A Lifestyle Of Repentance…Part 1

“The scary thing about this reality is that grace is only present when we are wrong. If we refuse to admit when we are wrong, and repent we cut-off the supply of grace that seeks to cleanse us.”

How tragic it is when such powerful words become diluted, or “cliché”. Does the power in a word fade away when it is used too much, or when the word is only spoken with the mouth and not practiced with the heart? Perhaps the word repent rubs many the wrong way, or holds no power because we do not know how to…do it. After all, it is much easier to merely say certain things, and leave it at that. Words begin to lose their power when the user stops at speaking the word, yet does nothing to pursue its depth through action.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:22-25

Many of us fail to experience the true freedom that is present within the beauty of the Gospel because we miss out on one of its most basic, core verbs. Repent. Or, for those of us who thought it was a “one-time” to-do when we “accepted Christ”, repentance may be the more necessary word. This is not something we do once, but something we are to stay in constant pursuit of. It is quite interesting that the main message brought by John the Baptist, Jesus, & His disciples was to “repent”. They then go on to say “be Baptized”. Repent. Perhaps we should press into this powerful command a bit more as we pursue Jesus.

Repentance means so much more than “turning from our sin”. The picture painted in ones mind is that of sin being a thing that is turned from once when we give our lives to Jesus, and no longer necessary throughout our journey. This leaves one to wonder, though, what it means to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”? This is no one-time decision, but a lifestyle in which the believer must become a master. How might one become a “master-repenter”?

“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” Romans 2:4-5

First, we must learn to practice “The Art of Being Wrong”. (See previous article) We cannot repent of things in which we do not believe we are wrong. We cannot conclude we are wrong if our pride is always certain of how right we are. The scary thing about this reality is that grace is only present when we are wrong. (Romans 5:20) So, if our pride screams that we are never wrong then we are hindering ourselves from receiving the grace that desires to cleanse us. In our refusal to admit we are wrong, repent, and receive grace we blaspheme God, and Jesus’ work on the cross. We cease to grow in a deeper understanding of His work of grace in our lives. This is central to the message of the Gospel so many of us claim to live by. It is time we reprogrammed our default from defending ourselves/decisions as a pursuit of being right to a humble reflection of how we could have been more like Jesus in a particular situation. At this point we can begin to walk in a lifestyle of repentance…

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:16

Once we begin to experience the freedom, and redemption that follows a lifestyle of repentance we not only welcome being “called out” by others for potential sin in our lives, we begin to crave it. The Holy Spirit begins to replace in us the insecurity of having to be right all the time with a deep desire to be more like Jesus that only comes through this lifestyle of repentance.

When we fall into sin the enemy gains a small victory. He steals something away from us. When we get seduced by the things of this world we add to it’s sickness, as well as our own brokenness. The beauty of the Gospel is that we are forgiven and cleansed from that sin – IF we recognize it, and repent. We must walk in a constant spirit of repentance in order for the sanctifying truths of the Gospel to be at work in our lives. This is when things get exciting. You see, the things the enemy stole are taken back – they are redeemed as a result of our repentance. When we repent we invite the Spirit of God to enter into the situation and fix it, to make it right. Yes, there are consequences in this world for the sin we commit. However, a Gospel truth is that Jesus, in His goodness and through our repentance, will piece back together that which is broken…He redeems it for our good, and His glory. (Romans 8:28)

Stay Tuned for an incredible, real-life story of two people who have learned to walk in the “lifestyle of repentance”…

“The Art of Being Wrong”

“When we are wrong Jesus is right – it’s redemption in action.”

“You see, if we are never wrong about anything then that means Jesus isn’t having to make us right in any areas of our lives…we hinder His redemptive work in us.”

American culture (and human nature) screams that we must never, ever, ever, under any circumstances admit that we are wrong…about ANYTHING, ever. Whether it be a petty decision we made, statement that slipped out, or a huge life decision that did not go as planned, we seem to have an inability to recognize that we just might have been…WRONG. Is it really so bad…to be…WRONG?

I have determined that we, as humans, need to learn, practice, and perfect the art of being wrong; not when we are not wrong, of course. = ) Perhaps our default should not always be that we ARE right, and could not possibly be wrong. Maybe we could re-program our default to be that we quite possibly could have made a better decision.

“When we are wrong Jesus is right – it’s redemption in action.”

“You see, if we are never wrong about anything then that means Jesus isn’t having to make us right in any areas of our lives…we hinder His redemptive work in us.”

We allow our upbringing, traditions, and personal preferences to get in the way of being wrong all the time. These things cripple us from growing into the people we need to be; the people God desires to build us into. Over the past two years it has become increasingly freeing to let go of things I have done to realize they may be wrong, and could be better in. It hurts at first, but the end result is a more perfect you.

In marriage, our spouses have been placed into our lives to sanctify us by the Holy Spirit that lives within them. When we refuse to ever be wrong we disregard that truth, and hinder our own personal cleansing. In our lives as believers we are so certain we are right that we miss out on things God is trying to teach us.

This also plays into how we “do ministry”, church, etc. My friend Neil Cole directs an organization called CMA. In their organization they have what they call a “wall of shame”. On these shelves resides years worth curriculum, strategies, and plans that they had to retire due to their ineffectiveness. They were willing to accept that those things were…wrong. They put them on the shelf, and began striving for better. Of course, it was painful to retire the resources that took so much time, energy, and money to create. However, the end result was so much more beautiful than the tragedy that would have followed had they insisted on being right.

We could go on and on with examples of how this plays into our lives, and negatively affects us. I am not suggesting that we be ok with being wrong all the time, or become insecure in everything we do because we “might be wrong”. I am simply suggesting that we have a much looser grip on our pride that insists we are incapable of making a bad decision…otherwise known as…SIN. If I never realize, and accept the sin in my life because of pride or not wanting to be wrong I refuse to allow anything in my life to be redeemed.

“Jesus, continually reveal to us where we are wrong. Allow Your Spirit in us to more quickly recognize these wrongs so we may invite Your Spirit in to bring us back into alignment with Your Kingdom. If we neglect this longer we continue to shout with our actions that Your work on the cross was unnecessary, and that we do not need it. Set us free Jesus, and remind us of the permission you gave us to be wrong when you died for the fact that we are sinful.”

I leave you with two definitions…

Redeem: Compensate for faults, or bad aspects.

Redemption: The action of saving, or being saved from sin, error, evil.

“Airbags”

All-new Hyundai Accent, 3-door version - 6 standard airbags.From the beginning of “Intentional Gatherings” we have made it a point never to think that we have it all figured out. We believe that the second we start thinking we have it all figured out is the second we become closed off to allowing necessary change, and therefore, become ineffective. It would appear that many in America have lost touch with this idea of continuous improvement. It seems somewhat ignorant to believe that the way we do things RIGHT NOW will be the best way to do things in six months, right?

This all makes me think of the automobile industry. Years ago, people did not wear seat belts. Many people died. So, changes were made, and seat belts were required. At first, waist straps were implemented. This worked well, but was not completely effective. Automakers soon realized that they needed to implement a shoulder strap to provide further protection from collision. Seat belts save lives. Wear your seat belt! However, people continued to die in tragic accidents even while wearing their seat belt. So, necessary changes were made…

The airbag came onto the scene. What an amazing invention. The airbag was designed to save lives, which it did. However, there are two important things about airbags that we must remember: 1) Without its partner, the seat belt, airbags are not only ineffective, but dangerous, & 2) Airbags can kill children. Automobile manufacturers are pretty good about making changes, and fixing things that are unsafe. I wonder sometimes if “the church” in America is like the airbag. (I use this term “the church” in reference to our current form of church in American, and very loosely because it means so many different things to so many different people, few of which are correct. This probably includes myself; I beg the Lord daily to teach me what it truly means that as His follower I am, and you are, The Church.) The airbag is an amazing thing. It saves lives, and does great things. But through time those who implemented the airbag realized some things about it. If a small child was involved in an accident, and the airbags deployed it would kill them. The airbag was not effective at saving the lives of smaller children. Our current form of church in America (Institution) is an amazing thing. It saves souls, and it does great things. Period. Anyone who tries to argue that is disillusioned. The institution, just like the airbag, has the potential to spiritually kill if necessary changes are not made. Is the institution bad, wrong, or lost? No. However, it may have become ineffective in many ways by allowing stubborn pride to hinder it from making the appropriate changes.

Soon children under a certain age were prohibited from riding in the front seat, and some cars had the ability to turn off the airbag feature. But wait, the airbag is a great thing, right? Why would anyone want to turn it off? How devastating would it have been if auto manufacturers would have only focused on the saved lives resulting from the airbag while ignoring the child fatalities? I pray that we, as The Church, will celebrate the good, but welcome the opportunity for change and the constant pursuit of effectiveness. This type of change only comes through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Are we spiritually starving the next generation because we feel they are supposed to be “doing church” like we did growing up? Are we pushing the lost away because our arrogant, self-righteous pride has taken over the call on our lives to usher in the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven?

There are guys in the “emergent/organic/simple/house church” movement who are somewhat disenfranchised with the church as an institution. Many of them have taken up a new hobby of bad mouthing the church that doesn’t look like theirs, which happens to meet in a living room. This is a terrible approach. Not only does this cause even more division among the body of Christ, it is arrogant and prideful. Philippians chapter 2 speaks of a unification that occurs through humility. Thinking that I am right and everyone else is wrong is not humility, and cannot birth unity. The issue is not a debate between who is right and who is wrong. Too often in the church time is wasted arguing and discussing who’s right about this and that, who does church “right”, who’s doctrine is correct, etc. I wonder if the Lord isn’t thinking to Himself, “man, they just don’t get it…I thought I made it pretty clear in my word that their purpose is to glorify me, and become more like me.” On that note, I cannot help but think to myself what would happen if the church in America began taking the teachings of Jesus seriously. We’d see rich professionals giving everything they have to the poor and radically following Jesus. We’d see “neat Christians” decide that it’s “ok” for them to NOT be comfortable ALL the time and have perfect, secure, and happy little lives. Shane Claiborne says, “I truly believe that when the poor meet the rich, riches will have no meaning, and when the rich meet the poor poverty will come to an end.” Nicely put.

The root issue seems to be pride. We do things a certain way, our way. We do them for a certain period of time, and it soon shifts from our way to the right way. We then presume to volunteer everyone around us to do things our way, convincing them that it’s The Way. What would it look like if the church stopped getting so set in its ways and tied up in tradition, but allowed the Holy Spirit to lead in a consistent way? Obviously, this would require much humility, and a raised awareness of allowing change.

“Father, as your followers would You burn into us a spirit of humility. May we never allow our prideful flesh to convince us that we figured it out. Show us where You are, and where You’re going so we may follow. Motivate us to action and cause us to embrace doing things differently. Prepare your Church, your Bride, for your return.”

“All Mixed Up, Don’t Know What To Do” – Part 1 – Christians Suck at Reaching the Lost

Previous blog written on April 20th, 2008

I have recently realized how stubborn, arrogant, and prideful we are as humans…and Christians. On a small scale we think that we are always right with our individual convictions, or opinions. That causes us to act with irrational and selfish behavior. We don’t even know how to selflessly serve our spouses, loved ones, families, and best friends much less “love our enemies”. On a large scale our nation has been guilty of ethnocentrism for decades. Ethnocentrism: evaluating other people’s cultures according to the standards of one’s own culture. We think our way is better. We go to foreign countries with the idea that we are going to “enlighten”, or teach them a better way of doing things; our way. The reality is that there are movements of the Lord taking place in huge/powerful ways overseas, ways that we have never seen in the U.S! In the evangelical world this has translated to a large amount of Christians, if not all at some point, who feel that they have figured “it” out. (Even if they/we/I do a poor job at living out the basic principles of what “it” is) We begin our journey towards Christ with passion and vigor. Our excitement with this new awareness of grace ironically fuels our ability to start “living right”, and sin less. This is where something goes terribly wrong for many of us. I do not mean to make blanket statements about ALL Christians. However, this was definitely my story, and the story of many I know. We drastically change much of our old behavior, and add some new rituals to our lives. i.e., reading our Bibles, going to church often, praying, serving, etc. These are all great things. However, many of us aren’t quite sure how to handle our life change in terms of relating to others, and communicating these values effectively to those we come in contact with.

We quickly become self-righteous, and Pharisee-like. Either we want our friends to be where we are, making the same changes and commitments, or we distance ourselves from them because they are not. If the first is true then we tend to run them off because we pretend that we have it all together. We become judgmental, hypocritical, lame, boring, etc. If the latter, it is because “bad company corrupts good character”, right? Isn’t that what we have been taught our entire lives? “Aaron, you don’t need to be hanging out with them, they are a bad influence.” Many times that advice is not entirely wrong or bad if we are attempting to remove temptation from some area of our lives. However, it has sadly translated into every aspect of our lives as we become more mature Christians. How does that happen? Can we grow more mature as followers of Christ while we continue to distance ourselves from the rest of the lost world? Dan Kimball, in his book “They Like Jesus but not the Church”, states that statistics show most Christians lose contact with almost all of their non-Christian friends within two years of “accepting Christ”. I thought back on this in my own life, and it was somewhat true. When it wasn’t true was only in cases of sin in my life that I wasn’t releasing to Jesus; I stayed in relationships with those people not to reflect light to them, but to continue in disobedience. Those who participated in sin that was not included in my arsenal of sin were quickly deemed as unholy, and therefore, “unworthy” of me to associate with.

Dan talks about the “Christian Sub-Cultures” that we have created, and essentially locked ourselves in. Think about it, we spend much of our time at “church”. We surround ourselves by Christian friends. We join Bible study groups, and have accountability partners. We busy our lives with “Christian activities”. Many of us place our kids in private Christian schools. Heck, many of us have chosen our careers in ministry where we almost completely cut ourselves off from the outside world. We listen to “Christian” music, go to “Christian” concerts, eat at restaurants owned by Christians. We read “Christian” books, and shop at “Christian” stores. We drink coffee at “Christian” coffee shops, and go to “Christian” camps. We go on vacation with our “Christian” friends, and stay away from rough parts of town. We have cross collages in our living rooms. We refuse to participate in many activities based upon what someone has told us our entire lives from a pulpit instead of what the Holy Spirit has spoken to us through scripture. Kimball would say that some of us break free from our Christian sub-culture, but usually only for a very brief period of time before darting back to it. We have conditioned ourselves to be so different, and uncomfortable with anything unlike us. All of the sudden everyone who is not like us becomes wrong. And so it goes, that we, as the body of Christ, have isolated ourselves from the rest of the world. We so quickly forget that the rest of the world is what Christ has called us to humbly serve, and love in the first place.

Luckily, we serve a God of unending grace and mercy. Somewhere down the road of our journey we realize that we have lost sight of our purpose. We realize that our lives are ultimately designed to reflect glory to God, and that is most effectively done when His gospel is lived out. Part of this translation is that those who are different from us, those who are lost, are the ones we are to be broken over. Finally, we venture out. We try to relate to, and reach those who are “of the world”. The word tells us to be “in the world, but not of the world”. Sadly, we have been neither. The result is that we suck at reaching the lost. We try everything we can to be “cool enough”, or “hip enough” thinking this will reach out to a desperate world in need of a Savior. We realize that the places we’ve spent most of our time over the past however many years might not be where any non-believers spend time. So, we try going where they are. This proves to be quite the challenge. We have spent so many years in isolation that we fit in about as well as home-schooler in the real world. We are uncomfortable, and awkward. We get nervous when we get around “sin” and “sinners”, forgetting that Jesus spent most of His time with people of that label. The end result is sad. We retreat back to the comfortable boxes that we’ve created, and called churches. This is a safe place where “normal Christians” can be professional church members. This is where we stay away from sin, and sinners, becoming more holy, and pleasing to God, right? Now a paid staff is responsible for doing the “dirty work”. The professional member puts their check in the plate, attends all the events, serves in the youth group or nursery, and maybe even goes on the annual mission trip. Our only job now is to invite non-believers into our box, where the professional Christians who make up the staff take it from there. Unfortunately, a large majority of the lost world will never step foot into the doors of a traditional church building. Here we are, comfortable in our simple, easy, and normal boxes. We’ve even pulled God into the box with us. His Spirit in us screams out for air, but our fearful flesh can’t handle it outside of the box; we retreat right back into a life of safety and certainty. All the while the world that we are called to live in is absent from our lives…

It would seem that this has all occurred because of the expectations of those around us, the expectations of other Christians. It is these false, man-centered expectations that have caused the dilemma we are in today. The expectations of God, and the challenges of the scriptures are diluted to fit into our easy, comfortable, certain, and risk-free lives…