5 Reasons Not to Be Judgmental Though Many More Could Be Added!

Something that I say all the time is that when young adults think of Christians the most common word they associate with us is “judgmental.”

Not only do I say it…but I’ve written about many times and I’ve even recorded a podcast on it as well.

And add to all of that the fact that one of my favorite Christian authors and missional practitioners, Hugh Halter, wrote an excellent book on the topic called Brimstone: The Art and Act of Holy Nonjudgment.

In other words, I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately.  And the question I’ve been pondering lately is this: Why should we not be judgmental, especially since we’re so tempted to be?

Defining “Judgmental”

Before we can really dig in, we must figure out what it means to be judgmental?

I intend for this post (and the blog generally) to be most useful for followers of Jesus, so my comments will be colored by this intention.

With that said, I think it will be helpful to say a few things that I DON’T mean when I use the word “judgmental.”

  • I don’t mean holding a fellow believer accountable if s/he has asked you to do so.  This arrangement is agreed upon by both parties and is intended for mutual benefit.  So it’s not judgmental to mention something about the actions, habits, and language of someone who has agreed to be held accountable by us.
  • I don’t mean having strong opinions about what is sinful and what is not based on various texts from the Bible.  That’s perfectly fine and it’s helpful for those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus to know what may or may not please him (the key phrase there is “for those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus”).
  • And lastly, I don’t mean observing cultural patterns and then identifying which ones are edifying for you and your family and which ones are not.  As a follower of Jesus, it’s your right (and duty even) to ensure that your family is exposed to the right sorts of things.  But, again, this sort of social sorting and labeling should be reserved for internal use as followers of Jesus.

What do I mean by “judgmental” then?

Being judgmental as a follower of Jesus is applying the expectation of obedience to biblical ideals that comes with following Jesus on those who do not yet follow Jesus and/or calling out the actions, habits, and language of a specific, fellow follower of Jesus without having entered into an accountability agreement.

Why Is Being Judgmental to Be Avoided?

While there are many, many, many reasons, here are five good ones!

  1. Being judgmental doesn’t work because we don’t have all the info. If someone is doing something that we deem wrong and we say something about it to them, whether they are not yet a follower of Jesus or not in an accountability agreement, then we are presuming that we know the whole situation.  We are pretending that we know their backstory and all the antecedent decisions that led up the current situation.  We’re also assuming that we know their intent, i.e., their heart.  Let’s be honest, the one huge problem with being judgmental is that in so doing we are presupposing a bunch of knowledge to which no human being has direct and easy access.
  2. Being judgmental is overstepping our job description as followers of Jesus.  Who told us that it was our collective and individual duty to pay attention to everyone else and be sure to point out all the things that we find wrong or inappropriate?  We do, however, have a pretty clear job description in the Bible.  Jesus tells us that we are to do three primary things: 1) love God, 2) love others, and 3) make disciples (Matthew  22.36-40, 28.19-20).  Nowhere in that job description exists the idea of being judgmental.  In fact, there is one who has the job of being the judge, and that person is Jesus (2 Timothy 4.1).
  3. Being judgmental fails the Golden Rule quite horribly.  In Luke 6.31 Jesus sums up much of his teaching in one tight little thought: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Thus, let’s ask ourselves this question: Do we want someone peeping into our lives like a creep in order to catch us in a mistake or sin, intentional or not?  What about this question: Do we want to be held to a standard we haven’t agreed to or be put under scrutiny that isn’t consensual?  Friends, if we don’t want these things done to us (and no one really does who is being honest!), why then do we feel we have the right to do them to others?
  4. Being judgmental breaks a direct command in the Bible.  In Matthew 7.1 Jesus says these famous words: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  So when we judge others we are actively going against a direct command from Jesus!  And besides that, we’re inviting the judgment of others on us as well (“or you too will be judged” and all of verse 2!).  So instead of breaking this clear command, wouldn’t it be better for all of us to zip our lips when it comes to judging others?
  5. Being judgmental really kills our ability to be and share the good news.  Think about it: If we want someone to respond positively to the good news of Jesus and his kingdom, wouldn’t we want NOT to judge them?  Because if we are judgmental, they will sense it, and just like us, they won’t like it.  And they ARE sensing it.  Remember that study I mentioned at the beginning of this post?  In it the researchers found that 87% of young adults thought that Christians were judgmental.  87%!  That’s insane!  If we keep it up at this pace we’re never going to be able to share the good news with anyone because they’ll be so tired of all the bad news we keep spewing!

 

What do you think?  Why shouldn’t we be judgmental?  Let me know in the comments below!

People > Rules Jesus always chooses people over rules

“Rules were made to be broken.”

While this old adage is said a lot, it’s definitely not true!

It seems to me that in most cases rules are meant to protect us in one form or another.  And sometimes they are made to ensure that we follow best practices.

But almost without a single doubt, rules were not made to be broken.

However, are there times when they should be broken?  Are there cases in which the rule, which was intended to protect or direct toward best practices, isn’t the best option?

Well, in John 5 we see Jesus choosing something above following a rule.

Rules and Jesus

First things first, Jesus wasn’t against all rules.  In fact, when Jesus was asked what the best ones were, he didn’t say “There are no rules, just love people.”  Nope.  Instead he said, “Here is the best rule: Love God, and the second one is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22.36-40).  Then after he had died and been raised again, Jesus gave his followers a rule.  He told them that as they were going about that they must make disciples (I phrased this sentence this way so that the fact that the command in Greek is not “go” but “make disciples”) (Matthew 28.19-20).

So Jesus didn’t dislike rules.  But he clearly understood that too many rules muddied things up.  If there are a thousand things we are supposed to be doing or not doing, then we may spend all of our time thinking about those “dos and don’ts” instead of living the lives that God set out for us.  And Jesus consistently encountered people who did this — the Pharisees.

Rules and the Pharisees

The Pharisees were not all bad guys, despite how we tend to think of them.  There’s Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.  And Gamiliel seems like a good guy too.  And Paul, who was a Pharisee, would eventually come around too.

But even the “bad” Pharisees weren’t setting out to be bad.  They were focused on performing the works of the law in order to worship God well.  They weren’t trying to be bad guys and they weren’t hoping to be exclusive and dogmatic.  Instead they were doing the best they could with the tradition in which they lived.

So in John 5 when Jesus encounters some uber-rule-loving Pharisees (called “Jewish leaders there), it’s easy to paint them in the worst possible light.  But that’s not fair.  Their insistence on not working on the Sabbath has biblical and cultural roots.  They weren’t pulling this rule out of thin air to attack Jesus.

However, they’re focus was wrong.

Rules Can Distract Our Focus

In the first part of John 5 Jesus heals a man who had been suffering for decades.  It just so happens that this healing happened on the Sabbath (John 5.9b).  When some of the Jewish leaders saw that this man was healed and was carrying his mat (which is considered work), they pounced!  Their rule-breaker lights went off and they went into action.

They first told this man that he shouldn’t be carrying his mat on the Sabbath.  The man says that the person who healed him told him to do so.  The Jewish leaders insisted on knowing who the healer was but the healed man didn’t know.  (He would eventually find out and tell the Jewish leaders, who then got super angry at Jesus!)

But here’s the point: The Jewish leaders’ focus on the rules didn’t allow them to see what was right in front of their faces.  They totally missed the fact that this man was healed!  Their focus was so narrowly aimed at the Sabbath rules, that they entirely missed an opportunity to praise God that he had healed this man!

 

This makes me wonder about what sorts of rules prevent us from seeing God do his thing in our day.  What are we focused on so much so that we miss out on what Jesus is doing through his Spirit?  Let me know what you think in the comments below.

 

But here’s the big idea from this post: Jesus put the man who needed healing above rules — in fact, Jesus almost always put people before rules.  Therefore, as we seek to follow Jesus in the real world, we too should put people and their well-being above rules, especially those rules that are not the focus of Jesus himself.

 

What do you think?  Are people always greater than rules?  What rules do we tend to focus on more than people?  And is doing it the way Jesus did it even possible or practical for us today?  Let me know in the comments below!

#Identity: New Wine Podcast #018 Ronda Rousey and Dealing with Loss

In what or whom should we find our identity and why?

Ronda Rousey’s latest interview on the Ellen Show has gotten me thinking about this.

I answer this question in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher?  That would be super cool!

Also, if you’d like to help support the creative process that helps bring this podcast to life, then please check out my Patreon page (http://patreon.com/JMatthewBarnes).  There are some fun rewards there for folks who pledge support although any level support will be greatly appreciated!

Thanks!

 

Here are a few links from this podcast:

FOX Sports article: http://www.foxsports.com/ufc/story/ufc-ronda-rousey-had-suicidal-thoughts-after-suffering-loss-to-holly-holm-021616

Ellen Appearance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwCdv9iR8P8

Cure for Fear What's the solution to our fear problem?

Is there anything more debilitating than fear?  I don’t think there is.  And, friends, we need to find a cure for fear and fast!

Fear can stop us in our tracks physically, causing us to freeze up like a deer in the headlights.  Fear can cause us to loop into unhelpful cycles of thinking and feeling that keep us from reaching our potentials.  And fear can kill us spiritually by preventing us from fully accepting the love of God.

And perhaps most importantly, fear can prevent us from obeying the Greatest Commandment(s) (to love God and others) and the Great Commission (making disciples) by causing us to discount and judge people before we ever get to know them.

So what’s the answer?  What’s the cure for fear?

The Causes of Fear

Before we can talk about a cure for fear, we have to wrap our minds around the things that cause us fear in the first place.  What’s so scary out there?

A recent blog on Psychology Today’s website highlights the five fears that we all have.  Here they are:

  1. Extinction – This is the fear of death an it’s like a program that runs in the background of our minds.  When we get a little too close to something that could possibly cause us to die, this fear alerts us.  Most of us have a pretty reasonable threshold.  While it’s true that there’s a chance (however small) that germs on a door handle could kill us, most of us don’t run away from door handles kicking and screaming!  Others of us have a much lower threshold for this kind of fear.  We fear almost everything that could potentially harm us, including people (and especially people different than us whom we have a hard time understanding and identifying with).
  2. Mutilation – This is the fear of serious but not deadly bodily harm.  Here’s a great example: when my wife was young, her brother broke his arm while riding his bike.  Since this caused her great fear, she put off learning to ride a bike until she was in her 30s!  This fear of mutilation can immobilize us altogether because there’s always something or someone that could harm us, especially when we are surrounded by places, things, and people that are new and different.
  3. Loss of Autonomy – This fear rests on the natural human desire to be in control.  And the loss of autonomy here could be physical (such as becoming paralyzed) or non-physical (such as being demoted from a position with freedoms at work to one without them).  This fear can cause us to be defensive and very selective about what we do and who we surround ourselves with.  We begin to view everything and everyone as a threat to our freedoms, and more so if we are unfamiliar with them.
  4. Separation – This is the fear that we’ll lose contact with the people and things (but especially people) that we love.  We’re scared that they’ll die and we’ll be left alone.  We’re afraid that they’ll find out our deepest, darkest secrets and hate us for them.  We’re afraid that they’ll find people who are better than us and leave us for them.  This can cause us to try too hard to keep the people and things we love, turning us into Scrooges.  Or, rather sadly, this fear can cause us to prematurely push everyone and everything away so that we are the ones who control the separation and it doesn’t come as a surprise.  And, this fear can cause us to shelter people whom we love from others because we don’t want them to get hurt (which can be especially true with regard to our children and spouses).
  5. Ego-death – Lastly is the fear of shame and humiliation.  This is the fear that who we are on the inside, in the most secret place, will be snuffed out through the bullying of others, our own self doubts and depression, or the guilt and pain that we carry into our present from the past.  We’re scared that we’ll lose who we are, our identity.  Maybe we’ll get subsumed into someone else.  Maybe will get squashed.  Maybe we’ll be found out.  Pick your poison, the result is the same — this fear can cause us to become shells of who we’re meant to be!

And these fears trip us up in any number of ways.  I’ve written about a few of those ways before, so I won’t do so here.  But suffice it to say that fear can really put a hamper on our ability to live well, to be meaningful people to others, and to follow Jesus well in the real world.  We need a cure for fear!

cure for fear

by: Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images; accessed at LATimes.com

A Cure for Fear

At his last National Prayer Breakfast, on February 4, 2016, President Barack Obama talked about how damaging fear can be and said this:

Fear does funny things. Fear can lead us to lash out against those who are different. Or lead us to try to get some sinister other under control. Faith is the great cure for fear. Jesus is a good cure for fear.  [SOURCE]

President Obama, like him or leave him, made a great point here.  Fear can cause us to do things we wouldn’t do otherwise.  Think about the types of fears we listed above.  Each one of them can lead us to hurt ourselves or others.  Each one of them cause us to distance ourselves from the “sinister other,” to quote the President.

The President’s words are self-evident.  All we have to do is look into our own lives and analyze, even briefly, some of the choices we’ve made.  Many times those choices have been heavily influenced by fear and as a result we and others were likely hurt.

And this need for a cure for fear is evident in our public discourse as well.  Think back to a little while ago when the Syrian refugee crisis first hit the news.  A little boy drowned as his family tried to escape their war-torn country and all of our hearts were ripped in two.

Then a little while after that fear took over.

Paris was attacked by a terror group and then San Bernadino, CA a short time after that.  The fear that these two terror attacks created made us lose our minds in the United States!  Our broken hearts over the little Syrian boy who drowned became dark with fear-induced hate, causing us to say all sorts of crazy and untrue things about the Syrian refugees.  I mean, just look at some of the comments on this post of mine on Facebook and judge for yourself!  The fearful hate is palpable.

Fear causes us all kinds of problems, including saying and doing hateful things to the very people God may be calling us to be and share the good news with!

We need a cure for fear!

I like how the President ended his quote above: “Faith is the great cure for fear. Jesus is a good cure for fear.”  While I agree in principle with him, I will quibble just a bit.  Here’s how I would say it:

Jesus and the ways of Jesus are the best cure for ear. While faith, generally speaking, is a good cure for fear.

What we need now, especially those of us who follow Jesus, is to emulate Jesus and his ways.  If we want a cure for fear, we have it!  It’s called love.  And not the love that we think we should share and to whom we think we should share it.  No!

It’s the love that Jesus had, a love that extended to the most vulnerable and to the privileged.  It’ the love that, as Paul puts it in Philippians 2, always puts the interest of the other before our own.

The cure for fear is Jesus and his ways.  And Jesus and his ways are best encapsulated by one word: LOVE.  1 John 4.18 says this:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Love and fear are like oil and water, they just don’t mix well.

But let’s be honest for a second — we all still have fear and our fears cause us harm and move us to harm others.  This is a continual problem for us all.  Fear is something that will be with us until we shuffle off this mortal coil.

So what do we do?

Well, since we’ll always need the cure for fear, namely love as expressed by Jesus, then we’ll always need to reapply this cure for fear by constantly re-exposing ourselves to Jesus and his gospel.  I talk some more about this need for persistent exposure to the gospel in this the New Wine Podcast #016; give it a listen!

 

What do you think?  How big of a deal is fear?  And what’s the cure for fear?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

Goodness and Micah 6.8 A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

 

I love the quote from the picture above: “Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”  This is one of those aphorisms that just sounds right when you read it, hear it, or say it.

But it begs some questions.  First, what is goodness?  Second, how can we be more good?  And lastly is demonstrating goodness in our lives truly a foolproof investment?

 

What Is Goodness?

Biblically speaking, goodness is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit mentioned by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5.  It’s often paired with kindness, probably because many people find that the two of them are difficult to differentiate.  The argument goes something like this: a kind person is good and a good person is kind.  True all the way around.  But that still doesn’t mean that the two concepts are the same.

As I’ve written about before, kindness is the ability to care for all people, whoever they may be.  But what is goodness?  Here’s my working definition: Goodness is demonstrated in our lives when we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.  Obviously within that definition kindness can and should be found.  But kindness is more about generally demonstrating compassion, while goodness is more about generally demonstrating righteousness and justice.

I come to this conclusion because of the way the Bible presents goodness.  When Jesus is called “good teacher” and is asked about what “good deed” must be done in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus gives some insight to this notion of goodness (Luke 18.18 and Matthew 19.16).  To both Jesus responds by saying that there is only one who is good — God himself.  Therefore, it is God and God alone who can define goodness.

But this is a major rub for us.  We want to define what is good.  We want to be able to say, “I’ve accomplished it…I’m good now!”  But our definitions of goodness will be faulty for any number of reasons, chiefly because we are selfish.  At the end of the day, we’ll define as good that which benefits us as individuals, family units, or communities.

But how does God define goodness?  You may have already gotten a hint of where I’m about to go. Perhaps the best place in all of the Bible to learn how God defines goodness is Micah 6.8:

 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

So based on this passage it seems clear that goodness looks like acting justly (fighting for what’s right and against oppression), loving mercy (putting the interests of others before our own), and walking humbly with God (having a devoted and intimate relationship with God).

Thus goodness seems to have to do with right relationships with others, whether other humans or God.

This may not sound earth-shattering but it is. When many of us think about goodness with think about personal piety.  We think about things that we do and things that we don’t do…probably more the things we don’t do!

 

“…Or with Girls Who Do!”

There was a funny saying in Christians circles where I grew up.  I went like this: “I don’t drink, smoke, or chew and I don’t go with girls who do!”

And while this little rhyme is funny, it’s also quite sad.  Here’s why: it highlights a sobering reality…followers of Jesus tend to be more identified with the things we don’t do and the things we oppose than with the things we actually do and the things we wholeheartedly support.

A quick perusal of the news or Google results will confirm this.  Christians tend to get the most attention by abstaining from sex, alcohol (or at least drunkenness), gambling, etc. and from being anti-LBBTQ, -abortion, -premarital sex, etc.

Here’s an honest question in response: Wouldn’t it be better to be know by the things that we do and the things we support?  Wouldn’t we rather the world know that we care for the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the immigrant?  Wouldn’t we rather the world know that we support protecting the rights of the fragile and forgotten?

Wouldn’t we rather the world know about the goodness that we demonstrate through our actions rather than the personal piety we attempt to build up privately?

Obviously the answers to all of those rhetorical questions is “yes.”  It would be amazing if the world could begin to see us differently.

 

It’s Time for a PR Campaign

So we have a public relations problem and we need to work to solve it.  Why?  Not because it’s nice or politically correct.  No.

We need to launch a fully-fledged PR campaign because we want people to come to know Christ and his transformative power.

We need to launch a fully-fledged PR campaign because we long for our cities, towns, and villages to be made better thanks to the presence of those who claim Christ.

We need to launch a fully-fledged PR campaign because the Great Commission (Matthew 28.19-20) demands we do so.

But how?  One word: GOODNESS!

If we became the kind of people who were so deeply connected to the Spirit that his Micah-6.8 goodness oozed out of us everywhere we went, our reputation in the world would change for the better!

People would begin to see and experience the love of God through us, his ambassadors here on earth.

Friends, this is our duty.

Only one thing remains: Obedience.  Will we do it?!?

 

What do you think?  What does goodness mean and how can goodness change the world?  Let me know in the comments below!

#Focus: New Wine Podcast #011

What role does focus play in the life of a follower of Jesus?  And what should our focus be?

I answer this question in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher?  That would be super cool!

Thanks!

The Ghost of Church Past: Part Three

My wife, parents, and I recently watched a stage production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  As I watched it I couldn’t help but imagine what the ghosts of church past, present, and future might say to those of us who follow Jesus.  I started with the the ghost of church past by looking at the earliest church (click here for that post) and then to the era begun by Constantine (click here for that post).  Now we turn to the more recent past.

The Attractional Church Model

Basics — The wheel that was set in motion during Constantine’s time has continued to roll. And a fairly recent example of this has been the attractional church model. This model came into full bloom during the “Church-Growth Movement” which was spearheaded by Donald McGavaran, Peter Wagner, among many others. The basic idea here is that what I call the Field of Dreams tactic: “If we build it, they will come.” So the focus of churches became programs, worship, and preaching. The thought was that if we could make these things excellent, then people would come to our churches in droves. To some extent this worked. Some churches grew like crazy during this period, with Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church being a prime example. And many good things came out of this time. Millions came to know the Lord through this model, Christians learned a whole bunch, and a ton of money was raised for churches and missionaries.

How Leadership Worked –– Many of the churches that did and continue to fall into this category are led by a few pastors with one being the chief pastor.  This chief pastor tended to be charismatic and focused on preaching and teaching.  As some of these churches grew, more and more staff were hired to help shepherd the growing flock.  This led to a silo effect in which various wings of the church were led by their own pastors who were in charge of their own budgets, programs, buildings, etc.

Problems — This model is affinity-based, meaning that church leaders promoted people being grouped together based on similarities. So many churches became increasingly homogenous, meaning that there was very little diversity. This model also depends on the culture outside of the church being similar enough to the culture inside the church that folks on the outside would turn to the church when they were seeking God. This was the case in the past but it’s not so much so now. And, most importantly, this model taught us to think of the church as the place where we invite people to come instead of being the church among those who do not yet know Jesus.

Place in Society — During the height of the attractional church model many church leaders were seen by politicians and other civic leaders as powerbrokers.  Thus, a few of these church leaders and their churches began to wield incredible power in their communities, cities, states, and beyond.  However, as the values of the wider culture and the attractional churches have departed from one another, these leaders and churches have seen their power wane to some degree.

Great Commission — For the most part this model followed suit with what had begun with Constantine’s legitimization of Christianity.  As mentioned above, most of these leaders and churches wanted people to flood into their church buildings.  The hope was that people would come to know Jesus through preaching and be discipled through education.  Most of the talk around the “Great Commission” meant contributing to international mission work financially.

Thus, we see a few positives here and quite a few negatives.  Hopefully this trip down memory lane will teach us a thing or two!

So, when you think of the attractional church model what comes to mind for you?  Is my brief analysis fair?

(FYI — some of the content of this blog was inspired by Alan Hirsch’s book Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church.  I highly recommend it!)

The Ghost of Christmas Past: Part One

The Ghost of Christmas Past: Part Two

 

The Ghost of Church Past: Part Two

My wife, parents, and I recently watched a stage production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  As I watched it I couldn’t help but imagine what the ghosts of church past, present, and future might say to those of us who follow Jesus.  I started with the the ghost of church past by looking at the earliest church (click here for that post).  Now we turn to the much-maligned Constantine and the era that he is said to have begun.

PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay

Constantine

  • Basics — A man named Constantine was the emperor during the time in which Christianity became a legitimized religion in the Roman empire. This meant that persecution slowed down to a great degree. The followers of Jesus could come out of hiding and express their religious beliefs and practices more freely. The believers began to become more centralized. They were allowed to construct buildings in which they could meet. This led to more and more people associating church with the meeting place rather than the people themselves.  Good things happened during this period too; it was during this time that many of our theological issues were ironed out and when Christian scholarship in general flourished.
  • How Leadership Worked — This centralization and localization of the church in a building meant that the preachers and teachers began to rise in influence over the apostles, prophets, and evangelists. These preachers and teachers began to become the authorities on all things related to Christianity.
  • Problems — Naturally, with Christians being able to rise from the shadows produced some issues.  Chief among them was the professionalization of ministry.  As we saw already, the church had become centralized and localized, which allowed for people to have great levels of training for leading as a teacher or preacher.  And this produced some good benefits, such as doctrinal orthodoxy and a continuity of messages being preached throughout Christendom, but it also created a situation in which some (those who had been trained) were seen as responsible for almost all the work of the gospel.
  • Place in Society — Over some time the believers became entrenched in their societies, influencing them and being influenced by them. Followers of Jesus also began to find themselves in positions of power, from emperors, to military people, to business people. This development helped lead the church to become, at times, a defender of the status quo instead of being people who radically follow Jesus wherever he might lead.
  • Great Commission — The churches during the period beginning with Constantine sought to draw people toward themselves, toward their buildings, their programs, and their teaching.  For a long, long time this worked!  Disciples were made and many, many people grew in their faith.  Of course, this was due, primarily, to the culture of the church being similar to the culture of society at large.  In places where the society at large had a vastly different culture from the church (places outside of or on the fringes of the Roman Empire), preachers and teachers found it much more difficult to draw people to them.

So this part of the visit from the ghost of Christmas past is not as positive as the first one.  Hopefully we are seeing some areas for growth here and some things to avoid.

So, when you think of Constantine and the period of church history that he is said to have begun, what comes to mind for you?

(FYI — much of the content of this blog was inspired by Alan Hirsch’s book Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church.  I highly recommend it!)

The Ghost of Christmas Past: Part One

The Ghost of Christmas Past: Part Three

The Ghost of Church Past: Part One

My wife and I recently went to see a stage production of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol with my mom and dad when they were in town for Thanksgiving.  While watching the play, I kept thinking about the state of the churches in America.  What would the ghosts in A Christmas Carol say to us?  For the next little while I’m going to try to answer that question.

We’ll start with the ghost of church past this week.  When Ebenezer Scrooge asked the ghost of Christmas past why it was there with him it said that it had come for Scrooge’s welfare and, ultimately, his reclamation.  It’s for the same reasons that we gaze back into our past as well!

Let’s begin all the way at the beginning —

The Earliest Church

  • Basics — This period begins at the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 and extends until the fourth century.  It’s marked by growth and vitality.  The early believers in Jesus were not centralized, they tended to meet in homes, and they appear to have taken Jesus’ teachings about caring for the least of these seriously.
  • How Leadership Worked — There were a variety of leaders, those who pushed the envelope (like evangelists, prophets, and apostles) and those who provided care for the flock (like teachers and preachers).
  • Problems — Before we get too excited, however, these earliest churches had many problems.  Their theology was pretty loose, they had to deal with really dangerous persecution, there were unity problems in their churches, and they had the ongoing issues associated with the ethnic drama between Jews and Gentiles.
  • Standing in Society — These early believers were pioneers who lived on the edges of their societies.  Thus, they tended to stand out from the norm quite a bit, thanks to their moral practices, their care for the poor and the hurting, and their love for one another.
  • Great Commission — These churches were sending churches.  We this see modeled in Jesus’ own life (Luke 9-10) and then recreated by the early faith communities, such as the church at Antioch (Acts 13).  They also appear to have  understood that making disciples meant doing life together while always being open to folding in new people (Acts 2.42-47).

Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, the first part of our visit from the ghost of church past is pretty positive.  As we look back at the earliest church, there’s lots to like and emulate.

So when you think of the earliest church, what comes to mind?  Tell me in the comments below!

(FYI — much of the content of this blog was inspired by Alan Hirsch’s book Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church.  I highly recommend it!)

The Ghost of Christmas Past: Part Two

The Ghost of Christmas Past: Part Three

Kobe and Laying Down Power in the Church

My wife and I life in Pasadena, CA, which is the first city you come to as you travel east out of north Los Angeles.  We love it here!  And here’s one small reason: if you planned well and had decent traffic, then in the winter in LA you could ski in the morning, go to the beach in the afternoon, and watch a world-class stage production in the evening.  Amazing!

Besides how expensive it is to live here, one of the other things that I don’t like about LA is the constant chatter about the Lakers (the local basketball team, in case you didn’t know).  I love basketball, but I don’t really have a team that I root for.  Over the last few years I’ve grown to love the Clippers (LA’s other team) because they seem like they need a few more fans.  However, I’ve always, more or less, rooted against the Lakers, even before moving here.

Why?  Because I like to see new teams win sometimes!  And the Lakers have won sixteen championships!  In other words, I’m kind of tired of the same ol’, same ol’ when it comes to basketball.

It has been brought to my attention today, thanks to local news on the TV and sports-talk radio, that Kobe Bryant, the Lakers’ longtime star, has re-signed with the team for two years at a reported rate of 48.5 million US dollars.  That’s a ton of cash, especially when you take into consideration the fact that Kobe hasn’t played at all this season yet due to an achilles heel injury.

The Lakers are really betting it all on Kobe with this deal.  Because they re-signed him at such a large salary, the Lakers will have less money to sign other star players.  In other words, Kobe requires such a large investment, that the Lakers will have less wiggle room under the salary cap to lure any other players to LA.

All of this reminds me of something I heard recently.  Some people from the church my wife and I attend went to Mosaix this year.  Mosaix is a global network of believers, churches, para-church groups, schools, etc. who are attempting to catalyze a “movement toward multiethnic churches in the twenty-first century for the sake of the gospel.”  During a post-conference meeting a woman from our church shared this reflection gleaned from the conference: “Every perspective (white, black, Latino, Asian, etc.) has to give up something in order for us to gain traction toward truly becoming multiethnic.”

To translate that into Matt-ese, she’s saying that if we are really going to be the body of Christ the way that God envisions it (Revelation 7.9), then we all have to lay down whatever power me might have for the benefit of everyone else.  We must stop holding onto whatever power we have (which we tend to use for ourselves and those like us) and start making space for those who are different from us.

I’m going to do something heavy-handed here.  Ready?  This is what Jesus did.  Philippians 2.6-7 says Jesus “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”  And how does Paul introduce these words in Philippians 2.5?  He says “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset of Christ Jesus.”

Ouch.

So, let me get this straight.  I’m supposed to have the same attitude that Jesus had and Jesus gave up his power for the benefit of others.  So that means in my life I’m being called by God to give up my power, my advantages, and my preferences so that others can flourish.

Dang.  That’s hard!

And the situation with Kobe is a reminder of our basic human makeup.  Left to our own devices, the vast majority of us will take as much money as we can get, even if it hurts our team and our chances of ever winning again.  Left to our own devices, we’ll not make space for others, instead will actively and subconsciously exclude people.  Left to our own devices, we’re pretty selfish from top to bottom.

So the missional call is to live like Jesus, emptying ourselves for the benefit of others.  That might mean that we have less control, we have less time, we have less say, we have less money, we have less power, and we have less influence.  But it will mean that we’re obeying the clear call from God in the Bible to put the interests of others before our own.

And that unselfish living is what our culture is hungry for.  That’s what can make us stand out from the crowd.  That’s what can help create in us lives that invite others to come to know this Jesus who changes our lives.  That’s what can help us fulfill the Great Commandment (Matthew 22.37-39) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28.19-20).

Let’s do this together!

Do you have any ideas of what laying down our power might look like?  How have you done it?  How have you seen it done?  What were the results?  Share with me in the comments below!