Shaping Our Souls: On Contagious Christianity, Parenting, Smut Novels, and the Importance of the Church

Who are we going to strive to be like?

This is a question we should all ask. Whether we consciously ask it or not, the life we experience is shaped by our answer to this question.

Oh, we could be arrogant and say that we are just going to be ourselves. But it is foolish to think that we are even capable of such of an act. (See Tony Campolo's You Are An Onion for an example).

I recently went to a church conference and sat through some workshops on preaching. One of the things that the experts noted, particularly Andy Stanley, was that when they listen to a younger preacher, they can tell who the preacher listens to regularly because he will often follow the same rhythms and preaching style of that preacher. A young preacher subconsioucly mimics the preacher he listens to.

You can see the same thing with a young athlete. Same poses and mannerisms are adopted.

We do the same in life. We mimic that which we surround ourselves with.

We become what we see around us unless we consciously understand that what we see around us isn't what we should be like and deliberately fight to be something better.

This is why prayer, church involvement, and Bible study is so important. They are ancient practices that still work today. Through them, we surround ourselves with the things that we should be.

It is inevitable that we will change. Culture is pulling at us. Friends are pulling at us. Family. Neighbors. Traditions. Everything is trying to shape us. Not every change will make us better, yet change is necessary for life to become better. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn says, "Life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change." He is right in pointing out that life will only get better through change, yet we also know that life can get worse through change.

Back to opening question. Who are we going to strive to be like? What are we going to change into?

We have to make a deliberate decision and a concerted effort to change into Jesus if we claim to be His followers.

Or we can just let society morph us into what it wants. Because it gladly will.

Jesus or society?

This is one reason why good parenting among Christians is so important. There are many forces in our society attempting to change our children. We, parents, are given the responsibility to help keep our children steered in the right direction. Just like us, our children will stumble and make mistakes; we just have to be there to help guide them back toward Jesus. So many things are tugging at their souls to control them, and they haven't quite learned the defense mechanisms against the sinful pleasures and apathy of this world. To be honest, we, adults, still struggle with defending our souls against the alluring things of this world. Again, this is why church involvement, prayer, and Bible study are so important. We are called to maturity in Christ.

A kid will see a weak faith in their parents and discard the faith altogether. Faking the faith doesn't work for kids. If we want our children to be strong in the Lord, then we need to be strong in the Lord. This includes loving the unlovable. This includes being part of a church. This includes spending time talking about the things of God in our houses. Kids, as they age into and through their teen years, aren't going to fake anything. So if we're faking Christianity, it's not going to stick with them.

This doesn't just apply to parents raising their kids. What we focus on, allowing it to change us, is contagious. Our focus will influence our children, our neighbors, and our co-workers. Who we are inevitably influences those around us. Humans are naturally contagious. The focus that we give lip service to isn't inevitably contagious; it's the focus that we actually center our lives around that those around us will catch.

Someone in a group of people will start liking smut novels, and they will pass them around. Trying to influence others to enjoy the things they enjoy.

Someone in a group will start serving others, and they will then try to get those around them to join in. Sadly, it's easier to get people to like smut novels than it is to get people to join in on serving others.

Someone in a group will start doing a drug, and they will try to convince their friends to join in. This is the way addictions are spread.

Someone will find a new favorite author, television show, or movie and try to get others to enjoy it with them. Yet they find a Savior and want to keep it a secret.

When someone really falls in love with Jesus -- not just faking it -- they will try to get those around them to join in. Unfortunately, following Jesus is often a charade rather than the lifechanging, soul inspiring journey that it should be, and people are more often willing to convince others of a drug they enjoy rather than the love of Jesus they claim yet fail to know.

So let's recognize that we're going to change. The question is whether we are going to deliberately change into who God wants us to be or whether we are going to just let circumstances and our surrounding culture to morph us into what they wants us to be.

Are we committed to Jesus and church? Modern society likes to separate those commitments, but the Apostle Paul didn't separate them. We also would be well served not to. Jesus gave gifts to the church because we were made to live in community with each other. Our brothers and sisters in Jesus will help us change into Him if we are humble enough to allow that. Being part of the body of believers -- more than just attending a worship gathering -- is how those who are committed to Jesus help others change into Jesus.

Paul says that Jesus should be who we strive to be like and that he has equipped people in the church to help us do just that.
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NLT)
Being part of the body of Jesus is essential to being in Jesus. It's essential if we want to strive to be like him. Let us stop trying to follow Jesus without regularly gathering with other believers. Let us continue or begin to be intentional about studying, praying, worshiping, and serving together. We were made to be a body, with one head, growing together.

Redemption and a Rubik's Cube

This post was not written by me. It's written by a friend who would like to remain anonymous.

While we were at the conference I got to witness one of the most incredible acts of redemption first hand.

As a church we teamed up with another local church and one of the kids from their youth group desperately needed a win in life. He had been going through some major issues, and my guess is that outside of the youth group kids he didn’t have a lot of friends. I think it’s very safe to assume that in most settings he was a social outcast.

Well on Tuesday night the conference hosts what a talent show where kids get to show case what they do best for three minutes. There were some incredible acts. Between Taylor Swift-esque talent, humor, and poems the talent of those kids was incredible. Then there was the boy. He signed up to be a  part of the talent show and, if I’m honest, I thought, "Dude…don’t do that to yourself. All the eyes are on you, you shouldn’t set yourself up for failure."

His talent was the Rubik’s cube. He was a master; no one questioned that. The fact that he could complete the thing was impressive enough, but he could do it with ease. For the talent show, he wanted to do it blind folded.

I asked him, "How will you know how the colors line up?"

He said, “I just memorize the pattern."

I didn’t see how he could succeed.

He was the second act. The host messed up the Rubik’s cube, and the boy sat off stage studying it, tapping it, and staring at it.

It was his turn. He put the bag over his head, and then put his hands behind his back.

"No way!" people shouted.

It would have easily been the most impressive act of the night.

The audience watched in silence as his hands tapped and twisted.  The video camera zoomed in on his hands as he worked on it.

Time counted down, and he failed. The host even gave him extra time, yet he still failed. We tried to comfort him with our applause, but you could see the defeat in his body language.

After the talent contest was over, we walked back to our dorm together. I asked him, "How are you doing?"

He said, "Not good. I feel like that was my one chance and I failed."

It was one of those moments in a kids life that could have been a huge confidence boost to a kid who needed it. Yet he failed.

Fast forward to the last night of the conference. The director was on stage at the beginning of the night and said, “I feel like we need to set something right tonight. I feel like we were close to seeing something amazing and just missed it. Is the Rubik’s cube kid here?”

He was.

“Do you have the Rubik’s cube with you?”

He did.

“Of course you do. Come on up here. We want to give you a second chance.”

The director interviewed the boy and asked him what he needed to make it happen. The boy said, "Compete silence." The director and the audience obliged. But it got really awkward. The director asked the boy if he was close; he wasn’t. It got really awkward on stage. So the director transitioned to offering, and the boy just sat there studying the Rubik’s cube. After offering, the director asked the boy if he needed more time. He did, so the boy went next to the drums, center stage and sat cross-legged. He tapped; he studied; he tried to memorize the Rubik’s cube. Meanwhile the show must go on, and the director interviewed the main speaker for the night while the boy sat cross-legged next to the drums behind them. Tapping. Studying.

The moment of truth came up. The boy stood, turned around, put the blind fold over his head, and placed his hands behind his back. The video camera zoomed in on his hands holding the Rubik’s cube. On the big screen for everyone to see.

You could have heard a pin drop as we watched. 900 people completely silent. Everyone pulling for this kid. And he nailed it! In forty seconds, the boy completed the Rubik’s cube blind folded and behind his back. The audience erupted. Standing ovation. Clapping. Cheering. Whistling. High fives. We celebrated his success. We even gave him a slow clap. He became an instant celebrity.

He got high fives on his way back to his seat. He was given a second chance, and was redeemed.

That’s what the church is supposed to be as we work with Christ to redeem those who desperately need second chances in life.  

4 Truths The Church Should Be Teaching About Sex

Recently, Relevant Magazine published an article by Lily Dunn entitled 4 Lies The Church Taught Me About Sex. I read it and felt sorry that she had grown up in an environment that taught those things. It got me thinking about what a church should be teaching about sex. 

Evangelicals, like myself, should be able to teach about sex unabashedly. But it is scary too. I preached a sermon on sex one week and had fourteen people in the small church I pastor never come back. It's a touchy issue. But today, I have laid out 4 Truths The Church Should Be Teaching About Sex. I would love to hear your thoughts on this at my Facebook page. You can get there by clicking on the link at the right.

1. Sex is good.

If it wasn't so great, it wouldn't be abused so much. That's the problem with sex. It's so good that it even gives great pleasure when enjoyed outside of it's designed context.  This happens with a lot of God's greatest blessings.
CS Lewis wrote: 
"To be bad, he [the bad power] must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent. And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness. All things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things - resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself (from Mere Christianity).

"Evil is a parasite, not an original thing." 

2. If you mess up and have sex before marriage, Jesus is in the restoration business.

Who doesn't make mistakes? 

It isn't over if you have premarital sex. As followers of Jesus, ours sins are no longer held against us. That doesn't mean that we won't sin any more. It means that Jesus' sacrifice makes us right.

Paul wrote in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome:
 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1 ESV).
Jesus came to earth and restored fallen sinners like you and me to him. The good news of Jesus isn't great because it's for perfect people. The good news of Jesus is great because it's for imperfect people like you and me. You don't have to carry the mistakes of your past around with you. Jesus will be glad to get rid of them for you.

3. Celibacy is good too. 

This is often neglected in evangelical circles. If you try to get hired as a forty-year old celibate man, you would see how much the evangelical churches look down on celibacy. It's like there is something wrong with someone who hasn't been married. 

The Apostle Paul gave a different perspective on celibacy. There is something beautiful in living your life completely for Jesus without any sexual distractions. In his letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, who were a very messed up church, he wrote:
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.  But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Corinthians 7:8-9 ESV).
There is a benefit to remaining celibate and not being married. 

4. Abstinence until marriage is God's plan.

Our society tells us to not teach abstinence, yet we must. We don't leave the decision of what we teach in church up to public education boards. They decide what the school will teach. We study Scripture to decide what the church should teach.

If we don't teach abstinence, then nobody will hear it.

God doesn't give us teachings to constrain us; he gives us teachings to liberate us. To free us from the shackles that destroy us, both emotionally and physically. To empower us to love Him and our neighbors as he intended.

When it comes down to it, sin is just a destructive force that prevents us from reaching our full God-given potential. It prevents us from accomplishing the things God has called us to. Some days, I would love to believe I am a puppet that God controls and nothing I do can toss me out of God's will and his remarkable plan, but that is not the way God has chosen to work. Sin destroys while love builds up.

Sin brings nothing but evil and destruction. A lot of pain. A lot of hurt. That is why Jesus uses the concept of a thief in the night come to destroy. Sin doesn't just cause pain to myself; it causes pain and hurt of those left in my wake. One of our society's greatest sins is abusing one of the greatest blessings that God gave us, and it does destroy when used inappropriately.

A Center of Disease Control study from 2012 reported, "10% of women and 13% of men 20-24 years report not having had any kind of sexual contact." You might look at those numbers and despair, but I like to look at them this way. Abstinence is possible. 1 in 10 parents of women are successful when it comes down to teaching sexual purity. And a slightly better percentage with men. Compare those percentages to church attendance numbers and we are doing pretty good.

Abstinence is less likely to happen by accident if we don't teach our kids to not have sex and save their sexual purity for marriage. 1 in 10 is actually good, especially if you remove all of the families who don't teach abstinence from the study. God has a different plan than conformity to our sinful culture with our sex life.

Sex was created for marriage. Let us enjoy one of God's greatest blessings the way he intended us to.