What Matters Most? Outside or Inside?

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Sadly, many Jesus followers struggle with guilt and shame. It’s an epidemic that needs to be addressed and dealt with. For pastors like myself, we need to speak into this issue and challenge the legalism of the new pietism that has developed in many of our circles. 

Paul writes in Galatians 6, 

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:12-15, ESV)

It struck me today in a conversation that while on the one hand this can play out in cultural syncretism, it also plays out within the Christian subculture through pietism. There is this movement of folks who are creating a culture of external piety that is meant to show who is passionately following Jesus. 

While we don’t have the demands for circumcision that Paul had to deal with, we do see things like:

  • Quiet Times (bonus points for morning ones)
  • Family devotions (bonus points for using a guitar and singing the Getty’s catalog)
  • Your kids “court” and don’t “date.” (bonus points if this leads immediately to marriage)
  • You pray daily with your spouse out loud. (bonus points if it’s in the morning, double bonus points if you’re on your knees)
  • Your family eats dinner together every day. (bonus points if there’s a devotion as part of dinner followed by your regular family devotion)
  • You watch Christian movies, only.
  • You don’t have TV
  • Etc…etc…etc…

These are just a few. For the people who don’t do these things there is guilt and shame. There is a feeling of failure, that somehow they are less than Christian. Many people begin to try and do these things so they look good in the flesh to avoid those sideways looks from other people at church. 

Paul hits on these kinds of things in his letter to the church at Colosse, 

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23, ESV)

Self-made religion has an appearance of wisdom but ultimately is useless. 

In the midst of this, we must not set aside the practice of spiritual disciplines or seeking to be holy. We don’t embrace a license that excuses us from pursuing a relationship with God. What it does mean is that we don’t have to try so hard by doing things that have “worked” for other people. These aspects of self-made religion ultimately have no value. 

What is required of us? I’ll let Paul speak for himself, 

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:1-17, ESV)

How we do this will look differently for each one of us. What matters most is that we are seeking the things that are above, putting off the old self and putting on the new. Because what matters most is “a new creation.”

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To Be Broadly Liked

A good friend of mine once said, “To follow Jesus is to be loved or hated, not to be broadly liked.”  I think about that often. Particularly in these days and times when everyone has a platform and if you speak truth to power or people you will offend someone.

As I was reading the closing verses of Galatians the Apostle Paul wrote, 

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. (Galatians 6:12, ESV)

In our age I have to wonder what is our “circumcision” issue that draws us into making a “good showing in the flesh” so that we “may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ”? 

I am coming to the conclusion that we experience this in how we engage with culture. There are many hot button topics that “trigger” folks and so we try and either avoid speaking about them or we try to be as palatable as possible. Cultural syncretism, I think, is our new circumcision. 

This cultural syncretism cuts both ways between conservative culture and progressive culture. Typically we want to be broadly liked in one or the other. Yet, for the follower of Jesus we will often find ourselves cutting a new path, one that challenges both ends of the cultural spectrum. 

What makes this so hard is that it really does place us in a position where we will be loved or hated. We will lose the capacity to be broadly liked. In an age of social media to be broadly liked is an unstated goal. When we speak gospel truth it will often lend itself to folks being made uncomfortable. 

To be clear, we speak the truth in love. So offense ought not to be generated by our being rude, uncaring, or mean. 

Our challenge is to follow Jesus into our culture without worry of making a good showing in the flesh to avoid persecution. No, we follow him in truth with the knowledge that we will be loved or hated and not broadly liked. 

You Salty?

It’s funny how language changes over time. Words and phrases come to mean very different things as cultures change and progress. When I was a kid, “bad” meant “good” and “sweet” had nothing to do with flavor. A new phrase that my kids drop is, “you feeling salty?” They use it when a friend is whining or complaining about something. 

It didn’t always mean that. 

Back in Jesus’ day salt was important for a couple of reasons. First, it was helpful to store food. The other thing it was useful for was flavoring (funny how some things don’t change after 2,000 or so years). 

In Matthew 5 Jesus is in the midst of his magisterial Sermon on Mount, and he says, 

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16, ESV)

He is reminding his disciples who they are and what they are called to do. Jesus wants them to understand their new identity. They are to be a people who allow others to “see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” 

Jesus compares his disciples to salt and a city on a hill. Salt is amazing because you don’t need much to give great flavor to food. Just a little goes a long way. It’s purpose is to give flavor, if it loses its purpose then it just gets thrown out. A city on a hill cannot hide. Where Jesus was teaching from the disciples could see Tiberias, a city on a hill. At night it would be lit up and you could see it from any shore of the Sea of Galilee. 

We are to live this way. 

The followers of Jesus are to be a people who through their lives show the world the Father. Our lives are to be salt and light. We are to bring flavor to our relationships and show the people in our lives the beauty of the Father. 

Jesus wants to know, “You feeling salty?” 

On Integrity

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A few years ago I was thinking about integrity. Integrity is a concept that people talk much about but don’t really live out. I’m often surprised by the lack of integrity most people have. 

Some say that integrity is understood to be “what you do when nobody’s looking.” Still others define it as “standing by your word.” I think that both of those ideas are pieces to the puzzle but they aren’t the whole story.

I am finding that true integrity is found in people whose lives are not disintegrated.

What do I mean by disintegrated? What I mean is that the person with integrity is one who has a life that is consistent across all the spheres within which they live. That is, the Facebook version is the same as the Office version is the same as the Family version is the same as the Church version is the same as the Bar version is the same as the…

You get the idea.

A person with integrity is the same wherever they are. Their is fully integrated. For good or ill. I think one of the highest compliments you can give a person is that they live with integrity. That their life is consistent.

Even if you disagree with the way they live their life.

Recently, I have had some conversations with other church leaders and I have discovered that they play a lot of politics. I have also interacted with them socially and the experience was night and day. I’m not saying that they have done anything unethical or morally corrupt, just that they have little integrity. Their lives are disintegrated.

The social version is very different from the office version. That is disintegration, that is lack of integrity.

The person of integrity is the same wherever they are. The disintegrated person changes like the chameleon. This isn’t a moral or ethical failing, it simply removes trust.

You can’t trust someone who lives without integrity (disintegrated).

You can’t trust them because you never know where you stand.

When I look at my closest friends, I’m thankful. I’m thankful because they are all people of integrity. We don’t always agree on everything. We fight. But you always know where you stand.

Take some inventory over the next 40 days. Ask those closest to you if your life is integrated or disintegrated. Because if you’re like me then you want to live a life of integrity. But sometimes we miss it without intending to.

A Lesson

The quote below intrigues me. I think that this kind of “serial disruption” is required by churches. We must keep on “re-planting” ourselves. If we don’t then we become stale and lose our saltiness. The church needs to keep looking to the future and not allowing any sacred cows to keep us from being on mission. 

emergentfutures:

“The lesson here is that a company that disrupts does not necessarily survive. Long term survival depends on the ability for serial disruption. Serial disruption is an uncomfortable state for an organization to exist in. As the story above shows, disruptions are usually enabled by “desperate” necessity. Desperation is not something management is trained to aspire for.”

The parable of NintendoHorace Dediu and Dirk Schmidt via Asymco

(via paperbits)

An Expedition…

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Over the last few days I have been interacting with folks about a great many things. Something that has struck me is the cavalier attitude toward doctrine. Many of us no longer seem to think that doctrine matters. We say things like, “I am not a theologian, but…”

Here’s the reality: doctrine does matter.

What we believe matters.

It matters big time.

When hardship and conflict come it is what we believe that will determine how we respond. Because, what we believe matters.

I have been heart-sick over the way those who hold a similar theological position as I have responded to a book that came out recently. They responded with polemics and rhetoric (some even before they had read the book!). Most have not responded with discernment or charity but have looked for a way to hang a “heretic”.

I have also been thoroughly disappointed in the way that those from other theological positions have either blindly defended or tried to move themselves away from a position which is the logical outcome of their own.

I am more convinced than ever that what we believe matters.

Then I read David Fitch’s recent post over at Reclaiming the Mission and I understood again why what we believe matters.

David coherently points out the distinctions between a “coalition” and an “expedition”. As I read this post I kept thinking back to a friend’s description of Jonathan Edwards as an “experiential Calvinist” and another concept that has been rattling around my head, the “experimental Church”.

It is sad to me that those who hold to the Reformed view of theology (not Calvinist Baptists like Piper, Driscoll, etc…they are not Reformed and as a result they are not in view here) have struggled to follow Edwards. It makes me wonder if we don’t really believe what we say we believe.

It seems to me that if Reformed theology is true then it demands from us an expedition into the experiential and experimental Church.

Why?

Because if Reformed theology is true then it is unflinchingly pointing us toward Jesus and his Kingdom. This requires us to follow Edwards to the frontier. It requires us to step out and actually act on our beliefs in the sovereign God, the in-breaking Kingdom, and the imputation and incarnation of Jesus.

It is my opinion, that Reformed theology (not Calvinist Baptist theology) is best suited for a post-Christian world, because it necessarily drives us toward the lost, culture, transformation, community, and authenticity.

But, only if we believe it.

But, we will only believe it if it matters.

It matters.

Over the upcoming weeks we will look at how our beliefs drive the mission and as a result help us to understand why doctrine matters.

An Expedition…

Over the last few days I have been interacting with folks about a great many things. Something that has struck me is the cavalier attitude toward doctrine. Many of us no longer seem to think that doctrine matters. We say things like, “I am not a theologian, but…”

Here’s the reality: doctrine does matter.

What we believe matters.

It matters big time.

When hardship and conflict come it is what we believe that will determine how we respond. Because, what we believe matters.

I have been heart-sick over the way those who hold a similar theological position as I have responded to a book that came out recently. They responded with polemics and rhetoric (some even before they had read the book!). Most have not responded with discernment or charity but have looked for a way to hang a “heretic”.

I have also been thoroughly disappointed in the way that those from other theological positions have either blindly defended or tried to move themselves away from a position which is the logical outcome of their own.

I am more convinced than ever that what we believe matters.

Then I read David Fitch’s recent post over at Reclaiming the Mission and I understood again why what we believe matters.

David coherently points out the distinctions between a “coalition” and an “expedition”. As I read this post I kept thinking back to a friend’s description of Jonathan Edwards as an “experiential Calvinist” and another concept that has been rattling around my head, the “experimental Church”.

It is sad to me that those who hold to the Reformed view of theology (not Calvinist Baptists like Piper, Driscoll, etc…they are not Reformed and as a result they are not in view here) have struggled to follow Edwards. It makes me wonder if we don’t really believe what we say we believe.

It seems to me that if Reformed theology is true then it demands from us an expedition into the experiential and experimental Church.

Why?

Because if Reformed theology is true then it is unflinchingly pointing us toward Jesus and his Kingdom. This requires us to follow Edwards to the frontier. It requires us to step out and actually act on our beliefs in the sovereign God, the in-breaking Kingdom, and the imputation and incarnation of Jesus.

It is my opinion, that Reformed theology (not Calvinist Baptist theology) is best suited for a post-Christian world, because it necessarily drives us toward the lost, culture, transformation, community, and authenticity.

But, only if we believe it.

But, we will only believe it if it matters.

It matters.

Over the upcoming weeks we will look at how our beliefs drive the mission and as a result help us to understand why doctrine matters.