The Heresy of Unbalanced Truth

scale balance

Recently I attended a new church plant and was horrified by the young pastor’s message. His premise was that all Americans are rich in comparison to the rest of the world, and we should feel guilty about that. According to his perspective, our materialism is the biggest hindrance to living the normal Christian life.

Why was I so troubled by this pastor’s earnest sermon? He quoted lots of Bible passages along the way, including the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22) and the verse about not serving both God and Money (Matthew 6:24).

Much of my annoyance with this anti-materialistic rant stems from the fact that I used to preach almost exactly the same message. “Live for the kingdom, not for money!” I would passionately said. “And if you happen to have any money beyond your basic necessities, you should give it all away, just like Jesus told the rich young ruler.”

Hmmm… What’s the problem here? Isn’t this a sound Biblical perspective?

As I looked around at the pastor’s small, fledgling congregation, I saw that it was mostly composed of young people. My guess was that many of them were struggling just to pay their rent, utilities, and car payment. I could be wrong, but I didn’t spot a lot of rich young rulers that day. And by the looks of the cars in the parking lot, these weren’t extravagant spenders.

I took away several lessons from this church visit…

First, I concluded that even if a message is Biblically accurate, it may be the wrong message for a certain audience. If I had been preaching to the young congregation that day, I would have given a much different message. Instead of telling them they were too rich, I would endeavor to stir their faith that God wanted to bless them and meet all of their needs (Philippians 4:19).

And that brings me to my second conclusion: Most heresies are not an absence of truth, but they’re merely unbalanced truth. The pastor said many things I fully agree with. For example, he told his flock that material things never bring a person true and lasting happiness. Very true.

But the problem is what he failed  to say. He shared the truth, but it wasn’t the whole truth. And because of that, I’m convinced it misrepresented the heart of God.  

A few days after this church service, I had lunch with the pastor. He’s a pretty humble guy and received it well when I told him his message was heretical.

I explained that he had missed a key point in the rich young ruler story. How could Jesus demand that this man sell everything he had and give the money to the poor? Take a closer look at what He said: “Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21).

You see, Jesus’ goal was not to turn the rich man into a poor man. To the contrary, He wanted the rich man to have true and lasting riches—“treasure in heaven.”

From cover to cover, the Bible is a book about God’s desire to have a covenant relationship with His people. What does that mean? Among other things, it means that EVERYTHING we have belongs to Him, and EVERYTHING He has belongs to us as His beloved children.

This explains why the disciples readily dropped their fishing nets and left their boats in order to follow Jesus (Luke 5:1-11). They had just seen Him supply them with a miraculous catch of fish. They “forsook all and followed Him” because they saw they could trust Him to abundantly meet all their needs!

So I agree with the young pastor that we should lay all of our earthly possessions at the feet of Jesus. In fact, that’s a great thing to do on a daily basis.

However, the point of laying things down is to enter into a covenant relationship with Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:9). Once we’ve laid our possessions on the altar, He usually tells us to take them into our hands again so we can make an impact on a lost and needy world (Matthew 14:15-21).

Does your Heavenly Father want to bless you? Absolutely! And for two distinct reasons: because He loves you, and because He wants you to be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2).

My visit to the new church plant was a reminder that we must be careful in handling Scripture, making sure we’re “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Even the devil quotes the Bible, after all (Matthew 4:1-11). As a former attorney, I’m keenly aware of how dangerous it is to only present one side of a case, while conveniently ignoring any contrary facts.

Our Savior was full of grace, but also of truth (John 1:14). He opened the pathway to heaven, but also warned people of the dangers of hell. And yes, He cautioned us not to be controlled by a quest for earthly possessions—even as He promised to give us an abundant life (John 10:10).

I’m convinced the truth will set you free today (John 8:32), especially if you embrace the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help us, God.

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Your Whac-a-Mole Options

whac-a-mole-arcade boys

When a friend recently asked me how I was doing, my response was troubling.

“My body and mind seem to be slowing down,” I said, “but my responsibilities seem to be speeding up. That’s a bad combination!”

As I later reflected on that conversation, the Whac-a-Mole arcade game came to mind. As the game begins, the moles pop up fairly slowly, but their speed continually increases until the game finally ends.

This prompted me to think of a story about three young boys who took different approaches when they played Whac-a-Mole at the county fair one day…

The first boy just did his best. As the moles first began to emerge, he had little trouble whacking each one. But by the final moments of the game, the moles were getting the better of him. Unable to keep up with the frantic speed, he became exasperated.

The second boy, after watching the plight of his friend, came up with a clever plan to foil the pesky moles. After easily whacking a few moles at the beginning of the game, he calmly went to the back of the machine and pulled the power cord before things got out of hand.

“Why did you do that?!” his friends demanded. “You can’t just stop the game in the middle.”

“I outsmarted those moles,” the boy explained. “I cut the game off before the speed got too fast for me.”

But his two friends pointed out the folly of his logic. By pulling the plug, he had ended his chance of scoring any more points. Yes, he had avoided the frustration and feeling of failure that comes when you can’t keep up—but this impulsive act had diminished his final score.

The third boy had watched his two friends and devised a better solution. He alertly noticed a speed control on the side of the Whac-a-Mole game, and he turned it to the slow, “senior citizen” mode. All the moles still popped up, but practically in slow motion. This young man ended up getting the highest score, because he could easily keep up with the speed.

What are the lessons in this story?

  • If you play Whac-a-Mole at the regular speed, you’re likely to become overwhelmed and frustrated at the end.
  • When you become overwhelmed and frustrated, at times you might feel tempted to simply pull the plug.
  • But the better solution is to adjust the speed control, acknowledging that you aren’t as fast as you used to be.

You’re probably thinking at this point, “Jim, I see no way to adjust the speed control in my life. The ‘moles’ just keep popping up, totally out of my control.”

Believe me, I’ve had similar thoughts. Finding life’s “speed control” seems difficult, if not impossible.

But here are a few thoughts that can liberate you from your Whac-a-Mole dilemma…

  1. First, consider this amazing truth: Some of the “moles” popping up can simply be ignored!

Like a batter in baseball, you mustn’t swing at every pitch people throw at you. You have to be patient…know the pitches you can hit…and say “no” to curveballs that are out of your strike zone.

  1. Next, you need to acknowledge that you’re not Superman or Superwoman.

Yes, it’s humbling to admit you need to slow down life’s Whac-a-Mole game a bit. But that option is preferable to going insane or simply pulling the plug.

  1. Finally, you need to recognize that God has given you permission to rest…to take Sabbaths and vacations…and simple to SLOW DOWN.

“Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?” (Jeremiah 2:25 MSG).

What great advice! Slow down. Take a deep breath. Quit being in such a hurry.

As I’ve reflected on the lessons I learned from the Whac-a-Mole story, I find myself meditating on this great principle from Scripture: “Only in returning to Me and resting in Me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15 NLT).

As we return to the Lord and learn to rest in His presence, life will slow down a bit. Noise will give way to quietness. New strength will come, and confidence will rise. We might even enjoy life—really enjoy life—for the first time in years.

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Lessons When Your ‘Clicker’ Goes Bad

Clicker

For the past few years, I’ve used a “clicker” to control the PowerPoint slides when I preach. In the old days I had to wait for the guy in the sound booth to advance my slides, but no more!

Being in control is exhilarating, so it’s no wonder I love the PowerPoint clickers. Best of all, they eliminate the need to rely on anyone else to help me while I preach. I can do it all by myself, and I like it that way.

When I was preparing for a ministry trip in Ohio a few months ago, I purchased a fancy new clicker that had a longer range and some additional bells and whistles. I couldn’t wait to use it for the first time, and I shared my excitement with the church where I was preaching.

“This will be the first time I use my new PowerPoint clicker,” I told them with pride. “I love these clickers, because they allow me to be in complete control. It’s so cool not having to wait for the slides to move and not having to rely on anyone else.”

But when I pushed the button on my new clicker, nothing happened. The slides wouldn’t advance. Something was wrong with my beautiful clicker, and I had absolutely no ability to change what was on the screen.

But of course, I’m always looking for a “prop” to illustrate my messages, so I didn’t miss a beat.

“Well, I guess my defective clicker is a parable about life,” I said sheepishly. “We all like to think we’re in control of the events in our lives, but control is just an illusion. Only God is fully in control, and we must patiently submit to His sovereignty.”

Since then, I’ve concluded there are some things we can learn when our “clicker” goes bad and we can’t change the slide on the screen.

Although I’ve never thought of myself as a control freak, the defective clicker revealed how much I’ve been seduced by a misguided pursuit of control. It also exposed my dysfunctional quest for self-reliance, never wanting to feel dependent on anyone else. The Bible says God created us to live in community and cooperation, mutually dependent on one another to fulfill His purposes (1 Corinthians 12). Yet that is hard for independent folks like me.

Perhaps, like me, you’re more of a control freak than you’d like to admit. If so, I encourage you to buy a PowerPoint clicker—but make sure it’s one that works.

With a functional clicker, you’ll be able to move your slides forward and backward to your heart’s delight. You can even use the included laser pointer to emphasize what you’re trying to say. I’m sure people will be impressed!

However, let me warn you against false expectations. You still won’t be able to control your spouse, your kids, your boss, the weather, the stock market, or most other circumstances in your life.

But you still might find the clicker helpful. Even if you’re unable to control anything else in your life, you hopefully can at least move your PowerPoint slides.

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The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back

camel-1a

Have you ever reached the breaking point? Sometimes you can see it coming, but often it sneaks up and catches you unaware.

Running late to the office on a recent Friday morning, I was carrying my laptop computer case, a huge glass of iced tea, and an apple as I left my kitchen. At the last moment, my computer case slipped, causing me to spill a large portion of the iced tea.

Although this was an incredibly minor event, I reacted as if it was the end of the world. I was irate at myself, not just for spilling the tea, but for reacting in such a dramatic and childish way.

What had just happened? An old proverb immediately came to mind about “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

This was a busy morning, capping off a busy and stressful week. I seemed to go from one deadline to another…one meeting to another…one emergency to another…and one friend after another who needed my listening ear and words of encouragement.

I had handled the load so  well all along the way—until my rush to get to the office caused me to spill my tea.

Like the camel in the proverb, I had seemingly been doing an admirable job of carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. One responsibility after another was loaded on my back, and I accepted each one without flinching or complaining. In fact, I carried the heavy load as a badge of honor, smugly concluding that few people could do what I was doing.

But my perspective was rudely jerked back to reality when I spilled my iced tea. It suddenly became obvious that I’d unwittingly allowed myself to approach dangerously close to the breaking point. The tea incident was as insignificant as a piece of straw would be to a camel—yet it shattered the illusion of my invincibility.

Camels are known for their ability to carry heavy loads for long distances. We celebrate their knack for going many weeks without the need for water.

But even a camel has a breaking point.

Even a camel must maintain proper margins or risk an eventual breakdown.

Right when you think the camel has unlimited capacity, the final straw causes it to reach its limit.

If you are getting close to the breaking point, you are surely not alone. Countless people today are living on the edge, brutally overloading their body, mind, and emotions.

Even though some of our responsibilities are unavoidable, I’ve concluded that many of the burdens we carry are completely unnecessary—the result of our unwillingness to say “no” when we’re in danger of reaching our breaking point.

Two thousand years before I spilled my iced tea that Friday morning, Jesus was reaching out to help me and you shoulder our heavy loads:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light  (Matthew 11:28-30).

When was the last time you experienced this kind of peace and rest? You don’t have to wait until you spill your iced tea before you accept Jesus’ amazing offer. Cast your heavy burdens on Him today, and you’ll breathe a whole lot easier.

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