I once preached in a small church in rural Missouri (pronounced Miz-zour-a). There was a time in my life when I traveled and preached quite a bit. So every service would be a different church in a different town or state. After a while you sort of learn to roll with the customs of each particular church. On this night I rolled in to realize that for starters I was way over dressed. This church was casual and not just casual, but country casual. I had left my Levi bootcut jeans at the store somehow. In those days my typical preacher attire was a suit and tie. Being nimble of mind, I quickly nixed the tie so that my top button open dress shirt might create unity with this Levi wearing crowd. How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity and all of that. I didn’t remove my jacket, I never remove my jacket once wearing one. That’s too high of a price to pay for unity to me for some reason. But I digress. Several of the men of the church welcomed me when I arrived and by welcome I mean stood around me trying to determine if I indeed was going to “bring the heat” at this service. One of the men, the older one, decided to provide some leadership for the questions and encouragement that was being offered to me. Evidently one eye was better than the other because when he would make a statement he would twist his head to put his “good eye” on me. At first, it was some statements about “take your liberty” or “do what you feel led tonight.” I’ve never stepped into a pulpit without knowing exactly what I intended to do. Not for sure if that’s considered liberty or not, but I assured him with as much Holy Ghost gusto that I could manage that I would indeed take my liberty. Not satisfied at all, he did the head turn and a little bit of a chin tuck so the good eye would really be prominent. I pause to say, at this point I realized that his admonishment to do what I felt led was really a hope that I would do what he felt led. Back to the good eye, now squinting with spiritual intensity. Looking up from the hypnotizing Holy Spirit stare he said, “tell us what we need to hear, you go ahead and skin our heads.” I was raised in this area of the country and speak the language, so I quickly translated this to understand that he was requesting some type of spiritual punishment at tonight’s service. With many words he admonished me, as the other two men supported him, to bring some type of spiritual spanking to the church. They were in the mood for some chastening on this Sunday evening. The request was odd, the excitement and fervor for it was really odd. I’m just not into that. I’m not judging you if you are. I’m just not into it. It got me thinking though and I have wondered about that mentality for a long time. The mentality that finds harsh words or heavy preaching to be enjoyable. Sort of a spiritual pleasure pain principle. Have you ever met someone who seemingly enjoyed feeling bad? For some it seems like it feels good to feel bad. The mentality seems to be “the worse I feel emotionally, the stronger I feel spiritually.” For those people or groups you can’t preach it hard enough. I’ve been in some church services and conference type meetings where a safe word probably should have been provided. Whether its guilt over behavioral issues, or despair over how dark the world is, it seems to make people feel godly to feel bad. I’m not against sorrow. The bible says that godly sorrow brings repentance. Of course, that same bible also says that it’s the goodness of God that leads people to repentance. We’ve all done some things we are sorry that we did. However, guilt never takes us anywhere. It’s the goodness of God that can lead us down a road where we are truly sorry and change our behavior. I’ve termed this phenomenon “Christian Guilt.” The idea that feeling bad, feeling guilty, feeling intense seems to put me on a higher spiritual plane. Happy people, hope filled people, optimistic people are spiritual novices. Intense, guilty, and doom filled people are the ones who appear to be the more spiritually “promiscuous” and experienced. We look to them from our innocence to introduce us to the pleasure world of Christian Guilt. There is actually good money to be made by making people feel bad. Many books have been sold and sermons preached on the premise of people should feel bad who have it too good, have too much money, or they are lazy and aren’t doing enough for God. I know what you are thinking. Actually, I don’t. This blog is filled with innuendo and I’m not for sure how that makes you feel. But, you should be thinking, “shouldn’t we be challenged or corrected?” That’s a great question and the answer is yes. We absolutely need to be disciplined and corrected in our spiritual lives. However, that discipline and correction should take us somewhere. Guilt, feeling bad, being intense all of the time never really produces any change. Something is wrong when you like to keep church spicy with spiritual discipline and enjoy either feeling or causing pain. Honest, life giving correction should lead us to 3 things:
1. Faith – The bible never denies the reality of negative circumstances. People have ungodly behavior that leads them into bondage. The world is full of very burdensome circumstances that try to take away your joy. It’s not spiritual growth to be angry and intense about the world and people of the world. It’s spiritual growth to have joy in spite of how dark the world is. Joy after all, and not intense anger, is a fruit of the Spirit. Jesus said, “in this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer I have overcome the world.” When talking about how dark people are, or how dark the world is, we should never stop until we have built people’s faith that Jesus has already overcome the world. You won’t get a cookie at the end of the age because of how dark and intense you were.
2. Grace – Here’s the deal. Guilt has never saved one person. Not one. No one has ever been guilted into salvation. On the other hand, all of us have been saved by grace. We don’t deny sin or the affects of sin. Sin is terrible. It separates us from God and all sin has consequences. We don’t deny the consequences of sin and even the sorrow it can bring. We also don’t leave people in guilt, we lead them to the grace of God. Guilt is an emotional prison, Grace is a never ending well.
3. Love – Love never fails. Prophecy will one day cease. Tongues will one day cease. Knowledge will vanish and be no more, but love will never fail. How bad will the world be? I really don’t know. How dark will the culture we live in be? I can’t answer that question either. I do know this though. Regardless of how bad the world is, and regardless of how dark our culture becomes, love will still never fail. Somewhere, in some tangible way, love will be prevailing. Abiding in all seasons will be faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love.
Perhaps you enjoy spiritual intensity. Perhaps the scripture of Jesus with a whip in the temple excites you. I’m not here to judge. Yes, we need to be corrected and yes, there are some things that are wrong in people and the world. However, we shouldn’t allow the world to rob us of our faith, hope, and love. There are a lot of different shades of church. Regardless of the shade, the world, people, you, me, we all need faith, hope, and love to grow in the grace of God. Let’s be life giving, and provide people with an atmosphere of grace to grow and change.