All posts by Lloyd Hamilton

The Gospel: More Beautiful Than You Think – part 4

Three Common Beliefs that Ruin Christianity

In the first three parts of this series I’ve been considering some very common beliefs that ruin Christianity. These beliefs are held by so many people that they are generally accepted without much thought. Even people who have been followers of Jesus for many years often accept these things as true because they sound good, and they make us feel good. But the problem is, according to the scripture we base our faith on, they are false. Not only that, the wide-spread acceptance of these things has diminished the beauty of the gospel.

I suggest you read the first three parts of this series if you haven’t already, because these things all come together as a package deal. If you believe one, you’ll likely believe the others.

Part one was an introduction to the series.

In part two we considered the commonly held belief that God is a tolerant God, and discovered that in fact he is not tolerant at all, but holy.

Part three asked the question, “Do you think people are basically good, or bad?” There are some exceptions, but for the most part we want to believe that people are basically good. But scripture, and personal experience, both point to the fact that people are basically sinners.

Now we approach the third commonly held belief which ruins Christianity. In order to get a handle on this belief we asked the people on Cincinnati’s Fountain Square at lunch time the following question:

“How does a person get to heaven?”

Take a couple of minutes to listen to their answers…

The widely held view seems to be that, because God is tolerant, and we are basically good, it is possible for us to earn God’s favor. That if we do enough good stuff to offset the bad, then God will look at us, wink and say, “Well done. You’ve done a pretty good job. Welcome to heaven!”

There’s only one problem.

We simply can’t be that good.

In fact, scripture tells us our “good deeds” are like filthy rags in the sight of God. (Isaiah 64:6) It says that all of us have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6). In the book of Romans Paul tells us that every single one of us has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23), which, by the way, is the standard we must live up to if we are to have any hope at all (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Here’s the deal:

Humans can do absolutely nothing to earn God’s favor.

Our only option is to trust in Christ’s atonement and accept God’s completely undeserved favor.

I mean, it only makes sense. If God is holy and cannot accept imperfection, then any attempt we make is going to fall short.  We can’t be good enough. We can’t attend enough church services. We can’t serve enough. We can’t give enough. We can’t do enough good works to cancel out or offset any one of our innumerable sins.

At this point I suppose it’s fair to ask, “What is beautiful about this?” I admit that the outlook seems kind of bleak.

But without that bleakness, we miss the incredible beauty of the gospel.

The apostle Paul describes the situation in a powerful way in Ephesians 2:1-10. You can read it here in the NIV if you like (It’s pretty daggone powerful in any translation!), but I love the way Eugene Peterson has paraphrased it in The Message:

It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

You see, it’s not that we are basically good people who do our best so a tolerant and understanding God allows our little mistakes to slide because He loves us. Not even close!

The situation is that we are sinful, selfish, and rebellious people who have intentionally turned our backs on our Creator. Yet this completely holy and just God did the unthinkable. He took our guilt upon Himself – sacrificing His own life – to offer us a way out of eternal punishment and into eternal life.

Now that’s a love that’s incomprehensible to us.

One more thought for those of you who have been Christians a while:

Do you have a particular sin that you struggle with?  Is it anger, or greed, or envy, or lust? If you’re like me, whenever you yield to your particular temptation you carry around this load of guilt for a while.  You know you shouldn’t have said or done whatever it was and in fact you knew you had the power to overcome the temptation. God has promised you could. You simply made a wrong choice. Let me ask you something…

If Jesus died for you when you were His enemy, will He not forgive you and love you now that you’re His friend?

Take a look at 1 John 1:8-9:

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

If you assume that God loves you because you are good, you can never know this freedom. If you think God loves because you’re good then you must continue to be good to be loved. Sadly, I realize that this is the very experience many have with their human father. You know the end result of this is a burden of guilt and despair because, as we have seen, you will never be good enough.

But God is not like our human fathers.

God loves us because He is good – not because we are.

See what I mean?

The gospel is way more beautiful than we think.

Lloyd

 

Tuesday Picks ~ 7-18-2017

This is some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing today that I think may enrich your day as well...

This is how it’s supposed to work…

He’s My F*cking Pastor!Gary Liederbach
http://static1.squarespace.com/static/557884bae4b06e95d28f8cfe/576ab449440243082a91e68e/59691795d7bdceddc9d28631/1500266044939/preacher.jpg?format=1000wMy morning office is the Waffle House… Chuck is a man who comes frequently to the WH.  He is a “rough” and crude man in his late 50’s.  He cusses allot and gives the waitresses and customers a hard time and is sharp with them when he is “in that mood.”  Chuck walked back into the WH, saw me sitting in “his chair,”  walked up to me and said coldly “Hey mother F*%ker you are in my seat!”  I turned to him and before I could say a word the two waitresses who were standing there almost jumped over the bar and verbally attacked Chuck.  One said, “Now you listen here you mother F&%ker this man here is a f*#king man of God and if you ever talk to him like that again I will kick your f*cking @ss!!“ The other waitress jumped in, “ Ya you d#ck, he is my f*cking pastor! What the f@ck is wrong with you.!”  Show some f@cking repect!  The waitresses high fived each other and one said to the other. “Sword of the spirit b#tch!”  And Chuck turned and walked out.

I sat there and processed what had just happened!  First, the waitresses have never come to an ODC gathering, though I have invited them many times.  And I never told the waitresses I was their pastor.  But because of my coming into the WH four or five mornings a week and talking, listening, and praying with them it appears that is how they saw me…


Why Attending Church No Longer Makes Sense
Carey Nieuwhof
attend churchIncreasingly, I’m convinced there’s no point to merely attending. You drive all the way in to connect with three or four songs, hear the message and then head home. All of that you could almost do by yourself in a much more convenient way. Slip on Spotify and grab the message via podcast or on demand and boom, you’re covered…

We now live in a culture that’s drowning in options and has 24/7 access to anything Christian.

In fact, I can think of only two compelling reasons to go to church anymore…


SandwichesAlan Jacobs
Image resultYou learn a lot about people by noting what trivial things they obsess over, and today’s David Brooks column is a perfect example. Let me be really clear about this: people are freaking out about The Sandwich Bar Anecdote for one major reason, which is that they know the rest of the column is dead-on accurate and they’d prefer not to think about what it tells us about our social order…

Brooks writes, “Status rules are partly about collusion, about attracting educated people to your circle, tightening the bonds between you and erecting shields against everybody else.” This is true, and true in very important ways; and the intuition that such rules are always in play can make people uneasy or angry when they think such rules are being enforced against them. If you can’t acknowledge this you’re just being willfully blind.


First day of work at the zoo…
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Zits – Click image for a larger view.

Monday Picks ~ 7-17-2017

This is some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing today that I think may enrich your day as well...

This will be the best thing you’ve read all week, even if you know absolutely nothing about Eugene Peterson. I read this yesterday afternoon after hearing a challenging message on Sunday morning about reaching across the racial and ethnic divisions we all recognize. I’m learning that empathy is the thing that we seem to be missing in so many of our conversations, and that empathy never begins with the other person. It always begins with me…

That Time I Said “Yes” When I Really Meant “No”: One Last Thought on Eugene Peterson’s InterviewRebecca Reynolds
As I look across the landscape of evangelicalism, I see the sorts of leaders who bloviate and blast, and I used to be intimidated by them. But over the years, I’ve seen enough sex scandals emerge from this camp, I’m no longer awed by their proud self-righteousness.

I’m now drawn to gentle teachers who speak about sin with a tender understanding of how human pain works. While these tender men still hold to orthodox truth, they engage with humility and deep concern because they’ve taken time to weep with those who weep.


Some very helpful “dos” and “don’ts” for worship leaders when it seems your congregation isn’t singing. His first “do” is one I believe is often overlooked…

To Sing Again – a constructive approachAaron Hoskins

Why aren’t they singing?

…We could get lost in conversations that could quickly turn into a criticism of the modern worship movement about singing and participation. Instead of criticizing the church. I choose to build her up. This is not an exhaustive list but I hope it helps you to think differently how to lead your people.


I have often wondered this same thing…

Dear Feminists, Where Are You?Melissa Edgington
Our girls need to see you unfurl your fury on an industry that tells them they exist only to please men. That their pleasure is secondary to their willingness to do anything that is asked of them in the bedroom. That their worth is measured in naked photographs. That their minds and their souls are of little importance because they have vaginas and breasts, and those are the only things that really matter. Where are you, my kindred?

You and I disagree on some issues. We march in opposite directions in our various battles. But, here, on this hallowed earth, this war for the hearts and souls of our children, this is our common ground. We are all mamas, sisters, aunts, grandmas. We are all casualties of this war, whether we know it or not, and we are now watching our own sons and daughters fall into its devastating grip. Where are you, courageous ones? Our boys and girls need you to turn and fight and rail and rage and squall.


Literally awesome…

The Closest-Ever Shot of the Great Red SpotMarina Koren
Two days ago, Juno, a pinwheel-shaped spacecraft, zoomed over Jupiter, coming within just 5,600 miles of its best-known feature, the Great Red Spot. The spacecraft’s camera stared at the oval-shaped storm as it soared above, capturing a few images of its orangey-red coils. The photo shoot lasted nine minutes. Juno travels at tens of thousands of miles per hour, and it doesn’t slow down. The spacecraft’s orbit flung it beyond Jupiter, toward Callisto, one of its moons, and away from the worst of the planet’s radiation.

Nine minutes, and humanity managed to capture the closest-ever photograph of a storm on another world, one that’s bigger than the entire Earth and has been churning for decades.


Serious Humor…
https://wronghands1.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/at-the-oxymoron-museum.jpg
Wrong Hands – Click image for a larger view.

The Way

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/500a5bc9e4b016a023c0a9de/t/568bd1501115e0d0bc193a8b/1452003669875/climbing-up-mountain-with-helping-hand.jpg

“It’s possible to claim the name Christian without being Christian at all – that is, without following Christ.
Jesus is far more than a theological icon to believe in;
he is a person to follow.
He is not just the truth; he is the way.
But those who follow Jesus are constantly in danger of getting lost,
for we live in a culture that stands in huge contrast to Jesus…
Jesus shows us how to live this gospel-based life,
but he doesn’t give us a how-to manual.
Rather, the local congregation,
the company of praying men and women,
is the primary place where we discover the way of Jesus.”

Eugene Peterson
The Jesus Way Study Guide

Weekend Picks ~ 7-14-2017

This is some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing today that I think may enrich your day as well...

It’s true. It’s all true…

The 4 Crises Every Marriage Must Make It Through
Paul Carter
http://d2r1idvixky839.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2017/07/12103912/Lightstock-127071-CloseUp-of-Hands.jpgMarriage is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a very long journey passing through a great many twists and turns. To make it to the end with love and joy intact you will almost certainly have to pass through each of the following marital crises…

There are no perfect people and there are no perfect matches—there are only marriages made out of two sinners at various stages of growth and rehabilitation. Therefore, there will be conflict. There will be places where sin rubs up against imperfection. There will be times when sin is exposed by new challenges, new deprivations and new responsibilities.

Don’t panic, and don’t beat each other up.

This isn’t proof that you married the wrong person. This is just proof that you aren’t a perfect person. You are in process, your partner is in process; therefore, conflict is inevitable.


Is Life Harder Than You Expected?Jon Bloom
Disciples never really learn to walk by faith until they are forced to actually do it. And when they do, they discover the actual, concrete experience of walking by faith looks and feels very different than the abstract idea of walking by faith…

A war is not won in the tranquil, tidy classroom, but on the desperate battlefield, where soldiers must give their all. Christ’s gospel mission will not be fulfilled in the tranquil, tidy classroom, but on the desperate field of spiritual battle, where disciples must give their all.


This is important…

The Long, Storied Controversy Over Cheese on Apple Pie
Michael Waters
Cheddar cheese on apple pie (one of the less complex variants).This is going to completely shock a number of apple pie fans and elicit an “of course” from a whole slew of others, but: a lot of people put cheese, specifically a sharp cheddar, on their apple pies.

The tradition has silently polarized the nation…


An investigation is ongoing…
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Bizarro

Thursday Picks ~ 7-13-2017

This is some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing today that I think may enrich your day as well...

A Future of Snark, Not IdeasSamuel James
http://blogs.mereorthodoxy.com/samuel/wp-content/uploads/sites/6/2017/07/Screen-Shot-2017-07-11-at-5.13.03-PM-375x250.pngWell, apparently Brooks’s mid-column anecdote about taking a less educated, less urbane friend to a hip sandwich shop was just, ya know, lolz. Mind you: Actually finding folks among the Snarktariat who could explain why this was such a groan-inducing paragraph is pretty difficult. No one seems to want to say the punchline out loud. Instead, Brooks’s paragraph got parodied, jeered, and turned into a kind of self-referential inside joke…

Why did I find this annoying? Well, as I’ve written before, I think the ascendancy of snark to become the reigning lingua franca of the internet is a bad thing, a trend that our already fraying public square can ill afford. But there’s another reason. While the Twitterers were obsessing over a single paragraph and turning it into a monument of sophisticated political signaling, Brooks’s observations about the increasingly fanatical caste system among educated urban progressives came alive…

The only people who could read this and dismiss it with snark are people who perceive–correctly–that Brooks is talking about them. It doesn’t take long at all to realize that the most important political divide in this country is not between Republicans and Democrats, Christians and secularists, or even whites and minorities. The most important divide is between those who care that places like Owensboro, Kentucky exist and those who don’t.


A challenge for worship leaders, and worshipers…

The Paradox of the Worship SelfieBob Kauflin
Social media can blur the lines between magnifying the Lord and magnifying us, between speaking of God’s awesome deeds and our awesome deeds. And if we don’t aim at exalting Christ, it’s easy to take a lot of worship selfies with Jesus. And feel good about it.

If you serve as part of a church’s leadership, even if you don’t have an official position, you’re directing people’s attention to something. But it’s not only when you stand (or sit) in front of them. It’s when you tweet, post a picture on Instagram, write a blog, or put something on Facebook. Where are we pointing people’s attention, affections, and adoration?

The best we can be is signposts. Signposts are directions, not destinations. No one stops the car on a journey to gaze longingly at the signpost. They take note of where it says to go and continue on their way. So the people we lead should only only be aware of us long enough to know which way their thoughts, emotions, and affections should go: to God’s glory in Jesus Christ.


I know I sound old, but I worry so much about how my grandkids will deal with coming of age in this generation…

There is a Better Way to Experience Sexuality, and Christian Parents Need to Be Talking About ItMelissa Edgington
You may have read that Teen Vogue published an article this week for its audience of girls, ages 12-18, which is a how-to guide for anal sex. In fact, the creators of this magazine are writing instructive articles for all kinds of sexual acts. They want young girls to believe that sexual activity (including BDSM) is a natural part of being an older child in this country… Our twelve year olds open teen magazines and take quizzes about what kind of sexual partner they are and read articles about how to masturbate and how “valid and valuable” porn is.

It’s hard to even believe that on a continent where an estimated 1.5 million children are currently being sold to satisfy detestable, porn-fueled desires that a teen magazine can so flippantly sell sex to kids like it’s candy. But, it’s happening.

…the line in the article that bothered me the most has broader implications, and it’s the real message I want to counteract in my daughter’s heart and mind: “There is no wrong way to experience sexuality, and no one way is better than any other.” The writer says this with all authority and legitimacy…

So, here is what our kids need to know. There are plenty of wrong ways to experience sexuality...

…decision by decision, the kids of America learn again and again: there are plenty of wrong ways to experience sexuality. Ways that hurt them deeply. That cripple them emotionally and spiritually. Ways that will cause problems in their future marriages. Ways that wound the heart of God.


FYI…

It’s Official: Fewer Persecuted Christians Find Refuge in America Under TrumpSarah Eekhoff Zylstra
It’s Official: Fewer Persecuted Christians Find Refuge in America Under TrumpApproximately 14,000 fewer Christian refugees will arrive in the United States this fiscal year, as President Donald Trump’s policies lead to the fewest resettlements in a decade.

Today, resettlement agencies hit Trump’s new ceiling of 50,000 refugees, three months before the end of the federal government’s fiscal year on September 30. And as CT predicted, Christians fell far short of last year’s intake.


What a crazy idea…
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Bizarro

Tuesday Picks ~ 7-11-2017

This is some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing today that I think may enrich your day as well...

Nothing new here, but sometimes a fresh reminder is needed…

Why Is It Important to Be Part of a Local Church?
Dan Reiland
Church has changed a lot since I was 18, but the essence is the same. The methods are radically different, but the message is the same. The current culture is dramatically different, but the human condition remains the same.

We need Christ, and we need each other, that truth won’t change. The Church is the greatest force on earth to that end.


Ten Thousand Reasons For a Thousand Tongues Forever and EverJamie Brown
The best kind of worship leading – all across the musical, denominational, and liturgical spectrum – is the kind of worship leading that saturates the congregation at every service with fresh reminders of the reasons why God deserves praise.


Five “Fake News” Stories That People Believe about Early ChristianityMichael J . Kruger
There is quite a bit of “fake news” out there regarding the person of Jesus, the origins of the church, or the development of the Bible . Even though such “news” as no factual basis, it is believed by an uncomfortably large number of people.

So, here is a sampling of some of the leading stories…


Important for any leader, and really any human relationship…

One of My Biggest Ministry MistakesDarryl Dash
ConflictNobody likes conflict, and if you do you have other issues we need to discuss. But when we avoid conflict, we hurt relationships and damage the church.

Don’t like conflict? The best way to get more conflict is to try to avoid it.

Pastors don’t have the option of avoiding conflict. Run into the issues you most want to avoid. Don’t make the mistake that I did. Call a meeting, close the doors, and refuse to leave until you make progress.


Hemingway Spoilers…
https://wronghands1.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/hemingway-spoilers.jpg
Wrong Hands – Click image for a larger view.

Luke 24:36-53

The idea of these little devotionals is simple. I want to approach scripture with the understanding that God is speaking. I’m reading through the Bible and listening for God to ask me questions. I expect these questions to be fairly open-ended and plan to carry them in my mind throughout the day. I’ll share these questions with you in the hope that you find them challenging and helpful.

Luke 24:36-53
36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish,[a] 43 and he took it and ate before them.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for[b] the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.

From this passage I hear God asking me:
It’s amazing, isn’t it?
Did you notice this line:
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…”? (v. 45)
Once again, they knew the scriptures but had misunderstood them.
The scriptures are true, but your understanding is limited.
Be careful not to close your mind and heart to me.
Now that you’ve finished the gospel of Luke, consider this:
Why do you think Jesus came to earth?
I know he accomplished many different things, but can you narrow it down to a main purpose?

How you answer this determines how you follow him…
Is he, because of his words, your teacher?
Is he, because of how he lived, your example?
Is he, because of his forgiveness, your ticket to heaven?
Or, because of who he is and what he did, is he your Lord?
Yes, he can and should be all of the above, but his death and resurrection proves he is Lord, with or without you.
Isn’t it best to let it be with you?


Is God asking you anything more, or anything different?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.