Scolds, Killjoys & Blackmailers: When “Good Christians” Become Annoyances

Something was wrong with Jimmy Swaggart.

Watching his TV show back in the 70s and ’80s, I noticed the gradual change: Swaggart went from preaching the Gospel to letting everyone know just who was in error, who was doing it wrong, and who was screwing up.

We all know who was ultimately screwing up, don’t we?

I learned the lesson of watching a “good Christian” go from a blessing to a scold by watching Swaggart. In his earlier years, he used to show people what they should be for. The later years were instead filled with screaming about who and what people should be against.

I believe that sometimes people with a pulpit run out of good things to say. Even bloggers. I don’t write as much as I once did because I noticed the tendency to go negative in my own writings the more I felt compelled to write something, anything.

John Piper fell into that trap last week when he warned that buying a lottery ticket in the Mega Millions frenzy was “suicidal.”

Really, John? Suicidal?

So I spend a buck and buy a lottery ticket once every five years when the jackpot gets to be some stupidly large amount. Is this truly the pathway to personal destruction?

Actually, I didn’t buy a lottery ticket last week. But with the weather heating up, I will buy an ice cream cone now and then. By Piper’s standard, that cone purchase makes me a bad steward of God’s money on loan to me. Or as he puts it, an “embezzler.” Because which of us American Christians truly needs to further strain against the borders of obesity by shoving more crap down our gullets? I mean, have you seen the size of the Christian T-shirts on the nearly spherical visitors to Main Street in Gatlinburg, Tenn.? Just how many Xs come before that L?

Fact is, if Piper’s judgment is meted out rightly, every Christian in North America is an embezzler of God’s funds, because heaven knows we’re not watching every dime of outflow to ensure its sanctified usage. Do I need a cell phone? XM Radio? Private schooling for my kids? A two-story home?

And sometimes, it’s not what I do that’s bad, but what I threaten not to do.

Case in point: From what is yelled at me from the ChristianMilitaryIndustrialEntertainment Complex, I MUST attend Christian movies when they hit the cineplex or else I am not a good Christian. Entertainment blackmailWorse, if I don’t attend, the ChristianMilitaryIndustrialEntertainment Complex Powers That Be will no longer make exceptional ChristianMilitaryIndustrialEntertainment Complex films for my mandatory consumption, which will result in the gates of hell prevailing (despite what the Bible says).

Here’s the thing: Where is grace in any of this?

It’s sad that Christians, the ones charged with being dispensers of grace, actually seem to experience so little of it in our own lives. In addition, some Christians—and often those who talk the most about grace—don’t seem to extend much grace to others.

The effect is that we become those pinch-faced killjoys on matters of life that really aren’t sin for most people. Instead, our dire warnings boomerang. Our every denouncement becomes ripe for media mockery, and we come off as off-kilter Don Quixotes tilting at really tiny windmills.

I’ve written before that one of the most overlooked traits we Christians need to exhibit far more of is winsomeness. Aren’t Christians the people best suited to be attractive to others because of how zestfully we live life? Shouldn’t we be laughing the loudest when it’s appropriate and mourning the most when necessary? Shouldn’t we bring the best wine to the party? Shouldn’t we tell the funniest jokes? Shouldn’t we be the ones with the most joyful outlook on life? How then is it that we’re so constricted and restricted by other Christians with bully pulpits telling us that buying a lottery ticket on a lark (and with no pretenses toward being crushed if we don’t win) will send us to hell?

We talk, talk, talk about freedom in Christ—and then we lay millstones around people’s necks.

The Bible says this:

Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil–this is the gift of God.
— Ecclesiastes 5:18-19

So, why do we reject that gift, folks? Why be scolds, killjoys, blackmailers, and generally unpleasant people to be around?

In other words, for God’s sake, lighten up!

by Dan Edelen

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29 Comments

  1. Mr. Poet
    Posted April 3, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Rodney Howard-Browne said some Christians are “baptized in lemon juice.” Although I did not buy a lotto ticket, I fantasized and joked about what I would do with half a billion dollars. I would hire someone to spend my money for me, for example, and I would have his or her paycheck printed on pressed gold leaf.

    I like to say, “Love your enemies. But don’t forget that they’re your enemies. They’re not your friends.” I have to remind myself of this when I start getting too chummy with, say, my unbelieving coworkers. You can apply this to your life without becoming a killjoy. My mother loves to watch Dr. Oz. But Dr. Oz, as far as I know, is not a believer. My mother is. So I have to remind her (and myself) from time to time to take what he says with a grain of salt, and don’t be shocked when he has shows on New Age meditation and transgenderism.

    The ludicrousness of the “shock” came when I was flipping channels and saw “Wishbone” on PBS. I had seen Wishbone portray Hercules. I thought it was cute when he held up the globe with his little dog nose while Atlas went to do whatever Atlas did. But when I saw Wishbone ascend into the heavens to speak with Buddha, I was offended. Why? Isn’t Greek myth just as offensive as Buddhism to God? But I had been inoculated to Greek myth, having been raised in Western education.

    I also wear XXL Christian T-shirts. I have gathered from various X-tian sources that it would be commendable if I get a tattoo to display faith, but I should ditch Christian T-shirts. But then other sources say it is commendable if I “wear my faith”, but not if I get a tattoo. I figure, of course, it would be best if I would live my faith. T-shirts and tats and “tinkling cymbals” (1 Cor. 13) are not necessary.

    • Posted April 3, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Poet,

      We could go a long way by just shutting our mouths before we feel compelled to comment on someone else’s wrongs. Chances are, we are guilty of the same offense. Log and speck anyone?

      And you’re also right in that I don’t understand these compulsions to perform some culturally-approved act to verify my faithfulness. I’m sorry, but all that stuff is filthy rags.

      Folks, can we get a moratorium on telling other people what to do or to think until that point in time when we’re doing and thinking the right things ourselves? Because chances are we’re going to need a LOT of time to get our own houses in order first.

  2. Posted April 3, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    One would have to imagine that if that same dollar went into the offering plate at Bethlehem Baptist to pay for the amenities that make church-goers comfy on Sunday instead of the counter of a convenience store for a lottery ticket, John would see it as a sweet aroma wafting up to the Lord.

    • Posted April 3, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      Arthur,

      For once, I’d like some of these people with big media connections to step back and say, “You know, I and the ministry I’ve built around me do some pretty stupid stuff in the name of Jesus. And so do you people who follow me. Right now, let’s lament our stupidity and hypocrisy and vow to do something about it. Then we can conclude by laughing at ourselves.” Boy, I think that would go a long way to healing everything that is wrong with Evangelicalism. Seriously, the excesses are driving me to not want to associate with Evangelicals anymore.

      • Posted April 3, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        Evangelicalism is irreparably harmed. Perhaps it was always this way. In a movement marked by pride, power, money and self-preservation it is hard to catch sight of the Kingdom. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the church should be called out of evangelicalism, letting it die out and getting it out of the way.

  3. Posted April 3, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    What ho? Dire Dan going soft on us! ;-)

    How do we find the narrow way between precipitous cliffs? On one side well meaning (hopefully) legalism–graceless, joyless, powerless. On the other side liberalism–effortless, painless, powerless. The older I get the more I like Keith Green’s sentiment (although I hated it when I was younger): “keep doing your best, and pray that it’s blessed, and Jesus takes care of the rest.”

    • Posted April 3, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

      Mr. Poet, what does “too chummy” mean? I really don’t think you need to worry about things like that. Don’t sin, for sure. But get as chummy as you want to. The thrust of Dan’s post applies to friendship as well. Go for it with people you hit it off with! Are we really supposed to walk around worrying about how close is too close with unbelievers? Sounds like a hangover from Christian isolationism right there. I get your point with Dr. Oz though, that’s well-applied.

      • Posted April 3, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

        oops, sorry this was meant for Mr. Poet’s comment above.

      • Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

        Nate,

        Obviously, no one should be indiscriminate with the friends one chooses. As noted in Hebrews, bad company DOES ruin good morals (though I will make an argument that it is the smug “Christian” who is often the more insidious, damaging companion, possibly more so than the biker gang member). On the other hand, Christians can’t afford to keep unbelievers at arms’ length, and more of us need to hang with pagans in their native environments. We don’t have to take our spiritual pulse every second when we do enter their realms, but we can’t be stupid either about what we do once in them.

        • Posted April 4, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          I would agree, I suppose, when it comes to that point. I mean, I certainly have had to re-evaluate things when people start trying to rope me into insidious things. Like you say though, I’d hate to make a habit of evaluating how close I should be every few minutes, simply because they’re not believers, or have some evident flaws. as a general rule, anyway

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      slw,

      Humility goes a long way in this. I am dust, and so are you. Our slightness is one reason we can’t take ourselves too seriously.

      Humility also has a way of diminishing the importance of every tiny thing that happens to us. As the saying goes, Don’t sweat the small stuff. And most of it is small stuff.

      When it’s NOT small stuff, have faith in God. Just how big is He? Does He redeem or not? Is He capable or not? Is His word sure or not? Needless to say, the answers are not the nots. ;-)

      Simplify. That’s the best answer of all. We’ve constructed overly complex religious cages that we lock ourselves inside of. But Jesus didn’t come so we could live in a gilded cage. The cultural and traditional trappings of Evangelicalism are turning into a prison. We’ve got to jettison that stuff.

  4. David
    Posted April 3, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    I bought a ticket. A ticket. I figured that, as God is the Lord of the lot(tery), then one was enough. If God chose to curse me with riches, then that was my lot. So to speak. He apparently loves me, however, and so my money was spent in vain. Hardly the first time I have spent money in vain, and won’t, I’m sure, be the last. Was it a sin? Who cares? Every breath I take is done in sin. We need to stop worrying about sinning and just start living. I am saved through grace, not through lack of sinning. The question is, do I live for Christ, or against everything else? Like our politicians, it is easy to define ourselves by what we are against. It’s not so easy to define ourselves by what we are for. Especially when what we should be for is our abject devotion to God.

  5. Diane R
    Posted April 3, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    I think Piper was probably considering the lottery in the same category as gambling and perhaps he was referring to people who spend much of their money on such things when they really cannot afford it. Since I only read an excerpt of what he said in another place, I don’t know what his larger context was. If, on the other hand, he said people shouldn’t buy lottery tickets without any good explanation or referent, he then ventured into legalism.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Diane,

      Speculation is speculation, whether it’s gambling, the lottery, or investing in the stock market. We sanctify one form and rail against another. Ask me sometime how much money I’ve lost on the approved, sanctified forms of speculation. :-\

      We can rail about poor people dropping cash on the hope of a jackpot via a lottery ticket, or we can ask how the church is failing to reach the poor. The former is far easier and asks nothing of us but to yell a lot and make righteous-looking faces.

  6. Posted April 3, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Cross reference with the Bloke Katzbalger Thesis, written back in 2009. Things haven’t changed much since that time.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      I reread it, Oengus.

      • Posted April 6, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

        I guess my point is that the crankiness has always been there, but with the coming of Internet infodemics, it has been amplified to a higher decibel level.

  7. Posted April 3, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    I have long thought that the Christian pre-occupation with evaluating whether or not they can do something is really just a bunch of sin-management/avoidance. It’s assumed by many that this is the primary way to holiness, and that purity is basically a matter of refraining from sin. But there’s really no basis for this as a sweeping paradigm for the faith. The Gospel generates not avoidance and attack, but primarily love & enjoyment & fascination in believers- for Jesus, life, and all that is in Creation. Which then, indeed, drives us away from evil. But the urge to “separate” from the world (cause we might stumble!) is not Christian, it’s gnostic and therefore heretical.

    To answer your question, where is the grace in any of this, I find the answer is too often something like “down the street in the weird neo-pagan collective where people aren’t afraid of offending soccer-mom Christianity, and therefore have liberated imaginations and are producing truly great works of art.”

    To fear sin is sin itself, I’m afraid.

    • Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      Dead on accurate, Nate. I wouldn’t say there is no sin avoidance to consider, but we give it WAAAAY too much credence. Some sects within Christianity verge on idolizing sin by virtue of the amount of time spent talking about it, especially when that time crowds out every other aspect of what it means to follow Jesus.

  8. Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    I can’t lighten up, Dan.

    The eternal fate of the entire world rests upon my ineffable wisdom in judging others and condemning their wrongs and professing my inarguable rightness.

    How dare you use a phrase like “screwing up” without reference to a vertical screwdriver in the context?

    How can you justify attacking those wonderful movies made just for us’ns and them what believes all the right stuff like us’ns?

    And the very thought of bringing the best wine to the party! Why, it’s reprehensible! It’s unscriptural! It’s … it’s … unCHRISTIAN!

  9. Josh B.
    Posted April 8, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I struggle with our stewardship of money. On the one hand, we should get legalistic about it, but on the other we shouldn’t be antinomian about it either! Money I spend on ice cream could be better spent, so why isn’t it?

    • Posted April 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      “I spend on ice cream could be better spent”

      Go buy an ice cream. Enjoy it. Thank God for it.

      • Josh B.
        Posted April 9, 2012 at 6:29 am | Permalink

        That’s certainly one perspective. But the question is, what right do I have to ice cream when there are some people that don’t have any physical nourishment at all? Shouldn’t my money help them instead of simply fattening me?

        • Mr. Poet
          Posted April 9, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

          This is the kind of issue where you really need not to condemn yourself. Most books about American Christians giving money to the poor, here or abroad, use as a whipping boy the “daily coffee” purchased at the local coffee shop. Americans tend to spend billions on it a year.

          Okay, so what if we did divert billions from the coffee industry into domestic and foreign aid? I’ll tell you what: thousands and thousands and thousands of people, from the local coffee shop to the coffee packagers to the coffee growers, would lose their jobs.

        • Posted April 9, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

          The Scrupulous Josh B: “Shouldn’t my money help them instead of simply fattening me?”

          Hey, if you want, give to a charity. There are hundreds of worthy ones to give to. Nobody is stopping you. God loves a cheerful giver, as the scriptures says.

          And every so often, you also can buy a pound or so of some “fair trade” coffee as well. Lots of hard working 3rd World coffee farmers will benefit. Get a mocha too. The cocoa growers can use the commerce.

          • Sulan
            Posted April 11, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

            I don’t care for ice cream, but I do all I can to help the coffee farmers and the cocoa growers also. I even entice friends to join me in this endeavor.

            As and we enjoy the fruits of the labor of others, we talk about God, how He is moving in our lives.

          • Josh B.
            Posted April 12, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

            I think my point may have been missed.

            Why should I spend any money increasing my pleasure and entertainment when there are people who cannot afford to even survive? Indeed, as I spend money on my pleasure, it might lead to their detrimental conditions (e.g., buying toys that are ultimately manufactured in sweat shops). However, using the sweat shop example, if those are closed down, the workers are inevitably forced into even more demeaning working conditions, sometimes scavanging for garbage.

            Sin has certainly corrupted societies just as thoroughly as individuals, but if we going to take a stand against sin, how can we take a stand against the American appetite for pleasure and entertainment without checking ourselves as well?

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