Wednesday, April 30, 2008

People-Pleasing Addiction

I was listening to the radio this morning. I heard a great discussion on the Family Life Today program. They were discussing the problem, and sin, of being a people-pleaser. The author, Lou Priolo, of the book, Pleasing People, said that people-pleasing is akin to idolatry. He made some excellent points in how to differentiate a people-pleaser from a God-pleaser. It's worth a listen.

Also, while you're at it, take the people-pleasing inventory questionnaire. I found it all very fascinating. I think I might have to get his book. It will be an excellent follow-up to Hugh Hewitt's 1999 book, The Embarrassed Believer—which I found it prophetic, since it was written before 9/11 and it discussed the erosion of faith in the public square.

If you feel like sharing, how did you score? I scored a 71, which surprised me. According to his scale, I am a people-pleaser. I never thought of myself that way.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Opposite of Love

I've believed over the years, and heard preached, that hate should be hated. I understood that hate was a total departure from love—the exact opposite of what love is all about. I have to admit, the cliché sounded right. The world even agrees with it. But I am no longer so sure that this is accurate. I've seen too much. I've notice that those who express hate are expressing a passion. Often those who hate hate the one's they swore they loved. What do I mean?

Time will tell

Jesus told his disciples to expect trouble. He said that trouble will even come from within his church. He said,

"At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."
—Matthew 24:10-14

Jesus is saying that their will be a time when we may be betrayed by our own brothers or sisters. We will be disappointed by one-another. Some may not even be believers, but they will look like believers.


What's common between love and hate is that they are passionate. Even if they have opposite ends—love seeks the good of a particular person, while hate seeks the harm of a particular person—they share a common passionate awareness about the other.

However, there is nothing in common between love and cold love. Cold love is without passion. It doesn't hate, it just doesn't care. This is worse than hate, because there is no engagement, no passion, no care, no concern, no affect. When a person is cold, she isn't changed for the good or the bad. She's just lukewarm. She just doesn't care enough to struggle with the other person.

As the proverb says,

Better is open rebuke than hidden love.
—Proverbs 27:5

A loving church is not necessarily a peaceful church

What's my point? A functioning church isn't one without conflict or struggle. A functioning church will have internal peace as it's goal, but not at the expense of truth, or dealing with very real issues. If a church is peaceful, but isn't growing or maturing, I would question whether it desires to do so. In fact, the very act of attaining maturity involves struggle.

The act of love isn't theoretical. It is an act of the will. Think about it. What will someone do if they just don't care? Nothing.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bio-Fuel and Global Famine

I've read a lot recently about the soaring prices of grains (and food in general) that is caused by farmers diverting large portions of their crops to biofuel production. There is more money involved in this type of production than in food production. What's funny is that it also takes more oil or coal energy to produce biofuels than most people understand.

And what's interesting is that many of these global-warming prognosticators are revealing that they really want a reduction in population. Again, it comes down to worldview. If there is no God, our existence is purely accidental, and our continued existence is precarious. So, some people need to be eliminated (like Ted Turner suggested) so that global resources can be preserved for the select few, and the earth will thank us for it. But, if there is a God, then the earth exists for our benefit. And He has expectations for us in how we use it. He said for us to multiply (increase in population) and subdue (bring order and control to animals and our environment). (Genesis 1:26-28; Isaiah 45:18)

In other words, we are not to be subject to the environment nor to animals. We are not to reduce our population, but to increase it. We are to care more for the needs of mankind than to the needs of the earth. We are to see man as the crowning jewel of God's creation, not the enemy of it. We are not to be like the Evil One. (John 8:43-45)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Global Warming and Environmental Scare Tactics

It seems to me that environmental concerns can fall into basically two worldviews. If God created everything, and us as His crowning achievement, then it makes sense that He would create an environment that can sustain us and support our existence. It also makes sense that He is smart enough to anticipate needs as well. It was His idea that we multiply and subdue, not reduce and submit.

On the other hand, if God doesn't exist, our existence is purely random and purposeless. (So, why should we care anyway? But I suppose for the reason of just feeling like we want to preserve the environment we care about it.)

If that is the case, then resources are basically limited, and our existence is precarious. Therefore, we want certain people to survive, and certain people to prosper—since everyone can't do so, because of limited resources. We all think it is ourselves—but no one is really saying. As history has shown us, the further down the rode we go, it will get defined pretty quickly. And it will probably not be who want it to be.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Why Heaven May Be More Important Than We Think

I was in a Bible study, when the discussion turned toward the question of what would we share with someone who has nothing. Someone brought up situations in African areas, like in the Sudan, where people are suffering. They made the statement that she couldn't image what to share with them. It seemed to her that discussing the Gospel with them would be fruitless. It would sound so "pie-in-the-sky" that it wouldn't be relevant to them.

It ain't so simple.

I said that I felt the opposite would be more accurate. In the Scriptures it says that the poor are blessed with a rich faith. (James 2:5) And Jesus even said that it was hard for the rich to enter into the Kingdom. (Matthew 19:23) Not because it is barred for those with plenty, but that the rich find it so hard not to be divided. In fact, our culture tends to believe that faith is the result of being well-satisfied and materially blessed. We believe it is easier to believe if we have all that we need and want. But that just isn't true.

Jesus said that we need to be on our "guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Luke 12:15) Do we believe that this is true? I wonder if we are too affluent to believe it. In fact, most people I know say they don't have enough.

How much we have doesn't matter.

My point isn't about the deceitfulness of wealth. Although it is. My point isn't about the virtues of poverty, because Scripture doesn't honor poverty, but calls for others to help the poor. My point isn't about staying away from becoming rich. God doesn't care unless our hope is in our wealth.

My point is that those who suffer in this life, value heaven more than those who are comfortable in this life. Think about it. We don't talk very much about being aliens and strangers in the world very much anymore. We don't talk much about eternal matters like the warning of hell and the promise of heaven. We don't encourage each other with the hope of heaven. It sounds so trite. We aren't encouraged by talk of heaven when we go through hard times or witness evil. We want something more substantial.

Blessed are the poor.

But people who live in areas where poverty and suffering is the norm, all these things are embraced. These people will travel for miles, sell all they have, and risk their lives just to read a Bible—which holds to key to hope. I can't tell you the last time I've had a conversation where heaven was used to encourage one another except from my wife and best friend.

My prayer and my hope is that we, as American Christians, will reclaim the true hope and not be so divided anymore. Lord, help us.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Loving Love Isn't Love

There are two types of love that are often confused in our American Christian culture. There is Biblical love, or the love of God. Then there is western sentimental love. Yes, there are other types of love that get confused with each other like sexual love and marital committed love. But, the Christian community seems to discern between them better than the aforementioned kinds.

Last time I was concerned about the seemingly shallow approach to the gospel message, as if it is generally a declaration of God's love. The call to repentance is often absent in our discourse, although it was one of the primary requirements of the gospel message. It is preached to be believed and responded to, not intellectually accented to. I believe this is a problem in our western culture. We are interested in reducing the message to our tastes rather than understanding it for our good.

Baptism confusion.

Take the discussions around baptism. There are those who believe that baptism is simply a work. They go on to reduce anyone who believes that baptism is a part of the salvation experience to works-salvation advocates. They dismiss any real discussions about baptism by using ad hominem arguments.

In fact, they will even use prayer as the alternative to baptism. But what then is praying for salvation, if not also a work? It seems to be more of a work than baptism, since baptism is passive (it being done to you publicly, and something that has been practiced Biblically) while praying is an individualistic act (something you do on your own privately, and not practiced Biblically). But, what does it matter? They accomplish the same ends, to call on the Lord in faith in some physical way.

But we reduce the issue to our liking, rather than appreciate what God has given us. A physical way to experience what we believe. Instead, we would rather pin-point the exact legal time of conversion than be filled with joy over experiencing the putting away of the old and of putting on the brand new.

We do this because we want to avoid the appearance of work. This is no different than the persecution Jesus endured from the Pharisees over the Sabbath regulations. When Jesus did good, and people were filled with joy over their physical healing, the Pharisees were upset because they violated God's law of no work on the Sabbath. We do the same things they did. We have reduced the salvation of Christ into a set of legal requirements. In this case, "Thou shall do no work for thy salvation!"

Sentimental love.

This is what has happened in our western Christian culture. We have reduced the love of God to a sentimental gesture. We may have a tear in our eye when we hear about God's love for mankind. We may even talk about how wonderful it is that God loves us. We contemplate the pain of Jesus on the cross, or side with Jesus when he protects the weak. But are we transformed by that love. Are we moved like Zacchaeus to make amends for the wrongs we've done, making the effort because we desire Jesus (not to just look good in front of others)? Or are we more like the rich young ruler who thinks of Jesus as a means to an end?

Jesus loved them both, but the responses were different. One was held in slavery to his comfortable lifestyle. The other wanted the company of Jesus, and his lifestyle got in the way. It seems to me that we are more in love with the idea of love than honestly being affected by the love of God like Zacchaeus was. We are a nation of rich young rulers. "Just tell us how to get eternal life. Just tell us you love us. Just comfort us, for we desire comfort." We should be saying, "I want the Comforter. I want the One who loves me so. I want the One who secured eternal life for me. I'd rather have nothing and have Jesus by my side than have everything and be without him!"

Jesus does love us, even when we are not like this. (I am comforted that Jesus loved the rich young ruler too.) He loves us more than we realize. But Jesus loves us enough to take action. Action we may not all agree with, or think is worth it. But we must respond to his love with genuine love.

I know I am not where He wants me to be. But I am going and not giving up. Now is the time to live a life of repentance. Now is the time to live a life of real hope. Now is the time to live a life of sincerity. Now is the time to tell the whole truth. Now is the time to love for real!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Where's the Love?

I was walking one day and a man, who was out of his mind, said that he loved me. I got away from him as quickly as I could, because he didn't seem to have all the oars in the water, and I didn't trust what he might do. I also didn't think much of his love since he wasn't dealing with reality.

What's the point?

I recently came across a statement made by a minister. He said he was troubled by the idea of preaching hell and damnation as the gospel message. In fact, that is not what Jesus and his apostles concentrated on in their teachings as opposed to love, grace, and mercy. I agreed, but wondered how accurate that statement was.

Hell and damnation is not the central message of the gospel (good news). I agree with the importance of communicating God's grace and love. Love is the motive behind the gospel. But then I was perplexed by the statement that Jesus and his apostles kept the message positive, and didn't call people to "repent or else!" The idea that this is not the primary message of Christianity is true. But I am not sure what he means by the message of God's grace and love being central without the call to repentance.

The whole truth

When I did a cursory look through the gospel of Matthew, Acts, the letters of Paul, and Hebrews I get the sense that what was primarily taught was the true nature of reality and Jesus came as the solution. This includes the reality of the coming judgment, eternal life and punishment, the living expression of God's love and the call to the proper response—which is repentance. It didn't seem focused on any one area, except the testimony on who Jesus really is, and what our response should be.

The reality is God's wrath is coming, the reason is our sin, the response of God is Jesus, the motive is God's love, our response to God is repentance. God loved us. He reached out to us. But our response is critical. But we often emphasize more than we should or get things out of order when we speak. For instance, Jesus didn't come to bring wrath. Wrath is the problem Jesus came to solve. (This is good news!) Nor did Jesus come to simply show us love. Our need for transformation is critical for our experiencing of His love. In other words, we are dead in our trespasses and sins and we need to be made alive. Being alive is central to experiencing the love God already has for us. (Ephesians 2:1-5) The message about our condition and God's solution must be believed in order for us to be changed by his love. (1 John, Jude)

Most of Jesus' discourse included these things—especially his messages to the people and his disciples. Paul reminds Christians of these things so that they will fulfill their role in this world in the light of these realities. Also, in Hebrews the author is warning believers against falling away from believing these overarching realities.

Bringing it all together

The emphasis on hell and damnation is a distortion. The emphasis on love and grace can also be a distortion. Hell and grace exist in duel compatibility with the gospel message—that there is a way out of the dilemma. What I am concerned about is the lack of will in our churches to call ourselves and others to repentance—not the preaching of hell, or of love per se. Love is cheap and meaningless in the context of low value and no understanding. In the context of great need and understanding, it will have greater meaning. And with greater meaning, the turn of one's life dedicated towards the lover is the logical reply. (Luke 7:36-50)

If the man on the street is not living in reality, his love doesn't mean very much. In fact, his statements can be taken as random thought processes rather than statements of true sentiment. Even a sophist can wax eloquent about love. But it often means nothing without proper context or personal meaning. However, if that statement comes from a meaningful person in your life it can have a profound transformative effect. But we must believe that the person is significant, and we must believe that person's message about reality. Then when the person demonstrates their love toward us, we can properly respond. Otherwise, we are just faking it.

I know too many people who believe that God loves them, and have little problem with Jesus' love. They just choose not to believe his message about the problem and his solution. So they go on in this life believing they are okay. But is that responsible for us to allow? We must teach the whole counsel of the Lord. (Matthew 28:18-20) We must do what Paul says he did. (Acts 26:20-21) And we must do so whether people agree or believe it. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

How to Play Well

Last time I talked about the worldview presented in a cartoon my daughters were watching. I decided to touch on these issues again in our Bible study the next day. I did so from a different perspective.

We looked at Matthew 24:32-51. I shared that the issue here was that Jesus wanted us to understand that he was coming back unexpectedly. And when he comes back it doesn't matter what anyone else does. It only matters what we have the responsibility in doing. In order to be ready for his return, we must be found doing what he expects when he returns. In fact, this is what he teaches over and over till verse 46 of chapter 25.

He isn't talking about establishing a homeless ministry, or a campaign to end worldwide hunger. He isn't referring to financial management or goal-setting. He is warning us to be ready for his return by living a life of faith. Not faith in the potential of humanity. But faith in Jesus as the Messiah and as the God who is clothed in human flesh.

If this is what Jesus expects of us, how should we then live? (2 Peter 3:11-13)