Great List of Questions about Kids’ Sports and Church

I came across a great article filled with good questions for Christian parents to ask themselves about their various commitments to their local faith family (church) and to other entities such as kids’ sports teams (or replace team with “band” or “debate” or whatever…).  You can check out the full list of questions here, but I especially liked this one:

“If your child attended the same percentage of practices as he/she attends worship services, would the coach let your child stay on the team??

Someday in the future, perhaps, I’ll write my own, more opinionated thoughts on the subject.  I try not to harp on this issue too much since I don’t have kids of my own yet, and I recognize the limitations that puts on my opinions.  But then again, you don’t have to own a baseball team to recognize that the Royals don’t win a lot. And you don’t have to be a parent to see that telling your kid that the body of Christ ranks last on the totem pole for 18-plus years probably isn’t the most spiritually beneficial way to disciple them.

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When Grace says “No”…(follow-up from yesterday)

Yesterday’s post which included references by me about making whips and going off on a youth ministry conference for rushing a publicly fallen megachurch pastor (and his wife) onto their stage is the petri dish for today’s post.  So you may want to click the link above and give it a quick read-through so this one will make more sense.

Does Grace ever say “no”? After all, grace is a gift, right?  Gifts are kind of like a giant “yes” to someone.  I could imagine that interlocuter at various points of my post yesterday raising its hand to say “objection.” And rather than ignoring that persistent throat-clearing happening on the other side of the room, I’ve decided to face this objection head-on.  Can grace ever say “no”?  Specifically, I can think of several examples in Scripture where this happens (we’ll get there at the end.)  But first I want to take on this “false” grace that exists in the evangelical corporate culture*, that rears its ugly, boil-filled head every time someone within that culture makes a major “boo-boo” as they call it.

Let’s compare two systems, shall we?  Let’s call them System A and System B for clarity’s sake.  Which of these sounds more gracious?

System A says that recovery from sin happens quickly and full restoration of position and privilege should follow.  System B says that sin is not conquered in a moment or in 3 months of intensive therapy but that sanctification is a “long obedience in the same direction”, an outworking of our new identity in Christ over the long haul by the Spirit of God.

System A says that the way to make things right involves a person becoming successful again after a setback.  System B says that the way to make things right involves a person throwing themselves helplessly at the feet of the Crucified and Risen Christ.

System A says that God’s glory in tragic sin is only shown by future numerical results and publicity.  System B says that God’s glory in tragic sin is only shown by our dependence upon the results of Christ’s atoning work.

System A says that your skills as a pastor define you and therefore you have to go back into the pastorate to be used of God. System B says that your adopted status as a child of God in Christ now defines you, whether you work at Starbucks or at First Baptist Church, Big City.

System A says that grace can be received from the people you didn’t hurt, a new church or the general public’s favor.  System B says that grace can only be a gift when it is undeserved, and therefore must be sought from those directly hurt.  Fleeing to a new scene is not considered true grace.

System A says that you have something to offer people and must remain a teacher.  System B says that you must be needy, including needing to be taught by others.

System A says that your family is worth sacrificing again to regain the limelight.  System B says that you need to put them ahead of your career.

System A says that you are worthless if you don’t rise above your circumstances.  System B says that you are worth the cost of Jesus to God because of His love.

System A says that you need to speak to a crowd of people to have community.  System B says that you need to listen to a small amount of people who know you really well and ask tough (not canned) questions to find true community.

System A says that if you can’t get the broken pieces back together, we’ll give you a shot.  System B says only the love of God over a lifetime can restore the damage of our sin and that everything will not be made wonderful just yet.

System A wants to use you for their profit.  System B says that God seeks to graciously profit you for his use.

System A ignores those who have been hurt by your sin by publicly acting like everything’s ok when it’s not.  System B says you can just leave your gift here, useless for the time being, and first go and seek reconciliation from those you have hurt.

System A needs you to increase.  System B says you must decrease so He might increase.

So which one sounds more gracious?

Now, admittedly, there’s an option C as well which says there’s no hope or path or grace to be found once the sin has crested the flood level, so to speak.  But we’re not dealing with that.  System A is the evangelical corporate culture and quite honestly, from the descriptions above, it lies about Christ and the Gospel.

The truth is that grace says no sometimes.  In Luke 15, a story which probably would be first on people’s lists of a Bible story where “grace” is pictured beautifully, there’s a major moment in the story when grace says no.  We might miss it because there are a lot of things that grace says yes to.  The Father in the story, God, receives back the sinful son.  He is grace.  He says a lot of yes’s: Yes, you can return.  Yes, I love you and will greet you with hugs and kisses.  Yes, you are my child again.  Yes, I rejoice in your return.  Yes, I will party in the joy I find having you returned from the dead to me.

But he does say no to one thing.  Remember the prodigal’s little speech he works up on his journey home to dad?  Dad, I’ve messed up.  I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.  Make me like one of your hired sons. At least that’s what he wants to say.  In 15:21, the son probably still selling of the unclean pigs he shared lunch with finds himself in the tearful embrace of his Father.  He goes through the speech again but is cut off before he finishes.  Grace says no.  The Father will have none of this hired hand business. (He doesn’t even let him get the words out.)  The son is not going to earn his keep.  The son is not going to labor for his lunch.  He is going to be given it.  Flat-out given.  Yes, he was lost and found, dead and alive again. The Father makes no pretense that His son didn’t just disappear or squander his inheritance.  But He is gracious.  He will not let this son atone for his guilt.  He will not let him pay for his sins.  He gives grace.  The one thing grace always says no to is our inherent idea that we can earn back our worth, that we can labor for God’s love.  The problem with System A, the evangelical corporate culture, is that in the name of grace, it does precisely the opposite.  In that world, grace is not a gift, it’s a stock option. The grace given isn’t free or undeserved; it’s leverage for a future pay-off (whether monetary or numerical success or influence).  And that makes it not grace at all.  Grace that never says no is not grace. We need to be told no to our works-based identity and self-righteousness constantly or we will never experience grace.

*I say this rather than “evangelicalism” because many evangelicals, whether pastors or laypeople, have no real relationship with this business that we call the American church.  They’re not the bookstore/conference/television circuit that exploits the successful and the failed to make a quick buck.  They’re not the society that says “If you make a major mistake, but are really passionate as a leader, we can find room for you to step back in.”  As a thought, just imagine if the typical radio preachers fell into some of the sins that televangelists often do, would there be a market for them any longer?  Would they get 3 months of re-runs and return after all is forgotten?  Probably not.

Would you let this person teach your youth? How about your youth leaders?

(Post, in which I “go off”.  there’s not a lot of “logical flow here”, I admit up front.  But sometimes you see something and it just eats at you and you’ve got to say something even if few people read it. But the evangelical corporate church climate is just ridiculous and downright evil at times.)

In my mail today at church, I got a colorful invitation brochure to a popular youth ministry conference.  Now I’ve never actually been to any kind of youth ministry conference designed especially for youth pastors–I’ve just never had the desire to walk around a bunch of 30 year-old men with goatees who look like slightly older, fatter Hollister mannequins.  (ok, cheap shot).

There was the usual cast of authors and pastors, etc.  But I noticed one person really stood out.  I mean, REALLY stood out.  There was the name of a former megachurch pastor who just a few years ago was discovered buying meth from his homosexual prostitute.  It was kind of a big deal, especially since this pastor was a leading spokesperson for the sanctity of marriage.  And the press loves any semblance of religious hypocrisy like my dog loves honey combs cereal.

Not that I was ever planning on going, but cross that conference off my list.  Seriously.  The man was doing hardcore illegal drugs, hiring prostitutes and showing up to preach on Sunday like nothing was wrong.  And now, because a couple years pass, he’s suddenly back on the speaking circuit?   No.  This is just ridiculous.

And yes, I believe in grace.  I believe God’s love can rescue us from the deepest pit and restore us from any sin.  Read 1 Corinthians 6 and the litany of sins there, followed by some of my favorite words in all of Scripture: “And that is what some of you were.”  The Gospel changes things, new creation happens, new hearts are given, and the Holy Spirit of God works in men and women.

But there are still standards for leadership and teachers in the Christian community.  However one takes the “husband of one wife” phrase, I have yet to hear an interpretation that doesn’t see this at minimum including marital faithfulness to a man’s current wife.  And I don’t think Paul would have said a couple months of counseling following infidelity suddenly made someone fit again to stand in front of 1000’s of Christians and teach.

And the public eye certainly makes things worse.  this guy needs to experience authentic, grace-filled community.  He needs to be taught Christ by godly people who know him and ask tough questions.  He doesn’t need to be on stage dispensing advice or new-found revelations he discovered in therapy.  Especially not to those who are training young people.

I can think of countless devoted Christ-followers I’ve met over the years who would never be invited to a conference like this because they don’t have “numbers” to match.  Men and women who have loved people and given their lives for Christ who apparently aren’t seen fit to share the stage with pastors living secret homosexual lives and doing meth in their spare time.  There’s already been one book published out this mess and there will probably be more.  You can find it at your local Christian bookstore next to Jon & Kate’s book of family advice.

(sigh) I wonder if that whip Jesus made is still around.

Update: There is actually a part 2 of this coming (possibly tomorrow) in which I examine whether or not grace ever says no to people.

The Well-Adjusted Jesus- CS Lewis

from The Four Loves, referring to the problems he saw with classifying all human problems as psychological or pathological and how “normal” should not necessarily be our goal:

“We have only seen one such Man. And He was not at all like the psychologist’s picture of the integrated, balanced, adjusted, happily married, employed, popular citizen.  You can’t really be very well “adjusted” to your world if it says you “have a devil” and ends by nailing you up naked to a stake of wood.”

“Jesus was a legalist.”

No, that’s not my new blog title! (I’m still thinking through some updates and changes, but I’ve been kind of busy the last two weeks now that I’m “bi-vocational” for a month or two).  But unfortunately, this title was found on a local church sign near where I live:

Now, let me admit a couple things right now.  First, this isn’t the first sign message from this particular church that I’ve disagreed with.  Usually, most of their signs have something to do with how sinful people are (and I drive by this sign about 30 times a week), or about some special meetings at the church where they’ll expound on sinfulness (my favorite one- “This week, Gospel Meeting: The Works of the Flesh”.), or general attempts to downplay other churches (All denominations are of man and evil, etc.)  So I’m predisposed you might say to disagreeing with their signs!  Also, they may or may not have deliberately posted “Argument Signs” to counteract the sign of another church down the street (which I may happen to work at.)  🙂

But let’s talk about this particular sign. My mind went in about 30 different directions as I thought about this sign, so I’ll just throw them out bullet-style, in no particular order of importance.

1)  I have to give them points for boldness and wearing their beliefs on their sleeves.  After all, I might feel deceived or tricked had their sign said something like: “Jesus loves you” and when I went inside I found out the message was “Jesus hates you because he’s a legalist.”  I mean, authenticity is one of the chief virtues of our age, so at least they’ve got a sense of who they are as a church and what message they want to send to the world.

2) Watch that past tense!  “Jesus was a legalist”, not Jesus is a legalist.  So, is this a denial of the Resurrection?  (That might explain why they like the idea of legalism so much!) Or that Jesus was once, but isn’t now a legalist?  There does seem to be a disconnect between the Jesus they (want to) find in the Bible and the reigning Lord of all, at least enough that they aren’t comfortable saying “is” here.

3) Everybody’s doing it!  No, really.  I think that’s the core of the argument here.  They want to defend their own “legalism” by appealing to other occurrences of it.  People never get past the arguments they learned as children unfortunately.  But of course, when Christians argue, we have a secret technique for going above the “everybody is doing it” argument.  It’s called the “But Jesus did it!!!” argument (you must say in an ever-ascending whiny voice too.).  I want to wear flip flops to church one day.  My wife gives me a look.  “But Jesus wore sandals!” Boom.  Roasted.  Argument over.  I mean, seriously.  Who (besides us Southern Baptists and that awkwardness that is John 2 for us) wants to be on opposite sides of Jesus in an argument?  I mean, even people that don’t really like Jesus want him on their side in an argument.  And I think that’s really at the heart of this sign.  “Jesus was a legalist” is clearly the church’s response to someone else saying “Your church is legalistic.”  and of course, that kind but mistaken person saying that is clobbered with the I-want-to-grow-a-beard-out-but-my-wife-won’t-let-me patented response: “BUT Jesus was a legalist.”

4) Weird prooftexting here.  Matthew 7:21-23?  Really?  Do you KNOW whom Jesus is talking about in these verses?  You may have to go all the way back to 5:20 to figure it out, but it’s there.  “The scribes and the Pharisees”  He gets them there.  He goes after their rigid letter-of-the-law righteousness that ignores the sinful heart in 5:21-48, and 6:1-18, and 7:1-6, and 7:15-20.  Jesus is dissing on…wait for it…LEGALISTS!  And these legalists are the ones who keep all the rules and say “Lord, Lord” in the day of judgment and practice exorcism and prophesy and do miracles.   And it is to legalists that Jesus will say “I never knew you.  Depart from me, you lawbreakers!”  Apparently one breaks the Law by being a legalist.

5) Why not prooftext better?  I mean if you’re going to the Sermon on the Mount to justify your argument, at least go to Matthew 5:17-20 to really hammer it home!  At least use the right club to whack people over the head with!

6) Jesus was NOT a legalist.

7) If Jesus was a legalist, then he was a really, really bad one.  Have you read that story in John 8 where he didn’t stone to death the woman caught in adultery?  The Law told him to.  Not very good at legalism, apparently.  Or apparently in Matthew 23, he forgot which side he was on because he basically tells all the legalists they’re going to hell and that they are snakes.

8) Eph. 2:11-22.  “did away with…”  Read it for yourself please.

9) A minor point of agreement:  We invented in this country a kind a of Christianity where one can profess Christ, or sign a card, or pray a ritualistic “sinner’s prayer” and be set to go for heaven.  It’s called “cheap grace” (from Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship” or “easy believe-ism.” Jesus has a lot of hard sayings.  He calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, give up everything, and follow Him.  People who are swimming in that sewage lagoon need to be shocked by the harshness of some things Jesus said.  But He also said, “Come to me, you who are weary and burdened (by legalism, perhaps?), and I will give you rest.  All of you, take up My yoke (idiom for a Rabbi’s teaching and rules) and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.  For My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

10) Romans 8:4- “so that the righteous requirement of the law might be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according the Spirit.”   I know this is a big debate right now in Christian scholarship over what this means in detail.  But generally, Christ fulfilled the Law, so us who are in Him fulfill the Law, and our living by the Spirit is involved in our fulfilling the law.  but it is clearly NOT by being legalists, though, which all would agree with.

11) If you have 1 chance to tell someone about Jesus for 5 seconds as they drive by, what would that one thing be?  I can tell you it shouldn’t be something that will be confusing, misleading or simply off-putting.   You know people hate legalism (at least in theory, we all tend to practice various forms of it, even hippies look down on those who don’t recycle).  So if you know people hate legalism, why use your 5 seconds to associate that with Jesus in their minds?  I recently read through all the sermons in Acts looking at how the apostles shared their faith.  From the 12 sharing with Jews to Paul sharing with Gentiles, I can you tell you what their strategy wasn’t.  “Here’s something you really hate and dislike.  Jesus is like that.  You want to know more?”  That isn’t to say there wasn’t elements of their messages that would certainly step on toes.  Peter: “You guys killed God a few days ago.  And now you need to repent.”  or Paul mentioning the coming judgment and Resurrection of Jesus at the end of the Mars Hill sermon.  (Greeks disdained resurrection and no one likes the threat of judgment!)  But that’s not how they started.  With Jews, they usually grounded the life of Jesus in the Old Testament scriptures, which every good Jew would affirm.  With Greeks, we see Paul focuses more on general human need to connect with God, gratitude for his life-giving provision, and the failure of idols.  There are always going to be people who hate Jesus (John 15:18), but at least make sure they hate him for the right reasons.  NOT because your sign connects him with everything people hate about religion.

12) If someone calls you a legalist and your first response is to write a church sign defending your position with a select few Bible verses…(Jeff Foxworthy) you might REALLY be a legalist.

13) Legalistic religion is a soul-killing, joy-stealing, no-good rotten thief.  (John 10:10- We love to say the “thief” in this verse is Satan (which is true in the ultimate sense), but read the earlier verses and see the more specific thieves Jesus had in mind.)  And Jesus gives abundant life.  So if legalism steals joy and life and Jesus gives joy and life, then maybe they’re not on the same team after all!

14) Bumper sticker culture is bad.  I started reading the book “Lord, Save us from your followers” the other day (it was $1 at Mardel), and that point is well made early on.  Rather than inviting people to come and discover Jesus, this sign is shouting at them in what seems like an angry tone.  Like if this was a Disney musical, this sign and its message would be sung on a stormy night in a torch-lit dungeon by someone with warts and non-proportional facial features.

15) I thought I might get shot taking this picture.   Someone I knew honked to say hi as I was getting out of the car, and I jumped thinking it was gunfire.

16) Their lawn is usually well mowed.  I guess you have to clean the outside of the bowl if you’re serving a big pot of poo-stew inside.

17) Church signs are like old-school tweeting.  You have the character limitations and everything.

18) If every clever, pithy saying I came up with was scrutinized like I’m doing with this sign, how would I fare?  There’s only so much clarity one can communicate in so small a space.  But that should make us try harder for clarity and to avoid misinterpretations.  Like I know when I’m commenting on a blog that whatever I write someone will take in the worst possible tone.  So what do I do?  I take extra time to add disclaimers and little extra words to soften what I’m saying.  I could probably use more of that when I talk as well, I think.

19) Many of us would never write “Jesus was a legalist” on a sign.  But we might be saying the same thing with our lives if we are not careful.  and that may be more damaging than any dumb sign ever could be.

20) and in case you missed it, Jesus was/is NOT a legalist.

Pharisee Envy…

I wish sometimes that I got Jesus half as much as the religious leaders of his day.

They at least saw he was enough of a threat to their way of life to kill him.

I just turn on the tv and think about something else.

Mission and National Self-Preservation

Hengel on first century Judaism*:

“A universal missionary consciousness could not really develop freely in the face of this elemental impulse towards national self-preservation.”

I’ll leave this without comment and let you ponder an application for today.

(*Found quoted in Salvation to the Ends of the Earth, by Kostenberger and O’Brien)