Beginner Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes.  But beginners make a certain type of mistake:  They make beginner mistakes.

Here in Haiti, one beginner mistake is to start handing out free stuff.  That’s a quick recipe for generating a flash mob.  I remember clearly the day I learned this lesson.  Was visiting an orphanage and started handing out free Frisbees. I was nearly bowled over and attacked.  Being in the center of a desperate mob was no fun.  Never again.  What’s worse is that the one kid I meant to give a Frisbee to didn’t get one, and I think he started crying.

In life, there are many beginner mistakes.  Not asking questions is one of them.  Not listening is another.  Show me someone good at asking questions and listening… and I’ll show you a relational expert (with the caveat that discretion dictates the line between caring and prying).

In regards to being a Christian, perhaps the most common beginner mistake is legalism.  In particular, thinking one is better or holier than another because of an activity or behavior one is doing or, more commonly, not doing. God’s grace for others is much bigger than we originally think.  The real shock after walking with the Lord awhile is how His grace could ever be large enough to cover our own sin.  My sin.

An acquaintance of mine recently told another acquaintance (who happened to be Catholic) she was going to hell because she prayed to Mary.  Praying to Mary isn’t Biblical, but telling someone they’re going to hell because they do so is, in my opinion, a beginner mistake.  Because God is bigger than that, less limited by misinformation than we suspect.  I’m thinking the light of God easily reaches into the lives of people we may otherwise write off.  This very evening I spoke with a Catholic girl who gave valid testimony of God working in her life.  Is her theology correct?  I doubt it.  Is my theology correct on every point either?  I doubt that too.  Is God working in both our lives? I think so.

The more I know, the less I know. My favorite saying is that, “Life is messy.”  Beginners see life in black and white. Beginners go around trying to rationalize (or wishing) the messes away.  But after awhile, it’s better to just embrace them.  It happens slowly, but one day we wake up to catch ourselves thinking, “I bet that Christian guy over there with all the tattoos knows more about God than I do.”

Speaking of knowledge, sometimes I catch myself feeling smug upon realizing I know my Bible better than another Believer.  This too is a beginner mistake. 

It’s not how much we know God’s Word that’s the question, but how much we know God Himself:

"Let not the wise boast of their wisdom… but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth…" (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

Taken a step further, perhaps it’s not even about how much we know God that’s important, but about how much God knows us.  Think of Job.  God knew who Job was:

The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”  (Job 1:8)

As Satan comes before the throne of God with accusations in April of 2013, I wonder if God will respond with, “Have you considered my servant [your name here]?  That servant who is blameless and upright?  Who fears me and shuns evil?”

A sobering question.  I wonder, “Am I even serving God in the first place?  Are my activities for me, or God? Am I where God wants me?  Am I submitting to Him daily?  Is my life committed to Him fully?  Do I fear his displeasure?  Do I shun evil?  Am I committed to not forsaking Him, even if it means going through what Job did?”

This verse encourages me:

"The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him…" (2 Chronicles 16:9)

Guess we all have to make beginner mistakes. But, I for one am ready to move on to intermediate-level mistakes.

4 thoughts on “Beginner Mistakes”

  1. Good post, Nick. I too, was ruthlessly attacked by a mob of small children once in Iraq after handing out free stuff. Christmas Day, 2004, to be exact. We went to a girl’s orphanage & had a Christmas party, complete with a Santa Claus who let kids sit on his lap while he charitably dispensed toys from his bag o’ goods. There was much rejoicing until we were leaving and we found that all the ne’er-do-well children of the the corn from miles around had gathered.

    They must have gotten Christmas confused with Halloween because when we didn’t give them any treats, they played a trick on us… namely, pelting us with rocks and kicking, banging and rocking our vehicles as we tried to make good our escape. I might have even used my boot on a few of those miniature miscreants as I tried to close the door on the SUV.

    I was also party to inciting a riot once in Mali for handing out free medical supplies. One method that I witnessed from a colleague of mine was to drive a pickup filled with free stuff with one person in the back tossing it out behind them. She had to drive just a little bit faster than the fastest runner of the village.

    And then there was the time that a generous American sent an entire shipping container full of clothes to us in Afghanistan. I refused to take possession of it. Instead, I told the semi-truck driver to drop it at the Governor’s compound. I hear that the container was empty in 2 minutes, 13 seconds. Number of dead and wounded unknown.

    Having fully learned our lesson during these past ten years, we are now teaching the Afghan army to hand out free stuff. Instead of “free stuff”, we are calling it “RBI” or Relationship-Building Items. Relationship-building my eye! I call it Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

  2. C.S. Lewis talks about how when we get to Heaven we may be surprised who is there…and the diversity of the body of Christ. When we admit we don’t know it all, have it all together, and that there are things we don’t understand we give ourselves room for grace…and that is the kind of grace we need to give others as well. God intended us to be different in the body. If we were all the same, there would be no challenging or thinking.

    And on knowing the Bible…well, I think the circles I grew up in it was drilled into me. I know a lot of Scripture, but the application? Well, I’m working on that. Everything we know/do isn’t so much about us, but about God and how He is messing with our hearts. That’s why after traveling many places and being faithful I know the results aren’t what matter. Because honestly, one can make up numbers.

    Beginner mistakes…well, we all still make them.

  3. Let me first say that I don’t know if someone can be Christian and a complete Roman Catholic. I will say that the deeper someone is in that church’s traditions and idolatry, the harder it is for me to believe they are responding to the Holy Spirit’s convictions.

    I think it’s unfortunate for anyone to tell a Roman Catholic he or she’s going to Hell without telling them
    a. That ALL have sinned, as you mentioned
    b. how to get to Heaven

    What may appear to be God working in someone’s life, may not be God’s work at all.

    That goes even for the life of a sound theologian who claims to actually believe in “grace alone, by faith alone” (which the Catholic Council of Trent called “anathema” in 1544 and never since denied calling it that, by the way). To suggest empirically that God is working in someone’s life almost feels like adding to the canon. Maybe we can KNOW when the Holy Spirit, God and Jesus are doing work in others today, but it is much easier to KNOW when we see it in our own lives, and when it happened in the Bible.

    I give the Gospel to Roman Catholics because so much of their church’s theology messes with core Christian teachings. A lot of it is subtle. I do see how someone could get lured into thinking “well, it’s just a little different”, but it’s SUBSTANTIVELY different.

    I do like the emphasis on “my sin”. When you let non-Christians know that even the slightest violation of God’s law deserves His righteous wrath (James 2:10), they often see the beauty of grace and then are less tempted to give into Satan’s lie that they are too sinful to come to God (this is probably more true for Christians who have fallen away). That said, I don’t believe that anyone who dies and goes to Hell is every truly duped unwillingly. I believe everyone – at some level – knows that God is real, and that – by their deeds – they hate Him. In fact, how much of the act of repenting and believing is human-willed is up for debate. Calvinists who believe God takes away some of the free will equation, however, agree with Baptists and Lutherans on the basics of what Jesus did on the cross, and on what man’s role is.

    And that’s what brings things full circle: Peripheral and ancillary theological differences vs. core theological differences. It’s why Calvinists still do conferences and share ministries with non-Calvinist Christians, yet neither group is capable of doing so with Roman Catholics.

    Due to the vast encounters with the Roman Catholic Church – some of these RCC clergy perpetuating downright frightening deception – that my family and friends have had, I will always err on the side of caution when speaking to a Roman Catholic. I don’t want to wake up in the next life realizing that I shied away from the truth to someone perishing. Now, I DON’T believe that I am responsible for others’ salvation (that is another massive theological discussion), merely I am accountable to God for each opportunity that He blesses me with.

    If you made it through without falling asleep due to my hyper over-analysis, I will summarize by saying: It’s a false equivocation and ultimately futile for Christians to look at religions like Roman Catholicism and think that minor theological errors by yourself or other orthodox Christians are equal to theirs. Roman Catholicism is wrong on Jesus’ role, on whether or not the work of Jesus on the cross is complete or not, and on whether or not Mary should be added to the Gospel.

    When a hyper-Pentecostal person is on stage, preaching some “new revelation” God gave him on human perfectionism, using fire and brimstone to preach about bizarre visions, giving militaristic calls to give up your life for God, headbutting people on stage, and chastising those who don’t speak in tongues…the average Christian might think this guy’s teaching is absurd.

    Roman Catholicism preaches a more romantic and mystical human perfectionism in Mary. However, believing either perfectionism doctrine has awful consequences.

    If Mary was to be prayed to and placed on a higher ground than any other sinner, Jesus had many opportunities to say so. However, when Jesus was told she was outside with His brothers in Luke 8:20, He chose to emphasize His family being His followers. When an audience member shouted out that Mary’s womb and breasts are blessed, Jesus said “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” instead of exalting Mary (Luke 11:26-28).

    I encourage you to use resources like or a debate like this one ( ) if you desire to understand the differences in beliefs.

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