Better Than a Pharisee

I posted recently about pastors and sin, because I think churches need to recognize that men are made of flesh and so they sin. It’s also true that women sin. Women are just as capable of having affairs, or getting divorced. They are made of flesh too.

People in the congregations act surprised or even scandalized when a woman cheats or gets divorced. “Oh my gosh! She got a divorce?”  Well, how is that a surprise?  53% of Christians get divorced. It happens! Women can make mistakes too. They forget to protect their marriages.

It’s not for us to judge them. It’s not our place to be shocked or to condemn them. Let’s just love on them. Why don’t we help them through it? When we do that, it’s grace, and grace is what we should be about. But people seem to think that she has to be held accountable. Held accountable for what?

When you condemn a woman who hasn’t succeeded in protecting her marriage, you’ve judged her. I’m waiting for Jesus to come and write in the sand, because you’re acting like a Pharisee.  Jesus will say, “I’m going to write in the sand. I’ll write everything that you do wrong, and then you can tell me why you think you’re better than her.” What would you do then? Don’t you think you’d just walk off?

JesusWritingInTheSand

Obviously I’m passionate about this.  It does make me angry.  But I’ve done it! I’ve sat there before, and read scripture, and then didn’t apply it. We all do it. We pick out a few verses and we live by them, discarding a lot of the rest of scripture along the way. But all that stuff about the Pharisees is in the Bible because most of us are them!  I know we don’t want to think that way. I don’t want to think that way! But we’re all vulnerable to legalistic thinking.

The answer is grace.  When we understand the identity of who Jesus is, holy and righteous, living in grace and love, we move away from pharisaical temptation. The temptation ends because grace gets us away from legalism.  Most of the Christians that are pharisaical are legalistic, law-abiding, Christian citizens.  But they are not grace-filled, free Christians. That’s why so many people don’t like them.

The free Christians, filled with grace, are the people that sinners want to be around. Sinners want to be around the Christians that share in the identity of Jesus. Think about it. Who hung around Jesus? Sinners!  Why?  Because He treated them like human beings!

Christians are popular when they are easy to be around.  People tell me, “Maybe we don’t agree.  But I don’t feel like you’re always condemning me.” When that happens, I say, “That’s Jesus.”

And then I tell them, “Hopefully, one day you’ll see that this love I have for you is the same love that Jesus has for you, and you’ll want to be a part of that. It is so liberating! You don’t have to lie in bed at night wondering who you are. You won’t be scared because you don’t know who you are, or afraid that you’re not going to add up. Instead you’ll find out how much Jesus loves you.”

He loves you so much that He’s given you freedom. In His eyes, you already add up. Your imperfections are why he died and He loves you. So you’re free to love like He does.

More on this next time. See you Thursday.

The Appearance of Evil

Doing anything to excess is bad for you. If you eat too much it’s bad for you, because you’re going to get fat. Obviously gluttony could be a sin. But we don’t say eating is a sin. We don’t say, “Hey, you can’t eat.” So why do churches say you can’t drink?

There’s seems a common rule among some churches that if you’re on the church staff, drinking alcohol is not allowed. I don’t personally agree with that. You’re saying that if I’m a pastor, or a youth pastor, or somehow on staff, then I’m not allowed to sit at the dinner table and have a glass of wine with my wife. Why not? Why do you think anyone should be reprimanded for that? Because of what it represents?

I’m not misrepresenting the church. Are you saying Jesus misrepresented God when He drank wine? No!

People talk a lot about avoiding the appearance of evil. But why is it evil to have a glass of wine at dinner with my wife? There’s no “appearance of evil” in that. The “appearance of evil” is if I’m drinking wine and standing on the table acting like a hoodlum. There it is. There’s your sin.

Simply enjoying a glass of wine with my wife is not the same as drinking to excess and losing control.  It’s not an appearance of evil. That’s just your judgment.  And it’s not appropriate to judge me or my wife, because we’re doing nothing wrong.

This is just my personal opinion, but I think that when the churches make this rule against drinking, they don’t do it out of fear of God. They do it out of fear of man, and that’s not a good place to live.

I feel like the churches are too afraid of their reputations. They’re afraid people are going to think bad things about them. They’re afraid if someone on staff has a glass of wine, people will think that staff person is a bad person. They’re afraid people will judge the whole church! But that doesn’t make sense to me.  Why should anybody think you’re not good just because you had a glass of wine?  You’re not doing anything wrong.

The answer is usually, “Well, the nonbeliever will think that you’re sinning.” Now that really doesn’t make sense to me. Why would a nonbeliever judge me over something they don’t even believe in? Suppose a nonbeliever sees me having a beer and asks, “Aren’t you sinning?” I would ask, “Well, do you think it’s a sin to drink?” And when they answer “No,” I would say, “Then why do you think I’m sinning?”

There’s no reason for a nonbeliever to think that! It’s just a judgment. If you’re doing nothing wrong, if you’re not living in sin at the time of your alcoholic beverage, then you’re not giving any kind of appearance of evil.

The standard is Jesus. Jesus, who I think drank wine, is the highest standard there is. The King of Kings, God in human flesh! His appearance is the appearance we should reflect.

See you Monday.

Drinking to Drunkenness

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Matthew 5:6

Drinking is not a sin. The sin is drunkenness.

Drunkenness is the sin because through drunkenness, you eliminate self-control. And when you eliminate self-control, a lot of bad things happen.

If you drive drunk, you can kill another person, another human being. That’s murder. That’s not good.

Think about all the date rape scenarios. College kids drink and the girls get raped. The guys’ hormones are high and through drunkenness, they lose self-control. They don’t understand what “No” means and they rape a girl.

Then there are the angry drunks. They beat their wives, they beat their girlfriends, or they beat their kids, all because they can’t contain their anger when they’re drunk. They cause pain.

In these scenarios, you’ve not only sinned, you’ve also committed a crime. That’s going to put you in jail. So nothing good can come from it.

When you’re drunk, you don’t even have control over your own thoughts. You don’t have control over what you say. Think about it: when you’re drunk, you don’t control your own tongue! I’ve been around drunk people that literally say whatever is on their mind. Well, some things aren’t meant to be said. So when you get drunk, you can say something to another human being that can cause a lot of pain.

You can’t do good things without self-control. Name one good thing you can do when you don’t have control over your own body. You’re falling down. You can’t even walk straight! You can’t make clear decisions.

The fear of the Lord is wisdom. It brings wisdom. That’s what it does. So when you represent Christ, you represent wisdom. You represent peace. When you’re drunk, you’re causing chaos. You can’t make peace when you don’t have control.

When you represent Jesus Christ, you make wise decisions. Drunkenness is a sin because when you’re drunk, you can’t live a right life. You can’t live a righteous life. The Bible says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. So when you want to live a life that’s right, you have to be sober.

Make a decision that’s wise. Don’t drink to drunkenness.

The government, the church, and parents all have to help young people understand these scenarios. I’ll pick that up next time. See you Monday.

Drinking Wine Like Jesus

A lot of Christian homes reach the point where they teach that drinking alcohol in any amount is a sin. I understand why this happens. Christian families are afraid for their children. They want to control them, to keep them safe. So they start teaching that it is a sin to drink alcohol.

I think that’s wrong. And I think that’s why you see kids rebel. Here’s my idea. You want to see kids quit drinking? Why don’t you just tell them that it’s okay to drink? It’s just not okay at sixteen. I guarantee they’ll stop then, because they don’t want to rebel against something that’s okay. They’ll say, “Oh, we can’t rebel against that.” Yeah! That’s right, you can’t.

The First MiracleI don’t believe in the whole fear factor. I don’t believe in the notion that we should spiritualize drinking and guilt kids through Christ. And I think the churches that counsel that way are wrong.

It is not a sin to drink. Nowhere can you see that or find that in scripture.

People forget this. They make all these rules saying drinking is a sin, so then they don’t want to listen to the first miracle. We forget. Jesus turned water into wine. And it wasn’t just an okay wine. It was the best wine you can have. I’m guessing the alcohol rate in that was probably not nil.

Then you get into the arguments. “Oh,” people say, “back then there was non-alcoholic wine.” No, I’m pretty sure they didn’t have the ability back then to make non-alcoholic beverages. I don’t think there was a filtering system. They sat in a winery and stomped on berries. That’s what they did! There wasn’t a filter on the alcohol. It was fermented.

“Oh,” people say, “but Jesus didn’t drink.” Yeah, He did. In fact, Jesus was called a drunk and a glutton! When He hung out with people, He drank their wine. And so people started judging Him. They said, “Oh, Jesus is at their house drinking. He must be a drunk, because he hangs out with people a lot, and he always drinks their wine.”

Jesus drank wine. And there’s nothing wrong with it.

Obviously if there’s a pastor out there just slurring like crazy, and rambling, and falling over, you know what? His church will take some flak for that. James says the teachers of the Word of God are going to be held to a higher standard.

But the standard by which God’s pastors will be judged is not, “Did he drink alcohol?” Jesus is the highest standard there is! He’s the King of Kings! He is God in human flesh! And He had wine.

Drinking isn’t a sin, but drunkenness is. Next time I’ll tell you why. See you Thursday.

Love in Action

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear!…Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.”

Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove. (James 1:22, 2:14-18)

Love in ActionLet me tell you what I hear James saying here. James is worried about the converts in the churches who say they accept Jesus, but don’t do anything. Maybe they are just quiet, meaning they aren’t out taking care of their neighbor. Maybe they are showing favoritism (2:1-7). They are still reflecting the values and concerns of the world, instead of doing what Jesus asked us to do: renounce the world in order to live with the mentality of God’s Kingdom. To these people James is saying, “You say you’re a Christian, but you act like the world. I say I’m a Christian, and I will act like the Kingdom of God. The world is flesh, and the Kingdom is spirit. You show me what’s more alive.”

James is also worried about people who might say, “I love Jesus. I’m saved,” and then they act in ways that contradict the life we enjoy in God’s Kingdom. They hate, or commit adultery, or lie, or cheat, or steal (2:8-13). When you do that, no one is going to see that you are saved. Do you know what’s going to come out of that? Not the fruits of the Spirit. Not love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control. There is a lot of other stuff that’s going to come out of it, obviously. James also says that sin eventually gives birth to death. So you’ll die, inwardly. You’ll be a shadow person, dead inside, and you won’t reflect Christ at all.

This part of James is controversial, and we sometimes worry about a disagreement between James and Paul. But that’s because we put too much focus on performance. Paul and James see things the same way. God’s grace, freely offered to us, saves us. We can’t save ourselves. Think about the whole New Testament’s message on grace. Think about what Paul says: “The Law is rubbish. I no longer want to perform. It doesn’t make sense.”

You can’t achieve salvation by works (Greek: erga, works, acts, deeds). James knows that. But there will be a judgment. God will look at us and see sheep and goats. If you love your neighbor as Jesus described in Matthew 25, then you’re a sheep. But that’s not performance. That’s living in the Kingdom of God, not performing in order to get in. Love is alive, and where there is life, there is action. That’s why James says, “Faith without works is dead. I’ll show you my faith with works, and you’ll see that it’s alive.”

See you Thursday.

 

 

Your Faith Is Showing

What is the goal of life, the thing most worth striving for? Most people would probably say, “Happiness.”  My answer is a little different.  I strive to know that when I sit in front of the throne of God, He will look at me and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21) My faith shows in the things I do. So does yours!

This doesn’t mean that I have a works mentality. I don’t believe my works will get me to heaven. Like Paul, I believe my faith will get me to heaven. (Romans 3:28)

But the works I perform are the result of the faithful life I try to live every day. You can boil my whole theology down to one concept: discipleship. I try to live a life of Jesus.

James, the Brother of Jesus. Italy, artist unknown.

We don’t have to resolve the works/faith “issue,” because when we live the life of Jesus, there is no issue. That’s what you see in James. He said, “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18)

Some people say that James and Paul were having a disagreement, but they weren’t. They were talking about two different things. When Paul said that you aren’t saved by works, he meant that works alone will not get you into heaven. Paul said, “Look, you’re not going to be able to just do good things and expect to get to heaven. You need to give up your soul.” And in my belief, that’s true. Paul and James agreed on this.

But while Paul was talking about giving up your soul and becoming a believer, James was talking to the believers, the ones that had already given up their souls to God. When James said, “I will show you my faith by my works,” he was talking about the lifestyle that you live when you’re a believer.

What lifestyle was James talking about? Just as Paul said, once you confess that Jesus died for your sins, you are saved. But then what? Do you now say, “Oh, I can just sit around and do whatever I want. My salvation is all about grace, so I can go ahead and live my life just the way I like.”

Paul and James and all the other disciples had one word for that: No! And the proof is in the lives they lived as disciples of Jesus.  They lived lives of sacrifice, and they were persecuted for it. They were definitely not persecuted because they did whatever they felt like doing! They gave their lives to Jesus. They lived the lifestyle of Jesus. They showed us the life of a believer.

It was this lifestyle that got them in trouble. It was a lifestyle that got them crucified upside down. It was a lifestyle that got them thrown into prison. It was a lifestyle that got them stoned to death. The disciples were living a lifestyle that shook people up! They were going into pagan Greece and pagan Rome. They walked into the temples of a ton of different Gods. They walked into places where people were having orgies. They walked into these places and said, “No! No! This is not the lifestyle you are supposed to be living! It’s unfulfilling.”

The disciples showed us how to live. They challenged people’s worldviews. That was their lifestyle. And that’s what James is saying. You show me a believer that has a lifestyle of Jesus. That’s Christianity. But you show me a lifestyle that is without works, a lifestyle where you don’t do anything? You sit around? You accept Christ and then you just sit there and you don’t go out and live for Jesus? That’s not Christianity. You say you have faith, but who can see it? We’re called to so much more.

When you show people your faith through your works, it might change you.  More on this next time.  See you Monday.

A Full Basket

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” Matthew 14:15-16

You show me someone living in faith, based on the living Kingdom of God, and I’ll show you someone that’s happy and joyful. I’ll show you someone working to receive money to put in wells in places that don’t have clean water, and you will see the joy on that person’s face. And I will tell you, “That is faith with works.” This isn’t about performing in order to get into the Kingdom. This is about already being in the Kingdom, and thinking with that mindset. Someone like this doesn’t say, “I want to do that too, but I don’t have enough money just now.” Instead she says, “I’ll get another job and raise the money to be able to put in wells.” This is just what we do.

The money’s not going to drop down from heaven and land on your nose. God doesn’t expect you to have it already. But He’ll get it to you. God says, “You are in my family. This is who you are. Your neighbor needs your love. How are you going to get it done?”

loaves and fishesThink about Jesus feeding the five thousand. The disciples came to Him and said, “These people are hungry!” And Jesus said, “You feed them.” But they said, “We can’t feed all these people! We only have two loaves and a fish.” Then Jesus said, “Well, don’t tell them to go in the village to find food. They’re sitting here waiting. They want to hang out. They want to commune. I’ll feed them.” The disciples said, “How are you going to do that?” And Jesus said, “I’m going to do something flat-out amazing. That’s how.”

Now He was Jesus, so He worked a little differently than we do. He did a miracle. But he showed us that we don’t have to give up. We don’t just say, “Oh, that’s not much food. I guess we’re not feeding them!” That’s what the apostles were going to do. That’s what most people do. “Well, I don’t have the means to help, so I won’t.”

But Jesus says, figure out a way to get the means. Because He will provide, if you actually take that step.

Everything Jesus did reflected on how awesome God is. He figured out a way to feed multitudes of hungry people. And when He did that, He showed us how to get it done. It’s all about servant leadership. We go to God in love and we say, “Lord, people are hungry. People are sick. They don’t have any clean water. Children are homeless. They don’t have moms or dads. Someone is going to traffic them and put them in slavery.” And the Lord says, “Help them. You give them something to eat. You give them clean water. You find them homes and liberate and protect them.” And when we say, “But Lord, I can’t. I don’t have enough,” then He says, “You’re going to figure out a way. You’re going to figure out a way to get them what they need. You’re not going to tell them to go help themselves. You serve them.”

I don’t even know if the crowd knew what Jesus did that day. But the disciples knew. He told them, “Hey, just start passing the basket. It’ll stay full. It’ll stay full.” You know? And He fed them. And when He did that, they stayed and listened.

That’s walking in the Kingdom of God.

Trusting Each Other Like God Trusts Us

I trust God that I am holy and righteous. Holy and righteous in His eyes, I am free to do whatever I want and feel good about it. And my freedom to do whatever I want and feel good about it makes me who I am.

People hear this Good News and they are incredulous. They ask, “So this means you can just do whatever you want?” No, it doesn’t mean that. That question comes from the flesh, and the things it wants to do. The flesh thinks, “I have fire insurance. I can literally do whatever I want, no consequences! I’m saved!”

I can see how the message might sound that way. But think about this from a different mindset. Don’t think from your flesh. Think from within God’s family and Kingdom, because that’s where you live now.

In the world of the flesh, doing whatever you want seems fun at the time. But there are a lot of consequences right away. There’s a lot of pain. A lot of people get hurt because we let the flesh do the thinking. But at the very moment that you recognize what Jesus did, you are saved by the Spirit of God. Now your identity is in Christ. That identity is holy and righteous. Holy and righteous simply loves its neighbor.

You see, that’s what God does, man, He goes into you and He transforms you. He makes you a new creature in Christ. He creates within you a new Spirit, and Spirit thinks with the mindset of God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is grace and mercy. So that’s what we reflect.

Is there a vengeful God? I believe so. You’ll see that at the end of time. I do believe that. God’s wrath will come. But that is not who God is for us right now. I think that right now, to reflect God is to serve. The Kingdom mentality is a servant mentality, so we reflect God by serving. We love our neighbors as ourselves.

That’s how I understand my identity in Christ. This is who I am. I don’t perform acts of service in order to receive acceptance from God. Performance is trying to get acceptance, but God has already accepted me. I serve because I’m a member of His family!

Performance kills families. It eats away at marriages. You expect a certain image of perfection from your husband or your wife and you judge them when they fall short. And they say, “Wait a minute. If you trust me and you love me, I shouldn’t have to perform for you in order to be accepted by you. I should already be accepted. I should be able to mess up, and trust you to love and help me.” The same thing applies to parents and children. Your children should hear you say, “I accept you and I love you. You don’t have to perform to be my child.”

There’s no performance in God’s family. God trusts you and accepts you even when you mess up. When you mess up, God says, “Let’s talk about this. What can I do to help you? Not fix you, help you.” That’s what a trusting relationship looks like, and we can reflect this in our own families. Our families can reflect God’s family.

See you Monday.

Living in the Family of God

I’ve had a lot to say lately about trusting that you are holy and righteous in the eyes of God. You don’t have to perform for God to be accepted by Him. He already accepts you. You can trust that, and live from it.

So what is the difference between performing for God, and acting as a representative of God’s Kingdom? When is helping the hungry, the homeless, or the enslaved a performance for God, and when is helping them the act of a holy and righteous child of God?

Being loved and accepted by God is your identity. Walk in it! His Spirit guides you to reflect His Kingdom in everything you do. Suppose you see a homeless person that needs money. You look at him, and the Spirit says, “Yes.” So you give him money. The Spirit of God, who lives within me, my encourager, counselor, and adviser, says, “I advise you, Jeremy, to give that guy money.”

Sometimes the Spirit says, “I’m advising you to not give that guy money. I know the heart of that man and I’m advising you not to do it.” Alright! So I walk by! I’ve walked by homeless guys and not given them money because I didn’t feel right about it at the time.

But my heart is always in it. I don’t walk past without giving money because I don’t want to. In the same way, I don’t give the guy money simply because I feel bad for him. Or, I don’t give him money because I’m thinking, “Oh, man, I did something bad yesterday. So I’m going to give this guy money so that I’ll feel good.” No, no. I give money when the Spirit tells me to. That’s who I am, and that’s who I want to be.

Performance is based on trying to make somebody like you. Right? We all perform at our jobs. It’s definitely true for professional athletes. An athlete’s performance pays the owners’ bills. If the fans don’t like you, they don’t come to the game. They come if they like your performance, and that’s how we get paid. So we have to perform.

That’s how we end up confusing performance with action. But there is a difference, and it lies in the heart. If I build a well for a village that needs clean water so that God will love me, He will frown on that. God looks at that and He says, “Jeremy! I love you. You are in my family! You should build a well because you come from my family, not in order to be in my family. You’re already here. The well that you want to build comes from the aroma and the environment that my Kingdom naturally provides, and you already live in that. Love, grace and mercy are a part of that and you reflect it. That’s my Kingdom.”

When you come from His Kingdom, and you see pain, you’re going to help. Jesus said, “I only do as my Father does. Forgive, because my Father forgives. Heal the sick, because my Father heals the sick. Turn water into wine, because my Father is the author of miracles, signs, and wonders. I’m going to take those who laugh and I will make their joy plentiful.”

That’s what God does!

More on this next time. See you Thursday.

Trust Him and He Will Show You

On Monday I blogged about how awesome it is that we are loved and forgiven no matter how much we mess up. Our God is an awesome God. But it’s still so hard for us to trust His love and forgiveness because we still sin. Our flesh is not righteous. Our flesh is not holy. And we know it! Right? It’s hard for us to trust that our sins are forgiven because in our flesh, we’re always committing new ones!

But the flesh is not what Jesus saved. He saved our spirit. Does this mean there are no consequences for fleshly actions? Of course not. There are consequences. But that’s not because God doesn’t look at you as righteous and holy. He does. That’s what His son died for.

If you have to perform to be righteous and holy, then there’s no point to Jesus. I know that’s a shocking statement. But that’s how powerful this idea of trusting God really is. Hear me out. If you have to perform for God, then Jesus doesn’t make sense. If you think you have to live a certain way and follow a list of rules in order to prove to God that you are holy and righteous, then why did Jesus have to die?

The Bible is filled with stories of Jesus dealing with sinners, and He didn’t act like they let Him down. They often felt guilty around Him, but Jesus looked at them and said, “You didn’t let me down. I don’t expect you to be perfect, because you are a human being. The only perfect one that walks on this earth right now is me. So why do you think I’m going to judge you? When you accept me as your Savior, and I say your sins are forgiven, your sins are forgiven. I have not said that your sins are forgiven as long as you don’t mess up or fail. I know you will! Do I think you are wrong in your sin? Yes, I do. Do I think you should stop sinning? Absolutely! But I have said that your sins are forgiven. You are holy and you are righteous before the eyes of God. Live out of that.”

Make your redemption your identity. Trust that you are exactly who God says you are, holy and righteous. When you trust God in that, then you’ll live from the spirit, not the flesh. And when you live from the spirit, you won’t have to perform. You won’t need rules that tell you how to be good. You will simply be good. Instead of avoiding adultery because it’s on a list of sins, you won’t commit adultery because you simply don’t want to. It’s that easy! You won’t hate because you don’t want to. You won’t judge because you don’t want to. You won’t look down on others because you don’t want to. You won’t want to have judgmental thoughts. You just won’t want to.

Now when I see somebody who is messing up or failing, I don’t say, “Oh, you’re not doing a very good job of being a Christian.” No! I say, “Right, I do that too. I know where you’re at. And I understand how it’s possible. I don’t think any less of you. Tell me your story so we can see if we can work with each other. I want to help you. I don’t want to judge you!”

When God says you are holy and righteous, then own it, and feel it, and live it. Then you won’t need a list of rules to tell you how to be good. You will know and understand what that means.

And when we act from the spirit, there is no guilt and shame.