Above All Else

When I was in rehab in California, I prayed a prayer:

Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, "Who is the Lord?" Or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God."

Proverbs 30:7-9 (ESV)

Thankfully, God has answered this prayer. When I have wandered from Him, and become prideful and arrogant, He has brought me low. The things I've tried to accomplish didn't prosper, and I spiral down as the objects of my pride crumble. When I repent, submit to Him, and (do my best to) walk uprightly, He blesses me and things go well.

The most important thing, above anything else, is to be saved. Paul talked about this - that he could preach the Gospel to others, but by his own lack of discipline and self-control, find himself cast-away. (I Cor. 9:27) Jesus talked about it in the Sermon on the Mount, telling those present that, if your hand or your eye offends you, you should cut it off or pluck it out, because it would be better to be maimed or half-blind than to be separated from God and spend eternity in hell.

We're working with reality. This life, it's heavy stuff. It's not a game. The stakes are as high as can be. And we can't be flippant or casual with how we live.

Recently, my pastor made a comment during a sermon that really sort of stuck - if he were living in some sort of hidden sin, he would rather have it exposed and be humiliated if it led to repentance, than for his ego and reputation stay intact but end up in hell.

I haven't been able to get away from this. Is my pride more important than salvation? Am I more concerned with reputation and doing what I want than I am with being saved?

All week, I've been singing this old song.

Above all else I must be saved.

Above all else I must be saved.

Whatever You have to do to me

Don't let me be lost for eternity.

Above all else I must be saved. (emphasis added)

It's had me rocking on my heels all week. Nothing else matters. Are you serving Jesus or yourself? Are you following His will or yours? And what matters most to you?

The Idolatry of The Future

In “The Screwtape Letters”, C.S. Lewis articulates a sin that I think so many people fall into. I call it the Idolatry of the Future. In Letter 15, Screwtape writes to Wormwood, and encourages him to prevent the Patient from focusing on Eternity (which means being concerned with God) and from focusing on the Present (the point at which time touches eternity). Rather, Wormwood should seek to focus to keep the Patient focused on the Future, because “biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the future inflames hope and fear.”

I’ve been re-reading “The Screwtape Letters” as of late, in preparation for a podcast that we’re recording. Reading it critically in anticipation for conversation has caused me to consider and think about things in a way that I wouldn’t if I were just reading for my own personal enjoyment. As such, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this issue. The issue of the Future, of living in the future, and of Idolizing the Future. This manifests, I think, in two similar, but distinct, ways: “If Only” and “Just as Soon As”.

If Only

That’s the lie we tell ourselves. Most of the time, we don’t realize it’s a lie. 

"If only" is an excuse we use to justify and excuse our lack of action or engagement with a problem or situation. It's what we use to push back the call of God on our life, or from going after a dream or a goal. It's what keeps us on the bench, sitting on the couch, restless and ambitious. "If only" feeds our fears and saps our faith and deprives us of the life that God wants us to have. 

"If only I were married."

"If only I had more money."

"If only I had gone to college."

"If only I had a better job."

"If only my kids were better behaved."

"If only I were better looking.” (This isn’t something I personally can relate to, but I know some people who are surely afflicted by it.)

When we say “If only,” we elevate some currently not present condition in our lives as the key to happiness, satisfaction, and joy. It idolizes something that’s not real, and passes the blame of our unpleasant situation onto something else, something that’s outside of our control, and it binds us. 

Just As Soon As

I used to say this all the time. “Just as soon as” … what? For me, it was finish college. Or get married. Or have kids. Or get out of debt. I used it as an excuse for my financial struggles, for my relationship struggles, for my lack of engagement in evangelism and teaching bible studies. I read a quote once - “An excuse is never hard to come up with when you’ve decided you can’t do something.” 

The problem with Just As Soon As is that we get to beg off of whatever it is that we know that we ought to do now with a future promise and good intentions. But things never happen the way we think they will, and we'll never be in a perfect situation where we can do the things we should without obstacle or distraction. Just As Soon As is also a lie, and it prevents us from ever accomplishing anything, because Just As Soon As never comes true. 

Idolatry

All sin is idolatry, because all of our life is worship. Everything we do is an act of worship, either to God or to the Self. We don’t live in a vacuum, so we don’t have neutral actions. By not living in the present, and fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives, instead we tell God that we can’t serve Him right now because we’re not equipped properly (as if His plan ever depended on our abilities). That’s idolatry. It’s sin. 

Furthermore, when we say If Only or Just As Soon As, we are anticipating a perfect Future. We have, as Lewis says, persuaded ourselves that the Future is going to be agreeable. What happens, then, if the conditions we’ve established for doing the things we ought are never met? What happens if you don’t get the new job or the new car? What happens if you don’t have more money or get married? Are you never going to submit to God’s will? Are you going to perpetually live in rebellion and idolatry? 

We can’t wait. We can’t delay. God doesn’t need us to be perfect - He needs us to be willing. 

lyrics - "this my soul" by the gray havens

A voice came and spoke to the silence
The words took on beauty and form
The form took its shape as a garden was born
Then man from the dust came reflecting
All goodness and beauty and life
But he lowered his gaze
As he listened to the face of low desires 

This my soul you were born
You were born into
What this man has done
It all extends to you
Let the words shake on down along your spine
And ring out true that you might find new life 

The voice came and swords blocked the garden
None could return with their lives
A curse there was placed upon every man to face
For all of time
No wisdom of man or rebellion
Could deliver new life out of death
But the voice with the curse
Spoke a promise that the word would take on flesh 

This my soul you were born
You were born into
What this man has done
It all extends to you
Let the words shake on down along your spine
And ring out true that you might find 

Then the perfect son of man
Took the place the voice had planned
Since the garden and before
He took the swords and cursed the grave
There’s nothing more to separate us from the promise
The words of a living hope

And this my soul you were born
You were born into
What this man has done
It all extends to you
Let the words shake on down along your spine
And ring out true that you might find

I love good music. I love great lyrics. I love Christian music that shares the gospel. This song - and this band - have occupied my mind and imagination for the past several weeks. 

honor where honor is due (or, why i love my wife)

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.

If any woman has a husband for an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife. For how do your know, wife, whether you will save your husband?

1 Corinthians 7:13-14, 16

As I’m sure that everyone who reads this blog knows, I walked away from God seven years ago. I was regularly abusing alcohol; I was engaged in all manners of blasphemous, reckless, and sinful behavior; and I was angry, bitter, and condescending. I made being at home with me a chore on a good day, and a hell-on-earth on a bad day. And yet, my wife stayed. She had every right and reason to leave me, and yet she stayed.

When you take your wedding vows before God, you assume that both you and your spouse will be standing together as Christians, enduring the good and the bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, until death do you part stuff as a team. But no one imagines the bad times being when your spouse walks away from God, and is addicted to porn, and is drunk all the time and getting high all the time. No one imagines that sickness includes depression and thoughts of suicide. No one dreams that for poorer is because your spouse lost yet another job and won’t stop drinking. But that was what Heidi faced. She stood by herself and upheld our wedding vows, even when I wouldn’t. I don’t understand why. But she stood for that. And she stayed.

She consented to stay married to me, even though I didn’t deserve it. Every Sunday for years, she woke up and got first one child, then both kids, ready for Sunday School, and I kissed them all goodbye and she went and stood between God and me and prayed and cried and pleaded for Him to work on my heart, to turn me around, and to bring me back to church. She said, “I don’t know who that is, but he’s not the man I married.” For five years, she prayed. For five years, she asked God to help.

In that time, none of the things I was propping up was working right in my life. Everything I tried to do fell apart through my own pride and ego. Job after job came crashing down. The drinking got worse, I got angrier and more combative. And then everything finally came crashing down. My lies and sins and drunkenness all came together to leave me a broken, defeated wreck of a man, and Heidi was faced again with a choice - “Do I stay with my husband, or do I leave now to protect myself and my children?"

She stayed. In my desperation and brokenness, I finally returned to church. I resented it and didn’t want to be there, but slowly, my heart began to turn. In my brokenness, in my humiliation, I found repentance. And then I found joy. I found peace in the Holy Ghost. And my marriage began to heal. And all the ancillary things in my life, the things in my life that had been falling apart and slipping through my fingers, began to come together and work again. I stopped drinking. I’m not angry or lonely or hopeless or depressed anymore. I’ve built friendships again. And all because she stayed.

She prayed for me. She loved me. She didn’t give up on me. I’m alive today, and serving God today, because my wife wouldn’t leave.

Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.

Thank you, Heidi Beth, for being the most amazing wife. And happy birthday, today. You’re my queen, and I love you. Thank you for not giving up on me.

Confess Your Faults

    What does this mean? According to Dr. Constable, this isn't (a) a public confession of all your dirty laundry, or (b) confessing all of your sins to the clergy in a Roman Catholic sense; rather, it's confessing your sin to those who the sin has influenced. Have you sinned against your brother? Confess it to him. Your spouse? Do the same. Do what you must to make it right. A public sin should be confessed publicly; private sins should be addressed between those who it affects.

    But we put on a front. We pretend often that we're perfect now. We put on our suits. We put on our dresses. Got our hair done up, a fresh shave, our shoes polished. We look good. We put on a good front. But it's a lie.

    We all are struggling with different sins. We are all battling on different fronts and in different ways, but for a few hours a few nights a week, we practice behavior modification and put on our masks of Christian perfection and pretend that everything is perfect. We might be able to fight the behavioral sin for awhile, but we don't deal with the heart issue, largely because we're not honest with each other about what we're struggling with.

    We've probably all heard the Sermon on the Mount at some point in our lives, but have you really ever examined it? It's all about breaking down the cycle of behavior modification and masks of piety; it's about dealing with the heart. How many of us have ever committed murder? But how many of us have ever lost our temper, or flown into a rage, or screamed at that guy in front of you who won't get out of the left lane even though he's going the speed limit and I'm on my way to work and if he doesn’t get out of the way I’m going to....

    How many of us have committed adultery? (Don't raise your hands). But how many of us have looked twice at that new coworker, or the receptionist, or snuck off onto the internet late at night or watched a TV show that showed more than was appropriate or read a trashy novel or magazine article? (Again, don't raise your hands).

    How many of us have held onto a grudge while speaking kindly to someone who offended us, or owes us money, or borrowed your lawn mower and didn't return it full of fuel? How many make promises we never intend to keep? How many of us worship in church while harboring resentment towards a brother or sister?

And that's just Matthew chapter 5.

    Getting to Matthew 6, how many of us make a show of our worship so that people will see us and think we're doing great? How many of us talk about how much we fast, or how much we give in offering, so that people know?

    It gets uncomfortable, but that's the difference between good behavior and a transformed heart. The message of the Gospel isn't that you can live right - it's that you get your heart right. Because if you get your heart right, you'll live right. But, as T.S. Eliot says, "The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason." Intentions matter. Why you do something matters. It gets down to the heart, not the act.

    I believe that it would be beneficial if we talked more openly about our struggles. If we were honest about the trials or the temptations. We don't get explicit, we don't have to embarrass ourselves. But what if we didn't always pretend we were perfect all the time? What if we had less judgment, more love, and more transparency within in the church, where we trusted each other enough to say "hey, say a prayer for me. I'm struggling right now. I'm going through a situation right now. I need you to lift me up. I need you to help me bear this burden. I need you to encourage me." How much stronger would the body be if we didn't attack each other, or mistrust each other, but instead loved each other with the grace that God has showed us? What if we dealt with the heart?

The Arrogance of Impatience

Abraham had a promise from God - he would have a son. God made a covenant with Abraham, and Abraham, in his own mind, didn't understand how God was going to fulfill His end of the deal. So, in his own wisdom, Abraham and his wife took matters into their own hands: Abraham took advantage of a pagan custom of the day and bedded Sarah's servant, Hagar, and she gave birth to Ishmael.

Of course, in His time and in His way, God fulfilled His promise to Abraham, and Sarah did have a child - Isaac. The descendants of Isaac are the Jews - the Children of Israel - and the descendants of Ishmael are the Muslims. And for thousands of years, these two nations, these two families, these two brothers, have been at odds with each other.

I am an impatient person. At this moment, I'm waiting on news about a promotion and transfer at work. I have to wait another seven hours for the news, and I'm going nuts. I want to grill everyone who might have any idea about it and find out what I can. I want to talk about it and speculate about it, and have everyone on my side tell me why I'm a shoe-in; I want everyone who doesn't think I'll get it to enumerate the reasons why someone else is better qualified for the job. I will obsess over this issue for the rest of my shift until I find out.

I'm okay with the answer - I have a contingency plan and I'm confident in my future in the company. But I just want to know.

I've been in and out of church. I've walked away from and back to God a number of times. But about two years ago, I was broken in my own sin. I came back to the Church, and to Jesus, and basically said, "I give up." When I came back, I never thought I'd be in a position of leadership or ministry again. I didn't want to get into a teaching or preaching position. The fascination and the curiosity were gone. I wasn't interested, and even if I was, I was sure that I had screwed up too grandly and too deeply to ever be used of God again.

After about a year, though, God started using me again. It was little things - He started using me in the gifts that I'd been used in before. That curiosity returned. The fervor for the Word and for teaching. My conversations with friends changed, and I began to spend time in the Scripture and asking questions and doing research and thinking and studying. My writing and journaling and unfocused musings changed to thinking about Jesus and serving people and seeing people saved.

So now I have the fire I had before. I have the desire to teach and preach that I had before. And while there's always the nagging doubts of Satan telling me how bad I am, how far I fell, how much I don't deserve God's grace and the opportunity to minister (and he's right!), I have another voice telling me "The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former." I have a pastor who tells me that I can't imagine what God will do with me, and that there's no time in these latter days for soldiers to sit on the sidelines, full of misgivings and doubts.

I believe again. I'm ready to serve, ready to fight. But God says "Not yet."

I want to make things happen by force of will. I want to move the ball forward by whatever means I have at my disposal. I don't want to wait, because I'm ready and eager. But God says "Not yet."

I think I know better than God. And that's arrogance. That's pride. That's sin. It's the same pride that led Abraham to sleep with Hagar. It's saying "God's ways are subject to my ways, and my plans are greater than His plans." Pride is the root of all other sins, and out of it comes idolatry. If I build a ministry by my own hand and personality and charm and charisma, who is glorified? And how much smaller will it be than if I let God direct it and plan it and lead the way?

Be patient. Be humble. Wait on the Lord.

 

NOTE: I didn’t get the promotion. There was great wailing and gnashing of teeth. I’ve gone round in circles a dozen times and tried to plan my next steps and strategy to get to where I think I want to be. Then, one day, God spoke to my heart through three different sermons and an off-the-cuff conversation with my boss and simply said “Wait.” So this blog turned out to be especially prescient.  

LINK: Jonathan Martin - "our resistance, is repentance"

There's a lot in this essay that I appreciated. There's a lot that frustrated me and that I disagreed with. It's also not the best writing that Martin has ever put forward. But I was moved by two points: 

"The most basic terms of loving our neighbors as ourselves does not require theological degree—but a restoration of the sacrament of footwashing. If you deem Muslims as your enemy, your call as a disciple is to wash their feet. If you have thought LGBTQ folks are your enemy, your call is to wash their feet. If you think fundamentalist Christians are your enemy—and I am especially sympathetic to this view in the moment—your call is to wash their feet."

Years ago, a good friend of mine preached a sermon that I remember often: "The Master says 'Love'." His point was this: if you don't have love - or charity, for the KJV-only crowd - then everything else is nothing but empty religious pageantry. We're called to love our friends, love our families, love our neighbors, and the hardest part, to love our enemies. 

Love without expecting anything in return. Love when people hate you for your beliefs. Love when they want to take away your rights. Love, and give, and be gracious, so that the religious elites look at you and say, "You're a friend to sinners and tax collectors." Love the way Jesus loved. 

Martin goes on to say that we should have conversations with those with whom we disagree, we should invite them into community, not to normalize them, but to demonstrate the love of Christ. This means that conservative Christians should engage with liberals and sinners and progressives, and those of us who are frustrated by the Evangelical Right need to reach out to them, even when doing so is anathema. Martin says:

"But I will not have the terms of those conversations dictated to me by whatever was drafted in the smoky backroom by people who are mostly just mourning the loss of a civil religion I believe Christ came to overthrow, or from people who don’t know the devil when he’s kissing them hard on the mouth."

I believe Martin is wrong on some points in this essay, but he's spot on with his analysis of the pro-Trump evangelical right. Christianity has, for a long time, enjoyed a place of favor and privilege in the United States, and that has led to some really bad theology. It's also allowed folks to claim Christianity without any real sacrifice. I understand why the changes in our culture lately make some people uneasy, but at the same time, I can't help but feel like it's a good thing.

Martin's essay messy and a little disjointed. I also feel like he's conflating different, unrelated issues in his discussion of the hurricane, white supremacism, and the Nashville statement. But he's right about this. In the face of adversity, the Church needs to respond with love and kindness and grace and charity.  

What's Next?

Recently, a close friend of mine lost his grandfather. When I was visiting with the family at the nursing home, I noticed the peace that they all had with his passing. He was nearly 100 years old, and a faithful Christian man who had served God and his family for decades.

 

Sure, they’re going to miss him - he was a great man with a kind heart and a quick sense of humor. But they know that he’s gone on to his reward. He has run his race, he has fought the good fight, he has kept the faith. The next thing he’s going to hear is “Well done.”

 

Of course they’re comforted.

Link (and Some Rambling): John Pavlovitz on Sin

John Pavlovitz writes about the Christian community's obsession with sin, particularly with defining sin and building boundaries. As Pavlovitz says, in his experience, people use the definition of sin (what behaviors or conditions qualify as "sin") as a way to define their tribe. People use sin as a "litmus test" to determine who's in and who's out. My favorite quote from this entry -

I’ve read the four gospels about a half a million times, and I have yet to see that from Jesus.

I'm not out to build an entire theology around Pavlovitz's writings here (though I do enjoy his writing and appreciate what he has to say), but this post today got me thinking. 

Tolerable Sin and Intolerable Sin
I think that perhaps part of the problem with sin is that, as Christians, we define sin two ways - as tolerable or intolerable. Tolerable sin is "our" sin - the issues we struggle with. Of course, this differs for everyone: for some, it may be gossiping or lust or private porn use or lying or cutting corners on our taxes or even being short tempered with our spouse or our kids or our coworkers. None of these are good things to do, but they're not really that bad, and everyone has their own struggle, so we justify these little sins by saying that there are worse things we could do.

Intolerable sin, of course, is the sin of the "others" - drug abuse, perpetual drunkenness, child abuse, illicit sex, murder, armed robbery, or being a Democrat. These sins are, in our minds, just horrible, and people who engage in them simply can't be Christians because they are so heinous. No Christian would ever do such a thing. 

"I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin."
I'm quoting, of course, from 1 John 2. It goes on to say "But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." 

I think that we assume that, by becoming a Christian, we cease to engage in the intolerable sins, and only dabble in the tolerable sins. When someone is converted, we expect them to give up the intolerable sins and join us in the liberty of tolerable sin, because, after all, they're not so bad. 

John makes it clear - as does Jesus in the Gospels - that our goal isn't a certain tolerable level of minor sins. All sins are damnable, and God hates all sin. Sin is what separates us from God. Unrepentant sin - no matter how small or tolerable that sin is - disrupts our relationship with our Father and may even keep us from heaven.

We are to be without sin. How many of us can say that? How many of us, like the self-righteous, murderous throng of people surrounding the adulterous woman, consider the sins of the others far worse than our sins? It was only in response to Jesus pointing out their hypocrisy - let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone - that the crowd disperses. There are so many serious points that can be made from this story, but I only want to focus on one - casting judgment is serious business, and we must make sure that we're sinless before we do. 

"But wait!" you say. "I'm not an adulterer, so I can judge adultery." (Or maybe you don't, but hear me out) Perhaps not. But Paul says that anyone who is guilty in any point of the law is guilty of the whole law. A gossip is no better than an adulterer, a murderer no worse than a petty criminal, in the eyes of God. 

Where Sin Did Abound
So what, then? If we're all guilty of sin, what then? Do we just give up? Of course not. As John says, "If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." As Paul says, "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." (Romans 5:20). In chapter 6, Paul continues, "Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!" (Romans 6:1-2)

This is a complicated idea - we know what sin is, and we're told not to sin. Yet every day, in so many ways, we do sin. Yet John, and Paul, and so many other authors, tell us that, in that event, grace covers that sin, and it is plentiful. But, we shouldn't be casual in sinning simply because we have grace. This tension is covered so well by Bonhoeffer in "The Cost of Discipleship" (if you haven't read it, you should). But my point is this - we ALL sin. All of us, from the pope down to the worst hypocrite. And we all need grace to cover our sins. 

I've rambled far too long, and I'm sure many of you have dropped off by now. I can't blame you. But if you've gotten this far, thank you. And here is my conclusion - when we try to box people in by getting them to define what sins are tolerable and what sins are intolerable, we are totally blowing it as Christians. Jesus preferred the company of thieving tax collectors and professional whores to the religious elite. He didn't say they were better, and He didn't say they were worse. 

In another blog, Pavlovitz talks about how his church has more gay youth than any other church he knows of. Affirming or no (I don't know, and that's not the point here), his church has created an environment in which those who are among the least likely to attend church have a place where they feel safe and can hear about Jesus. That's an amazing thing.

The first responsibility of the church is to share the gospel - the sower going out to sow. The gospel is simple: "We're all sinners, and as such, we deserve to die. Jesus came, was greater than sin, and then took our punishment on Himself and died in our place. Through Him, we can have eternal life. There's nothing we do to earn it or deserve it - it is a gift bestowed on us by Jesus. He died in our place, and we are made righteous because of it." The only proper response to this is humility, not judgment, bickering, infighting, or division. 

Thoughts on Holiness

Today at church, many in the band were on vacation, so we had an acoustic set. (I say “we”, though I am in no ways involved in the music, which is to everyone’s benefit.) One of the songs we sang was “Lord, I Need You” by Matt Maher. I had never heard the song before (which makes me running the lyrics on screen quite the adventure), and one line of the lyrics really caught my attention:

Holiness is Christ in me

As soon as I saw these lyrics, I scrambled for my journal and wrote them down. I’d never really thought of holiness this way: I grew up in a conservative Christian denomination in which holiness was functionally restricted to dress code and standards of appearance. Lip service was paid to the idea of inward holiness manifested in outward piety, but, anecdotally, outward standards WERE holiness. I’ve grown away from that, but I’ve never REALLY understood what holiness was. 

Then, the text was from Mark 10, and we came to the story of the rich young ruler (vv. 17-23). He approaches Jesus and asks what he can do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answers by quoting the Ten Commandments, to which the ruler replies, “Teacher, all of these I’ve kept from my youth."

I can sort of imagine what this scene looked like. In my mind, this young ruler was handsome and a hotshot in Jerusalem. He was well-dressed and well-groomed, and he had a winning smile. He grew up rich, inherited his father’s money, and was probably a pretty good kid, the most popular of the group. When he ran up to Jesus, he wasn’t being entirely forthright; maybe he was curious what Jesus would say, but he probably went to talk to Him because it was just the cool thing to do. I imagine that when he ran to Jesus and knelt down, he did it in front of a big crowd because he wanted everyone to see him and realize just how awesome he really was. So when Jesus told him to keep the commandments, his response was “Done. What’s next?"

Of course, we know that he couldn’t really have done all these things. He couldn’t have perfectly kept the commandments his entire life. Surely at some point he lied, or wasn’t entirely fair in a business dealing, or lusted after a woman, or hated someone in his heart so much that he wanted to kill them. But even if he hadn’t done any of these things, he failed the most important commandment, which we see next. 

After this young man told Jesus he’d kept the commandments his entire life, Jesus told him to sell everything he owned, give it to the poor, and become a disciple of Jesus. This, of course, proved to be too much for our rich young ruler. As the crowd stared, and this young man was faced with such an unrealistic commandment, he maybe stood up, indignant and angry, and stormed off. But I don’t think so. Maybe he was a little more earnest than he appears, and he was a little too proud of his piety, and when Jesus gave him that command - “sell ALL that you have” - our rich young friend realized one commandment that he hadn’t kept - “you shall not have any other gods above me.” There was a god in his life above God, and he chose, in that moment, which god he was serving. 

So what does this story have to do with holiness? Well, to anyone watching from the outside, all of the measures of religion were met. This man was very pious - he was thorough in his worship and traditions, he gave in the offerings and sacrifices, he avoided the unsavory elements and kept his reputation intact. But at the heart of the matter, he was an idolater. He worshipped his possessions more than God. His outward actions had no effect on his inward condition - despite his religiousness, he wasn’t serving God. 

Holiness is Christ in me. Holiness is Christ completing His perfect work in your heart, changing what you love and giving you a heart after His. And that’s what I want - true Holiness: Christ in me. 

I Just Want You To Know, It’s Gonna Be OK. | john pavlovitz

It’s alright to admit it to yourself, and to say it to someone else. In fact, doing so isn’t admitting defeat at all. It isn’t giving-up. It’s simply consenting, to fully feeling the reality of the despair and the pain of the moment.

As you do, just remember that you won’t feel like that forever.

John has quickly become one of my favorite bloggers. I won't lie, I got choked up reading this. 

What's Missing in Western Christianity?

John Pavlovitz:

We may feign some generic concern others; content to fire off half-hearted prayers or cut-and-pasted Scripture sound bytes. We might invest the briefest moments to attend to another’s needs if we can do so without sacrificing too much time or convenience, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we so often see those who are different or in want or in crisis, not with compassion, but with contempt or perhaps worse; indifference.

I was especially touched by this. Click through to read the entire post. 

Redeeming Halloween

Every year at this time, I marvel at the irony in the annual “Christians v. Secularists” battle about naming and usage of holidays. The big two, of course, are Halloween and Christmas. Leave it to Evangelical Christianity to reject Halloween – an historically Christian holiday – and embrace Christmas, a pagan holiday co-opted by early Christian leaders. I just want to make a few comments in this regard.

First, Halloween. The name “Halloween” is derived from the phrase “All Hallows Eve”, which precedes November 1, All Hallows Day (or All Saints Day). This name dates back to the 16th century; All Hallows Eve can be found in records dating in 1556. Historically, on this day, the Church would have a feast to remember initially the martyrs, but the celebration was expanded to include the celebration of all the saints who had died. This celebration dates back to 609 B.C. and Pope Boniface IV.

The practice of Trick-or-Treating dates back to the Middle Ages, known as “guising,” where the poor would travel from home to home, asking for food in exchange for prayers for the dead. The threat of “trick-or-treat” calls back to Celtic tradition, where people would leave out treats to placate evil spirits. If a home didn’t provide a treat, it ran the risk of suffering the wrath of those spirits. Trick-or-treating first appeared in the U.S. in 1911, but rose to prominence in the 1950s.

I never heard this about Halloween until I was an adult. Even in my mid-twenties, I heard stories about the occult and witchcraft and the evils of Halloween. The church I was then attending held an annual “Harvest Party” (a pagan celebration indeed!) as an “alternative” to Halloween.

It’s a shame that this holiday – which I believe we should observe (in the traditional sense) – has been hijacked by us. There’s nothing evil about Halloween, and there’s nothing wrong with dressing up and celebrating the day. I’m a new father, and this year my six-month-old will be going Trick-or-Treating. I’m looking forward to the treats he receives. As he gets older, I intend to spend time with him teaching about the significance of the day, but encouraging him to enjoy the fun.

The "Better Safe than Sorry" Fallacy

Recently, when having conversations with some of my more traditional, conservative friends about Christian liberty, they'll cede my point, but reply with "Yeah, but I just want to be on the safe side." This "Better Safe than Sorry" mentality is broken, because it starts with a failed presumption. This mentality assumes that Christian liberty is the fine line between holiness and carnality, and that one can be "more" holy by avoiding exercising Christian liberty. This is called asceticism. Paul speaks on this in his letter to the Colossians (Col 2:16-23):

16 So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. 18 Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, 19 and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it.

20 You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, 21 “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? 22 Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. 23These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.

In Corinthians, Paul says that people who are unable to exercise liberty are weaker Christians, not stronger Christians. Christian asceticism is a weak form of Christianity!

We're not made holy by what we do or what we don't do. Yes, there are things that are black and white sins. But, as a mentor friend of mine says, we should whisper where Scripture whispers and shout where Scripture shouts. If the Bible doesn't clearly define something as a sin, don't add to the Bible because you're uncomfortable with it. Just as someone can go too far with liberty and abuse it, so can someone go too far the other direction and become legalistic. Both are sins.

Jesus said, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." If you add to the burden because of a "Better Safe than Sorry" mentality, and it causes someone to stumble under that unnecessary burden, you're as responsible for their lost soul as you would be if you told them that praying to a bowl of Fruit Loops would result in the forgiveness of sins.

Do you want to be safe, not sorry? Then be Biblical. Don't add to Scripture, and don't steal away from it. Don't prooftext to find some straw to support your conclusion; look to the whole body of Scripture and find the whole message. If you don't align with Scripture, change yourself, not what you see in Scripture.

Words for me today

2 Cor 5:16-21

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

It's not anything I did.

I'm Not a Christian, But I'm Coming to Your Church This Sunday

Everyone should read this blog:

Okay I’m not a Christian, but I’ve finally made the decision to come to your church this Sunday. Don’t expect much from me though. If something comes up I might not, but right now I’m planning on it. I feel like I need to go, but I’m not sure why. I want to tell you a few things about myself before you meet me.

via I'm Not a Christian, But I'm Coming to Your Church This Sunday | The Resurgence.