Self Awareness

Dastardly Whiplash In teaching through the Gospels at Southwestern College this semester I have really been reminded again about the legalism of the Pharisees.  Jesus has absolutely no tolerance whatsoever for their approach to God by following their rules or for their insistence that everyone else do the same.  Jesus has no problems dropping a “Jesus Booyah” on these guys!

13      “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
14      [“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.]
15      “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
16      “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’
23      “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.
24      “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
25      “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.
26      “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.
27      “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
28      “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:13-16, 23-28)

What a scathing rebuke! 
Two thoughts come to mind this Thanksgiving eve as I look through Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees:

  1. The Pharisees certainly didn’t consider themselves hypocrites, actors who played a part.  They certainly wouldn’t have seen themselves as full of dead men’s bones and uncleanness; they were the righteous ones who God would certainly approve of!  They had the right pedigree as children of Abraham and the right piety as followers of the law.  In other words, they weren’t at all self-aware.  They didn’t know what their needs were and for the most part considered themselves to be in God’s good graces.
  2. If I were a Pharisee, how would I have heard Jesus’ rebuke?  Would I have taken it as it was intended, to shake me out of my lethargy and complacency?  Or would I reject the rebuke and stay comfortably within my self-delusional existence?

We tend to look at the Pharisees in the Gospels and paint them as bad guys in spaghetti westerns.  However, we see some of them come to faith in Christ (John 12:42 comes to mind) and many of them, like Saul of Tarsus, genuinely thought that they were serving God with their wrong-headed insistence on following the rules.  I think that I tend to think of their hypocrisy like they had a nice exterior but inside they have turmoil because they are fakers.  The picture that the Gospels paints for us, though, is more that they sinned a lot on the inside but thought that was no big deal as long as the outside was clean.

Re-read that last sentence.  They sinned a lot on the inside but thought that was no big deal as long as the outside was clean.  Doesn’t that sound like a lot of Christian’s perception of Christianity?  As long as I am doctrinally correct and have no overt sin in my life I am good to go in God’s eyes. 

Eh…not so much according to Jesus.  He, in love, gets under the Pharisee’s skin for putting their own image and their own religion and their own preferences above what God wants for them.  He does not mind calling them out or ruffling their feathers because they need to hear what He is saying. 

When is the last time that you took an honest look at yourself and asked God to show you the ways that, even though you THINK that you’re doing well, you’ve replaced worship of Him with legalism.  Have you ever asked God to rebuke you and show you where you’ve left your love for Him and replaced it with comfortable rules?

This Thanksgiving I am not only thankful that Jesus died for my sins, but I am also thankful that He loves me enough to get me out of my comfort zone.  I am thankful that He loves me so much that He is willing to condemn the legalism in my life, even when that legalism is comfortable and especially when I think I am doing well.

How about you”?  Is there anything this Thanksgiving that is not typical that you are thankful to God for?  Is there a difficult situation, a temptation He has asked you to break from, or a sin that He loves you enough to kick you in the shins over right now?  And more importantly, are you willing this Thanksgiving to thank Him for doing it?

Don’t Judge Me!

I am buried under a mound of papers to grade right now.  I mean it; I think these research papers have morphed into a giant sarlacc which desires to digest me over a thousand years.  Okay, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic but it feels like it right now. 

As I am grading all of these papers, I am in a sense judging my students.  They submit work to me, and if I do not judge it to be up to standards I fail them.  Then they have to take my class all over again! (hey, this could mean job security if I play my cards right…)  I tell them whether their work is outstanding, average, or failing.  That sounds a lot like I am judging them, and Jesus commands us not to do that in Matthew 7:1-2.  Heck, in John 3:17 Jesus said He didn’t come to judge, so why should I be able to judge?

Obviously I am being somewhat facetious, but this is a charge I hear all too often from Christians.  “Don’t judge me,” they say.  “You don’t know me.  You don’t know what’s going on in my life, and God and I have an agreement.  You know, Jesus doesn’t judge me so why should you?”  That’s where it usually ends, but I can muster even more arguments than that!  Paul says in Romans 2:1 that when we judge others we practice the same things that we judge them for, making us hypocrites.  In 1 Corinthians 4:5 Paul tells us not to pass judgment “before the time,” meaning when the Lord comes again.  Paul also says in Colossians 2:16 that no one is to be our judge in regards to matters of conscience.  So why would we ever say a thing about someone else’s walk with God or their conduct in the world?  Don’t judge, right?

I don’t mind the charge from those who are not following Christ, as I can’t and shouldn’t expect someone who does not follow Christ to obey what He has to say about life.  However, from Christians it irks me sometimes because of the heart behind the words.  First and foremost it many times evidences a heart that is indulging in and even enjoying some sin that the person is not willing or not ready to give up, and they are seeking to justify their sin by condemning others for calling it out.  Also, this kind of attitude ignores what Paul tells us about how we live together in community in 1 Cor 5:12-6:6:

12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?
13 But those who are outside, God judges. “REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.”

1 Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints?
2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts?
3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?
4 So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church?
5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren,
6 but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?

Paul not only encourages the body of Christ to intervene in one another’s lives and decide disputes, he commands it.  He commands us to settle disputes within the body and laments when we won’t.  Also, this is the command of Jesus regarding sin in our midst in Matthew 18:15-17:

15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.
16 “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.
17 “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Jesus commands us to go and show our brothers and sisters when they sin.  He commands it!  He won’t let us sit idly by while our fellow Christian hides from God.  I notice a couple of important points in Jesus’ commands in Matthew 18:

  1. He doesn’t command us to be judgmental; instead He tells us to go “show him his fault in private.”  Respectfully we are to show someone where they have missed the mark.  We’re not to wag our finger at fellow believers, but to exhort them and help them grow.
  2. We aren’t supposed to give up after one try!
  3. Jesus didn’t beat tax collectors or Gentiles up for their sin; instead He reached out to them and tried to bring them into the household of God.  So the last bit of verse 17 is not about giving them the Heisman; it’s about reaching out to them and inviting them back into the fold when they are ready.

So in a real sense there is a BIG difference between the biblical idea of “judging” as in evaluating, and “judging” as in making yourself the arbiter of right and wrong.  We are called not to think the worst of one another and not to assume the worst in each other.  That being said, we are told to encourage and exhort one another, to show each other our faults when appropriate and help one another strive after greatness.

So to all of my students, remember that I am not passing judgment on your character or your godliness.  Rather I am evaluating your performance, as you asked me to.  Likewise, as a Christian I am called not to stand in judgment over my friends in Christ but to evaluate life alongside of them and help them become better disciples.  That doesn’t happen when we don’t evaluate and work on each other a little.

So stop judging others, but never stop helping them strive after Christ by being willing to show them their weaknesses.  That’s one of the hardest parts about biblical community, but in my opinion one of the most important.

A Goal, a Plan, and Some Help

It’s a big day for me today.  Today begins my first day of a 12-week training schedule leading up to my second half marathon!  I ran a 2:08:39 in my first half, and this time my audacious goal is to break the 2-hour barrier.  I need to shave 40 seconds a mile off of my pace from January, so I need to get training!  Those 40 seconds are not magically going to run away and hide; I know that it is going to take a lot of hard work (and hopefully 5 less pounds to lug around) to make it.

The first step to making a goal happen is writing it down.  Done, and you’re my witness.

It takes more than a goal to be successful, though.  The world is filled with people who set goals that they never achieve.  Whether they are New Year’s Resolutions or financial goals or what have you, the world is littered with discarded goals and the frustration that comes with them.  It takes a plan to get from where you are to where you are going, and some help along the way.  Plan your work and work your plan.  Get help in planning from those who know the ropes, and bring others alongside to help you work your plan when it gets tough.  This is true not only in running, but in life.

For my training, that means a running schedule and some mentorship.  I got a running schedule from Runner’s World (the “Smart Coach Training Program” box is great…just plug a few details in and viola!) and then tweaked it to my particular schedule needs and past results.  I know where I stand today in my running, so I wrote a plan to hopefully get me from where I am to a 9:10 half marathon pace.  Now I have a written plan for the next twelve weeks.  That two hour Personal Record (PR in runner’s lingo) will only come if I hit the road consistently and with purpose.  I also sent the plan to my two amazing running coaches (my beautiful, marathon-veteran wife and my sister-in-law, who not only is a marathon veteran but also broke 2 hours in a half while 8 months pregnant with my nephew!).  I know that I need some feedback to make sure that my plan is workable and will get me to my goal.

The second step to making a goal happen is planning the work.  Done.  Now all that is left to do is to work my plan.  That’s simple, which is not at all the same thing as being easy!

For life, many goals are not so concrete as “I want to run a two-hour half marathon.”  I think that every one of us should have as a goal to be completely committed to Christ, as Paul shows us in Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

That’s a great goal, but it’ll never happen without a plan!  How can we live a life that is completely devoted to Christ like this?  Well there are plenty of steps along the path; if you’ve walked this path in the past you can certainly sketch the basics like I did in my running plan.  If not, consider adding some “parts” to the plan:

  • Get into the Word of God daily.  Having a daily plan of Bible reading is crucial for spiritual growth.  Men, if you’ve got no ideas you can join our online men’s Bible study Yahoo group.
  • Make prayer a daily part of life.  And not just over meals, but asking Him to make you new every day.
  • Get into community.  Get to church, and don’t just attend.  Serve, learn, grow, and get to know people.  Make friends with others in your church who are growing in their walk and invite them into your life!

Once you have a plan, check it with some godly mentors.  Don’t have a mentor?  Get one!  Seek out godly people who have walked the walk for awhile, and tuck in under their wing.  As the author of Proverbs says at Proverbs 15:22:

Without consultation, plans are frustrated,
But with many counselors they succeed.

Get some counsel on your goals, plan your work, and work your plan.  Want to be a better Christian?  How about a better husband or father?  A better wife?  Maybe money is tight and you want to be a better money manager.  Then set a goal, plan your work, check your plan, and work your plan.  Perhaps you need to build some physical health as a spiritual discipline.  (I was a bowl of goo coming out of seminary…)  Set a goal, plan, check, and get after it!  Whatever the situation, the only wrong answer is to sit there and do nothing.  So get after it!  And just so we are clear, make sure that you’re bringing God into every step of the process, lest James smack you upside the head:

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”
14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”
16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.
17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Give the Lord His place as Master, set goals that honor Him, plan your work, check your plan, and work your plan.

See you at the finish line on June 6th in San Diego. 🙂

The Quest for Greatness

I love the Olympics.  I mean it, I am a total Olympics junkie.  I told my TiVo to record every bit of Olympics coverage it could find on my extended basic cable, and if it had to record over Dirty Jobs to bring me curling and women’s ice hockey then so be it!  I mean, it’s the Olympics!  It’s amazing competition, patriotism, and zany sports all rolled up into one giant consumerist package.

I even love the Winter Olympics, though I live in Phoenix where it hasn’t snowed since before the Flood so the summer games are closer to my heart.  Last night we watched the skiing moguls finals and talked about how the participants must require knee replacements at 35.  We watched the short program in pairs figure skating too, which is of course among the most popular.  (One parenthetical request, please, Olympic skaters: stop dressing the men in blouses.  Just stop it.  Be theatrical, but dress the men somewhat remotely like men rather than in flowing ruffles) 

We watched the biathlon, which had to be a drunken bet at some point.  Can you imagine a bunch of fraternity brothers at the Kappa Sigma house at North Dakota State University (I am making this all up as I go) wondering how they can get away with taunting the pledges without getting caught and coming up with this?  “I know guys…we’ll make up this sport where they will have to ski cross country for a few miles with a gun strapped to their back, then shoot some really small targets while prone, ski some more then shoot targets kneeling, and finally ski a bunch more then hit tiny targets while standing.  Only the best get in!”

In reality I love the Olympics for the drama of world-class athletes competing their hearts out on a world stage.  The difference between the gold medal and last place is hundredths of a second, fractions of a point.  The athletes have trained for a MINIMUM of four years for this event, and many have trained for over a decade or more.  They are the very best at what they do, competing head to head for a victor’s medal.  Add in the patriotic angle of national medal counts and I am in!

The Olympics weren’t foreign to the world of the New Testament, either.  Far from it, they originated before Jesus’ time and were important civic festivals.  The Olympic Games were the most celebrated, but right behind them in importance in first-century Greece were the Isthmian Games.  These games were played near Corinth, and Paul used them as an image his readers would have been well-familiar with in his description of what the Christian life looks like:

24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;
27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

Paul drew on this athletic contest to describe what living for Christ looks like.  He gives us the same ethic that drives Olympic athletes: “Run in such a way that you may win.”  Athletes who dog it never make it to the big games; likewise we will never reach our potential to glorify God by running our race without energy, enthusiasm, and tenacity. 

I love the combination of images in this passage.  First of all Paul reminds us that the “victor’s wreath” of the games was perishable.  While a gold medal isn’t as perishable as a wreath, can you name the women’s figure skating champion from the last winter games without Googling it? (ten bucks says that after googling you STILL don’t know who won it)  Exactly…very perishable.   The wreath we strive for, though, will be eternal!  The reward of a life lived for Christ will be a faithful evaluation from Him on judgment day and the opportunity to serve Him in big ways for all time.

Paul also says that winning takes discipline.  Participants have to discipline their bodies to compete at the highest levels, but their discipline pays off at the competition!  I reminded a lot of the runners at the marathon Laura ran this past weekend that if it was easy anyone would do it, and that is Paul’s idea here.  Competing in the games means training hard and playing according to the rules.  It’s not a safe endeavor to push the limits of greatness, but Olympians compete to show what total dedication and commitment can do.

It takes discipline to train and discipline to compete, but the rewards are worth it!  Likewise in the Christian life, the discipline and dedication it takes to live life for Christ are not “easy.”  Living in the grace of God means denying ourselves and living for Him.  It means saying “no” to our own temptations, our own goals, our own rights and instead making the goal of greatness more important than complacency or being “normal.”  However, the rewards are worth it.  Hearing “well done, good and faithful servant!” will FAR overshadow any playing of the national anthem in Vancouver this winter. 

So enjoy the next 10 days of Olympics.  Cheer for the participants.  Root on the home town heroes and the underdogs.  But while watching, remember the application to your walk with Christ and the lesson of the cost of competing on a world stage.  In the Olympics there can be only one gold medalist, but in Christ anyone with the desire and the dedication can stand side by side on the top of the podium, receiving the crown to cast at the feet of Christ.

Whose Responsibility? (Part 3-My Responsibility For Others)

One of the hardest parts of living an authentic and transparent life of following Christ is living within community.  It sometimes seems like we are in a catch-22 when it comes to living with other Christians.  We have liberty in Christ but can’t use that liberty for fear of offending someone or putting a foot wrong.  Authentic Christian discipleship can very, very quickly devolve into Christian legalism and fear-mongering if we are not careful.

So how much responsibility do we bear for other people’s walk with God?  And how do we live in a community of Christians where everyone has different comfort levels with particular practices that aren’t necessarily sin but could delve into sin?  I think that this discussion, at least as much as any other if not more, is the most difficult part of having a truly biblical family of fellow believers in Christ around us.

To get the context for this discussion, you really need to read part 1 and part 2 of this series before reading this post.  You must understand the brouhaha  that sparked this discussion, and especially our individual responsibility for our own holiness before God, to understand how the last part of this puzzle fits together.

Probably the most significant biblical texts dealing with the issue of my responsibility toward others are found in 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 and Romans 14:1-18.  While other texts might speak to the issue obliquely, Paul gets right to the heart of the matter of matters of conscience in these texts.  There is no better place to start a discussion of our responsibility for others in a biblical sense.

I think that this issue might have been such a big deal to Paul for a couple of reasons.  First I think his background made this issue large.  He started life as Saul the Pharisee, the king of legalism! (Acts 22:3; Galatians 1:14)  He knew how to put a fence around the law, which was a very Jewish practice. (see this explanation from a Jewish source)  Also, his congregations seem to be made up of diverse groups of Jews and Gentiles, young and old, slave and free.  These differences would be magnified in the church and would cause division and dissension then just like they do now!  So Paul addresses this issue in a very straightforward way.

23 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.
24 Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.
25 Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake;
27 If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake.
28 But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake;
29 I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience?
30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?
31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
32 Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God;
33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.

Paul’s overriding ethic in 1 Cor 10 is concern for others.  In verse 23 he is clear that in issues of conscience he is open to others’ needs, in that nothing by itself is unclean.  The particular issue in Corinth was meat, particularly the truth that some meat sold in the meat market was from animals that were sacrificed in the pagan temples of Corinth.  No doubt some of the believers there were bothered by that idolatry and therefore avoided that meat.  In verse 28 Paul says that he abstains when he knows there is someone with him who it would bother.  This isn’t for his own conscience (verse 30), but for the sake of others (verse 29).

The other side of the coin is also presented here.  In verse 27 Paul does not cause offense with his conscience to others either!  If an unbeliever offers him meat sacrificed to idols unknowingly, he realizes that it is not a spiritual issue (verses 25 and 26) and partakes with thankfulness.  It would have been a grave insult to turn down a host’s offering, so Paul does not make a big deal of it.  He makes the important issues important (like thankfulness to God and the ability of his friends to live holy lives according to their own consciences) rather than the unimportant issues (like meat).  He restrains his own desires for their benefit! 

Note the significant issue though: this sword cuts both ways.  Even if it bothers him that he could have a leg of lamb because it is clean, still if it bothers his host he will abstain.  Likewise he may be a little concerned about the source of the roast beast before him, but if his host offers it he will gratefully accept it.  This is NOT a one-way deal!  Instead, Paul thinks of others before himself.  This is the same ethic that he prescribes for believers in Romans 14:1-23:

1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.
2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.
3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.
4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.
6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself;
8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
11 For it is written,
12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.
13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.
14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.
16 Therefore ado not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil;
17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.
21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.
23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

This is a long passage but the basic message is pretty clear.  First we must be firmly convinced in our own mind as to what is acceptable to ourselves in matters of conscience and what is not.  Whether we decide that a matter of conscience is acceptable or not for our own lives is an issue between us and God.

That said, we also have a responsibility for others in this arena.  Verse 3 is the key!  When our conscience is weaker than someone else’s, we must not judge them for participating.  Likewise, if our conscience allows something that a friend’s conscience does not then we must not treat them with contempt for their more sensitive conscience.  Rather, Paul explains in verses 15-21, it is better to love them and restrain ourselves in their presence so as not to tear them down.

It’s important to see these issues in real life, so let’s consider a couple of situations.  I know some people who love the Harry Potter books, and others who believe that they are a gateway to ungodliness and witchcraft.  First Paul says that each must be firmly convinced that what they are doing (or not doing) is right before God.  Then he says that the one who is a fan mustn’t look down their nose at the one who is a muggle.  The one who doesn’t like the books mustn’t pass judgment on the fan, either. 

This same ethic applies to all types of matters of conscience.  Just a few of the more common ones include:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Entertainment choices (movies, TV, books, etc. that are not overtly sinful)
  • Choice of occupation
  • Clothing preferences
  • Music
  • Smoking (yes, smoking…it won’t send you to hell I promise, though it may make you smell like you’ve been there), though this one is more complicated by the nicotine addiction factor

So what’s the bottom line?  My responsibility is to live a holy life before God first and foremost.  In matters of conscience I first and foremost have to check my heart and make sure that whatever I do I feel good about before Christ.  Then I must check my own liberty around others to make sure that I am taking every reasonable precaution to keep from putting stumbling blocks in their way.  Some of the ways that I find myself on both sides of this issue:

  1. I have a very sensitive conscience when it comes to sexual purity.  I get defiled easily!  I can’t watch movies with ANY nudity in them, so I avoid them.  I have friends with no such compunction, though, so we agree not to see those movies when we go together.  And when they go without me I do not stand in judgment over them.  They stand before Christ, and just because I couldn’t do it doesn’t mean they can’t!
  2. I have a very strong conscience when it comes to violence.  I love martial arts and am quite a gun nut.  I love firearms!  However, this is a touchy subject so it is one I am usually quiet about around other Christians.  I don’t want them to stumble, so I don’t share too much before I know that their conscience can handle it.  And for those bothered by firearms I work very hard to allow them to live out their conscience.
  3. With alcohol I am middle of the road.  I come from a family that struggles with alcohol so I have to watch my consumption, but I enjoy a glass of wine every so often.  However, I know a lot of people struggle with this and have more than a few friends who have battled alcoholism.  Needless to say I don’t drink around them!  Likewise I don’t talk about alcohol with them either, because it might be too much for them to bear.
  4. In the fantasy book genre our home is divided.  I am a huge fan of Robert Jordan, Tolkien, David Eddings, and other writers of fantasy.  My kids love the books too!  Laura, though, has a harder time with it.  So in our home she gets to set the standard.  If she is okay with a book then it can stay, and we all agree to respect one another’s consciences. (see this post on Halloween for another issue we have worked through)

I would encourage you to look through Paul’s lens on matters of conscience with respect to others.  Realize that you have liberty if your conscience allows but a responsibility to respect the weaker consciences of those around you.  Life is filled with give and take, so make sure that you’re willing to give for their sakes and be ready to make requests to take for yours.  If we do that in love with one another, looking out for each other without judgment or condemnation, then we will have the Christian community that makes a HUGE impact on our world.

Ladies, allow me to boil this down a little farther for you.  There are a few issues that are major, up-front issues in our society, including sex.  You’re not as visual as men for the most part, so know that and know that they are.  The way you dress is very hard for our weaker consciences to handle.  So when in doubt, please do us a favor and be cautious. (this brings us full circle to the Facebook bra color thing…)  Likewise, fellas, the ladies need us to choose not to ride roughshod over their consciences when they are offended.