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!

Joy Inexpressible–Expressed


JoyI write about a lot of deep subjects here at Cerulean Sanctum. Many Godbloggers delve into hard topics and tackle weighty matters, giving difficult answers and solutions to intractable problems.

And more and more, I wonder if that’s a waste of time.

Why? Because the simplest truths and practices still escape us.

When I think of the finest Christians I have known, they have all exhibited a winsomeness that makes them attractive. I’ve written about winsomeness before. It’s one of our great lacks in the modern American Church.

Too often, we Christians in this country are viewed as sour, judgmental, curmudgeonly pains-in-the-ass. That image needs to go away—now—if we are ever going to make inroads into winning people to Jesus Christ. It’s one thing to be hated for our message. It’s another to be hated because we’re jerks.

Winsomeness starts simply: smile.

People who smile a lot draw my attention. Not those people who smile out of smug self-satisfaction (and boy, there are plenty of those in the American Church), but those who radiate the inexpressible joy of knowing Jesus.

You see, that joy inexpressible doesn’t needs words. It can show in your smile.

A bright countenance draws people. Others will share with a person who smiles. When you smile, it can raise the warmth in a room, provide a safe signal for others to open up to you, and generally make life more pleasant.

Want to know the predominant mood of people in this country? Steal a glance at drivers and passengers in the cars next to you. The number of sullen looks is astonishing. People fall into their baseline emotional state in a car because they view it as a place of privacy. But it’s not. We can see.

You be different. Be salt and light. And for heaven’s sake, smile!


One Golden Rule for a Better World


Love thy neighborBeen slammed lately with work, which is a good thing for the bank account but not for the blog. So I want to offer a simple thought for today.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but the angry young prophet part of me just doesn’t have the fight to be angry about everything anymore. I think it’s because I’ve tired of anger being the predominant emotion in America 2011.

As a Christian, my task in this life is to love other people, love God, and tell those people I’m supposed to love about the God I’m supposed to love. Seems pretty simple, actually.

But we make it all so complex. And in the midst of that complexity arises a bunch of misunderstandings, inevitable arguments, and way too much anger.

More and more, though, one simple truth from the lips of Jesus resonates with me. We are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Can we get our brains around that one and try it out for a few days?

What if you and I interacted with our fellow human beings in the way in which we would like to be treated? Wouldn’t that go a long way toward defusing the powderkeg of emotions so many people carry around with them daily?

Seriously, for all our talk of ministry, how often do we truly think about the condition of someone else’s life?

When I’m hacked off about the new gadget I purchased that broke after 15 minutes of use, am I thinking about the customer service rep on the other end of the phone? Do I ask myself what kind of day she has had, whether her marriage is happy and her kids are avoiding jail? Before I unload my ire on her because my doodad disintegrated, do I pause to think how that person, who may not know Jesus, would like to be treated by someone who does?

I’m convinced that most Christians never ask those questions. We do an atrocious job of imagining ourselves in the shoes of the person we’re abusing. In those moments, our self-centeredness becomes the defining characteristic of our lives and nothing of Jesus shines through.

No one is unredeemable until that last breath is drawn. For that reason, the Golden Rule must always apply whenever we deal with others.

No, this isn’t a heavy evangelism message. Still, it strikes me that the best way to find that opening to talk about Jesus is if we learn to treat other people with the same level of love and care we reserve for ourselves. If we put ourselves on the other side of the table. If we learn to think beyond ourselves.

Jesus did.