Better fat than gay

I recently heard a pastor open his sermon with a lighthearted comment about his sin of overeating at Thanksgiving. The crowd chuckled and nodded approvingly. Most had committed the same sin, but knew that their sin was ok because they are under grace and not under law. Later in the same sermon the pastor commented that when we buy coffee at Starbucks we are “supporting homosexual laws”. The crowd shook their heads in disgust. This was not a sin they had committed, and they knew the Bible is very clear about homosexuality. It is an abomination and must be stopped in its tracks. It doesn’t matter that gluttony makes the deadly sins Top Seven, nor that according to the CDC, 36% of Americans are obese, nor that “Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.” Gluttony is funny and understandable, homosexuality is evil and should be illegal.

I am not arguing for either gluttony or homosexuality. There are multiple scriptures about each, you can look it up for yourself. My question is how do we decide? How do we decide that “their” sin is evil while “our” sin is no big deal? As Scot McKnight says in The Blue Parakeet, we all pick and choose, the question is which sinner we choose to laugh off and which sinner we choose to condemn.

It is interesting how little time Jesus spent trying to change Roman law to deal with gluttons or homosexuals (both of which seemed to be rampant in Jesus’ day), and how much he focused on things like removing my eye-logs before picking a speck out of my neighbors eye. Would Jesus have reacted differently if the woman caught in adultery had been a man caught in bed with another man. (“He’s a homosexual? Well that’s different, hand me a stone.”)

We often quote the truism, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner”, but we seldom apply it evenly. Some sins, my sins, I hate just a little bit. Your sin I hate a little more. Other sins, the sins I will never commit, I hate enough that my hate spills out on the sinner, the sinner’s friends and anyone who associates with the sinner. We say we love the sinner but we continually do and say things that scream out to the one who commits the unacceptable sins, “You do not belong. You are vile and filthy and not worthy.” If we do not think that is the message we are sending maybe we should ask the sinner what they think.

Jesus seemed to come from a different angle. He did not shy away from calling out sin, but He loved sinners so much that religious people often accused him of being a sinner. He loved sinners so much that he ate with gluttons and drunks and prostitutes and maybe even homosexuals.  He loved sinners so much that he believed that love, extreme radical irrational love, covered a multitude of their sins. He loved sinners so much that he was willing to be beaten, ridiculed and nailed to a cross where he died for them.

He loved this arrogant, gluttonous, lust-filled sinner so much that he died for me. And for you. And for the sinner of whom you and I don’t approve.

Perhaps instead of making statements and passing laws and boycotting stores, the most potent way we can combat “their” sin is to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbor, our fat, gay, alcoholic, porn-addicted neighbor as our self.

I have a dark secret: I like Christians

Geoff Surratt

I know this isn’t very trendy or culturally relevant or even missional for a pastor to admit, but I like Christians. I really do. I am ashamed to admit it, but Christians are some of my favorite people. Now there are definitely Christians I’m not too fond of, and Christians certainly have their flaws and blind spots, but as a tribe I feel a lot of affinity for them.

Part of this is because I was raised by Christians around Christians. And while they probably didn’t do it right, most of them really loved Jesus. They did things that were culturally insensitive and created rules that were downright silly (we could watch tv but not go to movies, we could play Rook but not poker), but at the end of the day they had the same question I struggle with; How do I live out the Gospel in the context of my generation?

Don’t get me wrong, I like non-Christians as well, and I understand the need to spend significant time getting to know them. Where I struggle is the statement I hear from pastors, “I’d rather be with non-Christians than Christians. At least they’re not pretending to be something they’re not.” That hasn’t been my experience. I have found non-Christians to be at least as arrogant, hypocritical and shallow as Christians, they just use Jesus name in a different context.

Here’s my point, and I do have one, I don’t think we have to dislike Christians in order to reach those who do not follow Christ. In fact Jesus said one of the most attractive things about his followers is the love they have for one another. And Jesus seemed to really enjoy hanging around Christ followers. (That’s an attempt at humor. Forgive me if its corny, everyone knows Christians aren’t funny)  I think a church can focus on helping Christians grow in their faith AND be a missional beacon in their community. And I think its ok once in a while to have a gathering where Christians enjoy being Christians with Christians. That’s kind of what happened in the upper room in Acts 2, isn’t it?

So there you have it, I’m a Christian lover. Stone me.

Avis Christians

One of the most common misconceptions about Christians is that they are good people trying to be better. Most people who are not churchgoers are such because they don’t think they are good enough to go. Even most Christians think like this. You get saved, and then you go to church. People who go to church are generally saved people who are now ready to work on their spiritual lives. Sick people outside; well people (and trying harder) inside. And all of this thinking is based on a certain level of expectation we put on believers. Now that you are a Christian you are expected to behave like one. And all of this is wrong-headed because it is not applying the law as God intended.

Just listen to these words from Paul to Timothy in the New Testament: “We know these laws are good when they are used as God intended. But they were not made for people who do what is right. They are for people who are disobedient and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy.” (1 Timothy 1:8-9)

To put it another way: The laws of God are not to make good people better; they are to show bad people they are bad. The laws of God are there to show us how much we need a savior, but they are never the means by which we will become better people.

The law in the hands of a “good person” (we are speaking relatively here because there is no one good but God) is usually a bad thing. Good people trying to be better just can’t help becoming Pharisees when they get a hold of the law. It becomes a measuring stick, a qualifier, and a means of lording it over others.

The only good any of us ever possess is what comes as a result of faith – a righteousness we have nothing to do with because it comes from Christ. We can’t measure it, we can’t take credit for it, we are usually not even aware of it. Church, therefore, is not a place where good people try to be better; it is a place where bad people can’t believe they have it so good. I can’t help but think that if we were more like this, more people would feel welcome. At this point, our reputation as “good” people is driving people away. We need to put out a different message.

How the Mighty Fall

Lance Armstrong has been one of the most inspiring heroes of our generations. Against all odds he beat cancer that had metastasized to his brain and lungs, he founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation which has become one of the top ten groups funding cancer research in the US and he won the Tour De France seven consecutive times, a feat that will never be repeated. This summer Armstrong was stripped of all of his titles and banned from the sport of cycling for life. How does that happen? How can a legacy be destroyed so quickly?

If we believe the United States Anti-doping Agency Armstrong destroyed his legacy through arrogance. He believed he had found way around the rules and he did anything it took to maintain his position and his fame. He followed in the footsteps of Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard and a growing list of church planters around the country whose arrogance has crushed them. I am dealing this week with another pastor who has damaged his family and destroyed a ministry it took 25 years to build. It breaks my heart to see another man go down the well-worn path of destruction.

There are three simple but difficult ways to avoid Armstrong’s fate:

  1. Build transparency into everything you do. Let others read your email and texts.  Make sure your Facebook account is open for anyone to read. Evaluate every decision through the filter of how it would look on the front page of tomorrow’s paper.
  2. Create foolproof accountability. Open your life to trusted, close friends and insist that they stay in you business. You have no right to privacy when it comes to accountability.
  3. Realize every day that you are one bad decision away from being the next leader to fall. When you begin to feel immune it is time to get on your face before God, and to come clean with your inner circle.

You know all of this. You have read it, heard it, taught it 1000 times. And yet there you stand on the precipice of disaster secretly believing it will never be you. And just like Armstrong, Swaggart and Haggard your arrogance will be your downfall.

Surviving The Silence: How to Help

Surviving The Silence: How to Help

By Lesa Engelthaler

God was silent. I could not feel His presence. And this was different-this time I had been walking with him, yet it seemed like He moved.

For those with friends suffering such a “dark night,” I have some suggestions.

– Avoid platitudes.

The standard reply I received was, “Just remember that Moses had to wander for forty years in the desert.” Or “If it feels like God is far away, guess who moved?” More helpful replies were, “Wow, that sucks,” or “I am there right now.” Better yet was loving, silent presence.

– Explore alternative ways to “do church.” Where two or more gather in His name, Christ is present. Meeting with a few friends ministered to me far more than Sunday morning church services where I felt like a spectator.

– Encourage different practices from the usual. For me that meant exploring silence, solitude, kneeling by my bed for prayer, and attending a silent retreat.

– Recommend a spiritual director. I needed someone who understood spiritual formation, not merely a therapist. My spiritual director listened without judgment to my raging, and prayed over me.

– Suggest new authors. Eugene Peterson’s classic, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction was a welcome companion. And prayer from the Book of Common Prayer reminded me that others had walked the same path. Most helpful was the honesty of old saints: St. John of the Cross, St. Ignatius, and Thomas Merton.

Eugene Peterson’s grace-filled words assure that God will hold onto us:

“All the persons of faith I know are sinners, doubters, uneven performers. We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us. Neither our feelings of depression nor the facts of suffering nor the possibilities of defection are evidence that God has abandoned us.”

‘10 Cliches Christians Should Never Use’

Faith

Author Outlines ‘10 Cliches Christians Should Never Use’

Christian speaker, author, writer and pastor Christian Piatt has been putting together some fascinating — and, no doubt, contentious — advice lists. His dos and don‘ts cover what he believes to be terms and sayings that followers of Jesus Christ should and shouldn’t utter. His first tally, entitled, “Ten Cliches Christians Should Never Use,” highlights some of the most common phrases believers use and an attempt to frame each of them as inappropriate, nonsensical or simply not worth touting.

Author Christian Piatt Outlines 10 Cliches Christians Should Never UseA screen shot from Christian Piatt’s web site

“We Christians have a remarkable talent for sticking our feet in our mouths,” he writes. “When searching the words most commonly associated with ‘Christian,’ the list ain’t pretty.”

Piatt contends that striking a number of phrases from the Christian vernacular would make followers of Christ “more tolerable.” In essence, he believes that the sayings are not appreciated by non-Christians. So, what are they, you ask?

You can find each phrase, along with a description from Piatt, below (number seven, in particular, is controversial):

1) “Everything happens for a reason.” I’ve heard this said more times than I care to. I’m not sure where it came from either, but it’s definitely not in the Bible. The closest thing I can come up with is “To everything, there is a season,” but that’s not exactly the same. The fact is that faith, by definition, is not reasonable. If it could be empirically verified with facts or by using the scientific method, it wouldn’t be faith. It would be a theory. Also, consider how such a pithy phrase sounds to someone who was raped. Do you really mean to tell them there’s a reason that happened? Better to be quiet, listen and if appropriate, mourn alongside them. But don’t dismiss grief or tragedy with such a meaningless phrase.

2) “If you died today, do you know where you’d spend the rest of eternity?” No, I don’t, and neither do you. So stop asking such a presumptuous question as this that implies you have some insider knowledge that the rest of us don’t. And seriously, if your faith is entirely founded upon the notion of eternal fire insurance, you’re not sharing testimony; you’re peddling propaganda.

3) “He/she is in a better place.” This may or may not be true. Again, we have no real way of knowing. We may believe it, but to speak with such authority about something we don’t actually know is arrogant. Plus, focusing on the passing of a loved one minimizes the grief of the people they left behind.

Author Christian Piatt Outlines 10 Cliches Christians Should Never UseChristian Piatt

4) “Can I share a little bit about my faith with you?” Too often, Christians presume we have something everyone else needs, without even knowing them first. Ask someone about their story, but maybe not the second you meet them. Christian evangelism often is the equivalent of a randy young teenager trying to get in good with his new girlfriend. When your personal agenda is more important than the humanity of the person you’re talking to, most people can sense the opportunism from a mile a way.

5) “You should come to church with me on Sunday.” It’s not that we should never invite people to church, but too much of the time, it’s the first thing we do when we encounter someone new. My wife, Amy, and I started a new church eight years ago, founded on the principle of “earning the right to invite.” Invest in people first. Listen to their stories. Learn their passions, their longings, and share the same about yourself. Then, after you’ve actually invested in each other, try suggesting something not related to church to help you connect on a spiritual level. If the person really gets to know you and wants to know more about why you live your life the way you do, they’ll make a point to find out. Then again, if you come off as just another opinionated, opportunistic Christian, why should they honor your predatory approach with a visit to the church that taught you how to act that way in the first place?

Author Christian Piatt Outlines 10 Cliches Christians Should Never Use

6) “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?” As many times as I’ve heard this, I still don’t really know what it means. Why my heart? Why not my liver or kidneys? This also makes Christianity sound like a purely emotional experience, rather than a lifelong practice that can never entirely be realized. But yeah, asking someone if they’re engaged in a lifelong discipline to orient their lives toward Christlike compassion, love and mercy doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it.

7) “Do you accept Jesus as your personal lord and savior?” Again, this is not in the Bible. Anywhere. And for me, it goes against the whole Christlike notion of the suffering servant. People tried to elevate Jesus to the status of Lord, but he rejected it. So why do we keep trying? Plus, the whole idea of a lord is so antiquated, it has no real relevance to our lives today. Be more mindful of your words, and really mean what you say.

8) “This could be the end of days.” This is one of my favorites. We Christians love to look for signs of the end of the world; we practically have an apocalyptic fetish. It’s like we can’t wait until everything comes to a smoldering halt so we can stand tall with that “I told you so” look on our faces, while the nonbelievers beg for mercy. Yeah, that sounds like an awesome religion you’ve got going there. Sign me up!

9) “Jesus died for your sins.” I know, this is an all-time Christian favorite. But even if you buy into the concept of substitutionary atonement (the idea that God set Jesus up as a sacrifice to make good for all the bad stuff we’ve done), this is a abysmal way to introduce your faith to someone. I didn’t ask Jesus to die for me, and if I’m not a Christian, I really have no concept of how that could possibly be a good thing. he whole idea of being washed clean by an innocent man’s blood is enough to give any person nightmares, let alone lead them into a deeper conversation about what Christianity is about.

10) “Will all our visitors please stand?” If someone finally is brave enough to walk through the doors of your church, the last thing they want is to be singled out. They probably don’t know the songs you’re singing or the prayers or responsive readings you’re reading. Depending on the translation of the Bible you use, the scripture may not make much sense, and they probably have no idea where the bathroom is. So why add to the discomfort by making them stand so everyone can stare at them? Also, calling someone a visitor already implies they are simply passing through, that they’re not a part of things. Instead of “visitor” or “guest,” try something less loaded like “newcomer.” Better yet, walk up to them, introduce yourself and learn their name.

Now, some Christians will clearly disagree with Piatt’s assessment of these sayings. What do you think? Let us know in the comments section, below. You can also read more about Piatt, who co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado, here.

Understanding the Bible

1 Corinthians 2:12-33
“I just don’t understand the Bible.” That’s a comment I hear quite often, even from believers. We can understand why those without Christ are unable to comprehend biblical concepts, but why do those who know Him struggle? Some people think that a seminary education is the answer, but I have met several trained pastors and teachers who didn’t really understand the Word of God. They knew facts, but they had no excitement for the Scriptures or for the Lord.
The key is not education but obedience. As we act on what we read, the Holy Book “comes alive,” and we begin to hear and understand the voice of God. However, if we have not obeyed what He’s previously revealed to us, why would He give us His deeper truths? “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him” (Ps. 25:14), and those who fear Him are the ones who obey His commandments and are promised “a good understanding” (Ps. 111:10).
Living a fleshly lifestyle of disobedience to the Lord clouds our eyes, diminishes our ability to hear, and fogs our thinking. Although we have full access to the mind of Christ, our attachment to our own sinful ways keeps us from tapping into the rich treasures of wisdom that are found in His Word.
As you read the Scriptures each day, look for God’s instructions. Then with reliance upon the Holy Spirit, commit to do what He tells you. When you obey His voice, He’ll reveal deeper truths, and your understanding will grow. Soon your time in the Word will become a delight instead of a duty.

Why the missional movement will fail

It’s time we start being brutally honest about the missional movement that has emerged in the last 10-15 years: Chances are better than not it’s going to fail.

That may seem cynical, but I’m being realistic. There is a reason so many movements in the Western church have failed in the past century: They are a car without an engine. A missional church or a missional community or a missional small group is the new car that everyone is talking about right now, but no matter how beautiful or shiny the vehicle, without an engine, it won’t go anywhere.

So what is the engine of the church? Discipleship. I’ve said it many times: If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples.

If you’re good at making disciples, you’ll get more leaders than you’ll know what to do with. If you make disciples like Jesus made them, you’ll see people come to faith who didn’t know Him. If you disciple people well, you will always get the missional thing. Always.

We took 30 days and examined the Twitter conversations happening. We discovered there are between 100-150 times as many people talking about mission as there are discipleship (to be clear, that’s a 100:1). We are a group of people addicted to and obsessed with the work of the Kingdom, with little to no idea how to be with the King. As Skye Jethani wrote in his Out of Ur post a little while back “Has Mission become an Idol?”:

Many church leaders unknowingly replace the transcendent vitality of a life with God for the ego satisfaction they derive from a life for God.

Look, I’m not criticizing the people who are passionate about mission…I am one of those people. I was one of the people pioneering Missional Communities in the 1980′s and have been doing it ever since. This is my camp, my tribe, my people. But it has to be said: God did not design us to do Kingdom mission outside of the scope of intentional, biblical discipleship and if we don’t see that, we’re fooling ourselves. Mission is under the umbrella of discipleship as it is one of the many things that Jesus taught his disciples to do well. But it wasn’t done in a vacuum outside of knowing God and being shaped by that relationship, where a constant refinement of their character was happening alongside of their continued skill development (which included mission).

The truth about discipleship is that it’s never hip and it’s never in style…it’s the call to come and die; a “long obedience in the same direction.” While the “missional” conversation is imbued with the energy and vitality that comes with kingdom work, it seems to be missing some of the hallmark reality that those of us who have lived it over time have come to expect: Mission is messy. It’s humbling. There’s often no glory in it. It’s for the long haul. And it’s completely unsustainable without discipleship.

This is the crux of it: The reason the missional movement may fail is because most people/communities in the Western church are pretty bad at making disciples. Without a plan for making disciples (and a plan that works), any missional thing you launch will be completely unsustainable. Think about it this way: Sending people out to do mission is to send them out to a war zone. Discipleship is not only the boot camp to train them for the front lines, but the hospital when they get wounded and the off-duty time they need to rest and recuperate. When we don’t disciple people the way Jesus and the New Testament talked about, we are sending them out without armor, weapons or training. This is mass carnage waiting to happen. How can we be surprised that people burn out, quit and never want to return to the missional life (or the church)? How can we not expect people will feel used and abused?

There’s a story from World War II where The Red (Russian) Army sent wave after wave of untrained, practically weaponless soldiers into the thick of the German front. They were slaughtered in droves. Why did they do this? Because they knew that eventually the German soldiers would run out of ammunition, creating an opportunity for the Red Army to send in their best soldiers to finish them off. The first wave of untrained soldiers were the best way of exhausting ammunition, leaving their enemy vulnerable. While this isn’t a perfect analogy, I sense this is a bit like the missional movement right now. We are sending bright-eyed civilians into the battle where the fighting is fiercest without the equipping they need, not just to survive, but to fight well and advance the Kingdom of their dad, the King.

The missional movement will fail because, by-and-large, we are having a discussion about mission devoid of discipleship. Unless we start having more discussion about discipleship and how we make missionaries out of disciples, this movement will stall and fade. Any discussion about mission must begin with discipleship. If your church community is not yet competent at making disciples who can make disciples, please don’t send your members out on mission until you have a growing sense of confidence in your ability to train, equip and disciple them.

Here are some questions I have leaders I’m working with ask regularly:

  • Am I a disciple?
  • Do I know how to disciple people who can then disciple people who then disciple people, etc? (i.e. does my discipleship plan work?)
  •  Does our discipleship plan naturally lead all disciples to become missionaries? (not just the elite, Delta-seal missional ninjas)

This blog post is part of a 6 week series related to the release of my new, re-written edition of Building a Discipling Culture: How to release a missional movement by discipling people like Jesus did, which shows how we made disciples in a truly post-Christian context. If you’re interested in picking it 

Worship Wars: Is the Worst Fight in Your Church Over the Style of Music?

There’s a war brewing inside of U.S. churches. While some congregants prefer the beat-bopping sounds of electric guitars, drums and fast-paced tunes, others seek a more traditional worship experience. The divide, which often hinges upon age and personal music taste, only seems to be intensifying — especially as churches seek to modernize and attract younger audiences.

According to the USA Today, nearly 50 percent of Protestant churches are now reporting that they use electric guitars or drums during worship. This proportion has grown from 35 percent back in 2000, according to a 2010 Faith Communities Today study of 14,000 congregations across America.

While this may seem like a silly argument, there are many who feel passionately that music should be kept traditional, with a focus upon worshiping God and not engaging in the frills of percussion and guitar strumming. On the flip side, others claim that it’s necessary to change with the times. The beats and guitar jingles, they say, simply come with the territory of modernization.

But Rick Muchow, the pastor of Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, says, “The Bible does not have an official soundtrack…There are all different kinds of churches for different kinds of people. We don’t worship music, we worship God.”

This essentially means that there’s no right way to worship the Almighty through music. Some churches, though, recognizing the sensitivity inherent in churchgoers’ prerogatives, have begun to host “themed” services.

Saddleback, for instance, runs services that focus upon various genres of music. According to Muchow, his church offers gospel, rock, alternative and traditional services. Depending on one’s age and musical taste, these options would offer a more copacetic worship experience.

But there are plenty of pastors who would disagree with Saddleback’s musical selections. These much more conservative houses of worship would contend that traditional music is the way to go. Pastor David Cloud, for instance, believes that drifting away from traditional worship may have spiritual side effects.

Republican presidential hopeful, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, plays bass guitar with the praise band at the Apostolic Church of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Mich. Sunday, Jan. 13, 2008.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“There is an intense war being waged today for the heart and soul of Bible-believing churches, and one of the Devil’s most effective Trojan horses is music,” he says.

Cloud has gone so far as to launch a web directory that lists Independent Baptist Churches in North America that pledge to stick to the King James Version of the Bible. Additionally, the listed houses of worship ban any and all contemporary music.

This battle is likely to continue raging, especially as contemporary music continues to increase in popularity. What do you think — should churches focus more upon traditional, contemporary or a mixture of the two?

The Church

“I think it would be perfectly safe to say that the church of Christ was never in all its history so fully, so skillfully and so thoroughly and so perfectly organized as it is today. Our machinery is wonderful; it is just perfect, but, alas, it is machinery without power; and when things do not go right, instead of going to the real source of our failure, our neglect to depend on God and look to God for power, we look around to see if there is not some new organization we can get up, some new wheel that we can add to our machinery. We have altogether too many wheels already. What we need is not so much some new organization, some new wheel, but “the Spirit of the living creature in the wheels” we already possess.”