Messy

Today is the third birthday of our little house church.  It’s been quite a journey.  I once heard someone say that house churches are “messy”.  You can’t just put on your best face for an hour or two a week and then go about your separate lives.  In a house church, you really share your lives with one another: the good, the bad, and the ugly.  And that gets messy.

In our culture where everyone is expected to be in control at all times, to present a happy, perfectly-pressed life to the world, messy can be uncomfortable.

But Jesus was all about the “messy”.  He dealt with illness, pain, heartbreak, and uncleanliness.  The sinners, the outcast, the broken.  He didn’t expect people to present perfect lives to the world.  He expected them to walk alongside one another, to carry one another’s burdens, to recognized brokenness and strive to meet needs.  And none of that is possible if we keep the “messy” swept under a carpet and only present a picture of perfection to the world.

So I think the “messy” is good.  It’s right.  It’s honest.

It isn’t always easy, but it’s where we’re meant to be.

So here’s to three years (and counting) of messy.  May God continue to give us the strength to share the messy in our own lives and to accept the messy in others’.

 

The Brilliant Deception: Living in Freedom

Recently I noticed two lies those in the American church frequently believe.  These clever lies from the deceiver have created a fear of being untrue to our God, but the result is that many are actually going against His heart.  I discussed the first lie here.

The second lie is one I’m seeing predominantly among young believers.  Current and recent college students and others in that age bracket, believers and non-believers alike, are very focused on doing good.  The previous lie is not working on them, as they truly believe they can change the world and are fighting to make it happen.  They are frequently abandoning the things their predecessors viewed as important – a stable job, possibly with the same company for decades, a 401(k), a white picket fence and 2.5 children – and are pursuing passions that are bigger than the individual or family.  Passions that aren’t focused on their comfort and financial security.

The believers in this population are excited to do the things to which God calls them and are ready to sacrifice their time, their well-paying career possibilities, their vacations, their future, to make the world a better place for others.  To build a better life for people they’ve possibly never met, maybe half a world away.

The idea that doing good is a bad thing is completely foreign to this population.  So satan needed a different approach.

This group of believers has fully embraced the freedom that comes with following Jesus.  And satan is capitalizing on it.  This group, who is so wholeheartedly walking in Jesus’s shoes, down dusty roads, serving the poor and marginalized, fears becoming a Pharisee.  So the lie satan whispers is:  “You’re being legalistic.”

I should read my Bible daily.  “You’re being legalistic.”  I should submit to the rulers placed over me, and therefore drive the speed limit.  “You’re being legalistic.”  I should return to God a portion that He has given me by tithing.  “You’re being legalistic.”

This isn’t to say that no one in this generation does any of these things.  Many do.  But when the impetus is “I should” rather than a compelling personal desire, then it is dismissed as legalism.

We have a new generation of Christians who are “sold out to Jesus”, “living radical, impactful lives” who are so scared of walking out of the freedom of Jesus into Pharisaicism, that they reject self-discipline and submission.  Anything towards which they are not compelled with passion, any “should”, is dismissed.  They choose to live in disobedience rather than giving up their freedom, avoiding anything that could be labeled “legalism”.

Satan has stunted the growth and weakened the foundation of the young church in America.  His brilliant lie that doing something for any reason other than excitement and passion is “legalism” has caused us to live in disobedience and forsake the very things God wants to use to grow and strengthen us.

A Woman’s Calling

We believe that each man is uniquely made.  Uniquely gifted, with unique experiences and a unique skillset.  And we believe that this makes each man uniquely qualified for a specific purpose.

I think we generally believe the same about each woman.  She, too, is uniquely made.  Uniquely gifted, with unique experiences and a unique skillset.  Yet too often, we believe that in spite of this uniqueness, there is a single universal calling on women.  To support her man.

It’s widely accepted that God can put a specific calling on each man.  But the same is often not assumed for women.

And that makes me sad, especially when I hear it from a woman.  I wonder in how many ways God wants to use her, but she misses it.  Because she’s not looking for it.  She’s busy “supporting her man” as he pursues God’s calling.  Which is a great thing to do.  Until it causes her to miss the thing to which God is calling her.

Sometimes the role of a woman is to support her man.  (Or her woman.)  But that’s not because she’s a woman.  It is because sometimes God calls us to support another as that person pursues God’s call.

I think more frequently, though, God calls us to partner together, regardless of any relationship status, to pursue something bigger than we can accomplish alone.  Not because we’re operating on human strength.  Because God is best displayed to the world when His Body is functioning as a body.

So let’s look around.  Let’s listen hard.  Let’s explore ways God wants us to work together.

And let’s expand our understanding of the role of a woman.  It’s not primarily to support her man.  It’s to pursue her God.

Building a Reputation

Today I reread a letter I received from the leader of a church in Turkey.  In it, he told the story of how someone had filed a complaint against the church.  The officer assigned to the complaint was the same officer who had arrested a man who had threatened the pastor a year earlier.  When the man was arrested, rather than pressing charges, the pastor publicly forgave the attacker.

When this officer received the complaint, he called the pastor and said, “We know you; you are good, peaceful, and forgiving people.  They complained against you, but we told them that they were wrong in their thinking.”

In a land where Christianity is largely misunderstood, where those who convert to Christianity are viewed with suspicion, even among those in authority, this church is known as a “good, peaceful, and forgiving people”.  By their actions, they are overcoming the widely-believed, strongly-held stereotypes about Christianity and are building a reputation worthy of Jesus.

In America, the Church once enjoyed a reputation similar to that of this small church in Turkey.  We were seen as good, peaceful, and forgiving.  Selfless and ready to help those in need.

However, today, that reputation has largely been replaced by a reputation full of attributes contrary to the character of Jesus.

We have a difficult road ahead of us.  Regaining a reputation worthy of Jesus will not be easy.  But the task is not as challenging as the one faced by the Church in Turkey and elsewhere around the world.

It gives me hope that this small church in Turkey can build a new reputation, one that reflects Jesus.  It means that we, too, can change our reputation.

Let’s live in such a way that people say of us:  “We know you; you are good, peaceful, and forgiving people.”

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Please be praying for the current unrest in Turkey and the ongoing unrest in Syria and elsewhere in the region.

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The Gospel of Offense

I often run into people who are unconcerned with the wording they choose, unphased if particular words or phrases mean something different to the hearer than was intended by the speaker.  I hear people presenting “hard truths” that drive people further from the gospel, rather than helping them to find the loving arms of the Savior.  I see people who believe that affronting people in the name of the Lord is appropriate.

All of this is supported by one faulty premise: the idea that the gospel is intended to offend.

In many circles, I’m told that my words don’t need to be carefully chosen or delivered with love, because it is God the listener is rejecting, not me.  And it appears that this is meant to be a comfort.  As though the idea that in response to my words, someone may reject God (and not merely reject me) means I feel less concern or responsibility.  If I have any love for my neighbor, this is not a consolation; it’s a reminder of just how much responsibility I have in choosing my words and representing my God well.

Jesus didn’t spend much of His time on earth offending people.  He generally extended love, compassion, and understanding to those with whom He interacted.  At times He presented people with challenging instructions or ideas, but that challenge nearly always was accompanied by gentleness.

With one exception.  The only group whom Jesus repeatedly offended was the extremely religious.  Those who were charged with drawing the people into relationship with God, yet were presenting a false picture of God to those around them.  Those who seemed to overlook the love, forgiveness, and restoration that God offers.

If I am following the example set by Jesus, then I will not find comfort in the offense of people separated from God.  If I am following the example set by Jesus, I will reach out in love and mercy, putting the needs of others above my own comforts.  (Even with something as seemingly minute as word choices.)

The gospel is not offensive.  It is good news!  It is good news to those who are living life without God and to those who have been drawn into relationship with Him.  It is good news to those who are broken and to those to whom God has brought restoration.

The idea that the gospel is offensive is an excuse.  It is an excuse to offend, to speak without love, or it is a shield to protect a fragile ego and deflect a feeling of rejection.

Our job is not to offend.  Nor is it to excuse careless speech with a faulty expectation of the gospel.  Our job is to love so well that people will experience God’s love and be drawn to Him.

The Brilliant Deception: Relying on Grace

This weekend I noticed two lies those in the American church frequently believe.  These clever lies from the deceiver have created a fear of being untrue to our God, but the result is that many are actually going against His heart.

The first lie was pointed out by a friend.  It’s that four-letter word, that vilest of insults, that one is a “works-based” Christian.  We know we cannot earn our salvation.  We know that God freely gave His Son, that Jesus freely went to the cross, so that we could be reconciled to God.  And the idea that one can “earn” his way into heaven, into God’s good graces, is seen as a rejection of the great sacrifice of the Creator.

And satan leapt at the opportunity this understanding afforded.  Each time someone began thinking that they “should” do good, or even that they wanted to do good, satan began whispering in their ear.  For many, these whispers began with the suggestion that the person was attempting to earn God’s love.  And in an attempt to prove that wasn’t the case, the person would abandon whatever God had been encouraging them to do, because they didn’t want to trample on the sacrifice of God.

When accusations of rejecting God’s sacrifice are not entertained, then satan switches to a wider lens.  The new suggestion:  “People will think you are ‘works-based’.”  And in our culture of status and appearances, this is a very hard one to overcome.  Even for those who have decided they aren’t concerned about how they are viewed outside the church, the desire to be viewed well, or at least understood, within the church is strong.  And so the longing to be understood as one truly following Jesus, the importance of not leading younger believers astray, the desire to appear holy trumps the still small voice deep in their heart calling them to good works.

We have whole generations of churches who are “secure in their salvation”, “claiming Christ and His sacrifice,” who are so scared of being or appearing “works-based”, that they sit in their churches, debating decorating choices or where the flag pole should be placed.  They point fingers and “works-based” accusations fly when someone ventures out to serve.  Or at the very least, the person serving outside the walls of the church is eyed with suspicion.

These who fear being works-based are not going into the world and truly loving people as Jesus did, because they’ve been told they don’t have to in order to be saved.  And it’s important not to do things you don’t have to.  It’s important to avoid the appearance that the good works bring salvation.

Satan has paralyzed the American church.  His brilliant lie that doing good is the same as earning God’s love has caused us to turn our back on God’s call for us to love and serve as Jesus did.