Baby Tigers and False Peace

“Is it even possible to live a holy Christian life? The kind of life we talk about and aspire to, but seem to fall short of on a daily basis?”

Some form of this question has been buzzing around in my conversations the past week or so with different people in my life. I’ve come to the conclusion that we humans fall into two categories on this subject: man-centered or God-surrendered.

A man-centered approach to this life assumes (rightly so) that we are a hopelessly flawed bunch of people trying to do our best. Not just flawed, but sinful. We float from one good intention to another, sometimes succeeding, but often falling short. We hope that we can meet the goals we’ve set, but we are realistic about the fact that we are mere mortals and certainly not saints. The bar is always just a little bit out of reach.

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Defeater Beliefs

“I’m a Christian, BUT…”

“Well sure I believe the Bible is true BUT…”

We live in a time and place where fence-sitting could be a national sport. It’s good to be grey, bendy, undefined… unless you have defined yourself in which case, be whatever you want. There’s always some crazy hoopla surrounding “Christian” celebs or pastors who choose to go off into the grey, and rightly so.

There’s a great article, entitled “Gracious Confidence is More Appealing than Angst and Doubt that appeared in the Gospel Coalition and really hits the nail on the head I think. The idea of “defeater” beliefs is fascinating to me because it’s these beliefs are being used to draw people in. I have to say, I’m of the opinion that there’s so much beauty and freedom to be found in true Biblical Christianity, you don’t need to have a “yeah BUT…” excuse at any time. Too many big shots are out there preaching a pathetic version of the Bible because they are afraid of bringing the truth to sinners. How arrogant and prideful we have become when we take the responsibility upon ourselves to impress people with our words and actions. Love everyone, yes, but for heavens sakes give them something to believe in.

“But what happens when there are immediate “defeater” beliefs, such as “Christianity is intolerant because you believe Jesus is the only way” or “Christians believe in hell,” or “Christians discriminate against LGBT people because they don’t perform same-sex marriages”? When we come up against these objections, it’s easy to assume that the way to win hearing is to present the teachings of the Christian faith in the most tortured way possible, almost as if we too are as uncomfortable with our religion’s teaching as they are. We build common ground by acting as if we hold in common an outsider’s aversion to Christianity.

By presenting the image of ourselves as “wrestling” with challenging teachings, we think we come across more human, more vulnerable, and more authentic. We’re convinced we are more winsome when we make it seem as if we’d love for Christianity or the Bible to be different, or we’d love to find a way to interpret these texts differently, but right now, we’re just in the same season of struggle as many people of faith are, as we try to reach the modern world. I believe this approach is fundamentally misguided. There is nothing attractive about people proclaiming the lordship of Jesus who, deep down, resist some of the King’s commands. It’s like saying, “Jesus is Lord, but I don’t like it.”

There’s nothing attractive about inviting people to become part of a community that doesn’t know what it believes, or that is fundamentally uncomfortable with its own teachings. Yet this is the approach that I see among many evangelicals, particularly those of my own generation, who are trying to gain a hearing for the gospel.

I get it. It’s tough to present the beauty of Christianity in a culture in which the plausibility structures are set against you, in a pluralist society that sees all evangelism as intolerant, in an age that sees one’s self-expression (especially sexually) as fundamental to identity. Yes, it’s tough. We can all feel that pressure.

But we do ourselves no favors by backpedaling, by coming up with tortured explanations of why we believe what we believe, or by acting as if our hands are (unfortunately) tied by the biblical text we say is our authority.”

It isn’t authentic to not know what you believe. If we want to share the good news we must first not be ashamed of it, because it is indeed good news. When we act as though Jesus was just messing around when He said A, B or C we are saying our small brain knows better. Here’s a tip: we don’t.

We struggle and we sin, but we don’t totally leave the ranch for other pastures. There’s a truth that anchors us, centers us, and keeps us within the realm of Gods bounty, but when we proclaim to know more and simply bask in our “wrestling” we miss the freedom that Christ died to give us.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15

With gentleness and respect. We respect man more than God Himself when we change His gospel. We may be smart and witty and oh so plugged in to the heartbeat of our culture, but it benefits us nothing if we lose Christ along the way.

Do Your Own Lifting

Been on a longer than anticipated break from writing, all the end of school/beginning of summer shenanagins had me spinning around faster than I’m used to. Wanted to jump back in by sharing a fantastic article by John MacArthur about how we discern, judge (is that a bad word now?), and rightly relate to Gods word. It is easier than ever to see the Bible as a kind of side dish, but we must remember it’s actually supposed to be the “daily bread” that sustains us. Don’t ever let anyone do the work for you… taste and see that He is good, that His words are truth and life to our very bones… we do ourselves such a disservice when we rely on secondhand spirituality.

Here’s some good words from John MacArthur:

“False teachers flourish where there is no scrutiny. That’s why so many of them set up camp in environments where there is little to no biblical discernment—where God’s Word is nothing more than a supplement to personal experience, anecdote, and embellishment.

Why do the heavy lifting of careful Bible study when one can simply “let go” and be drawn into the gravitational pull of a religious guru? Our short attention span and quick-fix culture is easily preyed upon by charismatic sideshows, feel-good philosophy, and the television hucksters of modern pseudo-Christianity.

But we are derelict in our Christian duty if we allow that to happen to us and our churches. When the apostle Paul says to “examine everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), he is calling on all Christians to practice careful biblical discernment in all realms of life.

That may surprise some Christians who see discernment as uniquely a pastoral responsibility. It is certainly true that pastors and elders have an even greater duty to be discerning than the average layperson. Most of the calls to discernment in the New Testament are issued to church leaders (1 Timothy 4:6-7, 13, 16; Titus 1:9). Every elder is required to be skilled in teaching truth and able to refute unsound doctrine.

As a pastor, I am constantly aware of this responsibility. Everything I read, for example, goes through a grid of discrimination in my mind. If you were to look through my library, you would instantly be able to identify which books I have read. The margins are marked. Sometimes you’ll see approving remarks and heavy underlining. Other times you’ll find question marks—or even red lines through the text. I constantly strive to separate truth from error. I read that way, I think that way, and of course I preach that way. My passion is to know the truth and proclaim it with authority. That should be the passion of every elder, because everything we teach affects the hearts and lives of those who hear us. It is an awesome responsibility. Any church leader who does not feel the burden of this duty ought to step down from leadership.

But discernment is not only the duty of pastors and elders. The same careful discernment Paul demanded of pastors and elders is also the duty of every Christian. First Thessalonians 5:21 is written to the entire church: “Examine everything carefully.”

The Greek text is by no means complex. The word “carefully” has been added by the translators to make the sense clear. If we translate the phrase literally, we find it simply says, “Examine everything.” But the idea conveyed by our word carefully is included in the Greek word translated “examine,” dokimazō. This is a familiar word in the New Testament. Elsewhere it is translated “analyze,” “test,” or “prove.” It refers to the process of testing something to reveal its genuineness, such as in the testing of precious metals. Paul is urging believers to scrutinize everything they hear to see that it is genuine, to distinguish between the true and the false, to separate the good from the evil. In other words, he wants them to examine everything critically. He is effectively saying, “Judge everything.”

Typically someone will be quick to push back against that command citing Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” As if that somehow rules out any kind of critical or analytical appraisal of what others believe. Was Jesus forbidding Christians from judging what is taught in His name?

Obviously not. The spiritual discernment Paul calls for is different from the judgmental attitude Jesus forbade. In Matthew 7, Jesus went on to say,

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:2–5)

What Jesus condemned was the hypocritical judgment of those who held others to a higher standard than they themselves were willing to live by. He was certainly not suggesting that all judgment is forbidden. In fact, Jesus indicated that taking a speck out of your brother’s eye is the right thing to do—if you first get the log out of your own eye.

Elsewhere in Scripture, we are forbidden to judge others’ motives or attitudes. We are not able to discern “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). That is a divine prerogative. Only God can judge the heart, because only God can see it (1 Samuel 16:7). He alone knows the secrets of the heart (Psalm 44:21). He alone can weigh the motives (Proverbs 16:2). And He alone “will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:16). That is not our role. “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Corinthians 4:5).

What is forbidden is hypocritical judging and judging others’ thoughts and motives. But other forms of judgment are explicitly commanded. Throughout Scripture the people of God are urged to judge between truth and error, right and wrong, good and evil. Jesus said, “Judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say” (1 Corinthians 10:15). Clearly, God requires us to be discriminating when it comes to matters of sound doctrine.

We are also supposed to judge one another with regard to overt acts of sin. Paul wrote, “Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. ‘Remove the wicked man from among yourselves’” (1 Corinthians 5:12–13). That speaks of the same process of discipline outlined by Jesus Himself in Matthew 18:15-20.

At least one other kind of judgment is expressly required of every believer. We must examine and judge our own selves: “If we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged” (1 Corinthians 11:31). This calls for a careful searching and judging of our own hearts. Paul called for this self-examination every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:28). All other righteous forms of judgment depend on this honest self-examination. That is what Jesus meant when He said, “First take the log out of your own eye” (Luke 6:42).

Clearly, then, the command in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “examine everything,” in no way contradicts the biblical prohibition against being judgmental. The discernment called for here is doctrinal discernment. The conjunction at the beginning of this verse—“but examine everything”—ties it to the “prophecies” mentioned in verse 20. But this command would certainly include any message that claimed to carry divine approval or authority.

The unusually gullible Thessalonians seemed to have a problem in this regard. Like many today, they were eager to believe whatever was preached in the name of Christ. They were undiscriminating. That’s why Paul addresses this continual lack of discernment in both of his Thessalonian epistles. There is evidence in the first epistle, for example, that someone had confused the Thessalonians about the return of Christ. They were going through a time of severe persecution, and apparently some of them thought they had missed the Second Coming. In chapter 3 we learn that Paul had sent Timothy from Athens specifically to strengthen and encourage them in their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:2). They were unaccountably confused about why they were being persecuted. Paul had to remind them, “You yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction” (1 Thessalonians 3:3-4).

Evidently someone had also taught them that believers who died before the Second Coming of Christ would miss that event entirely. They were in serious confusion. Chapters 4–5 contain Paul’s efforts to correct that confusion. He tells them that the dead in Christ will rise and be caught up with the living (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). And he assures them that although that day will come like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2), they need not fear being caught off guard (1 Thessalonians 5:3-6).

Incredibly, shortly after this, Paul had to write a second epistle, again assuring the Thessalonians that they had not missed some great event on the prophetic calendar. Someone, it seems, had sent them a counterfeit epistle claiming to be from Paul and suggesting that the day of the Lord had come already. They should not have been duped by such a ploy because Paul had written so plainly in his first epistle. He wrote them again:

Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you be not quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3)

There was no excuse for their chronic gullibility.

Why were they so vulnerable to false teaching? Surely it was because they lacked biblical discernment. The Thessalonians did not examine everything in light of God’s Word. If they had, they would not have been so easily hoodwinked. And that is why Paul urged them to “examine everything.”

Article “Judge Everything” from Grace To You ministries

The Airing of Grievances

“I got a lotta problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it!”

Frank Costanza

Hopefully you all are old enough and refined enough to remember the celebration of Festivus, the fictional secular holiday that took place on the TV show Seinfeld as an alternative to on overly-commercialized Christmas holiday. After an awkward dinner, the family gathered around to lament the ways in which they were disappointed by one another over the past year.

Speaking of grievances, the is certainly no shortage of them going around lately. Big ones, small ones, accusations, denials, apologies… you name it. Since privacy is a thing of the past, we all have a ringside seat to the public ‘airing’ of these grievances. So-and-so pens an “open letter” to such-and-such… he or she responds with an apology or retort, to which five other people respond with their own open letters or dissenting opinions. It’s truly a sight to behold.

It’s an interesting thing watching a secular culture address issues of wrongdoing, repentance, and justice. There are very real, very grievous sins that need dealing with, while other troubles would be better left out of the public eye. The world has constructed a kind of system in which it’s easy to accuse and imperative to apologize if you know whats best for you. But does this system satisfy victims? Does it lead to genuine repentance on the part of the accused?

Sin is a very serious thing, and as Christians, we should take repentance and forgiveness just as seriously, both individually and corporately. The devil has a field day though, when we get so mixed up in the emotionalism of the latest outrage that we fail to see the proverbial forest through the trees. Accusations and apologies must never be weaponized, for when they are, the beauty and freedom of what Jesus did for us is whitewashed.

The secular world has no basis for their demands other than what is popular at the time. They are a mob that rides a cresting wave of opinion that will soon change. We must not believe that the world holds more truth than scriptures. True freedom and liberation come when we address sin Gods way. I read a blog yesterday that put it this way:

“This is where the devil hijacks our repentance — on both ends of this transaction. If he can get the perpetrators to confess vague sins, he can keep sinners shackled in the ambiguity of sorrow and regret without any real confidence of forgiveness and freedom. And if he can get the victims to traffic in the vague confessions, the devil can keep victims in the ambiguity of sorrow and shame without any real confidence of resolution and freedom. And tenderhearted Christians can get sucked into this black hole because it can feel very spiritual and brokenhearted. But there is a massive difference between the broken and contrite heart that God loves and leads to true freedom, and the emotional death camp of vague guilt and shame. Another way to say all of this is that Christian repentance must be obedient to God’s Word, not merely an emotional dumpster dive. And this means that when the world around us is demanding submission to their false gods, Christian apologies must be even more careful, especially for those who would be leaders or teachers. We have an even greater responsibility.

What sticks out to me is the repetition of the word freedom. The goal, the endgame, the purpose for us in all this is for us to have freedom through what Christ has accomplished. The secular way offers no resolution, and it doesn’t want one. The enemy wants us to spin in circles in a vicious cycle of offense that never ends. So again, we don’t ignore sin, but we must be extremely careful about what the world is demanding we bow to. Throughout the Old Testament, Israelites were told to bow to false gods, and it’s no different today. Often these gods come in the form of ideas and ideologies the world demands we embrace. The waters have become muddied with false choices about race, gender roles and privilege. It’s not that we don’t owe apologies at times, it’s that we must be very careful about what we are submitting to.

Timothy warned about this: “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:23-26

The point is not that we be ‘right’ all the time. We are to point people to the truth, that they too can escape sin and its consequences. The purpose of Christian leadership is not to demonstrate how fantastically ‘in tune’ you are with the current trends or how ‘woke’ you may be to everyones offenses:

“What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  This isn’t a Bible verse, it’s from the Westminster Catechism, but it sums it up nicely. We are not here to bask in offense or victimhood any more than we are here to dominate or put ourselves on a pedestal showing off how compassionate we are. We forgive because we are forgiven, we confess our sins to God and to one another for the purpose of reconciliation and freedom. The “emotional death camps of vague guilt and shame” are not our dwelling place, no matter how important we may feel there. We are called to deal with sin differently, in a way that allows for true healing and freedom.

“A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city. And contentions are like the bars of a castle.” Proverbs 18:19

An offended Christian will usually turn into an offensive Christian, and we aren’t meant to carry that burden. Abiding in Jesus allows us to deal with the truth of real sin and not pick up needless offense at every turn.

Garbage In… Garbage Out

Happy weekend friends! This is meant to be encouraging, so bear with me. See those words up there?👆🏻They popped up no less than three times in my various little social feeds the other day, and kept poking at me, like a little pebble in my shoe. Now I’m not going to get all crazy, I understand these things are meant to help people, but can I just say… this really annoyed me.

I am aware that in certain circles words like this flow like honey, and are received with gladness. The self-help crowds are a funny bunch, they absolve themselves from taking responsibility for their troubles while simultaneously placing some pretty heavy burdens on themselves to fix those very same troubles. Do you see it? “It’s not your fault you’re in this hole… but it’s up to you to dig yourself out.” How empowering.

Before I go further, let me clarify: Awful things happen to everyone at some point that are out of our control, as a result of sin or just living in a fallen world. It’s part of being alive. It’s just that ever since we as a society decided “anything goes” we don’t seem to be able to deal with the consequences very well. The pendulum has swung so very far in the direction of “it’s not your fault” that we have lost any sense of true sin or our need to be rescued from it.

I saw this commercial one day on tv and nearly choked on my coffee:

This was no joke, it was an ad for a law firm explaining that if you were prescribed a certain medication for depression and developed a gambling habit that wrecked your life they can clear that all up for you. It’s not your fault!

To avoid getting into the weeds here, I just would like to ask: does it necessarily matter who is at fault? Sometimes it does I suppose. When you find yourself hurt and lost and in a hole, does it really matter who put you there? I think of the woman caught in adultery in John chapter 8. Jesus didn’t condemn her, but He did tell her to stop walking in darkness and sin no more. It was the same for the Samaritan woman at the well, He called her out for living with a man who was not her husband and offered her something better. Like a fine surgeon, Jesus focused on the problem at hand and dealt with it. No need for emotional craziness about who did what and how… He addressed the problem and offered a way out.

I find this incredibly refreshing. For those who choose to feel victimized and condemned all the time I would say you are not meeting the real Jesus, but the enemy himself. Jesus came not to condemn, but to convict and free us from the chains of our sin. The wound may not be your fault, but what a dangerous door that attitude opens up. Literally:

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This is on a door at some university… the door to a cry closet. You guys… this is real life. “Its not your fault.” Notice the hashtag option as well, very key. Go advertise this, because of course, that will help. The wound is not your fault. Imagine a doctor telling a gunshot victim “well, this isn’t your fault, so… go on home and think on that.” No, we go to a doctor for help and healing, regardless if our wound is our fault or not.

Which brings me to the second part of our happy mantra: your healing is your responsibility. Honestly, is there anything sadder than the idea that we have to go figure out our own healing?

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by god and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities… and by His stripes we are healed.” Isaiah: 53:4

…”casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

The world tells suggests to hashtag our issues, medicate our troubles, and blame them on everyone else. Jesus laid down His life that we may be free of the chains of sin. John 8:32 tells us it’s the truth that makes us free, but only the truth we know… it isn’t a system to be deciphered, but a living person and power to be experienced.

These messages aren’t the end of the world, (although I think a cry closet at a university just might be). Taken in large quantities over and over again they slowly erode the living Words of God and cause our thinking to shift away from Jesus and onto self. Friends, we aren’t alone, and we don’t have to dig ourselves out. Sometimes it is our fault, but we have a savior that doesn’t pound that guilt into the ground. He asks us to turn from doing things our way and surrender to His way.

There was a song we used to sing to the kids when they were little, and it rings true for all of us: “Be careful little eyes what you see… be careful little ears what you hear…” Not all messages are helpful and some very sweet-sounding words are all sugar. Don’t make a steady diet out of short lived memes, but feast on Gods words, the bread of life, the living water and see how satisfying they can be.

First World Easter

Easter week. Holy Week. My favorite holiday and my favorite celebration. In the same way we observe advent, I think the time before Easter deserves our attention and willingness to quiet ourselves to hear with clear minds the story that changed everything. Our lives are not very conducive to this message, however, and the gospel gets lost in our hustle. As much as we may try, we won’t find any answers in our good works or our poetic brokenness… the answers are at the cross. Easter week is a week to remember those truths.

“The reality is that if we are seeking a better life for ourselves by helping others, if we are seeking to perfect ourselves by helping others, if we are seeking an aesthetically pleasing, pretty, romantic life and happiness by the brief emotional espresso shots/pat on the back sensation of helping others alone, we will never, ever be satisfied. If we are claiming to find perfection and happiness in our own brokenness and sin, we will definitely never be happy. Why? Because our first purpose is not inward, but rather it is to glorify God.

If we are getting our scripture and God’s holy infallible word from the Instagram Bible alone, if we are depending on aesthetically pleasing and pretty motivational blurbs with vague and fluffy words to push us through our first world lives and problems, we are not really looking for a relationship with God. We are looking to feel okay with where we are at. We are looking inward for emotional fulfillment. We are looking for our own idea of perfection.

It is good to help people. It is good to love life. It is good to love the beautiful and good. But this should all be the fruit of seeking to glorify God and follow His Will first. And quite honestly, as someone who tried to find the aesthetic, emotional, Instagram life, I don’t want that kind of first world, lavender lotion, piano riff, and local coffee someone-give-me-motivation-to-do-my-laundry-and-homework-oh-life-is-so-hard Jesus. I want the almighty King of Heaven whose bloody, painful, violent death saved me from the depths of the fiery and damning hell where I deserved to go (and still deserve to go, except for His mercy). I want to glorify and sing the praises of the God who gave Paul and Silas the strength to sing loud, fierce praises at the bottom of a filthy, nasty-smelling prison cell with their legs jammed into stocks for the entire night. I want the Lord and Savior whose astounding grace motivated Ignatius of Antioch to suffer through being dragged three thousand miles with ten abusive Roman soldiers to Nero’s Colosseum to be eaten alive by tortured lions in front of a jeering unsaved crowd and to write that he longed for eternity. These are true instances of brokenness, but instead of letting these situations break them and then holding on to their brokenness and saying “Oh! Look what I’m doing for Jesus!”, these men set their eyes on Christ and sought to glorify God and not themselves and certainly not their lives.

Faith is not pretty, and neither is life. Making it pretty by embracing our sin and the effects of sin around us and photoshopping it will not help us, either. Trying to find satisfaction through charitable acts will not help us either, if we are not seeking and embracing Christ and His Word first. For we do not find Christ in our brokenness. We find Christ in His Word and through there, realize our brokenness and the horror of it and seek repentance and sanctification. We are to rejoice in our suffering, as Paul calls us in Romans 5:3 and 4, but because of our hope in the glory of God. We are not called to revel in our problems and look for emotional nirvana. We are to look upward. ”  Rachel Stevenson

Look up friends, not in. Acknowledge the unfinished things, but rejoice in a Savior that died on a cross and announced once and for all that “IT IS FINISHED.”

Help people. Do the good works, but find your strength in the cross. That’s where all the power and joy are found… not in striving to impress. He died so we may live life and live it abundantly.

The cross wasn’t cheap or smooth, it was costly and rugged. It’s easy to forget that with our Pottery Barn table settings and easy coffee shop culture. I hope we can be reminded of it all this week, the brutal beauty of the whole story.

Be blessed this Easter friends, cling to the old rugged cross and the great hope it brings to our old rugged lives.

Not A Safe Space

“Christians should be creating safe spaces, not ridiculing them.”

The headline grabbed my attention. It was an article on Patheos that was tagged ‘progressive Christian’, which, admittedly is not the way I lean, but this is a topic that kind of ruffles my feathers. When I think about it, it’s because I see so much more below the surface than just the politically correct talk we all adhere to. There’s so much more going on, and it has to do with our hearts more than our political beliefs. Here’s an excerpt from the article, written by a United Methodist pastor who works on a college campus:

“So one way of understanding safe space is as a retreat space in which a marginalized group can decompress and relax together. It has to be okay with me that the black, queer, or female people I love sometimes need to spend some time apart from white male messiahs like me… So many chest-thumping conservative evangelicals are in love with the idea of costly grace. They need for their Christianity to feel mean and hard enough that it cannot be accused of worldly compromise. We live in a very graceless, cut-throat world. Some universities have decided to build their brand off of being that way. But as Christians, our most fundamental act of evangelism is to create safe space for those who are poor in spirit, meek, and persecuted. The measure of how saved I am as a Christian is how safe I am able to be for other people.”

That’s a lot to take in, for me anyways. It’s sad that this man sees himself as some kind of awful protagonist and thorn in the side of others. Jesus doesn’t see us that way, but we are obsessed with categories aren’t we? I’d like to say that yes I am unashamedly IN LOVE with the idea of costly grace, but not because I’m a mean jerk; Christ paid a price for my freedom and He told us there would be a cost to following Him. Grace is meant to set free the sinner, not set him free to sin. This tendency to see traditional Christians as ‘‘cut-throat” and graceless is pretty prevalent, and there isn’t a lot to back it up. A surrender Christ and an obedience to doctrine are way too often thrown under the bus because they don’t mesh with the a selfish self-centered spirituality. As for our most “fundamental act of evangelism” being to create a safe space for people… I disagree. We are to love God and our neighbor, yes indeed. That love though, flows from a larger place than our human relations, it comes from our relationship with Christ. Pleasing the people is not our highest calling, loving them the way God loves us is. The last sentence floors me: if we truly believe the measure of how saved we are depends on how ‘safe’ we are for other people we are in deep trouble. We are saved based on our accepting what Jesus did for us on the cross, period. This is a willful misunderstanding of what grace means and it is dangerous. You cannot criticize people for being obedient to God’s word while simultaneously telling others their salvation hinges on how ‘safe’ they are for other people to be around. We are all on the same sinking ship here, what a pity if we have to rely solely on another passenger to validate or save us.
To counter this all, I read an article over at Sheologians, one of my go-to podcasts and sites for gracious, but truth-filled discussion. The tackle this idea that church should be our “safe space” where we are free to be friends with sin and remain Switzerland when it comes to hard topics, but they do it gracefully and with truth. Popular sayings like “we just need to make more room at the table” heap shame on anyone who thinks there’s a price to pay to actually be at that table. Claiming everything is too nuanced or complicated is the go-to argument to shut down any challenging conversation. Some have recklessly and boldly planted their flag in the worlds camp, which doesn’t help anyone. Others have become so new-age and mystic in their writing, nobody can really understand what they are saying. Like Summer says in the article, Christians, we need to know how to play ball in this area.

The approaching Easter season is a real reminder to us that our freedom came at a price. Jesus told us that we are to rest in His finished work on the cross and that a life spent with Him requires some sacrificial things of us. We don’t always get to follow our feelings to wherever we please, especially when they lead us further down the path of self-glorification. It’s not complicated, it’s just not easy to crucify that awful selfishness we all have. That’s the whole issue here… we want what we want and we want it now. Joining in that chorus is one of the saddest things a Christian can do. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“I struggle with all the “space” talk these days. There’s safe spaces and white spaces. Black spaces. Female spaces. Spaces for dissent. Spaces for discussion. Just space space space. What I do know is that it is very virtuous to create space, and not to inhabit too much space, and to never, ever make someone else feel like you don’t care about their space. I have no idea what anyone is talking about.

Assuredly, if “safe space” does exist, it is decidedly NOT the church. The church is not a safe space. Let me make this perfectly clear. The church? The Bride of Christ? It is not safe for the world. It is not safe to your sensibilities. It is not safe for your feelings. The Bride of Christ is anything but, because the Bride of Christ is literally covered in blood. Christ did not knock on the door of your heart and ask if he could come in, He is the Son of God incarnate and his body was crushed and broken and he slayed death to make you His bride and if you are indeed his bride, you have died, too. You are dead. And now you are alive in Christ. Your flesh is at war and the church is the hospital for those of us who are wounded by our remaining sin and seeking to mortify that sin. The church is not a safe space. You will find healing and you will find fellowship, but it is going to be among other soldiers who are also fighting the good fight and showing up week after week badly bruised and broken and scarred by their remaining sin. You will find peace and joy everlasting, but the church does not exist to give you that. Believers exist to be active, serving members of the church, and it WILL cost you to do so. Your peace rests solely on the head that wore a crown of thorns in your place, and that cross that Jesus was crucified on? It is foolishness to the world. It makes no sense to the world. It is laughable to the world, and it is detested by the world, and it is not safe. It’s the centerpoint of history itself. It is the hinge upon which our very calendars turn because until that cross, the world was just waiting for Him. And since that cross, we are waiting for Him, and we are told that the cost of following Christ is so high, that unless you are willing to hate father, mother, sister, brother, you go ahead and put that cross down and get out because it is not for you.”

That’s not easy stuff. It’s true, but it pokes and prods us right out of our comfortable places. This idea that we all must be catered to at every moment and never made to feel uncomfortable is bananas. I read the other day a painfully long comment on social media from someone who was called “she” instead of “they” and was ready to burn the house down. She (they?) was (were?) violated in the worst way. Don’t infringe on my feelings. Don’t disagree with me. Don’t ask questions. Just do it.

The level we have reached is bordering on militant. The flesh screams for validation while Christ offers freedom from it all… IF we choose to pick up our cross and follow. Here’s the great news:

“Now, all of that said, the church is a great place to work out your faith. The church is where we should be ready and willing to wrestle with tough issues.”

Work it out. Don’t ignore the plank in your own eye, don’t excuse sin at every turn or just accept that this is how things are… wrestle and fight because truth is too valuable and the freedom Jesus offers is too beautiful not to. There’s so much more to life than feeling safe and not offended! The world needs to understand that. Christians, put down your fear of being misunderstood, set aside your pride and go love people with the true gospel. It’s not a safe space, but how quickly we learn it’s not all about us and our wish to be comfortable. It is however, the only place where we will find anything worth holding on to.