Christian Behavior



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How are Christians to behave toward other people?

The answer is not complicated, Jesus spells it out with some frequency, both by words and by actions: we are to love others.

First we are to love other Christians—as Christ does, which means sacrificially.

Second, we are to love our enemies, even do good to those who misuse and abuse us.

Third, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, which is, as a radio pastor pointed out today, something we don’t need to learn to do. By nature we protect ourselves and care for ourselves, unless a person has experienced great mistreatment and/or is mentally ill. One of the ways people cope with horrific circumstances is to pull within themselves and protect themselves. Of course we can be taught to hate ourselves, but even when that’s the case, we see people hiding this self-loathing under a cloak of pride and arrogance or in mistreatment of others. In truth, we by nature love ourselves, though there is a great group of believers who are chiming in, along with the world, saying that we need to learn to love ourselves. In fact, Jesus said we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves because loving ourselves is a given.

To illustrate loving a neighbor, Jesus told the story of the man who others assumed to be a racist. When a “good” priest and a “good” Levite, encountering a situation that had the potential of being dangerous or of rendering them unclean in the eyes of the Mosaic Law, they took detours to escape the possibility of jeopardy.

The man who had every reason to hate the Jews and avoid all contact, did the opposite. He went out of his way to help the stranger. Jesus called him a true neighbor.

Using that story, we’d have to define neighbor as someone with the means to help (time, resources, connections) who sees another in need. We’re a neighbor if we help.

I live in an area populated (if you can use that word here) by a number of homeless people. One day on my morning walk, I came across a women who was lying flat on her stomach at the edge of a (church) parking lot. Just lying there. I stepped closer to her, not sure initially if she was even alive. She moved, so I asked her if she needed anything. A blanket, she said. Not money or help or food. A blanket.

Yes, I had a blanket I could give her. I’m not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but I had more than one blanket, and an old one I wasn’t using. Did I turn around and go home to get it? No, I told her I’d pick it up after I finished my walk. That’s kind of the equivalent of the man in Jesus’s story telling the injured guy he’d be back for him later after he’d taken care of his business.

I’m ashamed that my reaction was first to look out for my own personal needs, but there it is.

It gets worse. Another day a fairly young guy with earbuds and flip flops, shorts and a tank top passed me and my friend on our walk. He stopped, came back, and asked if we had some money to give him. Uh, no, neither of us carry any money. But the thing that’s important for this post, is what was going on in my heart. A young, healthy guy, by all appearances, begging money off a couple women clearly his senior. I wanted to give him a swift kick. I immediately concluded he wanted money for his addiction, because obviously he could get a job and earn a living if he wanted to. Mind you, I don’t know this guy and have no idea what his story was. Sort of like the man in Jesus’s story who didn’t know the guy lying in the road. I’m not saying I should have given this stranger in front of me any money (which I didn’t have and couldn’t have done), but I could have prayed for him instead of making assumptions about him, ugly assumptions. Peter said to the beggar at the Beautiful Gate, I don’t have any silver and gold, but what I have I’ll gladly give you. I have Jesus Christ in my life. Why didn’t I offer the stranger what I did have?

Well, I get tongue-tied, feel awkward, don’t know how to bring up the subject. I mean, he didn’t ask for the gospel. He asked for money. In response I simply told him I couldn’t give him what he wanted. But I could have given him what he needed.

OK, but I’m much better at writing than off-the-cuff conversations.

But how many times have I written comments and had to delete them because they were snide or snippy or rude or snarkish? Way more than I can count. I have to pray over comments and let the Holy Spirit guide my thoughts because my nature is to walk on by, or worse—to give a swift kick as I pass.

I’m pretty sure that God wants His followers to approach others with a heart of compassion. Instead of asking, “What’s in your wallet,” we should be asking ourselves, What’s in your heart?

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Published in: on July 29, 2019 at 5:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Holiness: An Unpopular Topic


Photo by Narcis DRAGOI from FreeImages

I think it’s understandable that people who don’t believe in God or who have a theism based on some false religion or false teaching, don’t value holiness. After all, they don’t have a true model for what holiness looks like. Further, so many are focused on doing in order to gain: gain the highest heaven, gain happiness, gain salvation, gain Nirvana, gain acceptance—you name it.

But God calls Christians to be holy because He is holy. No other reason than that we are to be like Him. Reminds me of who God created us to be. Primarily God put Adam into the garden He prepared to act as His agent—to superintend what God had made. He was, after all, created in His image.

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:27-28)

In essence, our holiness is the way God wants us to live out this agency today, given that we now have a fallen nature and live in a world far from God. But is that possible?

Yes, and no. Clearly, when we come to God by embracing His Son and His work at the cross on our behalf, we receive new life, though we still grapple with an old nature (see Romans 7). The process of becoming like Christ is just that—a process, one theology calls sanctification. What it practically means is believers walking in obedience.

Romans 7 is helpful:

But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

We’re not bound by Law. But we still serve. We still do what God wants us to do, but only in the “newness of the Spirit.” Essentially, learning to say no to the old self with its sinful and selfish ways, and to say yes to the indwelling Holy Spirit, is a process. A life-long process.

The Bible says a lot about how we are to live. In fact, that last day Jesus spent with His men, He said, If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (John 17). God wants us to obey Him, though our salvation doesn’t depend on our working to earn His favor.

He wants us to obey, I submit, the same way a parent wants a child to obey: it’s good for the little rug rat. 😉 Seriously, God’s commands are good for us, and not only for us as individuals but for the church and for our witness in the world.

Take this ONE command, for example, something probably most of us blow off as insignificant:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing (Phil 2:14).

Imagine living without grumbling. Imagine life without disputes. Yes, obedience to that one simple command would have a profound impact. Paul doesn’t leave it to our imagination. He tells us what would result:

[Don’t argue or complain] so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (Phil. 2:15)

Imagine! Blameless and innocent, shining as lights in the world. Well, isn’t that what Christ said we were to be, back in His Sermon on the Mount? Lights shining before men so that they see our good works and glorify our Father.

The point is, our heart attitude can’t stay inside. It can’t be our little secret. We can’t be undercover Christians. At some point, our relationship with God through Christ must spill out of our lives and splash onto our neighbors.

That’s pretty much what the whole book of James is about. Our faith—our inner spiritual life, our relationship with God—is real only if it gets up and walks.

Writers talk about cardboard characters versus the desirable kind—three dimensional ones that seem alive. Faith is like that, without the “seem.” Real faith is alive and therefore will show signs of life. James names three chief areas.

First we’ll be doers of the word, not merely hearers. In short, we’ll be obedient to God’s word. Second, we’ll bridle our tongues rather than deceiving our hearts. And third, we’ll be slow to anger, which means we won’t judge, quarrel with or complain about our “brother”—a term he uses consistently to refer to fellow Christians.

The first point alone can be overwhelming. If I read the Bible asking one thing—what in this passage must I obey—I can become paralyzed into inactivity because there’s too much. I’m not selfless enough to handle the one command from Philippians about not grumbling or complaining, let alone the ones about being a cheerful giver or being anxious for nothing or dwelling on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and of good repute.

When I realize this, I am pressed back into God where I must learn to stay. It is His strength that makes it possible for me to obey. It is the prompting of His Holy Spirit that makes me want to.

In short, obedience which leads to holiness is not a thing I can achieve apart from God, but if I love Him, I’m heading for the heights, one shaky step at a time, holding onto Him as tight as if my life depended on Him. Which it does.

This post includes a large, revised and edited, portion of a 2011 article entitled Holiness In Practice. Others in series are
“Holiness Is Not A Dirty Word”
“Holiness Means What Again?”
“Inside Out – The Way Of Holiness”

Published in: on July 25, 2019 at 5:34 pm  Comments (48)  
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The Poison Pill Of Culture


This article is a re-post of the one I wrote Monday for my Speculative Faith column.

Considering Travis Perry’s article last week [at Speculative Faith] (“Licking the Chocolate Off Poison Pills: A Comment on Cultural Engagement”), I suppose the obvious first question to ask is this: is culture really a poison pill? I mean, God quite purposefully left Christians in the world (“As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” –John 17:18). He did also say that said culture would hate Christians (“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” –John 17:14) and that we are not to be of the world (“They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” –John 17:16).

Of course, I’m interpreting “world” as “culture.” I’ve heard some scholars refer to it as the system of the world. Kind of like, the way the world operates.

Clearly, from what Jesus said in John, the way the world works is opposed to the way God works, the way Jesus works, and might fairly be considered a poison pill. So today the world preaches (yes, preaches) that we are all good and have this unlimited potential in us, that all we need to do is look within to find it. God says something quite different: we all have a sin nature and need to look to the cross; that when we are weak, then we are strong.

The world also says the one who carries out revenge is the hero, whereas God says, the one who forgives and loves the enemy is the hero.

Another current “truth” the world is currently preaching is that there is no truth. Nothing set in stone. All relative, flexible, contingent. God, on the other hand, specifies that His word is truth, even that Jesus is truth. And that truth is fixed in Heaven. So, truth according to God is not pliable. Not malleable, not subject to our indigestion brought on by a bit of cheese or the feelings we have today that we didn’t have yesterday.

There are so many others: attitudes about sexual promiscuity, pride, greed, lying, gossip, sexual identity, other gods beside the One True God, etc.

So, if there is so much poison in the world, how can a Christian engage culture and not be killed by it? Is the only way to survive to divorce ourselves from anything that could potentially harm us? Or our kids? Our families?

That approach doesn’t seem to explain why Jesus left us in the world instead of taking us out. It almost seems to say, God was wrong about leaving us here because it’s just too dangerous, so we’ll do what He didn’t: we’ll take ourselves out of the world as much as possible.

Not only is it contradictory to what God intended, including the commission He gave believers (Matt 28:19-20), but it doesn’t work. The real problem we are faced with is the sin in our own hearts. That’s why Jesus chastised the Pharisees for cleaning the outside of the cup without cleaning the inside. His answer was not to build a shield around the cup to keep away people with dirty hands or even with evil intentions. His solution was to first clean the inside of the cup.

Key word: first. Matthew 23:26 makes the clear statement that the way to clean the outside is to clean the inside first:

You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

As I see things, the way to engage culture is with clean hands and a pure heart. These we find in God’s word, by cultivating a relationship with Him. Not by keeping a list of songs we won’t sing or TV programs we won’t watch, computer games we won’t play, books we won’t read, etc. In other words, we don’t get clean hands and we don’t carry out the charge Jesus gave us to go into all the world to make disciples, by engaging only part of culture.

What may seem contradictory is that I believe Travis is right: culture that “pushes the envelop,” that walks the edge of propriety, actually normalizes that behavior. I’ve seen this first hand with the issue of homosexuality (I guess because I’ve lived long enough to see our culture do a flip-flop on this subject). My mom, who graduated from college the same year my brother graduated from high school, way back in the 1960s, had a psych textbook that listed homosexuality as deviant behavior (among other inappropriate behaviors). I watched as our culture introduced homosexual jokes into society, then funny but likeable homosexual characters, and ultimately homosexual scenes on TV. All the while our government has passed law after law that gradually aimed, not only at permitting homosexual behavior but at supporting and encouraging its acceptance and practice. Now, here in California, legislators are trying to push through a law prohibiting professional counselors from engaging people who want help with same sex attraction by using strategies designed to help them choose heterosexuality instead.

What does that mean for writers and readers? Do we keep away from culture’s poison pills, or do we sue the pharmacies? Or do we clean our own cups instead?

I believe Travis was actually saying is that there isn’t a one-way-to-engage-culture rule, unless it’s this: “it’s actually normal to embrace a type of sorting process for popular culture and refuse to engage in areas we know are potential problems for us” (Travis Perry).

Refuse to engage in areas that are problems for us! Because it’s my problem, doesn’t mean no one else should therefore engage. Because it is not your problem, doesn’t mean I’m supposed to engage.

But what about the normalization process? I guess I’d add another layer of discernment or awareness: what things might be problems for the culture, for society at large? For instance, was the violence in Schindler’s List an encouragement of mass murder? I don’t see how. Was the promiscuity on display in Mash an undermining of monogamous marriage? I think it was. Was Harry Potter normalizing witchery? Not in the least.

So we can make choices, which must be informed choices. Nevertheless, the real first step is that “cleaning the inside of the cup” Jesus spoke of. In a discussion that includes “friendship with the world,” the epistle of James says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8) Note, he didn’t say, Stand up to the world. Go to war against the world. Yes, resist Satan (James 4:7), but the focus is clearly on each Christian being in relation with God and in obedience to Him.

Atheist Arguments: Intelligent Design Isn’t Needed To Explain Intelligence


Apparently the position to ridicule these days is belief in the Bible as historical fact. The most obvious point of attack is creation, but other stories in Genesis are also fair game—notably, the flood (see “Updates on the Creation Wars”).

The thing that catches my attention most is the idea that people today, because of the wonderful discoveries in science, are smarter than people of long ago who believed in supernatural claptrap—really just a form of superstition.

In the 21st century we KNOW. We know the world couldn’t possibly be created in six days. We know there was no such thing as a worldwide flood. We know that people didn’t really live for nine hundred years. We know animals didn’t live on a big boat for a year. We know serpents don’t talk. In other words, we know the Bible isn’t meant to be read as historical—at least not most of it.

And how do we know all this? Because we’ve never seen such things. They don’t fit with the observable scientific data we have.

Problem is, all these Biblical events hinge on one central point—God acted. If you posit a Supreme Intelligent Being who is omnipotent, then what could He not do?

I’ve never heard an answer to that question.

In addition, if God created Man, as He said He did—in His own image—you’d have to assume an intelligent creature, not a caveman who needed to evolve into a higher form. This current caveman-evolving view of Man is a complete contradiction to the picture Romans 1 gives of a natural world deteriorating as a result of sin.

On one hand you have Creator God saying all He made was good, that sin, entering through Man’s disobedience, started a downward spiral which has Humankind confusing good and evil and falling into decline.

On the other hand you have science which can only postulate an unknown natural phenomenon, sort of like a spontaneous combustion, to explain how we came to be and which can say nothing at all about why we are here, why we have a sense of right and wrong, or what happens after this life. And yet, according to this thinking, Man is smarter now than ever.

But which view sounds the most intelligent? A) an unexplained natural cause yielding complex life and intelligence or B) an intelligent person yielding complex life and intelligence? Never mind that nowhere in the natural world has there every been a caused element that is also itself the cause. No brick builds or designs a house. That takes someone outside the house, not something a part of the house.

I’m not sure what there is to debate.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Rom 1:19-23

Or, as is the case today, unbelieving people bypass the images and go straight to giving glory to mortal man. For the most part, no culture until the 20h century western culture left God, or at least a god, out of the equation when it comes to the issue of origin. But for the last hundred years, we have decided to plagiarize. We steal God’s glory by denying His work of creation.

Imagine an island where all the people ignore their sense of hearing. Instead of talking, they learn to communicate by signing. In fact their ability to hear begins to fade as they grow older.

One day a hearing person arrives. He soon learns to communicate with them, but when he tries to remark about the crash of the waves on the sand or the chirping of birds or the wind rustling the leaves, they say he is making up stories.

At first they humor him, but when some of the children start to say they think they also can hear these sounds, the adults turn angry. You’re deluded, they sign. You’re making up stories and confusing the children. Be gone.

Sadly, he sails away.

What a fool he was, the island people sign to one another. Sounds. What a horrible thing that would be, to hear the cry of the wounded and dying. How glad we are that we’re not like that foolish, deluded man who made up stories about sound. We’re too smart, to learned, to believe such an impossible tale.
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This article first appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction March 2013

What’s Satan’s End Game?


Satan and his end game for the world, for humanity, really for his own personal destruction, though he thinks it’s for his glory, is no secret. It’s what he’s planned from the beginning.

Some years ago, as part of our study in the book of Luke, our pastor showed something critical about Satan. But it starts first with why Luke said he was writing his book:

it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:3-4, emphasis mine)

The central purpose was so that Luke’s target audience, originally a man named Theophilus—but now the rest of us,too—would know the exact truth about the things “accomplished among us [the first century believers], just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:1b-2).

Luke then launches into an account of the birth of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah, interspersed with the angel’s announcement to Mary about Jesus’s coming birth, including this statement: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35b, emphasis mine).

Fast-forward thirty years and both Jesus and John are grown men. John was baptizing people in the Jordan and Jesus also came to him to be baptized. When he came out of the water, “the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased’ ” (Luke 3:22, emphasis mine).

Curiously, or so it would seem on the surface, Luke follows this account with a genealogy of Jesus. One thing His lineage shows is that He was a descendant of King David. But it doesn’t stop there. Rather it traces His heritage back to Abraham and beyond, until we get to this: “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38, emphasis mine).

So in these opening chapters, Luke shown the angel telling Mary her child would be the Son of God, the Holy Spirit announcing that Jesus is the Son of God, and that by lineage He is the Son of God.

Enter Satan. Behind the particulars of the three recorded temptations Satan threw at Jesus is a central theme: “If You are the Son of God” (4:3b); “if You worship before me” (4:7a); “If You are the Son of God” (4:9b, emphases in all three are mine). Satan was calling into question Jesus’s identity—the very thing Luke had clearly established in the first three chapters.

This strategy is not so different from what Satan used in the garden with Eve. He suggested that God was holding back from her, that if she would eat of the fruit, she would be like Him. Satan’s key question was, “Indeed, has God said . . .” (Gen. 3:1b). Satan’s tactic, then, is to call into question God’s words and God’s Word, the Incarnate Jesus Christ.

I suggest Satan’s plan of attack has not changed over the years. He still wants people to doubt God Word and His words. Surely God didn’t really mean . . . And Jesus is The Way? Really?

The issues with which we’re confronted in our postmodern/post truth culture fit nicely with Satan’s strategy. Nothing can be known for certain, our society tells us, least of all the Bible. It’s gone through so much copying and translating, not to mention interpreting. How can we know what He really said? The best we can do is identify the particular truths as defined by a particular faith community, understanding that someone else with a different mindset may well see things differently.

So “do not kill” doesn’t necessarily include abortion; “men with men committing indecent acts” because God turned us over to our “degrading passions” due to our exchanging “the truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1) isn’t a statement against homosexuality; belief in creation instead of evolution is foolish dismissal of science; loving people is more important than loving a “wrathful tyrant God”; believing that hell awaits anyone is barbaric; and many more such beliefs.

Satan is working the audience. He’s getting applause, and he’s winning people to his side. He has the culture now asking, Did God say . . . And if the answer is, Yes absolutely, the accusations fly. How foolish to believe that, how hateful to say so, how cruel to claim it, how bigoted to think such. Accuse, accuse, accuse. But that’s what Satan is—the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10). He finds it intolerable that we cling to what God has said.

The best way to fight such a spiritual enemy is to stand firm and hold fast. Scripture tells us that, too.

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end (Heb. 3:12-14).

This post is a revised and updated version of one that appeared here in April, 2014.