The Second-Hand Truth of the Gospel of Whomever

I had lunch with friend on Friday, and he said something that really stuck with me. Josh is a writer himself, so it’s no surprise he’s good with a turn of the phrase, but this one little gem has kept me spinning since we talked.

“Too many Christians,” he said, “live on second-hand truth.”

I knew immediately what he meant.

For many Christians, their knowledge of God, their relationship with Christ, their intimacy with the Holy Spirit, is only as deep as their pastor’s. Because many Christians never go beyond what they hear and see on Sunday.

So they quote what they hear from the pulpit. They allow the pulpit to direct their passions, their anger, even their love. And while having a pastor to help us understand the Scriptures is Scriptural itself, there is no substitute for living out the Word of God in our daily lives.

But many Christians don’t do that. Because we’ve been trained to accept second-hand truth as enough.

The problem with second-hand truth is its lifelessness. It’s flat. It falls apart when life happens. Your pastor says homosexuality is bad, and homosexuals are ruining the country, and then you actually meet someone who is gay and they don’t fit the narrative. In fact, you like that gay person, and your instinct is to get to know them, not shun them.

But the second-hand truth kicks in: you can’t associate with gay people and be a follower of Jesus.

True, the Bible says that Christians shouldn’t associate with the sexually immoral–which includes homosexuals, adulterers, divorcees, and folks who have sex before marriage–but only if the sexually immoral have identified themselves as Christians. And more often than not, the sexually immoral clause is part of a list of other behaviors like drunkenness, greed, gluttony, and overcharging people for coffee. And again, these lists are intended to call out wrongful behaviors of people who identify themselves as Christians.

In other words, the only people Christians should be shunning are Christians who claim to be Christians but don’t live like Christ.

But many preachers/pastors don’t frame the argument that way, and since folks are content to accept second-hand truth as Gospel, we end up with idiots protesting the funerals of fallen soldiers or marching to “protect” the rights of white people.

It’s tempting for me, as a former pastor, to place the blame on preachers. It would be easy to make the preachers out as the source of the problem, but the truth is they are merely the symptom. Bad theology in the pulpit isn’t the issue.

The real issue is Christians who don’t have a relationship with Christ.

You have to read your Bible for yourself.

You have to ask hard questions about what you read.

You need to seek out more than one opinion on things.

You bear the responsibility to take your doubts, misgivings, uncertainties before God in prayer.


The power of the Gospel to save is found in the truth of Christ, who he is, what he has done, and how he changes people. When you live by second-hand truth, you are not sharing the Gospel of Christ with the world; you are sharing with the world the Gospel of Whomever.

There is no power in the Gospel of Whomever.

None. Whatsoever.

Read your bible. Ask questions. Pray. Write down things you think about. Talk about what you read, think and feel with other people. This is Christianity. This is the community, the body, of Christ.

When you begin to do that, you begin to see the power of the Truth at work, first-hand, in the world around you.

And you’ll wonder how you ever settled for the second-hand variety.

Take Aways

This week I participated in Seth Godin’s #YourTurnChallenge. My goal was to blog everyday (Mon-Sun) here on my site as well as on the challenge’s official Tumblr blog. This is my Day 7 (and final) submission.

The writing prompt for today is: What are you taking away from this challenge?

I’ve been blogging for over 7 years now. I jumped at this challenge not to motivate me to post everyday, or to simply get something going. I said yes to the challenge so I could see just how large my tribe is. I wanted to know I wasn’t alone.

I’ve not been disappointed.

For the longest time, I thought I could take my skills as a writer and turn them into something profitable. I imagined that my writing would impact so many people that folks would trip over themselves to get to me.

I had the wrong mindset. It’s no wonder my imagined “success” never came.

This week, my blog stats have been meager. But I’ve had upwards of 10-20 people share my links. Once upon a time, I would’ve been bummed by the low visit totals; but now, I’m ecstatic that 10-20 people thought enough of some of my posts to share them.

I’m slowly learning it’s not the size of the tribe that matters.

It’s not even how much that tribe supports you.

It’s the fact you have a tribe at all.

I take away gratitude to know I’m not alone in my journey to create things that help provide perspective and meaning. I take away joy in knowing I’m not flying solo when it comes to writing words that inspire or encourage or uplift. I take away humility in knowing that there are members of my tribe who are much better writers than I.

I take away commitment to keep pounding out words that might help one person over the course of a lifetime.

So to all my fellow #YourTurnChallenge authors, thank you for the journey. Thank you for some stunning and insightful blog posts as well as some I truly didn’t understand. Thank you for putting fingers on keys and keeping with it, for sharing your work, for shipping your gifts to the world at large.

If we keep at it, we will eventually change the world for the better.

Forget the Math

Sometimes, we get too focused on the math. Sports is the king of this – sabermetrics, fantasy games, even broadcasters are obsessed with finding that next nugget, that next formula that will somehow quantify the qualitative nature of athletics. Business is just as guilty – how much did we produce, how much did we sell, how great was our profit?

It even leaks into the church, but I’ll leave that for another time.

Point is, sometimes it’s not about the numbers. In fact, it’s never about the numbers. Not really. The numbers will always be a product of caring about the central concern: people.

I love what I read in the Book of Romans the other day: “God doesn’t count us; he calls us by name. Arithmetic has never been his concern.”

He calls us by name. How might things change at work if you focused on the names around you rather than the numbers they produced? What if by focusing on the name, you would increase their production?

John Maxwell says it this way: “What asset has the greatest potential for actually going up in value? People! If you help people become bigger and better on the inside, eventually they will become greater on the outside.”

We live in a results-oriented society, and production is and will always be an effective measure of health and maturity. But when you focus too much on the production, you destroy the asset that produces – people. You have to nurture one in order to get the other. That was Paul’s point in the Romans passage I quoted: God knows and deals with you before he expects anything from you.

Take a break from the math. Take a moment with your people. You’ll find everything works better together in the end.

A Whole New World

different-races1So we went on vacation last week with the kids. Took our first for-real family vacation to Saint Simons Island. Rented a little house. Kicked it on the beach. Enjoyed walking around the Village at Saint Simons Pier, getting lemonade at Zuzu’s, and just taking a break from everything that’s been going on in my head for the past 15 years.

The kids loved it too; they got to share a room with twin beds and a television, complete with VCR (remember those) and DVD player. They watched movies to their hearts’ content, and the last movie they watched was Disney’s Aladdin. You know, the one with the hysterical blue genie and the sappy magic carpet ride across the world. In fact, the song during that sappy magic carpet ride got stuck in my head, and I’ve not been able to remove it.

Yesterday at church, it got stuck permanently, I fear.

The pastor who spoke was teaching on Jesus’ habit of eating with unseemly people. How Christ, God made flesh, came eating and drinking with sinners and the lowest of the low. The point of the message was about modifying the frequent religious expectation of people (to behave the right way, believe the right things, and then belong to the right group) in favor of the way Jesus brought people along (by letting them belong with him, then believe in him, then changing their behaviors). We learned that Jesus shared meals with people who weren’t like him so they could know how much God loved them.

But the thing that turned my head around was the following quote:

“When you are uncomfortable with people who are different than you, that says more about your insecurity than it does your spirituality.”

Can I tell you how much this rang true with me?

I spent years trying to teach people that uniformity mattered. That everyone walked the same line, thought the same thoughts, watched the same shows, sang the same songs. I was wrong. It’s not uniformity that Christ called us to, it’s unity. And there’s a difference.

Lately, I’ve been feeling the pull to be around people who aren’t like me. To be around people who don’t think like me, or believe like me, or watch the same kind of shows as me. I want to be around people who will stretch me, challenge me, make me laugh, and remind me that people aren’t horrible all the time. I want to go places I’ve not gone for fear of being judged and meet people I’ve not met for fear of being scolded. I want to be like Jesus, so secure in my own self that I can make others around me feel secure too.

My struggle lies in letting God accomplish this on His timetable. I’ve got this internal clock in my head that keeps sounding off about how I don’t have the luxury of time to wait for God. I can’t afford to give Him my complete trust because He might work so slow that I’ll have to sacrifice something like my house or my car just to stay afloat. I’m at war within because I am hungry for the deeper things that God is doing in my life, but I’m anchored to the security I’ve created outside of God.

Everything feels like a battle for my soul because I’m secured myself to insecure things, and God is calling me into a whole new world where I find my security solely in Him.

Not in my religion. Not in my self-righteousness. Not in my works. Not in my finances.

In Christ alone.

It’s scary, but it’s the only thing that offers peace these days. I will trust in Him, even as the battle inside rages on. I will be with him, and trust him to change what I believe and how I behave. That’s walking with Christ.

And that’s the life I want.

To Those Who Wish To Go Away

ImageIt’s a Saturday, so I’m safe writing this. Here in Georgia, the sun is shining and people are busying themselves by the pool. In the midwest, they’re trying to recover from yesterday’s terrible storms. In California, they’re…well, they’re doing whatever people in California do. Bottom line: nobody reads blogs on a Saturday. There’s too much else to do.

Which is why I’m safe writing this post. Lately, my heart has been breaking as I read stories of people who have been abused by religion. Shamed. Made to feel unacceptable. People who, in coming to a system of belief that is supposed to be about God’s great love for us, discovered that in some places that love comes at a high price. And that there are guardians at the gate that will exact that price from you, regardless of whether or not you want to pay.

Take this blog post for instance. Does it not break your heart? It does mine. It makes me shudder at the times that I made young women in my youth group wear one-piece bathing suits because I didn’t want them to “cause the boys to think wrong thoughts.” Never mind that teenage boys can think wrong thoughts about a woman in a burka. I read that blog and my heart broke for the times that I made someone feel shame in the name of holiness.

I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. I won’t excuse it now, but I thought I was doing what was right. I thought I was being a good minister. I thought I was teaching the kids a valuable lesson, about self and life and other stuff. What I was really doing was putting them in bondage to other people; I was telling them that their appearance, their very being, is either a blessing to others or it’s a curse. I put shackles on those girls and boys by objectifying all of them, reducing them to base creatures on opposite poles: girls, as things to be desired, and boys, as creatures incapable of anything but desire.

But it’s not just sexual identity where shame pops up. It’s other things too. I grew up among people who didn’t think college was necessary. In fact, some found it to be pretentious, a showing off that was unseemly. Wanting to go to school (or, in my case, being told by my father that I would go to college, end of story) was seen as something prideful, and pride was a sin to be avoided. Even though recovery is something many churches offer to help with nowadays, there’s still shame in being a former addict; there’s shame in being a single parent; there’s shame in voting for a particular candidate or party; there’s shame in liking certain music, or watching certain shows, or thinking certain thoughts.

Heck. Read this, by Dale Fincher. It covers it so much better than I’ll ever be able to.

So what’s the point of this post? My heart goes out to those who don’t feel like they belong in the church. My heart aches for those who wish they could just go away, disappear, not be a target for once in their lives. I hear and read story after story of people who turned away from church and God because they didn’t fit a certain mold, didn’t look a certain way, and I just want to grab them in my arms and say, “It’s okay. God still loves you. He’s still Truth. He still wants to know you and heal you and walk with you everyday.”

Is it hippie sounding? Bet your sweet butt. Yet I am constantly meeting people who want to know that very truth. People who wouldn’t set foot inside a church on Sunday but would sit down with me for coffee, or chat with me online, or read this blog post and respond in an email. People who, for lack of a better word, want the Gospel to be true, but want to know that truth in something more than just words.

Once upon a time, someone would call this kind of concern evangelistic. But lately, that word has taken on another meaning entirely. I’ll just roll with this: I want people to know that God loves them, that Christ loves them, that there is a power found in faith that can transform any life – especially in ways that aren’t expected. And I’m willing to carry that message to people who need to hear it most, even if it means being shamed by those who would disagree.

If you’ve made it this far and you’re one of those people – if you’ve been shamed by me, or anyone else, and you’re wondering if God could possibly love you – then let me first say, I am sorry. I was wrong. You are created in the image of God. You have fallen. But you are not beyond repair. You are not who you’ve been made to believe. You are His. He is yours. There is healing to be found.

To those who wish to go away, Christ stands, arms open, inviting you to Himself.