As a pastor, fielding complaints is part of the job. Complaints about the worship service are the most common form of complaint that I receive. Bar none. In the churches I have served and grown… More
Last week, I posted that the first step in slaying the Church Monster of Bitterness is to make the intentional decision to forgive people who hurt you. To read more about the first step in slaying our Church Monster click here.
Step 2: Charis?
The first step of forgiveness is to make the difficult choice to let the pain go and throw it away from you. But here is the interesting thing, and this is why I love studying the original languages, God uses more than one word for forgiveness.
The first word for forgiveness that we talked about last time(Aphiemi) one means, let it go – send it away. The second word means this: forgiveness means showing grace.
In Colossians 3:13 is one place where this other form of forgiveness comes into play. And here is what we read:
Bear with each other, forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
What makes this challenging is that word for forgive comes from the Greek word Charis. Charis literally means grace. If we are unfamiliar with the concept, grace means we give someone a gift they absolutely do not deserve.
Dealing with the Unfairness
Last week I shared that making the decision to forgive can feel unfair. The person we are forgiving has hurt us and no we are letting them off easy. I also agreed that this is totally unfair. The person we are forgiving absolutely does not deserve our forgiveness.
That’s why it’s grace. We are giving them something they do not deserve.
Let me put it another way, when we are unforgiving towards each other we are like Ebenezer Scrooge. When we are unforgiving, it’s like we put a c-clamp on our emotional wallet. The emotional Ebenezer Scrooge says, “I am not going to do that. I worked hard for this. I am going to keep all my grace and forgiveness to myself because they don’t deserve it.”
What’s Wrong with Scrooge?
Now perhaps the question is “What’s wrong with being an emotional Scrooge?” After all, I’ve already said that the other person doesn’t deserve our forgiveness.
The problem is that our unforgiveness begins to taint other people and experiences. Have you ever gone through a bad breakup? Or even an okay break up? After you break up with someone, have you ever noticed that you feel weird hearing songs or watching movies you used to enjoy with the other person? If you’ve gone through a bad breakup or divorce you can actually lose friends and social contacts.
Holding onto bitterness can affect our life and relationships in a similar way. What happens in our churches when we have bitterness towards someone in our church? Our bitterness towards them makes it harder to worship, harder to talk to other people who are friends with them, harder to serve when they are around and more. It becomes easier to leave the church than to put up with the bitterness.
As a pastor, I have seen many people leave churches largely because of bitterness towards others.
So Now What?
I challenge you to make the difficult decision. Choose to let go of your wounds and send them away by showing grace to the people who have hurt you.
In the next post, I’ll share some very specific steps that can help you practice forgiveness in a very real and transforming way.
Join the Conversation Below: When was a time when someone forgave you when you didn’t deserve it.
In my last post, I talked about slaying the monster that lives in most of our churches. In case you missed it, here’s the link. For those who don’t want to read the last post, here’s the spoiler: The Church Monster is Unforgiveness.
So, let’s get to the good stuff. Let’s slay the Church Monster.
Step 1 (The Hardest Part):
I’ll be honest up front. The first step to slaying the Church Monster is most definitely the hardest. To understand what forgiveness means from a biblical standpoint, we need a quick lesson in Greek. (don’t worry, I promise it will be painless)
The Greek word that is often used for forgiveness is Aphiemi (which is fun to say). It is made up of 2 words combined. The first part of it means literally: to let go or to drop. And the second part of it means: to put it in motion. So forgiveness does not mean to just “drop it like it is hot and walk away”. Forgiveness literally means drop it, kick it, throw it, launch it out of a rocket launcher …. Send it away from you as fast as you can.
Forgiveness literally means to let it go.
If I truly want to forgive someone, I must actually be willing to let go of what they have done.
Wait What? That’s Not Fair!
Normally, people who have been hurt deeply can’t move past Step 1. Believe me, I get it. We need to forgive because we have been hurt by someone else. Whether the other person meant to hurt us or not, we are still hurt. So I understand that for me to come along and say we have to be willing to let the hurt go seems totally unfair.
Honestly, it is totally unfair. More often than not, we want the person who hurt us to feel the same kind of pain that we felt. Or we want them to hurt worse. Let’s be honest.
Can I say something that is probably not very pastoral sounding? When someone hurts us, they deserve to be hurt in return. The desire we have to see them suffer the way we suffered has a name. We call it Revenge.
But, when we hang onto Bitterness we are basically feeding the Church Monster and keeping it as a pet. We justify keeping our monster by saying things like “you don’t know how badly that person hurt me.” Which is true, I don’t know how badly you were hurt. Still it doesn’t change the fact that hanging onto bitterness means keeping a Church Monster in your closet.
God’s Extraordinary Ask
So even though we have the desire and maybe even the right to want revenge, God is asking us to do something extraordinary. The Lord asks us to allow him the right to pursue revenge instead of us. (Check out Romans 12:19). The Bible makes it clear that we are to slay the Monster of Bitterness by letting go of our right to revenge.
Is it Really Worth It?
I’ve been hurt by people. And, in fairness, I have also hurt many people. I bring this up simply because I know how easy it is to keep a Church Monster. But, if I can be honest, keeping Bitterness in my life only really hurts me.
So the question I have for Step 1 is this: is keeping the bitterness in your life really worth it? It’s your right to keep it there. But how does it help?
Ultimately, keeping a Church Monster really only hurts us.
The invitation is actually make the choice to let your bitterness go.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION: What makes it hard for you to let go of bitterness?
I believe there is a monster in the closet in almost every church. This monster has been in every church I have ever attended and is still in the church I pastor. So to identify this monster, I have talked to pastors, counselors, theologians, and read a lot of books. A lot of books. . . . Anyway. . .
After doing all of this reading and looking at eighteen years of pastoral experience I think I can identify our monster in the closet. It was actually a quote from the founder of Life Action Ministries that clued me in.
If you have ever heard of Life Action Ministries, they are based down in the West Michigan and go all over the world doing revivals. Several years ago, they ministered for a week at a church I used to work. After their week of services, our church saw about 100 people join the church. Which was really really cool, to say the least.
Their founder is Byron Paulus and he says this:
“After reaching out to more than four million believers in 6,000 churches during the past four decades, our team of revivalists would unanimously concur that the number one problem they encounter is unforgiveness. Bitterness is rampant. Forgiveness is not.”
The Monster Revealed
Unforgiveness and bitterness run rampant through our churches. I have seen few things that can destroy relationships and destroy churches like bitterness (the feeling that comes from not forgiving people). Yet, we often allow this monster to stay in our church’s closet.
When I allow unforgiveness to exist between myself and another believer, I am unleashing a monster in my church. Plus, I’m denying one of the key parts of my faith. Let me explain.
If I love, worship, and fix my eyes on Jesus I have begun a spiritual journey. However, we are not called to fly solo in our faith. We are called to do then Christian life together.
Therefore, I cannot love God and hate (be angry with, bitter towards, or however we word it) other people in my church. If in doubt, check out 1 John 4:20. And if I am loving Jesus but can’t stand my brother or sister in Christ, then I am unleashing a monster in my church.
The Devastating Impact.
In our faith, we say that our spiritual life produces love, joy, peace, patience and a bunch of other awesome things in our life. (Check out Galatians 5:22). Now most everyone I know would like more of those traits in their life. I certainly do.
However, the monster of unforgiveness destroys that spiritual good stuff. One of the key reasons why this spiritual fruit is lacking in our lives is often because we have bitterness in our hearts towards other people. Unforgiveness really is like a monster that destroys the fruit of the Spirit in your life.
All of a sudden instead of having a love for another person, I feel anger. I have is this bitterness in my mouth when I talk about them. My joy just evaporates and is gone because. . . that person is in the room. My peace with God and the other person is shredded. And patience with everyone is wiped out when unforgiveness resonates in our hearts.
Let’s Slay the Monster
So my friends, if you really really really want to live the spiritually animated life. Then we need to get rid of unforgiveness. We need to be forgiving people. We need to practice that.
In my next post, we’ll begin to unpack how to do that.
In the meantime, join the conversation. If you can, share how you’ve seen the unforgiveness monster damage relationships (PLEASE do not share names). And even more important than the event is how it was resolved.
A few weeks ago I preached part 1 of a topic called “Barriers to the Animated Life” and we talked about strongholds. If we are really honest, many of us keep doing the same stupid things over and over. Many times, (after we did the same stupid thing again) we ask “why did I do that?”
One of the biggest reasons why we keep doing the same things over and over again are our strongholds. Everyone has them and they influence our lives often without us realizing it. At the deepest level of our being, strongholds make our life make sense.
If you want the simplest definition of a spiritual stronghold it is the set of beliefs, values, and perceptions that give meaning to our life. Sometimes our strongholds form by the way we were raised and sometimes they form because of past painful events. Either way, strongholds shape our life.
To put it another way, strongholds make our life make sense.
Three Kinds of Strongholds.
As we take inventory of our lives, we can have three kinds of strongholds: godly, ungodly, and “it depends”. The first two, godly or ungodly strongholds, are usually easy to figure out. My challenge is when things fall into the “it depends” category. Then things get a bit weirder.
The first two, godly or ungodly strongholds, are usually easy to figure out. My challenge is when things fall into the “it depends” category. Then things get a bit weirder.
An “It Depends” Example
Let me give an “it depends” example. A common stronghold here in Muskegon is that we value hard work. We value working for a living, we value providing for our families, we value being self-sufficient. In my neighborhood, there are so many people who have either retired from working after long careers or are currently working to provide for their families. We take great pride in hard work, self-sufficiency, and independence.
So my question is, is that a godly value or an ungodly value? Unfortunately, that falls into the category of “it depends”. Here’s why. . .
On one hand, God’s word teaches us in Timothy, that if a person does not provide for their family he is worse than an unbeliever. So God expects, that if we are able, we are to work hard and provide for our family. To be self-sufficient if we can be.
But what happens if I take that value and bring it into my relationship with Jesus? If I come into relationship with Jesus saying I need to be self-sufficient and work hard to be saved, that is a problem. I have actually heard people say that they can not come to church because my life is too messed up. I need to fix my life and then go to church. That’s backward.
The truth is that if I can get a relationship with Jesus by working hard for it. . . . then it is not faith.
If I bring this belief that says, I need to work hard, I need to be self-sufficient into my spiritual life, then I have built a huge barrier between God and me.
Learning To Recognize Strongholds
The thing that I want people to take away from this, more than anything else is “ask questions”. We don’t often think to question the strongholds in our life because they are deep in our lives from even before we could even talk. We inherited them from our parents and all over the place. So most of the time we don’t question them.
I am inviting you to question your values and your worldviews. Make sure they line up with God’s word.
Join the Conversation Below: How do you determine if your deeply held beliefs are godly or not?
“What about an emotionally abusive marriage? How would this work?”
When I posted my previous article, I knew that the topic of forgiveness would touch some painful places in some people. Teaching forgiveness challenges me in the same way. So when someone posted that comment after my previous post, my heart went out.
Whoever you are, thanks for posting your question. It’s easy to teach forgiveness in a clinical or theoretical way, but when the harsh realities of life hit us in the face its hard to put theory into practice. Are we supposed to forgive an abuser or a murderer? How do we balance justice and grace? These are incredibly tough issues to figure out and I’m sure that one blog post is not enough to answer all the questions.
As I have dealt with my own forgiveness issues and as I have helped people navigate forgiveness, there have been some big myths that we have encountered. Ultimately, each time we come to one of these myths two things happen. The process of forgiveness stalls and we can’t move on and we reopen old wounds without healing them. It is possible to find the healing, but we have to go through the process.
So let me share the three biggest myths about forgiveness that I see. As you read, do a bit of inventory. If you see these myths in your life, either post a comment below or email me. I’ll do my best as a pastor to help you get pointed in the right direction.
MYTH 1: Forgiveness Means Forgetting
“Forgive and forget” is an old expression that has been around at least as long as I’ve been alive. Probably longer. While it may sound good or godly, here are three reasons why “forgive and forget” is a myth.
First, you can’t forget. Let’s be real. If you have experienced something bad in your life you really can’t forget it. So telling someone to “forget about it” is ridiculous.
Second, you shouldn’t forget. Yes, you read that right. You should not forget the people or experiences that hurt you. I realize it might sound unbiblical, but it’s true. Think of it this way, if a person hurt me and I forget what they did to me, then chances are that I will get hurt again. By appropriately remembering our wounds we are able to build better boundaries.
Third, God doesn’t forget. To be accurate, the Bible says that he no longer remembers our sins (Hebrews 8:12). But that does not mean he forgets. The word used in the original language means that God no longer intentionally recalls our sins. That’s different. As an all knowing God, he can’t forget anything. Instead, when he forgives us he chooses to no longer recall our sin or hold them against us.
The second myth actually explains this a bit more.
MYTH 2: Forgiveness Means Tolerating Sin or Abuse
I think the heart of “someone’s” quote at the beginning of this post comes up here. So let me be clear. Under no circumstances are the people of God to tolerate any kind of abuse: emotional, physical, sexual, or spiritual. So its an incredibly important question to ask “how would [forgiveness] work” in an “emotionally abusive marriage.”
To begin, forgiveness does not mean that sin (or abuse) is tolerated. If you read Matthew 18:21-35, you will read that Jesus calls us to forgive those who sin against us. However, that discussion of forgiveness comes after Matthew 18:15-18. In that passage we read that people who sin against us are to be held accountable. If a person won’t stop sinning against us when we ask them to, then we appeal to godly authority to protect us.
The key word here is Boundaries. We forgive people because of God’s instruction. However, we also build appropriate boundaries between us and the people who sin against us.
Sometimes, we don’t rebuild relationships after we forgive.
MYTH 3: Forgiveness Means We Have To Be Friends.
Just because I forgive someone, this doesn’t mean that I have to be their friends any more. Again, I know this sounds unbiblical, but hear me out.
I believe we are dealing with both a vertical and a horizontal reality.
The vertical piece is what we call Forgiveness. When I choose to forgive someone who hurt me, I forgive them vertically to God. They may never know that I have forgiven them, but they have been forgiven before God.
The horizontal piece is called Reconciliation. The Bible absolutely expects us to be agents of reconciliation in our relationship (2 Corinthians 5:18), when it’s possible (Romans 12:18). Where forgiveness is a vertical interaction between God and I, reconciliation requires the other person to participate.
In my experience, here are some reasons why we would not reconcile.
- It would be dangerous (the other person is unsafe)
- The other person is unwilling
- The other person is dead (forgiveness can still happen, but obviously not reconciliation)
- Other relationships might be damaged
- The other person is unknown.
In these settings (and probably some others) reconciliation may not be wise.
So What Now?
So bottom line, every time we work through this process we need to consider three factors: Forgiveness before God, Reconciliation with others, and Boundaries as needed.
I know the theory is simple to talk about, but practicing forgiveness can be incredibly difficult. If you are trying to forgive and get stuck, please feel free to contact me here.
Join the Conversation Below:
How do you balance Forgiveness, Boundaries and Reconciliation?
As a grown man, I feel like I know way too much about Disney Princesses.
I guess that’s part of the joy of having pre-teen daughters. So, yes not only do I know about the main Disney Princesses, but I also know about most of the off-brands and Barbie knock-offs. Yikes. My life has an excess of pink and glitter.
Truth be told, I do wish that problems in real life could, in fact, be resolved the way they are on my daughter’s shows. All we need is the magic of friendship and a well-choreographed dance number. Then. . . . voila! Problems are solved.
Real Life Problems
Unfortunately, anyone who has been alive for more than a day knows that real life problems are not resolved so easily. As Becky and I are rounding the bend on twenty years of marriage this year, we know how hard it is. After two decades of life together, we have had to navigate some incredibly painful relationship problems. Other couples we know have had similar challenges and have fallen apart.
So why do some relationships seem to implode for no apparent reason? Social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson offer one explanation. In their book Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), they describe how a fixation on our own righteousness can choke the life out of love. They write:
The vast majority of couples who drift apart do so slowly, over time, in a snowballing pattern of blame and self-justification. Each partner focuses on what the other one is doing wrong while justifying his or her own preferences, attitudes, and ways of doing things. … From our standpoint, therefore, misunderstandings, conflicts, personality differences, and even angry quarrels are not the assassins of love; self-justification is.
So whether a relationship is drifting apart slowly or explodes all at once, there is an important skill we can use to repair it.
And The Winner Is. . .
I wish there were more fanfare or a greater surprise, but simply put the most important relationship skill that has allowed Becky and me to make it through twenty years is forgiveness.
Probably not shocking. Especially coming from a pastor. Still, if I could trace one common thread that runs through almost every single failed marriage it would the unwillingness of one or both people to truly forgive.
Throughout this week, I will be posting a number of articles about forgiveness. So for today, let me give you two good reasons why we should learn this vital relationship skill.
- The Bible Tells Me So. . .
Again, this may be the obvious choice for a pastor. Still, I find God’s Word is the most reliable source of wisdom that governs our life. The rest of my posts this week will unpack this idea.
Also, you can listen to yesterday’s sermon on forgiveness to get started. Go to Sunday’s Message to listen.
- Research Also agrees
It is also refreshing to see that psychologists and other researchers have discovered that forgiveness is a vital relationship skill as well. Daryl R. Van Tongeren* and his team have discovered that
“A 6-month longitudinal study of romantic couples, revealed that participants who regularly forgave their partner reported increased meaning in life over time.”
Forgiveness is a simple idea that is extremely difficult to practice in real life. My invitation for this week is simply to consider what is posted here. I will address some of the challenges of forgiveness and provide some concrete steps for us to put this skill into practice.
If you have questions of struggles with forgiving people in your life, you can email me questions here.
My hope is that your relationships will be strengthened by forgiveness.
Join the conversation below: Why is it hard to forgive people in our lives?
*Van Tongeren, D.R., Green, J.D., et.al. “Forgiveness Increases Meaning in Life” in Social Psychological and Personality Science. 2015, Vol 6(I) 47-55.
(A.K.A. Why I haven’t posted in a few weeks)
So it has been a crazy couple of weeks. In addition to the normal rattle and hum of family, ministry and school stuff, I also had the amazing privilege of spending the week in Washington D.C. It was both my first time being to our nation’s capital and the first time helping with the National Day of Prayer events there. Many of you helped to get me there, so let me share a little bit of the story. I hope you will see why some surprising realities give me new hope for our country.
But first. . .
THE BACK STORY
When we lived in Chicago I worked as a protection agent. The company I worked for provides security for people and places in some rather cool ways. My former boss called and asked if I wanted to help provide some additional security during the National Day of Prayer observance in Washington. So. . . I grabbed my black suit and headed to the capital.
Now, I have only seen Washington on the news and in movies. And to be honest, I’m not really into politics and tend to be rather cynical about the national politicians. So I had no idea what to expect.
Honestly, I was surprised. While I am sure that there are plenty of corrupt and selfish politicians and lobbyists in Washington that are making life miserable for people, I must confess there were three things that truly surprised me and two of them gave me hope.
Surprise 1: D.C. is WAY more Confusing Than I Thought
I used to live and work in and around Chicago and I thought that city was a bit confusing at times. D.C. is way worse!
They actually take pride in the confusion. I heard more people tell me how, after the city was burned to the ground, a Frenchman rebuilt the city to be more confusing. Wow. Thank you, France.
Needless to say, this was not the surprise that gives hope.
Surprise 2: Leaders Who Stake Jesus’s Name To Their Work.
I have no doubt that there are plenty of amoral, selfish people in D.C. Just like everywhere else. Still, I was deeply impressed to see how many people of faith are trying, to the best of their abilities, to bring Jesus’s influence into our nation.
I know that one week in D.C. does not make me any sort of expert on our political arena. Still, it struck me how hard it would be to truly live for Jesus in that environment.
Most people want something from you. Most people will smile at you and say what you want to hear. Most things seem to be done with compromise and arm twisting. How do you live for the Lord or use a Christian worldview in this setting?
At all of our events, I was able to meet a number of people in our government who were trying to do exactly that. A number of congressmen, senators, and their staff members were standing up for their faith. By showing up to our event, they were staking their name and their reputation to the Name of Jesus Christ. Realizing for the first time what an uphill battle they have has breathed new life into my personal prayer life.
Surprise 3: The Belief in Shaking the World Through Prayer.
Being around the men and women who truly believe in the power of prayer is humbling.
Anne Graham Lotz, the chairwoman of the NDOP Task Force, called the people gathered to pray for our repentance as a nation. To see other Christian leaders sharing their insights and words of encouragement with our leaders is very humbling.
Revelation 8 teaches us that when the saints of God pray, our prayers go up to God like a wonderful fragrance. However, after God receives our prayers, he hurls fire back down on the earth. This picture shows us God’s view on how he uses our prayers to effect change in the world.
1 Timothy 2:2 teaches us to pray for those who rule us. My biggest takeaway, seeing the number of people boldly living for Jesus while leading our country, is that we must absolutely be on our knees praying for them.
Join the Conversation!
What makes encourages you to pray for our leaders?
What makes it challenging to pray for them?
So I am wiped out.
I am tired and rather cranky, to be honest. Today, little things like poor table manners and noisy kids programs are scoring a 9 out of 10 on the irritation meter when they should be closer to zero. And the really good news is that my oldest daughter is about to practice her recorder. Awesome.
Now truth be told, this last week was amazing. We had services for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday (2 of them), and of course Easter. All of these were great services. Jesus was proclaimed and celebrated. Our worship teams did an absolutely amazing job. The people of God were fantastic.
Simply put, it was an awesome weekend.
But now, as I write this on Easter Monday, I am tired. And cranky. Mainly, I am cranky because I am tired. So I guess it makes sense.
The Danger of Tired
When I look back at my spiritual journey, I can see that our biggest failures and sin-filled falls usually come in one of two key places. As I have talked with other pastors and Christians, we all agree
- Falls Happen When We Are Stressed. I am amazed by the regularity of character challenging moments that come leading up to Easter or Christmas or Mission trips or other “mountain top” experiences. Little things like cars breaking down and silly conflicts provide the small, but damaging character challenges that often set up larger moments of failure. After all, who wants to see the pastor losing his mind because he got cut off in the express lane at Meijer? (Granted the “express lane at Meijer” is always a bit of an oxymoron, to begin with.)
- Falls Happen When We Are Tired. Of course, after a great mountaintop moment like Good Friday and Easter, we are tired. Emotional and physical exhaustion is a very real thing. In those moments, spiritual and relational falls happen quickly. They happen to me. They happen to all pastors. And to all Christians.
The bigger question is what can we do to guard against these falls in our walk?
The Jesus Prevention Plan
Part of what I love about the ministry of Jesus is that he gives us some good, proactive steps to renew our hearts and spirits.
- Regular Spiritual Disciplines. Luke 5:16 records that Jesus would often go off by himself to pray. Many times, these personal times of prayer and renewal happened after busy and draining times of ministry. While I may be a decent pastor, if Jesus needed to take time away, I absolutely need to do the same thing.
- Plurality of Ministry. Jesus had 12 disciples. Most people, even non-Christians know this. Part of being a disciple was that they shared in Jesus’s ministry with him. Of course, within the 12 Jesus had an inner core of 3 who shared some of the most intense ministry moments with Jesus. (Mark 9:2-8). One problem that many of us as pastors face is that we are lone wolves. When we keep our cards “close to the vest” we set ourselves up for a fall. Do we have a core group around us that we can lean on and expect to hold us accountable? (for those in and around Muskegon, check out John 17:23 Groups.)
- Rest. One of my favorite Jesus stories is in Mark 4:35-41. In this scene, Jesus is asleep in the back of a boat when a huge storm kicks up. While the miracle that follows is great, I love that Jesus is taking a nap. I don’t think it is a coincidence that after the storm Jesus has a dramatic encounter with a demon-possessed man. So, prior to a dramatic ministry moment, Jesus intentionally rests. I think there’s a lesson here. . . at least for me.
What’s Your Plan?
Looking back on last week, it was great. I loved it. However, if I am honest, I was too busy. I didn’t have any time for me to rest or reconnect with my family. The ministry was great, but I think next year I need to handle my schedule differently.
What about you? What steps do you take to fight against emotional and physical exhaustion in work or ministry?
Join the conversation below.
What steps do you take to fight against emotional and physical exhaustion in work or ministry?
So are you up for the challenge? If so, click on the links below to find out about the events I’m talking about in the video.
Thursday, 6:30 pm @ Forest Park Covenant Church
Friday, 1:00 pm @ Evanston Avenue Baptist Church
Friday, 6:30 pm @ New Hope Missionary Baptist Church
You can also come at 5:30 pm for a light dinner, thanks to New Hope!
Sunday, 10:45 am @ Evanston Avenue Baptist Church.
Want another way to weigh the evidence? Click HERE
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Christian books are a huge market.
In 2007, InterVarsity Press (one of the bigger Christian publishers) estimated that there are between 8,000 and 9,000 religious books published every year. Personally, with close to 700 books in my collection, I could be accused of enabling this publishing trend. I love books. I love to read. I love information.
But here is my question: Why do we need so many Christian books every year? When we look at all of the books published, it’s staggering. The range of topics delivered from a biblical perspective includes marriage, parenting, finances, addiction, diet, health and more. So, I have to ask why do we need more?
With all that has been written, Christians should be the happiest, healthiest, most harmonious and most financially sound people in the world. Yet we’re not.
In fact when it comes to information we Christians believe that we have the ultimate source. We hold that the Bible has revealed God’s “divine power [that] has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him” (1 Peter 1:3). So we should have all the information we need.
Why isn’t it enough?
Perhaps, the problem isn’t the information. Perhaps the problem is what we DO with the information.
If we are honest, most education happening in the church is a one-way street of information. Sermons (which I love to preach) and classes (which I love to teach) have traditionally focused on the transmission of information. In these contexts, the speaker speaks and the audience absorbs.
However, we generally don’t see life transformation.
To be honest, I think we have been missing something. If we look at Jesus’s model for teaching, I think we have missed an important component. After all, the disciples were common men from common professions who struggled with all sorts of problems. Between their doubts, petty jealousies, power plays and other issues, they were a messed up bunch. Yet, after three years with Jesus, they were ready to change the world.
What made his teaching so effective? Of course, many books have been written on the subject. Still, I have observed 3 reasons why Jesus’s teaching was so transforming.
1. Jesus Expected Practice
Take a look at Luke 9 and 10. Both of these chapters open with Jesus sending his disciples on missions. In both passages, groups of Jesus’s students left the direct instruction of their teacher, put his teaching into practice, and then reported back.
In other words, Jesus expected them to do something. He expected them to practice what he preached them.
Of course, Jesus did spend considerable time teaching his disciples the information they needed to follow him (check out Matthew 5,6,&7). But we cannot escape the fact that part of Jesus’s “curriculum” for his followers was practical experience in real life.
Do our churches have practical implementation built into our teaching?
2. Knowledge Alone Makes Us . . . Puffy.
Knowledge is a good thing. I wouldn’t be working on my second Master’s degree if I didn’t believe that we need information. However, the Bible also tells us that “Knowledge inflates with pride” (1 Cor 8:1).
Therefore, if all we do is transmit biblical information to people, then we will have puffy saints. In my experience, puffy saints are more interested in receiving more information and less interested in pursuing Jesus’s mission for the world.
We definitely need knowledge and we must also put that information into practice. Our good, biblical knowledge is worthless. . . without putting it into action.
3. God’s Word is a Sword, Not a Blanket
When we read Hebrews 4:12, we read that God’s Word is both alive and that it has a purpose.
What does it mean that the Word of God is alive? Well, that’s a long answer. Come to Evanston Avenue Baptist on Easter. We’ll be starting a new sermon series that answers that very question.
The second part of Hebrews 4:12 shows that God’s Word has a purpose. God did not give us His Word so that we could win at Bible Trivia. The goal is that we will be transformed, down to our very core.
If we are honest, many Christians want God’s Word to be their safety blanket. Many Christians want to only hear Bible teaching that reinforces what they already believe. They want to hear teaching that ultimately leaves them the same. However, this is not the purpose of God’s Word.
God gave us his Word so we can change.
The Missing Piece.
If we add practice to our instruction, I believe we will see more lives transformed in a lasting way.
Does your church have intentional times and places where you can put the teaching into practice? In your Sunday school or small group settings do you only talk about what God’s Word says or do you put it into practice?
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