Stop Being A Nice Christian

Nice/nīs/adjective 1.pleasant; agreeable; satisfactory. “We had a nice time.”

Yes, I know that kindness is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). And no, I am not advocating that being a jerk online, or in person, is the way to go. But I do want to suggest that God is calling each one of us to much more than merely being nice.

It seems to me that being nice can actually be motivated by a fear of man.

We are afraid to speak up, so we are nice.

We want to fit in, so we are nice.

We know our convictions are counter-cultural, so we are nice.

We want people to like us, so we are nice.

In John 15:18-19 we read these words from Jesus:

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Jesus knew that there would be times when we as Christians would be rejected and hated because of our beliefs in the Word of God.

Here is a sobering thought, we could live our whole life never creating waves and being nice and have zero gospel impact in the lives of the people all around us.

When was the last time that you clearly and boldly articulated the gospel to a person that needs to know Jesus? When was the last time you took a stand for the truth in the middle of a conversation that was about gender and sexuality? When was the last time you graciously confronted a brother or sister in Christ due to the fact that they were engaged in a sinful lifestyle (Galatians 6:1)?

Let’s not be ruled by the fear of man and be willing to speak truth to a world that desperately needs to hear it.

The Vanity Of Running Programs

What God Has Been Doing In Me Lately

Over the past year or so I have had an increasing desire to see the Holy Spirit at work in a new and powerful way. I have been asking God to start with me. Little did I know that telling God that I want to know and experience him as much as I possibly can that it would mean…pain. Why did I fail to recognize this? Your guess is as good as mine. The pain came from confession and repentance of sin in my own life. I think back to Isaiah right before God sends him out on mission. First things first. Isaiah must see God in all of his holiness and glory and simultaneously be undone by his own sin. Then Isaiah is ready to do ministry. As I have been reflecting on spiritual renewal it seems the pattern over and over again in Scripture is that repentance is the starting point for God to be at work in a new way.

The beautiful thing about confession and repentance is that there is a renewed sense of intimacy and joy in Christ. The worship songs you hear are sweeter. You begin crying when you hear stories of how God is at work. There is a energy and determination that grows within you to see the sleepy awakened and the lost saved. There is no better place to be then just one step closer to Christ.

The Vanity Of Running Programs

As I have been praying for the Spirit to be at work in a new way in my life, family, church, and the community all around me I have become aware of the futility of simply running programs in the church. First you must understand that as a church we have talked about our mission (the Great Commission), we have brought in a consultant to help us work on our Vision (Deeply Rooted In Six Counties). We just wrapped up working with another consultant to help us develop a leadership pipeline. I definitely believe we need to plan and strategize, but it is not enough. Not nearly enough.

I am preaching through the Psalms of Ascent and this coming Sunday I am preaching on Psalm 127. Here is are the first two verses:

1 Unless the LORD builds the house,

those who build it labor in vain.

Unless the LORD watches over the city,

the watchman stays awake in vain.

2 It is in vain that you rise up early

and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

for he gives to his beloved asleep.

Perhaps another way of putting is that unless the LORD (YAHWEH) builds the house you are just wasting your time. Three times in this passage Solomon tells us that doing things in our own power and strength is nothing more than spinning our ministry wheels. Lots of smoke but no fire.

Maybe we are all asking the wrong questions. We ask things like, how did it go on Sunday? Who was there? How many were there? I’m thinking the better question is, how was the Spirit of God at work? What took place that only can be explained by the Holy Spirit being present and active?

These questions, kinda like repentance, lead to pain. Perhaps some of you in ministry know what I mean. It’s much easier to count numbers than it is to honestly evaluate if the Holy Spirit is really at work or not.

What Would Spiritual Renewal Look Like?

The elders and I are reading a wonderful book by Ray Ortlund Jr called “When God Comes To Church: A Biblical Model For Revival Today.” You can get the book for free HERE. It is excellent. It is biblical. It is dangerous. Why do I say dangerous? Because it is wrecking me for the status quo and giving me a stronger desire to see God at work in our church and community. Ortlund describes renewal like this:

When God rends the heavens and comes down on his people, a divine power achieves what human effort at its best fails to do. God’s people thirst for the ministry of the Word and receive it with tender meltings of the soul. The grip of the enslaving sin is broken. Reconciliation between believers is sought and granted. Spiritual beings, rather than material things, capture people’s hearts. A defensive, timid church is transformed into a confident army. Believers joyfully suffer for their lord. They treasure usefulness to God over career advancement. Communion with God is avidly enjoyed. Churches and Christian organizations reform their policies and procedures. People who had always been indifferent to the gospel now inquire anxiously. And this type of spiritual movement draws in not just the isolated straggler here and there but large numbers of people. A wave of divine grace washed over the church and spills out on the world. This is what happens when God comes down. And that is how we can pray for the church today.

My response to this? Holy Spirit come.

All Of This Leads To Prayer

I do have a longing to see spiritual renewal happen. But I am more convinced then ever that the only way it will happen is when God’s people pray. Fervent prayer. Church wide prayer. Persistent prayer. A kind of praying that heats up our heart first and then spreads to others. I must make prayer more of a priority in my life and it must become more of a priority in the life of my church.

Finding Joy As We Are Waiting And Praying For Renewal

There is a spiritual danger in all of this talk about spiritual renewal in our lives and in the church. How do we respond when we pray and we don’t see it happening? I have learned the hard way that if I am not careful all of this longing for God to work can lead to frustration and disappointment. “Why isn’t it working?” “God, what is wrong with everyone?”

For me the key is to keep watching and finding joy in the small evidences of God’s grace. I must find my joy in Christ, not necessarily whether or not my prayers for revival happen on my time table. I must patiently, persistently continue to pray for God to work in a new way and still love God and others as I live in the in-between.

The Reality of Hell

Here is a sermon I recently preached about the reality of hell. It is a counter-intuitive thing, this sermon has been one of the most requested sermons that I have preached in quite some time. I’m thinking the reason for that is that this is a topic that is not preached about much these days. To fast forward to the sermon you can go to 24:45.

“Not called!’ did you say? ‘Not heard the call,’ I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not to come there. Then look Christ in the face — whose mercy you have professed to obey — and tell Him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish His mercy to the world.” -William Booth

Your pursuit of romance might be killing you (and your marriage)

“How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights!” -Song of Solomon 7:6

I think all of us are wired to pursue romance.

Romance: “A feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.”

In our culture we frequently hear about how a marriage is broken up when one person finds someone outside of their marriage that “makes them feel alive.” What they mean when they talk about feeling alive is the powerful buzz called romance. I believe that romance is a beautiful gift given to us by God. Of course, most anything good and beautiful can become corrupted because we live in a fallen world. One of the problems is that we turn romance into an idol and when we do that we make ourselves, and most of the people in our life, miserable. How does this happen? We are seeking happiness. We want the buzz. But there is no human on earth that can keep our hearts satisfied through romance.

This song is not new. But I think it helps to redirect our heart towards the One who can meet our deepest needs and desires.

The fullness of Your grace is here with me
The richness of Your beauty’s all I see
The brightness of Your glory has arrived
In Your presence God, I’m completely satisfied

For You I sing I dance
Rejoice in this divine romance
Lift my heart and my hands
To show my love, to show my love

A deep deep flood, an Ocean flows from You
Of deep deep love, yeah it’s filling up the room
Your innocent blood, has washed my guilty life
In Your presence God I’m completely satisfied

Preparing For The Election Season

After last night’s debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden it seems pretty clear that the polarization, anger, and insults will continue to be with us for the next two months leading up the election on November 4th. As a pastor who loves his church family I don’t tell them (or anyone for that matter) how they should vote. But, it certainly is my responsibility to teach and model how we should live as Christians during a time such as this.

So, how should we respond in a way that honors God over the next few weeks? I have four suggestions:

Pray

Over the past few years I have heard people say on social media that we need to stop posting remarks about the fact that we are going to pray. And what they mean, I think, is that there are times when we should do more than pray. That we need to move into action and that saying we are going to pray is just a cop out for not really doing anything. Yes, there are times we need to roll up our sleeves and take some necessary action. No doubt about it. But Scripture is really clear that one of the most powerful things we can do, about any situation, is to pray. Let’s pray and ask God to be a work in a powerful way leading up to the election on November 4th.

Treat people on the other side of the political aisle with love

I am deeply saddened by the way that people who claim to be Christians treat people who have different political views than they do. Consider the words of Jesus for a moment, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus taught us and demonstrated through his life that even our enemies should be treated with love. It does not mean we don’t disagree, but we should do it in such a way that they sense that we care about them and love them.

Make sure politics is not an idol in your life. How would you know if politics have become an idol in your life?

  • You watch the news more than you pray and read the bible
  • You are fearful
  • You are worried
  • You put more hope in politicians than you do in God
  • You don’t have any friends who think differently than you about politics (which is another way of saying that you live in an echo chamber).
  • You think and talk about politics too much
  • You lack grace, kindness, and compassion towards those who disagree with you
  • You have a really hard time admitting the weaknesses of your own political tribe. On the other side of the coin, you have a hard time admitting the strengths of the other political tribe.

You are active on social media but not your church, neighborhood, and city

I see this trend more and more. People greatly over value the impact they are making by sharing their opinions online. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the church is how God desires to change the world. Are you partnering with others in the church to make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20)? Are you building relationships with those who do not yet know Christ in your neighborhood and city?

Getting ready to come back from sabbatical

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them…” Acts 16:25

God has been at work in my life. Lots of pruning (ouch). Lots of prayer. Asking the Spirit to fill me with a holy joy that will sustain me through the ups and downs of everyday life. I love you guys and can’t wait to see you and preach on August 2nd!

Quotes From “Born Again This Way” by Rachel Gilson (LGBT)

One of the most controversial topics in our culture, and in the church, is the issue of homosexuality. I have found lately that many Christians don’t even want to talk about issues like this because of the possible backlash by their family, friends and peers.

Recently I taught on this issue for about 25 minutes. You can find that talk HERE.

Rachel Gilson, I believe, does a good job of speaking biblical truth in a loving and gracious manner. In her book, “Born Again This Way”, Rachel explains in fascinating detail how she was immersed in a gay lifestyle and the changes that occurred because of her coming to know God and the truths in his Word.

In case you were wondering, I strongly recommend this book to you and anyone who wants to learn more regarding what the bible teaches about same-sex attraction.

Here are a few quotes from the book that stand out to me.

The hilarious theft of Mere Christianity

Not long after, I was in the room of an acquaintance. She was grabbing some item, and as I waited for her in her entryway, I spotted her bookshelf. It featured a small volume called Mere Christianity. The author’s name, C.S. Lewis, rang a faint bell, but I hadn’t been raised on The Chronicles of Narnia so I couldn’t place it. Nevertheless, I desperately wanted to read the book. So I stole it.

What is truth?

In this sense, I was obeying before I understood. To my mind, God’s prohibition on same-sex relationships made no sense. My heart fully embraced the “love is love” narrative-the logical move from “God is love” to “People fall in love” seemed to validate all consensual romantic adult relationships. Weren’t they all potential expressions of this higher reality? This seemed elegant and obvious. I wasn’t craving murder or theft, but love, intimacy, and companionship! I didn’t understand; but would I trust him? Would I take as truth my word or God’s?

Sometimes we wonder why we can’t have something we strongly desire (I thought this quote about the garden of Eden was wonderfully insightful!)

So instead of giving those first humans a law that seemed obvious, God chose one that seemed odd. He told them that they could not eat of one particular tree in their richly appointed garden. Think about that: the law was not to eat a fruit. It sounds almost ridiculous-after all, even vegans eat fruit! How could there be anything immoral in it when it didn’t even require an animal to die? What is the motivation to obey a law that seems nonsensical? It can only be deep trust in the one who asks.

(Now we have to ask how this applies to our views regarding sexuality)

Does it make me weird that I have strong contradictory desires?

How could I be caught between such contradictory desires? On the face of it they should have been mutually exclusive of each other. Yet maybe you too know how it feels to be torn between two camps. Your pull towards something forbidden feels as strong as a super-magnet. But it doesn’t extinguish your opposite pull toward Jesus, your real desire to honor him. You feel that you could be ripped down the middle. While the experience is alarming, God’s word assures us that it’s a challenge which is normal for the Christians.

Our desires are not a reliable compass

Perhaps you’ve heard a modern version of this blame shift. Our culture says that all sexual expression and desire is good and right, as long as there is consent. If you feel it, do it! So we conclude, “I feel these desires sincerely. I didn’t ask for them, therefore they must be from God. God doesn’t make mistakes.” This is just a different way of shifting the burden to God. Saying that those desires are from God simply because they exist is a confusion between God’s perfect will-what he desires actively for humanity-and God’s permissive will: that which he allows given the circumstances of redemptive history. He is clear throughout Scripture that our desires are not a compass for goodness because they are broken. He is the compass for goodness, and he tells us plainly what pleases him and what will result in our thriving.

Sometimes those who claim to love God give us really bad advice about sexuality

Our desires whisper lies in our ears. They gather steam from our culture and shout over any objections. For those of us who experience same-sex attraction, the danger is very real. Every piece of our culture is going out of its way to affirm that impulse that exists unchosen in us. Everywhere we turn, someone is telling us that freedom is found in obeying these desires. Sometimes the voice comes from those we trust most in this world: those who claim to love God.

Leaving sin can be agonizing

For those of us with same-sex attraction, denying those desires will feel like death, because it is. When I left Anna, it was agony every day for months. Yet it as completely worth it, just as Jesus had promised that we would gain our lives only by losing them.

Same-sex attracted people have a powerful ministry to offer the church

That grew eventually, like a pearl that takes years of irritation to form, into a realization that same-sex attracted Christians have unique and powerful ministries-that is, we serve the church and the world through our example of obedience. How so? Because we witness powerfully to the beauty of Jesus over romance. Because we embody the necessity of relying on him alone to choose holiness. And because we prophetically call the church to honor God and neighbor by neither taking away from nor adding to God’s word on sexuality.

What would it take to live a life of celibacy?

To choose celibacy, Jesus must be really precious to you. What a chance to testify that he is! What an opportunity to call into question the narrative of salvation-by romance, and to point to what all love dimly reflects. And not just with your words, but, like an Old Testament prophet, with your life. You only give up something awesome for something even better. I could only give up the pleasures of a girlfriend-even someday a wife-for the more pleasurable embrace of Christ.

The power of the beauty of Christ

Without the beauty of Jesus, we won’t leave the safety of our LGBT family.

Turning romance into an idol

I am persuaded that most people in the church have a vision of marriage as the consummation of romance, inseparable from it. This is why so many of us tend to end our marriages when the romance sputters. Too many decisions to marry are not calculated with everything in mind, because romance is present and strong. It reminds me of Jesus’s words in Luke 14:28: “Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”

Soulmates

One of the greatest deceptions of the modern West is the idea that you are not truly happy-or even truly alive-until you’ve found your soulmate.

Church must be a safe place to talk about these issues

I’m convinced that for both of us, being able to identify our attractions without shame early on has helped us to process them later in a healthy way in Christ. By contrast, many people who grow up in the church did not find it to be a safe place in which to discuss same-sex attraction, let alone to admit to experiencing it.

Should you call yourself a “gay Christian”?

And what then about the language question? Should you call yourself a “gay Christian”? Or should you use language like “same-sex attracted”?

I worry that calling oneself a gay or queer Christian creates too much opportunity for this part of our lives to shape our identities in ways that are unhelpful-to perhaps close us off from things God may want to do, or allow types of compromise with attraction. It’s all too easy to slide from recognizing something as true about myself to seeing it as the truth about myself. I want us to be sober and watchful in our language choices.

Let’s be kind and gracious to one another

But above all, I want us to be charitable to ourselves and toward each other. The stories of what God is doing may surprise, delight, or alarm us. Let’s listen to each other rather than shutting one another down. Let’s admonish one another in love, rather than firing shots at each other on social media. Let’s warn each other of sin, and point each other to the confounding grace of our Savior, rather than condemning one another as heretics or Pharisees without so much as a trial.