Archive for May 22, 2012

Saved–Part 3: Comfortable

 

As we covered in Part 2, to a person in the light, light is preferable, and to one in the dark, darkness is preferable. This is simply because that wherever you find yourself, if that state of existence continues, you will get comfortable with it, and that will be what you perceive as “normal.”  The longer your “normal” exists, be it darkness or light, the more you can’t imagine life being any other way.

A person sitting in the dark is not necessarily happy about it, but they are comfortable with their surroundings. So they justify their darkness, rather than turning on the light, which would involve getting out of the chair and flipping the switch—a very simple action, but it does involve SOME effort.

Likewise, a person outside the church may not feel as though they are missing anything that Christianity can provide. A person walking in the light of Christ knows what the others are missing, but what we as Christians need to remember is that sharing the gospel with somebody against their will is like flipping on a 100-watt bulb in a dark room. The light of Truth can burn your brain just like a sudden flip of a light switch can burn your eyes.

That is why so many people reject the gospel when they first hear it. It really has nothing to do with “logic and reason;” it is simply too much of a shock to the system for them to absorb.

We forget that for someone in the dark, there is actual pain involved with coming into the light for the first time. The pain goes away, of course, and is replaced by a clearer understanding, but you don’t instinctively know that at the time you’re experiencing the pain.

Meanwhile, it should also be noted that those in the light actually have the same problem with being comfortable. Christians can get so used to the light, that we forget what it was like in the darkness, where we all began.

We can also get comfortable where we are and forget that we were called into the light for a purpose—to flip on the light switch for other people sitting in the dark. This also involves effort and change—a change of attitude toward the people in the dark.

I think Paul said it best in his letter to Titus:

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:3-5a)

That sounds like my life in a nutshell. No one saved me by arguing me into heaven. I did not save myself by simply deciding to “be good.” Jesus Christ chose to save me, because that is who He is, and that is what He does.

If I were to walk into a dark room now, I might stub my toe, but I could sit with an inhabitant of the darkness and talk to them about my own previously dark room. I could share that the only way I was able to light up my room was by first acknowledging that my room was dark.

And who knows? By God’s mercy and grace, they might ask me to help them find the light switch. At the very least, they will know there’s a switch that needs flipping.

Saved–Part 2: Light and Darkness

 

 

I hate to break it to you babe, but I’m not drowning

There’s no one here to save.

(Sara Bareilles  “King of Anything” 2010)

      A Christian would hear this song and perhaps be reminded of 1 Corinthians 1:18, which reads, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

However, it is far too easy for us as Christians to look down on “those who are perishing” as though they are lost children groping about in the darkness. Being “in the light,” we know that to be a spiritual reality, but we forget that a person that has spent their entire life in darkness is accustomed to the dark.

In this way, spiritual darkness is very like physical darkness. If you walk from a brightly lit room into a dark one, you will stumble, because you can’t see anything. However, if you wake up in the middle of night in the same dark room, you don’t have much trouble navigating it, because your eyes are accustomed to the darkness.

But if someone then turns on the light, you are, for a short time, just as blinded by the light as someone coming in from outside would be blinded by the darkness. Either way, going from light to dark or dark to light, you are probably going to whack your shin on the coffee table.

A person who has spent time in the dark room doesn’t have a problem walking through it. They are accustomed to the darkness, and it suits them. However, that person in the dark room is missing out on so many things that could be seen in the light.

After all, once you get past the initial shock of the light coming on and the brief pain of the rhodopsin breaking down in your eyeballs, then you can see just fine. Much better in fact, than you could even when accustomed to the dark.

This is why we have light switches in our houses—we have always instinctively known that light is better than darkness, so we have developed technology that allows us to have light whenever we desire at the flip of a switch.

This raises a troubling question, however.

If it is so instinctive that we would be attracted to and prefer physical light over physical darkness, then why is it that we are so resistant to come out of spiritual darkness into the light?

And even more troubling–why are those who are in the light, or “saved,” so hesitant to go into other dark rooms and flip on the switch?

(To find out, come back for Part 3: Comfortable)

 

Saved–Part 1: Saved From What?

About 15 years ago, my family and I were practicing Catholics. I had been raised in the Catholic Church, but had fallen away at an early age. My wife had converted after our marriage. Her conversion, added to the fact that we were now raising two sons in the church, had renewed my interest in the church and in my own spiritual voyage.

Having grown up either being Catholic or trying hard not to be, I was quite ignorant of other denominations. I was aware that they existed, but their histories, beliefs and the differences between them had no more meaning to me than the differences between channels on television. To me, there was simply Catholic and Not Catholic.

One afternoon, our neighbors, who attended an Assembly of God church, invited us next door to a “small group fellowship.” I had no idea what this meant, exactly. I saw a yard full of people I didn’t know and their noisy children. I knew they were people that attended the same church, about which I knew nothing.

These folks looked normal enough, but a key difference soon became apparent when a father yelled at his ornery children to “stop behaving like the Canaanites.”

It occurred to me that I recognized “Canaanite” as a Bible word, probably a geographical term, but I didn’t really know who the Canaanites were or why they were significant. Furthermore, I had no connection whatsoever in my mind regarding how the Canaanites behaved and what parallels there might have been to their behavior and that of this man’s children.

In short, I was aware in that moment that I was woefully ignorant in regard to Bible knowledge, and despite the friendly welcome I received from these folks, I felt intimidated—like they were on some totally different spiritual plane than me.

About this time, three of the ladies came over to us and asked me if we had a home church, knowing that we were not from theirs. I told them that we were attending the local Catholic church. They looked at each other with what seemed to be delight, and one of them innocuously exclaimed, “Oh, our pastor used to be Catholic too until he got saved!”

It was clear from her tone that she meant no offense whatsoever from this remark. Nevertheless, I remember clearly 15 years later that the first thought that went through my mind was, “Saved? From what?”

What my Catholic ears heard was that their pastor used to be just like me, but then he was saved from the error, the foolishness, the madness that is Catholicism. Needless to say, I found that offensive.

We stayed for the rest of the meeting, and I tried, and I think succeeded, to be gracious to the group for their hospitality, just as they were gracious about my biblical ignorance.

Even so, I just could not get past that word, “saved.”

Looking back on that afternoon 15 years later, now as a Baptist, I am much more conscious of how we, as evangelical Christians, can unwittingly come across to others with our churchy words.

It is so easy for us to fall in to the trap of seeing ourselves as “saved” and everyone else as “lost.” This mindset may be Biblically factual and theologically sound, but it fails to acknowledge the reality that “lost” people don’t know they’re lost. Therefore, to hear from someone they do not even know that they need to be “saved” is offensive to them.

 

(To be continued in Part 2: Light and Darkness)

Entitled to Our Own Opinion?

           

 Opinions are like noses.  Everybody has one, and they’re always in your face.

            We say, “Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion,” generally when we disagree with that opinion.  But are we really entitled to an opinion?

            Everyone who has an opinion strong enough to give voice to it typically assumes that his or her opinion is the correct one.  Nevertheless, there’s always somebody who will disagree with that opinion and offer one of their own.

            So how do you determine whose opinion is the right one? 

            Well, the truth is that NO opinion is the right opinion.  Here’s why.

            An opinion is based on belief and perception with varying degrees of fact sprinkled in.  Different facts, beliefs and perceptions will lead to different opinions.  The one thing every opinion has in common, however, is that every opinion is based on an incomplete picture of the situation at hand. 

In other words, an opinion is simply somebody telling you what they think about what they don’t know. 

            For this reason, opinions can only serve the purpose of starting arguments.  Furthermore, these arguments have little hope of resolution.  For even if a person makes a show of listening to another’s opinion, much more often than not, they will still inwardly cling to their own.  Such a conversation will probably end in a mock-civil state known as “agreeing to disagree.” 

I believe the technical rhetorical term for that is “load of crap.” 

A Truthseeker never agrees to disagree.  Rather than attempting to win the argument by holding an opinion in a death-grip to the bitter end, a Truthseeker will do an end run around the argument to the common ground, seeking resolution in the relationship along with the Truth.

            Remember from the Nature of Truth series the criteria for Truth:

  1.      Truth is Eternal—it was here before you got here and will remain, no matter what else changes.
  2.     Truth is Universal—it affects everyone in exactly the same way.
  3.     Truth is Indisputable—it is what is left over at the end of the argument.

Opinions simply do not fit these criteria.  If it is an opinion that you formed yourself, it started with you and will probably die with you (unless you manage to convince some people to carry it on after you are gone).  Therefore, opinions are not eternal.

Opinions definitely do not affect everyone the same way, or everyone would have the same opinion.  Therefore, opinions are not universal (duh).

Even more of a “duh” is that opinions are not indisputable.  In fact, they are at the very core of every dispute.

Therefore, we can only logically conclude that opinions are not Truth.  As such, NO opinion can be the right one.

Now here’s the sticky part—that means that YOURS isn’t the right one either.

So what to do then?  Simple!  Seek Truth, share it when you find it, and have nothing to do with opinions.  As Paul advised Timothy:

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:23-25  NIV)

No one is entitled to an opinion, but EVERYONE is entitled to Truth!