Tag Archives: sin

Accountability and the Church

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside… 1 Corinthians 5:9-13

Imagine my joining a CrossFit class and telling the trainer, “I just do not do squats of any kind. Sorry. It’s not that I cannot do them, because I can. I just don’t believe they will help me at all.” That trainer is likely to respond with something like, “Well then you don’t really want to do CrossFit, because squats (of every kind) are pretty foundational to everything we do here.” And then he/she would encourage me to leave and try a different program somewhere else; one that I really can believe in. I might ask him/her to please explain WHY squats are so foundational to CrossFit, and maybe that trainer would have a great answer, or maybe not. That’s not really the point. The point is, squats are a foundational part of CrossFit. So, if I am able to do them but just don’t really believe they’re helpful, then I really don’t believe CrossFit is helpful. If I don’t want the accountability CrossFit offers, then I don’t really want CrossFit. It’s simple that way.

Christianity works that same way. It is a revolution founded by Jesus, who …

Of Drownings and Gouged Eyes

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from the past, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

Little boy sleepovers and little girl slumber parties are two pretty different things. I learned this as a father of girls, whose wildest conversations in the slumber parties we hosted don’t even register on the “grotesqueness” scale I am sure my parents used to measure the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of the stuff about which my childhood friends and I talked. I mean, we talked about sick, morbid stuff, from “What’s the grossest sound you ever heard?” to “What’s the absolute worst way to die?” I have long since decided that these were perfectly normal topics of discussion for little boys and that there is nothing wrong with me. Please don’t comment and tell me otherwise.

I think boys are just drawn to extremes…the worst, the grossest, the hardest, the biggest. It is actually a communication style for them. You know, when they want to really hammer a point home and leave no doubt in the listener’s mind, they use an extreme illustration. It works for them.

millstone-around-the-neckIt worked for Jesus too. In Matthew 18, when he describes the way his followers will influence one another in His “church”, he wants to make a critically important point about the effects of sin in our lives. Here is what He understands about us: the only consequences of sin that really influence us are the immediate, physical consequences. If we don’t see immediate, physical consequences, our attitudes and behavior are not really being changed. That is just a part of the human condition. We are a short-sighted bunch.

So Jesus used extreme illustrations to make his point about the Spiritual impact of sin in His church. He talked about throwing someone into the …

Good News and Bad News for Your Church

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. Ezekiel 18:20

I have good news and bad news for your church and for mine. The good news: no matter how many wrong choices your church may have made in the past, God is still willing to work through you today, if you will humble yourselves and seek after Him. The bad news: you get little credit for the amazing things in your church’s past…it is your current testimony that matters. This generation of your church will stand alone in its effectiveness.

standing aloneEzekiel was dealing with the first group of Hebrews exiled to Babylon. They were the young, best and brightest of the Hebrew society. They were the intelligent, creative, young leaders. Before the exile, they had their whole productive lives in front of them. But now, it was all for naught. For all practical purposes, their productive lives were over. They would now spend the rest of those lives in exile. No surprise, then, they felt “robbed”…and they blamed their parents. They blamed the stiff-necked, rebellious nature of the generations before them for their current sad state.

The irony is that, for generations now, those very Hebrew people had been living off of the “favored” status of their own forefathers before the Lord. They had all the stories of a mighty God who had faught their forefather’s battles and who had miraculously saved them time and time again. They were living off the very spotty righteousness of their forefathers. “God promised our father, Abraham…we are his favored people.”

Do you see the pattern?…

Terrorists, Christians and the Walls that Divide Us

Tuesday Re-mix:

Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord;
    may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
For troubles without number surround me;
    my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
    and my heart fails within me.
Be pleased to save me, Lord;
    come quickly, Lord, to help me.  Psalm 40:11-13

It was one year ago today that the Boston Marathon reached a horrifying and premature conclusion. When the bombs went off, I was right there with you in my response: “Who would do such a thing?”  “How could anyone just kill and maim innocent people like that?”  With those questions and so many others like them, we begin trying to re-order our world by categorizing the good people and the bad people.  It brings us some comfort.  It is how we deal with otherwise “inexplicable evil”.  We find some solace in drawing those distinctions and in placing ourselves on one side and “those kinds of people” on the other side.  Honestly, it helps us sleep at night, doesn’t it?  We feel better about ourselves and about our world when we can identify evil, point it out as clearly “other” than us, and come to terms with the comforting reality that we are, in fact, better than those kinds of people.

brick wallBut scripture does not help us with that worldview.

Scripture does not paint a picture of a world divided.  If we go to our Bibles and read the stories of our heroes and heroines and hope to be able to place David and Joseph and Moses and Peter and Paul and you and me all on the side of “good”, and then place the murderers and adulterers and rapists and terrorists all on the side of “evil”, we …

The Future of the Church…It’s Complicated

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon,I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:10-11

Then the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.When it comes to understanding the God of the Bible, context is everything…and perspective counts for something as well.  Numbers 14:20-23

My brothers and sisters who preach a prosperity gospel (i.e., that God intends for you to have material wealth and to have it right now) claim Jeremiah 29:11 separate and apart from Jeremiah 29:10. complicated journeyIn other words, they catch the good news of the promise of hope and a future but they gloss over the bad news that it would come only after a  lifetime of exile and hardship (and for many who would die in exile, it would not come in this life at all).

By the same token, my brothers and sisters who favor a dark, judgmental, angry gospel point to Numbers 14 and God’s judgment on the people of Israel who rebelled against Him, but they tend to miss the unbelievable mercy He showed …

Bright Ideas Doomed to Fail

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

I’ve not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.  Thomas Edison, on his experiments with prototypes for the light bulb

broken lightbulbIf I call myself a Christ-follower, and I’m not afraid to wear that label publicly, then it seems right to me that I should have some pretty strong buy-in to the great commission in Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  It is why we, as Christians, are still here…still breathing.  Even after our salvation is secured, God leaves us here in order to fulfill this commission.

If that is all true, then our messaging on social media becomes purposeful, doesn’t it?  We want to use our very public, very searchable, very permanent social media posts to point to God in some fashion…or at least to preserve our privilege to do so with readers in the future. So, in the spirit of Thomas Edison, here are some messages for us as Christians, which are guaranteed NOT TO WORK:

1. The candidate you voted for is… [an idiot, a liar, a lunatic, a buffoon, a criminal, a bigot, a murderer, etc.].  I don’t know, call me narrow-minded, call me naive, call me a bad American…but I’m pretty sure my starting our conversation with this message is not a good strategy for getting you to listen to anything I have to say about Jesus.

2. You are… [an idiot, a liar, a lunatic, a buffoon, a

Loving Against the Grain

Tuesday Re-mix –

You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”…While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.  Acts 7:51-53, 59-60

Learning to show love to a lost and broken world is hard enough for us as individuals…that challenge is magnified a hundred fold for the church corporately.  We, the church, must live in the tension between standing for holiness (separateness, not giving in to the ways of the world) and loving the broken people around us, who are still well-entrenched in the ways of the world.  It is tricky, isn’t it?

When I read Stephen’s amazing sermon in Acts 7, and I see him brilliantly making the case for the pattern of rebellion throughout the history of the Jewish people (it is very much like an intervention…laying out all the evidence in a rational and indisputable way) and then leveling his charge against the church leaders of his time by associating them with that same pattern…I think to myself, “Now THAT is definitely going against the grain and calling out an entire culture!”  I have seen churches who have no problem with walking against the grain…railing against our culture, screaming at all the sinners in the world and telling them they’re going to burn in hell, even telling them that …

The Sins of Community

Tuesday Re-mix –

“Go to Bethel and sin;
go to Gilgal and sin yet more.
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
your tithes every three years.
Burn leavened bread as a thank offering
and brag about your freewill offerings—
boast about them, you Israelites,
for this is what you love to do,”
declares the Sovereign LORD.  
Amos 4:4-5

In the category of “there’s nothing new under the sun”, many of the problems we see today in the church have been with God’s people a long, long time.  Near the top of that list of problems is that people with hardened hearts which are cold toward God are still showing up at all the traditional times and in all the conventional ways for “church”.  It has been this way for a long, long time…God’s people are often pretty different on the inside than they are on the outside.  We are capable of going through the motions of spiritual things even while our hearts are not turned toward God.  Furthermore, even knowing this about ourselves, we continue to foster a form of “church” which quite intentionally avoids any system or structure that might actually fix this problem. Sadly, we do not really want the kind of genuine community to which scripture calls us, because that would mean accountability and intimacy and giving over some level of control in our lives to the community at large…or, worse, to God.

What I am saying is this: if hypocrisy and lack of integrity are our problems, then genuine Spirit-filled Christian community is the solution.  But it is a solution we are not altogether sure we want…and we have structured most of our gathered church experiences so as to downplay the importance of that very type of community.

Don’t we tend to wrap our “church” experience all …

Log Removal Plans

Tuesday Re-mix –

How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your 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 7:4-5

How are you at removing splinters from children’s fingers?  Yeh, me neither.  It is quite an ordeal, even under the best of circumstances.  It takes a steady hand, a soothing voice, and really good eyes.  As I write this, I am just now realizing how cool it is that so many of us did not need reading glasses until after our kids were old enough to get their own splinters out.  Isn’t God smart?  I can still remember feeling all medically superior one day when one of my girls came to me with a splinter in her finger.  I brought her into the bathroom (where the light was the brightest), got some tweezers, picked up her hand and examined the finger closely.  “Wow, this must be a tiny one” I told her, “I can’t even see it!  Where is it?”  And she answered, “It’s right here”, as she held up her free hand!

Being able to clearly see the splinter, it seems, is pretty critical to the entire process of removing it.  And so it is with helping a brother with the “Speck” in his eye.  Notice: Jesus’ aim in this lesson is for us to “see clearly”…that is the goal, so that we can help our brother.  When you cannot see clearly, you simply are not capable of being any help.

It appears to me that commentators are all over the board regarding what, exactly, the “log in your eye” …

Loving God’s People (When Killing them Would be Easier)

Tuesday Re-mix –

So Moses went back to the LORD and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold.  But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”  Exodus 32:31-32

Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived.  Numbers 14:38

Thinking today about the twelve spies in Numbers who explored and investigated the promised land and reported back to the people.  Ten of the spies brought a discouraging report and two (Joshua and Caleb) brought a faith-filled report.  The people went with the majority report and cowered from the task to which God had called them.  All of them were cursed and sent to wander in the wilderness another forty years.  Caleb and Joshua had to go with them.

I’m wondering if Joshua and Caleb had a regular Tuesday night support group for each other during those forty years of living under the consequences of everyone else’s mistakes. Can you even imagine the frustration…the pain of giving up forty of their best years to pay the price for other people’s sin? Can you imagine the temptation of gathering the entire assembly of Israel together on the annual anniversary of their collective cowardice and, together, Joshua and Caleb yelling out “We told you so!”  But as far as we know, they did no such thing.  As far as we know, Joshua and Caleb bit their tongues and continued to lead well throughout those forty years in the wilderness.  That is what leadership sometimes calls us to do in the church…to suffer the consequences of other people’s mistakes.

But not only is it a call to suffer consequences, it is a call …

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