It seems that everyone is so easily offended. I’ve watched from the sidelines as comedians navigate which words are in and which words are out (sometimes at the expense of honesty). Political correctness dominates the cultural conversation but usually without a careful understanding of language and morality. Instead, arbitrary preference and magical words restrain truth-telling.
The same seems true in the church. So many people are looking for an opportunity to be offended. Often they are offended on behalf of other people (an odd phenomenon). It just seems that a lot of amateur referees are waiting to blow their whistles. As a result, those who are called to lead and challenge are often forced to mute the force of their message for fear of upsetting or unsettling. There is no room for pandering in the church (2 Tim. 4:3).
There are clearly things in the Bible that are offensive. In fact, God’s Word intentionally offends and disrupts (1 Cor. 1:18, 21, 23; Gal. 1:10, 5:11, 6:12-14). Jesus was anything but politically correct. Paul was far from gentile in his speech. The prophets of the Hebrew Bible are not the kind to invite to a formal dinner party.
Sometimes, to expose sin and make room for truth it takes a disturbance. Maybe this comfortable ‘don’t rock the boat’ attitude is hampering our growth in Christ. In my life, my greatest times of spiritual growth come in the midst chaos. I’ve learned more from the teachers that have challenged me than the ones who let my complacency suffice.
Recently, I read this interesting quote: “the easily offended are missing the point.” If I am on guard (always critiquing, always judging) then I am not listening, gleaning, discerning, or participating. As the same author reminds, “Learn how to glean good lessons from bad teachers.”
Here’s a sermon I preached at Nansemond River Baptist Church in July from Acts 9 and the famous conversion of Saul.
It has only been a few months since “Graduation Season.” Which, by the way, is neither a climate or hunting designation (bag a few graduates and everyone gets all huffy). As a
glutton for punishment seemingly perpetual student, I’ve sat through too many graduation speeches. The best are funny (e.g., Coco, John Stewart, or this guy) and the worst are freakishly dishonest.
Usually, some numskull will pander on and on about “chasing your dreams.” Despite the ridiculousness of such an assertion, it plays well to the sentimental and naïve among us. My basic problem with this sort of advice is twofold: it is both unrealistic and unbiblical.
No matter how passionately R. Kelly croons, the assertion that seeing and believing equips one to “do it” is ridiculous. No matter my belief, I cannot (as space Jam indicates) dunk a basketball. Faith is not blind and unrealistic: faith has truth at its core. Some people won’t be astronauts. Why do we insist on pretending that everyone is equally intelligent, capable, and able. Certainly, God uses the weakest among us but strength in weakness requires humility and honest appraisal of shortcomings.
Finally, and more importantly, such blind and self-centered optimism is unbiblical. The purpose in life is not about chasing your own dreams. As I told some graduates in June, “life is not about pursuing your dreams, it is about pursuing God.” Don’t chase what you want, chase what God wants for you. As you grow in Christ, your desires will begin to align with his. You will never find satisfaction in pursuing your narcissistic passions; only in Christ will your satisfaction be made complete. As Chris Wright has reminded us, stop trying to fit God into your life but, rather, ask where your life fits into God’s story and God’s mission. Don’t waste your time applying the Bible to your life but, rather, conform your life to the Bible.
Don’t chase your dreams, chase your creator. He has prepared a path for you to walk that is more glorious and satisfying than you could dream on your own.
You see, this is Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian church. A church that occupied the majority of his last missionary journey and where his protégé was an elder. His farewell to the Ephesian elders is filled with tears and heartache. He is convinced that he will not see his friends again and his conviction proves true.
In his farewell I am reminded of true gospel ministry. A ministry that is sacrificial rather than demanding, honest rather than flattering. It is rooted in humility and thoroughness. Such ministry has a deep foundation in truth and is developed in meaningful relationships: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
All that to be said, I find it interesting that the very last words Paul speaks to the Ephesian elders regards the dangers from within the church that will come. Communication in that day and age was spotty and travel was dangerous, there was a high likelihood they would not receive any future instruction from Paul and he left them with these words:
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
As I thought about these last words I was reminded that the danger for Christians is more frequently from within the church than without. This is no excuse to abandon the church but rather a call to guard the health of our faith community.
Dangers from without are easier to spot. They are different and distinct. Such is the case with many “overt” sins. Maybe this is why Christians often point to “outsider” sins (e.g., homosexuality, drunkenness, etc.). They’re easy to spot! But just because they are more visible does not mean they are more dangerous.
Sin that grows within the community of faith is much more difficult to identify because it takes Christian language and even Christian scripture and cleverly mixes it with false teaching. I finally settled on two major dangers that are present within the church that often receive Christian justification: traditionalism and existentialism.
Imagine a wide, asphalt highway with two great ditches on each side. If the highway is the firm sure ground of Biblical truth, then two ever present dangers are the lure of traditionalism on one side and the elevation of feeling on the other. The difficulty in navigating the highway of truth is that we are often tempted, by distraction or danger, to swerve off of its sturdy path.
When you ask people to make godly decisions they too often have no Biblical foundation on which to base their choices. As a result, the default mode is often traditionalism. Such traditionalism is seen in the kind of thoughtless repetition of doing things a certain way because they’ve always been done that way. Much like Einstein’s definition of insanity, traditionalism is unable to look outside of personal experience to find a better option.
On the other extreme is the particular modern lure of “feelings.” Most people have no solid criteria by which to discern right from wrong and good from bad. As a result, they are at the whim of their feelings. They tell me they “feel” like they’re in love or it just “seemed” like the best thing at the time. That tickle in your stomach is probably just gas. This too shall pass.
I think tradition can be a vibrant connection to our Christian heritage and feelings directed toward God are lovely but both our traditions and our feelings must serve in submission to the truth of God’s word. “We have the prophetic word made more sure” (2 Peter 1:19). Our feelings and our traditions can easily be co-opted by suave communicators. They can quickly make you think that God is all about making you feel good or the Bible is a book that justifies the way things have always been done. The only light in such darkness is the revealed word of God, to which we would “do well to pay attention” (2 Peter 1:19).
Next time you have to make a decision ask yourself, “what does the Bible say?”
I’m beginning a new series on common myths about culture, Christianity, history, and more. I’ve dabbled in this concept from time to time. In addition, I’ve always had a soft spot for the popular Mythbusters television show (FYI, my favorite episode is “Phonebook Friction“).
We’ll start off this simple series by busting the old “myth of talent.”
First off, I’m not trying to argue that talent is not real or that some people are not more naturally talented at some things than others. I’m mainly voicing frustration with those who say they can’t do something purely because they aren’t talented enough.
For example, I know some people that are phenomenally talented musicians. That is, they have a natural ear for pitch and tone. That being said, even the one’s that don’t read music have spent countless hours honing their ability to play their instrument of choice (e.g., guitar, piano, voice, etc.). Ultimately, anyone can learn to sing or play an instrument if they are willing to work.
I find sports to be the same way. The best athletes will (most likely) possess a good deal of raw talent but they will never rise to an elite level (e.g., NFL, etc.) without combining that talent with skills that can only be acquired by years of practice. Talent is not the same thing as technique. This gives hope to those of us who have certain height and speed deficiencies. While my natural abilities are often lacking I can still gain proficiency in a sport through practice.
A similar phenomenon has crept into Christian circles. I notice a lot of Christians avoiding things that they are not naturally good at. Some people don’t share their faith because they think they are not smart or good at meeting people. Others avoid teaching because they are not extroverted and outgoing. Some don’t serve others because they don’t have the gift of compassion or mercy. The examples could go on and on.
The main problem with these objections is that the Scriptures command all of us to do all of these things. Sure, some people are more naturally inclined toward these activities but, as I’ve heard it said, “God doesn’t call the equipped He equips the called.” God will never command you to do something that He won’t also empower you to do. I think it is short sighted and faithless to think that God can and will only use those of natural ability.
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standard; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the way things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:26–30)
The Bible does talk a lot about public evangelism. In Acts, for example, the apostles preach to large crowds of unbelievers on many occasions. Their preaching is often direct and, even, confrontational. (e.g., Acts 2:14-40, Acts 14, Acts 7:1-51).
However, there is also a component of relationship and community that is evidenced throughout the Scriptures. (1 Thes. 2:7-12, Acts 19:9, 1 Thes. 4:12).
In my own life, daily discipleship is much harder than one-time events. I don’t particularly mind large, attraction-based, event-oriented evangelism (though I question their effectiveness in today’s culture). However, one-time evangelism must be accompanied by daily, sacrificial, authentic, missional living. I find it much harder to mentor a student weekly than take teenagers to camp once a year. It is much more time-consuming to volunteer in the local middle school than throw a Superbowl party. I have to be vulnerable when I share my life with other people and that scares me. When you share life you share success and failure, strengths and weaknesses.
By God’s grace I will strive to demonstrate the gospel not just once in a while but every day.