The other day, on my way home, I was listening to a message called “The Cage of Responsibility” by Mark Batterson of National Community Church in Washington, DC. He was speaking about how Nehemiah found his passion. One of the statements he made was an incident that happened to him in graduate school. Apparently, during one of his classes, a professor said, “If you want to identify a passion, here’s the question: What makes you cry or pound your fist on the table? What makes you sad? What makes you mad?” Mark Batterson went on to say that there probably should be one more question thrown into the mix. The added question would be: What makes you smile? So, to sum it up, to find your passion in life, you should ask yourself the following:
- What makes you mad?
- What makes you sad?
- What makes you glad?
If you can find the answers to these questions, you can probably begin to figure out what your passion in life is.
As I heard this, I ended up not listening to much more of his sermon until later because, to put it mildly, I had a pretty strong emotional reaction to these questions and decided that I needed to post it here. So, I will deal with each question individually.
What Makes Me Mad
I did not have to even think about this question much at all before my blood started boiling. What really gets under my skin is Pastors and other church leaders who water down The Gospel. What? What are you talking about, Thom? Ok, let me elaborate some on this. But before I do, let me give you some background on me and my initial introduction to Christianity.
The very first experience I had going to Church was just before I became a teenager. Even though my parents had gone to church when they were young, once they were on their own, they didn’t attend anymore. I’m not sure exactly why they suddenly decided that it was important to get into church, but they did and we started attending a Church of Christ in my hometown. I wasn’t there very long before I had “the hell scared out of me.” All I can remember is that one Sunday a sermon was preached and I was so scared of going to hell that I went forward to be baptized so that I could go to heaven. Needless to say, this wasn’t a “true” conversion experience. I was “guilted” into coming forward. And it wasn’t too long before my parents quit going to church, which meant I wasn’t attending either.
Then, at 17, I met a girl who I thought was cute and started hanging out with her. We ended up dating one another and, to spend more time with her, I started going to church with her. It was an Assembly of God church were the Pastor, a man named Dallas Reagan, preached a lot about the holiness of God and the Holy Spirit in people’s lives. I had never been around a Pentecostal church before and I can tell you that this church was different. But, long story short, I was there for the girl and not for God. Although, looking back on it, I can see where God used that to touch me and begin to prepare me for what was coming (isn’t it funny how God does that).
Anyway, my earlier years associated with Church and Christianity kind of made me think that God was this angry ogre type. It has taken me almost 20 years of, been there, done that, that has opened my eyes to the fact that God is not the angry ogre, but neither is he the all embracing God of love. As with all things, there is a balance.
Now that you have a little bit of historical background on me, let me tell you what really gets under my skin. I have sat through countless sermons that really didn’t amount to more than a high school pep rally. Sermons that were designed to make those listening feel better about themselves and not threatened or offended in any way. Now before you go and think that I’m all about judgment and harshness, back up and regroup a moment. Randy Alcorn wrote on his facebook page on June 9th 2009, “When we offend everybody, we’ve declared truth without grace. When we offend nobody, we’ve watered down truth in the name of grace. John 1:14, ‘Jesus came full of grace AND truth.’ Let’s not choose between them, but be characterized by both.” I am sick and tired of a church that chooses to preach only about the love, mercy and grace of God, but not choose the justice, righteousness and holiness of God, just because we might “offend” people. I also get quite worked up when God is portrayed as an uncaring, harsh, exclusive Diety. Jesus was extremely offensive. It was His offensiveness that ended up costing Him his life. Had he not been offensive, the religious Jewish leaders would have had no cause to put Him to death. Matter of fact, they might have welcomed Him into their midst. But, he was also kind and gentle, caring and compassionate. Look at the lives he touched with a soft word and a gentle spirit.
What it boils down to is that people are lost and going to hell because they are not receiving a true picture of who Christ is. If all we preach is a God of Justice, then nobody ever sees His grace. But, if all that is preached is a God of Love, people don’t get a true picture of His holiness and the standards He requires. It reminds me of something I heard Perry Noble say once, “I can’t worship a God that is nothing but love because I could beat Him up, but I can’t worship a God who is always kicking me in the head either. There has to be a balance.”
Finding that balance is so difficult. I know that I don’t want to go out of my way to offend people around me. But, there is no way to live for Jesus and not be offensive. As a believer in Christ, there have been times when I have been around people who attend church, as well as those who don’t, who get very uncomfortable around me. Now, I’m not saying that I’m somebody that is “super-spiritual”, but when Jesus truly is a part of your life, you will stand out in the crowd. You will act differently, you will talk differently and you think differently. When Jesus is the center of your life, it shows and people will be able to tell that there is something different about you. They might not be able to put their finger on it, but they will recognize something different.
My problem is not so much with those who do not attend church, but with those who do go to church. I have actually been told by people who go to church that my standards are too high! Is that possible? My standards can’t be anywhere near the standards that God has! Whenever I hear that, or even get a hint of that kind of attitude, I get angry because I know that whoever is saying or thinking that has no clue of what God’s true nature is. His standards are so high that you and I deserve eternal separation from Him. It is only His Grace that keeps that from happening.
So, in a nutshell, what makes me mad is the extreme’s. It is a delicate thing finding that perfect balance. While we shouldn’t just seek to offend people, we can’t step back from it either. There is a time and a place for both.