choices 2“I never met a situation where I didn’t have a choice.” – heard on a TV commercial tonight.

This statement may not be absolutely true for every person in every possible situation, but for most everybody in most every situation they find themselves in, this statement is true to the core.

“He made me do it.”

“It’s her fault.”

“You make me sooo mad.”

“I just couldn’t say no.”

“You don’t know what it was like growing up in my family.”

“I’m just so tired of this situation.”

“What do you expect?”

“The pressure just got to me.”

“Come on.  You would have done the same thing.”

I can remember times of thinking in my heart, when I was younger, “I couldn’t help myself”, while trying to justify a poor decision I had just made.  Really?  I couldn’t help myself?  Lie.

There are always other options.  Sometimes they are not great ones, but other possibilities exist.  Better choices.  Better decisions.   How you find them and how you make them is probably another story, but they are out there.

Today, in our continuing study through Romans, we arrived at the beginning of chapter 6:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  6:1-2 NIV

or how about this version:

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there?  6:1-2 MSG

Man, talk about getting down to basics.  There has been a big stink out in the greater church world in recent weeks about the difference between a sin and a mistake.   I’m not joining the fracas.  It’s really pretty simple.

You always have a choice.

Bad choices lead to mistakes.

Mistakes will lead to sin.

Paul’s answer to sin?  Stop it.  Quit taking advantage of God’s grace because you know He’ll forgive you.

Better yet?  Stop being a slave to poor choices and start exercising your freedom to move beyond self-centeredness.

Beware the list

greedStudying through Romans is a humbling effortespecially when we are forced to come face to face with our own hypocrisy.   Check this out:

In Romans 1, Paul speaks boldly of the wrongness of idolatry, which is when we worship and serve created things (images, ideas, possessions, experiences), instead of the Creator.  And when we exchange the worship of idols for the worship of the one true God, the inevitable outcome is a life of sinand he writes a pretty detailed, nasty list for evidence.

There are a number of those sinful behaviors that we love to champion:  Murder?  Let ‘em fry.   Homosexuality? Perverted.   Arrogance?  Pathetic and self-centered.   Greedy?  Whoa….

Man, it is so easy to throw stones and judge.  But we are doing a different dance with greed.

In the New Testament, greed is a compound word in the original language that means to have more than what you need.  It is the love of having.     It certainly includes money and possessions, but it can include things like power, prestige, recognition, or even people.   And it can lead to even more complicated sins like out-of-control ambition, stealing, envy, and the like.  Worse yet, it is something that works its way deep into our soul and we never even notice it.

What’s really interesting to me is rather than abhorring it, we praise it.  Instead of running from it, we cultivate it.

Working to have more is a dominant value in our culture.  We are taught that a strong desire to have more is part of a healthy drive and motivation.  People who work hard to have more than enough are seen as successes and over-achievers worthy of our admiration, not our disdain.   Promotions and bonuses and raises and perks are seen as God’s “blessing”even if we clearly don’t need them.

In the church, we not only accept greed as desirable (though we never really call it greedwe call it hard work, success, and the fruit of our labor),  we look for people who have it, in order to fund our projects and salaries.

I’m not just being contrary for the sake of argument.  I’m simply encouraging us to stop judging and condemning and labeling those people as…uh…”those” people.   Them is us.  Maybe you don’t murder, but you probably have a strong desire to have more than enough.  It’s all the same when it comes to standing before the throne of God and receiving mercy.

Sin is sin.  You can point fingers or you can embrace othersothers who are really more like you/us than we want to admit.

Romans Rewind

Roman_boySo I started teaching through the book of Romans about a month ago.  Any Bible teacher worth more than a fish taco  has preached through the book of Romans, right?   I figured if I didn’t do it, I’d eventually get kicked out the club.

So here I am and here are few of my early observations  from wading into the deep end:

I realize this is going to sound shallow, but I wonder if Paul’s intent (or God’s) was for us to scrutinize his letter with such academic fervor.  Parsing verbs and diagramming sentences and translating words are important.  They are.  But turning his letter into a fourteen volume commentary or preaching 225 sermons through the book… so that we can accurately understand what Paul meant, is slightly overkilling it.  There.  I said it.  I’ll definitely never make it into the Theologian’s Hall of Fame.

I have always been slightly intimidated by the letter, because it seemed like it had been hijacked by a certain theological camp as “their” source book for doctrine.  I no longer feel that way.

I am often ashamed of what people who claim to be followers of Jesus do.  (Last week was a bad week, btw.)   However, I am more often ashamed of myself and my struggle to live every day as Jesus would.  But I am not ashamed of the Gospel.

There’s a long list of sins in the back half of chapter one.  It’s absolutely amazing to me that we not only accept, but welcome into our churches, people who practice most all of these sinswithout requiring them to confess, or even admit that what they are doing is sin.   Yet we judge, condemn and refuse friendship with people who exhibit one particular sin on the list.  Like I said, amazing.

And from yesterday’s teaching, there is no distinction.  Nobody measures up.  Nobody is good enough.  Nobody’s sin is worse than another’s.  And the answer is the same for all of us.

Hope to see you next Sunday.

So simple

Log EyeTonight I wrote a response to a person who wanted to know my opinion on a particular sin.

Based on my answer, I suppose they will make a decision whether or not they will come and visit North Point in their search for a new church family.  I’m guessing they won’t be joining us any time soon.

But I’ve been surprised on lots of other things.  We’ll see.

But as I processed my response, I had another thought.  One that is much more profound than my opinion on a particular sin.

The worldlike, the whole worldwould be a better place if we all followed Jesus’ teaching on how to view ourselves BEFORE we start evaluating the sins and shortcomings of others.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  Matthew 7:1-5

Such a simple teaching.

Look at your own sin FIRST.  All the time.  Every time.  Before you ever start getting all judgy and angry and hacked off at how far short somebody else is falling of the perfection of God’s expectationstake a long, hard look at yourself.

And if you don’t see a broken, jacked up, needy, imperfect messyou’re looking in the wrong mirror.

However, the moment you see yourself accurately, you change…and the sins of others take on a whole new perspective.  The planks begin to look like dust.

And the world becomes a better place.

YOUR world becomes a better place.

Glad to be me. Most days.

paparazzimonday mornings are usually a time to catch up on current events…what’s going on in culture, both pop and church.  i quick-read various news sources, check out about 25-30 of my most trusted bloggers, and open a handful of social commentaries that are emailed directly to me.

most of the time, i enjoy staying informed.  i love seeing how culture is shaped…new trends…and how lifestyle shifts from day to day.  i know there are people who are uncomfortable with change.  they long for “the good old days”, when life was simpler and less cluttered by technology, media and the moral ambiguity of our post-modern world.

me?  not so much.   maybe it’s just because of the way i’m wired or because of a lifetime of hanging around teenagers (always the frontline of cultural shift), but no matter the reason,  i suppose i’ve always been more comfortable with change than most.

so reading about it is one of the ways i stay aware…and emotionally prepared for the inevitable realities we will all have to live through.  but it doesn’t mean i have to like all of it.

this morning, i read about things a number of big-name, high-profile pastor types did over the past few weeks to make headlines.  if those things are true, as reported…i’m disgusted.  if they are only partially true…i’m just deeply saddened.  either way, i find it hard to believe (based on the trustworthiness of those who are reporting, imo) they are completely innocent and victims of slander.

it makes me feel three things:

first, i’m grateful my life and the church i call my family flies below the radar.  i rest knowing that my opinion is not coveted by the masses…my interpretation of the bible only means something to the people who know me…my “sound bites” are not being recorded…and the paparazzi is not following me around to capture my mundane life for the world to judge.  whew.

second, i so wish the church was not judged by the antics of celebrity, mega-church guys (some, not all).  with great fame and power, comes great responsibility.  my heart aches when those in the spotlight don’t use their platform wisely.   (and for the record, being at the bottom of the church food chain is no excuse to live irresponsibly.  size and integrity are mutually exclusive.)

third, judging others is risky business.  yesterday, while i was sermonizing, i said something that took 24 hours to sink into me.  personally.

the great news of the gospel is,  though i am deeply flawed and full of sin and self-centeredness and definitely more than i am ever willing to admit to myself or others…i am still more loved, more forgiven, more accepted than i can fully comprehend.  and those two realities exist in my life every day.  

the “good” me and the “bad” me coexist simultaneously.  and that’s what makes grace such an amazing thing.

so easy to receive.  so difficult to give.

Wrestling with gray

graymy last post (and my last sermon) really bothers me.  the skeptic/doubter/rebellious/seeker/cynic side of  me sees the gray.

the disciple/logical/intellectual/legalistic/pharisaical/bible thumper side of me sees black and white.  what’s a boy to do?

from yesterday’s endless list of beliefs and behaviors that define our church family, here are some that i have been taught to call “sin” through the years:

  • doubting is a sin.
  • getting drunk is a sin.
  • anger is a sin.
  • being a political liberal is a sin.
  • killing animals for fun is a sin.
  • being gay is a sin.
  • getting an abortion is a sin.
  • looking at pornography is a sin.
  • smoking is a sin.
  • listening to music with ungodly lyrics is a sin.
  • getting a divorce is a sin.
  • being in debt is a sin.
  • thoughts of suicide is sin.
  • gossip is sin.
  • flirting is sin.
  • addiction to drugs is sin.
  • giving less than 10% of my income to the church is sin.
  • overeating is sin.
  • sex outside of marriage is sin.
  • believing in evolution is sin.
  • having a woman pastor is a sin.
  • any and all lies are sin.
  • to refuse to say the pledge of allegiance is sin.
  • to oppose u.s. military decisions is sin.
  • to be angry at god is sin.
  • to neglect bible reading is sin.
  • failure to confess our sins is sin.
  • judging others is sin.
  • fear of death is sin.
  • racism is sin.
  • cussing is a sin.
  • getting a tattoo is a sin.
  • dancing is a sin.
  • women speaking in a church service is a sin.
  • interracial dating or marriage is sin.
  • men wearing hats in a church service is sin.
  • being on welfare is sin.
  • breaking the speed limit is sin.
  • missing church on sundays is a sin.

the list could go on.

some of them i still call “sin”.  others i see very differently than i did when i was younger.  but the thing that is most different for me is my heart for people whose behavior does not line up with my understanding of god’s laws.

condemnation is gone.  patience and understanding has replaced quick judgment.  i’ve come to realize that there is usually a story (sometimes a very complicated one) that determines how other people view their own sin and the sin of others.

although there are some times that a firm “stop it. now!”  is in order,  i guess i’ve just grown more comfortable with the idea that most all of us need people who will help carry the burden, while they wrestle through their theological life journey.

since god is the one who will ultimately forgive, i figure my patience with their sin should be at least as long as god’s.  if he can wait for change, then so can i.

Reality Check

log eyehere’s a simple recap of yesterday’s sermon:

the jews were god’s only chosen people for centuries.  after the resurrection of jesus, god opened the door to gentiles to join the club.  the jews did not want to welcome them in.  there was a huge “wall” of hostility between them.  they were totally different politically, socially, spiritually, culturally.

jesus tore down the dividing wall of hostility between the two groups.  his purpose was to create one family of believers.  this was not an easy task for the jews.  it was no walk-in-the-park for the gentiles…and we have the same problems in the church today

the apostle paul wrote to the young, integrated church in ephesus some words that are as true for us today, as they were 2000 years ago:

 I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  4:1-3

paul told the jews and the gentiles that, even tho they were incredibly different and even hostile towards each other, they were to bear with one another.  bearing with another person means we are to “put up with” our differences.  we are to “tolerate” those things that would ordinarily separate us.  we are to “make allowances” for the potential walls and simply love each other.

this is no small task for us today.  we are a divided and fragmented society and it spills over into our church family.  so many differences of opinion.  so many different interpretations of the bible.  so much personal life history and complicated stories.  so many shortcomings.

bearing with one another is critical.  it is central to unity in the body.  it is essential, if love is going to be evident.  the reality is our differences are many and the divide between us (in our church family) can be incredibly deep.  but putting up with those differences… making room for choices and opinions and convictions and even…sin…is when unity can really happen.

i’m not saying we are to condone sin or that there are not more “mature” ways of behaving.  i’m just saying that all of us are different and the more room we make…the more allowances we make…the more we learn to tolerate…the better we become as a family.

here is the “checklist” of people who make up our church family (that i read during my sermon).  these are all real people.  i think the more we understand how different we are, the more we understand how similar we are.  go figure.

  • I’m not sure I really believe in God
  • I never drink alcohol
  • I frequently drink alcohol
  • I’ve gotten drunk recently
  • I  yell at my spouse
  • I voted for President Obama…twice
  • I voted for Mitt Romney
  • I didn’t vote and never will
  • I’m an animal rights activist
  • I hunt
  • I have loving gay friends and family members
  • I’ve had an abortion
  • I have smoked marijuana
  • I look at pornography
  • I own an assault weapon
  • I am carrying my concealed weapon
  • I will never own a gun
  • I smoke
  • I like rap music
  • I have been divorced…
  • I have illegal immigrants as friends
  • I have no deep financial worries
  • I have huge anger issues
  • I am deeply in debt
  • I am attracted to the same sex
  • i cut myself
  • i am addicted to my smartphone
  • i flirt on facebook
  • I have problems with gossip
  • I seldom give any money in the offering plate
  • I am secretly addicted to pain killers
  • I have never been baptized
  • I speak in tongues
  • I dip tobacco
  • I regularly overeat
  • I don’t believe in a literal hell
  • We had sex (with my spouse) before we were married
  • We went too far before we were married
  • I’ve had sex with someone other than who I am married to
  • I spank my kids
  • I don’t believe in spanking my kids
  • I now have health care for the first time in my adult life
  • I believe the earth is millions of years old
  • I believe in evolution
  • I have never really shared my faith with another person
  • I have experienced the presence of a demon
  • I would have no problem with a woman pastor
  • I have lied to my spouse this past week
  • I have broken a promise to my kid this past week
  • I dodged the draft when I was younger
  • I don’t support the war in Afghanistan
  • I’ve lied to the IRS
  • I am deeply depressed, but nobody really knows it
  • I am really, really angry at God
  • I have no clue how to intellectually defend my faith
  • I haven’t read my Bible in weeks
  • I constantly judge others
  • I am afraid to die
  • I am deeply uncomfortable to be around people of other races
  • I cuss
  • I wholeheartedly believe in the death penalty
  • I am wholeheartedly against the death penalty
  • I fast regularly from food
  • I am fully tattooed underneath my shirt
  • I go dancing at clubs on the weekends
  • I pray the Lord’s prayer daily
  • I really only pray when I want something
  • I never raise my hands during worship
  • I never sing during worship
  • I don’t believe women should ever pray out loud or serve communion during worship
  • I don’t believe different races should marry each other
  • I have an unhappy marriages, but people have no clue
  • I am single and I am really lonely
  • I am jobless and on welfare
  • I have close Muslim friends
  • I smoke pipes and cigars
  • I break the speed limit regularly with no guilt at all
  • I love to argue
  • I contemplate suicide
  • I give money to people on street corners
  • I am contemplating not coming back this church

this list is why jesus said to take the log out of your own eye, before you try to take the speck out of another person’s eye.  this list is why jesus died on the cross.  this list is what keeps us humble.  this list is why anybody should feel welcomed into our church family.  this list is why there should be no dividing walls among us.

this list is why there is a command in the bible for us to put up with each other.

this list is why i love north point.