Tag Archive: Christianity


The Truth Shall Make You Free“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:15).

What does it mean to speak the truth in love? How do we confront people with the convicting testimony of God’s Word while remaining compassionate and caring? Is it a matter of somehow balancing truth and love (as if they’re competing concepts)? Is it a matter of presenting truth in the most loving way possible? Are there times we hold back the truth in order to be loving?

Some will insist that the most loving thing to do is to tell the “straight testimony” without pulling any punches. If people have a desire to know and follow the truth, then it won’t matter if our presentation is a little rough around the edges. We shouldn’t be concerned with pleasing the masses. Truth confronts and convicts, so just let ‘em have it, and let the chips fall where they may.

Truth does indeed confront and convict; there’s no doubt about that. But there’s a question that has been nagging in my mind for a little while now. It comes from putting together a couple of fundamental biblical principles. The first is found in John 14:6: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” Truth is actually a Person—Jesus Christ—and not merely a set of facts. So if I really want to tell people the truth, I have to introduce them to Jesus.

The second biblical principle comes from 1 John 4:8: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Not only is Jesus the truth, He is also love. So here’s the question: If I speak the truth, but not in love, is it still the truth? In other words, if my presentation of the truth fails to convey the love of Jesus, then I’ve left out a fundamental aspect of God’s character. And if I’ve misrepresented God’s character, then have I really communicated the truth, since Jesus, and not mere facts, is the truth?

Now, the “straight testimony” folks would probably argue that we could take this love thing to an extreme and never really confront sin because we’re too busy trying not to offend. They have a point—but only because we humans have a hard time understanding what love really means. Loving someone does not mean enabling them to continue doing what’s wrong. We don’t need to counterbalance love with truth, or vice versa; rather, we need a right understanding of God’s love.

So the question remains. My belief right now is that if I merely present a set of facts but I don’t demonstrate the love of Jesus, then I haven’t actually spoken the truth at all. I’ve only misrepresented the truth, because I’ve reduced it to mere propositions. Those things don’t cease to be true if I don’t speak them in love. But I haven’t actually spoken the whole truth if I don’t speak it in love.

Believing in facts will not save us; believing in Jesus will. I challenge you to consider how you speak the truth to others. Are you presenting truth the Person, or truth the proposition? Look at the last part of Ephesians 4:15, the verse I quoted in the beginning. It says that the goal of speaking the truth in love is for all of us together to mature into the body of Christ. We will become like Jesus! Let’s imitate His example. That’s the best way to ensure that we’re always speaking the truth in love.

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We’re over halfway through the first month of 2014. How are your New Year’s resolutions going? Still staying true to them? I’m not big on making New Year’s resolutions. I just think it’s unhelpful to put so much pressure on yourself at the beginning of a year, as if that’s the only time to accomplish anything meaningful. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not criticizing people who set goals and strive to improve themselves. I believe in setting goals; I just prefer to do it throughout the year.

If I did make New Year’s resolutions for self-improvement, like many people do, I’d have a wide variety of options to choose from. I’m sure there are many failures and flaws of which I am blissfully ignorant, but the ones I do know about really bother me. I want to improve. I want to do what is right and good, and stop doing what is wrong and bad. I’m sure most of us have that desire. That’s a good thing, right? Those of us who are Christians should be especially concerned about doing good and shunning evil.

But I wonder sometimes: Is that what Christianity is really about? Is this just a religion of self-improvement that helps me overcome my annoying flaws so I can feel a bit more self-satisfied? Is this all that Jesus came to do, to enable me to make New Year’s resolutions and set goals for being a better, nicer, fitter, smarter me?

Maybe there’s more to it than that. The Jesus I read about in the Bible is not concerned with correcting a few character flaws so that people can live reasonably at peace with themselves. He is deeply interested in bringing about total life transformation—a complete paradigm shift that changes the very core of our being. What’s more, He wants a deep personal relationship with us. He wants to be more than a life coach that we visit every now and then when we need a pep talk. He wants to be our best friend, someone we talk to all the time.

So now I’m thinking about my life, my desire to do what’s right, and my relationship with Jesus. I’m a perfectionist by nature, so this is a serious issue. Am I focused on correcting my flaws, instead of pursuing Jesus? What would satisfy me more: to know that I have ridded myself of one more annoying bad habit, or to know that I am daily living in the presence of a friend who loves me despite all of my flaws?

What if the secret to bettering ourselves is not found in trying harder and harder every year to be “good?” What if instead the secret is pursuing a deep friendship with a Man called God-with-us, and by beholding His perfection we ourselves become changed, and not just into the better version of ourselves that we envisioned, but into a perfect representation of His flawless character? Think about it. If you’re a perfectionist like me, would you rather be good, or be perfect?

Is it possible that sometimes we hate sin more than we love Jesus? That maybe for us Christianity is more about overcoming the bad habits that bother us than it is about a love relationship with Jesus? Maybe we appreciate Jesus as Savior because He promises to set us free from our enslavement to evil. But we struggle with Jesus as Lord because, honestly, we’d like to be set free to do our own thing—good things instead of bad things, yes, but still our own agenda, not His.

What we need are not more New Year’s resolutions to do bigger and better things. What we need is a New Year’s revolution: a complete transformation of our entire life that radically restructures our priorities. Jesus comes first, not me. Improving myself is not what’s most important; following Jesus is. And guess what: the great thing about following Jesus is that you will improve. In fact, you’ll have much more success than if you focus on making yourself better. The thing about sin is that it’s like a hydra: chop off one problem and three more grow out of it. We can waste an entire lifetime futilely chopping away at our sin problem, or we can spend a lifetime following Jesus and let Him kill the heart of the beast within us. It’s our choice.

My choice is to have a New Year’s revolution, not just in January, but in every month, week, day, hour, minute, and second of the year. I may not always be completely true to this goal, but thankfully I know Jesus will still love me anyway. That’s why I want to follow Him. I love Him because He first loved me. And as I follow Him, He will show me the way—not to accomplish my own agenda, but to fulfill His will.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

I recently came across this video which puts some rather shocking statistics about wealth inequality in America into visual format. It’s disturbing to say the least. Watch the video below (it’s only about six minutes long), and then we’ll pick up a bit of commentary afterwards.

So, what did you think? Pretty heavy stuff, right? Now, before we go any further I just want to emphasize that this is a religion blog, not a political blog. I’m not endorsing any particular political solution to the problem of wealth inequality. However, I am deeply interested in how Christians should respond to this problem. First of all, do we believe that income inequality is a problem? Why or why not? If it is a problem (and I believe it is, for many reasons), should Christians be concerned about it and take action to address it? Why or why not? If we should be concerned and take action (and again, I believe we should, for many reasons), what action should we take?

In my series on a biblical theology of wealth, which regrettably I haven’t added to in awhile, I have stated several times that I believe we’re more influenced by our culture than we are by the Bible when it comes to our view of wealth. Wealth inequality is one example of our culturally-induced blindness; it’s an area Christians need to address biblically. To ignore the suffering of millions of people who lack the basic necessities of life places us squarely in the camp of the goats (see Matt. 25:31-46). At the judgment, when Jesus confronts their indifference, they reply in shock, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” In reply Jesus reminds them, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

Of course, on the flip side, Jesus affirms the sheep, those who do feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. Interestingly, though, this group also does not realize that when they did these things they were doing it to Jesus. The powerful lesson that Jesus teaches us is that whenever we care for those who are less fortunate than ourselves, it’s as if we are caring for Jesus Himself. That is how closely He identifies with the poor, the oppressed, and the suffering.

One last thought: this video only deals with wealth inequality in America. Imagine how much greater the inequality would be if we included the entire world. Imagine if we compared the wealth of the world’s richest to the poverty of the world’s poorest. It’s an almost unfathomable gap. Let’s never forget that God loves every person on this planet, no matter what economic bracket they’re in, no matter what country they are from. As followers of Jesus we should be just as concerned as He is with the plight of the poor and oppressed in every part of the world, for all bear His image, and all have been purchased by His blood.

So, how should Christians respond to all of this? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

A Church Divided

Angry Political FightUnless you’ve been purposefully avoiding the news, you know that the U.S. government is currently in shutdown mode following a stalemate between Democrats and Republicans over the budget. The big storyline of the shutdown is the thousands of federal employees currently not working and not getting paid. Congress is still getting paid, however, which naturally draws the ire of many citizens. How is it that the people responsible for thousands of others losing their income are themselves still getting a paycheck?

There’s plenty of blame to go around for the mess we’re in. And everywhere you turn you can find someone eager to place blame, whether it’s pundits in the news media or your politically-minded friends on Facebook. (This is yet another of those occasions when suddenly everyone becomes an expert on Constitutional law, and economic and domestic policy.)

And here’s where I, as a pastor, become greatly disturbed by what I see happening. American political discourse has become increasingly rancorous and partisan. Angry accusations are hurled by each side at the other. Each side presents itself as the champions of truth and justice who are justifiably—even righteously—angry at the malfeasance of the other side. And Christians are right in the thick of it. Despite the fact that we claim to follow a King who unequivocally declared, “My kingdom is not of this world,” we seem to get awfully caught up in what the kingdoms of this world are doing, so much so that we, too, take sides and get into the mudslinging with the best (worst?) of them.

I see three big reasons why this Christian partisanship is problematic. The first is that it divides us from each other and even pits us against each other. You may be a hardcore political conservative who can’t stand Democrats, but guess what: sitting next to you in the pew may be a diehard Democrat. When you start blaming the Democrats for what’s wrong in Washington, how well does it go over with your Democratic brothers and sisters in Christ? How well does it go over with you when you find out that they’re Democrats? (“In my church? Unconscionable!”) Are you able to maintain Christian unity with those on the other side of the political spectrum? Are you more likely to be singing “Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” or “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” followed swiftly by “The Battle Hymn of the Republic?”

The second reason why Christian partisanship is problematic is that it distracts us from our mission. The Great Commission tells us that the invitation to join God’s kingdom extends to every nation (Matt. 28:18-20). The kingdom transcends nationality, race, culture, language, and political affiliation (Rev. 5:9). Can you embrace your political opponents as members of the same family of God to which you belong? Or do your political convictions lead you to exclude those whose convictions are different? If those of us in the church can’t get along because of political disagreements, how will we ever make disciples all over the world? Who is going to take us seriously if we’re divided amongst ourselves over matters which only have temporal importance? After all, Jesus said that all people will know we are His disciples if we love one another (John 13:35). If we’re lacking in love, we’re telling the world that we’re not really His disciples.

The third reason why Christian partisanship is problematic is that causes us to sacrifice our Christian values. I have observed that there is an inverse correlation between the party which one blames the most for our current political disorder and the party which he or she supports the most. That might seem obvious; of course we’re going to criticize the other side more. But Christians should have a higher standard of morality than which political party we happen to like better. Let’s suppose, for example, that you tend to side with the Democrats. Your natural tendency might be to blame the Republicans for the nation’s woes. But would you be willing to hold your own party accountable? Would you be willing to stand up and call out injustice, greed, pride, and selfishness no matter who has perpetrated it? It’s all too easy to turn a blind eye to our preferred party’s faults and instead focus on the wrongdoing of the other party.

Far too many Christians seem blindly loyal to their political ideology, and far too few Christians display a sold out, no holds barred loyalty to God’s kingdom that supersedes every earthly loyalty. The first words in the Great Commission establish that Jesus has all the authority in heaven and on earth. No political loyalty should surpass our loyalty to Jesus and to the principles He taught. Can you love your political enemies like Jesus does? Do you have to sacrifice Christian values, like humility, graciousness, mercy, and peacemaking, in order to fight your political foes? Ask yourself this: how would Jesus relate to our current political climate? Can you imagine Him in the thick of political debates blaming, accusing, and deriding the opposition? Can you honestly imagine Him taking a side at all? If you can, I would strongly encourage you to take a closer look at Jesus’ values and compare them with the values of your preferred political ideology. The glaring discrepancies should answer any lingering questions about which party Jesus would support.

The gospel is for everyone: Democrats and Republicans, liberals and libertarians, progressives and conservatives. And the gospel unites everyone under the same banner of God’s eternal kingdom. But when we allow politics to divide and distract us, we deny the power of the gospel and the all-inclusive nature of God’s kingdom. We become a church divided against itself which cannot stand. Make no mistake: troublous times are coming, when the kingdoms of this world will array themselves against the citizens of the kingdom of heaven. But how can the church withstand the onslaught if we’re too busy bickering over which earthly kingdom is greatest (or which is the lesser evil)? I challenge you, my Christian friends, to put your loyalty to God’s kingdom above all other loyalties. Do not let anything undermine your allegiance to Jesus and your unity with your fellow kingdom citizens. Let the words of Paul in Ephesians 4 characterize your life, even in the arena of politics:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, 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. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph. 4:1-6)

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Eph. 4:29-32)

 

 

My friend Nelson Fernandez, who pastors on South Carolina, has also written an excellent blog along similar lines.