How to be a Christian who never offends anyone

I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with immoral people.  Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous or extortioners or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.  (I Corinthians 5:10)

They accuse me of stirring the pot, of introducing subjects sure to draw fire, of intentionally being controversial.  Nothing I say convinces them otherwise, even when all I did was to state something God’s people hold dear.

Almost all the key doctrines of the Christian faith someone will find objectionable and some will take offense at.

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Those little “O My Goodness!” moments

Contagion: Things we catch from one another

Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.  –Mark 5:19

I suspect this piece will be weeks in the writing.  I plan to return to it from time to time.

In Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis has a disaffected preacher of some sort giving reasons he is leaving the ministry and turning away from God.  “If there is a God of love, why didn’t He make good health contagious instead of disease?”

An interesting question.

It is certainly true that diseases–many of them at any rate–are contagious, meaning they are spread by human proximity or physical contact, direct or indirect.

In his book None of These Diseases, missionary doctor S. I. McMillen tells how the Black Plague was eventually ended in Europe.   After exhausting all the known remedies and researching everything they knew, medical people asked the priests if the Holy Scriptures had anything on the subject of the transmission of disease.  “Quarantine,” they answered.  And they showed scriptures such as…

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What if Jesus had not died?

If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  –I Corinthians 15:17

“What If?” is a series of best-selling books put together by Robert Cowley, in which historians look at key events in history and try to imagine what if things had not happened that way.

What if Pontius Pilate had spared Jesus?

That is the title of the chapter by Carlos M. N. Eire, chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University. The subtitle reads, Christianity without the Crucifixion.

Eire imagines Pontius Pilate heeding the warning of his wife whose sleep had been disturbed that night by thoughts of “that righteous man.” Her message to the governor said, “Have nothing to do with him.”

So, he asks, what if Pilate had done the right thing and resisted the religious leaders and the rabble who were crying for Jesus’ execution; what if he had released Him?

On one page, underneath a 13th century painting of Pilate with the Jewish leaders is the caption: “The Decision That Made a Religion.”  (We can insist that it was the resurrection that “made” the Christian faith, but we won’t quibble over the importance of the crucifixion.)

Eire asks, “What if Jesus hadn’t been nailed to a cross at Pilate’s orders? What if he had lived a long, long life? Or even just ten more years? Or one? What if his person and message had been interpreted differently, as they surely would have been?”

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The mentality that will kill your church

Jesus said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth laborers into the harvest.’  And the disciples said, ‘Why? What do we get out of it, Lord?’”   (Most of that is Matthew 9:37-38 but with a small insertion by moi to make the point.)

“Behold,” Jesus said, “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves…. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues, and you shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.”  And the disciples said, “Enough of the negative stuff, Lord! Let’s get to the part where you reward us.”  (Matthew 10:16ff with my insertion.  The promise of rewards comes in the last verse of the chapter.)

Jesus told the disciples of John the Baptist, “Go and report what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear.  The dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”  And the Lord’s disciples said, “Okay, enough about these losers, already.  Tell us about the blessings you have for us.  Who gets to sit on your right and who on your left?” (Matthew 11:3ff, with my tongue-in-cheek foolishness.)

I was reading a church’s minutes from a century earlier. In a business meeting, the clerk read  a request for ten dollars from a church start-up in Texas. This was back when ten dollars was two hundred. After voting to send the money, the secretary noted in the minutes, “This spirit of generosity was put to the test when someone pointed out the church fellowship hall needed renovating.”  As I recall, they ended up spending $2,000 on that project.

“What’s in it for us? ” is the prevailing principle of decision-making for too many churches.  Denominational leaders and professional fund-raisers admit  that to be successful in their promotions, they have to convince churches that this project will reap great rewards for them personally.  It’s not enough to do something for the kingdom.

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Seven things I learned in choir rehearsal

“Sing unto the Lord a new song.”  (Psalm 96:1) 

“Come before Him with joyful singing” (Psalm 100:2).

Rehearsals are work.

During the time I sang with the choir at our church, I loved singing for the worship service, but had to make myself go to rehearsal.

I sang in the choir during my college years, and eventually noticed some patterns forming. In time, those impressions coalesced into life-lessons that have remained with me through the years.

1) I do not like new songs.

The minister of music would say, “Joyce, pass out the new music,” and I would cringe. I did not read music and did not do well trying to negotiate my way around these clothes-lines of blackbirds.  The piano is picking out the melody of the song and I’m working to get it.  This is no fun.  It’s work.

But a funny thing happened.

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Sometimes the opposition of the world works for the best

“And they went and made the sepulcher sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.” (Matthew 27:66)

For good reason, God’s people learn to rejoice in adversity and to thrive under persecution.

Fire burns brighter under pressure.  Ask any ninth grade physics student.

Sometimes those intent on stamping out Christianity end up assisting it.

Scripture teaches  that the opponents of the Lord remembered that He had predicted He would rise from the dead. (Matthew 27:62-63)  It appears the wrong guys were taking literally the things Jesus had said! The poor disciples, forgetting the Lord’s promises, were mired down in their sadness and grief, all  of it the direct result of not understanding and believing Jesus’ promises..

When the opponents of the Lord went to such lengths to secure His tomb, they inadvertently provided additional evidence for His bodily resurrection.  Note their three actions: they made the grave secure, they put a Roman guard in place, and they set a seal on the stone.

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Think God can’t use a nobody like you? Bite your tongue!

“And Moses said, ‘Who me, Lord? In the first place, I’m way past retirement age.  I’ve not been to seminary. I didn’t even finish college. The other preachers won’t respect me. Pulpit committees won’t have anything to do with me. There’s a bounty on me back in Egypt. I stutter a lot, and tend to freeze up in front of groups. You’ve clearly dialed a wrong number, Lord.”

“And God said, ‘Hush.  Now,  listen.’” (My rather free version of Exodus 3-4.)

The Lord can’t use a nothing nobody like me.

Ever heard that? Ever said it?

Repent, sinner.  You underestimate God! And, you might just be overestimating your own importance in the equation.

The Lord delights in taking nobodies and doing great things with them.

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Let’s pause to say a word in favor of courage

Do not be afraid of them.  If you are, I will humiliate you in front of them.  –God to Jeremiah, chapter 1. 

Be strong and of good courage.  –God to Joshua.  Moses to Joshua. Israelites to Joshua.  (6 times at the end of Deuteronomy and through Joshua chapter 1. Apparently, the man had some issues with shyness.) 

Agree with Colin Kaepernick, the editor of Christianity Today, or the editor of Charisma magazine or not; you have to admire their courage.

They didn’t have to take the stand they took.  It cost Kaepernick his job in the NFL, meaning zillions of dollars.  The editorial from Christianity Today calling for the removal of President Trump has cost the magazine a ton of cancellations.  The editor of Charisma magazine? Aw, probably nothing.  It’s just a personal thing.

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Choices we make. And “the” choice we make.

“Choose you this day” (Joshua 24:15).  “I have decided to follow Jesus.”  

The human mind is a scavenger.  It loves to pick at dead things, and will not leave road-kill alone.

You find yourself sleepless in the wee hours.  Your mind roams around looking for something to dwell on.  It settles on the wrong things:  Someone who betrayed you, disappointed you, offended you, hurt you, mistreated you, failed you.  You reflect on that person for a moment or two and realize this is no fun.  It is upsetting you.  This is no way to get back to sleep.  You pray for them, telling God “I forgive them Lord; please do not hold this against them.” Bless them, Father.

Your mind then moves over to the other side of those road-kill memories.  Now you find yourself conjuring up people whom you betrayed, those you disappointed, someone you offended, a person you hurt, some people whom you mistreated and failed.  For the umpteenth time, you ask God to forgive you and you lie there praying for each of those people, that they will do well and not remember your sins and your failings.  You think “Please God!” that they will not awaken in the night remembering the unkind thing you did or said so long ago.  Bless them, Father.

And then, after a bit it dawns on you that if you are going to get back to sleep, you’re going to have to choose a better memory or a more pleasant subject to dwell on.  You have to make a better choice.

Something we all do every day of our lives.

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