29 July 2008

Dark-Side Christianity

I have done a lot of surfing in the blogosphere recently, especially among the “Christian” crowd, and have been both encouraged and concerned. I am encouraged that people are taking advantage of a great opportunity but concerned about the nature of a large number of Christian blogs. Some come across as very negative and critical. Their approach is more like throwing mud than sharing truth. They use what I call the “Dark-Side” approach and that is not a complimentary characterization for Christians.

Christians have the privilege of dealing in God’s truth and the primary point of this truth is the “Gospel.” The word means “good news” and it is gloriously liberating. There’s nothing dismal about the Gospel. Christians do not come bearing bad news.

God’s truth comes wrapped in words like love, forgiveness, life (everlasting), newness, understanding, etc. The concept of “judgment” is included in the Bible but it is not the primary issue. The Gospel dispels judgment it doesn’t dispense it.

Exuberance and uncontrollable joy accompany the Gospel. It is never harsh, critical or repressive. It is truly an unbelievable, once in a lifetime offer. It is so great, that there is no comparison between the Gospel and even winning the lottery.

But, you wouldn’t get that impression by reading some Christian blogs. Instead of sharing the truth, a lot of time and energy is spent finding the fault. Once it is found the descriptions can be unbearably graphic and it isn’t long before your head is so filled with un-truth, and the people who promote it, that there isn’t much room left for real God given Gospel truth.

The Dark-Side mindset isn’t happy until every false doctrine has been found, named and attributed. And naming the false doctrine is never quite enough. Those associated with it must be defamed.

Dark-Side investigators have become the tabloid of Christian media and keep us informed on every wrong thing and those who propagate it. The error they seek to expose doesn’t have to be absolutely wrong. It only need appear that way and no incriminations are spared for the people who teach or believe it. On the surface this sounds noble but there are several reasons why this approach will always fail.

You Cannot Teach Truth By Articulating Error
Sharing God’s truth is not the same thing as identifying error. You don’t have to explain what is wrong in order to say what is right. I don’t have to try mud cakes to know chocolate cake is far superior. Truth alone, speaks for itself.

People don’t learn more about God when you talk about ideas that are wrong. Heresy needs to be avoided not discussed in detail. The best way to fight error is to contend for the truth.

Truth is by nature illuminating. Things become hazy when you discuss error. The best way to clear the air is to elaborate on the truth itself. Focusing on error is like turning off the light. The more you talk about a thing the more prominent it becomes.

Unfortunately, error needs no assistance. It is the default setting and has been around since the beginning of time. Truth, on the other hand, must be carried and shown. You cannot demonstrate the blessing of marriage by decrying the shame of adultery.

You Cannot Debunk Error Without Attacking People
Christians are supposed to love people. We are not called or even allowed to love some and hate others. We are commanded to love our enemies just like we love our friends. Anything else is disobedience.

This idea gets a lot of lip service but not much in the way of attitude. We would rather win the debate than the person. Faultfinding generates fights not friendships.

At the end (or maybe the beginning) of every error is a person. God loves that person, Jesus died for that person and we are commanded to care about that person. You cannot deal with the error without damaging the people attached to it. If you really care about a heretic, you will talk to him or her not about them. Being hateful toward people is not a good way to love God.

So, if you want to oppose immorality, talk about moral things. If you want to dissipate darkness, shed more light. If you want to please God, find a way to love those in error. God will be more pleased and people will find you more approachable. And remember, the Dark-Side approach is always destructive. ThinkAboutIt

25 July 2008

"Faith" The Multi-Shaped Piece, Part 2

Not every person believes IN God but every person does believe something ABOUT God and that belief, atheist or otherwise, involves faith, which is to say, everyone has it. Remember, any conclusion you draw which cannot be proven absolutely includes an element of faith.

We discussed that in the last post and we won’t repeat it here. In this post I want to focus on the kind of faith that honors God and we will start with “What Faith Is Not.”

We will discuss in detail only two observations: One, faith is not the same thing as religious achievement and, two, faith is not a “get out of jail free” card.

Faith Is Not The Same Thing As Religious Achievement
Jesus attributed faith to many different people during His ministry. In most cases, they were religious outsiders, completely unrecognized by the religious community.

On one occasion, Jesus referred to a Roman centurion (an outsider by nationality and occupation) as having greater faith than anyone in the religious establishment. The Centurion (a Roman military officer) was stationed in a Jewish town. Not only did the Jewish community consider him outside the boundaries of their faith, they were usually antagonistic toward his type.

The religious people didn’t see him as having the potential for faith but Jesus said his faith was the greatest of all. This man wasn’t religiously recognized but he was apparently spiritually receptive and the faith which developed was obvious to Jesus.

On another occasion, Jesus told a Syrophenician woman (another gentile outsider) that she had great faith. The disciples were shocked by this assessment. When she first approached Jesus they had tried to shoo her away. Jesus measured faith very differently to the disciples.

Jesus also attributed faith (by inference) to the Samaritan who assisted the man who had been robbed on the Jericho road. Samaritans’ were considered religious outsiders also but his faith compared to the religious leaders who neglected the fallen man was great. The religious leaders were following conventional wisdom. The Samaritan's compassion motivated his faith.

The religious community stigmatized lepers, blind people, those with chronic illnesses and paralytics as spiritually unfit. Jesus, however, often recognized these religious misfits for their faith.

The disciples, on the other hand, (the religious elite) were often accused of having little faith.

We learn a truth from these observations. Anyone can exercise faith and sometimes the ones from whom we least expect it are the ones who show it the most.

Being religious will give you recognition in the religious community but God recognizes those who exercise faith. Being religious may give you the tools for exercising faith but it can also be a veneer to hide the fact that you don't have any.

Faith Is Not A “Get Out Of Jail Free” Card
For some Christians, faith is the miracle wild card that helps them remove every problem and/or provide every blessing (especially money) in endless amounts. But, there is another possibility that we should consider. Instead of dissolving all your problems faith may be the thing that helps you manage them better.

Exercising faith may give you the patience to endure an intolerable situation, or the strength to do what you thought was beyond you, or the ability to love those who are hateful, or the determination to develop skills you lack. This is where faith takes on a different shape even for Christians.

On one occasion the disciples were caught on the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm. The storm was serious but not impossible. The Bible says Jesus actually fell asleep during the storm, which would not have been possible in a really bad storm. But the disciples, in an anxious state, woke Jesus up crying for help.

Jesus did calm the storm miraculously but He wasn’t very impressed with their intrusion. He accused them of being full of fear instead of faith. The implication was, if they had faith they would have found the courage to ride out the storm. The miracle was performed in answer to their fear not their faith.

The lesson: easy solutions to big problems keep us from growing as we should. Faith is a means of forcing your abilities to match the problem. Don’t use it to make your problem match what you perceive your abilities to be.

Final quick thoughts. Faith…

  • Helps you overcome your lack of talent
  • Is demonstrated by imperfect people
  • Is not the opposite of science
  • Is never foolish or irresponsible

On the other hand, faith…

  • Is a life principle for Christians (the just shall live by faith)
  • Becomes stronger the more we exercise it (from weak to great)
  • Is very persistent (God rewards those who diligently seek Him)
  • Is the only requirement for salvation (For by grace are you saved through faith)

Are you a Christian? If not put your faith in Christ today.


22 July 2008

"Faith" The Multi-Shaped Piece

We are talking about character qualities of the Spirit and there are nine in all. Each one represents only one piece of the puzzle. The last blog talked about “goodness” and I referred to it as the missing piece. It is rarely evident. Unlike goodness the next piece, “faith,” is found in everyone.

Religious people are proud to claim this quality and non-religious people like to consider themselves above it but everyone has faith. People who claim to have no faith are only rejecting a particular kind, e.g. Christianity or Hinduism, but faith is still a part of their reasoning process.

No one has all the facts. Every time you draw a conclusion before you have all the facts you have exercised faith.

What you think about origins, for example, is really a matter of faith. Some people believe the universe is the outcome of evolution and others believe God is our creator but neither idea has been proven absolutely. Both sides have little tolerance for the other, claim the academic high ground, come across as condescending and at times arrogant but faith is still the common denominator. Don’t be fooled by all the intellectual posturing. You cannot draw a conclusion about origins without a good dose of faith.

What about life after death? Do you believe in heaven and hell, reincarnation or does life just end? Take your pick but please don’t assume you can prove it. The outcome you adopt has a large element of faith.

We weren’t there when everything got started and if you are reading this you haven’t been to the afterlife yet. There are many things we just don’t know and faith is what every person uses to fill the gaps.

When a young man proposes to a young woman, he is acting in faith. If his proposal is accepted, she is acting in faith. Both start out thinking the relationship will be wonderful the rest of their lives. But, some marriages have been known to go sour and eventually break up even after long drawn out courtships. Why? Because what each “believed” would happen wasn’t substantiated by reality and the contradiction couldn’t be reconciled.

To ask a person if they have faith is like asking if they breathe. The real question is what shape does their faith take? What assumptions do you begin with? What would you like to be true?

Many will try to argue that their particular set of beliefs is based in fact but that isn’t fair or reasonable. Everyone is dealing with the same set of facts. A person’s belief system represents their interpretation of those facts. All facts are neutral until interpreted. Geological findings and scientific observations don’t come with explanatory notes attached.

Court rooms and legal procedures are necessary because facts (evidence) do not speak for themselves. Evidence is only circumstantial and never conclusive until everyone on both sides has carefully scrutinized it and even then, the wrong conclusions are occasionally drawn.

Legal verdicts are based on findings which are beyond reasonable doubt. When reasonable doubt cannot be cleared, no verdict is rendered. If science were subject to legal restraints then there would be no verdict. The conclusions you come to either way would involve an element of faith.

In a court setting, just like life, everyone starts with an assumption. The prosecution “believes” the accused is guilty and works hard to prove it. The defense “believes” the accused is innocent and works to prove that. Until all the facts are in hand and thoroughly considered, what you assume to be true is a matter of faith. If facts are missing and arguments are inconclusive, what you believe remains a matter of faith.

What shape does your faith take? Have you included God or ignored Him? Is your faith self-centered, government-centered, science-centered, business-centered, God-centered or what? ThinkAboutIt.

Next blog: “What faith is not”

14 July 2008

"Goodness" the missing piece - Galatians 5:22-23

Of the nine fruits of the Spirit, “Goodness” is sixth on the list and the list is quite impressive. You could say it is the “who’s who” for character qualifies. It includes love, faithfulness and self-control to mention just a few. Despite the association, however, Christians do not discuss in detail or demonstrate often this quality as the world understands it. Christians are very concerned about being right but have little interest in being good.

Non-Christians, on the other hand, are often more visibly involved with good deeds of a humanitarian type. When Christians don’t follow suit (and even speak against doing so) the non-Christians are first confused, then become angry, act betrayed and become cynical about God, the Bible, church and anything else associated with Christianity. And the Christian response to this situation is a bit callous. We take issue with the offense.

There is a reason for this attitude. The one thing all Christians understand foremost is the freeness of salvation. God saved us because He was merciful, with no consideration for any good that we have done. In fact, the Bible clearly teaches that no one is good enough and, therefore, good deeds do not figure into our salvation one bit. Therefore, talking about doing good deeds after freely being saved almost feels like a compromise.

When non-Christian people and organizations engage in altruistic activities we snicker and huff as if we know something they don’t. When they suggest we do the same we rally to the cause of theological purity as if that is a good reason not to care about people who desperately need the basic necessities of life.

Sadly, Christians tend to be theologoically restricted. Any activity, which does not lead directly to salvation or to an understanding of some eternal truth or to a commitment to church activity, is seen as spiritually barren or insipid. Humanitarian activities are not considered the spiritually “manly” thing to do.

And when Christians do act in humanitarian ways there is always a catch. It is never done without ulterior motive. The supply of help is conditional. People must qualify on some spiritual level before we help them.

  • Is the person who needs help a Christian?

  • If so, is the person a good Christian?

  • If not, do we have reason to believe they will become a good Christian if we help (i.e., tithe)

  • If not a Christian will they seriously consider salvaion if we get involved.

Our help should rather be strategic than conditional. Providing material assistance may (or may not) open the door for spiritual ministry but it does put us in a good light and makes what we have to say important.

But, we should do good whether the door opens or not. Jesus made that clear. In fact, God is good to every person and many of them still reject His love.

Truth: the Bible says a lot about doing good deeds and the understanding is, we do them because it is good to do. A few verses will suffice to make the point but a thorough study reveals the enormity of the topic.

Peter described Jesus ministry as “going about doing good” (Acts 10:38) and the Gospel record shows Him doing as much good materially as He did spiritually. We are expected to do the same.

In John 5:28-29 Jesus said,

"Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear my voice and come out-- those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned."

Obviously, in the mind of Jesus, doing good was not a secondary issue.

In Romans 2: 9-10 Paul echoed these sentiments.

“There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”

In Ephesians 2:10 Gods intent regarding good works is clearly seen.

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…”

One last verse reveals that we must do good deeds for everyone, not just the chosen few.

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10)

Disclaimer: The Bible does not teach nor am I suggesting that salvation is the result of good deeds but clearly the Bible does teach that good deeds will be the evidence of salvation.


Good involves both spiritual deeds and material deeds. Both have eternal implications. Our activities, however, are usually heavily weighted toward the spiritual (witnessing, teaching Bible truth, worship, teaching Sunday school, etc.) sometimes to the exclusion of the material.

The content of the Gospels, however, reveals heavy emphasis on the material side of things. Jesus healed the sick constantly and fed the hungry in great numbers. The people He helped materially were not followers in the strict sense of the word before or after He assisted them. In some cases they were hateful after being helped. And what He did in His ministry is what He taught we should do in ours.

Jesus said we should do good to people that hate us, even lending to them (Matt. 5:44-45; Luke 6:35) only because they need it, never because they deserve it. When we do, He said we are acting like God.

Jesus broke the law when He healed a man on the Sabbath and He said it was justified because He was doing a good humanitarian deed. The implication? It is evil to fail to meet desperate material needs when we can, even on a holy day. The religious leaders responded by making plans to kill Him. Obviously, religious people don’t easily catch on.

Jesus taught that the second of the two great commandments is “love your neighbor as yourself” and in the Sermon on the Mount He said, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” These statements are not difficult to understand but they can be easily confused.

A lawyer, who was very familiar with these teachings, attempted to confuse the issue by asking one qualifying question: who is my neighbor? In response Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. The point or points?

  • Doing good, even in the material sense, shoiuld be an automatic response.

  • Everyone is a neighbor even those you love to hate.

  • It will cost time, money and effort (very inconvenient) but it is the right thing to do.

Bottom line? Being neutral in the face of material human need is nothing but selfishness even when whitewashed by the appearance of spiritual good.


Good is measured on three levels. Your nature, your actions and your intent.

Everyone is guilty by nature. Unfortunately, everyone is born with a faulty nature. We inherited it from our fore-fathers and that makes everyone a sinner by default. Jesus said that no one is good but God and the Bible affirms that all others have sinned (Romans 3:23). The only way to change this predicament is to receive a new and different nature and that happens when you are born again. You are guilty by nature but fortunately not condemned yet.

Disclaimer: regrettably, a new nature alone is not enough. Knowledge and experience are required as well. The Bible says by use we have our senses exercised to discern between good and evil (Heb. 5:14). The new nature, without instruction and practice, is still without direction. Meeting the material needs of others should be automatic, intelligent and skillful.

Everyone is guilty by action. Solomon said, “there is not a just man upon earth that does good and sins not.” If you start with a bad nature and mix in faulty information the only logical outcome are misguided deeds. The possibility of doing good will improve only when you get a new nature and after you are well instructed. You are guilty by deeds but fortunately still not condemned yet.

Absolute guilt, however, is settled on the third level, the heart. The battle for salvation happens here. A good heart intends good even when it does wrong. A bad heart intends wrong even when cloaked in smiles and "expressed" good intentions.

A good heart is honest not sinless and admits when it does wrong. A bad heart justifies the wrong it does. A good heart will eventually admit to the futility of real change without intervention from God. A bad heart is obstinate and refuses to change. And a good heart is receptive to God’s answer to our sinful condition. The Bible says “with the heart man believes unto righteousness.”


The first good step is believing in Christ for salvation. Following that more good will come.

This short message does not cover the subject of goodness entirely but it does give you enough to ThinkAboutIt. Please give us your perspective.