Tag Archive for Christian

Doubt: Part 10–Religion

 

 

 14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?  15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  19 You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.  (James 2:14-19, 26 NIV)

 

 

Even though I believed in God on that day in 1989, I had programmed myself for too long to be independent.  It was all I knew how to do.  The feeling of God’s peace, love, warmth and comfort only lasted a minute that day.  Obviously, I have never forgotten it, but a seed planted takes time to grow, longer if you don’t water it.  I didn’t.

 

Instead, I pushed forward, finished college, and entered the work force.  Full steam ahead, stick to the script.  Living the American Dream by golly!

 

Except my American Dream was a nightmare.  After failing at my first three jobs, I tried to start my own business instead, because obviously, the problem was them not me.

 

Then an interesting thing happened.

 

Many of my business contacts were Christians.  Not the robotic, going-through-the-motions churchgoers that I had observed growing up—these people lived differently, and they were like that all the time.

 

They reminded me that I really needed my Daddy, the one that my second-grade Sunday school teacher had tried so clumsily to tell me about.  Except this time, it felt genuine.

 

I heard miraculous testimonies and saw people living lives that I could not explain, except by one thing—remembering that October afternoon at the cemetery.  I had already been forced to acknowledge that God was real, but this was something new.

God was Abba, my Daddy, and he actually cared about me.  He wanted to protect me from harm, and he wanted me to lead my family.  And my spiritual maturity took a big leap forward.  But this is still not the happy ending.

 

You see, at this point I am in my mid-20s physically, but still a child spiritually.  I am cracking a Bible for the first time.  I don’t know anything about salvation except for the fact that it’s Jesus’ job.  I am going to church with my family now, and have us all baptized into the same religion, but I am still running the program of everything-depends-on-me.  I know there is a God and I know that He cares, and I am grateful for this, but I have still not acknowledged my dependence.

 

Sometimes when we won’t let go of our pride, God will use circumstances to knock us down to the point where the only place to look and move is upward.

 

Eight years later, my marriage failed.  I was going to church every week and was active in music ministry, but it was still just religion.

 

And all religion is is a churched-up way of repeating the same old pattern of trying to meet our own needs through our own efforts.

 

Sure, we wrap it all up in God-speak, but Jesus already called our bluff 2,000 years ago when He said to the Pharisees:

 

 “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are but rules taught by men.’”  Mark 7:6-7, (quoting Isaiah 29:13) NIV

 

(To be concluded in Part 11–The Death of Doubt)

 

Us and Them: Part 2–Popping the Bubble

For every “them,” there must be an “us” to balance it.  So instead of seeking Truth, you start seeking people who will agree with you.

 

It’s not that hard to do in this age of technology.  For example, Facebook lets us create an alternate reality where, with canny use of the “hide” feature, everyone in your virtual world thinks you’re brilliant.  You must be, or why would you have so many “likes” on your last post with nobody disagreeing with you?

 

Well of course everybody agrees with you, because you aren’t friends with any of “them.”  Now you have your own custom-designed “us.”

 

Now here’s where this gets especially dangerous for Truthseekers.  As I mentioned before, if you’re busy building your “us,” you have taken your eye off of the truthseeking.

 

Let me put this in the context of Christianity.  Those of you who are Christians, do you spend the majority of your time and energy seeking God or seeking other Christians to build you up and make you feel better about yourself?  Nothing wrong with being built up or feeling good about yourself, but remember that God is the one who builds up and tears down ultimately.

 

You don’t need self-esteem when you know whose you are and in whose image you were created.  Other Christians can sharpen you by challenging you, educating you and edifying you, but I believe that the true tests of Christian character come from interactions with “the world,” which is church-speak for “everyone who’s not a Christian.”

 

Yes, that means we have to be around “them.”  Guess what, Christian?  Before you were one of “us,” you were one of “them.”  Remember?

 

You don’t want to remember, do you?

 

Do it anyway.

 

How old were you when you accepted Christ as not just your savior from sin and death, but as the Lord of your life in the here and now?  Some of you did it as a child, and don’t have many memories of how you were before.

 

I was 33 when I finally closed the deal, so I have a LOT of memories, some of them painfully fresh.  Satan reminds me of them every day, trying to tell me how unworthy I am of God’s grace, which of course backfires on him, because I already KNOW that.  That’s why it’s called grace—because you don’t deserve it.

 

So when attempting to make me beat myself up doesn’t work, Satan reminds me of “them.”

 

Those morons, those degenerates, just LOOK at them!  Flaunting their perversions in broad daylight, acting as if they were the normal ones, tearing “us” down at every opportunity, blindly following Barack Obama like lemmings.

 

Oops, tipped my hand a bit there, didn’t I?

 

But here’s the thing.  I voted for Bill Clinton in 1992.  I fiercely regretted it by 1994, but on election day 1992, I was at the Macon County Courthouse as the election results were pouring in, watching politicians sweat, pace and mutter to themselves.  I looked at my wife, at the 7 ½ months worth of swelling in her belly that would soon come into the world as my first child.  I felt exhilaration, and hope.  Hope for change.  I even briefly considered naming the child Hillary if it was a girl (it wasn’t.)

 

Why did I feel these things, even though there was no logical reason for me to have that hope?  Because I was one of “them.”

 

(So who are “them” really? Come back for Part 3–Need)

 

Intolerance: Part 5–The Narrow Path

So what does it mean when a Christian says, “Jesus is Lord?”

 

A pastor friend of mine defines “Lord” as “one having power and authority to whom obedience is due.”  It would follow, then, that to acknowledge Jesus as the Lord of one’s life would be simply recognizing Him for who He is and giving Him what is His.

 

Acknowledging this lordship comes with a price, though. 

 

Following Jesus requires sacrifice.  It means no longer following the world with its cultures and customs.  It means going against the grain of society, just as Jesus did.  It means demonstrating integrity by making a choice and sticking with it.

 

Jesus’ brother James warned that a man who doubts “should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does (James 1: 7-8 NIV).” 

 

In the face of such admonition, a Christian understands that to follow Jesus, it must be all or nothing. 

 

As a result, the maturing process of a Christian involves gradually stripping away anything from one’s life that hinders spiritual progress and growth.  Our path becomes narrower, and our focus more intense as we press on toward our ultimate goal.

 

This focusing, unfortunately, can easily result in a misperception by those outside the church. 

 

Because they are not walking the same path, they do not understand that it is necessary for Christians to be “narrow-minded” in order to stay on the narrow path that God has laid out for them.  The more focused a Christian is on that narrow path, the less significant anything NOT on that path becomes. 

 

Some misinterpret this as a lack of concern for others.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. 

 

Note that James also wrote, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27 NIV).” 

 

In other words, having a righteous intolerance for sin not only allows for being loving and tolerant of people, it requires it!

             

 

What Christians are intolerant of is the suggestion that there is any other way to God besides Jesus.  The reason for this is that God himself is intolerant of any rivalry or unfaithfulness from His people. 

 

 

Taken in this context, the assertion that Christians are narrow-minded is technically accurate, but not in a negative way.  It is simply the natural consequence of acknowledging Jesus as the Lord of our lives, submitting to His authority and following His leading along the proverbial “straight and narrow path.”

 

 

As long as the church recognizes Jesus as Lord, remaining in submission to our jealous God, then we also remain justified in being intolerant of any rival ideology that our culture would nominate to remove God from His rightful place in our lives.

 

 

Intolerance: Part 4–Our God is a Jealous God

To appreciate fully Jesus’ righteous intolerance of sin, we must remember that He is one with God the Father, who describes Himself repeatedly as a “jealous God” (Exodus 20:5, 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24, 5:9, 6:15; 32:16, 21; Joshua 24:19, Nahum 1:2, Zechariah 1:14).   

 

Unfortunately, many have taken offense to the word “jealous,” due to a misapprehension of its true meaning.

 

To be jealous is simply to advance one’s rights to the exclusion of the rights of others, or to put it another way, to be intolerant of any rivalry or unfaithfulness.

 

For example, a husband has exclusive rights to his wife.  If another man tries to encroach upon the husband’s marital rights, then the husband is jealous, not of his wife, but for his marriage. 

 

In the same way, but to an infinitely greater degree, God is jealous for His church. For God to be jealous signifies the advancement of His glory over anything that we would substitute for it.  This would include not only literal idols and false gods, but also the figurative idolatry shown by our elevating anything that is not God above God. 

 

He has made us, and we are His.  As such, it is His everlasting right to have our unending devotion, worship and praise.  Nothing else, and no one else, has a right to these. 

 

As Christians, we acknowledge God as God, and accordingly, we recognize Jesus as Lord.  Because of our submission to Jesus as the Lord of our lives, we also share in His righteous intolerance of sin. 

 

This presents a problem, though, since those who accuse the Church of being intolerant are those who have NOT recognized God as God or Jesus as Lord. 

 

If they recognize neither God’s authority nor Jesus’ divinity, then consequently, they will not recognize the church’s intolerance as being righteous.  A person whose gods are “logic and reason” will not concede that Jesus was anything but a great teacher at best. 

 

Fortunately, C. S. Lewis has already cleared this matter up for us:

 

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.  (Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1952.)

 

As Lewis makes plain, true logic and reason will lead only to one conclusion for a Christian.  That is the same conclusion that their hearts have already led them to—Jesus’ lordship.

 

(OK, so now what?  Come back for the conclusion: Part 5–The Narrow Path)

 

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 5: PRactice Grace

 

PRACTICE GRACE

You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

Some of us are blessed with great relationships with our extended families, others not so much.    But we keep going back to the cookouts, don’t we?  Because, well, they’re FAMILY!  It’s always a little easier to put aside differences when you’re tossing beanbags with brats on the grill.

But after the cookout, and the cleanup, and the kisses goodbye, the differences remain.  Every family has them, but the differences are thrown into sharp relief in a family where some of the members are Christians and some are not.

If you, like me, are among the first in your family to come out as an evangelical Christian, it can be uncomfortable at first.  Not only do you stick out like a sore thumb, but you see everyone else differently. 

No matter what your family situation is or what kind of relationships you have with them, there is one thing you must never forget.  It wasn’t anything you did that made you different from them. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast.  (Ephesians 2:8-9 RSV)

Now I do not want to assume that everyone reading this knows what is meant by “grace.”  Basically, it means “unmerited favor,” or getting something you didn’t earn.

Say for example you’re speeding down the interstate, and you get pulled over.  You know you deserve a ticket.  Getting what you deserve is justice.

What you HOPE will happen instead is that the officer will let you off with a warning.  Not getting what you deserve is mercy.

But what if instead the officer comes up to your car window and says, “You and I both know you have broken the law.  But nobody’s perfect.  So instead of a ticket, I’m just going to give you this Hershey Bar.  Have a nice day!”

 That’s not normal.  Not for a regular person anyway, but Jesus wasn’t a regular person. 

 He didn’t wait for us to clean ourselves up and be “good enough” for Him before He called us to follow Him.  We’ll never be good enough.  That’s the whole point of grace—we can’t do it ourselves.

Now back to the cookout.  Take a look around the yard at all these people getting on your nerves–these people you feel you have nothing in common with anymore.

Now look at them again, Christian.  You DO have something in common with them—genetic material.  Before God, in His mercy and grace, saved you, you were just like them.  In more ways than you care to admit, you still are.

So PRactice grace by loving your family for who they are, not who you think they ought to be.  PRactice grace by appreciating them for what they do, not for what they can do for you.  PRactice grace by looking past the rough edges to the heart inside—the heart that has a God-shaped hole in it just like yours once did.

But most of all, PRactice grace by simply hanging around with them.  Look past the differences and find the common ground.

After all, they’re family.  And you’re stuck with them.

(Next, Part 6—PRove It!)