Not Everything Is True

I was reading John to get ready for our Wednesday night class last week and got to the story where Judas is angry because Mary “wasted” expensive ointment on the feet of Jesus. He argued that the money could have been used for the poor, instead.

John 12:6 stood out to me as the narrator gives us a peek into Judas’ heart: “He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put in it.”

Judas said he cared about the poor. Judas actually cared about himself.

There’s an important principle: what we say is not always what we mean. Sometimes people don’t tell the truth.

This is obvious. Of course people don’t tell the truth! Lies abound. What’s the joke? How can you tell if a politician is lying? His lips are moving! But here’s the thing: if we’re not aware of this principle, we might do it ourselves.

I can say, “I am speaking the truth in love.” But that statement does not guarantee that I am either speaking truthfully or lovingly. Sometimes that label (“truth in love”) has been slapped on statements that are decidedly not true. Other times the problem comes with the attitude. It may be true, but it is certainly not acting in love. What makes this even harder is that true things that need to be said because of love are sometimes very hard and very painful to say or to hear.

So before you say that you speak truth in love, take a moment and make sure that’s really what’s going on.

Tech Tip: Buy a UPS – a Battery Backup

Sunday got me motivated to get an Uninterruptable Power Supply set up for our projector and computer in the auditorium at church.

We had a brief power outage Sunday morning. The projector, projector computer, audio recording computer, sound board, amplifier, and microphones all cycled out. The outage was less than ten seconds, but it was enough of a distraction to throw me off for a few minutes.

We hadn’t installed a UPS on the system in the past. We had talked about it, but hadn’t gotten around to it. We’ve got plans in place to get one in ASAP.

Interested in getting one? Here’s what you might need to know.

First, figure out how much power you need.

Calculate the wattage of your equipment and you’ll be able to figure out exactly what you need. Almost anything electrical will have a wattage rating somewhere on it. For us…

  • Projector Computer: 300 watts max
  • Projector: 350 watts max
  • Sound board: 20 watts
  • Amplifier: 200 watts

Our total is 870 watts with everything at max power. For what it’s worth, very seldom does this equipment draw anywhere close to max power. There’s a great little device called a “Kill a Watt” that you can get online or at places like Harbor Freight. Plug it into the wall, plug your equipment into it, and it will tell you exactly how much energy it uses in watts. This is a great way to check your math.  Don’t forget, though, that some equipment uses significantly more power when first turned on than during normal use, so you want to watch those numbers carefully.

Only include what you need to keep up and running during a brief outage. Is it okay with me if the monitors go out for a few seconds? Sure. They’ll be back on in less than 10 seconds when the power comes up.

My main concerns were the computers, projector, and sound system.

The projector takes a minute or two to cool down and a minute or two to come back up. The computer might take 5 minutes to come back up if it needs to “scan and repair” as they sometimes do after an improper shutdown. Don’t forget to count the time it takes to open your PowerPoint, find the right spot in the file, etc.

Select a UPS unit based on watt rating

I did a quick search on Amazon. For $150, shipped, there is a 900 watt UPS. That would cover everything I need with some wiggle room. I could get two smaller units and divide out the equipment if that worked better based on my wiring, too. They have a 1,200 watt unit for $198 that would cover my audio recording computer and the LCD monitors, too.

Installation 

It’s easy. Plug in the UPS to the wall. Plug your equipment into the UPS. Turn it on.

Really, that’s it!

Final thoughts

Seriously, it’s easy. There’s no good reason for you not to do it.

 

As an added bonus, many (most?) of the units out there include some sort of insurance. If your equipment is damaged by an electrical surge when properly installed and plugged in to the unit, they may even pay for replacement. Many of us work at churches with very high deductibles on the insurance policy, so this can be a big help.

When the power flickered, because I could see the sound guys running around trying to fix things, I was probably distracted for a couple of minutes. We had 122 at worship that morning. Every minute I speak takes two hours of the collective group’s life.

I don’t want to waste two minutes (4 hours!) because of a 2 second power blip.

This stuff won’t keep your equipment on indefinitely, but it’s likely to get you through most of the quick outages we face.

Hope this saves you some headache! Go buy a UPS!

 

The Book Review that Might Get Me Excommunicated

muscle-shovelIf you’re a member of churches of Christ, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about Michael Shank’s Muscle and a Shovel. It has gathered more attention than anything like it in recent memory. He has sold more than 67,000 copies—a real feat since most self-published books don’t move more than a hundred units.

Michael Shank’s book has been riding an incredible wave of popularity in recent months. The Christian Chronicle published a story about the “thousands of baptisms” connected to the book. I personally know of several churches that have purchased cases to hand out for evangelism. Reviewers say things like, “If I could only have one other book besides the Bible, this would be my choice.”

My title gives my position away, but I am not convinced this is the book we ought to hold up as the number two to scripture. I have several serious concerns that I feel obligated to share. When I hear nothing but positive reviews of something, it can be a warning sign that we’ve joined a bandwagon rather than really thinking critically about something.

Let’s start with the good:

Shank tells a good story.

Honestly, the literary quality is average at best, but the story is an interesting one. We like to peek behind the curtain of other people’s brains and witness what goes on in their heads and hearts, particularly in regard to religion. (Don’t believe me? Notice how popular Heaven is For Real, The Shack, and many others are?) We like it even more when it is a story that lines up with our expectations. This is a story of “our people” and in every turn, “we” are right. Of course we’re going to like it!

Shank also has many biblical conclusions. I wouldn’t argue with many (most?) of the points he makes. There is something beautiful about baptism that is lost on many in our religious world. He does a great job of demonstrating the necessity of making faith your own—understanding what and why we believe.

He helps us see the foolishness of biblical illiteracy and dependence on religious leaders. It’s a great thing to search the scriptures, and he shows us that. He encourages us to think critically about why we make the religious decisions that we do. He even helps us think about our hermeneutics: how do we interpret and apply the Bible?

But unfortunately, that’s not what the book is known for.

The bad:

My biggest concern has to do with the general attitude and tone of the book.

Yes, I know that Shank can point to “thousands” of baptisms as proof of the efficacy of his methods. Benny Hinn can point to tens of millions of viewers worldwide and donations for a $36 million dollar jet. Neither Shank nor I would validate Benny’s ministry on that basis. If I had to guess, Shank would point to 2 Timothy 4:3 and warn about itching ears. Isn’t it possible that the same could apply to Shank? Or me?

Conservatives are not immune to that possibility. We are quick to recognize “liberals” as people who want to be placated, but I have known conservatives who have the same desires! If you are a member of churches of Christ, what in this book confronted you? Did anything? If there wasn’t anything, that’s a good indicator that it might be tickling your ears.

Shank’s book presents itself as a precisely factual retelling of his conversion story. He makes that very clear throughout the book. He goes into detail to explain the notecards and journals he kept so that he would get it right, but there are some inconsistencies that worry me.

In one moment, he doesn’t know what baptism means. In the next, he’s researching Calvinism at the public library? Nothing in the story would have motivated that research up until this point. In one moment, he is totally biblically ignorant, but in the next, he’s debating like a School of Preaching graduate. It makes the claims of accuracy a little bit tough to swallow. The book to me feels like it is an account that is “enhanced” – whether unintentionally by the foibles of memory or intentionally to make the story more powerful.

I’ve known a lot of ministers in a lot of different faiths. I’m friends with several Baptist pastors. Not a single one would answer the question of the origin of the Baptist church like he claims that every single one did in this story. Their answers sound exactly like the straw-men we set up to knock down, not like any human being that I know. (I’ll grant that it’s possible that Shank had the misfortune of meeting the worst of the worst, but I’m not convinced…)

I can’t help but think that this is an account that is remembered a little bit differently than it happened.

Shank is quick to lampoon others for ignoring context, but he blatantly ignores context right and left.

Early in the book he argues against “faith only” righteousness in Ephesians 2. He explains away Ephesians 2 by saying that Ephesians is a book dealing with people who were trying to bind the old law and circumcision on believers. The problem? That’s the summary of Galatians, not Ephesians.

He repeatedly quotes 1 Peter 3:15, a passage that he makes to mean, “You have to be able to give scripture for every practice of your church.” Is it a good and right thing to explain the authority by which we act in our churches? Absolutely. But this passage does not teach that. If you read anything in 1 Peter, you see that Peter is writing to the dispersed people who are being persecuted for their faith. When Christians are slandered, they don’t lash out like most people would expect. Peter tells them to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within them. That’s a pretty big difference—especially for a book that assumes that anyone else who takes a scripture out of context is intentionally misusing the text. I don’t honor truth by using bad reasoning to get to it.

The attitude in the book troubles me. He over-simplifies issues that have been the subject of two millennia of debates. He accuses people who don’t fall on his side of the issue of being intellectually dishonest or incapable. Let me rephrase that: if you don’t agree with Shank, he’d say it’s because you’re lazy, a liar, or dumb. You haven’t used any muscle and shovel. That’s not a charitable position by any means.

Is that what you want to win people with? Is that what you want to win people to?

It is true that there are lazy and dishonest people. But “they” don’t have a monopoly on that market. “We” have plenty of them, too. We really ought to be careful before we call everyone else in the religious world a stupid liar!

Another point of concern: Shank’s entire study and conversion experience focuses on the doctrines of the church. There is almost no emphasis on attitude and behavior. He virtually ignores the topic of grace except to warn against misusing it. (Kindle says that the word grace appears 44 times. Fewer than 8 of them occur without the words “falling,” “obedience”, or some sort of refutation of grace only.) He warns about many false churches, but Christianity without grace is not biblical Christianity!

Jesus said that the identifying mark of his disciples would be their love (John 13:35), yet the book seems to delight in retelling the fact that he enjoyed swearing at Baptist pastors in his head. Do you really expect to teach a Baptist friend anything in the paragraph after the author calls him a pompous a—? Yeah right! Paul said that we must speak truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Without love, we’re just a loud racket that accomplishes nothing! (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

Shank’s idea of the distinctiveness of the church is based around congregational government and doctrine. Those things matter, but the main thing has to be the main thing. Where was the first and greatest commandment? Where was the golden rule? Where was the Sermon on the Mount? Why was there no emphasis on what Jesus emphasized?

Shank’s character in the book says he doesn’t buy the “we’re the only ones going to heaven” line. That makes people feel good. But then the book teaches: “From my understanding of God’s Word, if you’re a member of a denomination, whether it be Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Mormon, or any church that Jesus Christ did not establish and buy with His blood, there’s no question that you’re headed towards eternal destruction.”

Shank totally misses the difference between a flawed local congregation and the universal, ultimate body of Christ. Every group with a name is a denomination—like it or not. The word “denomination” means a group separated by a name. The Bible is clearly against division (see John 17, 1 Corinthians 3, etc.), but there is a difference between division and denomination. Even the seven churches of Asia in Revelation 2-3 are recognized and identified by name.

I think the Bible teaches the significance of baptism, so you could call me a Baptist. The Bible describes elders or presbyters or bishops who guide the church, so you could call me a Presbyterian or an Episcopalian. I want to be a person who follows the methods of Jesus, so you could call me a Methodist. Acts 2 describes the birth of the church on Pentecost, so you could call me a Pentecostal. I believe that the church transcends borders of nations, languages, and time, so it is fair to call me a Catholic Christian. Orthodoxy (and orthopraxy) are important to me, so you can call me an Orthodox. I have been “grafted in” to true Israel of God (Romans 11:24, Galatians 6:16) so you could call me a Jew.

You can call me all of those things, but really, I’d prefer you call me Matthew. And I hope you know that I’m a Christian.

Is it good that there are so many religious divisions in a city today? No. Do the names on the buildings communicate something? Of course. But Shank misses the point: we need to make sure we are members of Christ’s church and in community with Christ’s people. Sitting at a building with the sign “Church of Christ” saves you no more than sitting at a building with the sign “Christian Church” damns you.

My salvation is not negated by the fact that people with whom I worship misunderstand something about God. I am not automatically damned because my preacher is wrong about something. If this were true, we would all be lost. I know everybody in the congregation where I preach would be.

Shank claims that he has given us “plain Bible teaching with no human opinions.” He says that his book contains “no personal interpretation of the Holy Scriptures.”

That’s great rhetoric, but it isn’t true. If this book were nothing but the Bible, it would be the Bible. It’s not. It’s Muscle and a Shovel. It’s Michael Shank.

I don’t have a problem with books. I have a problem with books pretending that they’re something they aren’t. We are all interpreters! Sometimes we are good interpreters. Sometimes we are bad interpreters. To claim that we aren’t is disingenuous at best.

The same restoration leaders who encouraged us to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent in its silence also reminded us, “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” While we don’t all agree on what constitutes essential and non-essential, we can agree on a definition of “all things.” Before I’m comfortable with a book like this, I need to see more charity.

Muscle and a Shovel came across to me as one proud man’s conversion story. It was the roller coaster ride of his highs and lows through religious searching. There’s plenty to learn from him. But let’s not make his story or his method become the method.

Final thoughts

I want to be very clear about this: I’m grateful to be a member and minister in the church of Christ. I’m grateful for my church home. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be, but we are absolutely not perfect, so I want to be careful about making it sound like we are.

If you’re a member, you might enjoy reading the book. I think you can learn from it. I wouldn’t even mind using it for a class—as long as it was open as a case study of what is healthy and what isn’t.

I cannot recommend giving it to non-religious strangers. I can’t recommend giving it to religious friends in other groups, unless there is a very strong, open, and candid relationship that can work through positive and negative ideas. Without that, this book is very likely to be offensive. I don’t believe that it is likely to be a “productive” offensive, either.

Overall, I can’t recommend Muscle and a Shovel. There are more balanced, healthier approaches to evangelism than this book. There are better studies of theology than this book. And there are better stories than this book.

Shank says that thousands have been baptized because of this book. I’m not sure I think that’s the case. After reading it, my assumption is that if thousands were baptized as a result, millions of others may have been permanently turned away. I’m afraid we’re going to deal with the negative publicity of this book for decades to come.

Spiritual Sickness: Allergies and AIDS

This post is taken from a recent sermon on our “Spiritual Sicknesses Series.”

Living spiritually can be really tough! Peter’s warning is sobering: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

1peter5-8Paul gives us a little more encouragement, but it’s still a warning: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to main. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

God has designed our physical bodies in an amazing way. He has given us immune systems to help us identify and respond to the threats that surround us constantly. Our immune systems literally keep us alive, but they can mess up in a couple of serious ways.

The immune system can get messed up by over-reaction. We call that allergies. A little piece of Tennessee pollen floats into my nose, and my immune system is pretty sure it’s actually anthrax riding on an ebola cloud, so it goes DEFCON 1 and starts trying to sneeze it out however it can.

It also messes up by under-reaction. That’s the main result of AIDS. The immune system pretty well dies and lets everything in, no questions asked.

God gives Christians a “spiritual immune system.” Here are a few components:

Fellowship. The community of God’s people is a great self-defense system. It helps me think about what is right and what is wrong.

In the congregational community, you’ll find someone who can recognize the same things that have hurt you. We have recovering addicts. We have people who have suffered losses—and survived. We have people who have people who have been through divorce and people who have managed to put the pieces back together. We have doubeters!

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 is just great: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

Another defense system is prayer.

Someone once said that prayer is a good test for behavior. If I can’t pray for it, I shouldn’t do it.

Prayer also strengthens us. Right before his arrest, Jesus told his disciples, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation! The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

Discernment is another defense system 1 John 4:1 and Hebrews 5:14 talk about this skill. We learn to tell what is good for us and what is bad for us.

Discernment is the spiritual version of “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!” It is the ability to tell what is right and wrong.

Conscience is one last piece of the spiritual immune system. It’s the “check engine” light on the dashboard of our souls.

It can be very helpful, but just like our body’s self-defense system, it can go wrong.

There’s a preacher-story about conscience. A man wrote the IRS a letter and enclosed a check. “I can’t sleep,” he said, “so I’ve written you a check for $50 for what I owe you in taxes. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send you the rest.”

The Middle Road

It is vitally important that our immune systems be well-tuned. Over-reactions can destroy us. Allergies cause us to respond to pollen like it was ebola. AIDS causes every invader in the world to be successful. These tools keep our immune systems in balance.

An Overactive Consciencesneezing-woman-with-allergies

When our spiritual immune system has allergies, it sees things that are okay and over-reacts. It is a conscience that is easily provoked. A person like this worries a lot, and likely judges others a lot.

The Bible describes this condition in a way you might not expect. It calls an over-active conscience a weak conscience. Check out 1 Corinthians 8:7-13. It talks about eating meat sacrificed to idols. People with knowledge understand that it doesn’t matter if the grill says Webber or Zeus—the hamburger is still just hamburger. But people who came out of idolatry might have an over-active conscience that won’t allow them to eat that meat.  Paul says that he would never eat meat if it would offend that weak conscience brother.

searAn Underactive Conscience

The opposite condition is described in 1 Timothy 4:1-5. This conscience isn’t called weak; it’s called seared. It’s been char-broiled and it has a thick skin. It doesn’t notice anything, even if it is a severe threat. Paul says that people in this condition encountered it because of insincere liars, deceitful spirits, and the teachings of demons.

Spurgeon described the tragedy of this condition powerfully:

It is a very terrible thing to let conscience begin to grow hard, for it soon chills into northern iron and steel. It is like the freezing of a pond. The first film of ice is scarcely perceptible; keep the water stirring and you will prevent the frost from hardening it; but once let it film over and remain quiet, the glaze thickens over the surface, and it thickens still, and at last it is so firm that a wagon might be drawn over the solid ice. So with conscience, it films over gradually, until at last it becomes hard and unfeeling, and is not crushed even with ponderous loads of iniquity.

Paul gave Timothy and us some great instructions. He told him that “the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)

Hurt People Hurt People

The cliché is true. When we have been hurt by others, we tend to become people who “share” our pain by inflicting it on the people around us. Hurt people truly hurt people.

Do you know when the last person died because of World War II? January. Yes, this January! January 4, 2014. Undetected, undetonated explosives triggered an accident that killed one and wounded thirteen in Euskirchen, Germany.

Do you know when the last person died because of World War I? Two weeks ago! It’s the same basic story. A bomb lay dormant for a century near Flanders fields in Belgium. It killed two construction workers.

Do you know when the last person died because of the American Civil War? It’s practically ancient history compared to the other two stories. It was in May of 2008, more than 140 years after the Appomattox Courthouse surrender.  Sam White was restoring a cannon ball he had found. Something went wrong. The antique explosive was still powerful enough to send shrapnel over a quarter of a mile.

Each of these wars has long been over. The last World War I veteran died in February of 2012. To schoolchildren today, these are stories from the history books. Despite the passage of time, explosives still remain, ironically becoming more unstable as time passes.

icebergThese bombs make a pretty good analogy for how hurt people operate. Sometimes our wars are long past, but relics from our history show up and hurt the people close to us. We might not be fighting anymore, but the weapons are still within reach. Sometimes we’re not even aware that they’re buried where they are. Sometimes people can trigger those explosions without even realizing it. Hurt people hurt people. We need to be aware of the long-lasting effects of our pain and be on guard against these unseen dangers!

Spiritual Sickness: Cancer

This post is taken from a recent sermon on our “Spiritual Sicknesses Series.”

Cancer is horrible.cancer

One of the things that makes cancer so awful is that it is, effectively, us!

Cancer is what happens when a tiny part of you makes a copy of itself. But instead of stopping after one copy, the cellular gas pedal gets stuck and like some deranged Energizer Bunny, it keeps going and going and going and… Eventually these cells become the tumors which strangle the life of out of the rest of your body.

Cancer is hard to treat. Almost anything that will kill cancer will kill you. It hides. It feeds off the same systems that feed you. It spreads.

Can you think of a spiritual condition that this is like?

2 Timothy 2:14-19 describes people who constantly quarrel about words, who speak irreverent babble, who lead to ungodliness and division, who swerve from the faith, and upset the faith of some. Paul told Timothy that their “talk will spread like gangrene.”

He is describing people with an argumentative heart.

It’s a simple mutation. It’s a good thing to stand up for what is right. But when the devil pushes the gas pedal on a virtue, he turns it into a vice. Righteousness is only four letters away from self-righteousness. It begins taking over a person, and Paul warns Timothy to make sure it doesn’t take over a church.

There’s another example in Hebrews 12:12-17. The Hebrews author warns about a “root of bitterness” that can spring up and destroy people.

Is it natural to be upset when you’re wronged? Absolutely. Remember that Jesus got angry from time to time.

But what happens when the devil pushes the gas on that feeling? It takes over. And it can be deadly.

We have to be careful to examine our hearts. Jeremiah 17:9 says that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” Matthew 15:19 says that from “the heart come evil thoughts” like murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander. These things take over.

The easiest time to deal with cancer is when it is first formed, before it can spread. The same is true with spiritual cancers. It is easier to excise a little bitterness from your heart today than it is to try to force forgiveness in twenty years.

When you are diagnosed with a physical cancer, your life depends on the doctors acting act quickly and decisively. The same is true of the soul!

The Price is Right?

priceScientists at Duke University in 2008 rounded up a group of test subjects and gave them electric shocks. After the first round of zapping, they gave each of the test subjects one of two possible pills and then administered a second identical jolt. The human lab-rats were asked to compare the pain of the first and second shock.

85% of those in the first group said the pill reduced the pain. 61% of the second group said the same thing.

What makes this study interesting is that both groups received identical pills—and they weren’t pain relievers. They were simple sugar pills or placebos. The only difference between the first group and the second group? The first group was told that their pills cost $2.50. The second group was told that their pills cost $2.50, but they were discounted all the way down to a mere ten cents. Somehow, when the second group heard that their medicine was discounted, their brains interpreted it as “cheap” or “without value.”

It’s really amazing just how easy it is to confuse our little minds!

It’s easy to put the wrong value on the wrong things. Our culture values possessions more than people, form over function, and the future and past over the present. We evaluate what is better and worst. Without realizing it, we evaluate things on a standard that just isn’t right.

It’s important that Christians always keep this idea at the front of our minds: the values of the Kingdom of God are not the values of the world.

Jesus said that the whole world isn’t as valuable as a single soul (Mark 8:36). He said that the least among us would be the greatest (Luke 9:48). He said that meek would inherit the whole earth (Matthew 5:5). Let’s compare our values with his values—and adjust as needed!

Spiritual Sickness: Amnesia

This post is taken from a recent sermon on our “Spiritual Sicknesses Series.”

Memory-related diseases are hard to watch. Alforgetfulnesszheimer’s and dementia rob our loved ones of their memories and even their personalities. As the memories erode, we find ourselves frustrated by trying to deal with the shell of a person we once knew.

What happens when we become spiritually forgetful?

It could happen in a couple of ways.

  1. Sometimes it happens through trauma. Like in the movies when somebody gets bonked on the head and ends up forgetting who they are. Have you ever met someone who was doing pretty well until they experienced loss or pain…and then they forgot everything they once knew?
  2. Sometimes it happens slowly, like Alzheimer’s. The plaque of life builds up in our brains, and what once was fresh now is buried under layers of dust. Without a little cleaning, it becomes out-of-sight, out-of-mind and inaccessible to us.

Either way, the outcome is similar. We can sing “Jesus Loves Me” for years until we can sing it without thinking about it. And then we find that we’re not thinking about it at all!

2 Peter 1:3-4 describes some of the great things that God has done. He has given us what we need. He has called us to his glory. He has promised us us “precious” and “very great” promise. He made us partakers of the divine. He let us escape corruption. And based on all that stuff, verses 5 and following describe how we continue in the journey God started us on. We call the list that follows the Christian Graces.

After these descriptions of the beautiful things that we focus on as Christ-followers, Peter tells us: make sure you pay attention to these things. If you don’t have these things, you have forgotten your forgiveness.

What happens when you forget your forgiveness?

Peter says that it causes your life to be a jumbled mess of anything but godliness.

He says it keeps you from being useful or effective servants.

He says it makes you blind to what God has done!

I’d sum up what he writes by saying: if you forget your forgiveness, you will get spiritually stuck.

But that’s not the only consequence. People who forget forgiveness usually turn into self-righteous jerks!

(I really wanted to use a good theological word here…but “jerks” is just too accuate!)

Remember Luke 15 and the Prodigal Son? His older brother’s problem was that he forgot that he needed forgiveness. He forgot that his little brother needed it, too.

forgivnMatthew 18 is a time when the disciples ask Jesus how many times they have to forgive. Jesus could have countered by simply saying, “How many times do you want to be forgiven?” But he didn’t. Instead he told them a story about two debtors. The one owed a lot; the other owned a little. The guy who owed a hopelessly large debt had it forgiven. But when the man who owed a fraction of percentage point as much came to him, there was no mercy. He forgot that he once needed forgiveness, too.

Luke 7 has almost the same story line, but Jesus asks a simple question: “Who will love him the most?” The answer is the one who was forgiven most.

There’s one more consequence of forgetting forgiveness: you never can feel saved. If you forget that you were forgiven, you never can know how you stand with God.

So here’s the point of the lesson: don’t forget forgiveness!

Spiritual Sickness: Going Viral

This post is taken from a recent sermon on our “Spiritual Sicknesses Series.”

Here’s a trivia question for you: who killed the most people in World War 1?

Nope. Not the evil Central Powers. Not the victorious allies, either!

The killer was a little guy—microscopic, even! The worst killer of 1918 was the flu.H1N1_influenza_virus

The Saturday Evening Post said that, “No recorded pestilence before or since has equaled the 1918–1919 influenza death toll in total numbers. In those years, an estimated 21,000,000 died of influenza-pneumonia throughout the world, some 850,000 in the United States alone.” More lives were lost in the flu epidemic than in all of the battlefields of World War 1. Recent numbers indicate that 5% of the world’s population died. All because of the flu!

There are all sorts of reasons that this flu was particularly bad.

It was an especially virulent strain. Counter-intuitively, it was more serious for the healthy. An immune over-reaction is what caused most of the deaths.

People were traveling more than ever. Other than those pesky Titanic and Lusitania incidents, inter-continental travel was the safest and most affordable it had ever been in history. The war contributed towards globalization.

No real effective treatments were available for the flu. Chicken noodle soup, fluids, and rest was about the best we could hope for.

One of the most deadly things about it was that it was not particularly well understood.

When you think about it, the Spanish Flu makes a pretty good description for what happens in sin.

Sin always seems to get a little bit “easier.” Pornography is a click away. Gossip is a text away. Greed is a credit card away. Distraction is a tweet away. We come into more contact with sin than we ever imagined possible.

We don’t understand it all that well. We think we’ve got the important stuff in life figured out, but we don’t realize just how vulnerable it is. We don’t realize how it takes over us and turns us into factories to produce more and more of it, hurting more and more people.

Sin and the flu can be pretty similar…

Sin takes over people. Just like the flu!

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.” (John 8:34)

Sin has a way of sneaking in and becoming our master. Jesus said that we can only have one master! So Paul warned us, “Give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:27) I like the NIV Better “Don’t give the devil a foothold.” The old church sign says, “Give him an inch and he’ll be your ruler!”

Sin spreads in influence. It replicates and replicates and replicates…

“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)

“Avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene!” (2 Timothy 2:16-18)

Sin makes us sick. We might not have a fever and aches and pains, but it keeps us from thinking, feeling, and living the way we want to.

Romans 1:21-22 “…they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.”

Scripture says that sin can actually break our thinking!

Jeremiah 2:5 records this question from God to his people: “What wrong did your fathers find in me, that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness and became worthless?” Of course the answer is—there was no fault to be found in God. There was fault in the finder!

1 Timothy 4:1-2 “The Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared….”

Sin kills.

“Desire, when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death.” (James 1:15)

That’s not a baby you want to welcome into the world!

“The soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4)

What was the devil’s first lie? You will not surely die!

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36)

“For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)

This is where the similarities end, though…

The flu kills a small percentage of its victims. Sin kills all.

The flu comes from outside. But Jesus says that sin comes from within (Mark 7:21-23).

But the good news is—we actually have a cure for the sin problem. The best we can do with the flu is try to prevent it and manage the symptoms. But with sin, there’s a cure: “Where sin increased, GRACE ABOUNDED ALL THE MORE, so that as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21)

What would you add?