Aesop’s Fables and Arguing Religion

Been reading Aesop’s Fables lately. There is much wisdom in these cute little stories, along with some other stuff.

One of the fables I read reminded me of arguing about religion! It goes like this:

A TRAVELER hired an Ass to convey him to a distant place. The day being intensely hot, and the sun shining in its strength, the Traveler stopped to rest, and sought shelter from the heat under the Shadow of the Ass. As this afforded only protection for one, and as the Traveler and the owner of the Ass both claimed it, a violent dispute arose between them as to which of them had the right to the Shadow. The owner maintained that he had let the Ass only, and not his Shadow. The Traveler asserted that he had, with the hire of the Ass, hired his Shadow also. The quarrel proceeded from words to blows, and while the men fought, the Ass galloped off.

In quarreling about the shadow we often lose the substance.

If that doesn’t describe Christianity, I don’t know what does.

Christ and the Gospel are center. If we miss that, if that gets lost, then whatever it is we are pontificating on, even if we are right, is nothing but hot air fogging up the windows of theological clarity.

Argue sparingly. Pick your battles. Make sure the battle brings the war closer to a conclusion. Be careful out there.

Ignorance of the Old Testament Leads to Overemphasis on the Individual

Today’s Christianity minimizes the group and emphasizes the individual.

We hear over and over that Christianity “is not a religion; it’s a relationship.”

Fine. Whatever.

It is a religion and it is a relationship. It’s both. Deal with it.

Religion is taken to mean more the corporate, group worship stuff and I think this is very important to the believer. Ephesians 4 says we need the church to develop into mature believers. No group? Then no maturity in Christ.

The Old Testament deals with groups all the time. God deals with a nation, a group, a remnant. Yes, there are individuals who get lots of air time, but it’s the group that God is dealing with.

Often the group gets punished for one person’s idiocy. Other times the group get rewarded for one person’s goodness. There seems to be very little concept of individuals apart from the group. What the individual believer does effects all believers.

If your faith is just you and God, I think you are missing out on a lot of good stuff.

The Old Testament talks about very few people as individuals. The OT covers thousands of years of history and you will note that not many people actually get talked about when you consider how many people were on the planet during that time period.

There are a ton of godly people who got no mention in the Bible.

Or perhaps they did in those genealogies you never read!

The OT also includes stories like Elijah who thought he was the only one left on God’s side. God says, “Nope, sorry, I’ve actually got 7,000 others.”

Yes, God loves you. Yes, Christ died for you. No, you’re not the only one in the world He loves. No, you are not the only one in the world Christ died for. He died for the sins of the world.

You are not as big a player in The Grand Scheme as you might think. There is a release and a freedom that comes with realizing this. There is also a responsibility. There are no Lone Rangers in Christ. You’re not the only one who “gets it.”

Faith is personal, but faith is also benefited by the corporate. If you fellowship with believers, you will grow more.

There is a quote out there that says, ”Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.” This is obviously true.

But I fear many take this to mean that you can be a Christian without going to church. I suppose it’s possible, but why you’d want to go it alone is beyond me. It will hurt you and hurt the Body of Christ. We need each other.

Ignorance of the Old Testament Leads to Misunderstanding Good Works

I have read authors who think people in the Old Testament were saved by works alone. That people were saved by doing sacrifices, tithing and doing other law-works.

The Old Testament does tell the people of Israel to do sacrifices and various law-works, there is no denying that, and an unwillingness to do them was not a good sign.

But if you read the prophets you will see very clearly that God is not interested in dead animals and religious hoop-jumping; He’s primarily interested in the heart of a person.

Jesus once told a crowd who thought they knew the OT to “go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.”

Jesus had a problem with the scribes and Pharisees because they “pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.”

Just going through the motions of obedience, doing the bare requirement of lawful works, is not what God was looking for.

God was, and always has been looking for faith. Once a person has faith, once a person truly hears what God is telling us to do and why, then a person can do good works.

God didn’t want dead animals; He wanted people with faith to see in the sacrifice of the dead animals the need for a blood sacrifice to atone. All of it was pointing to Christ, not the animal. God wanted faith in Christ, in the Messiah, the one who would come and suffer to make men right with God.

God didn’t want meticulously measured out spices as tithe; God wanted people to understand judgment, mercy and faith; do those first and then do the tithe.

It’s the same point Paul drives at in 1 Corinthians 13 and the same point Jesus makes in the Sermon on the Mount.

People have always been saved by grace through faith. Faith has always resulted in doing what God says. Doing what God says without faith is not doing what God says!

Behind all of these things is humility in the one believing and working. Good works without faith is merely pride. It doesn’t cut it with God.

“Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

Ignorance of the Old Testament Leads to Materialism

When Jesus told the rich young ruler to give all his stuff away, the disciples were stunned. Jesus went on to say, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

The disciples responded with, “Who then can be saved?”

The underlying assumption is that rich people must be righteous. Where did the disciples come up with this idea?

My guess is they got it from a book called Deuteronomy! Deuteronomy says if Israel obeyed the law they would be blessed with abundant crops, fertile animals, prosperity and good times a rollin. If they disobeyed they’d get judgment, famine, illness, dead animals and struggle.

Therefore, they concluded that rich people must be obeying God. When Jesus says rich people won’t make it, the disciples are stunned.

Israel reached the peak of their prosperity under Solomon.

Allow me to point out a thing: Ecclesiastes, the most depressing (in many people’s opinions) book of the OT that concluded that all is vanity, was written by Solomon.

In the end, Israel tanked themselves and never returned to Solomonic prosperity again. Once they had riches, they figured they didn’t need God.

Hezekiah, a king whose life is repeated three times for us in the Old Testament (perhaps for a reason), was given riches and he bragged about how he caused it and ended up driving Israel into captivity.

Riches weren’t the point. Stuff wasn’t the point.

God wanted them to seek Him; not riches.

Jesus came along and tried to set this straight. Many Israelites were stuck on the notion that prosperity equaled righteousness. It didn’t.

Jesus, one who had no place to lay His head, pointed this out and totally blew people away.

Time and time again the OT shows us the problem of lust and coveting. Israel’s forays into idolatry were for materialistic reasons–they thought foreign gods could provide for them and make them win battles.

When materialism is the reward, people fall to pieces. The OT makes this so amazingly clear. Yet we miss it. We mainly miss it because we don’t read it. But there is a reason these things were written back then, and they weren’t written for Israel.

Materialism is lust, covetousness, idolatry, fornication, and complaining. Israel showed this and got judgment. We assume we are exceptions to this. I do believe we will be surprised when it doesn’t work out for us either. You don’t have to be surprised; you can go ahead and read it and learn it yourself.

“But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.”

(Notice the tempting they did in the OT was tempting Christ! Yesterday, today and forever, folks.)

Ignorance of the Old Testament Leads to Emphasizing Symbolism Over Substance

People are drawn to symbols like sticky goo is drawn to every stinking doorknob in my house.

Symbols are objects that represent or picture a real thing. It’s the billboard advertising the juicy McRib.

Substance is the actual thing the symbol represents. The Substance is the McRib the sign pictured.

There is no way any thinking person would be enraptured by the sign and take the billboard home and never eat an actual McRib. That would just be plain dumb.

Yet this is what Christianity, and most other religions, do.

Christians fixate on the bread and cup of communion and make that the whole thing. They take it to get sins forgiven, or convince themselves they are saved, or any number of other things and never get to the reality of the crucified Christ behind it.

Christians fixate on baptism and make the symbol the whole thing. We get baptized to prove we are saved, to show others how saved we are, and we rejoice in our wetness and never see that this is a picture of being raised up with Christ.

It seems we would learn this if we read our Bibles. The Old Testament had many symbols–priests, sacrifices, temple, circumcision, etc. These were shadows, types, and pictures of heavenly reality. Many of these were given to help people understand Christ.

Instead, Israel fixated on the symbols. “We know we are God’s people because we are circumcised.” They missed the whole issue of the male that would come from the loins of Abram’s descendants to save them.

People are wired to value symbols over substance. We think it means something that the pledge of allegiance says “under God.” We rejoice that ten commandment plaques were put up in a courtroom. We get bugged when “In God we trust” might get removed from our currency.

To me, all these are examples of symbolism over substance. They really don’t mean anything. Words, if nothing else, are symbols. The word “McRib” is not an actual McRib. It’s the symbol of a McRib.

Yet how often we get sucked into symbols and completely miss the substance? This is where religion kills. This is what happens when we get entangled in the affairs of the world and get choked out by worldly lusts and the deceitfulness of riches.

It’s all fake! Read Ecclesiastes! (It’s in the OT, by the way.) Smoke and mirrors. A vapor that vanishes.

There aint nothing in all of Creation you should value more than the Creator. Nothing should even come close to competing. Don’t worship the symbol over the substance. Learn from Israel’s mistakes.

Ignorance of the Old Testament Leads to Misunderstanding the Character of God

Biblical literacy is struggling. Most Christians know a few verses, the vast majority from the New Testament. OT verses we know and love are “The heart is deceitful. . . ,” “In all your ways acknowledge Him. . . ,” some Psalm 23, and a few others.

We know some major characters, especially if a movie has been made about them.

We know a few miracles–walls of Jericho, Noah’s flood, burning bush and a few others that were pounded into our head in Sunday School with pithy morals stuck on like, “So, be nice to your brother or God will kill you in a flood.”

OK, I guess I was never actually taught that specifically, but it got pretty close.

Most people think the Old Testament is an optional part of the Bible. Many treat it like the Foreword at the beginning of most novels–that thing you skip to get to the “good stuff.”

Christianity has always had the heretical element that viewed the God of the OT as being eviler than the God of the NT. It used to be called Marcionism; now it’s called Evangelicalism. (There was only a little, tiny bit of sarcasm in that lest sentence.)

One of the verses, or at least partial verses, most Christians know from the NT is “God is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Allow me to point out that’s not what the verse actually says. It specifically says, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”

The idea that God is evolving, that Jesus is this new thing that totally changes the OT angry God, and once Jesus got off the scene the much more mellow Paul took over is just plain goofiness.

When we don’t know our OT, we miss out on the vitalness of God’s unchanging self. We begin to make God in our image, throwing out the parts we don’t like and overemphasizing the parts we do like.

The OT shows God as a person. A person who grieves, who pleads with people, who gets angry, who takes joy and pleasure in those who seek Him. God is a living being and the OT makes this come alive.

Reading the Old Testament can be drudgery at times, but if you look for God’s personality it becomes fascinating. The Old Testament is trying to make some points, it is a revelation of who God is.

If you skip it; your understanding of the nature and character of God is going to be skewed way off into never, neverland. There’s a reason it’s in your Bible.

Faith and Love Result in the Same Thing–Obedience

People are saved by grace through faith and saving faith results in being made a new creation that does good works. Happens every time it’s tried (yes, it even happened for the thief on the cross who told his fellow criminal to quit mocking the innocent man, Jesus Christ).

If there are no good works it proves a lack of faith. It proves you have not been recreated by Jesus Christ. It proves you have not been raised up to newness of life in Christ.

This is not a difficult idea to grasp.

The difficulty arises because people don’t want to do good works.

Most believe that good works have to do with obeying the law or fear of judgment.

Many who deny they have to do good works will say, “We don’t obey God out of fear; we obey out of love.”

But, ok, fine, obey Christ out of love. This puts you in the same spot! What you then prove by your lack of works is that you don’t love God. How that makes people feel better about their position to not do good works is beyond me, but people continue to use this line.

Allow John, the beloved disciple, to explain as he quotes Jesus, Himself:

“If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

“He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father.”

If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”

“He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings.”

The bottom line is this: Faith and Love are both proved by doing what Jesus Christ said.

If you are determined to undermine this oft repeated concept, allow me to point out that you are not keeping the words of Jesus Christ, and thus show you have no love or faith in Him.

This is a serious, big deal. The Church has done its best to undermine this teaching, or divert it into some sort of religious ritual that “if you obey the church you have faith” heretical stuff.

“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

Love and Conspiracy Theories

Fifty years ago JFK was shot into the stratosphere of conspiracy theories. Publishing new books about who really killed him is the preferred way to celebrate this anniversary. I recently heard an interview about a guy trying to prove LBJ was behind it.

Seems to me, the root of conspiracy theories is a distrust of humanity. It’s a belief that humanity is soooo  evil you can’t trust the bare facts, there must be some sinister, lurking evil behind it all. The amorphous “bad guys” are trying to keep you from knowing more.

Here’s the deal: I believe that man is evil, in fact, I believe man is soooo evil there is no possible way humans could pull off anything close to resembling a conspiracy theory.

If LBJ really killed Kennedy, I imagine someone’s prideful need to brag about their part in it at some point would have blown that wide open. People can’t shut up about themselves. People are way too stupid to pull off elaborate schemes that no one can figure out.

Furthermore, the idea that someone is hiding facts from you, that there is more knowledge out there that is being kept from you, is the temptation Satan used in the Garden. We should be careful with that one.

My bigger issue is for Christians. I have been made aware of a branch of Christianity that repeatedly falls for conspiracy theories. Generally, these people are skeptical of society and feel that they know the inside track on true doctrine.

They view themselves as so smart, way smarter than the average bear (who may or may not be Jay Cutler), that only they know what’s really going on. Not only do they think humanity is depraved, they tend to believe they are free from this depravity. Sure, everyone else is stupid, but I’m one of the lucky ones who escaped the stupid gene.


They truly believe the government wants to give you autism through vaccines. I have no idea if vaccines give autism. What I do know is that the government is way too stupid to pull this off.

I once visited a family from a very legalistic church (The women wore dresses and head-coverings 24/7). They were the first people I ever met who actually stockpiled food in preparation for Y2K.

What is it with so many Christians buying into conspiracy theories? Why are legalistic Christians the most susceptible?

The larger problem is this: Love is the chief cornerstone of Christian virtue. Love believes all things and thinketh no evil. Love doesn’t assume people are trying to pull one over on you; love gives the benefit of the doubt. (Yes, I see the irony of my statement above that people are too stupid to pull off conspiracies, which doesn’t sound very loving. But Love rejoices in the truth my friends.)

Love does not overturn every rock to prove you are more evil than anyone else knows.

It is my frank opinion that Christians should be very wary of falling into conspiracy theories, none of which begin with love. Don’t believe every diet advice or global warming or UFO or latest health scare. Come let us reason together.

Even if the government is trying to inflict me with polio through the McRib, I don’t care. This is not my world. Let the heathens fight over it.


The Spirit Can Only Work In Those Who Are In Over Their Head

Paul says the following absolutely ridiculous statement:

we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;And patience, experience; and experience, hope.”

Wow, who is Paul hanging around with?! Who is this “we” he speaks of? Is there a mouse in his pocket when he writes this?

Tribulation results in two of the fruit of the Spirit–patience and hope!

Those who think spiritual fruit magically appear for no discernible reason are crazy. In order to develop patience and hope a guy needs some tribulation.

So, the “we” I know immediately begins to pray that God will remove tribulation! We run around seeking any and all sources of possible help to immediately remedy myself from all pain, suffering and tribulation.

I have no time to learn patience!

So, we buy our comforts, consult our doctors and dieticians and spend, spend, spend to resolve our discomfort. We pray and tell others all our problems in a veiled attempt to get people to pray, but more just so we can whine and let others know how bad we got it.

If you want spiritual fruit, place yourself in tough situations. Maybe even create some tribulation for yourself. This is where the idea of fasting has played a part in the Bible. Fasting is preparation for true trial.

“Yup, there he goes, sounding Catholic again.”

OK, just don’t come a’whinin’ to me when you can’t handle life.

No, you can, that’s why I’m here. There will be a reason I will have the energy to be there for ya too.

Anyhoo, Paul knows that his weakness is what allows God to work through him. If you think your spiritual gift is that thing you love doing, you are wrong.

Not that a spiritual gift is something you hate doing, it’s just something that could only operate in someone who needs the Spirit to do it. Spiritual gifts are things you couldn’t do before you had the Spirit, that you can now do because He is with you.

In other words, spiritual gifts are things you don’t think you can do on your own.

As a pastor, I am depressed at how wimpy people in the Church are. How easily we dismiss ourselves form situations where we could truly see the Spirit work because we don’t want to be uncomfortable for a second.

Often people even use the “it’s not my gift” line to get out of doing stuff for others. This is dumb. If you don’t think you can do it, I would suggest going and be open to what the Spirit can do.

The point is this: you must place yourself in difficulty if you want to see the Spirit work in you. If you have the Spirit and yet avoid all discomfort, aint nothin gonna happen.

 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

Most Don’t Want to do Good Works Because Good Works Are Really Hard

Doing good works must clear the first hurdle of your faulty doctrine, then it must clear the second hurdle of difficulty in performing them.

Good works are not easy, this is the main reason most invent theological reasons for not doing them.

Most think, and this is where I think the Catholic Church goes wrong, that “good works” means confession, penance, taking mass, or some other religious obligation typically performed in church.

Good works in the Bible, however, have little to do with what takes place in church and much to do with what you do in your day-to-day life. Jesus’ constant confrontation with Pharisees should make this point fairly clear.

Good works center around the Biblical notion of love. Good works look like 1 Corinthians 13. It’s not a matter of giving to the poor, or giving yourself up as a poor martyr, plenty of people give to the poor without coming near doing a good work.

Good works have to do with love. A sincere desire to love the other person with no expectation of repayment and no flashy “look at me” attention grubbing.

Most good works take place without any notice, in fact, for the believer, they probably don’t even notice most of the good works they’ve done. Being aware of the fact you are doing a good work might be the nail in the coffin of your good work!

“Love is the fulfilling of the law” the New Testament tells us several times. Love is your good work. It’s even the good work James is talking about in the hotly debated James 2 “faith without works is dead” passage.

Love is tough; ask Jesus.

Good works are not easy. One of the main reasons they are hard is because they require selfless love and a forgetting of your own rights and desires for at least a second. You will more than likely desire to flee most situations where a true good work could have taken place.

In order for the Spirit to work in you to pull off a truly spiritual good work, you have to place yourself in a situation where you are over-matched.

This is where faith comes in and what walking by faith and living by faith are all about.

Why Your Faith Seems So Pointless: No Works = No Fruit

I knew a guy who professed faith who was adamant about not having to do good works. He would quote Ephesians 2:8 and 9 in every conversation we ever had. “It’s not by works of righteousness.”

I would always follow up his quote with verse 10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” Doing good works is the whole point of getting saved and remaining on earth, see.

He would then say, “Nope, you’ve gone too far.”

“What do you mean? It’s the next verse?!”

I never did understand that one.

For him, doing good works was the grossest sin a Christian could commit. I have met many in this camp of thought and I don’t understand them.

One day, shortly after getting out of jail, he said to me, “Jeff, I just don’t get it, I’ve been saved for all these years and yet I don’t see any fruit in my life.”

I have always enjoyed softball. This was a softball right down the middle.

“Well yeah, of course! You don’t think you need to do good works, so if you don’t do good works you won’t have any fruit.” Then I loosely quoted Titus 3:14, “And let our’s also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.”

No works=no fruit.

People have the idea that the Holy Spirit shows up in your life and automatically begins to spew forth fruit through no effort of your own. “It’s like a tree, man. Trees just sit there and do nothing all day and boom! fruit shows up!”

You do understand that fruit and trees are a metaphor, correct?

There is an extent to which, yes, the fruit grows from the energy and feed the Spirit provides, but the tree, even though it’s not going anywhere, is still doing stuff with what is provided it. If the tree did not have some part to play in it, you would never see a living tree next to a dead tree.

Paul specifically tells us that we do good works to get fruit.

I am stunned at how many Christians complain about how ineffectual their faith seems to be while maintaining that they never have to do anything. It’s like people hammering their thumb wondering why their thumb hurts all the time.

Telling People to do Good Works Does Not Make Me A Pope-Loving Heretic

Protestants (and I use that term very loosely to mean basically anyone who isn’t Catholic) have been trained to be non-Catholic. To many, sounding Catholic is the major sin of Christendom.

Unfortunately, some Protestant doctrine got pushed so far to the opposite of Catholic that it became its own area of heresy.

I think the classic example is good works.

If at any time you encourage Christians to do good works, they will label you a legalist, throw grace in your face and, if they hang around long enough, will eventually tell you that you are “sounding kinda Catholic right now.”

I find this to be disturbing.

If you’ve ever read the New Testament you can’t help but notice it is filled with lists of commands and many passages telling us to do good works.

If you point these out to the average evangelical, get ready for resistance. “Hey, we’re under grace, man, we don’t have to do anything.”

It won’t take long to get to “What, are you saying we’re saved by works, is that what you’re saying? Didn’t we already have a Reformation over this?”

Others take more the, what I’ll refer to as, The Stoner Christian Response. “Hey, man, relax, if the Spirit wants to do something through me, He will, man. Why don’t you just sit here with me and get high on Jesus, bro.”

We’ve lost all urgency, all seriousness about being a vessel fit for the Master’s use. We’ve lost any inkling of responsibility and the requirement to exert some energy.

“Requirement? What do you mean by ‘requirement?’ Are you saying I’m not saved if I don’t exert energy in doing good? You’re saying I’m saved by works then, you pope-loving heretic.”

No, I’m not a pope-loving heretic; I’m just a guy who has read the Bible quite a bit and noticed how often we are told to get up and do something with our faith, and that people who don’t walk/live by faith prove they have no faith.

The Church needs to think about this issue. Why are we so afraid of good works? If you resist the idea of doing good works, if you are not totally sold on their importance and exert energy to do them, you aren’t one of Christ’s people.

“Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”

A Tale of Two Pastors And The One Weird Pastor They Created

I had two pastors in my family when I was a boy–my dad and my grandpa. They had different approaches, in my estimation.

My dad was a nice guy who would more or less kill himself to help you. This was often viewed by me as ridiculous considering the people he would nearly kill himself to help who were merely using him. I got very frustrated by that as a kid.

As I have grown older I understand more where he was coming from and I “get it.” At the same time, I also think I’ve learned when to let people know where they can “get off” and let the rest of us travel on down the road.

My grandpa was also a nice guy and was very charitable, but he was also more scary! He had a tendency to railroad people a bit, and steamroll them when they were in his way.

As I have grown older I understand more where he was coming from and I “get it.” At the same time, I also think I’ve learned to put up with a little more from others and not have to force my will upon them.

Both of these men served the Lord to the best of their ability and part of me feels weird critiquing their efforts, but these were foundational guys in my approach to pastoral ministry.

There was no seminary class that removed my experiences of watching these men in action. Handling people is tough.

Being a pastor would be much easier if there were no people in the world.

I observed and learned a great deal from both men and have melted them together, making me a nice guy who will steamroll you in a very nice fashion, or steamrolling you with niceness or something. Perhaps a guy who is trying his best to be nice while desiring to steamroll you, or something.

I don’t know, I’m waiting for my son’s critique of me to figure out exactly what it is I’m doing.

Anyway, the point is, every pastor is different and they should be.

One of the most irritating results of the “church-growth movement” is that pastors are cookie cutter jobs. We’re all supposed to “do church” the same way.

There is a seminary smooth I can detect in sermons that grates my last nerve. It makes me want to steamroll.

I don’t want to hear a pastor re-quote a commentary or some thing he saw online, I want to hear a man’s struggle with the Word of God. Has he thought about this, or copied it?

One of the main reasons I became a pastor is so I wouldn’t have to sit through sermons at church. I now stand.

I don’t like slick. Slick makes me feel creepy and gives me the sense I am being sold something that can’t stand on its own.

I like to see and hear personality. I like the fact that I can find unique faults with my dad and grandpa’s pastoral ministry, because that lets me know they were personally in it. They weren’t just doing what you had to do because that’s the way The Man told them to do it.

Pastors are flawed people, we’re growing and learning too. I wish more people understood that and I wish more pastors were real with that tension so as not to create the clergy/layman–“I speak for God, you little pukes” divide.

Pastors: be you as you follow Christ. Church people: Let your pastor be him as he follows Christ. Pastors also need to let the people be them as they follow Christ. The bottom line is that we are to all follow Christ and there is much room for freedom in this.

“Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”

Pastors, People Leaving Church and the Ninety-Nine Sheep

One of my pastoral rules I have come up with is: I do not chase people. If people leave the church, I let them leave.

Now, I will contact them 98% of the time to find out where they are and what’s up since very few will go out of their way to tell me. Many people stop going to church and then say “And not one person contacted me.” Let me just say that this is typically a giant, huge lie.

Let me then also say that in about 2% of cases it’s true. The primary reason no one contacted you is because no one wants to take the chance that contacting you might lead you to come back.

There is often a sigh of relief at the leaving of some people by all the Body of Christ.

This is an unfortunate truth, but a truth nonetheless. Some people just want to cause problems. One of the curiosities of human nature is that when we don’t get what we think we deserve from people, we always assume it was the fault of other people. Sometimes you sleep in the bed ya make folks.

However, I have heard many non-pastors tell me that I am supposed to chase people who leave the church, that I’m supposed to do something to get them to come back. What this involves exactly, I do not know. I have yet to see any of those advice-givers endeavor to show me how to bring anyone back.

However, the advice is given and generally Matthew 18:12 is loosely quoted

“if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?”

The pastor is supposed to run around getting people to come back to his church based on a shepherd rescuing poor sheep from holes. Allow me to make some points.

1) The Good Shepherd being discussed is Jesus, not a pastor. I think this is a huge point. I do have faith in the Holy Spirit and in the Head of the Body of Christ to know how to build His Church.

2) I wonder how many times a shepherd gets the same dumb sheep out of the same dumb hole before he sells that little sheep at market. Immediately after the sheep out of holes passage is Jesus’ one passage on church discipline and how to remove people from church.

3) If Jesus is my example for shepherding, allow me to point out that He was constantly driving people out of religious circles, not running around carrying people back into religious circles. There are wolves about. Not everyone who leaves a church qualifies as a sheep.

4) When it comes to the shepherd/sheep illustrations of the Bible, generally we are dealing with the sheep of the people of Israel. Ezekiel 34 is a prime example. The shepherds of Israel were the prophets and priests–religious leaders. They were to help the people of Israel and this was based on genetics. They were there to protect the race of Jewish people. Determining who God’s sheep are in our day is a tad more complicated.

5) Notice how Jesus identifies who His sheep are: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The way to identify Jesus’ sheep–the people the pastor is supposed to “shepherd”–is that they are following Christ. In their following they might step into a hole, so then go help them get back on their way. But Church Discipline exists to get bad sheep who really aren’t sheep at all, to quit messing with the flock, or to restore fallen sheep who “fell” into sin. Jesus’ sheep are not nit-picking, fault finders complaining about the church.

6) A person leaving the church because they have a problem with nigh on everything is not what we’re dealing with. If someone in my church stumbles and falls into sin or some other trial, I am all over it to the best of my ability. I do not think someone having a problem and leaving a church is what we’re dealing with here.

7) Understand that pastors know more about most church-leaving situations than you do. They also do not, hopefully, communicate all they know. Trust me when I tell you there is more than meets the eye on most of these situations.

Church attendance is a voluntary activity. I figure if people wanted to come to my church, they would. I don’t want them there because we’ve found a way to play a game with it.

If a person tells me they don’t want to come anymore I will let them not come. I can’t see how I have any power to do otherwise.

Resolving Church Conflict

It is my observation that people who attend churches tend to blame the pastors for the problems in the church, and the pastors tend to blame the people. This is completely understandable.

As Adam once said to God, “The woman you gave me made me eat.” Adam is simultaneously blaming God and Eve. Adam knows for sure that whatever bad stuff happened, it wasn’t his fault.

Passing the buck is our oldest tradition. It is my contention that pastors are to blame for the problems they create and people in the church are to blame for the problems they create. I think we should keep it that way!

No one is perfect, we all make mistakes, get upset and say stuff we shouldn’t have said and do stuff we shouldn’t have done. People are inherently problematic.

Grace is supposed to be a guiding principle in the life of a believer.

We love talking about how Christ showed me grace, but we don’t talk so much about our responsibility to treat others with that same grace.

Grace is great when it’s applied to me; not so much when I have to apply it to you. Receiving grace is easy; giving grace is nigh on impossible.

There are reasons you don’t like your church. Some of them are the pastor’s fault and some of them are your fault. Your pastor is probably just as frustrated with you as you are with him.

So, what’s the solution? It depends.

Some problems are serious enough to talk about and try to resolve. Others are merely trivial and should just be forgiven. That’s up to the parties involved to figure out.

Resolving church conflict can only take place in an environment of grace, out of a concern for the Body of Christ that we not blaspheme the name of our Savior before the world. The primary concern is Christ and His Body, not your self-esteem, your precious children or whatever.

If grace and a higher concern for the Body cannot be the primary motivation to resolve an issue, there will be no resolution. Sure, you might fix the temporary problem, but the feelings will fester and show up somewhere else. Trust me on that one.

In the end, I think everyone needs to chill. You and your pastor are all in desperate need of the grace of Jesus Christ and His abundant mercies. Because of these abundant mercies we are to be living sacrifices.

Sacrifices don’t argue and fester. Sacrifices, yield, forgive and love. Most of the problems churches have could be resolved if everyone chilled and made Christ of foremost importance.

All the Dumb People in Your Past Might Not Have Been Dumb

When I was a kid I kind of thought my Dad was just weird. He said all this stuff to me that didn’t make sense. He had many phrases he’d repeat that I really didn’t get.

As I’d head out the door for school he’d say, “Don’t be afraid to learn something.”

As I came back home from school revved up from being around dorky friends all day, “Jeff, relax, you’re home now.”

At a stop light when the car in front didn’t get going when the light turned green, “It aint gettin any greener.”

When I took too long in the bathroom, “What, are you making a career out of it?”

Now that I am an old man, I find myself using all these phrases because I get them now. I assume my kids think I am the dumb one now.

Often when I see something “for the first time” in the Bible I say, “How come no one ever told me this?” I am assuming I heard, understood and remembered everything everyone ever said to me.

This can’t possibly be true. In our embarrassment for not getting it, we tend to blame others. “No one told me.” “Church is boring.” “The Bible isn’t relevant.” “The pastor just doesn’t speak to my situation.”

What we are really saying is, “I am a moron,” but we are too afraid to actually say that, so we blame others to make ourselves look a little better in our own estimation.

What is better is to admit you weren’t paying attention, that your mind was more concerned about other things at the time. Maybe even admit that you really weren’t even trying to know the Word or seek your God.

This requires a bit more humility, a more sober estimation of your powers, but I think it’s the better pathway to learning. Rather than blame the communicator, understand your role as the hearer.

How well do you listen? Are you humble enough to be corrected? Do you know that you don’t know everything? Are you even teachable?

God gives wisdom to those who ask for it: Are you humble enough to ask, or will you continue to bash the morons who couldn’t teach you?

B. S. Doesn’t Always Stand for “Bible Study”

My stomach felt like it was going to explode out of my body. I was sitting in a young adult’s Bible study listening to young adults pontificate on “what this passage means to me” and boy howdy, it meant some pretty weird things.

I had no idea the Bible could mean so many blasphemous things.

I was a quiet young adult. I was a visitor to the Bible study, so I felt intense internal pressure from my shyness to not say anything. At the same time, the blasphemy was flying left and right. We were knee-deep in heresy.

I had a classic Jeremiah experience “But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.”

Finally, with a bright red face and trembling voice I attempted to set the record straight. I faltered through it, voice barely audible, correcting by pointing to the context around the passage that meant so many things to so many people, and then held my peace.

There was silence and the teacher mumbled some sort of, “Oh, I never saw that” kind of statement. Yeah, no kidding.

Every religious tradition has some sort of physical thing they do that trumps all other behavior and supposedly makes up for shortcomings, “Yeah, we know we’re sinners, but we ____________(Fill in the blank with your church’s traditional penance–communion, baptism, speak in tongues, speak prophecies, rosaries, etc) so it’s OK.”

I have noticed, in the particular evangelical churches I have always attended, that most religious works are shunned–baptism, tongues, etc, but that Bible study was the pinnacle of human existence. If you studied your Bible, God was cool with you.

The problem is that there are few who should be leading a Bible study. Ask James, he’ll tell you. Most Bible study is filled with blather that some person came up with ten minutes before the study was supposed to start and is then opened for discussion so that more blather may blatherate the previous blather.

I have been in many of these Bible studies during my times in various churches, Christian high school, college and seminary. Bible studies are filled with a lot less Bible than people are willing to admit.

I feel as though I should say in many of these groups what Paul said about the church in Corinth, “I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse.” It would be better if most stayed home.

Just because you showed up to a Bible study doesn’t mean you studied the Bible. Attending a Bible study does not work off sins, placate God or become a means of grace to the saving of your soul.

Most Bible studies are as empty as traditional forms of meaningless ritual. Don’t treat Bible study like one more hoop you have to jump through to keep God happy. Desire the sincere milk of the Word. Drink it down.

Next time you are studying the Bible, make sure you are studying the Bible.

Ahaziah, Britney Spears and Being the Pastor of a Boring Church

2 Kings 1 tells us that Israel’s king Ahaziah fell through a lattice on the top story of his palace. He got pretty sick due to the fall and sent messengers to Ekron to enquire of their god, Baalzebub, to see if he would get better.

God tells Elijah to intercept the messengers and tell them, “Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that ye go to enquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron?”

Oh, that’s beautiful.


I have been told many times that my job as a pastor is to “get the people in.” Pastoral work has become marketing and sales. That being the case, I am supposed to put on a show, do a song and dance routine to attract a crowd. As we know, if there is a crowd, something important must be going on (that was sarcasm).

I have tried to veer as far away from this stuff as possible, admittedly maybe even too far. I have actually tried to create a horrible church experience to keep all pretenders away. I am the reverse of a seeker sensitive church.

I an probably a seeker-insensitive church, as this helps me know who is really seeking.

You really have to do some seeking to even know we exist. We do not market our church. The extent of our marketing is that we have a web site, the main function of which is to share sermon audio.

I would guess the vast majority of our church members can’t even tell you what the web address is. The web site is pretty cheesy, it looks dorky and is clunky. I spent no money creating it. I used a free Yahoo application to make it and it has looked the same for many years.

We do no Christmas pageants, no Easter cantatas, no VBS, no youth ministry or anything else. I have never once played a Britney Spears or a U2 song in church. I have never shown movie clips or had skits or interpretive dance during a church service.

Others may, I cannot.

I understand that most pastors and all church growth materials disagree with everything I am saying. I know. I’m aware. I’m willing to play the odds that if I do the exact opposite of what the “experts” say on building a church, I’m probably right.

I have been told that our chairs are some of the most uncomfortable chairs in the world.

We sing hymns. From a hymn book. With a piano as the only instrument.

I am not trying to impress you or sell you something; I am literally trying to shave away all distractions from the Word of God to see who really wants it. (This does not imply that everyone in my church wants the Word, I don’t presume to know why everyone is there, but I do my part to limit the possible answers.)

Since we do things this way, and the board and I are in agreement on this approach, few people come to church and I don’t get paid much. This is a result of our approach and I am willing to live with the results.

There is a reason I do it this way.


I can’t see doing anything else in church than centering everything on preaching the Word. Judgment Day is always in sight.

I can’t imagine standing before God and hearing Him say, “Jeff, I gave you people’s time, I gave you one precious hour a week, and you played games with it? Is there not a god in the Church that you had to go play Britney Spears’ songs instead of preaching My Word?”

Church, Irrelevance and 10 Reasons Why I Did NOT Become a Pastor

I know why I became a pastor and I also know why I did not become a pastor.

1) I did not become a pastor so I could ruin people’s lives. It is never my intent to hurt people or make people’s lives worse. My intent is to help. I know a lot of pastors, and the vast, vast majority of them are just trying to help, yet repeatedly pastors are blamed for ruining people’s lives. There are exceptions, there are wolves leading churches who are ruining lives, but the vast majority of pastors are just trying to help.

2) I did not become a pastor to fight the never-ending battle of keeping people happy. I used to. I tried. I really did. I gave up. I’ve seen pastors nearly kill themselves trying to keep people happy. I will probably not change the start time of church, start singing your niche of music, build a building to your liking, or any other whimsical ideal you invent just to keep you coming to church. I’m all for suggestions; I am not for power play politics.

3) I did not become a pastor to raise your kids. Training your kids is your job, not mine. Yes, I can help. I can be their friend. I can be a good example and teacher. But the primary way I can help is to equip you to know the Scripture better so you can raise your kids. It’s your job. If God wanted me to raise your kids, He would have made my wife give birth to them.

4) I did not become a pastor to entertain you. Yes, I am to effectively communicate the Word, but the effective communication method is not to trump the substance of the communication. I am not here to keep people interested–you either want the Word or you don’t. I have yet to find a way to make people want it other than seeing them saved and indwelt with the Spirit. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make em drink.

5) I did not become a pastor to get respect. I do not wear a clerical collar or any special clothing that sets me apart. I do not make people address me with any title. I always try to be last in line at potlucks. I was a janitor before I was a pastor and it was great training–cleaning up people’s messes for little pay, no respect and the occasional complaint as to how I should have cleaned the mess better. I do not want your respect; I want you to know Christ.

6) I did not become a pastor to argue your pet issue. I will discuss anything at any time of day, but when it becomes clear your interest in church is to argue your issue, I will stop playing. I refuse to argue with people who are itching for an argument.

7) I did not become a pastor to make money. I do not look at church as a tool to better my personal financial situation. We don’t even pass an offering plate at my church. I do not do this for your money: I want you to know Christ.

8) I did not become a pastor to make you a better you. Joel Osteen I am not. I do not want you to have your best life now: I want you to know Christ so you can have your best life for eternity. This life stinks. The only person who can honestly say they are having their best life now are people who are going to hell. It’s true, think about it.

9) I did not become a pastor to make friends. I do not view church as a social club where I can make professional contacts and expand my network. I am here to preach the Truth, and I hope this results in our friendship, but if one has to go, I’m sticking with truth.

10) I did not become a pastor to be your daddy. I am not your boss. I am not the guy who tells you what to do. You are to follow Christ to your Heavenly Father and I am to help you get to Him. The road does not end with me. I am merely a minister, a servant, a guy trying to help. I must decrease; He must increase.


When I was in seminary I was told by a counselor viewing my personality test results, “Um, you do not have the personality of a pastor.” Word up. I have received few compliments better than this one.

I may be in the wrong line of work, God will let me know, but this is what I do and this is why I do it.

Church, Irrelevance and Why I Became A Pastor

My dad was a pastor, which was the main reason why if anyone asked me as a senior in High School what I was going to do for a career I would say, “I have no idea, but I know I’m not going to be a pastor.”

I never really liked church. Church was a pain in the neck, a thing that took me away from ever watching a Super Bowl until I was 19. Church usually meant 1) work and 2) sitting around forever waiting for my parents to quit talking.

As far as church services went, I wasn’t really paying attention. I know I’m not supposed to say that, but yeah, my mind was elsewhere.

I went off to college in pursuit of a broadcasting degree and didn’t go to church for about two years. But during that time I began to read the Bible for the first time without being told to. I really wanted to know what it said.

I still have the Bible I used then. The cover is off and the pages are pretty rough, but I can see all my highlighting and think back to the absolute revolution that occurred in me during all that.

As I began to grow in my knowledge of the Bible and hang out with a bunch of moronic students at a Christian college, something switched in me. “People have no idea what this Book says.” I was stunned that I lead the list of those who didn’t know what the book said.

For many years I assumed I knew it all and I was very judgmental, not in a loving way either. I honestly felt all the students around me were morons. I had few friends.

I began to realize as I read and re-read the Bible that I had no clue. I wanted a clue and I still wanted to help the morons. So I decided I’d change my degree and plan on seminary.

I went to seminary and wow, the morons followed me there too. The urge grew in me more and more to learn and to teach the Bible. I took a job at a “mega-church” in St. Paul and I saw things. I heard the worship leader swearing mere minutes before the church service as he couldn’t get his powerpoint to work right.

That left a mark on my soul. I am skeptical of every worship leader ever.

As soon as I could become a pastor, I did. I still had no real clue what the Bible was saying. I went into the arena and got chewed up pretty good. I actually quit about a year and a half into my pastoral career because I realized I had no clue. I felt I was playing a game.

I stepped back, re-examined and got recharged to figure it out and see what happened. So, my church graciously took me back, probably more out of pity and the fact they couldn’t find anyone else in that time.

I began to read the Bible like crazy. I wanted to learn and I wanted to teach truth. I have been sobered in my estimations of my own knowledge and my judgments of morons. I still have the top ranking on my “Morons I Know” list.

But that’s why I am a pastor–to learn and teach the Bible. I know my church isn’t for everyone and I’m cool with that. I have learned the fallibility of my own words and always strive to make God’s Word the central communication.

About 12 years ago I began preaching in Genesis and have preached all the way through to 1 Corinthians 13 as of this writing. I’ve learned so much it’s ridiculous. My hope is that I can teach others and learn together.

Not everyone agrees that I’ve gotten smarter or that I’m right, and again, that’s fine. I’ve yet to meet anyone who knows it all, including myself.

Come let us reason together. Preach the word, in season and out. That’s my passion. It’s what I do in my church. Churches that don’t teach the Bible seem irrelevant to me, so I put myself in a position to call the shots in a church and do what I think a church should do.

I live by my decisions and they all have not worked well. I have made many mistakes. Apologized to many people. I do not know what to do for people all the time, and when I do know what to do, I struggle if it’s the right thing to actually do.

When I stand before God, I do not want to rationalize why I played video clips or sang Britney Spears songs instead of preaching the Word. I go with what I got, I know not what else to do.

Thinking Church is Irrelevant May Be the Church’s Fault and It Might Be Your Fault

Making the case that people should, in fact “must,” judge the church seems very odd.

Seemingly people can’t stop judging the church. As a pastor, I have heard many judgments of the church. I agree with many. Others seem to shed more light on the judger than the judgee.

The attempt by a massively tattooed middle-aged, foul-mouthed woman to preach in church is an attempt to make church seem “relevant.” People like relevance and can get charged up, interactive and it is fun.

What disturbs me is the reality that most people don’t see church as relevant unless you spend all your time set aside to talk about the Bible doing anything but talking about the Bible.

I have never understood the argument that the Bible is not relevant. To me, the Bible has always been frighteningly relevant. Good Lord, have mercy on me.

When people say a church that teaches the Bible isn’t relevant, or that it is boring, are merely admitting they have no interest in the Bible.

Now, granted, there are many teachers who know the Bible who are as dry as sand in the Sahara. I do not blame all problems on the student, but nor do I blame them all on the teacher.

Next time you hear someone whine that church isn’t relevant, or that it is boring, look at the life of the one who says this.

I know a young man who told me church was boring and so quit coming. This young man is very excited about working and making money and spending his money on cool things.

I fear the real problem in this young man’s life is that the Bible truly isn’t relevant to his life, so he does indeed think church is boring. He lives a life so separated from biblical reality there is no way any teacher in the world could possibly make it relevant to him.

People get excited about what interests them. If the Bible doesn’t seem relevant, perhaps that’s more because your life is not relevant to what God stands for.

Seems to me, anyone who desires to know God, to grasp the Gospel and the love and life of Christ, will be thrilled with any glimpse into the Word.

Every time the church chucks the Bible and instead resorts to entertainment or distraction to be “relevant,” all they do is make the irrelevant relevant and keep the relevant Bible irrelevant.

I have preached many sermons where I can tell some are bored out of their minds and others are thrilled beyond belief. It’s not because I am preaching two different sermons at the same time; it’s because one cares and the other doesn’t.

Using Britney Spears’ music to “teach the Gospel” is not being relevant; it is merely playing to a crowd who thinks what the Bible says is irrelevant to them because they have no interest in what God actually said.


Anyone who thinks what Britney Spears says or does is relevant, is never going to see the relevance of the Bible. Yeah, I said it.

Chucking the words of Christ to listen to Britney is not making the Bible relevant; it is merely telling people you think the Bible is irrelevant, too.

If Church is boring it might be the problem of your church, but never dismiss that it might be because you have no real interest in the things of God and this is not the church’s fault. Just suggesting the possibility. Think it over.

Exercise The Judgmental Nature of Love

Yesterday I did a post about a woman who is attempting to “keep it real” in church. I doubted highly the reality of the situation. This makes me an evil person.

“It’s all about love, Jeff, love accepts, man.” Not really.

Love does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in the truth. Love has a real problem with stupid sin. “Judge not” is about as far as most people go with their knowledge of what the Bible says about judging others.

Allow me to fill you in on a possible hole in your biblical knowledge, Philippians 1:9, “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.”

Yup, love is judgmental. Love can make people very stupid. Love needs to be brought in check, knowledge and judgment are needed to keep love from excessive weirdness.

On top of that, the Bible tells us where to begin judging, where a love well stocked in knowledge and judgment can have some healthy exercise, “judgment must begin at the house of God.”

Judging others might be one of the best ways to show love, and judgment should begin with the people who claim to be God’s.

I have no problem with this woman being in church. There is no doubt, at all, whatsoever, that there are people she can help who would relate to her past. I have no problem with any of that.

What I do have a problem with, where my judgment-rich love starts, is having her be a leader in church. From everything I’ve read, she needs some learning before she carries on teaching.

“But look how many people go to hear her!” I know. Way more than go to hear me. (Ah, now we’ve gotten to the root of why Jeff judges her, eh).

The Church is in a very sad state. I don’t want to speak hyperbole, make outrageous anger inducing statements. I’m sort of beyond that. Now I just feel really sad for the Church.

We’re missing the boat and are now drowning. There is not much time left. Grow your love in knowledge and judgment.

“For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?”

When Keeping It Real Gets Kept Real

Yesterday I did a fine little piece on church marketing and the desire to make your church appear awesome with no problems. I said “Let’s stop pretending we’re slick and let’s get real with how messy regular life is.”

Now, that’s the kind of statement that in some contexts would irritate me. This phrase could be the definition of the cool buzzword “transparency.”

I have no interest in your transparency (see my past post entitled “Transparent People: Please Shut Up“).


Transparency sounded like a good idea at the time and probably was. There is nothing more irritating than churchy, fakeness. Let me correct that, listening to my son chew gum is more irritating, but other than that, there is nothing.

So, Christians have gotten the idea to be “more real,” show ourselves “warts and all.” We decide what foibles and sins to admit and then celebrate our courage in admitting the weaknesses we’re actually quite content with and just want you to “understand” so we don’t have to like, you know, take care of them and perhaps grow up.

Again, some of this is good. Then we have this kind of stuff.

“Nadia Bolz-Weber bounds into the University United Methodist Church sanctuary like a superhero from Planet Alternative Christian. Her 6-foot-1 frame is plastered with tattoos, her arms are sculpted by competitive weightlifting and, to show it all off, this pastor is wearing a tight tank top and jeans. Looking out at the hundreds of people crowded into the pews to hear her present the gospel of Jesus Christ.”


Now, I know I’m supposed to be all gushy about this, someone is keeping it real in the church, and hey, it seems to be working. “If it saves one soul isn’t it worth it?”

I imagine God will answer that question satisfactorily.

This is what most think “getting real with how messy life is” looks like. But there is very little real about this either.

As the article itself says “Bolz-Weber’s appeal is unquestionably part packaging.” I would say it’s all packaging.

Celebrating brazenness, normalizing sin and flaunting liberty have no place in church. None. Read the New Testament sometime to figure that out (start with Romans 14).

Yes, yes, I know Paul said to be all things to all people. Someone with this much packaging is not trying to be all things to all people. She is trying to be all her to all people so all people notice her. And yes, I do feel qualified to make that judgment.

I use her as an example because it’s the latest one I saw. I hope she does indeed know Christ and I hope she can help someone else know Christ.

I find this sort of thing troubling. This does not smack me as “real.” This smacks me as a way to make money and get popular and further divert attention from the point of church.

My call for the church to be real about the messiness of life means to deal with reality, not to wear costumes and put on shows that appear as though they were real. God did not send His Son to keep you celebrating your past real; He came to form you into the Real Real–conformity to Christ.

My sincere desire is that the Church would be a refuge for truth-thirsty people tired of being played to. To me, that’s as real as it can possible get.

Home Repair Videos and Why I Don’t Care How Well Your Marketing Tells Me Your Big, Fancy Church Is Doing

Last week I tried replacing our kitchen faucet. Before attempting this project (because I am an idiot), I watched some videos on YouTube to see how hard it might be.

The first video I saw began with “Replacing your kitchen faucet is one of the easiest home repair projects you can attempt.” I knew right then I was in trouble.

I watched three videos on how to replace a faucet. Each video showed a wide cabinet to crawl in with no pipes or other obstructions remotely close to being in the way. Each showed handy water shut-off valves. Each showed how easy it was to unscrew the old faucet.

My cabinet is split down the middle, barely giving me room to get my shoulders through. My cabinet also has pipes running all over it, giving me even less room to maneuver. Not only did my faucet not unscrew nicely, the nuts were caulked to the counter, forcing me to take a hammer and knock the screws off the stupid faucet to get it to come out. Which then shifted the sink causing my one drain to leak more. I also pulled on one of the pipes in an attempt to dislodge my carcass from under the sink, which cracked one of the connectors causing a pipe to pop out so the other drain no longer drains into the drain but rather into a bucket.

My faucet didn’t work the first time because at some point someone had cut through our stainless steel sink and bent some stuff to get the old faucet to fit into it so the new faucet wouldn’t sit flat, forcing me to get outside assistance to help me bend my sink back into shape.

None of this was on YouTube.

I finished this job Thursday, however, both my drains still leak. I will attempt to get more outside help tomorrow to repair that.

Why is it that how-to videos never actually show you how things are really going to go? They look so easy and no one in their right mind should assume your project will go as the video demonstrates.

It reminds me of how Christian organization use mega-churches as the model for all churches to follow. We use the biggest, fanciest examples of how church, or youth groups, or evangelism outreaches go.

Slick videos show the hip pastor with the cool microphone that comes out his ear talking and the audience fully engaged and laughing and participating and heaven rejoicing over the slick, cool people and their totally awesome spiritualness.

Then I go to my church.

Does no one realize that most of this stuff is not remotely helpful or encouraging to anyone? Using mega-churches as our examples of what ministry looks like merely depresses everyone and causes resentment.

No one believes your church can possibly be that good anyway, we know you’re lying. Any one who is based in reality and has done the nitty gritty work of church knows your marketing is a bucket of propaganda.

I have yet to see the ministry marketing that shows your sermon interrupted by a person throwing up (been there). Never seen the video footage of the slick pastor talking to kids while one of the boys in the audience rips the biggest fart ever heard (been there as well).

There are many members in the body and no part of the body should tell all other members of the body to be like them. If all were an eye, where would the hearing be?

One Body; many members and all the members are different. Most of the members are pretty pathetic. If Jesus is OK with this, I imagine we should be too.

Let’s stop pretending we’re slick and let’s get real with how messy regular life is.

God is not Gleefully Waiting for His Chance to Judge You

Most have the idea that God is ticked off constantly and can’t wait to nail you and throw your sorry butt in hell.

God comes across as very angry, especially in the Old Testament. God in judgment seems foreign to our happy notions of happy, grace, love God. Since judgment is unpleasant to us, we don’t bother to think about it and understand God and His wrath better.

Isaiah 28 talks about a particular judgment of God’s that is coming, “a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth.” When people think about God in the OT, this fits the bill perfectly. God can’t wait to kill people.

But the verse right before the one about the world-wide consumption says that this whole judgment thing is coming “that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.”

Judgment is a strange thing for God, it’s not His normal mode of operation. When you look at all the human idiocy contained in the record of the OT, God seems quite restrained!

People marvel that today God isn’t pouring out judgment on us the way He did in the OT. But honestly, if you read the OT understanding that it covers thousands of years of human history, judgment is not something God does a lot of.

God is slow to anger. Being slow to anger is a good thing and this trait reveals other things about God. Being “slow to anger” is something Proverbs tells us to do. Note the verses well:

Proverbs 14:29“He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.”
Proverbs 15:18“A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife.”
Proverbs 16:32“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”

Someone who is quick to anger shows a lack of wisdom. Your immediate reactions to things are often based on lack of knowledge. Hang on a bit, get some facts and go from there. Being slow to anger shows that our God is wise.

Someone who is quick to anger shows an inability to make peace with people. People who are always upset make very bad friends and tend to create more trouble. God, in being slow to anger, is showing Himself to be gracious, merciful and a peace-maker.

Someone who is quick to anger shows they are insecure in their strength. Young men often get ticked off and punch walls and other foolish things, thinking this shows how tough they are. Nope, it merely reveals how insecure and ineffectual you know you are. God in being slow to anger demonstrates tremendous power and strength.

God is slow to anger. Judgment is His strange work. God came right out and said, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” God is not gleefully waiting His chance to judge you, rather He is wisely, powerfully, and mercifully waiting for you to come back to Him.

Jesus Died for Way More than You Having Purpose in Life

Many Gospel presentations make the Gospel about the person. The standard line to open the Gospel presentation is “God has a wonderful plan for your life.”

A recent Gospel presentation I saw stated the purpose of the Gospel as:

“He loves you and wants you to know him so he can fill you with peace and give you real life — forever. Since he planned for us to have peace and real life right now, why are so many people hurting or angry inside?”

So, Christ died on the cross so I could have peace and real life? Really?

Now, to clarify, God DOES want you to have peace with Him and He DOES want you to have new life–however, this is not why there is a Gospel.

When we bring people into Christianity on this sloppy foundation, they will be greatly confused when they learn other biblical doctrines.

If God merely wants me to have peace and a real life, why is there hell? Does God putting people in hell seem a just punishment for someone who merely refused God’s wonderful plan for their life?

Why all the blood of the cross if all God wants is for me to have peace? Can’t God just give peace? Why go through that suffering stuff?

Again, having peace with God, real life, and understanding the purpose of existence are all results of having the Gospel, but they are not the main point of the Gospel.

The main point of the Gospel is that we are sinners. Sin is anything that is not right, and since God is the definer of right, sin is anything that is against God. When we sin, we sin against God, we show Him we have no use for Him.

By rejecting God with our sin, God is moved with anger and wrath. How can one whom He created reject the One who created him? That is offensive. Ask any parent of a snot-nosed jerk kid what it feels like.

Here’s the real problem–God can’t just pretend your sin doesn’t exist. It is abomination with God to justify the wicked. God “will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.”

Sin is a big deal. It’s the creation telling the Creator where to get off. The Creator, since He is righteous, can’t just have unrighteousness running amok in His creation. It is not right to justify (call right) what is not right. If God did this, then He would not be righteous and everything would fall apart.

How can God find a right way to make wrong people right is the real issue. Here’s how–God became flesh, He took upon Himself our sin and took it to the cross. His body was broken and His blood was shed for the remission of sins.

You cannot be made right with God on your own. The Gospel–the facts about Jesus Christ and His life, death, burial and resurrection–are there for us to place our faith in Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, who partook of His fallen creation out of love and died with the sins of the world on Him. The Creator died for His creation because He loves what He made.

The Gospel does not exist so you can have a better purpose in life, or so you can have peace and a real life. No, it’s much deeper than that.

The Gospel exists so that the Creator can restore and redeem His creation that was messed up by creation’s rejection of their Creator. It’s way bigger than you and your little purpose-filled life.

Get a bigger glimpse of God, a bigger glimpse of His love, righteousness and mercy. Get a bigger glimpse of creation that exists beyond your eyeballs. Get a bigger glimpse of the Gospel.

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