Thursday, March 03, 2005

Why I Try Not to Use the Word "Sin"

Not too long ago a new person at Cedarbrook wrote to us and said they probably weren't going to return often to Cedarbrook because they noticed that I purposefully used the word "mistakes" instead of the word "sin" in my sermon. I guess they saw that as a moral and theological compromise on my part. So, let me explain.

I often use synonyms or descriptive phrases for "sin" when I speak- for a very definite reason - the word "sin" carries all kinds of double meanings and baggage. I purposefully don't use it because I don't want someone assuming I mean "x" when I really mean "y". ( I do the same for other words like "Christian", "saved", sanctified, etc.)

For example, to many unchurched people (many whom attend Cedarbrook), "sin" implys that they are evil and therefore God doesn't like them. Sin is thought of in terms of "big" things like murder or adultery, etc. and not in terms of more hidden issues like greed or anger or envy.

Biblically, "sin" is falling short of God's glory - or perfection. That being true, every thing that I do is sin because I don't do anything perfectly. My understanding of sin is not exclusive (pointing the finger at bad people) but inclusive - meaning that I'm fully aware that we are all in the same boat and therefore need to work together to cling to Jesus for salvation.

If everyone understood sin like I do, I'd always use the word sin. But few do. Using the word "sin" brings more confusion and reinforces bad theology. So I rarely use it unless I've defined the word in context.

One thing very different about Cedarbrook, compared to other churches, is that we tailor everything (as much as possible) to be understood by unchurched, bibilically ignorant people. We don't "dumb things down" intellectually but we do try to use terms that everyone understands and can relate to. For some well churched people, it takes time getting used to this because they are more comfortable with a well established Christian vocabulary. But I'm very committed to speaking in a language that people can understand so they are drawn to God and do not prematurely reject him simply because they misunderstood a term used.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Offense of Grace

I'm continually amazed by grace. It's so complex and it's impact on people is astounding...not always in a good way.

Grace is troubling. It's not always what we want it to be. For the "sinner" grace doesn't lower the bar of God's standard. It doesn't let people off the hook or wink at their sin. Jesus still says, "Be holy for I am holy". That's hard for the "sinner" because they are ashamed of their failure and can't find the strength to obey. They hope that grace will simply forgive and forget.

For the "religious" grace is also hard. It's hard to hear that you and the sinner are seen by God as the same - that your works don't earn you any credit. It's hard to hear that the motives of everyone's heart are wicked and deceitful regardless of how we act. They like to think that they are better than "those people". They want to know that grace has been offered to them because they did something special in God's eyes.

Grace doesn't always make us warm and fuzzy. Sometimes it makes us bitter because we thought it was something that it's not.

But seen through the right lense grace forgives the "sinner" and empowers them to change. Grace gives them the second and third chance (and even more) than they really deserve to be given. And grace offers to them the power of God's Spirit to help them to do things that they never thought they were capable of doing. Rather than merely covering their sin, grace strengthens them to conquer sin. And even if they never achieve the ideal, they know that God accepts them based on Jesus' work on the cross, not their work on earth.

And for the religious, grace can melt their hard heart. It can give them insight into the hidden motives that they are too quick to ignore. Grace helps them to see that rather than being a "cut above" the rest that they share most things in common. Suddenly they are able to talk to the broken, the divorced, the abused, the homosexual, etc. because they see that they too are broken. They don't have it all together either and thankfully Jesus accepts them apart from their good works.

Whether you see yourself more as the "sinner" or the "religious" I hope you can push through the offense of grace and allow it to transform you into the person that God made you to be.

Stories of Those Struggling with Homosexuality

I've read a number of excellent articles for my recent message that I thought you might enjoy reading yourself. Here are some links:

Some of these articles also offer links to ministries that help Christians with their same sex attraction.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Speaking Truth or Opinion?

I've changed the way I preach. I often qualify what I speak by saying something like, "That's what I believe, now you have to ask God if it's true" or "You can believe what you want. Aren't you glad you don't have to answer to me?" Some people may think that that takes away from the power of preaching but I think it's a much more honest approach.

I grew up as a Christian listening to preachers that were convinced that every word they spoke was sent from heaven. Their passion and strong conviction impressed me. I believed everything they said and wanted to be just like them. But as years went by and I grew in my relationship to God I started to question my mentors. Some of the things they said were just plain wrong. I'm sure they thought they were right at the time but now with new information and new experiences under my belt, I could see that they were misguided.

Those experiences have made me cautious in both how I listen and how I speak. It's made me slow to buy everything I hear and temper my desire to proclaim "the truth". Not that I don't believe what I say is true, but I have to understand that I'm fallible. I hear things through my own filters and dysfunction. I do my best to check my thoughts against what other people have said but when it comes right down to it, only God knows the truth.

Now, there are some things that I'm rock solid about - the basics of the faith - Jesus coming and dying for our sins, etc. I'm talking more about how we apply our beliefs to daily life or maybe those debatable passages in scripture or doctrines of the church.

Occassionally someone will come up to me after I speak and say, "You really nailed that!" "That was exactly right!" I don't know how to respond because they may only be saying that they see life through the same filters that I do. Or then again, maybe I did get it exactly right!

My point in all of this is that in both speaking and listening we have to be humble. As much as it feeds our ego, we can't always be confident that we are proclaiming or hearing truth. We need to welcome the Spirit of God into our lives to show us what is true... it may take years for some things to click. Only then will we know if what was proclaimed was true or false.