
We avoid conflict.  Or we run into it like a bulldozer claiming we’re all about truth.   If we just handled conflict humbly, gently, introspectively and bravely, we would be so much better.  If you really want to see how to restore someone in love, listen to this message by Andy Stanley on judgment and helping others who are sinning.  It’s brilliant.
If we handled conflict more healthily, our churches would be so much healthier.
And a healthy church is a church that can help other people get healthier.

4. Ranking Sin Selectively

Christians have become fairly good at focusing on the moral failings of others while ignoring their own.
We pretend that the worst sin you can commit is sexual. And—don’t get me wrong—sexual sin has serious implications.
But so does gossip. And divisiveness. And quarrelling—sins Christians routinely ignore. Mostly because we commit them.
I would suggest that just as many congregations have been ruined by gossip, divisiveness and quarrelling as have been stained by sexual sin. But you’d never know it given the way we talk about sin.
I’m all for surrendering our sexuality to Christ. But I’m also all for submitting our propensity to gossip, our divisiveness and our quarrelling to Jesus and dealing with that seriously.
Imagine what the church might look like if that happened.
And we haven’t even touched gossip, gluttony or envy yet, all things with which Christians routinely self-medicate their pain.
Maybe if Christians humbly confessed their sins first, the world would be more likely to come to terms with their sins.
So here’s an idea. Instead of pretending someone else’s sin is worse than your sin, confess your sin.
You’ll be in such a better place if you do that. And so will they.  You might actually be able to help them.

5. Judging Outsiders

As I outlined here, we in the modern church have largely ignored Paul’s injunction to stop judging non-Christians. Even Jesus said he didn’t come into the world to judge it, but to save it.
I completely get the urge to judge our neighbours and even the world. Things bother me too.
But I have to refrain. Our faith in Christ demands it.
Before ministry, I was a lawyer. In first-year law, I remember having a crisis because I couldn’t imagine representing a client I believed might be guilty.
I stayed after class one day to talk to my criminal law professor about it. He assured me of a few things. First, if your client tells you he’s guilty, you can’t ethically enter a non-guilty plea.
That made me feel better.
But then he told me that almost every client says they’re not guilty.
I got nervous again.
“Well, what if you think he’s guilty but he says he’s not … doesn’t that put you in a horrible bind?”
I’ll never forget his answer.
             “You’re confusing your role, Carey.  You’re not the judge.  You’re his lawyer.  Your job is—ethically, morally and legally—to give him the best day he can possibly have in court.  The judge will decide whether he’s guilty or not.”
            I felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders.

So … Christians, the world has a judge.  And it’s not you.  He’s fairer than you.  More just than you.  More perfect than you.  And far more accurate.

In the meantime, do your best to help reconcile your brothers and sisters in the world to their heavenly father through Christ.  That’s your job.  Take some comfort in that.  And for all these reasons and more, stop judging.

What Else?

Any other self-defeating, stupid things you wish we’d stop doing in the church?