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. Worse, 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!