There are things we hear in the pulpit that sound uber-deeply complex, but like a time travel movie, the more we think about it, the more likely our heads will explode from sheer absurdity. Here are some incomplete half-truths we hear in church that need more nuance. Let’s be thoughtful.
1) “Happiness is only temporary fleeting emotion, but real joy is only found in God.”
I totally get this one, but I mean come on: no one is really jumping on the I-Hate-Happiness parade. We nod along with this “Joy Vs. Happiness” thing because it’s such a heavy theological thought that makes us feel smart, but a pint of Haagen Dazs vanilla bean ice cream makes us all dumb happy people.
When you finally beat a video game or ace the test or finish a book or get fricking married, don’t yank those feelings out back and shoot them. Truly happy moments are sporadic and rare — why resist them? Feel the feels, bro. That’s being human.
While a whole life based on happiness is not a great idea, that doesn’t mean we can’t have human moments and let happy emotions rush through us. I’ve never heard of a guy respond reasonably when he won the lottery, and I’d say that’s an appropriate time to go insanely buck wild and flip a table or three. No one really controls the happy-meter, so when it redlines, let it redline.
The Bible describes happiness just as much as joy. Joy is what we shoot for, and no, happiness is not a good motive or fuel or measure, but if you’re blessed to get a happy moment, eat it up.
2) ”Church isn’t just a place to fill up your spiritual gas tank for the week.”
If every Reformed Neo-Calvinist had his way, he’d make sure you exit church feeling the absolute holy holiness of our Great and Powerful God and the weight of your disgusting diseased deplorable total depravity. We get it, Reformed guys: you want to appear doctrinally sound in front of your Doctrine Police buddies so they give you the Non-Heresy Thumbs Up. Or maybe you’re just afraid of their blogging power and you want to be included in the ghetto subculture of Reformed nerd-dom.
Church should NOT be solely a place where we get inspired or positive feelings or psychological thought-rearrangement, but there is nothing bad about feeling good in church.
Most pastors who never work with broken people don’t understand the hectic deadlines of monthly bills, the day-to-day stress of raising children and job-drama and crazy families, the temptation to old addictions, the harshness of non-Christian (and religiously pious) friends, and the stark reality of unanswered prayers. They’re just out of touch, wanting to please the fake invisible Reformed Demigod of Am-I-Right Theology. I love you, Reformed brothers, but please stop.
Sundays should leave you feeling free, recharged and ready to go, recomposed for daily challenges, re-energized for your spiritual walk. Sundays shouldn’t be spiritual compensation for our active disobedience, but it also shouldn’t be a dreary time of regret and remorse. We come to God for both who He is and what He does in us: and part of that is approaching the Infinite Well of His strength. Those who really encounter Jesus will not only have their tank filled, but a whole transplant of the soul.
3) “If you don’t talk about Jesus, it just shows you’re ashamed of him.”
I’ve never heard a level-headed sermon on evangelism. It’s always a verbal beatdown of our spiritual incompetence and more shrill than cat claws on a chalkboard. It also gives birth to wild evangelism techniques like the Cube and the Colors and Closing The Sale. The pastor doesn’t do these either.
For once I’d like to hear, “I know how hard it is to talk about Jesus. It’s the most awkward conversation you’ll ever have. If you even say the whole Gospel out loud right now, it sounds like the craziest thing you’ve ever heard. But the Gospel isn’t some ‘speech’ you unload on people and then ‘leave it in God’s hands.’ Blasting people with theology is like serving icing for dessert. Evangelism is your whole life, it’s sharing your home, it’s enduring patiently, it’s being a human being, it’s availability, it’s sharing Jesus through who you are; not perfectly, but passionately. Yes, invite them to church and to that revival and talk about your faith and your testimony, but once you dare to go there, just know you might be rejected immediately, a lot, and aggressively. Except secretly they can’t deny there must be something to it, because you’re not just a billboard: you’re an overflow of a barely containable supernatural miracle.”
4) “The more you date and break up, the more you give away your soul / you’re practicing for divorce.”
Yep, so screw all those people who have a traumatic past of dating because they’re obviously evil serial daters and life is black-and-white and there’s no hope for people who have given away pieces of their purity. Just line up all your ex’s in a room and look at how dirty you are. Jesus can restore broken people to a brand new life, except if you dated some loser who played your innocence and stole your childhood when you didn’t know any better since Freud says that’s subconsciously all your fault. Sorry, Jesus saves — his salvation-juice for only the good people. /end of snarky sarcasm/.
5) “God doesn’t hear your prayers if you’re sinning behind his back.”
This one has biblical grounding but is widely abused to mean: “If you’re not doing exactly what God says, don’t even bother asking Him anything.” To some extent, this is biblically true for a completely non-repentant, conscience-less, sociopathic criminal. But people are generally not one-dimensional cartoons with absolute motives, and most of us struggle sincerely with striving.
Logically, this “Ask Only If” doesn’t even make sense. We can’t begin to do what God says unless we ask Him for a completely renewed heart to follow Him; we need His merciful grace to approach Him at all. And God is gracious to hear your contrite prayers even if you spent your whole life wallowing in self-seeking paganism; that’s a little biblical thing we call repentance.
Don’t let an insensitive pastor shut down your prayer life. Don’t feel like you need to be 100% clean with pure-white motives to approach God. None of us are there. Our best days are ivory; our worst days are stained with distractions and a divided heart. But God is absolutely ready to hear you. He draws near the brokenhearted; He hears your heart’s cry (Psalm 34:18, Exodus 3:7). He will answer the best He knows how, which is always for the best.
6) “Don’t become the next headline in the news.”
I understand the heart in this one because I’ve used it before. It means: You’re part of a story right now, so step wisely. It’s true. It only becomes a prejudiced threat when you’re really saying: Don’t be like those other people.
Using others as a Cautionary Horror Story is a very shallow technique of warning others without pointing in the right direction. The truth is: many people in our churches are already living through the consequences that we’re being warned against. It’s like throwing sand to the thirsty or describing the water you’re drowning in. It does nothing but lower heads in guilt, confusion, and self-condemnation.
It also causes judgmental division and hyper-religiosity when people can brag, “I’m not like that guy, thank God.” This goes on a crash-course with the very grain of the Gospel, and if you need any more proof of God’s grace, look at His Son. Jesus went to the poor and the aristocrats, the demon-possessed and synagogue leaders, government officials and Samaritans, the blind and beggars, the barely living and the already dead. He loved Pharisees enough to bring the hard rebuke. In Jesus there was no one beyond hope, because grace is always the size of God. His vision far surpasses ours: He loves you past your past. Let’s ask for God to chisel that sort of heart in us too.
Originally posted here on my Tumblr.