Tag: church

Our Stumbling Block

Life presents each of us with a series of events, ranging from the mundane to the extraordinary, that defines who we are. We move from one day to the next, drawing on hindsight for clarity. Humans are incapable of absolute purity, absolute sinlessness, while we traverse this earth. So we get distracted. So we turn aside from the call Jesus has on our lives. The devil’s in the details, right? We are- we should be- better than this.
We are stumbling. As Christians, we know it is likely we will stumble off and on for the rest of our mortal lives. That’s why there is a need for repentance. It is not to provide an excuse- a spiritual loophole if you will. No, it is so we can honestly beseech the Father, our Lord and God, for His mercy and grace. It is our acknowledgement of wrongdoing and the desire to change. Now this is important to keep in mind as we talk about some ugly things.
But first-
Lately, the world has been plagued with a health pandemic that has affected millions, whether through death, economic hardship, social isolation, etc. People have reacted to this in numerous ways, not all of which are good. Regardless of whether you see it as a hoax or as legitimate. Regardless of where your concern for the health and well-being of others lies. Regardless of these, and ugliness has reared its thorny head. Galatians 5:13 tells us “For you were called to freedom brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Likewise, Proverbs 24:16 says, “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he will rise again, but the wicked stumble into calamity.” A much bigger crisis rears its head. It is the absence of human decency and compassion in many forums.
Let’s talk about social media. How often do you read the comments to an article, only to see hateful, angry rhetoric? How often do we see people belittle others because they do not see things exactly how someone else does? I’ll be honest. I have been a member of Christian groups, writing groups, art groups, gaming groups… you expect to see people who only want to stir the pot, just to get any sort of response. We call them trolls in this digital age. But do you know where I saw the most appalling dialogues? Christian groups. From self-professing Christians. I will not discount the good, but there is too much hateful dialogue and rhetoric present for anyone claiming to serve God.
I will not share what I have seen, as it is something you can see for yourself, but there are three things I want to communicate.

  1. No one has the authority to judge the depth of one’s faith. We are commanded to help guide people to Jesus, to make disciples in His name, but we can never know the full depths of someone’s relationship with God.
  2. Hateful rhetoric is not Christlike. Even if you are right, no amount of demeaning talk will make it good. Harshness is one thing. Jesus was harsh. Hatefulness is another. Do all things in love.
  3. We do not know God’s mind. He’s God. We aren’t built to fathom all the threads He holds to bring a given moment to fruition. We can guess. We can take His words that were laid out in the Bible, but we do not and cannot know all.
    James 1:26 tells “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
    Psalm 34:13 says, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.”

Proverbs 10:19 also says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
1 Corinthians 2:15-16 says, “The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
It is not wrong to hold people accountable. Through Christ, we are given more understanding into the mind of God. But we are held to a higher standard. We can disagree. We can discuss more Scripture-centered processes. We can question. We can even be angry. But we are not God and we cannot know every detail of someone. We cannot know just how much harm our ugly words do; whether they repel those who are not of the faith or they drive away those who are. Oh, I know these times are hard. We all deal with it in some way or another.
But if you think God’s body will not suffer because you belittled someone you disagreed with, if you got on your high horse and decided to mete out God’s judgement, well… maybe it’s time to open the Bible and get down on your knees. We are commanded to live lives focused on building God’s church. Not tearing it down. Throughout Scripture we are called to do things with love. Love can be harsh. Love can seem unkind. But love is not wicked. At least God’s love is not. So maybe, as we progress towards an uncertain future, we’ll draw on Him to better engage with others.

When We Do More Harm

Trigger warning: This is directed to people who fall under the “Christian” label.

  • “Do you know Jesus in your life?”
  • “Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?”
  • “Who is Jesus to you?”

At some point in our lives, we are asked a variation of those questions. Often, they are meant to initiate conversations between nonbelievers and Christ-followers. Sometimes, they are conversations between fellow Christ-followers. These dialogues can prove quite fruitful and to be sure, the conversation must start somewhere. We’ll touch on the positive interactions another time. For now, let’s talk about when Christians do more harm than good, though they mean well. It is a hard pill to swallow, but often, peoples’ issues with Christianity is not Jesus, but the people professing faith in Him.

But first, who does Jesus say He is?

  • Luke 22:70 – Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?” So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.”
  • John 14:6 – I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”
  • John 11:25 – Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Jesus didn’t- and still doesn’t- need help to tell who He is. We know he came to our mortal earth to not only take the burden of our sin by dying on the cross, but to defeat the grave three wonderful days later. Jesus is the blameless Son of the Most High God, part of the Holy Trinity- Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Jesus knows who He is. 

But do we? Moreover, are we confident in our knowledge of who He is? That is the personal question each person must answer for themselves. Let’s make certain assumptions about mindsets to provide a general baseline to proceed upon. To us- us being the average Christian- acceptance of the following is necessary.

  • Jesus is the Son of God.
  • Jesus is God.
  • Jesus came to die for us, to take on the mantle of sin, as payment for our sins.
  • Jesus is the only way to the Father.
  • Jesus rose from the grave, thereby defeating it.
  • Jesus is blameless.

Now that we have this baseline, let’s talk about a few items where many of us indicate room for improvement.

Item 1: No one’s relationship with God is more exalted than another’s.

Pride is sinful. Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes shame; But with the humble is wisdom.” Proverbs 16:18 also says, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.” James 4:16 states, “But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” We Christ-followers don’t always get it right. But we all fall short of the Glory of God. All of us. If we were perfect, there would have been no need for Jesus to come down to us, endure the crucifixion, and then return from the grave. So, we all have testimonies and none of them are the same. In fiction, it’s said that there are around 7 storylines or themes that exist, and that all stories are variations of one of at least one of the 7. How many human beings are on this planet? A lot. Each of us has a story. That story transforms into testimony when we take up the battle garb that is Christ. In that each is unique, it is also the same. It is a convergence on the single doorway: Jesus.

Even after we choose to follow Him, we’re still plagued by this sinful world. We still stumble. We still doubt from time to time. We’re imperfect creatures. But within the Christian community, there are some who exalt their stories, who make their walk with God seem much more profound than those around them. They call the doubts and another person’s walk with Him immature or foolish. Have you heard or experienced something like this? Let’s look at an example.

A young woman, single mother, survivor of spousal and familial abuse, has seen her life turn around in the last year. She grew up in church, but fell away for about 5 years. A year ago, she felt God speaking in her life again. She started going to church, has gotten involved, and interacts with people about her faith with increasing frequency. One night, she has a conversation with a longtime, Conservative, female churchgoer. The older woman asks her, “Who is Jesus to you?” The younger woman answers, using her past suffering and her recommitment to reinforce that Jesus is her salvation. She does not delve as deeply into scripture, does not have verse and passage to reinforce what she’s saying. The other does not like this answer. The longtime churchgoer, thinking she is meaning well, over-saturates the conversation with items to make the younger woman’s story seem childish, not as profound as the long-time churchgoer’s because she has more questions.

Sometimes, we forget that God wants all of us in His corner. We do more damage and honor Him less by making our walk seem more righteous than someone else’s. Look, we all misinterpret the Word sometimes. And we’re all at different points on our walk. We can never learn enough from God. There will always be more He can teach us. But, some of the specifics of what each of us needs to learn aren’t the same as the next person.

Item 2: Humans are not perfect. No Christian is perfect.

Think on your experiences with church. How many of us have seen those perfect people, who always seem to serve God the best way, who never seem to struggle with their faith, who always are on their p’s and q’s? Their perfection is an illusion. And if we’re focusing on this, then our focus is on the wrong things. God is the focal point. Not the people in his congregation. Sure, we want examples of how to live a holy life.  That’s natural. But, we’re disregarding a rather important fact. If we acknowledge that no one is perfect- Jesus has been identified as the only perfect being- then, by extension, no Christian can be perfect.

Side note: In Christ, we are made perfect. I am referring to the impossibility of worldly perfection.

We can make our faith look good. Sure, we’ve seen too many television shows about makeovers to not believe this. Following God is not about making any part of ourselves look good. It’s about revering and adhering to our Lord. When we fixate on the aesthetics of our faith, we risk replacing the importance of truly humbling ourselves to Him. We also do damage to the Church because we’re magnifying our hypocrisy. What if I told you that every single one of us is a hypocrite? We want to be as like Jesus as we possibly can; yet, we constantly fall short. If we didn’t fall short, we wouldn’t need Him. We get it wrong. We say the wrong thing. We make ourselves ugly, in appearance and soul, at times.  I could go on about how this does damage to our task of seeking disciples for Jesus, but what about to those who are already part of the flock?

There are two sides to the problem. Let’s start with those who are fixating on those who seem like they’re perfect Christians. Everyone’s circumstances are different. Everyone’s backgrounds are unique to them. Sure, there are a myriad of similarities, but there are also just as many differences. That’s good. God uses all of us. He uses our unique skillsets to serve His purpose. When we fixate on those who seem to do it better, we are shifting focus from serving God and worshipping Him, to creating a sort of idol in our fellow Christian. We do not know what goes on in their head. We do not know if they are truly following Him or wearing a mask. The second side of the problem is the people who attempt the illusion of perfection. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling anyone to not attempt to be the best version of themselves as possible. I’m merely pointing out that the illusion of perfection is not sustainable. Thousands of years later, Jesus’s perfection is still sustainable. Know why? Because it is not an illusion of perfection. It is absolute perfection. When we are more focused on how we present ourselves, we lose sight of Him. It undermines our walk with God. It undermines our ability to guide others to the flock, because we become less human and more hypocritical monsters.

So, how do we fix this? I could share verse after verse with you. Instead, just look back at who Jesus said He is. Because when it comes down to it, when we put too much of ourselves in it, to the point where others leave the Church or don’t come to Jesus, as byproducts of our own actions, we’re doing more harm to His Church.

Let’s change that. Let’s encourage each other’s walk, offering guidance where it is truly needed, and put a lot less of who we want God to be and lot more of who He tells us He is.

On Ruth: Suffering

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lover for ever” (Psalm 23:1-6).

Our Father in heaven never promised an easy life. Time and time again, his flock are reminded that to seek Christ, to go through the Son to get to the Father, is a demanding, often overwhelming path. Quite honestly, it is meant to forge Christian men and women into that which can best serve God’s glory. And you know what? That’s not even close to being an easy Crucible to run through.

Snapshot: Single parent juggles multiple part or full time jobs to make ends meet, put food in their children’s bellies, and weigh out which bill can be paid late.

Snapshot: Man loses his wife, children, and house in an accidental fire. Insurance says. “Sorry, but there just isn’t enough coverage.” He’ll have to find a bed to lay his head as he struggles to understand why he didn’t perish with everyone else.

Snapshot: Young man sits in an otherwise empty cell because he lost control for just a moment. Now, he’s potentially facing a lifetime behind bars or, at the very least, one full of guilt because of a mistake he can’t take back.

Every single person, whether or not they believe in Jesus Christ, finds themselves walking a fine line between joy and suffering. As we are told in 2 Corinthians 1:5, “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” I get it. Life can- and often does- suck. We’ve all heard the phrase “God never gives us more than we can bear.” If we are being honest, most of us don’t agree. Hey, we’re human. Life is tough. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 4:16). Life is hard, but God is bigger than any burden. So it isn’t that he gives more than we can handle because He is much bigger than ALL our troubles.

A lot of times we, as Christians, look towards scripture for examples of suffering and God’s grace. There is Jesus, of course, and Peter, Joseph, David… pretty much everyone of note in the Bible is riddled with times of suffering. Reflect on this: Pointless suffering does not exist; rather, there is only suffering that should- if we allow it- draw us closer to God. Let’s take at Ruth for now.

A little context: the story of Ruth takes place during a volatile time for God’s children, the age of the Judges. Here are three important people to remember as we discuss the Story of Ruth.

  1. Naomi – the Israelite, Ruth’s mother-in-law, widowed, lost her children
  2. Ruth – Moabitess, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, dutiful. Faithful, pagan
  3. Boaz – family redeemer, good man, Israelite

Though not as important, we should also note the other daughter-in-law, Orpah.

At this time, there was a great famine in the land. Now, “when Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had came to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there” (Ruth 1:6).

Point 1: God is master over our calamity.

Naomi wanted Ruth and Orpah to return to their families, so she would not be responsible for them anymore. Orpah, the second daughter-in-law initially came with them until Naomi commanded the women to turn back. We will get into Ruth’s response a little later, but for now, it’s important to note that Orpah obeyed.

Think of it this way. Moab can represent the world, which is complete with the things we know and are familiar with, regardless of if they are good or bad for us. At the time, Moab was afflicted by famine. And yet, there are familiarities to latch onto: families, the land Orpah had grown up in, even the known hardships. Naomi commanded the younger women to “Turn back my daughters; why will you go with me?…” (Ruth 1:11). It is important to note what Naomi said later in the passage when they tried to follow her. It is also important to note that Orpah did not initially want to leave. Naomi said, “No my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!” (Ruth 1:!3). Even though she was determined to go home, she felt the Lord wasn’t on her side. This is a common thought Christians have when life isn’t going our way.

It’s easy to retreat back towards what we know, especially when we think God is against us. Remember the snapshots? Each scenario displays circumstances where the person could, as Naomi did, believe the Lord had set His might against them. A commonplace thing among humans is the propensity to wallow in the hurt. Oh sure, most people are absolutely justified in their hurt, but God commands us to turn it over to Him. 1 Peter 5:7 commands us to go about “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” Likewise, Psalm 55:22 states, “Turn your burdens over to the Lord, and he will take care of you…”

We must remember God holds dominion over all things. That includes the times when it feels life has stacked all the cards against us. Understand, because we are given free will, we can make the decision to separate ourselves from God. He lets us destroy ourselves (this does not mean He does not love us). Sometimes, the fall seems hopeless. Sometimes, where we fall is into a pit whose only escape is into a position we might not like or want.

Point 2: God pushes us forward on His terms.

Let’s go back to our snapshots really quick. The first is a woman struggling to survive in a life where she must choose between necessities. The second is a man who must start over after the most devastating events one can imagine, all with the compelling desire to surrender. The third… well, I think that’s pretty obvious. But going biblical, imagine the first as Naomi, the second as Job, and the third as Peter (remember when he cut the soldier’s ear off). God had purpose for their struggles. God did not abandon them to their hurts.

God cannot control our circumstances if He isn’t the supreme God. It’s kind of counterintuitive, but He’ll let us arrive at this conclusion if we want. But, we can also accept He is a benevolent father, guiding us through our troubles. We’re human and don’t always want our circumstances. Sure, they aren’t always ideal; we can choose, then, to handle them gracelessly- as Naomi did- or with class, as Ruth did, which we see in her entreaty at the end of the section. Ruth said, “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17). She had every reason to turn back, as her fellow daughter-in-law did, to the world she knew. So many of us are like Orpah; we consciously accept trouble when it comes from waters we’re familiar with, instead of risking greater reward and maintaining faith. Ruth made the harder choice. She followed Naomi, despite the older woman’s desire for her to leave, to a future of unknowns, where there were not obvious outcomes. She did it and next time, we’ll look into what happened when the two women reached Judah.

For now, let me ask you this. Does your fear of present circumstances outweigh the trust you have in God’s plan for your life? Does your suffering foster a need for Him? Or, do you share Naomi’s sentiment that the Lord has gone out against you? Do you mirror Orpah’s actions and retreat to the world you knew? Leave it at the cross friends. Leave your cares to the Father. Life is hard, but God is so much bigger than anything you carry.