If you do not obey Jesus, You are not a Christian.

People at the Cross

Many people around the world consider the United States to be a “Christian” nation.  Even though many in the public forum push back against this label, if you took a cross section of the average Joe on the street the majority will still claim to be Christian.  Research indicates, in fact, that 77.3% of Americans are professing Christians.  Many consider themselves to be Christians because their families are historically Christian.  Some claim the faith because they go to Church on Christmas and Easter, and some think that they are saved because they “said a prayer” and secured their eternity by one sentence.

Jesus, however, made radical claims and set high expectations for those who would follow Him.  If we want to be Christians or “mini Christs”, then we have to obey Him:

“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

– Luke 6.46

In order to be a Christian, in order to follow Christ, Jesus plainly said that we have to do what He said.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”

– Matt 7.21

We can call Jesus “Lord”, but in order to enter into Heaven we must do the will of the Father – and that is to obey Jesus.

Jesus gave His life up for us because He loves us (John 15.13).  God Himself is love, and we cannot know love nor can we love unless we know God (1 John 4.7-8).  It is God’s desire that we come to love Him and abide in Him the same way in which Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit abide with one another (John 17.11, 21).  And the natural response to loving Jesus is to want to please Him by obeying Him.

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

– Jon 14.15

And we learn this by following the example of Jesus.  He loved God and spent all of His energy and life seeking to obey God and fulfilling His will:

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”

– John 6.38

Scripture teaches us that when we come to Jesus for forgiveness and salvation that He actually writes His law on our hearts (Heb 10.16, 8.10), and He gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us to obey those laws (1 Cor 3.16).  Thus we see that we are incapable of obeying Jesus in our own strength, but when we become a Christian we are transformed into a new creature in which the Holy Spirit resides (2 Cor 5.17), and it is actually no longer us who are living but Jesus living in and through us:

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

– Gal 2.20

So if God is indwelling us and empowering us by the very law that He has written on our hearts, we have the conviction when we disobey, we have the desire to obey, and we look like Jesus.

What exactly, then, did Jesus command us to do?

Many go immediately to the “Great Commandment” to answer this question.

‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’

– Matt 23.7-39

Jesus gave these simple yet impossible commandments.  If you are a Christian, you will be someone who loves God with every inch of your being, and who loves your neighbor in the same way you love yourself.  Do you watch your neighbors to make sure that they have good food, nice clothes, that their cars are functioning and that they have a job?  Do you make sure that they have fun, that they have good exercise habits, that they have community and activities in which to be involved?  Do you splurge on their happiness?

Sometimes we dull down this greatest commandment and think that giving God lip service is enough and sing the mantra, “all we need is love”, and yet we truly and genuinely love no one.  What is love?  It is sacrifice.  Jesus offered His life for us.  For whom would you die?

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.  “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’”  And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”  Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

– Matt 10.17-22

Jesus is concerned about our hearts.  This man had kept the law, given preference to others, done everything that God had commanded.  But Jesus wanted him to love his neighbor as he loved himself, and this man was unable to do so.  He could not sell his possessions and give the profit away.  He could not trust God.  Therefore he was not a believer, and he went away saddened.

We must love God with all of our hearts, love our neighbor as ourselves, and die to the deeds of the flesh.  What are the deeds of the flesh?

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

– Gal 5.19-21

If you partake in immorality, impurity (think sexual), sensuality (indulging your senses), witchcraft (think good luck charms along with spells and darkness), enmities (do you have any enemies?), strife (is there someone with whom you cannot get along?), jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes (are you in an argument?), dissensions, factions (have you just written someone off?), envying, drunkenness or carousing?  Often times we think about the big things when we think of obeying Jesus.  And yes, there are some big things listed here like witchcraft.  And while this list is not exhaustive, it reveals the heart of God being concerned with our driving force and our hearts.  If the Holy Spirit is residing within you, you cannot be jealous.  You cannot have strife.  You cannot hold grudges and break yourself away from other believers.

Sure, we will continue to fight with our sin and fail.  And Jesus understands that:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

But these things cannot mark us as people.  We might be fighting against these things, and seeking to replace these things with those attributes which honor God:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

Jesus says that we if we love Him we will obey Him.  If you do not obey Him, you prove yourself to not love Him.  And you have not kept the great commandment.  And you are not a believer.

“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”

– Matt 7.22-23

Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

– 1 John 3.24

Do you want to be a Christian?  Then begin with confessing your sins, asking for forgiveness and asking God to give you the Holy Spirit to enable you to obey Him.  Then begin the joyful life of following Him, loving Him, and you will begin to desire to obey Him and He will empower you to do so.  If you are not fighting sin and looking like Jesus, then you are not a Christian.  You are not a mini-Christ.  Let us all seek to become mini-Christs.

When life gets messy.

High speed image of splashing milk

When God calls us to salvation, He places us perfectly within His body:  the Church.  We are all given strengths and abilities to help the church thrive, to maintain health, to reach the world and to make disciples.  The Church needs every member and every member needs the Church.

“But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.  For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  For the body is not one member, but many.  If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.  If they were all one member, where would the body be?  But now there are many members, but one body.”

– 1 Cor 12.12-20

This is the beautiful and unique form of community with which God has blessed the Church.  In short, we get in each other’s lives and we “do life” together.  But do you know what happens when you get in other people’s lives?  It gets messy.  No Christian has attained perfection and the fullest maturity until he is freed from his earthly body, and that means that people are going to be misunderstood, people are going to be offended, and there will be conflict.  Even within the Church.  ::gasp::  If you’re not getting messy, you are not doing it right.

But let us not despair about this fact.  This is actually our opportunity to first of all glorify God in how we respond.  If Jesus is our example, let us remember that He was the only person to walk the face of this Earth without sin, and He was despised, mocked, tortured and murdered.  He endured all of this without lashing out, but with forgiveness and grace, even praying for God to show forgiveness to those who were in the act of murdering Him.  Can you imagine?  We often times need space and time to cool our emotions, but Jesus, in the midst of His own murder, was able to show selflessness and mercy.  In the same way that He loved and forgave us, we must love and forgive one another.  Otherwise we elevate ourselves and our offense above what Jesus endured on the cross.

Secondly, this gives us an opportunity to grow in maturity.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”

– James 1.2-3

I particularly love this passage out of James because he speaks directly to “various trials”, not simply persecution for the Gospel’s sake.  Various trials can be our cars breaking down, a difficult child, a tension at the church or persevering through an illness.  All of these various trials are tests of our faith.  How do we respond?  Do we get angry and selfish?  Or do we turn to God and die to ourselves?  Are we humble or are we proud?  When we persevere through the testing of our faith we achieve endurance.  And Romans tells us that,

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

– Rom 5.3-5

We will not have proven character until we persevere through the mess of relationships and come out victorious on the other side.  We will not have true, Biblical hope until we persevere through trials that test our faith.  If we do not persevere and glorify God by dying to ourselves and following Christ’s example in day-to-day trials, we will be tossed around like the waves of the sea and depend on our circumstances for happiness (James 1.6).

Thirdly, these situations give us an opportunity to express the Gospel to others in the Church and to a lost world.  We will all have conflict.  But consider this:  we are all familiar with the terrible and ongoing “worship war” that is present in many churches.  Everyone wants his own style of music.  For some the music is too loud, for some it is too soft, for some it is not played skillfully enough, and for some the style is just unbearable.  Consider a person who has never come to the church before and who has never heard hymns, contemporary praise, quartet or even Christian rock music.  Everything, to him, is new.  He can have two polar opposite experiences determined by the church-goer by whom he sits.  The church goer can have a bad attitude, choose not to sing, choose to be grumpy – or even wait in the foyer until the music is over before coming in.  The unsaved man will see nothing different from the world here.  What he knows and expects.  Nothing attractive.  And he will probably examine the music with the same mindset.  Now, imagine he sits next to someone who does not necessarily care for the style of music being played, but this person says in his heart, “I want God to be glorified by the music and in my heart.  I am going to sing whatever they choose to sing and praise God!”  He considers his neighbor who loves this music and can best express his heart to God through this style, and he prays, “God help my neighbor meet with you today, and I praise you that these songs are fostering his heart to praise you!”  The lost person will see this as a selfless and humble person who loves God and loves his neighbor, and will see something different.

If the world sees conflict between two believers, if the believers act like the world, then our witness is lost.  But if the believers humble themselves, put one another’s desires and needs above themselves, respect one another and forgive lavishly, then we demonstrate the love and forgiveness that we have been showed in Jesus.  Scripture teaches us that we only love because He loved us first (1 John 4.19).  And Scripture teaches us that we should love and forgive in the same degree by which we are loved and forgiven.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”

– Col 3.12-13

Paul teaches us that our attitude towards one another should be, at the foundation, one of humility.  And based on that humility we bear with one another and forgive in the same manner that we have been forgiven.  What does that mean?  If you have come to Jesus for salvation, He has forgiven you of every offense you have ever committed and will ever commit.  In short, there is nothing that another person can do to you that would be worse than your offense against a holy God.  Therefore, if Jesus has forgiven you of everything, then we, by His example, must forgive every offense confessed towards us.

Paul knows, however, that this is not easy and that it goes against our sinful nature.  That is why every single letter that He wrote addressed the topic to some extent.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.  Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.  “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

– Rom 12.9-21

So much as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  This does not mean that you have to be buddy-buddy with everyone in the Church.  This also does not mean that you excuse and overlook sin.  Jesus gave us very clear instructions for how to handle a church member who is sinning (Matt 18.15-17), and Paul teaches us that when someone is in sin, we should lovingly restore him and help him fight the sin (Gal 6.1).  We should never overlook sin, but bring it to light and squash it before it takes a foothold in anyone’s life.  This is the truly loving thing to do, to push one another on to maturity and hope.

But humility follows the example of Christ and dies to one’s self.  Humility seeks to glorify God and His gospel by forgiving in the way that He forgave.  Humility serves the body and individuals in the likeness and manner of Christ (Phil 2.3-8).

Life will get messy.  It is in these moments that we must choose to put away our pride, we must choose to seek to glorify God by loving and forgiving as He has loved and forgiven.  We must long for the unity of the body by lifting one another up and resolving conflict, and this will show the world that we are Christians:  by our love (John 13.35).  It is easy to do service projects and humanitarian aid.  It is easy to look happy on Sunday mornings, but a dynamic witness to the world is Christians loving one another when they do not necessarily want to.

“For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.  For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.  For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”

– 1 Peter 2.19-24

So let us approach community with a realist mindset, knowing that pouring into one another’s lives will bring conflict eventually.  People are people, they will let you down.  But let us embrace those opportunities to press into God, to press into one another, to grow in maturity, and to be a dynamic witness to a lost world.  Let us die to ourselves, put one another first, help one another fight sin in our lives, and thus sharpen one another and be what God intended the church to be:  a body.

The dangers of feminism.

feminist

I get uneasy with the topic of feminism.  Yes, I am a woman.  I’m probably what most people would consider an independent and relatively successful woman.  I have a master’s degree, I have moved more times than I care to recall, building community from scratch every time, and I pay all my own bills.  I do not particularly like being cat called when I walk or run down the street, I do not think it is fair that a man would get paid more to do the same job as me in most professional (and not professional) environments, and I do not like the color pink.  I’m not a stay at home mom.  

But it still turns me off.

In case you live in a box, this past weekend hosted the VMA awards as well as the Grammys.  If you haven’t seen any news anywhere, let me tell you that everyone is ogling over Beyonce’s performance at the VMAs.  In fifteen minutes, she sang a medley of songs on the topics of oral sex in the back of a limo, telling a guy to “tear that cherry out” and a tribute to her reign as queen, “Bow Down”, complete with derrieres adorned only in glitter as the background dancers, Beyonce herself climbing and posing upon a cushion chair, and sitting spread eagle to acquaint everyone intimately with her crotch for substantial portions of the performance.  And the word with which she defined herself before her toddler daughter, husband and the world was, “Feminist”.  

Not twenty four hours later, the Grammys aired, during which Sofia Vergara mocked our society by standing on a turntable which turned her 360 degrees while Bruce Rosenblum, chairman of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences said, “What truly matters is that we never forget that our success is based on always giving the viewer something compelling to watch.”  It was a joke.  Vergara, completely clothed, stood on a pedestal for people to look at in order to mock our societal and media trends.

Would you believe that people are up in arms?  Beyonce can strip for the world, dry hump chairs and poles but as long as she touts the title “feminist”, she is strong, independent, beautiful and in charge.  Vergara, on the other hand, who would simply mock society by giving the audience “something to look at” is now the victim of sexism.  As normal, everyone has an opinion.

Blah.  

This whole conversation makes my head and heart hurt.  Why?  Because anytime we waste our energy labeling ourselves anything else than Christian, we have lost our way.  

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 – Gal 3.28

The feminist extreme is out exerting “equality” by essentially demanding excess.  “Women can do the job better” and “stand up and take the lead” demands that we be first, not equal.  We want preference.  But the call of Jesus is to die to ourselves.  To suffer the offense.  To love one another irregardless of gender, color or social status.  Because in Jesus, there is no preference; male or female, race or social status.  

God is fundamentally concerned about justice.  He is the one who established the Law (the covenant with Moses, His perfect Law) and thus gave us the structure and outline for all systems of governance and accountability.  He Himself will judge every sin.  Every sin.  Nothing will go unpunished.  Sexism, racial injustice and social prejudice included.

However, if I waste all of my time getting upset because I live in a society where women are objectified, where I personally get cat called and honked at every time I go outside for a run, or even when I might make less money than a man just because I am a woman, all I will do is give myself an ulcer and live a miserable life.  Why?  Because you cannot change society unless God changes the heart first.  Sure, maybe if I push back hard enough, get enough people to sign my petition and make enough noise, a law might be passed to make cat calling deemed as harassment.  Maybe the police would even start to enforce it and people might start to stop whistling, making vulgar gestures and beeping their horns.  

So what?  

What eternal significance does it have if I make more money, walk down the street in peace, or get more societal respect?  None.  Absolutely none.  If I spend my whole life fighting for the equalization of women in the work place, I might help women to have more money, but they will still go to Hell if they do not know Jesus.  

How do you label yourself?  Are you a woman?  Are you consequently a feminist?  

Paul makes a radical statement:

Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk.  And so I direct in all the churches.  Was any man called when he was already circumcised?  He is not to become uncircumcised.  Has anyone been called in uncircumcision?  He is not to be circumcised.  Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.  Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.  Were you called while a slave?  Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.  For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.  You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.  Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.

 – 1 Cor 7.17-24

Paul essentially says here, your physical circumstances are not what are important.  It is your heart.  Slavery, persecution, success and happiness are not.  These things are all fleeting and they ultimately do not matter.  What matters is “keeping the commandments of God (v 19).  And Paul is not watering down the situation!  The early church was suffering persecution.  He himself was in and out of jail, was beaten, was stoned, put on trial and suffered more than you or I.  He was not speaking to a system of slavery that was fair, he was speaking to Christians who’s lives were in danger for the simple fact of being a Christian.

So if Paul can tell people who are living as slaves to be a slave to the glory of God, and not fight for themselves but to obey the commandments of God in their current slavery, why would I be justified in being angry because of the issues today?  I am not being beaten, I am making money, and live in more ease and comfort than most of the world.  And for those who are concerned that I just have not experienced it enough, I did live for four years in a society where I was the hated minority and wrestled with it daily.

 Am I preaching pacifism here?  No.  Paul does say, “but if you are able to become free, do that” (v 21).  And like I said, God is the judge and He has put powers in authority over us for a purpose (Rom 13.4).  If you have the calling and gifting to be a part of moral and ethical change in politics, then be about it!  God is concerned about justice, and we most certainly should stand up for those who do not have a voice.  But if we are called to show preference to one another, put others before ourselves and love our neighbors as ourselves, how can I justify being angry if someone else gets paid more, or if I am routinely wronged (Rom 12.10, Phil 2.3, Matt 22.39)?  

My point is this:  If you are a Christian, be a Christian.  A mini Christ.  And this is a matter of the heart.  How do you respond when you are hated?  How do you respond when you are persecuted or harassed?  Do you get angry and get up on your little soapbox and preach that you deserve better?  Or do you bless those who persecute you (Rom 12.14)?  Do you lash out when someone takes advantage of you?  Or do you go the extra mile (Matt 5.41)?  Do you love your enemy and pray for him (Matt 5.44)?  

Instead of looking at myself, and thinking about what I need or deserve, I should be concerned about the heart and eternity of the one who is hating me, who is persecuting or abusing me.  That does not mean I willingly stay in a situation that is to my detriment, but it does mean that my response is concern for other’s souls and eternities.  Because even if I succeed in changing their behavior, nothing of eternal value has been accomplished. 

Every society needs to see change and reform, including ours.  And at the risk of sounding cliche, I would remind us that it starts with me.  It starts with you.  I am not going to honor God and show others how to love by getting angry and crying about social inequality.  I will honor God by loving those who persecute me.  It has to be the love of God in my heart, the conviction to live my life as unto Him and not unto man, and to do all things to His glory.  I must respond well and in love, and when I find the opportunity to affect laws or societal governance, then I step up.  If you have a job or a position whereby you can make a difference, then impact the world – and that for the sake of Christ!  Make equal salaries between gender and race.  Enforce laws of harassment and do away with racial profiling.  But do it because Jesus declares us the same, without distinction.  And love those who persecute you in the process because what matters is keeping the commandments of God.

So you have a Jesus fish.

ichthus1

American Christianity has become trendy.  Musicians fake faith to succeed in the Christian music scene, Jesus has been trivialized to be made cool (anyone remember, “Jesus is my homeboy”?), WWJD bracelets were a permeating fad that rocked the teenage world before silicone wristbands were the thing, and we all know the passive aggressive ichthus fish that Christians mount on their cars, either in silent witness of their faith or in direct rebuttal to the Darwin fish or coexist bumper stickers parked down the street.

So let us consider some food for thought.  When I was in high school and the Jesus fish fad started, I told my friends that I would never put one of those on my car because sometimes I make mistakes:  I can cut people off, I might speed, and I know how prevalent road rage is so I do not want to be a bad witness.  Sounds pretty noble, does it not?  It did in my seventeen-year-old mind, anyway.  It’s better to not be a hypocrite, right?

Yes.  It is better to not be a hypocrite.  We learn from Scripture that it is better to be hot or cold than lukewarm (Rev 3.15-16).  I realize that there is debate about the exact meaning of the passage, as it has been suggested that hot and cold seasons led to better shipping lines in the ports near Laodecia; that hot and cold were both good things, but the simple reality is that God holds us accountable to the measure by which we have understanding.

Paul teaches us that those who have the Law will be judged by the Law:

For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.

– Rom 2.12-13

This can be confusing.  Does it mean that people who have never heard the Gospel, the story of Jesus, are off the hook?  Do they get to go to Heaven?  No, it does not mean that.  We know that everyone has sinned, and some have sinned knowing the Gospel and some have sinned not knowing it.  But all know that they have sinned, and verse twelve tells us that those who do not know the story of Jesus will still perish.  God’s wrath will still be poured out against them and their sin in eternity.

But those who have heard will be held to a higher standard.  The judgment will be according to knowledge and responsibility.  Someone might say, “Hell is Hell”.  And yes, an eternity of suffering in Hell is a terrible thing.  But Jesus states that those who hear the truth and deny it will suffer a worse judgment than the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah who were destroyed by fire for their wickedness (Matt 10.15, 11.24), and even worse for those who are hypocrites, who profess to be leaders in the Church and lead people astray, their judgment will be the worst:

“…but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

– Matt 18.6

Perhaps the most sobering sections of Scripture deal with precisely this topic:

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.  Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 

– Heb 10.26-29

The absolute worst situation, eternally, in which one can find himself is to have heard and known of Christ and His work and to deny it and live a life of sin.  We know that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, so we must share the Gospel every opportunity that we receive, but at the moment of hearing one enters a new level of responsibility before God (Rom 10.17).

On that foundation we return to the original question.  Should a Christian hide is faith for the sake of not being labeled a hypocrite?  Is it more noble to not put a symbol of my faith on my car for fear of being judged when I make a mistake?  No.  It is not.  In fact, Jesus said,

“But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.”

– Matt 10.33

Does that mean that I must put an ichthus on my car?  No.  And no, you do not have to forward that chain email or post the picture of Jesus to your facebook wall to ensure your salvation.  But it does mean that if your logic for not doing these things is to not be labeled as a believer, then you need to check yourself.

We must, however, adhere to Jesus’ standards and the foundations of the faith.  We may not excuse our own sin or other’s sin by the blanket observation that “everyone is a sinner”.  We cannot let our friends continue sinning without holding them accountable based on the logic, “I just sinned yesterday”.  We must let sinful brothers and sisters call us out.  Because our sinful brother and sister is not the standard.  Jesus is.  And even though we all fall, we can push one another on to holiness.

So put away your fake piety and embrace your identity.  And when you screw up, praise Jesus boldly in front of others for the grace that you have received for the forgiveness of your sin.  If you have an ichthus on your car and you cut someone off in traffic, make a kind gesture and mouth “I’m sorry”.  If you are wearing a WWJD bracelet and you get angry, or lie, or screw up, return to the offended party and confess it.  Repent.  Praise Jesus for grace.  And let that be a testimony of how Jesus is working in you today.

Does the Bible Teach Tolerance?

We have all heard the stories and accounts from Westboro Bapist Church.  We have all also heard the prevalent mindset in American culture that tolerance is essential and we may not judge, condemn or proclaim any absolutes over an act in which another might partake, provided it is within the law.  This video is tragic on a variety of levels:

I found it humerus the frequency and intensity with which the term “love” was thrown around in this video.  Russell Brand and the audience proclaim their love as verified and authenticated by the fact that they tolerate everyone in their religious, political and social choices.  The two representatives from Westboro Baptist Church claimed to love Russell and the audience by warning of them of the impending judgment, however they claimed the authority to proclaim that God does not love some who have succumbed to specific sins like homosexuality.

Before one can enter into a dialogue or debate on any given topic, terms must first be defined.  It will save many friendships, relationships, work interactions and a variety potentially volatile situations if you will only make sure that you are speaking to the same topic and presuppositions of an idea before you disagree with someone.

For instance tolerance.  Russell Brand claims that Jesus taught tolerance in the Bible, and the crowd cheered loudly.  But what exactly are we to understand tolerance as?  Merriam-Webster defines tolerate as:

:  to allow to be or to be done without prohibition, hindrance, or contradiction

:  to put up with
Let us consider an extremely important question:  Did Jesus ever “put up with” or allow sin?  Clearly there is a differentiation between condoning and putting up with.  Did Jesus ever say, “It’s OK, don’t worry about it” when someone was sinning in His presence?  The answer is a resounding no.  Jesus was extremely concerned with sin, as God defines sin.  If someone desires to argue that Jesus did not judge, the go-to passage is typically the woman caught in adultery:
“Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them.  The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.  Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?’  They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him.  But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.  But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’  Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.  When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.  Straightening up, Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, where are they?  Did no one condemn you?’  She said, ‘No one, Lord.’  And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.’
 – John 8.2-11
Jesus did not condemn the woman.  But what was His instruction to her?  Sin no more.  When Jesus saw the selling and buying happening in the temple, He got angry and overturned the tables, driving the vendors out of the building.  When He spoke to Zaccheus, the sinner repented and gave back half of what he owned to the poor (Luke 19).
The second go-to passage is Jesus’ teaching on hypocrisy.  In Matt 7 and Luke 6, Jesus teaches that by the same standard we judge others, we will be judged.  Therefore, it serves no good for a drunk to judge a drunk, a liar to judge a liar or murderer to judge a murderer.  The reason is because our judgment within the Body of Christ is a sanctifying work, pushing one another on to good deeds and obedience (Heb 10.24), and if I am a pathological liar, I will be of no benefit to my friend who also lies, in helping him to conquer the sin.  Jesus is not saying that the sin is allowable, He is saying “be careful”, so that you will not be found a hypocrite and do not hold others to a higher standard than you yourself are able to keep.
Just last week I wrote on the fact that non-Christians are going to act like non-Christians.  So I will not dive too deeply into the topic again, other than to say – non-Christians are going to act like non-Christians.  And we ought to expect them to.  It benefits no one to clean up someone’s act if He is not given a new heart and transformed from the inside out.  So in that sense, yes.  We tolerate.  Within the law, and when innocent people are not directly affected.  I do not try to force those who do not know Jesus to act like Jesus.  I try to introduce them to Jesus, and let Jesus transform them from the inside out.
However, tolerance within the Body is quite another conversation.  The only reason one cries out for tolerance is the desire to harbor sin.  “You can’t judge me” only means, “I love this sin and you cannot take it from me”.  The typical defense is “You are a sinner too” or “No one is perfect”.  Yes, you are absolutely right.  There is none righteous, no not one (Rom 3.10).  We are all sinful.  But that most certainly does not justify us to sin in the eyes of God.  Because He is holy, He is perfect and He does not tolerate sin.  You may not continue willfully in sin after salvation and expect God’s forgiveness (Heb 10.26-27).  The mark of a Christian is one who is fighting sin.
So which is it, Christian?  Do you love your sin, or do you love God and His commandments?  You have to choose one or the other.
Now, that brings us on to the second topic of conversation addressed here:  Is it loving to tolerate or is it loving to point out sin?  I also wrote, a few months ago, on how true friends help us to fight sin in our lives.  And the question is basically answered above.  It is loving to point the unsaved to Jesus.  And the reason that Jesus is our hope is because He died and paid the punishment for our sin.  Yes, we all have to admit that we are sinners, we have to confess our sins and we have to turn away from them.  But by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is the most loving thing in the world to offer someone hope.  But it must be done in kindness, sincerity and love.
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
 – 1 Cor 13.1-3
The Gospel is offensive enough.  There is no reason for us to make ourselves more of a stumbling block than Jesus already is to the lost.  So, let us be nice.  Let us offer hope.  Let us be bold and allow Jesus to be the determining factor, not our insensitivity or lack of people skills.  “Put up” with sin, if the person does not know Jesus.  And if the person does know Jesus, walk with him in love to restore him to obedience.

Small Afflictions

Most of our forefathers who dramatically impacted the status quo of Christianity wrestled with their sin, the reality of eternity, a holy God and new birth on intense levels.  John Bunyan is one of those who lived a self-proclaimed “morally reprehensible” life, questioning himself deeply if he had committed the unpardonable sin.  When God revealed his grace to him and saved him, his deep thoughts and meditations overflowed in rarely equaled depth and profundity.

While serving a prison sentence for preaching without a license, Bunyan wrote a book entitled, “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”, his autobiography.  In reflecting on his turmoil pre-conversion, he made this statement:

“I saw old people hunting after the things of this life as if they should live here always . . . [and] I found [professing Christians] much distressed and cast down when they met with outward losses, as of husband, wife, child, etc.  Lord, thought I, what ado is there about such little things as these.  What seeking after carnal things by some, and what grief in others for the loss of them.  If they so much labor after and shed so many tears for the things of this present life, how am I to be bemoaned, pitied, and prayed for.  My soul is dying, my soul is damned.  Were my soul but in a good condition, and were I but sure of it, ah, how rich should I esteem myself, though blessed but with bread and water.  I should count those but small afflictions and should bear them as little burdens.”

– John Bunyan

Bunyan was primarily wrestling with the disconnect between Christianity’s claims on eternity and the way Christians live.  Do we not do the same?  Do we store up treasures for ourselves here on Earth where moth and rust destroy?  Do we build barns for ourselves to house our worldly treasures, and die the next day, leaving it for someone else to enjoy?

“And He told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man was very productive.  And he began reasoning to himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?”  Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.'”  But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?”  So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”'”

– Luke 12.16-21

I was meeting with my mentor recently and we had a conversation about the selfish nature of our grieving the loss of a fellow Christian.  If we truly believed what we say we believe, wouldn’t we rejoice at the passing on of a brother or sister in Christ?

“Oh death, where is your victory?   Oh death, where is your sting?”

 – 1 Cor 15.55

Have you wrestled with eternity?  Have you processed the meaning of life?  Do you live for toys, or pleasures, or achievements, or family?  If you were to die today, would you regret a pleasure or experience here on Earth?  If you had the choice to enter eternity this moment or remain in life, which would you choose?  Are you confident to stand before the creator?

We will not always live here.

“Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.”

 – Matt 24.42

If there is one conversation you need to be ready to have, it is that one that will happen between you and God, face to face, when you enter into eternity.  And when we are ready for that, these momentary afflictions truly do seem small (2 Cor 4.17-18).

Does God help those who help themselves?

America. The land of opportunity. A refuge for the persecuted, the downtrodden, the sick and poor. The Colossus, a sonnet inscribed in the Statue of Liberty exemplifies our nations foundation with it’s closing:

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

– Emma Lazarus

We tell our children that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up. We glorify the Cinderella story in which one pulls himself up by his bootstraps and makes his own place in the world. My grandfather told my dad as he started his first job, “Keep your back bent and your head down and everything will be fine”. Work hard. You will be justly rewarded.

And then we spiritualize it: “God helps those who help themselves” (Ben Franklin).

But is that true?

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.”

– John 12.24-25

Spiritually, the occurrence of salvation can only happen if and when we realize that we are utterly incapable of saving ourselves – we are sinful and need a savior. We must fall to the earth and die. If we try to earn our salvation, all of our efforts are nothing before God:

“For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

– Is 64.6

Once we are saved, we must abide in Christ to do everything. Literally, everything:

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

John 15.5

How does this apply to the day-to-day? Does God promise to bless our business endeavors if we are diligent? He promises to meet our needs and to never leave us (Luke 11.13, Heb 13.5). And He warns against storing up treasures on Earth where moth and rust destroy (Matt 6.19).

Scripture is clear, consequently, that we must be good citizens (Rom 13), care for the poor (James 1.27) and work diligently:

“If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.”

– 2 Thess 3.10

So I guess it ultimately comes down to defining of terms. What do we mean by “God helps those who hep themselves”? We cannot work towards our salvation or standing before God. And God does not ever promise monetary or temporal blessings for hard work. We often erroneously associate stuff with blessings. I think sometimes the possessions we accumulate hurt our faith. It is a blessing or a curse that we have a toy for which we must work to pay off, or fix?

Our American ethnocentrism assumes that we have an elite culture and society because we have the most conveniences and stuff. However, I have known Christians around the world who pray for and pity Christians here because we are enslaved to our lusts, entertainment and self. We think they need more stuff. They find their satisfaction and joy in God.

Who do you think gets it right?

But God does enable those who abide in Him to do everything. To live in times of wealth, in times of poverty, to make His name known and to stand strong under persecution. Yes, God helps those who abide in Him to do all things, through Christ, who strengthens him (Phil 4.13).