None of Your Business

Remember the setting…

Jesus is alive! After crucifixion, he appeared to the disciples, minus Thomas. Then there’s the interaction with Thomas. After this seven disciples are together: Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John (Zebedee’s sons), and two other unnamed disciples.

Peter says, “I’m going fishing.”

What?! Jesus died! And now He’s alive! And you’re going fishing? Peter was not in a good place. Physically, he was fine. But mentally? spiritually? He wasn’t in a happy place at all. Jesus knew Peter had denied Him. Thrice. Jesus foretold Peter’s denial. After the third denial – after the rooster crowed as prophesied by Jesus Himself – Jesus looked at Peter. Peter knew what that look meant.

Now? Jesus had yet to bring it up.

Why not? The anticipation gnawed at Peter. It was Peter, after all, who was promised the keys to the kingdom after recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus had told Peter that Peter learned this from God Himself. Peter had been blessed by Christ for this revelation.

Then Peter had blown it big time. Jesus had told him beforehand he would,and Jesus had looked directly at Peter after Peter denied Him the third time.

Gnawing… Ya think? Perhaps that’s too gentle a description.

“I’m going fishing.”

Note: I mean no disrespect or irreverence here. I am empathizing with Peter.

Peter wants some alone time. He feels terrible about denying Christ. He wants to go do something familiar, some mindless task to pass the time. I mean, obviously Jesus isn’t concerned, right? If He was, He would’ve said something. Anything. A rebuke would be better than this; this silence. Especially to a man like Peter who’s motto in life seemed to be, “Don’t just stand there, say something.” Jesus hasn’t said anything yet.

To make things better, Peter’s friends respond, “We will go with you!”

Awesome.

They head over to the Sea of Tiberius and fish all night and catch nothing.

Awesome.

The sky lightens. No fish. Chatterbox friends all atwitter about Jesus’ resurrection. Polite smiles. Nods. Yes, yes, it’s amazing, He’s alive.

Awesome.

“Who’s That?”

Captain Obvious appears on the beach and asks the perfect question, “Hey fellers, caught anything?”

“No.”

Captain Obvious morphs into Captain Advice: “Why not try fishing on the right side of the boat? I bet you’ll catch some fish over there.”

Pause here a minute. What was Peter doing when Jesus asked Peter to become a disciple?

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. – Mark 1:16-18

Same Simon Peter here, a professional fisherman. (“It is a tradition very current among the ancients, that St. Mark wrote this gospel under the direction of St. Peter, …” Matthew Henry’s Commentary. The Gospel of Mark is very likely Peter’s account.)

Back to Captain Obvious Advice. “Have you fellers considered fishing on the other side of the boat?”

No, that thought never occurred to us. 

For whatever reason, they haul in the nets from the left side of the boat. Now, this wasn’t a cruise ship; there’s really not that much distance between the left and right sides of this boat. Why did they do it? Maybe they were bored. Maybe they thought, “What could it hurt?” Maybe they wanted to prove to the helpful gentleman on the shore that they are professionals and demonstrate the fact by hauling up another net filled with only water. Maybe then he’d move on and “help” someone else with their day.

Whatever. 

They cast the nets into the waters on the right side of the boat and something tremendous happens. The net is filled with so many fish these seven people cannot haul it in.

Things change rapidly. John tells Peter, “That’s Jesus!”

Awesome! 

Peter ignores his buddies struggling with the net. He longs to be close to Jesus. He doesn’t want to be irreverent, so he gets dressed first and then swims one hundred yards to shore. Why? Why leave his buddies in the boat? Why swim with heavier clothes on? Why not just bring the boat to shore and then connect with Jesus?

Gnawing.

“Feed My Sheep.”

Jesus had breakfast ready. Jesus and Peter have a conversation over breakfast. I’m not glossing over this conversation lightly, I believe the three questions were not random in content or number. Peter denied Jesus thrice in response to three earlier questions, after all. But I do want to move beyond this conversation.

Why? The spiritual surgery is complete, but Peter is not all better. He’s …

In Recovery

Why would I write such a thing? Because Peter’s very next move is to look towards John and ask Jesus, “What about him, huh?” Your and my response is likely similar: shakes head, “Tsk tsk tsk. Peter, Peter, Peter.” Or as my 14-year old son would say,

Dude.”

Jesus has a remarkable and shocking response: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” A question and a command. The question is, “What difference does that make to you?” “Why do you care?” “What does it matter?” “It’s none of your business!”

Your Business

Jesus commands Peter, “You follow me!”

In his commentary on John, R. C. Sproul writes:

“If the Lord gives me one thing, I think everybody should get it, or if you get something I don’t get, I say, ‘What’s the matter with me? Why didn’t I get it?’ The Lord has jobs for each of us to do, and what others do is ultimately none of our business. Each of us must do what God has given him or her to do, and fulfill the mandate of Christ.”

Amen, R. C. Amen.

Has this happened to you? Has someone nodded in your direction and asked, “What about that person?” “Why does she get to enjoy that relationship?” “Who put him in charge?” “Why are they so happy?”

It’s happened to me. It’s unpleasant. It’s envy. It’s a sin. “I’m trying to help my brother / sister walk closer with Christ.” Are you? Are you really? What made you notice the deficit in your brother’s or sister’s walk with Christ? What was your first clue? Was it, as Dr. Sproul wrote, “… [they] get something I don’t get…”?

We rationalize – misusing God’s Word, even – but it’s still a sin.

To Peter, holder of the keys to the kingdom, blessed by Christ, hearing from God Himself; Jesus says, “Don’t worry about John.” Forget about splinters, here are some planks that require your attention. Paul echoes this sentiment in his letter to the church at Rome.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. – Romans 14:4

 

To a church of “fruit-inspecting” “discerners,” Jesus speaks these words, What is that to thee? Follow thou me.

Jesus told Peter, “Stop that.”
The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, “Stop that.”

Stop that.

It’s none of your business.

Peace.

Friends with the World?

James warns the young church in chapter 4: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” His characterization of such a relationship? “Adulterous!

Ellicott’s commentary renders the interpretation, “ye adulteresses!”

The phrase may seem to flow naturally after the former ones, but the Received text, from which our version was made, is wrong. It should be, ye adulteresses! as accusing those who have broken their marriage vow to God.

“What If I Agree With the World?”

It’s possible for a Christian to agree with worldly endeavors, at least on the surface. Efforts to alleviate poverty are a good example of overlap between Christian and secular goals. As Christians, we often speak of “human flourishing” and cite the words of our Lord in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

While we agree on the surface, motivations of the church and world are likely at odds just below the surface. The church is motivated to obey our Lord’s command to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him. We love our neighbors. We seek to serve.

The world has different motives hence the warning found in 2 Corinthians 6:14:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?

Paul’s words echo the words of James: “friendship,” “partnership,” “fellowship.”

Warning: When I Agree With the World

Church, I urge us to examine our own motives when we find ourselves in agreement with the world. Some questions to ask ourselves:

  • Are we loving the Lord with all our strength? (Mark 12:30)
  • Are we loving our neighbor? (Mark 12:31)
  • Are we loving our enemy? (Matthew 5:44)
  • Are we denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily, and following Christ? (Luke 9:23)

One ploy of the devil is to begin with God’s Word and then ask, “Did God actually say…” (Genesis 3:1). When we listen to Satan we may find ourselves in idolatrous sin. Some questions to ask ourselves:

  • What is more important to me, this cause / movement or Christ?
  • Do I feel led to participate in this cause / movement and follow Christ, or is my participation in this cause / movement simply me following Christ?
  • If I have to choose between this cause / movement and following Christ, do I want out of the church?

Final Thoughts

Satan has millennia of experience ensnaring humans. He is an expert at manipulation. He never approaches with his end goal, he often begins with God’s Word. Peter, who experienced this firsthand, describes him thus:

Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Idolatry is an easy sin. “Be sober-minded; be watchful.” Peter’s words, again. Remember:

God is just, but justice is not God.
God is love, but love is not God.

Peace.

Tread with Care, Church

I write this in the wake of marches and counter-protests in Charlottesville that included violence along with tragic and needless injury and death.

It is to my shame that I admit I became aware of institutional racism in just the past few years. Institutional racism is real. Data about the treatment of black males in our society makes this case. More heartbreaking (for me, at least) is data included in the book Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudder.

In the book, OKCupid Data Scientist Christian Rudder shares “hot or not” type experiments conducted on images of men and women. When rated by others, black men scored lower.

The heartbreaking part is that when rated by black men, black men scored themselves lower.

That’s not the heartbreaking part. The heartbreaking part is that when rated by black men, black men scored themselves lower.

I’m not a psychologist but I know how you feel about yourself affects how you behave and think and, ultimately, what you do. In my humble opinion, black men rating themselves lower than men of other races is a problem. It may even be the problem. At a minimum, it’s close to the heart of the matter, close to the root cause (if not the root cause).

“Who is this Helping?”

I’m tagging this post and promoting it on social media in the hope that these words help someone – some white person of faith struggling with squaring “bear one another’s burdens” with “the destruction of our heritage.” I’m also hoping to confess to my black brothers and sisters in Christ that slowly, too slowly (in my case), some white people and people who are mostly white and appear white (like half the residents of the US east coast I’m 1/8 Cherokee) – me and some like me – are beginning to understand.

I apologize for taking this long to understand. I want to help others understand, especially my white brothers and sisters who now believe as I once believed, that tip-of-the-iceberg heavily-reported incidents of racism can be excused and explained away with “just do what the officer says.”*

My Story: A Brief History

I began researching racial data after Michael Brown was shot and killed in August 2014. There was very little data to be found, which was troubling in itself. Crime statistics were available along with incarceration rates. The rates of incarceration struck me. When balanced for other factors, black men are jailed at a rate of three times their white counterparts.

That fact, combined with the statistics supplied from OKCupid by Christian Rudder, changed my thinking on the existence and severity of institutional racism in the US.

Church, Bear One Another’s Burdens

I want to specifically speak to Christians here. Mostly white Christians and Christians who appear white. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:26-28:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (emphasis added)

The Holy Spirit inspired these words. The Holy Spirit’s point here? Race doesn’t matter in the church. Social and economic status doesn’t matter in the church. Genitalia doesn’t matter in the church. We who were baptized into Christ have clothed ourselves with Christ. We are all one. In Christ.

How should we treat one another? The same Holy Spirit inspired Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

This sounds innocent enough, doesn’t it? “Bear one another’s burdens.” How does that work? What does that look like in practice?

An historical issue with Bible interpretation – or misinterpretation – is taking God’s Word out of context. So let’s look at Galatians 6:2 in context:

Brothers and sisters, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Galatians 6:1-3

The context here is sinning – being caught in any transgression. And then restoration with the help of others. Who are the others? The body of Christ; the church. What is “another’s burden” then? Is it their sin? Am I supposed to bear the sin of my brother or sister? If I didn’t sin, I think not. But what if I am guilty of the same sin? I think so. Especially if we have been delivered from said sin. Isn’t this why we suffered in the first place? 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 states:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

We suffer – sometimes at our own hand. God delivers us, perhaps with the help of our brothers and sisters who are obeying Galatians 6:1 – the church – who restore us in a spirit of gentleness. Then we comfort others who are suffering in the same way. We are wounded healers.

Too often in the church we rush to the holy doormat and dust off our sandals; too often we shoot our wounded.

“Bear one another’s burden’s” includes bearing with our brothers and sisters as they struggle with sin. This is hard. Bearing with our brothers and sisters while they sin requires a tolerance that only the Holy Spirit can supply. Too often in the church we rush to the holy doormat and dust off our sandals; too often we shoot our wounded.

The test of tolerance is the intolerant. Tolerating a sin of intolerance is not possible without God’s help. We are commanded, though, to bear this burden. That’s why I am writing this post: to reach out to my (currently-) intolerant white brothers and sisters.

To My White Brothers and Sisters:

To my white brothers and sisters who think “they bring it on themselves,” I would say two things: There is data you must explain. The data says institutional racism exists and that – all other things being equal – black males are three times as likely to be incarcerated for the same crime. No one wants to be incarcerated; no one brings that on themselves, so that’s wrong-headed thinking. But let’s suppose for just a moment that you’re right about our black brothers and sisters bringing all this on themselves; aren’t we commanded in God’s Word to bear their burden?

So…

If you believe that our black brothers and sisters are suffering unjustly, we white Christians ought to speak up.

If you believe that our black brothers and sisters “brought this upon themselves,” we white Christians ought to bear their burdens and restore them in a spirit of gentleness.**

There’s no “out” for us, white brothers and sisters.

There’s More

Do you feel your heritage is being destroyed? Let’s say you’re right about that (for the record, I believe you are. [While this is a fine quote to take out of context, I implore you to read on first…]). What does God’s Word say about it?

Romans 14 speaks to people who believed eating meat was a sin because some meat sold in the market came from sacrifices to idols. Others thought eating meat – even meat sacrificed to idols – was acceptable because they gave thanks to God for the meal before eating it.

Who’s “right?” Who’s “wrong?” Paul gives some very interesting answers in Romans 14, please go read the chapter. I’ll wait.

Done? Cool, let’s continue.

Did you catch the Holy Spirit’s conclusion on the matter? It’s all over the second half of the chapter:

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. Romans 14:13

And

For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. Romans 14:15

And

Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. Romans 14:20-21

Please bear with me as I ask some pointed questions:

  1. Are you judging our black brothers and sisters in Christ?
  2. By clinging to our heritage, are we destroying the one for whom Christ died?
  3. Is it good to not have statues that cause our black brothers and sisters to stumble?

What’s more important, our heritage or our testimony as Christians? It’s fair to ask, “Why can’t we have both?” We cannot. Here’s why:

The Holy Spirit does not say, “if your brothers and sisters are offended, re-educate them.” The Holy Spirit does not say, “If you brothers and sisters are offended, share with them the error of their ways.”

I don’t know how much more plain the Holy Spirit can make this: If our heritage offends our brothers and sisters in Christ, we must let it go. In Jesus’ Name, we must let it go. This is the commandment we are given: Let. It. Go.

Why does the Holy Spirit command such a thing? 2 Corinthians 10:5-6 points out there are arguments, opinions, and thoughts that are “against the knowledge of God”:

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. 2 Corinthians 10:5-6

How are we to respond to arguments, opinions, and thoughts that are “raised against the knowledge of God,” church? They are to be destroyed. They are to be taken captive to obey Christ.

I urge every white brother and sister who feels hurt by losing our heritage to pray and to consider their consciences before Christ in this matter. I am not denying your pain, I promise. I am – humbly – suggesting to you a better way: obedience to God’s Word. God’s Word is clear: When faced with a choice between what we want – when what we want is a sin, surely; but even if what we want is not a sin – and offending a brother or sister, we are commanded to let what we want go.

“It’s Not Fair”

Brothers and sisters, I write this with much love, I promise: Fair left the building when Christ died for your sins and my sins on the cross. Consider Christ’s example, brothers and sisters:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:4-8

Have the mind of Christ. Please.

I have prayed over this matter of heritage and legacy and history and reached this conclusion: If statues that commemorate my heritage offend my black brothers and sisters, then they must go.

Tread with Care

And so I urge us all, church, to tread with care. There are warnings for me and for those who agree with me:

  1. Let’s not ignore the Holy Spirit’s warning in Galatians 6:3, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Let’s not deceive ourselves.
  2. Let’s not play the role of the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 and thank God we are not like our brothers and sisters who struggle with the sin of racism.

Let’s instead follow the Holy Spirit’s command in Galatians 6:1 and restore them in a spirit of gentleness.

Let’s echo those who heard the message of the disciples on the day of Pentecost and re-ask their vital question, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peace.

*To be fair, I tell my children “just do what the officer says.” But my children, who appear white and are mostly white, do not face the same level of hostility as black children.

**I do not believe black people are “bringing this upon themselves.” I share this advice in prayerful hope that white Christians who do believe this will begin communicating with their black brothers and sisters about racism – both overt racism and institutional racism – and that God will use this communication to change the hearts of white Christians who believe thus.

Post-post Note: I continue to examine my heart over the issue of race relations. I do not have all the answers; but I know The Answer. Like all idols, idols of privilege (“that’s the way it is”) and pride are insidious. Calvin said it well: “…man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols…”.

Church or Jesus Club?

I’m concerned that too many churches in the US are merely weekly meetings of a local Jesus Club. “What’s the difference?” you ask? That is the purpose of this post.

What is Church?

At a Jesus club meeting, “church” is synonymous with the building where the club meets.

For the church, “church” is the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). It is the gathering together of members of Christ’s Body in obedience to encourage one another to continue in love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24-25).

The church is not a building, although some refer to the building in which the church meets as “the church.” The church is made up of its members (1 Peter 2:4-12). We are a “spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5). When the church gathers, Jesus is praised. (Revelation 4:11).

For the church the New Testament is the authoritative guide to leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9), corporate worship (1 Corinthians 14:40 and 1 Corinthians 14:32-33), and administration (2 Corinthians 9:12 and Colossians 3:17) of the Body of Christ.

Where is The Bible?

A Jesus club meeting usually includes an inspirational message in which a messenger quotes from the Bible. The quote supports the inspirational theme of the message. The quote may or may not be shared in context, but it is usually shared in isolation (additional Bible passages are not cited).

When the church gathers the Gospel is preached; the Good News Jesus is proclaimed (Matthew 28:18-20). Since God’s Word contains the Good News, Bible passages are the message (2 Timothy 3:16-17) – expounded by applied etymology, exegesis, and hermeneutics. The gathered are taught from the Bible (2 Timothy 3:10-17) via expository preaching.

What is the Outcome?

Attendees usually leave a Jesus club meeting feeling good about themselves. They’ve heard a positive inspirational message with some scripture sprinkled in. They may have been entertained by a group of professional musicians and singers. It was an altogether good experience.

Members of the Body of Christ may leave a gathering encouraged (1 Thessalonians 5:11) but they may also leave under conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11). Worship includes the singing of worship songs (Colossians 3:16), receiving a collection for the saints (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), and remembering Christ until He returns (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

How Do You Tell the Difference?

Study God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15). God is real and He rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

Pray (1 John 5:14-15 and Matthew 7:7-11). Ask God to lead you to a Body of Christ.

Persist (Galatians 6:9 and Luke 18:1-8). The verb tenses in Matthew 7:7-11 can be more accurately translated “ask and keep asking, seek and keep seeking, knock and keep knocking.”

Peace.

Don’t Read This Post

snarkyvideo

Some friends and brothers suffer from an allergy. They’re allergic to works. They’re Calvinists. Not Puritanical Calvinists because, well, those people “were so square, man.” (Apologies, I think I just confused hippie and hipster…)

I read your posts online, hipster brothers and sisters. I watch your videos and read your memes about short-term missions being “glorified vacations.” They’re cute. They’re lies, but they’re cute.

I read your 140-character-or-less sermonettes about how grace-trumps-works (with an apology for using a verb that reminds you of your hatred and/or shame for the current President of the United States [I’m writing this on Independence Day, after all]) and how works will not garner favor with God nor gain anyone entrance into Heaven. And I agree with you. Sort of. Mostly I fear sermonettes are only useful for attracting Christianettes, but I digress…

Let’s examine a passage of Scripture – a quote from Jesus Himself – that’s way longer than 140 characters and would definitely not be legible if printed in a social media meme:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

This is the English Standard Version rendering of Matthew 25:31-46. I consider this passage one of the scariest in Scripture for a number of reasons, but I will focus on but one reason today. And that reason is:

Works.

When I imagine this scary passage playing out at some future date, I imagine some people overjoyed and other people astonished and terrified. I try to imagine the lives these people lived on earth. I wonder if those who spent time feeding the hungry or giving water to the thirsty or welcoming the stranger or clothing the naked or visiting the sick or imprisoned (aside: do you think this is an exhaustive checklist? Is this THE literal list or is our Lord merely suggesting ways to serve the least of these among us?) were accused of trying to work their way into Heaven? I wonder if they were accused of misunderstanding God’s Grace? I wonder if they were, basically, judged.

I also wonder, are those who didn’t spend any time feeding the hungry or giving water to the thirsty or welcoming the stranger or clothing the naked or visiting the sick or imprisoned wearing t-shirts with Ephesians 2:8-9 printed on them in Instagram Gospel font with “not a result of works” in big emphasized characters?

All throughout the New Testament Christians are urged to do good works.

All throughout the New Testament Christians are commanded to not rely on good works for salvation, but rather to rely of God’s Grace.

Are people who do good works trying to work their way into Heaven, then? I’m sure some are. Are people who do few or no works relying on God’s Grace? I’m sure some are. Are people who do good works responding to the gospel? I’m sure some are. Are people who do few or no works seeking an excuse to do nothing? I’m sure some are.

How are we to sort out the good from the bad? We aren’t – unless we want to be judged. This is why Jesus – again breaking the 140-character limit – tells us in Matthew 7:1-5:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Most aren’t equipped to judge for at least two reasons. First, we cannot see around our own faults clear-enough to judge the faults of others due to our own eye-logs. Second – unlike Jesus – we cannot see inside the hearts of others (another aside: Jesus cares way more about what’s in your heart than what’s on your shirt or where you vacation [glorified or not]) but must rely on an examination of the fruit of one’s life.

Jesus spent some time in Matthew 13 explaining that metaphorical weeds and metaphorical food-bearing crops are to metaphorically grow together until judgment, and that that judgment will be accomplished by those better qualified to judge. Go read the chapter. It’s a beaut (even though it’s too long to be printed legibly in a social media meme…).

On the Other Hand…

Let’s say you’re nailing it. You’re publicly calling out losers who are clearly and obviously doing-it-wrong. What fruit are you seeing from this work (yep, social media posting is a work)? Are you watering? Are you discerning? Is that your excuse reason justification?

Returning to Jesus’ list in Matthew 25, where do you believe your activities fall – in the “doing good” or “not doing good” to the least of these category?

But…

What if your brother or sister is truly sinning?

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

This is Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians, chapter 6, verses 1 through 5. It’s an important teaching about the Body of Christ, the church. It contains another list – a list for us when we observe a brother or a sister sinning. So, another list of questions to ask ourselves:

  • Is restoration my priority?
  • Am I being gentle?
  • Am I watching myself?
  • Am I being tempted?
  • Am I bearing my brother’s/sister’s burden?
  • Do I think I am something?
  • Do I think I am nothing?
  • Am I deceiving myself?
  • Have I tested my own work(s)?
  • Am I boasting in myself?
  • Am I boasting in my neighbor?
  • Am I bearing my own load?

Believe it or not, I asked myself these questions as I proofread this intentionally-provocative blog post. I also asked myself “Who is this helping?” If you read this far, the hope in my heart is that you will hesitate before posting things that refer to works of all kinds as evil; that you will consider your potentially (probably) imperfect view into the hearts of those who may read what you post; that you will not be one who speaks evil of good.

Peace.

Separating Church and State: Confessions of an Idolater

In 2011 I was participating in an online Bible study group with some friends. We studied the Bible, prayed for each other, shared struggles and inspirations, and recommended extra-Bible reading.

It was during one of these sessions that one friend recommended the book Radical by David Platt. I downloaded the book to my Kindle and… let it sit there. For over six months. Why? I was put off by the subtitle: “Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.”

Why did that put me off?

That turned out to be an excellent question to explore.

My faith was wrapped up in the American dream. The two were so coupled that, to me, they seemed one and the same. I was, as I now describe it, an “American Christian.”

Being an American Christian meant that I:

  • voted for one set of candidates, from one party
  • was a consumer of christian culture
  • was a fan of Jesus

I read the book very cautiously. I kept waiting to find the flaw in the logic, the exaggeration, the false positive correlation, the peg on which to hang my reservations and cling to my old rugged ‘Merican dream.

Instead, through much angst, conviction, and (finally) repentance, the Holy Spirit used brother Platt’s words to change my heart. It was perhaps the most powerful transformation since confessing Christ in February 1982.

Now I don’t want to mislead you into thinking I’ve overcome all that now, that I have (finally) arrived. Rather, I want you hear my confession:

I became aware of my sin of idolatry. I was mixing Christian faith with faith in my nation and its government.

The movie The Usual Suspects opens with the line, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” It’s an interesting quote that’s applicable to my condition prior to conviction of my idolatry in this manner: I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I was simply unaware I’d coupled being a conservative American with Christianity.

But I had. It was a kind of blindness, denial, and lack of self-awareness.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

In 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4 Paul wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (emphasis mine).

I’m writing this confession because some of you are suffering as I was. I promise I’m not judging you, any more than a physician who tells you that you have the flu is judging you. Like the physician, I want to help.

If you, like me, find yourself believing that your support of our nation is equivalent to following Christ, I challenge you to prayerfully examine that belief. Perhaps read the book Radical. Especially if you are a conservative. I submit for your consideration that it’s possible for American conservatism to become an idol.

Also, if you are not a conservative and you believe that your resistance to the current administration is equivalent to following Christ, I challenge you to prayerfully consider that belief. I submit for your consideration that it’s possible for American liberalism to become an idol.

This is a test. If you agreed with one of the preceding two paragraphs and disagreed with the other, that’s a strong indication you are suffering idolatry.

Many progressive brothers and sisters rightfully champion God’s attributes of justice and love. So do I. More now than ever. God is love and God commands us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God (emphasis mine). Although God is love and God is just, love is not God and justice is not God. I humbly submit that it’s possible to misunderstand God’s love (I am Exhibit A) and justice (ditto). It’s possible to put these awesomely good and cool attributes of God ahead of God.

It’s happened before.

In Numbers 21 we have an account of Israel in the wilderness becoming impatient. They complained about Moses and his leadership, and God punished them by sending “fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” At God’s command, Moses made an image of a fiery serpent out of bronze and set it on a pole. When people were bitten, they looked at the bronze serpent and lived.

Fast-forward 1,000 years to 2 Kings 18. Hezekiah, king of Israel, destroys the bronze serpent because “until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).”

The point? God commanded Moses to make something that was perverted into an idol.

Was the bronze serpent evil? Nope.
Did the bronze serpent become an idol? Yep.

I struggle with idolatry daily. When I pray, “Lord, today help me deny myself, take up my cross, and follow You,” I’m asking Jesus to reveal idols in my life, help me put them away, and help me recognize Christ as King of my heart, mind, soul, life, money, work, and everything that I am. My experience in 2012 made it abundantly clear to me how blind I can be to idolatry, and to how insidious a sin idolatry is. Kyle Idelman’s book, Gods at War addresses idolatry. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more.

Something to consider: Idolatry might just be the root sin of every sin.

I was a Jerk and I am Sorry

I want to share with you a part of my story, a painful part. But first:

I want you to say what you want to say. If you feel the need to vent or march or put on a ski mask and club people or pepper-spray them, I want you to vent or march. Clubbing and pepper-spraying people… not so much. I wore a uniform years ago and it was my privilege and duty to protect our rights, one of which is the First Amendment. The right to free speech predates the First Amendment, but that’s another post.

I complained about the previous administration. I disagreed with the policies of the party in power and I stood with my brothers and sisters who disagreed. I demonstrated my solidarity by sharing posts and pictures and clips on social media.

Nothing Changed.

Well, that’s a lie. “Andy Leonard is a liar.” Go ahead and post that and link back to this post (especially since comments are disabled). You may be thinking, “Andy, I’d never post that! You’re finishing the introduction of a blog post and about to make a point, I’m sure. Why would I post…”

Indeed. Why?

I posted and re-posted because I was angry. I didn’t like the direction our country was headed. I wanted it to change. Someone needed to do something, to stand up and be counted. By jivities, I would add my voice and be counted among them.

So, what changed? Three things:

1. I lost friends. In the social media economy, it’s easy to believe I’m so helpful that people would continue to follow and listen – even put up with my politics and maybe, just maybe be persuaded to take another look at the other “side.” It turns out that the social media economy behaves differently: People will un-follow you and instead miss the helpful stuff you share. It is way easier to irritate people enough so that they stop following you, regardless of how many books, free utilities, and helpful blog posts you write.

There is now a sign in my office:

Who is this helping?

2. At least one company stated they would never hire me or my company to do work for them. There were probably more than one, but I only learned of this one. You may think that’s awesome or terrible. It can be both at the same time, depending on which “side” you support and with whom you agree.

3. I built unnecessary barriers between myself and people with whom I may have been able to share the gospel. I type this with trembling fingers. The rest is nothing compared to this.

The gospel of Christ causes offense. I will continue to share the gospel on social media. I will continue to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, and this will continue to cause offense. It will, perhaps, cause other companies to not want to work with me. It will, perhaps, cost me more friends.

My goal isn’t to stop offending.

My goal is to stop offending unnecessarily.

How Social Media Changed My Vote

Social media changed my vote in the 2016 US presidential election. If you ever want to post “‘A social media post changed my vote,’ said no one, ever,” you cannot. I ruined the curve. (Apologies…)

Until a day or two before the election, I was trying to decide which candidate would receive my vote. It wasn’t going to be Clinton or Trump. I was bouncing back and forth between 3rd-party candidates.

A friend who was a staunch supporter of Clinton posted pro-Clinton and anti-Trump comments on my political posts. While I didn’t support Trump for president, I didn’t like the overt anti-Trump bias in the media. I suppose my friend interpreted my posts about anti-Trump media bias as “pro-Trump.” I understand that.

I care about a handful of issues. One of them is abortion on demand. I viewed Clinton and Trump as pro-choice (I was fond of telling people, “Trump has been pro-life for about 15 minutes.”).

I grew tired of the online debate in October 2016 and began un-following people who I felt were being belligerent. Mind you, I was being belligerent. </HypocrisyAlert> My friend was not dissuaded. After I un-followed him, he continued posting anti-Trump posts and he began tagging me in them to make sure (I think) I would see them. I believe he was trying to get me to change my vote.

It worked. I read some of the links he posted. One of them played a clip from one of the debates in which Trump promised to nominate textualist judges for the federal benches. I’d missed that. What did that mean? It meant the judges Trump promised to nominate would not “find” rights in the US Constitution, they would interpret the text, to the best of their ability, as the founders intended.

Almost all textualist judges oppose abortion on demand. So I decided to vote for Trump for that reason.

There’s still plenty I don’t like about the man, personally and professionally. I voted for Trump because the president of the US can make a difference in the abortion on demand policies by nominating judges, and I believe he will keep his campaign promises. (I could be wrong. Time will tell.)

Lesson Learned

As for social media, my tone and frequency of political posts has changed. I post less frequently about politics. When I find myself about to comment or re-post something political, I glance at my office sign and ask myself, “Who is this helping?” If the answer is, “Just me,” I don’t post it. That happens about 95% of the time these days. Maybe more…

In the social media economy, unnecessarily offending those with whom I disagree is like a social media tax. I reduce the value of my thoughts and my sphere of influence, and that influence could be put to better use… like spreading the gospel. If I’m offended and I intentionally seek to offend in response, I’m doing the opposite of what a Christian is supposed to do.

This book – Unoffendable – helped me reach these conclusions. You might want check it out, especially if you find yourself stressed by those with whom you disagree.

Conclusion

I was a jerk. And I am sorry.

Mixing Faith with Life, Part 1

Mark 2:1-12 contains a story that is stunning. Jesus lived in Capernaum and he returned home. A crowd showed up and people who arrived later could not hear Jesus preaching. Four men showed up with a paralyzed friend. They couldn’t reach Jesus through the crowd, so they created a hole in the roof of Jesus’ house and lowered their friend.

Think about the scene for a minute.

What was that like for Jesus? He’s preaching – doing what God sent Him to do – and these guys show up and create a large hole in His roof! How would you or I respond? I think I’d be distracted by people tearing a hole in my roof while I’m trying to work. I’d probably holler at them, “Hey! What gives? Can’t you see I’m trying to get some work done here?”

What was this like for the people in Jesus’ house? They’d come to hear Jesus preach; to learn about God. And these idiots are trying to tear down His house!  How rude. I imagine some saying, “We showed up early enough to get a good seat, buddy. You don’t get to tear down the house because you can’t see or hear!”

Jesus had a different response. He didn’t see vandals, he saw faith.

Faith can be messy. Sometimes it’s loud and inconvenient. Faith bothers some people – even some people of faith! People complained, and they had some right and some reason to complain (we’ll cover that later).

Jesus? He had a plan. The hole in the roof? Part of the plan.

Faith is disruptive.

In an upcoming post, we’ll see Jesus Himself be disruptive. He disrupted my life, that much is certain. He wants to disrupt your life, too. I’m sometimes asked, “Why don’t you create separate social media accounts for posting your religious thoughts, Andy?” It’s because Jesus’ love motivates me to write and work and think and share. Someone reading this post will eventually be disrupted by Jesus, maybe that someone is you.

On Principles, Tolerance, and Offense

I moderate comments on my technical blog. I approve almost every comment submitted, even those that are unflattering (such as some of the comments in this thread).

Why? That’s a fair question. I personally believe in the two principles: freedom of expression and tolerance. I use the word “principle” deliberately. I believe much that is done in the name (or guise) of principle is in reality preference masquerading as principle. How can one tell the difference? Apply the thinking to all sides of an argument. Principles hold true when they work for and against one’s argument(s). Preferences apply unilaterally.

There’s nothing wrong with preferences. I have preferences; you have preferences. Neither of us need falsely elevate our preferences to the level of principle for our preferences to matter. The simple fact that one doesn’t like one thing or likes something else more or better – i.e. a preference – is credent.

…I choose to not take offense… because I am commanded, as a believer, to turn the other cheek.

Regarding tolerance and freedom of expression, I find these principles converge when someone engages in name-calling or labeling of any sort. Freedom of expression means nothing if it doesn’t apply to negative expression. We may disagree on where the line may and should be drawn between acceptable and unacceptable speech, or whether such a line even exists. I tolerate more than most, probably.

One reason for tolerance is I rarely take offense. I’ve learned taking offense is a decision on my part. And I own my decisions. I can decide to take offense or to not do so. Part of the reason I choose to not take offense is because I am commanded, as a believer, to turn the other cheek. Another part of the reason is because causing offense is one of the goals of the person posting such tripe. Why would I want to indulge them by being offended?

This book – Unoffendable – helped me reach these conclusions. You might want check it out, especially if you find yourself stressed by those with whom you disagree.

Jesus is the Answer

I’d like to tell you about my friend, whom I’ll call Tony (not his real name). Like me, Tony is a member of the body of Christ that meets at Piedmont Church of Christ.

Tony once believed and practiced Islam. Tony’s life hasn’t been easy or simple. He struggles. He works hard. Things don’t always go Tony’s way.

Tony and I don’t agree on everything. I’ve learned quite a bit from him and he’s learned some things from me. I love him and he loves me. Why? Because we’re brothers in Christ.

Tony and I are members of the body of Christ. As such, we are different.  Look at 1 Corinthians 12:

1Cor12 - 1

The Holy Spirit, inspiring the Apostle Paul, teaches us all about different gifts in the first part of 1 Corinthians 12. Verse 4 begins, “Now there are varieties of gifts…” We are different and that is according to God’s design. We have different gifts. This leads to different perspectives.

We are like a physical body with its different members. Each member of a physical body has a different function, a different purpose. Each member is specialized. Like members of a physical body, the body of Christ is made up of many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body. That’s what 1 Corinthians 12:12 tells us.

Tony and I are different. Tony is a black man and I am a mixture of German, Scottish, Irish, and Cherokee. Tony once believed in Islam. I once believed in something (agnostic) and eventually found Christ. We have different backgrounds and different perspectives.

We are members of the body of Christ. Why? Because we know God and obey the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8). We were baptized into the body of Christ (Romans 6:3, Galatians 3:27).

How do people of such opposing backgrounds come to love one another? There is only one answer: Jesus is the Answer.