Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Are Things Really That Much Worse?

Let me ask it a different way . . .

Are things really the worse that they've ever been?  Does all of the sin, death and destruction we see in our world show us that things are getting exponentially worse?  Doesn't the UCSB shooting that happened this weekend prove that our world is in the worst shape we've seen?

The simple answer is "no."

Among Christians, whenever we hear about something tragic, our reactions tend to be along the lines of "Things have gotten so bad," or "Boy, has the world changed," or "You never used to hear about stuff like that happening."  

It's that last sentiment that leads me to my conjecture for this article: things are not really "worse" than they've ever been; we just hear about it a lot more than we ever used to, and we as Christians have an appropriate response to the terrible things we see. 

Now, the UCSB shooting was tragic.  I lost my father to violent crime, so I understand the impact of a tragedy like this, and I know exactly what the victims and the surviving family members are going through.  That being said, though, it saddens me to say that, even with tragedies like this, our world is still not any worse than it was.

You might ask: "why on earth would he say something like that?"  Unfortunately, history bears it out, and we need look no further than our own Bible to see it.  I made a departure from our usual format in that I didn't start with my supporting scriptures, because we're going to give several examples from the Bible of terrible things that were happening on planet earth two- to seven-thousand years ago that demonstrate that the world was just as dark place then as it is now:
  • Sodom (Genesis 19:4-11) - The homosexual men of the city tried to take Lot's visitor's captive and rape them (he offered his daughters instead).
  • Lot's Daughters (Genesis 19:30-36) - Lot's daughters get him drunk and sleep with him.
  • Pharoah's death sentence (Exodus 1:15-22) - Pharoah ordered the death of all male Hebrew babies, then included the Egyptian babies when the original plan didn't work.
  • Gibeah, his concubine, and the perverted men (Judges 19:22-30) - This one, you just have to read.
The truth is, we can look at the entire historical record and find tons of examples of depraved human behavior.  Sin has been in our world ever since Adam took his first bite, and it is responsible for every act of man that is contrary to God.  Is there more sin in the world than there used to be?  Not really.  Do we hear more about it now than we used to?  Absolutely.  

Fifty years ago, we got our news in the newspaper, or on the evening news broadcast.  The media was more selective about what it reported and how it was reported (censorship), and there weren't as many opportunities to report it.  Now, we have 24-hour news channels, multiple news broadcasts on non-news stations, the internet, and social media (I actually found out about the USCB shooting because it was a trending topic on Twitter). Also, because the news is largely unfiltered now, we hear a lot of the gritty details that we never got before.  Of course, with any crime of extreme violence or brutality, the more you know, the worse it seems, which is why it would make sense that sin in the world seems worse than it used to be.  That being said, however, our response as Christians is still the same:
Shine the light.
Understand this: it's easy for us to look at our world that is polluted by sin, say "It's never been this bad," and throw up our hands in concession.  The hard fact is that we've been called to be a light in this very same world.  Would there still be sin the world if more people knew Jesus?  Yes.  Would it be as rampant as it is now?  Probably not, if only because fewer people would be lost in sin.  Our responsibility in the face of "increasing" sin is to fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:11), and rather than pull back in fear, push forward in faith, knowing that He who is in us is greater than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).  
We have to be the ones to let the world know that there is still hope for a better tomorrow.  We have to be the ones that show that Jesus is the light they are looking for in the darkness.  We have to be the ones to say that we are unafraid of the sin that has a grip on this world, and that love of God has come to set the captives free.  We have to be the ones to boldly declare the mysteries of the Gospel.  It is then, and only then, that we will see the improvement in our world that we long for.   That's why we must focus on making things better, rather than how much worse they have become.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Importance of Accountability

"As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend." - Proverbs 27:17 (NKJV)

"But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.  And the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you'; nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you' . . . that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it." - 1 Corinthians 12:21-22, 25-26 (NKJV)

"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables." - 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (NKJV)

"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ . . ." Ephesians 4:11-15 (NKJV)



If we're honest with ourselves, many of us hate accountability, and often try to stay as far away from it as possible, as often as possible.  

Now there are myriad reasons why people dislike accountability: they don't like people prying into their personal lives, or the people who hold us accountable seem to be overbearing (this can be especially true in the workplace), or we have a hard time trusting people, and therefore don't let people see or know anything more than is necessary for fear of being hurt or rejected.  All of that is totally understandable.  

Unfortunately, what many of us don't want to admit is that we run from accountability because we feel like we have something to hide, and often times we are ashamed of that which we are hiding.  

Well, according to the scriptures above, it may be time for you to stop running away from accountability, and starting running toward it.  That goes for Christians of all kinds: non-church-goers, congregation members, church leaders, pastors, denominational heads, leaders of organizations, and everyone in between.

Now, let's start first with what accountability is not:
  • Accountability is not the right of any Christian (that includes pastors and leaders) to pry into people's lives at their wimsy
  • Accountability is not the right of church members (or any other Christian) to publicly call out pastors or leadership just because they do something they don't agree with (1 Timothy 5:19)
  • Accountability is not sharing everything that is happening in your life with anyone who will listen
  • Accountability is not putting out church business to the public (those outside the church) indiscriminately
  • Accountability is not attempting to control someone's life
I feel the need to make those points so that 1) people don't take this article as permission to lord themselves over their fellow Christians, and 2) so that we can understand that I'm not saying that anyone anywhere has more authority in your life than God Himself.  

That being said, here are some examples of what accountability is:
  •  A Christian having somewhat regular conversations with another Christian (who is more seasoned than they are, and preferably of the same gender) about the spiritual issues they are dealing with, even if it's your spouse (though spousal accountability isn't as effective, in general, because our spouse tends to be hardest person to tell when we mess up)
  • A pastor (or any other organizational head) have regular conversations with his board, leaders, and congregation about things that are happening that impact their church or organization (the business that is pertinent to each group, of course)
  • Receiving guidance to help you when you can't get the answer on your own, or when the answer you get doesn't seem like the right one.
I wanted to put more points in that list, but those three basically sum it up.  

Understand: from the example scriptures given about, we as Christians need each other, and whether we like it or not, we're in this together, even those of us who don't attend a church.  We, together, make the body of Christ, and all of our actions affect each other, whether we think they do or not.  

I submit to you this conjecture: God has given us three things to aid us in our spiritual growth, those being 1) His Word (the Bible), 2) His Spirit (the Holy Spirit), and 3) His people (the Church, that is, other Christians).  Most of us don't have a problem embracing the first two: we love the comfort and guidance we receive from have the Holy Spirit, and we embrace the knowledge and wisdom that we glean from God's Word.  What we often reject is the wisdom and guidance that come from our fellow Christians, whether they be peer or pastor.  

Here's the problem: our last thirty years of American history are littered with stories of regular people and Christians that have been led astray despite their commitment to following God and knowing His word.  Unfortunately, we are still people, prone to sinful tendencies.  And this is a problem that is common both among leader and layman because, again, we're all human.  The common thread among almost every Christian that has returned to a life of sin, or worse, completely rejected the Gospel, is that while they may have put the Word and the Spirit to good use, they typically failed to use their third resource, the Church (other Christians). 

Referring back to our foundational scriptures, we can see that we as Christians can be led astray by deceiving doctrines, among other things.  Look at every cult leader that said they were Jesus,  or every preacher who either stole from the church or had an affair, or every wife or husband that has gambled away all of their family's money.  These are pitfalls that accountability can help us avoid!  In most cases, they didn't stop and ask someone, "Hey, is my thinking right on this?  Are my actions Godly?"  Instead, when we are leaning in the direction of giving ourselves over to sin, we either ignore or "misinterpret" scripture, and and usually find some spirit to agree with them, though they definitely aren't hearing the Holy Spirit because they're looking for something to agree with them that the sin is acceptable.  Once they've confirmed within themselves that what they want to do (or are doing) is acceptable in some way, it's basically all over.  

2 Corinthians 10:12 tells us specifically that it isn't a good idea to use our own understanding as the measure in these situations is not a good idea (that's great passage of scripture to study in general, by the way).  That's why accountability is so important: if we are being deceived, a more seasoned Christian can look at our situation and say, "No, this isn't right," help us understand why, and then give guidance on how to proceed correctly.  Why would we run away from that?  The same principal applies when we make mistakes.  

Think about it this way: when a child makes a mistake, are the parents more merciful if you go to them and admit what happened, or if you hide it and they find out?  What about your boss?  Well, it works the same way with God: course correction is much easier with God if we go to the people we've wronged and hold ourselves accountable than if we try to hide our mistakes and are ultimately found out (1 Timothy 5:24).  

So, here's the point of all this: we as Christians come from a variety of backgrounds, and we tend to disagree on a lot of (inconsequential) things, but we can all agree that we all need accountability.  Whether we serve in the spotlight or in the background, we all need to have accountability to someone who can help us make sense of all of this.  

Believe me: God has given us everything we need to succeed; we just have to use it.