No More Conforming, Be Authentic

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Him (Christ) with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelivable.”  –Brennan Manning

Everytime I hear that quote, I shudder.  The thought that Christians, such as myself could be the greatest cause of atheism just breaks my heart.  That means that science, natural disasters, tragedy and other things we think cause people to turn from God are but a glimmer compared to the effect we have as Christians.  That’s not to say that people’s lives aren’t being changed and saved by the Holy Spirit as a result of us sharing with them and setting a Godly example, but there are many instances where we cause people to wander away from faith or just not consider faith at all.  When I sit back and think about how a statement like this could have an validity, I am brought to Romans 12:1-2, which says

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve of what God’s will is-His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

We are called to live a life of excellence, and the pattern we are called to follow is the one set for us by Christ, not the one(s) that our culture and society tell us we should follow.  Sometimes we fall into the thought that we have to fit into a certain mold to be a “real” or “good” Christian.  The world has created that thought, and we end up believing it if we aren’t careful.  Some of these molds are:

  • We have to go to church every Sunday
  • We have to wear the right clothes
  • We have to say the right words
  • We have to smile the whole time
  • We have to act like nothing is wrong

When I delivered this sermon, I came to church and made sure to do something that I don’t normally do.  That was to be dressed in a suit with a tie and slacks, keep in mind, my normal Sunday morning attire is jeans and either a polo shirt, or a button-up shirt, so you can imagine the comments that ensued.  Many compliments about my dress, and of course, several questions about a funeral.  Here is a picture of my pre-sermon getup.

I will admit, it was quite nice getting the compliments from my fellow church members.  I actually fit into the mold that our churches have expected the preacherman to be wearing up in the pulpit, as opposed to how I wanted to dress, which was in my blue jeans and polo.  Now, there is nothing wrong with dressing up nicely, especially to bring the Word of God, so please don’t take me as meaning that you should never dress up nice, I think it’s a matter of preference personally.  But I dressed up this way to be the visual aid part of my sermon, more on that a bit later.

Back to before…we weren’t created to fit into some kind of mold in order to be a Christian, but the world sure does want us to fit a mold.  So, we feel like we have to fit into it, but what were we created for?

We were created for worship, more specifically, we were created to worship God.  We were also created for fellowship, to share the love of Christ with those around us all the time, not just occasionally on Sundays.  In the passage prior to Romans 12:1-2, we are given a look into what Paul was writing to the Roman church about.  I will give you a quick Philliphrase version of that passage.

  • God is all-knowing!
  • God is beyond our comprehension!
  • None of us know His thoughts!
  • He doesn’t owe us anything!
  • He created all, He gives all, and we owe Him all of our love, passion and commitment!

How does this fit into our lives?  Knowing what the passage says about God, we are urged to give Him everything.  Our lives are to be spent, presented, offered, and freely given completely to God for His use and glory.  By doing this, we are living a lifestyle of worship.  In this passage in Romans, the end goal is to know the good, pleasing and perfect will of God.  In order to do this, we have to do a few things.

First of all, we have to have that relationship with the Father.  Meaning, we have to acknowledge we are sinners and that Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave as a sacrifice for those sins.  After that, and let’s work backwards from what our end goal is, and examine what Paul described we have to do.

We need to experience a renewal of mind.  What does renewal mean?  Well, according to Google, to renew means:

  1. Resume (an activity) after an interruption
  2. Reestablish (a relationship)

Why do we need a renewal of our minds?  Just like we need a vacation sometimes to refresh our bodies and restart, our minds need a renewal from the old thoughts and focus we have before we experience Christ.  We can’t earn our way to Heaven, but our thought process before we know Christ is that the nicer we are to people or the more money we give to charitable causes.  This mindset is contrary to what scripture teaches, more specifically what Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us.  In a time where our culture feels as though not believing in God and believing in science means we are living in an age of reason, a renewal of mind sometimes seems unfathomable because of the social repercussions.  When the Holy Spirit beckons us, and we respond, our minds become renewed by faith.  By trying to figure out God with worldly reason, we completely avoid the aspect of the faith we are saved by, and called to live by.  When we try to live without faith, we begin to conform to the world around us.  Instead of conforming, we are to be transformed.  Which brings us to our next topic, transformation.

According to Google, to transform means-

  1. Make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.

When Paul writes the word transformed, he is referring to how our lives are to be changed to be completely different than before.  In order to do this, we have to fight the innate and selfish nature we are born with, and instead rely on the renewal of mind that we have upon receiving salvation.  The transformation comes when we recognize who God is, and give up all of the control we desire to have over our lives.  When we make the thorough and dramatic change in the form, appearance and character of our heart and soul, we have transformed from being selfish and ungrateful.  When that change comes, our new attributes are appreciative and redeemed.  Think about what Optimus Prime looked like before he would transform into a superhero robot.  Before we can call ourselves transformed, we have to look and live differently than we did before salvation comes.  This transformation is made possible only because God loves us, and He has given us the opportunity to be renewed and transformed.  In order for us to be transformed and renewed, we cannot conform any longer to what the world says is acceptable.

In order to know how not to conform, we should first understand what the word conform means.

  1. Comply with rules, standards, or laws.
  2. (of a person) Behave according to socially acceptable conventions or standards: “the pressure to conform”

When we are living and striving not to conform, we strive to live against how the world lives.  This can be anything from what we watch on TV, what we listen to on the radio, how we speak, treat others, and the list goes on and on.  Sometimes when we are striving the live a life that isn’t conformed, the world labels and categorizes Christians in ways that are sometimes fair, sometimes not.  Some of these categories are that we are all judgmental, we are all fake, or we are all hypocrites.  When we get put into one of these categories, we have a choice in the way we respond.  We can either be completely offended and fight back in a way that doesn’t represent Christ, or we can do as I’ve had to learn the hard way to do, and sit back and examine how I am perceived and why.  Some questions I have found useful are:

  • Do I exemplify Christ by the way I treat people?
  • Does my attitude reflect the love of Christ, or does it tear people down?
  • Do I act one way at church on Sunday and Wednesday, and when I’m not at church, do I act a different way?
  • Do I worry about the speck of sawdust more than I worry about my plank?

In the sermon on the mount, Christ taught the attitudes we ought to have to live a life that exudes that we are his followers.  Meekness, gentleness, compassion, mercifulness, peacemaking, and righteousness are all some of those characteristics.  Do we live these everyday?  Or do we just act like we have it all together and continue on with our lives, unchanged?  When we act like we have it all together, we have a tendency to put on a front, or a cover that looks great.  Underneath it, we can be so tumultuous, confused, and disgruntled we can lose our focus on Christ.  When this happens, we keep the front up and begin to conform to what is expected of us, and we forget what the transformation and renewal of mind felt like when we experienced Christ.  This can lead to the pressures of our society taking over, and we begin to marginalize things that would never have been an issue before, and our life becomes an unauthentic mess.  God knows what’s beneath that cover, He sees the mess that is covered by that shell of smiles.  We can’t hide our ragged insides from God, and it won’t be long before other people start noticing something is wrong with us, and then we hide.  Are we transparent, or are we hiding behind something fake?

When I got all the compliments yesterday morning about my suit, it drove home the point to me that even though I was dressed nice and looked very confident, I was still scared to death about preaching.  But, the best part about the suit was that it was just a facade.  My intention with wearing the suit was to cover up what was underneath.

Now, I know I’m cheesing in this picture, that was mostly because I had the intention of sending this picture to my mom to get a reaction from her.  The suit jacket covered up my cut up, sleeveless shirt and tattoo that became exposed when I took my jacket off.  How many times do we cover up our mess with something fake so people won’t think badly of us?  When we do this, we tend to act in ways that we wouldn’t if we were being authentic.  When we have turmoil in our lives, we have to look to Christ for that comfort and for that guidance through the murk and hopelessness that can come up when we are fighting spiritual warfare.  My encouragement to you and to myself, is to shed the desire to throw up that front and try to do everything on our own, and instead come to our family of believers for support and give everything to God.  I’ll leave you with this passage as an encouragement and reminder about what we’re supposed to be when we give it all to Christ.

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”            2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Part 1 of the 3 Deadly C’s of Today’s Church

It has been a bit of time since I’ve updated the blog, seems everytime I get it updated and get ready to post again, life gets itself into a huge busy mess and the blog takes a backseat to the aforementioned life.  So, naturally, since it’s been over a month, there is a lot to update and share.  This is the start of a 3 part series that will have my point of view about conformity, compassion and the corporate mindset of the modern church.  So sit down and buckle in as I spend some time with some things that have been on my heart for a good while.

The first issue I would like to discuss is about conformity.  Everywhere we look in our modern day culture we see the effects of conformity.  From federal laws to entertainment, from school policies to church structure and operation.  Throughout scripture, we are given the example of how to live, how to love, and how to fellowship as a body of believers.  So many times people in our country want to tell the church how to exist, what to say, and what is ok to preach.  The sad thing is, that many churches are falling into the mindset that the only way to get people in the door is to fall in line and just make everyone happy by preaching and teaching what I call “fluffy bunnies and butterfly theology.”  We conform to the point of telling people that Hell is a figurative place, and that a loving God would never send people to a place of screaming, fire, and pure misery.  Well, they are partially right about that, as it’s been said before, God doesn’t send people to Hell, people send people to Hell.  You may be asking what on earth am I talking about.  God created us to worship and glorify Him, but we were also given free will to choose how we will live our lives.  When we choose sin, as Adam and Eve did in the garden, we choose a punishment of death.  Hell is a very real place, people who think that it is not are misleading and misinforming.  It is an unsettling and unfortunate trend to see how many churches are turning toward that mindset.  The only way to avoid this punishment is to believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Christ is Lord and that He was raised from the dead.  Period.  No exceptions.  You can’t be good enough as Jehova’s Witnesses and Mormon’s would have you believe, you can’t have salvation because you were baptized as a baby, and salvation doesn’t come just because you were baptized.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift, of God-not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9, these verses spell it out exactly.  When churches won’t even speak the name of Jesus, but instead want to preach about how coming to church and singing songs and having a dandy time are what saves you, we have conformed.  These are the churches who experience exponential growth in short periods.  Joel Osteen is an example of a pastor at a church who has said that Christ is not the only way to Heaven, and in his sermons has said that if you are a christian, you were not meant to live a hard life.  This is what we call the gospel of prosperity, and he has a following of about 6000 members in his church as well as several book deals and televised services each week.  Now, if his ministry was founded on Christ being the only way to heaven, do you think he would be as successful as he is now?  I believe that he would not, and let me explain why I feel this way.  The gospel of Christ will turn some away.  Paul writes about this in 1 Corinthians 1:18-19, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.'”

The thing that these ministries overlook is a pretty big thing; the teachings of Christ.  They like to point out that Christ was compassionate, but they overlook the fact that Christ also kept those who followed Him and believed in Him accountable.  Accountability is something that I see a huge lack of in many of today’s mega-churches.  These churches a lot of times will have small groups that meet throughout the week, but I see the facebook status updates and pictures of those people who were at their small groups on Tuesday, out bar hoppin’ on Thursday and Saturday nights.  Now, before you all start saying “Phillip, are you casting stones?,” let me say that I have no right to judge, but I do have a responsibility to hold those who claim to be believers accountable as Christ did, and I expect no different from those who are believers to hold me accountable when they see me living contrary to the Gospel I proclaim.  The conformity we see now is that of our culture’s norms.  We are urged by Paul, as was the Roman church, to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.  This means to die for the glory of God every day, everywhere, and in everything.  The next part of that verse is to consider that Paul says not to be conformed to the patterns of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  What does it mean to be transformed by the renewing of our minds?  We are born with a sin nature, anyone who has kids can tell you that we are born sinful.  Our minds are not focused on what God has for us and we are not trained to look for His guidance in our lives from the time we are born.  We have to be shown, or led to the knowledge of who Christ is, and only when we give ourselves to Him and choose to believe and know that He died for our sins. Once that happens, our minds can be renewed, and then and only then we can discern what His good, pleasing, and perfect will is for our lives.  So, in summation, when we have true salvation in Christ, we will not conform to what our culture says is ok, we will choose to look to the cross for our guidance and wisdom instead of that which comes from our peers.

I know this is a potentially controversial topic in many areas, but the fact of the matter is that it shouldn’t be.  Scripture is very clear about how we are to live our lives, when we decide we don’t like what scripture says, or that we want to pick and choose scripture that meets our needs for each different situation, we are putting God in a box and trying to make Him our pet.  God is God, He is all-powerful, almighty, and we will have no idea what His plans are for our lives unless we seek Him continually and wholeheartedly.

I will be releasing the last two segments of this series within the next week to two weeks, and be sure to be reading because there will be a CD giveaway contained in one of the posts.  Thanks, and God Bless!

Phillip