7677596010_ac495c9c09_bPhoto Credit to Trey Ratcliff

I overheard the girls talking at a table nearby.

“Ultimately the gospel is what matters. We all just need to quit trying to say this is right and that is wrong and be at peace with each other. People keep drawing too many lines in the sand… Forget the peripheral and concentrate on what really matters: the gospel.”

I stirred my coffee and blinked at the dark bubbles on the surface. Was she right?

In the comment stream of the blogs I follow, women – moms, especially – continually postulate about peace. “Stop telling us what to do and how to live,” They say. “All we need to do is love God and each other.”

Is that true?

I set out to discover the truth for myself.

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Church history is laced with ‘trends’ of Christianity. During the Enlightenment of the 18th century, reason and intellectualism were very prevalent; but the next generation sought to understand the emotions of God, which gave rise to the spiritualism of the Quakers, Shakers, Mennonite and Amish sects. Over the years these trends rise and fall, many times caused by children reacting to the influence of parents who were either too ‘free’ or too ‘strict’. Whole church movements are caused by generations who see a need for a fresh understanding of the gospel, and this renewed seeking results in new behaviors. Today’s culture is no different: we have the ‘young, restless, and Reformed’, the YWAM-Toms-and-beanie worship leaders, the time-resistant homeschool purity-ringers and many more pockets of Christian belief. The church appeals for unity and demands we get rid of the ‘periphery’ – those divisive parts of Christianity – in order to unite.

Peripheral issues often consist of our standards of speech, dress, entertainment, stances on abortion and homosexuality, tongues and dancing, cards and drinking – the list goes on.

I live in one of the most Christianized cities on the Eastern seaboard, and I’ve heard it all. But one thing I have heard repeatedly is this: “I don’t worry about those things because loving Jesus is all I need to do.” But is that the truth? Is loving Jesus all we need to do to live this faith we claim as Christ-followers?

“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” (Matthew 5:13)

“I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me… Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:35, 40)

“God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name…” (Hebrews 6:10)

Our faith is work. It is not won by works nor earned by our merit; but it is an effort – as the author of Hebrews says, a ‘labor of love’. We are also witnesses. We represent Jesus Christ and all He stands for: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness. We are the salt of this world. We flavor it with our reputation, behavior, and choices. We color our world with how we treat people, and how well we serve Jesus by serving them.

Does it matter how we live? I say yes. It matters in several ways.

Does it really matter what I say?

You know what, readers? I’m a gossip. Always have been.

I remember the time I realized it: when it popped into my head that running a gossip column would be a really fun career. Right about the time I pulled up Monster.com to look for opportunities, I realized what I was doing. I love a story. I love telling a story. I love the reactions I get from the story. And the more stories, the better!

I was warned about this by a friend of mine when I was 18 years old . Andrew looked me full in the face and said, “If you don’t stop now, Phylicia, you’re going to be a gossip.”

“Oh don’t be so serious,” I laughed. “I just love news.”

I don’t write about ‘how to not gossip’ on this blog because I don’t have it mastered. In fact, more often than not, it masters me. I’m in prayer over this sin because it IS a sin, and I’ve written it off as safe and kept it like a pet rock for years. Now my pet rock has created a lot of rubble, and I can’t freely minister with it clogging things up. It would be unfair for me to speak to today’s topic without being completely transparent that gossip has been a stronghold in my life.

So does it matter what I say? Definitely.

I can build up or I can tear down. I can demolish someone’s character and simultaneously demolish my own. I can curse, swear, and tell crude jokes. I can be negative, rude or loudly opinionated; or I can speak the truth in love.

James says bitter and sweet water cannot flow from the same fountain (James 3:11). When we are in the spirit of God and seeking Him to change us, our words will be readily sweet. But in our own selves – assaulted with insecurity and doubt – we can become anxious and angry, lashing out at all those who cross us. Maybe we even curse or say crude words. That is not Christ, and we are Christ to this world.

So yes, it does matter what we say.

Does it really matter what I wear?

In the beginning, God created man and woman naked with no shame. When man and woman chose to sin, their nakedness became shameful as their purity was destroyed by exposure to sin.

Now, because of sin, nakedness is reserved for the intimate relationship of marriage in which it is pure and beautiful.  Nakedness no longer honors God when it is advertised in a public sphere: it honors Him only when those physical ‘secrets’ are shared within the marriage bond.

Therefore, modesty matters.

I’ve articulated why in That Day I Wore Yoga Pants and The Motive to Modesty.

Does it really matter what I think?

I used to think of my mind as a safe place: a harbor where I could keep the thoughts I wouldn’t dare say out loud. At the time this habit began, I was probably about twelve years old, and my ‘secret thoughts’ consisted of angry words I would have liked to say to my parents when I was ‘in trouble’. Since I knew saying them would do me no good, I stewed in silence, in the safe place of my mind where no one could know what I was thinking.

But Someone did.

We still do this today. We stew angrily about neighbors, friends, and bosses. We complain silently about the inconveniences of life. We compare ourselves to others and marinade in bitterness over our inadequacy. As we continue to think this way, our mouths and actions slowly correspond to our thinking, and before we know it bitter words and selfish actions come pouring out of us in every direction.

What we think about matters. What we put into our minds – TV shows, music, novels – directly influences our perception of life and can blockade the gospel’s influence on our character.

For instance: I love the show Gilmore Girls. Mr. M and I have watched all seven seasons together. While that show was well written and good for some laughs, it is laced with promiscuity. Both leading female characters sleep with boyfriends, ex-husbands and have one night stands, and there is some language as well. Would I want my children watching that show with me, while I try to explain away, fast forward, and save face? No.

Then why am I watching it?

The same goes for the very popular show How I Met Your Mother. I’ve attempted to watch it a few times since many of my friends enjoy it, but it has triple the promiscuity of Gilmore Girls. This post is not meant to point fingers but to ask the question: “Why am I pouring the acceptance of sin into my mind on a regular basis?” That is what those shows are: sin, accepted, endorsed, and glorified. Why would a Christ follower consume it?

I love country music too, and there are a lot of raunchy country songs out there. There are a lot of Christian romance novels that draw a curtain where a Harlequin would have continued, but it still jogs a woman’s imagination. These things may be permissible, but are not beneficial (1 Cor. 10:23). Each of them contains principles that are ingrained in our minds. We can choose to put the best in our minds and receive the best results, or put the lesser things in our mind and find ourselves fighting a harder battle for holiness.

Because holiness is God’s goal, and it should be ours, too.

Many Christians ignore disciplines of holiness because ‘loving Jesus’ is more comfortable and acceptable. But let’s remember that the best examples of those who ‘loved Jesus’ were the apostles, almost all of whom were martyred for their faith.

All of whom boldly spoke the gospel – didn’t make up excuses to use swear words. All of whom rebuked evil and pushed back against darkness – didn’t look for ways to justify it. All of whom let their love for Jesus so affect them it changed quick tempers, fearful doubting and disloyal fleeing into the very names carved in the city of Heaven.

So: we do love Jesus.

But because we love Him, we discipline ourselves to holiness so we represent Him as best we can in these fallible, human bodies.

 This culture makes Christianity all about US and how well WE love Jesus. They say they reject ‘works’ but in reality, all their efforts to ‘love Jesus’ with pomp and circumstance is just that – a work. It is man proving to God how well he can love Him, clinging to his mortal individuality just to be different from the ‘fundamental church’.  Those who attempt to follow Christ without being changed by Him subscribe to a hit-and-run gospel that does not exist. It is not the gospel, because the gospel changes you.  We don’t get drive-by salvation and continue life as before.

“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27)

If we love Jesus, we will seek to be as ‘unspotted’ as He is. And He helps us! The more we love Him the more motivated we should feel to please Him by arranging our lives around holiness.  We can’t annihilate the ‘peripheral issues’ in the name of unity, editing them out of Scripture in order to make peace with fellow Christians. I firmly believe as long as Christians search Scripture and seek to live lives that please God we will never have the ‘unity’ many Christians want, because every life is different. If we want unity, we cling to the gospel, don’t look right or left at what others are doing, and live a life of holiness for God alone. Holy people draw other holy people to them, and those who dislike their devotion will naturally fall away.

This will make you different. In fact, you’ll be different from much of the Church. But you are not here to please the church, impress other Christians, or make yourself different. You, and I, are here to bring glory to God.

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Romans 14:17-19)

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12-13)

It matters how we live because how we live is a reflection of how well we actually love Jesus. In communicating this to you, I see in myself many ways I do not fulfill this call on my own life. As I searched Scripture to write this post, I see clearly how I need to know the Lord better in order to better align myself with His will. But His love always gives hope, and always holds out a hand to help me be the woman who is His witness.

And He does the same for you.

Don’t believe this culture that says loving Jesus is easy. Loving Jesus is hard, but He already carried the heavy part of the burden (Matt. 11:30). We don’t live rightly to earn His love; but by loving Him, we choose to live to rightly out of gratitude for His grace.

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