The recent U.S. election campaign that seemed to run for about 6 years sadly did a great job of illustrating what Christianity looks like to many people.
The campaign focused almost exclusively on the problems the candidates saw in the country, in the world, and most of all, in the other person. Too often the church communicates a similarly negative message. In fact, many Christians combine the two messages and seek to create legislation that mirrors their beliefs about morality.
I have no problem with Christians condemning certain behaviours. I believe God does this also.
I do have a problem with this message drowning out the more important messages of the Christian faith.
The biggest problem those outside of Christ face is not that Christians criticise their sexual ethics. Their biggest problem isn’t that they drink too much alcohol. Their biggest problem isn’t racism. Their biggest problem is that they reject Jesus. That’s the problem that Christians need to speak up about.
Another point many Christians seem to neglect is that the parts of the Bible condemning sexual immorality, lying, theft, gossip, slander, anger, and violence are usually written to Christians, not pagans.
When Christians point the finger at other segments of society, rather than ourselves, we communicate that we don’t face those issues. This is why Christians are so often called hypocrites. Rather than growing our own spiritual maturity, we’ve spent too much time and effort pointing out the flaws of others. Just as a negative election cycle failed to generate much enthusiasm, so negative churches will fail to share the Gospel.
I was excited to find in Ephesians 4:17-5:2 how Paul encourages the church not just to put off sinful behaviour, but also to put on godly attitudes and behaviour. Look at these snapshots:
- Put off your old self… put on the new self, created to be like God…
- Put off falsehood… put on speaking truthfully to your neighbour.
- Put off stealing… put on working to share with others.
- Put off unwholesome talk… put on building others up.
- Put off bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice… put on kindness, compassion, forgiveness…
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Christianity is an off and on faith. It inspires us to put off one set of behaviours and attitudes in order to put on another.
As a follower of Jesus, I want to be known for the things I’ve put on. I want to be truthful, generous, encouraging, kind, compassionate and forgiving. I want to hold others to those godly expectations also.
Most of all, I want to walk in the way of love.
Something has gone terribly wrong when the world only hears half the message and the half they hear is terribly off putting.
I’ll give the final word to the apostle Paul. I love how in Romans 8 he takes the negative commandments from the 10 Commandments and reframes them in a positive way. We don’t have to tell people what NOT to do. We can tell them instead to “love their neighbour” and that takes care of everything.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,“ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Romans 13:8-9
For the last three years I’ve lived in a tiny town in a county of 15,000 people. There are churches on every corner which means the majority are all very small. This is vastly different from my experience as a city girl, where there are still churches on many corners but there is a plethora of mega churches to choose from.
Here’s what I’ve learned in a place where I’ve had to stop, look, listen, and re-evaluate what I think about “doing church.”
- I’ve long chosen programs over people. As a city girl, I’ve been a big church gal. The more programs the better. The more activity the better. The full calendar serving as the barometer of my commitment to the Father.
- I’ve bought into the lie that if we build programs within our walls, the lost will flock to them. It’s just not true. We’re building a lot of programs that only serve those who already know Jesus. And we go home at the end of the night feeling good about ourselves.
- I’ve believed that we can reach out to others without getting too uncomfortable ourselves. I don’t think I even know what to say about that.
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I think I’ve been too caught up in the wrong definition of service, putting the emphasis on serving people who already know Jesus. Yes, Christians also have problems and needs and we have a responsibility to care for those within the church. Discipleship is important for those who have newly found salvation and freedom in Christ. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with craving the company of other believers. The writer of Romans reminds us,
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10
The truth is that in the church, we already have the answer to our issues. Jesus. Outside the church is where the greatest need lives…the need to be loved and served and to know Jesus.
Living in this area has turned my calendar upside down. As churches here are small, we don’t have a lot of committees and programs and stuff to do. At least not at the church building. These days I go to group worship on Sunday mornings and receive great encouragement from the Word, the worship, and God’s people. That gives me a whole lot of other hours in the week to show love and share Jesus outside the church building.
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This shake-up in my church-going life has had an effect that I didn’t see coming. Oddly enough, lots of my own issues have been solved by serving other people. Taking the focus off myself makes my problems seem not so big or bad or scary anymore.
So yes, we are to love our church family and enjoy spending time with them. We are to disciple and encourage one another. But we have to stop fooling ourselves about our efforts to serve the hurting in our communities around us. Until we take the service inside out, we aren’t going to reach those who are desperately in need of Jesus.
Romans 12 goes on to say,
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Romans 12:13-16
I still enjoy a good church service, especially one filled with many people lifting their voices and their hands to the Lord. And I won’t live on this mountain forever, so someday I may end up back in a big church. Maybe even a big church that has lots of programs for folks on the inside. But for me, it won’t look like it used to. Jesus has shown me that serving from the inside out…serving from a heart that loves Him and loves His people, especially those who are lost…is what is most pleasing to Him.
There can’t be a better reason for taking our service inside out than that.
As the Summer Blog Tour continues… Remember that you can win a copy of Tim Archer’s new release Church Inside Out, (both the book and workbook) by leaving a comment on this page and then completing the form over HERE.
Holly Barrett is an ordained minister who has spent over 20 years in volunteer and staff ministry. She currently works as Director of Communications for The Crossnore School in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of NC, where it is her privilege to tell the stories of children who are finding hope and healing. Holly is the co-author, with her mother Rachel Solomon, of Gray Hair Talking: Lessons I’m Learning as My Hair is Turning. They plan to release a Bible study later this year and another devotional book in 2017. Holly is also a podcaster having started the podcast, Living a Redeemed Life in 2015. Episodes are available on iTunes or at hollybarrett.org. Holly has two adult children, plus a son-in-love, and three adorable grandchildren. Connect with Holly on her blog at hollybarrett.org or on Twitter and Facebook.
As the Summer Blog Tour continues… Remember that you can win a copy of Tim Archer’s new release Church Inside Out, both the book and workbook, by leaving a comment on this page and completing the form over HERE.
As I observe the Christian world around me (or maybe the entire world around me for that matter), it seems that extremes win the day. I grew up like many Christians have over the past 30 or more years in a faith tradition that was steeped in legalism. God was seen as this angry God who really did not much like his people, but he could be “bought off” with good deeds.
As a reaction to that, we lean over into a world of “justification by faith” to talk about the gospel in such a way that it seems like simply an endeavor of the mind. Believe this, think that, say these words, be immersed in water, and you are “good”. The goal is simply to think certain things and confess certain things with your mouth, and then go to heaven when you die.
For some reason, we never settle in the middle of these extremes with the biblical view that you are loved by God simply because, and that you are saved by faith alone. Therefore, live out your salvation and embark upon a journey of following Christ. We love the extremes it seems.
There has been a lot of scholarship over the past 30 years that has led us to believe that Paul wasn’t plagued with guilt when he wrote Romans, like say Martin Luther was when he read it. It seems that Paul’s goal was not simply to help get people to heaven when they die (though that is important), but it was to get heaven inside of Christ followers. The gospel was not simply something to be believed, or a formula for salvation from hell at death, but it was a good news event that should dramatically alter the life of those who believe it and follow after this Crucified Christ. To follow Christ is to orient one’s life toward Christ and begin a journey of being formed into His image. It is why Paul would say things about us being transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).
So I don’t know if you are like me, but I find myself often frustrated. I want to be more patient, loving, kind, gentle, generous, and self-controlled. I want to react differently, or perhaps be less reactionary at times. I wish I was less impatient, less rash, less compulsive, less…well, you name it. It is a bit like my golf game.
I love golf. I don’t think my swing and my game are that bad. In my head, I know how to play the game really well and I can see myself playing well. However, I continually am amazed and frustrated when I go play and I’m not much better than the last time I played. Yet I never think that part of the problem is I don’t practice.
And so it is with my faith. I wish I saw more of the fruit of the Spirit pouring forth in my life, but I do nothing toward that goal.
As Paul is concluding his theological masterpiece, he says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” – Romans 12:2 (emphasis mine).
Paul seems to believe we can be different, and that we can be transformed from the inside out by the renewing of our minds. The gospel can and ought to transform us now, not just at the end. The deal is though, it isn’t a magic formula that you believe and confess and all of the sudden your life is dramatically changed. Sure there are these monumental moments in our faith, but more and more I think it is about the daily process of pursuing Christ. And it is into this thinking that I believe the spiritual disciplines call out to us. The spiritual disciplines are no magic formula, but they can position us for the Spirit to do its work.
I love the teaching of people like Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. They have a holistic and full view of salvation that it isn’t simply a one time conversion moment, but it is a journey or a process of transformation. Both of these guys also believe that the spiritual disciplines are the “practice” so to speak of the faith. If we want to see transformation in our lives, if we want to be less compulsive and reactionary and more patient and kind, perhaps we ought to do things that position us for the Spirit to make these changes in our lives.
Maybe we incorporate into our daily lives what St. Benedict called a “rule of life”, or “rhythm of life” that practices the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, solitude, silence, hospitality, submission to others, etc. If the goal isn’t simply to get to heaven one day, but to get heaven inside of us, to become people who begin to look and act more like Christ, then maybe these spiritual disciplines are a very practical tool for this inside out transformation, or what Paul calls the “renewing of your mind”.
The western story of Christianity has been hijacked into one that sounds like Jesus came into the world so we could get out of it. The problem is, that is not a very biblical picture of faith. Rather, what if we let go of that story and began seeing that Christ came into this world to get His image inside of it, or inside of us? No we don’t want to conform to the ways of this world, but neither do we want to hide from it. Rather, let us be transformed from the inside out by the renewing of our minds, and through this bear His image to a lost and broken world.
I can guarantee you that practicing the spiritual disciplines will position you for this transformation because I have seen it in my own life. The deal is though, no one can teach you into this change. Rather, you will have to try it. We can talk about the disciplines, but if you really want to see how it might could work in your life, then do it. Slow down, carve out space in your life, and lean into these disciplines. And don’t be surprised if you notice yourself reacting a bit differently, perhaps a bit more like Jesus would react. The Holy Spirit wants to transform you into the image of Christ, but this can only be done from the inside out.
Ryan Lassiter is the preaching minister at the Hunter Hills Church of Christ in Prattville AL. Prior to that he served as a minster at the Golf Course Road Church of Christ in Midland TX. He and his wife Sarah have also spent time as missionaries. Ryan graduated with his masters in Missional Leadership from Rochester College and his passion is helping people join God in his mission of redemption and restoration. He blogs at www.ryanlassiter.com.
There comes a day in every recovery story where the rock bottom floor gets too uncomfortable. It’s cold and dark and miserable. My body aches for the release my habits bring but my head says I just can’t go there again. I gut it out until I just don’t have any guts left.
It’s a long fall to get to the bottom. Along the way there are signposts and blinking billboards that tell you life will always be this way. The map of your life is laid out and there is no detour you can take. Your choices are already set into the route so you might as well just follow it anyway. The lies repeat themselves until you decide they must be truth. And even though you can see the end of this route, and it’s totally not where you want to go, you decide there is nothing you can do to stop it. And so the cycle repeats itself.
A friend once told me that when the pain gets to a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, change becomes attractive. Because surely the pain of change can’t be as bad as the pain of the habit. On this day the pain scale rises to 100 and I determine there has to be a better way.
Flipping open my Bible, I land in Romans. A hard book to understand sometimes, to be sure. What could I possibly see anew in a book I’d read many times before? It starts with the question of continuing in sin, banking on the love of God and His continuing grace and forgiveness to save us. Been there, done that. That’s where I was living every day. The lie that I can do what I want, handle my problems with my own brand of feel-good release and still be okay with God. The lie ringing louder, but more hollow, every time the cycle repeated.
As I prayed to be open and to receive true release from the darkness, my eyes fell on these words,
“Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection.
That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.” Romans 6:6-7, 12-14 MSG
It couldn’t be any clearer! My sin didn’t have any power over me beyond what I let it have. I was elevating it to the power of the truth of God’s word and the truth of what Jesus did on the cross. I was giving sin a vote…every day. I was running sin’s little errands…every day.
Until that very moment when I realized that Jesus had re-calculated the route. He broke open the HOV lane for me to bypass the detours that nearly derailed my life.
It wasn’t easy…and there was still a long road ahead. Many days spent in prayer and planning with those who provided the rest stops of accountability and a new route. But suddenly I saw that it was possible.
“We’re going to have to let truth scream louder to our souls than the lies that have infected us.”
The power of a recovery story lies in the truth. The truth that God’s word always trumps the lies. The truth that Jesus’ power always trumps the enemy’s. The truth that I could access the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead to raise me from the death and depths of rock bottom.
Your truth lies there too. When you hit 10…or 100…on the pain scale, Jesus will be waiting. Waiting, with the power of your own recovery story.
Let God’s truth scream into your soul today.
Holly Solomon Barrett is a minister, speaker and writer who encourages all people to reclaim the redeemed life they have been given in Christ. She currently serves as Assistant Director of Residential Life for the ministry of The Crossnore School in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of NC. Holly’s greatest earthly joys are her adult children and three precious grandchildren. To connect with Holly, visit http://www.hollybarrett.org.