Friday, April 27, 2007

Are Deeds Always More Valuable Than Words?


I was listening to a Christian music station this morning. The song from Casting Crowns was just finishing. It was their hit, "If We Are The Body." I really like their music, and was sorry I missed the song. But it made me think when the DJ talked about the song a bit. The DJ said that the song is a wakeup call to the church to pay more attention to people who are hurting in this world, and that we need to reach out to them with deeds more than words. On the surface I would agree with them. But, as is often the case, I pondered whether it was truly an accurate assessment of our role in this world.

There is much that is right about reaching people with the Gospel, and doing so by demonstrating love. But I wonder sometimes if the expectation of Christianity has become oriented around performance rather than the message. I realize in our current day and age, many are looking less at doctrine and more towards experiential aspects of God. But by doing so, it seems our culture is accepting half-baked ideas about God, and outright lies in the name of performing loving actions.

For instance, some people believe that loving someone means never hurting their feelings. Therefore to claim that something may be wrong in their lives is paramount to disobeying God's command to love. This thinking doesn't lead to Christ, but rather mutual feelings of acceptance.

Another problem is that some people liken the Great Commission to arrogance. "How can you go around converting people! That's wrong! What makes you think you have a better truth than anyone else?" This attitude leads to a diminished urgency about the predicament of those who are lost. And those who feel this way may end up seeing the physical needs and lack of comforts as their greatest mission field—yet souls are lost and destroyed without their noticing.

I wonder sometimes if we in the Church have bought into the idea that our being loving is saving people. We often describe it as being Jesus with skin on. But I wonder (out-loud) if we really believe we are that good enough.

In my perspective, I am just not that good. My goodness can not win many people to the Lord. Some may be attracted to Christ because they witness changes in me and the courage that comes by trusting the resurrection of Christ. But in my experience, people who have come to Christ because of me, did so because they see Jesus' work in my messed up soul—not my goodness.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Christianity for the Poor

I was disturbed by the recent hubbub concerning Don Imus' comments about the Rutgers University women's basketball team. Since shock-jocks are not entertaining to me anyway, I am not surprised by those types of comments. If anybody remembers, shock-jock Howard Stern was fired from a D.C. station for similar comments. Yet, he got a promotion and his own show out of the deal.

No, I am not disturbed about him. I am disturbed about Christians who don't seem to get it. I hear so much about helping the helpless, justice for the oppressed, and eliminating poverty around the world. Yet, the solutions are simply un-Christian or unworkable. Yes, there are grand plans, and efforts. But some Christians seem to be satisfied in self-absorbed comfort. There is a practice now of exercising feelings of care and concern with popular advocacy, organizational efforts, and worldly solutions. And in some cases, working with the ungodly to solve these issues.

What does this have to do with Don Imus? Simply that he exposes the hypocrisy of many who claim to care about the poor and the downtrodden. (Actually, "follow the money" is a good rule to remember in this case.)

Christians may not be the endorsers of racism or bad music lyrics, and many sincerely want to help the needy, but is that enough. The problem is that communities in the U.S. are being decimated by harmful thinking. Places throughout the world are being destroyed by real oppression, civil wars, and despots. We try to ship food and supplies all over the place, hoping that it will relieve the suffering, but do nothing about the real issues causing the suffering. And Christians even try to join in with the unbelievers to solve these issues, because "we all want to get along to solve common problems." Yet God does not call us to unite with the world. Rather we are called to be united as Christians.

We may believe that helping others can be divorced from moral teaching, sound doctrine, and the hope of Christ, but we are dead wrong. We may center our help around physical needs — which is really only a gateway to be heard — but miss the point entirely. The reality is in Christ, not our efforts. But we feel so good doing it, and it wins the approval of men.

Imus is not the real problem. Not even the nation's morality. The real problem is that sin in the human heart damns us all. We really have no hope, if all we have are our efforts. The solution is not physical, not in our own strength, nor contained in popular advocacy. (Psalm 147:10-11) It is in Christ alone with our faith in him alone that we can do anything. (John 15:1-8)

Do we believe this?

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Implications of Jesus' Resurrection

The crucifixion of ChristToday is Good Friday. Many around the world are celebrating the anniversary of Jesus' death. This Sunday we remember his resurrection. But I wonder just how many people around the world, and especially the United States, understand the implications of these past events. I am often surprised by the conversations in the media and among Christians concerning the death of Christ.

I remember a conversation I had with a Catholic priest. He seemed to think that Jesus was simply a founder of a new way of thinking about God. That if he died, it was as a revolutionary—a person who was murdered because he loved people. I also read an article by a Protestant minister, who was writing in opposition to the Passion of the Christ movie. He said that some Christians are too focused on blood and the violence Christ endured rather than his teachings about love. He also stated that the gospel has little to do with the death of Christ.

Another troublesome development is the deemphasizing of the resurrection. It is discussed a lot during this time. But there seems to be a shying away from its implications. What I mean is that more and more people seem to think that the resurrection is primarily a lesson about second-chances, spirituality, or about hope. These are true statements in one sense, but there is more to the resurrection.

First of all, it really happened. From all the eyewitness accounts, documentation, and even testimony of Christian opponents the facts are undeniable. Even today, there are many who try to disprove the resurrection by proposing theories instead of grappling with reliable documented proof. This is because the implication of such an incredible event are life-altering. How we think about life, death, world events, history, and ourselves will have to shift in a monumental way. And people don't want to be wrong, and they hate change. The familiar is more comforting.

Second, the resurrection presupposes a belief in God, and a specific faith. If the resurrection really happened then it is true that there is a God, and Jesus spoke the truth about His nature. In fact, Jesus is God. God actually visited us in history. The implications are clear. If God visited us, and Jesus spoke the truth, and he is God then the Christian faith is the truth, and other truth claims that are contrary are false. This goes against our earthly desire for peace and safety because it is a source of conflict. (Matthew 16:21-28)

Last, the resurrection means that Jesus is not only alive, but is actively involved in the church. Since the resurrection also proves that Jesus was telling the truth, it is therefore true that he not only has the ability, but he is doing what he said he will do. He has sent the Holy Spirit to be among us (the believers) and in us (John 16:5-16), he himself is with us as we go throughout the world (Matthew 28:16-20), and he will accomplish all things through us. Therefore the church is the chief vehicle of God's plan for the world. (Ephesians 1; 3:10-12)

The implication from this is undeniable. Whether I want to get along with people of other faiths or not, or don't want to appear arrogant, the fact is that Jesus is the way to God, the plan of God, and the truth of God. All other options are plain false. Please forgive me for being so blunt, but what else am I to conclude from such an event as the resurrection from the dead of the Christ.