I just turned 40 this week. The big 4-0. But, I still remember a conversation from a decade ago that I had on my 30th birthday with my hair stylist. I took my Bible in to read while having my hair highlighted. They make you sit for like 20 minutes with those highlight foils in and this was back before smart phones. Or at least before I owned one. So, I had my BIG blue NIV study Bible on my lap. Really inconspicuous.
The stylist didn’t take very long to ask me about it. She asked, “Are you a Christian?”
“Yes I am!” I said enthusiastically.
“Well, do you understand the Bible?” She inquired.
“Yes. I do understand it. I know it very well.”
“That is wonderful! I am so excited to ask you some questions. I am a Muslim and there are just some things that I do not understand about Christianity.”
“I would be happy to answer your questions.”
“Isn’t America a Christian nation?” (I sense where this question is heading.)
“Well, I would say no. Our constitution was founded on Christian principles by Christians and at one time I would say it was governed by Christian principles, but I have to say that I would no longer call it a Christian nation.”
“Really? That is interesting, because in my country everyone thinks of America as a Christian nation. I am curious why Christians are so evil.”
This was a genuine question. I do not feel that she was being argumentative or attacking me personally.
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“Well, in my country we always think that America is full of Christians. Why is America full of divorce and drunkenness and why are children and teenagers in America so disrespectful of parents? Does the Bible say it’s okay for children to disrespect their parents? In my country, children know better than to be disrespectful of their parents. I have always thought that Christianity accepts these practices as good, because it is so prevalent with those who claim to be Christians.”
Ezekiel 36:21 I had concern for my holy name, which the people of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.
“Wow. Well, I TOTALLY get where you are coming from. I actually think that things like this make God angry, too. The Bible does NOT condone those things at all. Hollywood does not represent Christ. The pop music industry and all the music videos you can watch on TV do not represent Jesus. Like I said, this nation is very far from God and does not represent Jesus Christ as a whole.”
I explained to her the basic principles of our faith in a very cerebral way. “Sin is the root problem of the human race, but there is nothing we can do in our own effort to redeem ourselves from sin. We cannot erase our bad deeds from our record by doing more good deeds. No matter how much we do good, we will never be able to remove our sin.”
I told her that Jesus died to take the punishment for our sins so that we can have a relationship with the living God. Jesus’s death removed forever the weight of the guilt and the evil in our lives, when we trust in him.
Our friendly exchange continued as she foiled up my birthday highlights.
“That just seems like God is giving you a free ticket to sin. That seems like it makes people think it doesn’t matter if they sin or not, because Jesus forgives it and they can do whatever they want.” Touché.
Ezekiel 22:26 Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.
“True. I can see where you are getting that impression. But, when someone believes on Jesus and asks him to come into their life, his Spirit begins to convict that person of sin and tells him not to do wrong and to leads him into right behavior.”
She seemed mildly impressed- but not convinced.
Honestly, I wish I would have given her a better answer. But, I did the best that I could at that point in my life with what I had to give.
The truth is, in the past 10 years I have learned some big lessons about my faith and how it really plays out in real life. This conversation with my muslim stylist revealed to me truth.
American Christianity in the past several decades has focused so much on commercialized growth that we have packaged and sold a “gospel” that is self-centered and self-serving.
“Don’t worry! You don’t have to do anything! Just mumble this little prayer in your heart (Don’t say it out loud…because we wouldn’t want you to be embarrassed…) and God will do the rest. Jesus doesn’t require anything of you at all because you are utterly unable to do anything. At all. So…go enjoy your sin without guilt and know your name is now written in the Lamb’s Book of Life!”
When I have heard this preached in years gone by (sometimes by omission of the process of repentance in faith in Christ), I have felt like that stylist. Deep down, I wondered the same things. I thought…”Well, I know we cannot earn our salvation by our works, BUT….something just seems off about this invitation to accept Christ. Doesn’t the scripture talk about repentance?” I just assumed I was wrong and was not trusting in God’s ability to change people. But, then again, I wondered if people were hearing the full gospel?
After all, we have propagated a “religion” that teaches people that they can have their sin and eat it too!
The “church” implies they can get a divorce without working through the difficult things in their marriage. They can go get drunk. *It doesn’t matter, because God loves them anyways. *They can do whatever they want, because there is basically no hope for them to be anything but a big ‘Ol “sinner”. *=Sarcasm alert.
Ezekiel 36:23 I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.
I looked up the word profaned in the Bible and it is mostly the theme of Ezekiel. God cares about what the nations and what non-believers think about his name. Christians represent his name. Our sinful lives are redeemed so that the TRANSFORMING power of Christ can be proclaimed.
Psalm 23:3 “He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.“
Another example of American Christianity “on the rocks?”
Cringe-worthy “Christian stewardship” has made Sunday the ever famous day of the worst tips ever at restaurants. The sin of the love of money disguised as stewardship has put a bad taste in the mouths of many a waitress after seeing the Sunday crowd pray over meals, talk about the sermons and then treat the waitress like crap when their order is wrong followed by a smug, self-justified, teensy-weensy tip.
This is the type of religion that hurts people!
The Apostle Paul said in Romans 2:17-24 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
This is the type of “faith” that is extremely self-centered! Or what about pride or gossip? These are sins that need repented of and a transformation of the heart and mind needs to happen via the Holy Spirit.
But, we are so afraid to talk about sin in church, because we want everyone to come to Jesus and if we talk about sin, we are not grace-filled and truth filled. And if we talk about sin, well then, people may unfollow our blog or stop going to our church to find a church that doesn’t preach all that condemning, judgmental stuff.
Now, please understand. I know that no one is perfect. I know that because I know what scripture says and I know on a personal level that I am not perfect. The Lord is always bringing things to my heart that he wants me to repent of and showing me things he needs to change in my life. So, in saying this, I am NOT claiming that people need to clean themselves up to come to Jesus.
The problem is, that Christians are NOT letting Jesus clean them up after they come to him. They may not even know that is necessary. In fact, in some churches, it is considered borderline heretical to talk about repenting of sin, because that isn’t preaching “grace” and Jesus. But, as far as I remember, Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me.”
I don’t remember him saying, “Sit back in your lazy boy and make sure you are comfortable. If you are uncomfortable, that isn’t from me, because I would always want you to be comfortable.”
So, most of us have a thick wall of pride up, by which we protect our own sin.
Now, here’s the catch. It’s so easy to get upset at the sin of other people. I am sure that by reading this, you are reminded of several people you know. But, if we are truly wanting of God’s grace for our own lives, are we able to give God’s grace to others?
Am I aware that for every hypocritical Christian I can count on one hand, there are that many people out there calling me a hypocrite?
Recently, (as in the past several years), when people hurt me and I get really, really mad, God reminds me of when I did something similar to someone else at some other point in my life. He has shown me the hypocrisy in my own life. He has shown me the value to repentance and spiritual growth.
It is not just repentance for salvation, but repentance for sanctification or to draw closer to Christ and also to become more like Christ. Because, even though the church is full of imperfect Christians and we have all read the bumper sticker, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven”, we all need to grow up into Christ by the power of Christ so that instead of hurting people all the time with our sin, we begin building people up with the power of Christ in our lives.
While none of us like feeling judged, we all feel free to judge other people.
(Even if we say we don’t.)
So, the verdict is this: We all need a savior. We are ALL desperately in need of redemption. None of us wants to be judged by others, because we ALL want to be loved, accepted and forgiven, no matter what we have done. But, truthfully, in admitting this, we ALL know that we have done things we aren’t proud of in our lives. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is no getting away from the FACT that we CANNOT get out of this on our own.
We NEED a SAVIOR and a GOOD DOSE OF HUMILITY.
The Character of Those Who May Dwell with the Lord
A Psalm of David.
15 Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle?
Who may dwell in Your holy hill?
2 He who walks uprightly,
And works righteousness,
And speaks the truth in his heart;
3 He who does not backbite with his tongue,
Nor does evil to his neighbor,
Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend;
4 In whose eyes a vile person is despised,
But he honors those who fear the Lord;
He who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
5 He who does not put out his money at usury,
Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if all believers in Jesus were just the way the world expects them to be? Kind. Loving. Giving. Patient. Joyful. Faithful. But, quite frankly, we are aren’t there, yet.
This is when we MUST look to Jesus. We must FALL on his mercy, because ONLY JESUS is worthy of abiding in the house of the Lord. And in order to enter into God’s house, we must go through his Son, because we ALL have sin.
OUR HONEST, HUMBLE JOURNEY
Then, once we have REPENTED and have been forgiven, we begin our honest journey with Jesus. This journey allows him to safely examine every corner of our hearts, because he loved us when he saw everything evil and unlovable we have ever done. This journey begins to allow us to live in grace with others who have weakness and imperfections, because we have weaknesses and imperfections.
This journey is based on love, trust and humility, because our God is a good God who delivers sinners and turns them into saints.
Prayer for repentance and for God to build Christ’s Character in our lives:
PRAY with those of us around the world who want to redeem the name of the Lord among the nations.
Lord God Almighty, who may abide in Your tabernacle?
Who may dwell in Your holy hill? When I think of what is required to get into heaven, I can surely find ways I fall short. When I look around me at other believers, I cannot think of one person who fits this bill in Psalm 15. No one is righteous, no not one.
I know that is why you sent your son Jesus, Lord. I know that Jesus is the only one who ever walked a perfect life on earth. I fall on his mercy and grace right now. Thank you that Jesus died and rose again to remove the guilt and sin from my life. Lord, I believe that Jesus died so set me free from the law of sin and death. I know that Jesus died to set me free and fill me with the power of life and to build your kingdom in my heart and life.
I want to walk in Christ. I want to walk in the ways and in the power of your Son Jesus Christ my Lord. I don’t want to walk a self-centered, defeated Christian life, Oh Lord! I want to be full of your power and strength. I don’t want my blind spots in my life to hurt and injure other people. I don’t want to be the reason that someone says they don’t want to be a christian. Father, in Jesus name, if anyone has ever been injured in their faith because of something that I did, please forgive me in Jesus name. If there is something that I need to make right, please show me, Father God!
(If God brings anything to your heart, repent of it. Ask God to forgive you in Jesus name and ask him to heal the person you hurt. Pray and seek God on how you need to approach that person to apologize or ask for forgiveness.)
Father, it says in your Word that He who walks uprightly,
And works righteousness,
And speaks the truth in his heart are worthy of entering your kingdom of Heaven. Father may I walk uprightly. Please teach me to walk in your ways. I don’t even know how that necessarily looks, especially in the areas I am oblivious that I am sinning in. I need your Holy Spirit to fill me with understanding and discernment so that I can be someone who walks in your ways. I want to be someone who works righteousness in the power of Christ. I want the precious righteousness of Christ to ooze out of my pores. I want to be the aroma of Christ wherever I go. In order to do this, I need to speak truth in my heart. I need to talk to myself in truth and not lie to myself about my life, about others, about you.
Fill me with your truth and show me any lies I have been believing. Help me to agree with the truth and not with a lie. I pray that my inner life…the thoughts I entertain…the meditations of my heart will be holy and acceptable to you, Oh Lord, My Rock and my Redeemer.
Help me not to beat myself up or tear myself down and agree with what Satan, my accuser says about me. But, help me not to justify my sin, or my bad attitudes and agree with what Satan my tempter says about me.
Help me agree with your Word. Your Word is truth. Your Word is a light unto my feet and a lamp unto my path. Give me discipline and desire to read your Word so I can be filled up with your truth and may your Word transform my life, Oh Lord, in Jesus name.
Lord, forgive me, for it says in your Word that He who does not backbite with his tongue;
Nor does evil to his neighbor,
Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend; can stand on your holy hill.
Forgive me for the times when I have overflowed with resentment and have gossiped about people. Forgive me for the times when I have talked behind people’s back, even to try to “vent”. Forgive me for the ways I have done evil to my neighbors by saying things about them that made them look bad in the eyes of others. In Jesus name, help me to be like Jesus was before Pilate, when he did not open his mouth. Please put a guard over my mouth and help me forgive before things get out of control.
Lord, help me. Help me to despise what is evil. As it says in your Word, “In whose eyes a vile person is despised,
But he honors those who fear the Lord;” I want to honor those in my heart you honor and to know right from wrong. Help me not to be confused about what is evil and what is good. It says in your Word “Woe unto those who call good evil and evil good.”
Lord, help me to only make promises I can keep. Make me a person of integrity, a person of my word. If I am a child of God and you are person of your Word, make me like you. Help me to keep my word, even if it hurts.
“He who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
5 He who does not put out his money at usury,
Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.”
Lord, please help me to not be moved. Help me to be rooted and established in your love, in your truth and in your Word, which is Christ. Lord, may my life be a lighthouse to the world. In Jesus name, Amen.