Archive for August, 2008

Part 2: Must You Go to Church on Wednesday Night?

August 27, 2008

More on not trying to do, but to become. [Note: your church may not have a Wednesday night service – that’s OK because that’s not really my point.]

I have a preacher friend who says he’s often been challenged to “show me where the Bible says I’ll go to Hell if I don’t go to church on Wednesday night!”

I love his answer: “I think it would be easier to show you how you’ll go to Hell if you don’t want to go to church on Wednesday night.”

If you are focused on “doing”, you might just try to make yourself go. The problem with that is that anything that relies on constant willpower will eventually fail. What if instead you were focused on “becoming”…becoming the kind of person who loves God so much he never wants to miss a chance to worship and be in fellowship with other Christians. (I’m not talking about the occasional time where you just feel down or sick – I’m talking about your usual state of being.)

Which would you rather be: the person who sighs and drags himself out of his chair and forces himself to go church on Wednesday or the one to can’t wait to get there?

Which do you think God would rather you be?


Part 1: Not Trying To Do, But Trying To Become

August 21, 2008

One of the many things I love about C.S. Lewis is that he often shows us a completely different way of looking at something. For example, I think it is common for people to see Christianity as “work”: as something you have to do in order to get to heaven or to be in God’s favor, or as a daily denial of things we’d really like but aren’t allowed to do.

Lewis didn’t see it that way, and I think we can learn from some of the things he says about this in Mere Christianity:

We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort.

The point is not that God will refuse you admission to His eternal world if you have not got certain qualities of character: the point is that if people have not got at least the beginnings of those qualities inside them, then no possible external conditions could make a “Heaven” for them – that is, could make them happy with the deep, strong, unshakable kind of happiness God intends for us.

People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, “If you keep a lot of rules I’ll reward you, and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing.” I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.

What we should have liked would be for God to count our good points and ignore our bad ones. Again, in a sense, you may say that no temptation is ever overcome until we stop trying to overcome it – throw up the sponge. But then you could not “stop trying” in the right way and for the right reason until you had tried your very hardest. And, in yet another sense, handing everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying. To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not trying to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of heaven is already inside you. (emphasis mine – Keith)

The more I think about it, the more I believe that this is the true path for the Christian – not trying to do, but trying to become. Of course you become by doing, but doing isn’t the goal.

Why Aren’t All Atheists Hedonists?

August 18, 2008

Have you ever heard the term “moral atheist”? Someone who doesn’t believe in God, but has a moral code that they follow. I mean a code that most of us would consider moral: nice, decent people who don’t lie or cheat or steal.

I’ve often wondered about someone who appears to be a decent person, but doesn’t believe God exists; to what do they ascribe their morality? What is the difference between the moral atheist who picks the code I mention above and one who is the opposite? If we aren’t comparing the behavior of each to some higher standard, then how can we say one is right and one wrong?

If you google “moral atheist” you’ll find all kinds of articles where people try to defend their non-Christian (positive) morality. They claim that it “is just the right thing to do” or that “it is built into people” or that “they are moral because having a moral society is ultimately good for them”.

While I’d certainly rather share society with the moral atheist than the amoral (or immoral) one, their logic makes no sense to me. C.S. Lewis just shreds this kind of thinking in Mere Christianity, but if you don’t have time to read that at the moment, consider this:

I once heard a someone joke that if he didn’t believe in God, why not “head straight for Las Vegas and the hookers?” His point was that his sense of morality flows from God and that if that wasn’t true, then pretty much anything goes, and what would be wrong with that or anything else? How would you condemn something (or anything) I’ve done without using God’s words? Wouldn’t anything I do be as valid as anything you do? How could you be right and me wrong…unless we’ve got some standard to which to compare our behavior?

I’ve heard Christian apologists argue that if our morality is relative, and one decided to murder a group of small children, how exactly would you condemn them for that? I think the honest relativist would agree that he couldn’t.

As logical as that is, why don’t we see more people agreeing with it? Because it just isn’t right. Relativism outside of anarchy makes no sense to me – it just boils down to “my personal values are the right ones.”

I don’t think we can trust our personal values – the only ones that can be trusted are God’s.

Do You Always Feel Close to God?

August 14, 2008

Think back to the time you felt closest to God. Maybe it was right after (or when) you were baptized, maybe during a gospel meeting or revival, or maybe just one day at home during prayer.

Do you feel that way every day? Of course not!

We all have our good and bad days. Sometimes we feel like we’re on top of the world and other times like everything is going wrong. We feel close to God one day and far away from Him another.

When you feel far away from God, remember that it is you who has moved, not Him! My friend Mike Carstensen once put it so clearly: “No matter how far you walk away from God, just turn around and He’s only one step away.”

When I’m feeling apart from God – when I find it hard to pray or read the Bible or just be nice – I just keep trying. Maybe today I don’t read as long, or pray as effectively, or treat people as well as I’d like. But I just do the best I can, and wait for tomorrow.

Tomorrow is almost always better.

God is Not a God of Confusion

August 11, 2008

Have you ever thought the Bible was confusing? Hard to understand? I have, and I’ve heard other people say the same thing. But then I’ve also heard people say they think the Bible is just plain as day. What does the Bible itself say about this?

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. – 1 Corinthians 14:33 (ESV)

Over time I’ve changed my mind on the confusing part. I don’t understand everything it says, but I think I’m seeing more and more of the basics, and I have faith and confidence that the rest will follow.

Study of the Bible seems to be like anything else – you get out of it what you put into it (sowing & reaping). If you occasionally browse it you’ll have a hard time understanding it. If you read and study it often you won’t have as much trouble.

You can understand the Bible if you try. It won’t be easy and it won’t be fast, but if you believe what it says, you will eventually get it.

How to Get Started with God

August 5, 2008

What do you do if you decide you know very little about God, but want to know more? You think you might want to become a Christian, but you aren’t sure what that means. You may have a thousand questions and just don’t know what to do to get started:

Which Bible do I read? How often should I read it? How long and how often do I pray? What do I pray for? What should I be looking for? What church do I attend?

There are so many questions, and those of us who have been on this path for a while (and maybe who have had someone take us under their wing) can forget how overwhelming it can be. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Read the Bible

  • Read Luke, 1 chapter per day, Monday – Saturday (this should take even a slow reader maybe 10 minutes per day)
  • When done, read Acts, same schedule
  • Try to read at the same time every day – it will help you establish a routine
  • Read to enjoy, not for deep understanding – don’t skim, but don’t get bogged down either.
  • If you have questions, write them down to ask someone later – then keep reading!

Pray every day

  • Even after years of practice, this is still hard for me, and I expect it will be for you, probably because you may not be sure if you are doing it right, or well enough. It’s OK, God understands, just pray.
  • Don’t worry about what to say. Just ask for one thing: for God to help you come closer to him. If you feel like praying about other things or for particular people, that’s fine, but if not, just that one thing will do.

Other Thoughts

  • You need the fellowship of Christians at every step in your walk with God. Find a loving church that teaches the Bible and tries to live by it. Naturally I recommend my church, but we don’t have a monopoly on the truth.
  • You don’t need to start by attending two or three times per week – just go to the main service on Sunday and at some point you’ll find that you want to do more.
  • Don’t worry about any of the implications (real or imagined) of becoming a Christian – just do the above things and everything will take care of itself. Especially don’t think that if you become a Christian you will need to give up all of the relationships you currently have – I believe that’s a trap and isn’t what a Christian is supposed to do.
  • If you have questions, thoughts, concerns, worries, whatever, hang on! When you feel you are ready, there are tons of people who would consider it the highest honor to study the Bible with you – at your pace, wherever and whenever is convenient for you – just email me if you are interested in that and I’ll hook you up (with someone who won’t beat you up or try to pound their particular beliefs into you).
  • Remember that your current goal isn’t to understand everything in the Bible; it is to start figuring out what God has to offer, and to just learn more.
  • Don’t worry about your spouse, your kids, or anything else at this point – all of those things will work themselves out as you progress.

If you are interested in starting down this path, I hope this helps you, and I want you to know just how many people would be thrilled at the prospect of helping you in any way. God Bless you and good luck!

Followup to "What is the Purpose of Your Church?"

August 1, 2008

I wrote an article the other day that may have seemed a little “holier than thou”. I look back on it and realize that you might have taken it as “if your church isn’t exactly like mine, you are wrong.” I hope it didn’t come across that way, but if it did please accept my apologies. Regardless, allow me to expand and perhaps clarify what I was trying to say:

While I may have significant differences with someone’s theology, that’s not what I’m talking about, and the people I was criticizing there aren’t those who disagree with me.

If you read the Bible and decide it says something, and you are trying to live by that, I say fantastic! Maybe I think you are wrong, but hey, maybe I’m the one in error. I’m willing to be that, and if I am, I hope you will love me enough to try to show me (and that I’ll love you enough to listen). If we both have that attitude, perhaps together we can come to the real truth!

My problem is with people who just don’t try. Who are irrational and content to stay that way. People who say “Yeah, I know the Bible says that, but…” or say “I don’t know why God wouldn’t want me to do this.”

To those people I’d say this: read the whole Bible and tell me what importance God places on obedience. If you honestly conclude that the answer is “not much”, then you probably shouldn’t be listening to me!