Oh, My Goodness?

Faith.

It’s a little word with HUGE ramifications. Or at least, it should have.

Whenever Jesus’ followers wrote their letters (e.g. Paul, Peter, John, James, et al), they were written to other Jesus followers. That’s important to keep in mind. Knowing that the audience was already on board can really change how we read their letters. It becomes obvious that the earliest believers needed additional instruction on things like baptism, marriage, worship, Christology, etc. I think this means that you don’t have to know everything before you can know Jesus. All this other stuff seems, indeed, secondary to the life, ministry, and redemptive power of Jesus Christ.

That being said, faith is always assumed, at least at some level. But even faith itself has to be explained more in depth (see Galatians 3-5 and James 2:14ff). This also seems to be the case with 2 Peter. Faith is assumed and indeed present, but it’s an incomplete faith, lacking in something. It seems that the faith Peter is addressing is a simple, basic belief in Jesus and the power of God. In 1:3-4 he begins by reminding them that they have everything they need for life and godliness and that they have an opportunity to participate in the very divine nature of God. So what are you waiting for?!


Peter says, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness…” (2 Peter 1:5)

How many “good people” do you know? Now how many of those people have no faith?

Someone shared this church sign on Facebook earlier today:

While I don’t necessarily agree with the theology, I can appreciate the sentiment. It was my experience as I was growing up that those who were not Christians were often more open, friendlier, and more forgiving/understanding than those who claimed to follow Christ.

And that experience is not unique to me. In the book UnChristian, the authors poll non-believers about their attitudes toward Christians. Most descriptors were negative – hypocritical, judgmental, homophobic, rigid, narrow minded, etc.

I think our great pitfall is a misunderstanding of what it means to be good. We often think that to be a “good Christian” means going to church, singing the songs, reading our Bibles, and never smoking, drinking, cussing, or having sex. But what does the New Testament actually say about being “good?”


First of all, goodness is a characteristic of God himself. 

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” (Mark 10:17-18)

If goodness is a trait that belongs first and foremost to God himself, then I daresay that “being good” has little to do with church-y stuff. It probably has more to do with people stuff – love, self-sacrifice, compassion, etc. To be good is to strive to attain the character of God for our own.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)

Second, there seems to be a difference between righteousness and goodness.

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. (Romans 5:7)

If I’m a car salesman and I sell you a car for the sticker price, which is a fair price, then I could be considered righteous. But if I knock $5000 off the price with free maintenance for the lifetime of the car so that a single mother can have a way to get her kids to school and herself to work, then I might be considered a good man.

I think we confuse righteousness and goodness. Yes, we are declared “righteous” before God when we rise from the waters of baptism, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are striving to embrace the character of God in our own lives. Righteousness turns us in the direction of God. Goodness takes us closer to Him.

Make every effort to add to your faith goodness. The church needs more good people.

Faith: You’re Doing It Wrong

Have you ever felt that your faith, your walk with God, your prayer life, your whatever of an existence was ineffective and unproductive?

No?

Then you must not be a minister…

I think one of the biggest challenges, one of Satan’s greatest tools against ministers is self-doubt. Okay, so I can’t speak for all ministers, but I know this is definitely the case for me! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve laid awake at night with thoughts of self-doubt flying through my head like the Tasmanian Devil in Looney Tunes. Am I making any difference at all? Are my class lessons getting through? Am I leading worship like I should? Why were there only three kids in class last night? Am I spending enough time with my family? Am I devoting enough time to the ministry? Why did I eat so much pizza? Why did I drink that coffee at eight pm?

I just have to snap myself out of my funk, pray, and give all my worries and doubts to God.

Good thing for us is that God, in his infinite wisdom, inspired his apostle Peter to address the very issue that I (and probably many other Christians) struggle with on a daily basis. Peter, who had many times where he felt ineffective and unproductive, shared these words with us.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. 2 Peter 1:5-9

Notice that our faith journey is a process. We can’t just say, “Beam me up, Scotty,” and arrive all at once at a mature faith. It takes time. It takes discipline. And above all, it takes grace.

And I love that little jab Peter throws in there at the end. Whoever doesn’t go on this journey is nearsighted and blind. I’ve been in glasses since 2nd grade. My eyesight is horrible. Without glasses or contacts of a very strong prescription, I’m essentially flying blind. I can’t even let the dogs out at night without throwing on my glasses. Without some help from glasses or contacts, I will ineffective and unproductive all day – guaranteed.

So why are so many of us content to live out our faith like someone who refuses to go to the eye doctor? We’ve got our faith. We might even be good people. That should be enough, right? I can function. I can feel my way around the house.

But is that any way to live? Peter says that just having faith might allow you to survive, but you won’t really LIVE until you’ve added goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love.

Let’s grab our glasses, put in our contacts, and go on this journey together. Just imagine if every Christian could consider their faith “effective” and “productive.” Now imagine if you could consider your own faith that way.

To Hell with Responsibility

Honestly, this is a story that I believe has no business in the national spotlight. BUT since it is, this might be a good time for all of us to step back and look at where we are as a nation.

Parents, talk to your teens about this. Teens, ask your parents what they think.

Let’s talk about that big, profane word: “Responsibility.”

It all started with a girl giving her valedictorian speech at her high school gradation in Oklahoma. She submitted her speech before hand, got it approved, and then decided to change the word “heck” to the word “hell.”

Read the full story and watch her interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show to get caught up.

The principle is withholding her diploma until she issues an apology. But here she is on national television touting her first amendment right to free speech. She says she is going to stand her ground, and she doesn’t feel sorry for what she has done. What’s more, her own dad is right by her urging her to stand her ground and not to give in to the powers that be.

We love our rights in this country. Admittedly, I am thankful that I have the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. Otherwise, I could not type these words right now! But rights without responsibility lead to an unhealthy self-pride. We will fight for our rights all day long. We’ll shout and protest and go on national television. But no one wants to talk about having any type of responsibility to go along with those rights.

It’s an incredibly individualistic system, every man for himself, rights-driven system that we have developed in this nation. And it doesn’t matter how many people you offend or anger along the way, as long as you have the right to do whatever you’re doing.

So a few observations/talking points from this story out of Nowheresville, OK.

1. Yes, we are guaranteed the right to free speech. But she did not have the RIGHT to give the valedictorian speech. That was an honor and a privilege, and as such there is a certain level of regulation and protocol set in place.

2. She had to submit the speech in full in order for it to be approved. That means there are some things that would not have been approved beforehand. She knew full well that changing that one word would probably light some sparks. It wasn’t a simple slip of the tongue.

3. We don’t like it when school administrators do their jobs. People on a national level are demanding that this principle be fired. Really? By taking this story to the national level, this girl has virtually RUINED this man’s career. And it was her fault in the first place. This whole story is just saturated with selfishness.

4. The same people who go to bat for this girl will then turn around and jump all over someone who says something that in turn offends them. Oh, they’ll absolutely fight for the free speech of a sweet, innocent high school girl. But as soon as a politician or a preacher or another public figure says something they don’t agree with, it’s guns blazing. I smell a double-standard with a side of inconsistency. Don’t believe me? Just check out the comments section of the story link.

People say the Bible isn’t relevant to today’s world? Just check out what Paul tells the church in Corinth. I really love the way the 2011 NIV words it:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say – but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” – but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)

Wow.

How would this story be different if Kaitlin Nootbaar, the smartest girl in her school, actually knew this passage? How would society look if all the Christians in America took this passage seriously?

Yes, Ms. Nootbaar had the right to say the word “hell.” But it was neither beneficial nor constructive. And in the aftermath, she is only seeking her own good, not the good of others (i.e. her principle).

So today, just remember that Christians are called to a higher standard. Is it beneficial, constructive, and in the best interest of others to fight for your own rights? Or are we all going to just say, “to hell with responsibility?”

Here’s Your Sign

What does your church sign say about you? Why did your church pick those colors? That font? That name? That marque? That slogan?

Why do you have a sign? Why do you have a name?

In the churches of Christ, capitalization and syntax speak volumes about who you are as a people. There’s Church of Christ – church of Christ – a church of Christ – The Church of Christ at…

You get the picture.

I’ve read a couple books recently by Neil Postman. His two most famous books are Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly. In these books, which deal with how media and society interact, he plays off of a mantra used by Marshall McLuhan, “The medium is the message.” Postman tweaks it slightly, though. He insists that, “The medium is the metaphor.”

Applied at large in culture this can clearly been seen as the evolution of technology and the evolution (or devolution) of society parallel each other. From the printing press to the telegraph to the television to the computer, each new technology is but a metaphor of the culture in which that technology has developed and taken root.

The book, for instance, is a metaphor of a culture that is primarily word-driven. Public discourse was largely academic, systematic, linear, and reasonable. Information was mostly localized because information could only travel as fast as your quickest train. Rationality and scientific thought were the guiding principles of society at large.

Then came the television. Now society is primarily image-driven. And whereas written words play off your rational mind, images focus around your emotions and feelings. Information is no longer localized – we can watch live what is happening on the ground half-way around the world. Instant gratification is the name of the game.

There are more examples, and Postman does a much better job explaining it that I do. But it made me think – if the medium is the metaphor, how does that apply to the way we do church?

Signs are but another technology. It is just another medium through which we communicate a message. But if the medium is the metaphor, what do our church signs say about us?

They simply say, “Here we are! Now you come to us.” It takes the responsibility off of us as the people to go out, talk to people, and take the church to them. Instead, we can simply say, “Yeah, you’ve probably seen our sign off the main highway.”

Signs also distinguish one thing from another. Don’t get me wrong, signs are a very helpful technology. They let us know that this building is a bank, not a hospital. They let us know that this bottle is poison, not grape juice. Without signs, the only way to really tell what something is would be to experience it for yourself.

Your church sign does the exact same thing. Your sign distinguishes you. It separates. It divides. It draws lines in the sand for you. It delineates your beliefs and creeds – written or unwritten. It let’s people know that you are not Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, etc. God forbid our church should ever be confused with another church.

Your church sign also tells people who you are and what you stand for so that they don’t have to experience it for themselves. Your sign says “The Church of Christ” – definite article and capital C. That tells me that you probably don’t use instruments, you won’t have a woman preacher, you take communion every Sunday, you think you are not a denomination, and you probably think you are the one true church and the only ones going to heaven.

What your sign can’t tell me is anything about your heart. Your sign is mute when it comes to God’s love for me. I will never be able to experience you as my church family just by reading your sign. It says nothing about my value, my purpose, or my Savior.

If the medium is the metaphor, what does your church sign actually say about your church?

The Voice

On Sunday mornings, I am beginning a new class series called “The Voice.” Yes, it is very much a play off of the hit singing competition show. But it’s all about 1) hearing God’s voice, and 2) finding your own voice.

I’ve been listening to a lot of messages recently about the history of the Restoration Movement, mainly through Patrick Mead and his podcast through the Eastside church of Christ. Patrick also has a blog on which he has been discussing the ins and outs of how we actually got the Bible. I’m also going to begin a Wednesday night series over Timothy Keller’s book “The Reason for God.” In preparing a little for that one, I watched on of his panel discussion with 6 atheists/agnostics. The topic was “Is the Bible a Myth?”

And boy, let me tell you. I am SO glad that the Bible doesn’t save me. Don’t get me wrong – I love the Bible. I love studying it, discussing it, wrestling with it, and teaching about it. But the Bible doesn’t love me back. It’s just some ink on paper encased in bonded leather.

Other religions place an exuberant amount of respect and adoration into their scriptures. The Muslims, for example, believe that the Qur’an was written by Allah before the creation of man, and that mankind’s highest goal is to follow the Qur’an. The Sikh religion (which has been in the news a lot recently, and my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families) reveres their holy book as the last and greatest teacher. They believe that the spirit of their “founder” (for lack of a better word) physically embodies their holy book. All the emphasis is placed on the book.

At a Sikh Temple during a class trip in college, I was actually gotten onto by one of the men worshiping there because I was sitting with the bottoms of my feet towards the book.

We commonly refer to the Bible as “The Word of God” which it is in many ways. But it is also the words of man about God. I have a hard time believing that God himself wrote, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. Those aren’t God’s words – those are David’s words. And I’m okay with that!

My faith does not stand or fall with the inerrancy of every word on every page of my NIV Study Bible.

Yes, the Bible contains the words of God – from Genesis to Isaiah to Acts to Revelation, God is speaking throughout the entire story. God spoke, men wrote. God told Moses to write down His words.

But as the inspired Psalmist said,

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.<sup class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(J)”>(J)
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
    Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes
    with flashes of lightning.
The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;
    the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord twists the oaks
    and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

 According to David in Psalm 29, the voice of the Lord is too big and powerful to be contained in the ink on the scrolls. God’s voice is over the waters. It’s ripping through forests and shaking deserts. God’s voice is all around us.

The greatest part of the story, and the part which separates Christianity from Judaism, Sikhism, Islam, and Hinduism, is that our Word did not stay as ink on the page. Our Word became flesh and lived among us. Jesus is the fullest revelation of God to the world. God’s voice is most clearly heard through the Red Letters.

You see, God’s voice is too living, too active, too powerful to remain an inanimate object.

I’m glad my faith is not in words on a page but in the Word made Flesh.

Are you hearing the Voice of God?

The Church of Benign Whatever-ism

Sometimes the truth hurts. It’s like a slap in the face or a punch in the gut. The truth can take knock wind right out of you.

In reading Almost Christian, by Kenda Creasy Dean, the question is asked: Do we practice the kind of faith we want our children to have?

I hope my answer is YES in relation to my son.

But think about your church as a whole and the children of the church. Alarmingly large numbers continue to walk away from the church after graduation. Even those still in it during high school don’t take it seriously. Faith plays little to no role in their Monday-Saturday life, and only does so partially on Sundays. They don’t have the vocabulary to talk about their faith. They think the ultimate purpose of Christianity is to be nice to others and to feel good about yourself.

They don’t reject religion, but they certainly do not commit themselves wholly to it, either. Very few of them even attempt to live radical lives driven by their love for God and their love for others.

But listen to the words of Professor Dean and prepare for some toe-stepping action:

The simple truth seems to be that young people practice an impostor faith because we do–and because this is the faith we want them to have. It’s that not-too-religious, “decent” kind of Christianity that allows our teenagers to do well while doing good, makes them successful adults without turning them into religious zealots, teaches them to notice others without actually laying their lives down for them. If this is the faith they see lived out by their parents, their pastors, and their churches, how would they know it’s a sham? In a world crazed with violence and intolerance, isn’t being “good enough” good enough? (39)

Want the kids in your youth group to develop the kind of faith to move mountains, walk on water, and turn the world upside down? Then you show them how.

But how many parents honestly want their kids to follow God’s calling NO MATTER WHAT?

Parents, do you really want your children moving to the other side of the globe to administer aid and spiritual guidance to lepers and orphans?

Grandparents, do you encourage your grandchildren to go all in with their faith even though it might mean imprisonment in a foreign land?

Church goers, do you really want the young people in your church to be so ON FIRE for God that they start asking the hard questions, rocking the boat, and pushing you out of your own personal comfort zone??

If you answered “not really” to any of these questions, then you are the one to blame for the lack of true, deeply rooted faith in the lives of our teenagers. Period.

You see, the kind of faith and life we peddle in our churches seldom looks anything like the kind of faith that Jesus and His apostles call us to. Listen to the words of Paul:

I’ve been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. -Galatians 2:20

How quickly we forget. When we are baptized, we have died with Christ already. Our former wants, desires, dreams, accomplishments, and securities have been nailed to the cross and buried in a tomb. And they didn’t resurrect with us! From that point on, it’s Christ living inside of us. It’s not me with a hint of Christ. It’s all Him! The same is true for each one of us as we commit our lives to Christ.

So this life that we live – this getting up, brushing our teeth, combing our hair, going to work and school life – is lived solely by faith in Jesus. What he says to do, we do. Where he says to go, we go. Stifling the passion in our teens or selling them some bogus play-it-safe kind of faith is like trying to do that to Jesus Christ Himself.

So what is it going to take? I’ll leave you with what Professor Dean says about those teens who are the exception to the rule – those who are highly devoted followers of Christ:

They belonged to families and faith communities that shaped and supported their understanding of who God is, who they belong to, why they are here, and where they are going – support beams that helped them construct a religious framework for their lives. Their identities were grounded in an articulated “God-story” that, along with the support of their faith communities, filled their lives with purpose and hope. (42)