Finding Acceptance and Fighting Rejection Within the Church

Millennial-Diversity-students

Who are you?

This is the question I’ve asked myself, time and time again, only never being able to quite answer the question.

Sure, I could give the Christian-cookie-cutter answers, “I am a child of God,” or, even better, “I am a new creature.” The problem, however, is that I never quite felt like a new creature.

At the start of my newfound faith in Christ, I always felt like an outcast among evangelicals, especially within the more conservative circles. Even despite all of the halfway smiles and the constant assurance that I was a “part of the family,” I still felt like that pesky stepbrother. The one everyone tried to love out of obligation, rather than a genuine willingness.

I felt like this a lot over the years, and as time went by, I started to see an unhealthy trend surfacing throughout my walk with Jesus.

I would walk into a new church and immediately felt like I would be judged for my past and present flaws and failures. I felt as if nobody would ever truly accept me and receive me into their church family.

Inevitably, my perception of how others may perceive or receive me caused an inner turmoil within my soul that has not only hindered my relationships with others, but has hindered my relationship with God.

I remember reading and hearing Hebrews 10:25 quoted in connection with not giving up on the church, or neglecting to get plugged into the local church without fully appreciating the surrounding context of the passage.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus … let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:19,24-25)

Here we are told that, as a result of our relationship with God, granted to us by the blood of Jesus, we must look for ways to encourage one another in love and towards love, especially as “the Day” draws near. Especially as the world is crumbling around us, and the problems of life are setting in, these are the times that we need each other the most. These are the moments that we place our confidence in the blood of Jesus, that which is the only reason that we are able to be reconciled to God, and to one another in the first place.

Truth be told, it wasn’t the people around me that was the problem. It was the lack of confidence that I held in the blood of Christ that was the real problem. It was the weight of my own unworthiness that began to increasingly weigh me down, and keep me from fellowship with God, and God’s people, my brothers and sisters in Christ.

The more that we attend the faithful preaching of God’s Word, the more that we will feel that weight of unworthiness. You cannot truly read the Bible, as it is intended, without realizing that your greatest deeds are like filthy rags when measured against God’s standards. But, if we are not careful, we can allow the guilt and shame of our own depravity to drown us in a pool of self-loathsomeness.

Don’t go there.

Never question the sufficiency of what Christ has accomplished on the Cross. It was sufficient for Peter, the denier, Paul, the persecutor, and even for Judas, the betrayer.

Likewise, what Christ has accomplished upon the Cross is sufficient for you.

Never feel as if you’re not good enough to enter the doors of God’s church. The truth is, none of us are. But in Christ, we are made righteous. When you are in Christ, God does not see all of the mess of your past, or even the mess of the present. When you are in Christ, God sees righteousness; God sees His own son, or daughter. Christ, our Savior, Christ, our Lord, stands at the doors of God’s church and says, “COME! You are welcome here!”

Be confident as you enter, and be assured as you draw near to God, and to each other, that you have been washed clean from all the guilt and shame of sin. Be assured that you are accepted. You are His.

Life, I Just Thought It Would Have Been Better

boyhood_still

From early on in our childhood, there is great attempt to instill in us a drive to be successful. Get good grades, have good behavior, make good friends, do good in sports, go to college, get a good job, get married, start a family–you get the point. The problem is, is that when all is said and done, one is left wondering, what’s next?

In the recent film Boyhood (spoiler alert!), while sending her youngest off to college, Mom breaks down:

This is the worst day of my life. I knew this day would come, except why is it happening now? First I get married, have kids, end up with two ex-husbands, go back to school, get my degree, get my Masters, send both my kids off to college. What’s next? My own f@$!%&* funeral? [Starts crying] I just thought it would have been better.

That’s the story of our lives. We’re born. We live. We die. What’s next?

As much as we would all like to experience our “best life now,” the truth of the matter is that our life, in the here and now, is nothing more than a blink of an eye, when compared to the eternity to come. Most of us spend our whole lives accumulating successes and stuff, only to die alone, in an empty coffin, with nothing. You live for nothing and you die with nothing.

The question is, what happens next?

Some of you don’t believe anything “happens.” You believe that when you die, you simple die—that’s all she wrote.

Some of you believe in reincarnation, and believe that if you try your best to do good, that you will be given a new life, in, perhaps, a more prestigious and reputable earth-suit.

But I believe that the point of it all, is not what we do or accomplish in this life, but Who we know, and Who we do what we do for, in this life, in light of eternity.

You see, you and I were created in the image of God, to glorify God, and to have a personal and intimate relationship with God. To know Him, trust Him, and love Him, as our Creator and Heavenly Father. But since the day that we said &#@* you God, we want to do our own thing, we have separated ourselves from God, and have been driven further from who we were created to be.

As a result of our rebellion, we were left deaf, dumb, and blind. Always seeking satisfaction in things that never satisfy. Always trying to depend upon people and things that are ultimately undependable.

Ever wonder why that dream job you always wanted, suddenly, isn’t as dreamy as you thought it would be? Ever wonder why, after marrying “the one,” you realize that you are not living happily ever-after?

The truth is that nothing and nobody, apart from God, can satisfy and sustain us.

But the good news is, that where we were once far off, and alienated from God, and in essence, life itself, God, through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, has brought us back to Himself. He has given us another chance to know Him, to be known by Him, and to find true life, in Him.

This is the hope that the Christian carries. So when the question of life and death, and “what’s next” comes up, we can look to the hope that we have in Christ. We can know in confidence, and with great joy, that after this life, comes the best life—eternity with Him.

Now we are reminded of the words from the Apostle Paul:

Death is swallowed up in victory.

O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

– 1 Corinthians 15:55,57

 

Speaking Up: Confronting Those Who’ve Sinned Against You

professor-x

 

Recently, my wife and I had an opportunity to see X-Men: Days of Future Past. My wife was quick to point out that her favorite mutant is Mystique. Why, is that? Her ability to morph into anybody she’d like. Cool enough, I’ll admit. But my favorite hero just so happens to be Professor Xavier. Not just because I’d like to one day become a professor (I do!), but because of his supernatural ability to read minds. Ever wonder what people really have on their mind? What they may be thinking about you? I am reminded of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who, in contrast to the make-believe Professor Xavier, is able to read minds. The scripture teaches us that Jesus “knew what [men] were thinking” (Luke 6:8). We, unfortunately, do not know what each other are thinking, unless, of course, we speak up.

There has been a resurgence happening over the last 20 years that aims to put the Cross of Christ back at the center of Christianity. Because of this, confession and repentance have, once again, become a necessary part of the life of both, the individual believer, and the corporate body of Christ. Unfortunately, however, there is some extremism happening within the church that does not capture the heart of the Gospel-goal of reconciliation. When someone sins against you, or against the church, there is an immediate sense of withdrawing from fellowship with the offender, without a hint of grace that seeks the restoration of all parties involved. Moreover, like many of us who had to, first, hear the Gospel, often times people need to hear what they have done wrong (this may be especially true for new believers, who lack the maturity necessary to see many of their own flaws). Because of this truth, the Bible calls on the offended party to be the one to confront the sin of the believer, for the sake of repentance and restoration.

In Matthew 18, Jesus is schooling His disciples on issues like temptation, the perseverance of the believer, and sin and forgiveness. It is in v. 15 that Jesus says:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

The first condition here is “if your brother sins against you.” First we must realize that, our brother who has sinned against us is still our brother. We should treat him as such. Yes, he’s sinned against you. Yes, your feelings are hurt and perhaps you are angry. But, at this point, he is still your brother and should not yet be regarded as an infidel. Church discipline should not yet happen, at this point.

Secondly, Jesus gives an imperative: “go and tell him his fault.” Go, meaning go. No hidden meaning there. Go to his house. Go to him after church. Go to the local coffee shop and talk about it over a cup of espresso. Just go! Next, you must tell him his fault. As difficult as this may be, especially for the more severe offences, it must be done. You must communicate to your offender the way in which they have offended you. How else would they know, unless you have told them exactly what it was and how it affected you? Even King David, a “mature” man of faith, a man after the heart of God, had to have Nathan the Prophet, come and expose David’s own sin to him. Sometimes, the sin is so severe, that it deceives the offender into suppressing it and attempting to cover it up. But it must be shown to them, for their sake, and for the sake of the life of the Church.

Thirdly, it must be pointed out that v. 15b says to tell him his fault “between you and him alone.” It does not say to shun your brother and proceed to defame his name by spreading the news of his sin around town. At this point, it does not even mention bringing in another brother, or even your pastor. You are to, first and foremost, confront your brother alone. But, fear not, for Jesus promises that He will be there with you (v. 20).

Lastly, if your brother “listens to you” (other translations include confesses), then you have “gained your brother.” This is the great aim of our faith to begin with; that is—to be ministers of reconciliation. We are to offer up the same grace and love for sinners, as Christ has offered us. If you have confronted the brother, or sister, who has sinned against you, told them of their wrongdoing, and they listen and confess to you, then reconciliation is warranted. In fact, reconciliation is essential. Further down in Matthew 18, Jesus responds to Peter’s question of how often one should forgive by telling a parable. In a nutshell, the parable illustrates that, because of the magnitude of God’s forgiveness for us, we too, ought to forgive others, whose sin against us is incomparable to the way in which we have sinned against God. But, if your brother does not listen, or confess, well, we’ll save that for another blog post.

 

 

 

 

The Exclusive Church: None Are Welcome

Abandoned Desert Church

This past Labor Day was an epic celebration. My wife and I—eager to get away for a few hours with the kiddos—ran smack into the middle of a parade. Apparently, this was the city’s annual parade, in which they campaign for upcoming elections, promote local high school sports teams, and invite other local businesses and rotary clubs to participate in the festivities. What was disconcerting to me was not the fact that the whole thing seemed artificial and cheesy (indeed, it did), but the fact that the more I looked at what was happening around me, the more I realized that something was missing. People. There was hardly anyone outside to celebrate this time of community. Where were all of the people? Sure, there was a great deal of white-folks. But where were all of our Hispanic and African-American neighbors, whom make-up the majority of this particular section of our community? It seemed to promote a community that lacked, well, community.

A great many of our churches today, do not look much different than this parade. As cities and urban areas begin to grow in ethnic diversity, and the socio-economic climate begins to shift, people—seemingly in fear of change—begin to move out and into their own little comfort-zones. Now, churches, rather than being made up of the community dynamic that surrounds them, start to look like a commuter-church rather than a community-church. The church does not represent the diversity that surrounds them. Churches begin to glory in their former years. “Remember when we did this,” and “remember when we did that?” Rather than engaging the culture with the Gospel, they twist the Gospel to justify their rejection of the culture, and, in doing so, push the very people away that God has called them to reach. You’ve probably heard the complaints: “The way they dress, the way they talk, the music they listen to.” The secular/sacred divide impairs their ability to reach up and coming generations with the Gospel.

There are many examples, throughout scripture, which promote cultural engagement for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. One of the most noted examples includes Paul’s dealing with the Athenians, in Acts 17:

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. (v. 16-17)

Paul was provoked, by the spirit within him to reason (which my be thought of as engaging with the intent to persuade) with not only those within religious circles (synagogue), but also with those without (marketplace). Paul was engaging others in the marketplace, where people from all over the city came to buy and sell goods, and to eat and mingle with one another. Paul was right in the midst of paganism, reasoning with the unbelievers, proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In our day and age, you and I would be called foolish for such a thing. But that is precisely what we have been called to do: proclaim a foolish message, through a foolish means, to a foolish people.

Of course it is true, as scholars would note, that we must understand that the Book of Acts is both descriptive and prescriptive. Yet this does not negate the significance of Paul’s encounter with the Athenians. Indeed, it describes the lengths that Paul, a Christian, was willing to go in order to honor the call of Christ. In fact, Christ Himself set for us an example to follow in the way in which He engaged the culturally ostracized of His day. While Jesus passed through Samaria, He came across a Samaritan woman; a woman He engaged in a dialogue with that, in so doing, led to violating all sorts of social taboos. The sheer fact that He was speaking with a woman, a Samaritan woman at that, was unfathomable. Let alone, asking her for a drink. Yet, Jesus, God incarnate, has sovereignly chosen to love the “unlovable”, and build His church out of an unlikely people.

The centrality of the Gospel is not wrought through doctrinal solidarity and rightful preaching and teaching alone, but coupled with a community that lives out the implications of the Gospel by loving God and loving our neighbors through every fiber of our being. Tim Keller, author of Center Church, notes:

The city will challenge us to discover the power of the gospel in new ways. We will find people who seem spiritually and morally hopeless to us. We will think, “Those people will never believe in Christ.” But a comment such as this is revealing in itself. If salvation is truly by grace, not by virtue and merit, why should we think that anyone is less likely than ourselves to be a Christian? Why would anyone’s conversion be any greater miracle than our own? The city may force us to discover that we don’t really believe in sheer grace, that we really believe God mainly saves nice people — people like us.

The Gospel itself, if it has so captured your heart, ought to motivate you to get up from your lazy-boy chair and do something. “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Or do we? We must examine ourselves, and our churches, and ask the question as to whether or not we are turning our noses up, and towards the Heavens, thanking God that we are “not like other men” (read Luke 18:9-14). If so, you may find yourself sitting alone and outside of Heaven’s gates, crying out, “but Lord, Lord!”