” . . . speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the Body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).
For a church to become mature, it is essential that it be a place where the truth is spoken in love. Without this, a church will never become what God would have it to be.
Sadly, what so often happens in the Church is that we want to be affirmed. We may recoil at the suggestion that there is some sin in our lives that needs to be addressed and become offended if someone should tell us what we need to hear. But limiting our speech–from the pulpit or otherwise–to words of affirmation alone does not lead to growth and maturity. Doing so allows sin to take root in our lives and do its destructive, deadening work. This is the danger in expecting love without truth.
The Church has also been known to err to the opposite extreme. For instance, preaching has a sometimes-well-earned reputation for thundering out truth judgmentally and with no hint of love. Those who stick around for such preaching may either become self-deprecating punching bags, certain of their wormlike worth, or find themselves morphing into Pharisees with pointing fingers and hawk-like eyes for seeing the faults in others. When that happens, it is not only from the pulpit that loveless truth will flow. Rather, it will become the culture of such a church.
If the Church is to be what Christ wants His Church to be (and it is His Church), we must avoid these extremes and speak the truth in love. In doing so, we lovingly help one another along on this journey of faith, saying what needs to be said only for the sake of building one another up toward maturity in Christ. This enables each of us to be enlightened to our blind spots and to come to terms with our flaws and our sin and allow the Lord to transform us as we humbly submit to His spiritual surgery. Only then will each part of the Body of Christ work properly, which is essential to seeing “the Body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
What a privilege it is to walk into a new year with Jesus. The year is sure to bring the usual difficulties, disappointments, and crises, but Jesus will be right there with me through all of them, as He will with you, if you know Him. And if we should not make it to 2019, it will mean that we have gone to our true home with Him.
One of the themes that is often at the forefront of my mind and turns up frequently in my sermons is that, when we are with Him in eternity, all of the things that beset us in life–things that cause some to walk away from Him–will prove to have been worth enduring with Him and for Him. May we who know Jesus not wander from the path this year. May we not step off of the firm Foundation. May we not let any deep darkness that may seem to enshroud us along the way keep us from seeing the light beyond the darkness–the light that is Jesus Himself.
And to any who read this who do not yet know Him, may you sense His tug at your heart and come to embrace Him as your Savior. For He died to pay the penalty for your sins against God, and He rose from the grave to conquer sin and death. He holds out a gift to you: the gift of eternal life, and He beckons you to receive it by faith.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
[DISCLAIMER: I realize “Hollywood” is not an individual, but I use the term as such in the way many people do: to speak of an approach to film making that seems to be acceptable to the powers that be in the Hollywood movie-making industry.]
I recently watched an excellent movie called “The Finest Hours” about the most daring successful small boat rescue mission in US Coast Guard history. Four men went out on a small boat in 60-to-70-foot waves during a nor’easter to save some men who were stranded on an oil tanker that had split in half. It happened in 1952.
As these four heroes navigated the seas that could easily have killed them, they sang a song to calm their nerves. In the movie, they sang a seafaring song. In real life, they sang the hymn “Rock of Ages.”
According to an article at time.com (http://time.com/4197131/the-finest-hours-true-story), “[w]ith some exceptions for the sake of dramatic tension and concise storytelling, the script largely sticks to its source material, Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman’s 2010 book The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue.” The linked article’s comparisons of key moments from the actual rescue mission to their portrayals in the film reveals this movie to have done a better job of telling the true story than most films seem to do. But why change the song the men sang? That does nothing to help the storytelling process.
This is what Hollywood so often does. They create a world in which true, dependent faith in God does not exist in normal people, and especially not in heroes. In this view of the world, only those on the fringe have any real relationship with Jesus; those with a faith that actually affects things like morality, decision making, and life goals are typically viewed as extremists. The changing of the song in this particular film is but one example of that. Why change the song when so much of the script remained true to the events as they actually happened? Nothing is done in the making of a film without there being a reason for doing it, so what was the reason for this?
I suspect that most movie goers would have no problem with a genuine Christian being portrayed as such–they would have no issue with four men singing a hymn to God as a means of steeling their courage–as long as those movie goers don’t feel like they’re being fed propaganda. However, they actually are being fed propaganda., and years of such feedings seem to have resulted in a culture wherein the younger people who were raised with this propagandist view of “reality” have come to believe it actually is reality.
As a person whose life is built upon faith in Jesus and knows what He can do when a life is surrendered to Him, I am saddened by what Hollywood’s typical portrayal of faith unknowingly has in store for culture and for the destinies (both temporal and eternal) of individuals. A culture that removes God from its consciousness is a culture that will end up groping in dark enslavement. But Jesus is the Light, and embracing His truth will set you free. He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” the only way to God (John 14:6). He changes lives for the better, and He gives eternal life to all who believe in Him. Sadly, many have been conditioned to get the “heebie jeebies” around anyone who would speak of such things, things that have long been prominent in Western culture.
Hollywood has been a big part of my life. Going to the movies is one of my favorite things to do. But, with few exceptions, its portrayals of God and those who know Him through faith in Jesus are largely inaccurate. Maybe Hollywood filmmakers are just not any better at telling that true story than they are of telling most other true stories.
Three days into 2017, are your New Years resolutions still intact? I’m not one for making such resolutions, but I do strive (however feebly) to live by the Scriptures every day of my life. The very end of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians gives us some good things to shoot for as believers in Jesus in 2017 (and beyond, should the Lord tarry). His last three statements (prior to the “amen”) are powerful:
- “Our Lord, come!”
- “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.”
- “My love be with you all in Christ Jesus.”
If we could wrap all of that into one resolution for the new year, it would look something like this: Long for the Lord’s return while living in the light of His grace and loving one another.
Can you imagine how transformed the Church of Jesus Christ would be if our lives were so defined? Can you imagine the focus we would have? Can you imagine the trivial things that might fall by the wayside in our lives as the things that really matter rise to the forefront? Can you imagine the impact we might make for Christ?
I arrived at the church yesterday morning to see a tag hanging on the door knob, informing me that a gas company meter reader had been here earlier and I had missed him. (The meter readers have to be let in since our meter is behind a locked gate). I found this curious, given that I had set up an appointment a couple of weeks ago to have the meter read between 1:00 and 400 pm yesterday. So I called Nicor to get it straightened out.
Turns out, they did have us on the schedule for between 1 and 4, and the customer service rep did not know why someone had shown up earlier. She asked me if I would be willing to read the meter myself and tell her the readings. After receiving a quick tutorial from her on how to do that, I left her on hold, made the walk to the meter, wrote down the readings, and returned about five minutes later to find her still holding for me. I gave her the readings. She said, “Wow, you did that really well.” I have no idea what it was about the numbers I gave her that made her say that, but I chuckled and said, “Well, I may be needing a part-time job in the near future.” She laughed and told me they were hiring and that I would probably be good at it.
I give all that detail just to show how the conversation went. It was a nice, pleasant time on the phone over a mundane bit of church business. It had taken a little bit of time for her to sort out the scheduling confusion, and she had had to put me on hold at one point. But we just progressed, showing common courtesy and friendliness toward each other. Which leads to how the call ended.
As we were ready to say goodbye, she said to me, “Before I go, I just want to thank you for being so kind and patient and polite as I was straightening this all out. Not everyone is.” I replied, “Well, I think that’s how Jesus would have me be.” She said, “You would think so, but it’s not always the case.” She noted that she, too, was a Christian and that some of the rudest people she deals with are those who call from churches. That broke my heart. I think it says something about why people view Jesus and the Church the way they do. As I think about it now, it bothers me that, though I try not to be, I may have been that rude Christian on the other end of the phone at sometime. I hope not.
I’m struck by the power of common courtesy to make a good impression for Jesus. This goes along with what we read in Titus 3:2. Paul instructs Titus there to remind his congregation “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”If we are not able to do these things, perhaps we have become too full of ourselves and need to spend some time meditating on Philippians 2. Perhaps some humility is in order. If I think I am better than someone, I may tend not to show courtesy to that person. But the fact is, I am not better than anyone else.None of us are. We all stand before God as condemned sinners apart from having had our sins washed in the blood through faith in Jesus.
As ambassadors for Christ, we Christians need to take note of this, especially given the reputation we have with at least one customer service rep.How we treat people matters. It matters to the Lord who suffered and died for them. It even matters for how people may ultimately view Jesus. This is not earth-shattering spiritual truth here. It’s just a matter of being nice, polite, friendly, and things like that. It’s just common courtesy.
Who defines evil?
The book of Judges in the Old Testament contains an oft-repeated statement: “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.” In fact, the story of the book of Judges is one of Israel turning away from God, God delivering them into the hands of an enemy, Israel eventually crying out to God for deliverance, and God raising up a leader–a judge–to lead Israel to victory and into a time of walking with God. This cycle runs throughout the book.
God never applied His hand of discipline to Israel for doing what was evil in the eyes of their culture. He never did so for their doing what was evil as determined by polling data. Nor did He do so for their doing what was evil per the influential pundits of the day. Israel faced discipline from the hand of the LORD for doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD.
Mankind does not have the luxury of defining what is evil, nor do countries, regions, states, cities, communities, social groups, or individuals. If God considers something to be evil, then it is evil, even if only one person out of seven billion would agree with God. In fact, even if NO person agreed with God, His definition of evil would still stand. Man may decide to call evil good, but it remains, in fact, evil, for the One who will judge everyone considers it so. We all stand before God on the basis of HIS standard, not any standard of our own. Mankind may try to vote God out; they may try to storm the castle; they may try to let the Supreme Court decide. But if God calls something evil, it is evil.
The beautiful thing, though, is that we who have a proclivity for evil (i.e., sin) are made perfectly righteous in the sight of God when we trust in the sacrifice made for our sins by Jesus on the cross–in other words, when we receive Jesus as our Savior–when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. He bore our sin so that we might take on His righteousness, even though, in practice, we still sin. Wonder of wonders, if not for this salvation that comes only through faith in Jesus, we would all have no hope at all, for we are so quick to run to what God calls evil. Have you received Jesus as YOUR Savior?