On Saturdays, I’m writing my thoughts that have rambled in my brain since hearing the sermon at my church. Today’s entry was inspired by Craig Pierce’s sermon given at Irving Bible Church as we’re continuing in Mark. This sermon is titled “Greatest Commandment.”
I grew up in a Christian tribe that I would later learn was “liberal.” From infancy to age 13, my church was known to get involved in some social stuff in their neighborhood with clothing & food drives and such but that wasn’t why. Nope. The running joke was a condescending play on their denomination by those who were generally more “conservative”: Whiskey-palians.
See, the tradition of my youth didn’t seem to have codes about the use of alcohol. I remember my grandfather having cocktails with the adults before our dinner get-togethers. He had a stocked bar in the add-on room to facilitate that very behavior for get-togethers and work functions he’d host on occasion. My family had a shared cabin on the Warrior River and beer was common about the time the grill fired up until the embers died out. And if there was a church function like a picnic or a softball game or even the occasional covered-dish dinners, it wasn’t out of the ordinary to see beer & wine on the tables. Not sure I every saw whiskey, though. Oh, and the very real wine during communion, too. Out of a silver common cup. Maybe the more accurate condescending term would’ve been Beer-and-Wine-apalians.
So, my foray back into Christian circles in the Deep South came encumbered with a set of codes and stigmas I’d never faced before. The subculture of evangelicals in my hometown was laced with a lot of rules that I’d never heard but was pretty clearly communicated that “believers” weren’t involved in certain things.
Even though I was 17, R-rated movies were out.
Nobody bothered to find out why my punk/metal music was truly so important to me, but there was even a record-burning for the youth to get rid of any punk/metal that was a stumbling block to me or those watching me.
Granted, at that time there were only about 15 channels and nobody seemed to mind that I was O.D.-ing on the new ESPN channel, but you’d best not watch that new MTV channel. Madonna, Cyndi and Ozzy seemed to be responsible for a lot of societal decline.
I was dating a smart & pretty girl. I got a lot of advice on precisely where my hands should never go and apparently I was supposed to have a stopwatch or alarm set on the length of time it took from kissing to go from part of the relationship to unhealthy. Side hugs = good.
Dancing? Leave space between you for the Holy Spirit was actually a cliche even when I was in high school.
Oh, and beer, wine or liquor? Abstinence ruled (even if you were over the legal drinking age of 19). Much like hugging too long.
These things were very clearly communicated.
The fact that I was eaten up with anger? Didn’t seem to come up and no one ever asked.
The fact that I was envious of the “a-list” popular kids as my high school? I don’t remember any comments about that one way or another.
The fact that I was all kinds of bitter and hostile toward some people? Again, silence.
The fact that there is a very thin line between eating like a teenage guy and being a glutton? Meh.
The fact that they were crystal clear in that sex outside of marriage was verboten to the degree that they’d literally drawn lines on a chart that began with hand-holding and actually had the words “heavy petting” on it on where we should stop?
It all came to a head my sophomore year in university when the guy that had assumed the unenviable task of discipling me was drilling grace as a lifestyle into my head. He kept pointing to Scripture and telling me to let that define what was a sin and what was some sort of code. It was one question that changed it all, too. I remember the moment clearly: At McDonald’s on Magnolia Avenue at our Tuesday lunch, he was confronting me on two things that had come up in our accountability chat…drunkenness and anger. On the drunkenness thing, keep in mind that sophomore literally means foolish. I had a good bit of stupid-head at that time. The anger thing I came by a bit more honestly…Dad dying when I was 13 and all.
Anyway, he kept asking me about repentance and I kept talking about behavioral stop-gaps, like only carrying a certain amount of cash or being the designated driver or even counting to 10. His question was, “Why do you keep wanting to manage sin instead of eliminating it?”
Then he talked about freedom in Christ and a tremendous amount of Scripture followed about being an overcomer and living in freedom and the abundant life and we spent a lot of time in Galatians 5. But what was cool was that he kept letting Scripture define what sin was, separated that from codes/rules, and taking sin seriously. So when Craig said this in his sermon, it resonated deeply with me:
To the degree that we diminish the reality and the gravity of sin in our lives, we diminish the power and the beauty of Jesus’ death on the cross for us…when we minimize the gravity of our sin, we diminish His sacrifice…may we always be a church that doesn’t shy away from recognizing sin for what it is…but there’s a caveat because Jesus also said, ‘Hey, by the way, don’t start messing with that little splinter of sin in your neighbor’s eye until we get the plank out of our own eye.’…He called sin ‘sin’ and then He went to the cross and paid for it. Everything Jesus did was out of His love for His Father and His love for people.
What if we woke up every day and made that our agenda? Today I’m going to focus on loving God, and loving people. That my mission statement from now on is going to be just that. That as I go into meetings, as I interact with my family, my co-workers, my clients, the grocery clerk. As I make every decision, I’m going to ask this question: ‘What does love require of me in this situation? What does love look like in this situation?’
Because he’s right, you know. Charles and I were reading a LOT of Francis Schaeffer at the time and he used a phrase repeatedly to remind us that we need to take sin seriously and personally, but let love rule in the rest of life. It went something like, “We need to speak boldly and with authority to those areas Scripture speaks boldly and with authority to, and where the Bible is silent, we should be silent.”
The problems come when we define sin by our codes and rules rather than letting Scripture do that. And you’d be surprised at what Scripture doesn’t speak to…you know. Like music, movies, TV, cigarettes, coffee, liquor, et al. And those areas it does, like drunkenness, adultery, gluttony, outbursts of anger, etc., we should speak boldly to it and let Scripture speak boldly to us in those moments (not, as Craig said, to let us become spiritual ophthalmologists and get planks out of the eyes of others). We should take it seriously and allow Christ to cut away those things as we renew our minds and transform and grow and live abundantly in freedom before a world that needs to see us do those very things.
And we should love our neighbors by being silent when Scripture is silent. Because if we ask those questions want us to ask, we’d be silent more often. Sure, there’s an element of action in Craig’s questions. But the watching world sure could use a lot more of us shutting our fat yappers, no? Because Scripture is clear that we need to know the gravity of our sin…
…and equally clear on us living the Law of Love, which is much more difficult than managing behavior.