Christian, You’re Not Perfect!

Not much about Facebook is appealing to me these days. Between the angry political rants and the pictures of my aunt’s cat and the 17 Ways to Have a Conversation With an Introvert (#11 Will Shock You!) posts, it’s hard to find a reason to open Mr. Zuckerberg’s social network.   

And now, to make matters even worse, Facebook started reminding me of my past. Have you seen it? The new feature called On This Day tells you what you posted and who you became friends with on this day in year’s past. It’s actually kind of neat being reminded of these life events… until you see that picture of yourself and wonder what in the world you were thinking with that haircut, that outfit, and that expression on your face.

It’s even worse when it’s a written post. You look at ideologies from years ago, the things you found yourself passionate about in college, and shudder at your words. Did I really feel that strongly about Joe Biden in 2008?

I’ve been overwhelmed recently by the truth that we are all in process. I’m not same man I was in ‘06, when my wardrobe consisted of girl jeans, Chuck Taylors, and a nose ring. And even more than style, I’m not the same man spiritually that I was even a year ago.

2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us that as those who follow Jesus are “beholding the glory of the Lord,” we are being transformed into his image… one degree at a time. Notice that it doesn’t say that we behold the glory of the Lord, and then we’re transformed instantly into a perfect person who never sins and has their whole life together.

It says “one degree at a time.”

This idea, that we’re all in process, slowly becoming more like Jesus, is crucial to healthy Christian living. When we realize that we are in process (and that everyone else is, too), a few things can begin to happen:

We can stop acting like we’re perfect.

When we know that this whole becoming like Jesus thing happens one degree at a time, we are able to drop the act and admit our shortcomings. I used to think that Christians had to act perfect so that we’d look good to those who didn’t know Jesus, but the reality is this: we’re not that good. Not only are we not that good, but people also see right through the facade we create when we act like we have it all together. So acting like we don’t make mistakes is helpful to no one.

We can love others for who they are, not what they do.

When we know that this work of sanctification is a process, we’re able to see each other for what we really are: sinners who are saved by Jesus and are slowly becoming more like Jesus because of Jesus. I said the word Jesus a lot in that sentence, and it was on purpose. It’s all because of Jesus. Ephesians 2 reminds us that before Jesus, we were “dead in our trespasses,” and Isaiah 64 says that on our own, our best is like filthy rags. So we can find comfort in the fact that our brothers and sisters are defined by the work of Jesus alone, and not their best or worst behavior.

We can stop expecting a church experience to change us.

Back when I thought Christians should be perfect, I actually had it in my head that other Christians were perfect. I wasn’t certain how they’d gotten there (since I hadn’t attained this perfection myself), so when I heard words like “breakthrough” and “experience,” I figured that’s how it worked. So I went to every church gathering, camp, conference, Bible study, retreat, and worship night that I could. When seemingly nothing changed, I would lay in bed at night and wonder what in the world was wrong with me. Where was my breakthrough? But when we have 2 Corinthians 3:18 in view, we can see church gatherings for what they are: a degree.

So as I sit here and look at photos of myself from May 24, 2007, I think back on who I was and I see the growth that’s happened over the years. It didn’t happen in an instant, but in the every day. And to be honest, I’ll probably give up on Facebook before eight more years pass, but I hope that I’m looking back at today and seeing the process at work… one degree at a time.

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Dear New Christian

Josh is a sophomore at the local university. Though he didn’t grow up with any close Christian friends, this past year he was drawn to surrender his life to Christ through the example first and then the testimony of several of his college friends. He went public with his faith through baptism and the excitement of his new found faith lasted for several weeks.

Now Josh is somewhat depressed, struggling with school, family, and money issues. He desires to experience the same peace and joy he sees in other Christians. From several Bible studies with his LifeGroup he gathers that Christians are supposed to read the Bible often, pray at lot, and be involved in serving. He hears that it is by doing these things that we are changed. As little as he understands these, he jumps into them with all his effort. He reasons that must be how he will have the peace and joy he sees in others. After several months of failed attempts, he is ready to give up. He is beginning to believe that he will never have peace and joy. As a last hope, he comes to me and asks, “What am I doing wrong?”. What follows is my letter to him, the new Christian.

Josh,

First of all I commend your desire to pursue peace and joy as a Christian. Most young guys your age, and many people in general, are looking for joy and satisfaction in everything this world has to offer apart from God. However the fact that you are coming to Jesus, believing that there is satisfaction to be had in a relationship with Him and pursuing it, is pleasing to God. What’s more is that it’s the only pursuit that will truly satisfy your soul.

I want you to know that I see this stirring in your heat as tremendous evidence that God is already working in your life. He is putting this desire in you, which He wants you to pursue and which he intends to satisfy. Remember the gospel – even when we weren’t looking for God, he was pursuing us, right? Our redemption was his idea. “…while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). What a reality! Likewise, you’re desire to know God more and mature in your relationship with Him is not your own idea. Rather it’s God who has taken the first step toward you, who has initiated your salvation and your growth, and now everything you’re doing is a response to Him drawing you to Himself. Be encouraged – your pursuit of God is a response to His work, not an effort to stir Him to work.

As you pursue this peace and joy, which you see in other Christians, I want to remind you of a very important principle that I’ve learned from Psalm 63. Let this give your pursuit some perspective: peace and joy doesn’t come from performing disciplines; it comes from knowing God Himself.

In Psalm 63 the psalmist engages in disciplines like gathering with other believers (verse 2), singing praises to God (verses 3-4), prayer and reflection (verse 6). But he does all this because of his ultimate desire which we see in verse 1: He wanted to know and be near to God Himself

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

The joy that life with God promises us is not simply satisfaction for a job well done regarding spiritual disciplines. Rather the joy is that we get to be with the creator of the universe, knowing Him, and being conformed to His image. It’s because knowing and living with God is better than life itself that we can say with the psalmist “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food” (Psalm 63:5). C.S. Lewis says it well: “God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”

As we practice these disciplines we are also changed, not because of the disciplines themselves. We are changed because these practices place us before God in anticipation of enjoying His presence and receiving His transforming grace. As we practice certain disciplines like reading and reflecting on Scripture, memorizing scripture, prayer, solitude, serving, journaling, etc., we are setting time aside to meet with God, inviting Him to work on our hearts. It’s in these times that He works to reveal Himself, to reform our affections, and to change us. In these times He points out areas in our life that look more like our old lifestyle than like Jesus, and He gives us the the Holy Spirit to put those ways to death (Romans 8:4). Growing in our relationship with our creator like this is where joy and satisfaction are found!

So remember Josh, our goal as we engage in spiritual disciplines, or “holy habits” is not completion for completion sake; they are not an end in themselves.  Rather they are the means, vehicles through which we attain our true goal: drawing nearer to God and become more like Christ.

Be encouraged friend. “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6).

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Cussing Is Not What Damns People To Hell

We had a good, and I hope helpful, dialogue in episode 13 of our weekly To Be The Church Podcast about the issue of cussing/swearing. We discussed the topic in terms of our practical theology as Christians; how our belief in God works itself out in our individual lives and Christian community.

From a cultural standpoint, we noted that as far as we have studied and observed, societal norms seem to dictate a perceived moral line in terms of the words we use. Where this line comes from, who ultimately sets it, and whether or not it moves from one generation or culture to the next are all issues we talked about but didn’t resolve. It seems plain that each society sets lines and as Christians we work to contextualize our faith in the midst of a culture that values language to one degree or another.

Should a Christian be convicted about cussing?

The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment. It is best to allow Him to do His job and to not presume that any one of us possesses infallible judgment or perfect wisdom on this or any subject. However, in inspiring the Scriptures, God saw fit to reveal certain things on this issue, and it is our job to wrestle with those as individual Christians working out our faith in community.

I brought up the passage in Colossians 3 where Paul is admonishing the church to “put off the old man” and “put on the new.” As I can see, it is probably the most applicable text to wrestle with on this issue of practical theology. Paul lists things like compassionate hearts, humility, meekness, kindness, and patience among the things we should “put on” as the Spirit of God works to sanctify us. Under things we should “put away” from the “old self” he lists anger, wrath, malice, slander, lying, and “obscene talk.”

The greek word for “obscene talk” is the word aiskrologia. It is the combination of two root words aiskros and logos. The first word means “shameful or base” and the second: “word.” Together these root words form the idea of ‘speech that is considered socially or morally unacceptable.’[1]

Toward the end of our podcast Tyler asked me if I thought this was an issue we should spend a lot of time on as Christians. I said I think we should certainly grapple with and work out Colossians 3 in our individual lives in the context of Christian community, but at the same time we should avoid playing “policeman” on this issue for our world.

If I could more fully answer that question in this blog, I’d say that cussing isn’t the biggest problem we should work to tackle as Christians. It’s important that we work out God’s word, continually mature, and grow together in Christian community. And while cussing may be something God convicts you of, and on which you need to work and be held accountable, we often view this as a bigger issue than it is—especially for those who aren’t Christians.

I don’t know why we even view it as an issue for non-Christians. Cussing is not what sends people to Hell, denying Jesus Christ—the only way to salvation—is what damns people to Hell. And when we ignore this fact by trying to police behavior in people who don’t even know Jesus, I think we can actually hurt both their perspective of the gospel and the work of the gospel in their lives. That friend or co-worker with a foul-mouth is not going to find salvation by not offending your Puritanical sensibilities. His only shot is the finished work of Jesus. We can’t ‘moralize’ people into new life in Christ. They need Jesus before they’ll start exhibiting the fruit that grows from new life in Him.

There are certainly a number of Christians who understand this, and who reveal their understanding by not paying heed to the language they use. I think Ephesians 4 (“let no unwholesome talk proceed from your mouth”) and Colossians 3 are both texts with which these Christians should wrestle. We’re told in 1 Corinthians 5 not to judge those outside the faith, but to judge one another. I don’t think flippancy in our language is evidence that we’ve somehow reached a point of mature enlightenment on the gospel, maybe it just means we have some growing up to do. I’ll leave that to you, the Holy Spirit, and the Christian community to which you are accountable.

Walking in the light of Christ shouldn’t blind people around you who are living in darkness. Satan does that job thoroughly enough.[2] We have to stop tightening that blindfold by giving non-believers a standard to keep, though they have no power to keep it.

[1] BDAG.

[2] 2 Corinthians 4.

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MANAGING MIRANDA RIGHTS PEOPLE

I’ve never had them read to me, but I’ve watched enough police shows to have the Miranda Rights memorized. They read, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?” The first part is my focus.

As a practicing leader for 2+ decades I have encountered many of what I call “Miranda Rights People.” If you are a leader you probably know exactly what I am talking about. These are people who aren’t on board with where you are trying to lead them. They seem to have an opposing view of everything and they like to tell you about it at every opportunity. The reason I titled this post Managing Miranda Rights People is because they really can’t be led. They can’t be led because they refuse to follow. So, they can only be managed. If it helps, think of them like chronic pain (only if it helps).

So why do I refer to them as Miranda Rights people? I do this as a reminder to me that when I encounter one of them I have a right to remain silent. And most of the time I will because I know that whatever I say or do can and will be used against me. Do you understand these rights?

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Church: Grow Where You’re Planted!

Earlier this week, Andrew and I had a conversation about leaving a church, when it’s necessary, and how to do it. We discussed a couple of instances where leaving might be needed, but it really got me thinking. In reality, there are very few scenarios that warrant you packing your bags in search of a new church family. In fact, I’d argue that when we do hop from church to church, we are making it almost impossible to be the church that we are called to be.

One of the main ways that we can feed the consumerism that is so prevalent in the church today is by leaving and finding a new church community every couple years. I know that at any given moment, you can come up with an excuse to switch churches, but I truly believe that God is most glorified when we are fully committed to a local church that preaches the Bible.

So many people leave churches because of preferences. They don’t like the music or the preaching is too long or there’s not enough stimulation for their kids. But if we’re truly acting as the (365 days a year) church, it would seem inconceivable to jump ship based on something that we dislike about the once a week, 90-minute church gathering.

In Romans 12:4, Paul tells us that “we (who make up the church) do not all have the same function.” That means that you have something to offer your church community. Whether you’re a 54 year old electrician or a 28 year old stay at home mom, a middle schooler or an empty-nester, a world-class drummer or someone who can’t clap on beat, a Rhodes scholar or a high-school dropout, we are all members of the body, and individually members of each other. And this means that we all have a purpose. In his letter to Titus, Paul gives this instruction to the church:

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.
(Titus 2:2-6)

Over the last decade or so, there has been somewhat of a Domino effect in the Western church. I know I’m speaking in generalities here, but please humor me. First, we began viewing our church like a place we attend instead of a living organism that we are a part of. Because of this, we began projecting a consumer mentality onto our church communities. When church is just a place where you go to get what you want, it totally makes sense to maximize your time and find the place where you feel most fed, where the music gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling you’re longing for, and where the people don’t confront you with uncomfortable things (because they don’t know you). When our cost/benefit analysis told us that the church across town would offer us more, we began leaving where we were planted for the comfort of the biggest, newest thing. (Or, in many cases, for the comfort of an expression reminds us of the good ‘ol days).

Church leadership has responded to this by abandoning who they really are in an attempt to keep us from leaving. As people are filing out of their doors, they’ve panicked and began to offer corporate worship gatherings that offer the hottest new thing or a throwback to the glory days. The result is a segregation in our churches based on age, style, culture, and expression.

I have a rich family history. My great grandfather, Constantine Mavraganis, grew up on the outskirts of Corinth, Greece. At the age of 16, he came to know Jesus and put his trust in Christ. Being that his family was a part of the Greek Orthodox Church, his father told him that he must renounce his newfound faith or leave the family. Constantine chose to follow Christ, and so while he was still a teenager, his father brought him to America, and left him here.

My great-grandfather passed away before I was born, but I hear stories of him often; how he made up our current last name, Clarensau, so he could find a job during wartime; how he lavished affection on my grandfather and father for carrying on the family name. I’ve been hearing these stories my entire life, even as recent as this past Christmas.

My grandfather, Ted, has two kids. My dad and mom have two kids, and my aunt has four. I have two kids. There are 16 of us on the Clarensau family tree, and we were all under the same roof this past holiday season. It was a beautiful time. Grandpa has been battling cancer this year, and I’m getting tears in my eyes remembering the look on his face as he met Lennon, my youngest daughter, for the first time.

We spent our days catching up as a family, scarfing down way more gyros and snickerdoodles than is recommended, and continuing our family tradition of wearing six layers of clothes, sitting in traffic for two hours, walking another hour through a parking lot of drunk people at 11am, and then standing in sub-freezing temperatures for three hours, all to watch a football game that we could’ve watched in our living room.

I can still see the joy in my granddad’s eyes as he watched these four generations of Clarensau’s be a family. We are all very different people. We live in five different cities in four states and have very different careers, ambitions, and ideas of a good time. But we’re a family. The older have wisdom and knowledge and experience for the younger, and the younger have passion and excitement and drive that energizes the older. And because we are a family, we spend our days enjoying each other and celebrating our differences.

This is what our churches should look like. I’m sick of seeing church leadership abandon who they really are in the name of trying to draw a crowd. And I’m sick of church leadership throwing all of their older folks into a different time slot or auditorium in order to pacify them (while making sure that their money stays in the church), and feed the consumerism that has no place in our discipleship.

When someone walks into our building longing for community, how beautiful would it be to be greeted by a family; by those whose experience shows in their wrinkles and gray hair, by those with the wide-eyed optimism of youth, by children whose joy represents new life? Paul knew that this mattered so much more than style or expression or age when he told the church to encourage one another and not neglect meeting together.

So church, be the church… be a family. Grow where you’re planted. If necessary, set aside your personal preferences for the good of the body, and in all things, glorify God.

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The Only Way to Have Everything and Nothing

John D. Rockefeller was a rich man. The first billionaire on record, it has been calculated that according to today’s dollar, during his lifetime he was likely the richest man in the history of the world. When asked by a reporter “How much is enough” the oil tycoon famously said, “Just one more dollar.”

I don’t know a whole lot about Rockefeller, but I know myself, and I’m sure you know yourself. If you’re an American reading this, you (like me) are a part of a culture that not only celebrates largesse, but actually demands it. Like the grave, we are never satisfied. Bigger, better, faster, sleeker, we’re not well-known for our patience or our lack of an appetite. We buy into the myth that just a little bit more will be enough.

What about contentment?

Contentment is defined as “a state of happiness and satisfaction.” Contentment is a place of rest. Contentment is where striving for just a little bit more ceases. It is not simply looking at what we have and being OK without much more, I think it’s the place where we stop fixating on what we have or do not have. Contentment is ceasing to look at “me and mine,” and instead focusing my attention elsewhere.

Paul says “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” Contentment itself is probably a pretty nice place to live. But if you add godliness to it: being right with God through Jesus, living how we are designed to live, the gain is great.

Financially, we all want to limit losses and increase gains. I think this is a good strategy, we should certainly be good stewards of our resources. But to what end? As I’ve been thinking about contentment today, I think I’ve come to realize that the key to having anything is having contentment first.

You don’t have anything until you have contentment.   

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Coming This Summer: LPU

LPU-UltimateThis Summer, you’re invited to participate in LifePoint Ultimate, LPC’s Summer frisbee league. Here are the details:

Dates: Saturday mornings, June 6 – July 4
Time: 10am – Noon
Ages: 15 and up
Location: Pacific Community Park (Nearest Intersection: 18th st & 172nd Ave)

On the morning of the 4th of July, our final Saturday, we’ll have our final games and celebrate with some BBQ.

All are welcome to this league. Whether you’re wanting to learn how to play the sport, or you’ve been in multiple leagues, come out and play! A pick-up game will be held on Saturday May 30th at 10am if you would like to come practice before the season starts.

There’s a minimal cost. For only $10 you’ll be placed on a team for 5 games, receive a t-shirt, and enjoy a great end-of-season BBQ. If you’d like to come out and enjoy the games without playing, you’re welcome too! You can use the registration link to order a t-shirt and sign-up for the BBQ. Simply select, “I’m just going to watch, but I’d like a T-Shirt!”

Are you ready? All that’s left to do is sign-up. You can even request to play on a team with a friend or two. You’ll then be added to LPU’s Facebook page where you’’ll see future updates. That’s also where teams will be posted before the first game so you can see what team you are on.

Spread the word and get ready – It’s going to be a blast.

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