Why does the love of God make Christians so nervous?

    Why do calls for Christians to unconditionally love people scare us to death?  When you see a church sign that says, “All people welcomed in love” does it concern you that they may have “become comfortable with the world”?  When someone posts on Facebook that Christians should be careful to show grace not judgement, there always seems to be “that guy” who feels compelled to share an imprecatory Psalm, or quote Jesus out of context as he uses strong language to chastise religious leaders.  Ironic.
    It seems to make some Christians nervous to talk about grace and love.  As a Christian, I struggle at times with the same inner thoughts.  You may be feeling that same stuggle right now as you read this.  You have the urge to add a caveat to the call to love.  “But what about sin!”  I completely agree that we ought to preach against sin.  Sin, and the idolatry of self is at the heart of what separates us from God.  We cannot be true to God and His Word without standing up against the things that separate people from Him, and calling people to holiness.  My caution however, is that we ought to be doing so out of convictional kindness, not fear or prejudice.
    The truth is that God’s love is beyond us.  His mercy and grace come from a divine nature that our fallen nature is opposed to.   Discipleship is about casting off that fallen nature and embracing the divine.  It stretches us and challenges us to become more like God.  Discipleship involves embracing God’s standards for love and moving beyond our old prejudices.  What is more, the process of sanctification involves struggling with worldly notions of fairness, our fear, and paranoia.  Here are three categories that we must strive to overcome as we try to love like Jesus, without getting too nervous about it.
    Category 1: There are individuals in our churches who have let a worldly notion of fairness contaminate their view of love and grace.  For those in this category, it seems offensive to offer the extraordinary grace of God to unrepentant sinners.  It is a struggle to get the words out. “They haven’t shown that they deserve it.  They don’t even want it!” the cry goes.  In one way it does seem outrageous to offer God’s unconditional love to those who are in full rebellion against Him.  But that is not the way of the Kingdom. God’s love IS outrageous, and it is NOT fair; not by this world’s standards anyway.  Jesus loves according to a Kingdom standard that is completely foreign to this world, and that is a reality which we simply need to come to terms with.  God is God and he is sovereign.  It is His heaven and he will welcome into it those He sees fit.  He need not have our approval.  Matthew 16 records a relevant lesson from The Parable of the Workers.  A man who owns a vineyard hires workers for an agreeable wage throughout the day.  At the end of the work day, each worker receives the wage for which they were hired.  Those who worked all day are outraged when they find that the ones hired late in the day receive the same rate of pay as they do.  They begin to grumble against the owner.  (12) “These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”  At this, the owner of the vineyard replies, “(13)… ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
    How quickly we begin to feel entitled to this divine love, which we no more deserve than the ones from whom we begrudge it.  We must not be threatened by the generous grace of Jesus.  We must not begrudge it, or withhold the promise of it to those who we deem not worthy.  If God treated us fairly in the way we understand “fairness”, we ourselves would be doomed.  Those who dwell in the shadow of the cross live in constant awareness of their own desperate need for grace.  When we stray from the cross we get judgmental.
    Category 2: Then there are those in our churches who are obsessed with the slippery slope.  This is a tricky one, because there are slippery slopes which should be avoided.  The road to compromise is real, and we must guard against it.  We must encourage and challenge each other to stay true to the Word of God.  Jesus displayed for us the perfect example of loving those who were lost while calling them out of their sin.  This is no easy example to follow.  Too often Christian groups stray from the example of convictional kindness, and fully embrace the sin along with the sinner.  It’s hard relational work to care for a person who finds their identity in a sinful lifestyle that openly rebels against the Creator.  But that is our task. The gospel calls people to find their identity in Christ and his sacrificial love for us. It speaks not only to our fallen condition, but more profoundly to our worth in the eyes of God.  And the truth of our worth in God’s eyes is a testimony to His generous love, not any achievement on our part.  When we yield our hearts fully to Christ, his agape love becomes the norm for how we behave.  Agape love is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love that flows from a grateful heart, which has been transformed by Christ.  Caution against the slippery slope is warranted and appropriate when observed with faith and courage.
    On the other hand, we can respond inappropriately with fear to the threat of the slippery slope.  We fear that we will not be able to maintain that balance of convictional kindness.  We fear that we will wake up one day and be over-run by the world.  We fear that if we get too close with sinners that our neat and tidy Christian lives will become tainted.  In response to this fear we become closed off and harsh.  We become obsessed with rules and standards of dress and behavior that are the constructs of men, not God.  Instead of caring for the heart of the broken, we safeguard ourselves against their brokenness, and in so doing we faithlessly abandon God’s missionary call on our lives.  Paranoia is not a trait of victorious life in Christ.
    Category 3: Finally there are those who are not confident in the power of the Holy Spirit alone to convict. They cannot comfortably separate “grace teachings” from “warnings of wrath and judgement”.  They feel somehow that it is selling Jesus and the gospel short if “God loves you” is not followed with “and you will split hell wide open if you don’t turn from your sin”.  These are the churches that put slogans on their signs during the summer such as, “You think it’s hot here?”.  There is a certain inappropriate and disturbing glee to this sort of hellish threat that is unbecoming a follower of Christ. Warnings of wrath and judgement are a part of gospel teaching, to be sure.  They are not, however, the central theme of gospel teaching.  The theme of gospel teaching is love and grace.  Jesus did not hurl condemnations at the thieves between whom he was crucified, though they were quite guilty.  He offered grace that was free, but not cheap.  When our Lord offered stern words to the religious leaders of the day, and called out sin for what it is, the scriptures tell us that he was motivated by compassion and a broken heart.  A heart broken over the lostness of the world is not amused by clever threats of judgement.  The proper context of “judgement warnings” is through sincere pleas in the pulpit, or a compassionate personal relationship.  Yes, Jesus threw over the tables in the temple and drove out the money changers.  He did so out of righteous indignation towards a religious system that was taking advantage of people.  Following this example means holding those who call themselves Christians accountable to show grace and mercy to the masses, and not abuse them.  We must not appeal to Jesus if we take his example out of biblical context.
    The reality of our human condition is that apart from salvation we are doomed to eternal death and separation from God.  Without the reality of deserved punishment, grace has no meaning. We must however have confidence in the Holy Spirit to convict sin, and not attempt to force conviction ourselves out of a lack of faith.
    A high view of God would inspire confidence in His grace to convict as well as comfort.  When sinners experience the loving call of God’s salvation, the first response of a grateful heart is humble repentance and worship.  We are not called to shame, threaten, or argue people into the Kingdom.  We love, and God convicts.  Let me be clear, we should preach the whole counsel of God’s Word.  We should preach God’s call for sinners to repent.  When the scriptures name a sin, we should faithfully and publicly oppose such behaviors.  We must not compromise, and we must remain true to God’s standards.  But as 1 Corinthians 13 guides us, if we want our service to matter, we must do so in the context of love.  “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
    In all likelihood, the challenge of living out convictional kindness is the defining issue of our generation in the church.  I believe that there is equal danger of the church becoming cold and closed off to the world, as well as infiltrated by it.  We must guard against both. We must do so out of confidence in Christ and not misguided or worldly motivations.  The best part is that we have a perfect example to follow, Jesus Christ.
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Who are you anyway?

A mirror, reflecting a vase

Image via Wikipedia

Today when I was at home for lunch I had the bright idea to do a fun little experiment with the kids.  It all started when I made a crack to my son about his shorts and he looked down like, “I have shorts on!?”  My wife and I were eating at the table and the kids were playing in their rooms.  I decided to call them out one by one, tell them to close their eyes, and ask them what clothes they had on.

I called my son out first.  He closed his eyes just as he was asked and I said, “Describe what you are wearing.”  He kept his eyes closed but this incredulous look came over his face like, “You expect me to know that!”  I restated the question as he stood there in his brown t-shirt and grey shorts.  He stuttered a bit and then said in a questioning tone, “Blue shirt?”  Ha!  Wrong.  He opened his eyes, rolled them at his brown shirt and took off.

Next I called out my  8 year old daughter.  I gave her the same instructions and posed the question.  She stood there in stunned silence as my wife and I died laughing.  Finally she said, “What?”  She was stalling for time to think.  She brought her hands up and had to feel her night gown before she remembered.  Cheater.  We sent her off laughing.

Finally I called out the 3 year old.  I told her to close her eyes and she did.  (She had her hands full of puzzle pieces if you want the complete mental picture.) She was wearing a white t-shirt with some incriminating red Kool-aid stains on the sleeves.  I said, “What are you wearing?”  She squinted one eye, and peeked down with the other.  Even staring at her shirt she said, “White shirt?”  She was suspicious it was trick question.  “Good job!” we applauded!

I recently read that the gospel is so much more than a plan of salvation for the lost. It is the water in which a Christian swims everyday.  I have often been guilty of thinking of the Gospel as the diving board into the pool of Christianity.  But the reality is that the Gospel is the pool itself.  The beauty of this truth is that the deeper I swim into the Gospel the more I understand about who I am in Christ.  I realize that I am more sinful than I ever dared think, because my only possible remedy required God the Son sacrificing himself on my behalf.  In the wake of that terrible reality I realize that I am more loved than I ever dared dream, because Jesus did exactly that.  2 Corinthians tells us that “God had Christ, who was sinless, take our sin so that we might receive God’s approval through him.”

If you want to see yourself as you really are, take a look at yourself through the lens of the Gospel.   What you will see may surprise you, but it will be a surprise that will heal your heart. 

James 1 says in vs. 22-24 “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.”

How many times have we heard God’s word taught, or read it ourselves telling us how we could find deep meaning in life through the message of the gospel; only to go on living  in frustration and confusion?  The only right response to the message of the scriptures is to embrace the love of Christ and allow it to shape us into the men and women God would have us be.   Otherwise it’s like wandering around not even knowing what kind of clothes you have on, or who you really are at all.

Never forget that you’re unique…just like everyone else.

 

We had fries the other day for dinner.  That wasn’t all we had, but I ate a lot of them.  We also had chicken fingers from Zaxby’s. (Yay Zaxby’s!)  At some point during the meal I decided to try and convince my 6-year-old son who hates ketchup to try it with his fries.  This hasn’t worked in the past, but I’m the kind of father that loves to share good things with his children and I am committed to expanding his horizons.  It’s my job.  My 2-year-old is a real ketchup enthusiast.  She dips all kinds of things in it, pancakes, biscuits, chips at the mexican restraunt.  She’s not picky. 

So on this particular evening I brought it up very casually.  “This ketchup really is good tonight.  I don’t think I’ve ever had it taste this good with my fries.”  Nice and subtle.  “What do you think bud, wanna try one with some ketchup?”  His reply came without hesitation.  He lifted his eyes to meet mine and with a mouth full of imperfect fries he said thickly, “Nope.”  Denial.  He didn’t even think about it.  This kind of narrow-mindedness bothers me, and I responded rather childishly, I admit.  “C’mon man, everybody in the world eats fries and ketchup!”  Not my finest moment.

But his response earned my respect.  He took a sip of his juice box and washed down the dry fries, looking at me thoughtfully.  (I was inclined to argue how easily one can swallow fries that have been baptized in ketchup, but I digressed.)  His serious look had me intrigued.  “Well”, he said “that would make them all very ordinary.  Who wants to be ordinary?” 

“Well.”, was all I could manage for a few moments.  I had not anticipated this line of argument.  What could I say?  He was right.  I had led him down the “everybody else is doing it” path, and he saw straight through it.  I almost expected him to ask me “if the rest of the world jumped off the roof into a pool of ketchup would you do it too?”  (an interesting idea)  But he didn’t.  (Thank goodness.)

I will never seek to influence him in the area of ketchup and fries again.  I yield to his sense of confidence and independence.  I am actually very proud of him for thinking of things in this way. He is certainly not an ordinary 6-year-old.

The truth is that none of us is ordinary, even though we may see ourselves as such.  We may choose to behave in ordinary ways, turn in ordinary work, treat others with ordinary consideration, etc.  But we are all unique.  We all have qualities about us that separate us from anyone else.  I believe, and the scriptures teach, that God created each of us with value and distinction that is entirely our own.  I have value to God that no one else shares.  You have value to God that no one else shares.  That’s why it means so much to believe that God loves us.  Not only the plural “us”, but the singular “you”.  God loves you.  God loves you deeply and uniquely, because there is no one else like you.  So why consider yourself  ordinary?  Why act ordinary?  Why turn in ordinary work?  Why treat others as ordinary? 

Indeed, why eat food in an ordinary way?  (Though I cringe at where that might lead some of you.)  I’ve decided to take the advice of my son and avoid the ordinary.   God has loved us with an extraordinary love, and it is my prayer that we respond by reflecting his creativity and passion in the way we live our lives.

What color should your dot be?

I was looking for something in one of my older blogs and came across this one.  It needed a little tweaking, but I felt led to post it again.  Hope some of you new to the blog enjoy!

I was reading an article the other day that started me thinking.  The article was by a gentleman who was a childcare worker at his church.  He casually mentioned how they use colored dot stickers on the children to remind the leaders of certain concerns.  I thought it was a pretty good idea.  For example, Jimmy wears a red dot to remind the leaders that he is allergic to peanuts.  Sue wears a green dot to remind the adults that if she gets fussy, her sippy cup usually calms her down.  Danny wears a purple sticker to indicate that he has a tendancy to not share well, so keep an eye on him.  Amy wears a yellow sticker to remind the adults that she has been recently adopted, and that her birth mother has made recent attempts to make unauthorized contact with her.

  dots

As adults, we don’t usually go around wearing stickers to indicate our hidden issues.  I can only imagine that little Amy is so innocent, and loves everyone involved.  But drama circles her little life so much that she has to wear a yellow dot at church.  Some of us didn’t ask for the drama that characterizes our lives, but never the less it is there.  It might be easier to care for each other if we did adopt the colored dot system.  I think that I would probably be covered with dots to the degree that it would be difficult to walk.  But we don’t wear dots to indicate issues that require sensitivity.  We are left with the responsibility to actually get to know one another.  The guy who sits behind me in church, or on the bus may have real needs that I could help with.  But alas, he has no sticker to make me aware of them.  In order to find out I would actually have to have a real conversation.  We might be ashamed to know that our neighbors have been struggling with an issue for years, and we could have helped!  Why didn’t they wear their dots!  Why didn’t we just knock on the door and invite them over for coffee?  Some of us live in the same house with people who have needs we are unaware of.  Unfortunately, they aren’t going to wear a colored dot to clue us in…we’re going to have to care enough to ask.

OK at this point in my morning its just …

OK at this point in my morning its just going to help me to write this.  I just finished the planning for a week long “Love Loud” outreach event.  FBC Woodstock has modeled this type of event, and it is from FBCW that the name comes.  But the point is that for one week, people engage in hands on activities that will enable them to show love to our community.  Seven days, the whole church, physically showing love in concerted ways every day. 

Not giving money in love, not signing up to drop off some love at the church office, not praying for other people to show more love, not scheduling a meeting to discuss love, not outlining and researching love, not strategic planning love. 

Personally, physically, emotionally, showing love. 

I haven’t even looked at the church calendar to think about scheduling this event.  But this event in itself is not the point.

The Christian life, and the effectiveness of the church is summed up in these elements.  Love God, Love People (The Great Commandment), and Serve the World Together (The Great Commission).  Loving Loud cannot be relocated to an event which comes and goes on a calendar.  It MUST be a way of life for God’s people.

It is critical to the success of the church for people to give financially, but it is not enough.  “Does God just want to suck the life out of me?!”  you might ask.  Nope, God wants to give you life.  The kind of life you can only get by giving yours away.  See Matthew 10:37-42 for more on this.

For the record, never sacrifice your family for the sake of busyness at the church.  God desires for your family to be healthy, and stretching family time too thin so you can teach 3 classes and attend 2 more doesn’t work.  You may feel like if you don’t do it, no one will.  I sympathize, believe me.  But it is also true that if you keep doing it,  no one else will .  And if you keep doing it to the detriment of your family, you won’t do it much longer either.  Deut. 6:1-9 is clear, the home is the launching point for your service in the Kingdom.  Get that part right, or your ministry and life will be top-heavy, and soon crash around you.  Loving Loud begins at home.  I need to be held accountable to this just as much as the rest of you.

Essentially my point is this: For too long the church has hired out real ministry.  For too long we have allowed a few people to bear the burden of the work of the church while everyone else sat back and enjoyed their labor.  (I’m not refering to the pastors) For too long we have convinced ourselves that giving to the church financially is sufficient, and that if the money was there, surely someone would volunteer to serve.  For too long we have settled for dropping supplies off at the church office so someone else can do the work instead of showing up with your sleeves rolled up ready to get at it.  And all this has happened so we could take care of the club members while the folks riding past he property every day continue to suffer and struggle.  This is true in every church in America.

I need some folks to volunteer to BE AT the church and participate in Trunk or Treat, not just drop off candy for it at the church office. The candy is not the point, you are. If candy was the point we could set out a few buckets in front of the church and all stay home and watch TV. The point is that the PEOPLE of the church be here to meet and interact with the families of our community. Drive your car up to the church, sit behind it, and enjoy people for a couple of hours. But let me know so I can expect you. dwalker@firstbaptistthomson.org

How does real change happen?  Everybody has to do something.  Everybody has to look beyond themselves and participate in one of the ministries of the church.

If donating supplies is physically the best you can do, then God bless you, and THANK YOU.  That is your part and it matters greatly.  Your service is no less valuable than anyone else’s.  

 If you are physically able, and can’t think of a way you have rolled up your sleeves and participated in an activity designed for someone other than yourself in the last year…pray, seek God as to how you could get involved, and stop waiting on someone else to do what you know needs to happen.  I am here to help in any way I can.  Like Jim said yesterday, the local church is this world’s best hope for salvation.  That’s what Jesus intended.

the Leader/Servant paradox As I study t…

the Leader/Servant paradox

As I study the attributes of God, and learn about His Justice, Mercy etc., it becomes clear that God has blessed us as leaders with strength and influence for two very profound purposes.

God makes us strong so that we can help those who cannot help themselves.

God gives us influence so we can use it to model His love to the world.

This is Leadership, Jesus style.

We help those who cannot help themselves, by serving them.

We influence others to further the Kingdom of God, not the Kingdom of Me. (we seek to expand His influence, not our own)

The task of leading by serving is a difficult one.

The secret to getting the Leader/Servant paradox right, is found in your heart.

Or,

The secret to getting the Leader/Servant paradox right, is taking care of your heart.

(ESV) Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the spring of life.
Proverbs 4:23
(NIV) Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

Look for instance, at the Great Commandment,

“Luke 10:27 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with your entire mind; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Dallas Willard has suggested that the key for LEADING people to embrace the Great Commandment is understanding that it does not tell us so much what we must DO, as it tells us what we must cultivate within our hearts. (read it again)

Cultivate love with in your heart. Guard it ruthlessly against anything that would slow the growth of God’s love in your heart.

Puritan theologians had a wonderful term for how we should approach sin that would threaten our hearts. They often referred to the “mortification” of sin.

They understood that sin takes no prisoners among men’s hearts. The enemy seeks to kill, through anger, gossip, bitterness towards others, lust, pride, greed, and so on. And in the struggle you face as leaders to guard your heart, it is kill or be killed. By God’s strength, do away with the sin that would threaten your ability to be a good servant leader.

The effectiveness of your ability to lead, is directly linked to your ability to love.

Had a great conversation with a freind t…

Had a great conversation with a freind today who has a sick little girl. That’s the most helpless feeling in the world. When your child is sick, and feeling bad…and you can’t do anything but comfort them. (And pray of course!) I have one particular memory from my childhood regarding times when I felt bad. I can remember many times when I was sick with one thing or another my mom would say the most sincere thing to me. “If I could take this sickness and let it be mine and not yours, I would”, she would say. And I knew with all my heart that she meant it. Now when my children get sick from time to time, and that helpless feeling comes over me, I express it in the most natural way. I tell them the same thing my mom told me. And I mean it with all my heart.
It occured to me as I was telling my freind this today, that this experience as a parent gives us some insight into the heart of God. As His children, we enter into this world sick with sin, and it causes us to suffer. But unlike us, He is not helpless. He experienced that sincere desire to take on our sickness, so we wouldn’t have to endure it. And He did. He bore the weight of our sins, and recieved our punishment in full. And now you and I can be free from the burden of sin. All we have to do is trust in the truth of Our Father’s Love.