Archive for January, 2008

Judging Properly: Changing Our Heart, Not Merely Our Clothes, Part Two

Why do we feel the need to add to the requirements of Jesus?

 

The answer to the question is simple.  There is something in us that wants a more definite way.  If there are no rules, how do we play the game.  If there are no rules, how to we know when we have achieved success.

 

We do not like living in such uncertainty.  So we create the rules that finish our faith.  Rules that are easy to understand, but do not inherently bring about the changes in our heart and our soul.

 

Jesus spoke about this.  In Matthew 23:26 Jesus told the Pharisees that they must first “clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will be clean.” 

What does He mean by this?  Surely Jesus understands that the clothes make a man.  Surely He understands that the most important part of a man is what our neighbors see.

 

The fact of the matter is this.  Jesus understood that out of the mouth comes the abundance of the heart.  Christianity is not about changing the outside.  Other religions only have that to offer.  They can change a man’s outside.  Some can help you find momentary peace through meditation or dumbing down our problems.  Only Christianity can change the heart and soul of a man.  Only through Christianity has God reached out to man to bring man back to Him.

 

If Jesus was only concerned with changing a man’s heart and soul, why do we spend so much time worrying about the outside?  The reason is simple.  It is easier for us to judge others by the outside.  It takes a lot of time and discernment to get to know someone well enough to judge their heart.  To judge the heart we have to look at the fruit that is growing on the tree or lying on the ground at the base of the tree.

 

How much damaged debris can be found at our feet?  How many damaged lives have we left behind?  Those are some of the fruit in our lives. 

We must resist the urge to judge improperly.  Our false judgments actual put us at odds with the Jesus we see in the Bible.  He was accused of being a drunkard.  He was not.  He was accused of supporting corruption because he befriended tax collectors.  He did not.

 

He was a friend of the sinner, but was not one.  He understood the importance of the heart, the inside of the cup.  He understood the deception of judging others by the outside of the cup.

 

In Jesus world the clothes do not make a man.  A man makes the clothes.  After all, you can put a thousand dollar suit on a pig.  You still have pork cops underneath.

 

Let us change our hearts; and not merely change our clothes.

Advertisements

Judging Properly: Changing Our Heart, Not Merely Our Clothes

Judging fruit is something we do everyday.  Do your deeds match your words?  That is a judgment based on the fruit of a life.  How successful is your business?  That is a judgment based on the fruit of a business? 

It is a natural thought process for us.  We know how to do it.  We intrinsically understand the value of judging by the fruit.  In the middle of presidential election primaries we are troubled because we have trouble finding the fruit through the leaves and the limbs.

Why is this troubling?  It troubles us because we know, without being told, that the limbs and the leaves are meaningless.  It is only the fruit that matters.  After all, we do not eat the leaves; we do not eat the limbs.  We only eat the fruit.  And we only eat the fruit when it is good.

This natural principle has a spiritual base.

Jesus spoke a lot about fruit.  He discussed judging trees by their fruit.  He discussed the fact that good fruit does not come from thorn bushes.  We know the principle that everything reproduces itself after its own kind.  Beavers give birth to beavers.  They do not give birth to platypuses.  We do not question the nature of this we understand it.

Nonetheless we do not approach our judgments within the Church with the same logic.  I have seen many preach that there are rules for living a Christian life.  These same people argue that the Catholic Church is wrong because they believe in salvation by works and not faith alone.  Yet, these same people create rules and regulations that we are judged by.  How long is your hair?  Do you wear pants?  What Bible do you read?  These are rules added to the message of salvation by faith and faith alone.

The way I see it, I could not live by the rules, or the law.  Therefore, Jesus came to fulfill the law and become a sacrifice on my behalf.  He paid the price that I could not pay.  Now it seems that I have to live by a new set of rules in order to receive the free gift of eternal life through Jesus.  It is counterintuitive to me.

We are doing the same thing in our judgments of others.  Jesus judged everything by its fruit.  What we are doing is judging the tree by its limbs or its leaves rather than by its fruit.  While we can tell what the tree is by the leaves, they are not the mark of the health of the tree.  Only the fruit tells us what is at the heart of the life.  The fruit shows the health or lack thereof.

We tell people there is freedom in Jesus.  They believe us and come into the kingdom and then we give them a copy of the new rules. 

Why do we feel the need to add to the requirements of Jesus?

Defining Religion By Our Willingness To Work With Those With Whom We Disagree Within Our Faith

           The more fundamental our faith becomes the more exclusively we treat our faith.  This causes conflict to arise.  This causes divisions within the faith.  Our Churches are like lawyers, get two together and you will get at least three opinions.  We cannot even agree with ourselves.  As troublesome as this is we need to be thankful that as verbally violent as our disagreements might be we do not resort to physical violence within our religion.

            Christianity is not, by definition or practice, a violent religion.  In fact, we are a religion of peace.  Not just in some slogan we pull out to help the public forget the latest homicide bomber, but in reality.  We condemn violence in the name of religion.  We are the religion of Christmas.

            Think about Christmas, even in its most secularized version Christmas brings peace and joy.  Form the poorest to the richest, from the most religious to the most secular; we all have a memory of joy from Christmas.  We all have a feeling that comes with the first sign of Christmas.  It might come with a Christmas song sung by Dean Martin, or Third Day, or Jars of Clay.  All of this separates Christianity from Islam and Judaism.

            Why is this important?  It is important simply because we are in a battle over the spiritual foundation of the West.  Why are we not discussing this in terms of Judaism?  As Christians we see our faith as the messianic fulfillment of Judaism.  We are different religions because when Judaism stood still at the life of Jesus, we—Christianity—were birthed through the life of Jesus.  Furthermore, Judaism is not on a violent quest to rule the world.  The Jewish faith has never been a missionary faith.

            Islam, also birthed from the loins of Abraham, is set apart.  And the setting apart is the violence of Islam against Islam.  There is no need to compare the treatment of Christianity to Islam or Islam to Christianity.  History is replete with the violence that mars this relationship.  There is no value, for the sake of this discussion, to look at mainstream Christianity or Islam.  This is best illustrated by looking at the edges of both of the faiths.

            Mainstream does not define a movement.  Any person can hold the faithful together.  The edges are the true definitions of a movement.  What do those who have heard, believed, and set their own path believe?  And how does the core respond to those on the fringe?  Does the core condemn the wrong, often violate, acts, the wrong beliefs?  Or does the core praise these fringe beliefs and acts?  Or does the core take the third way and approve of wrong beliefs, wrong actions, by failing to admonish the wrong?

            September 11, 2001 was a defining moment, not just a defining moment for America.  It was also a defining moment for Islam.  The silence from the leaders of “peaceful” Islam in America was deafening.  Their silence spoke the truth of the violence of Islam.  There was not the will, for weeks, to condemn such a ruthless, destructive act that denies the truth of God.

            This is one instance.  A better example is to look at the interactions of Islam with Islam.  The Shiites and the Sunnis in Iraq are a great example.  There are other examples of Islamic violence against Islam.  Why do they fight each other?  They fight because the base of their religion does not understand the essence of joy and peace.  Muslims feel they are right to defend God with acts of violence.  And the leadership condones through their silence or even encourages the acts of violence.

            Christianity, on the other hand, approaches such individual and small group violence exactly the opposite.  We do not encourage acts of violence.  If for no other reason, we encourage acts of mercy because we value life in this place at this time.  While we believe in the afterlife and a reward for believers and punishment for those who do not believe, we do not teach that we should cut short this lifetime in order to achieve the peace of the next.  Christianity is based on a healthy belief in the hereafter with a healthy respect for the life that is a gift from God our creator.

            We also believe that because the afterlife for nonbelievers is eternal and horrible that we have a duty to keep the nonbelievers from being condemned.  Rather than rejoicing at the death of the unrighteous, we mourn them.  This also is the root of the evangelistic nature of our religion.  The mercy of the Christian God compels us to bring in the lost.  Islam does not have this same compulsion.

            As a result, Christianity, at its mainstream core, cannot condone or ignore violence in the name of religion.  (This should not be confused with the belief that a government must take actions, sometimes involving violence to defend its people.)  Our Churches and leaders do not leave room for interfaith disagreements to be resolved with violence.

            Herein is the main outward difference between the two religions.  Left to spiral down, Christianity will never condone violence as a means of conversion or judgment.  In fact, the essence of Christianity is peacefulness.  Islam, on the other hand, if left to spiral down condones violence.  It either condones violence through words or deeds—deeds such as failing to speak out against violence.

            At its core Christianity values human life.  That is why the pro-life and pro-abolitionist movements were Christian at their base.  There is a value for human life, existing and pre-existing.

            At its core Islam does not have the same value for human life.  There is no savior sent to assure men that they have standing with God.  There is only the concept that God is in heaven judging man without any standard of love and compassion.  To the Muslim salvation is never assured.  To the Christian salvation is the central theme.  As a result of this, Christians have led the world in benevolent works—either orphanages, schools, shelters, feeding programs, etc.  No strings attached, the human is valuable enough to demand that we do something to help.

            In all fairness, there are Islamic orphanages and schools, feeding and education programs.  The difference is that Islamic helps require a conversion to Islam.  Politically, democracy is based on the belief that man is basically a being that has a redemptive side and can be trusted to set up a government system to better everyone. Islamic beliefs require a government that is dictatorial.  People cannot be expected to rule themselves.  Women must be suppressed and children must be indoctrinated in Sharia law.  There is no grace in the religion and therefore the worldviews are different at their core.

            We only need to look into Iraq and other areas of the Middle East where Islam has its stronghold to see the proof of the arguments being made.  Everyday brings news of another bombing of Muslims against Muslims.  Because they disagree on non-core theological matters it is okay to kill their enemies, even when the enemies are fellow Muslims.  The calls for peace are few and far between.  The celebration of death has never been so joyfully marked as it is by Islamic fundamentalists.  This is not matched by any modern religions.

           One step further in the analysis is to look at how Christianity and Islam treat the innocent that surround them.  Iraq is again a good example.  In Iraq America, which is arguably not a Christian nation, shows some respect for innocent noncombatant life.  Admittedly, we have killed a number of innocents in the war we have waged.  We have not, however, celebrated the loss of those innocent lives.  In fact, we have stayed after the destruction, at great cost to ourselves, to help rebuild the infrastructure that will save thousands, if not millions, of lives.

            Americans, again we are not a Christian nation, value human life partly because of the influence of Christianity on our moral code.  Like Christianity, we value human life as something to celebrate.  Death is something to be avoided.

            Islam, to the contrary, does not mourn the loss of innocent life—unless of course the loss is on their side.  They celebrate the taking of life as a legitimate means to an end.  The mistake we have made in the West is we have failed to ask the critical question of what is the end.

            The end is Islam for the whole world—whether you want it or not.  One only has to look at the lack of tolerance in the countries that are currently run by the Islamic clerics.  They are imprisoning Christians, they are killing Christians, and they have no tolerance for anything that stands in the face of their religious beliefs.

            America and the West, on the other hand, have cultures that accept the diversity of religious beliefs.  We even let those who would destroy us live in relative peace because we believe in religious freedom that strongly.  That is what Christianity has brought to the West.

            We are clearly in a clash of religious cultures.  One allows man to choose his own way.  The other only permits one way.

            The choice does not seem so difficult.

Europe in the Balance, Part One

            The Christian base of western civilization began in Europe.  It is fitting that the end of the Christian base should be in Europe as well.  Long before the Reformation, Christianity spread its influence into northern and western Europe.  This influence has been so strong that it changes men—even men who never came to the place where they convert to Christianity.  They fell under the influence and structured government and community based on the teaching of a faith they did not publicly or privately embrace.

            This is part of what continues to tie the United States and Europe together. We are different cultures bound together by a common foundation.  The foundation of any creation determines what that creation will look like.  Whether it is DNA or a concrete foundation, the creation will reflect perfectly the foundation.  You cannot build a building that does not have the shape of the foundation.  We can do a variety of creative things above the foundation, but ultimately the building is limited and determined by its foundation.

            The only way to change the DNA or foundation is to destroy the foundation and being again.  That is the only way to change western society—the Christian foundation, often so ancient it must be excavated, must be destroyed and a new foundation built.  That is where we are at this time in world history.  We are witnessing a battle to destroy the foundations of our western society.  In America there continues to be an all out assault on Christianity.  It is no coincidence that the secular, pagan battle is only against Christianity. It is not religion that is the problem, from a secular viewpoint it is the life changing message of Christianity.  The same battle is even more advanced in Europe.  For centuries the European battle was to destroy the buildings of the Church, thus creating a museum attitude toward everything Christian.  This did not destroy the foundation but weakened the faith.  Mistakenly believing that they could leave the foundations as a testament to what once was, but no longer is, they left the foundations.  The seeds of revival blow through every now and then and the foundations were cleared ever so slightly—but the foundations remained.  Learning from their mistakes there is now a battle to destroy the foundations.  This is the battle to destroy the family, destroy the foundations of education, destroy the sanctity of life; all of these battles are part of the overriding plan to destroy the foundations of Christianity throughout the western world.

            The first force to fear in this battle is a new one for most of us.  For decades we knew that Muslims existed.  We knew they believed in Mohammed and we knew they controlled most of the oil in the Middle East.  What we did not know was that they seemed to be anti-American to the core.  We are not talking about just the fringe like we saw in 1979 in Iran, but suddenly Islam is not wiling to share the stage with anyone—especially Christians.  Countries where the rule of law is Islamic based are imprisoning Christians by the hundreds, they are forcing employers to fire Christians, and they are killing Christians for the crime of professing their religious beliefs in public.  All of these matters are completely unacceptable in the modern world.

            While all this is going on they are calling for us all to live together.  Does it strike you as funny that we are giving Muslims the same freedoms every religion shares in this country?  The only place we seem to have problems getting along is in the Muslim countries.  And why is that you might ask—simply because Muslims refuse to grant us the freedoms they are demanding in our country.

            It is a crime in a Muslim law country to convert from Islam to any other religion.  Muslims who convert to Christianity are given a death sentence.  They are considered to be infidels that are deserving of death.  Hardly the world of peace and toleration we are told to extend.

            Let’s move forward about one or two decades and see what the outcome will be when Europe is an Islamic Republic.  To many this might seem a far-fetched idea, but the rate of population increase of Muslims in Europe is astounding.  At the present rate, they may well be strong enough voting block to come to power as the lead of a coalition in most Western European countries in around a decade, maybe two decades on the outside.  This means that suddenly Europe would be controlled by Islamic law.  This means that Christianity would be illegal.  If Christianity is illegal the moral face of Christianity will fade rapidly.  It will be replaced by Muslim moral codes, including multiple marriages for men.  Capital punishment for criminals, including having a hand cut off for stealing and being killed for what many would consider minor offenses.

            To make matters worse, we would be hard pressed to cut off our relationship with the Islamic Republic of Europe.  Of course, we can sit here now and declare that we would never stand for something so close to home.  Yet, the facts speak for themselves.  We are allowing all of this to happen right now in countries we have favored trade status with over the single economic issue of oil.  Magnify the economics beyond oil to every basic trade item we purchase and suddenly it is not so hard to imagine that we tolerate the Islamic law for the sake of our cushy lives.  Stranger things have happened over the issue of money and comfort.

            In addition to trade issues, we will also be faced with international law issues in the form of treaties.  It will take great will power for us to abandon Europe simply because it has been transformed into an Islamic Republic.  This alone is one of the great dangers of the current mode of tolerance at all costs.  If nothing is wrong and there are no absolutes then we are foolish to try and establish a moral code for our interactions with other countries.  We will have to honor the treaties that exist between the US and Europe and as a result will be forced to continue to give favored help to our enemies.  Thus, we begin to bring about our own destruction and play a role in the eradication of the United States of America.

            In the alternative, we can cut off the Islamic Republic of Europe completely.  The problem with this approach is that it is not as simple as it seems.  To take such an action has its own set of problems.  For one, our economy is based on international trade.  Economically we cannot afford to go back into our shell.  Isolationism is impossible in a world so intertwined.  Our corporations are now multinational conglomerates.  So an Islamic Europe could well own major portions of American corporations.

            Another problem arises in situations like with Citgo.  Our first response to Chavez’s rants against President Bush is to stop doing business with his oil company—Citgo.  If we free him of his obligations to the United States, however, we enable Chavez to sell Venezuela’s oil to China.  Thus, we further harm ourselves while enriching China.  Not so simple a choice.

God’s Immigrants

We are all immigrants.  We share the same blood.  Man comes from Adam to Noah to now. We are all related—that is how God set it up.  Because we are all brothers and sisters we must begin to root all the bigotry that is in us.

There are only two groups of people in the world!  You are either a family member in good standing with the Father or you are a family member not in good standing with the Father.  The key to ending our bigotry is not dwelling on the standing issue.  The key is to dwell on the fact that we are family.

I have a brother and a sister in the natural realm.  They will always be my brother and sister.  Nothing they do, and nothing I do can change that fact.  This does not mean that none of us can do nothing wrong.  It only means that good or bad, right or wrong, we are brothers and sisters.  Nonetheless, there are actions I can take or one of them can take to cause the relationship to not be what it should be.    While we can break the fellowship, we can never destroy the blood relationship.

The same is true with every person on the face of this planet.  The blood we share will always bind us together—even when our beliefs or actions keep us separated.  Our life was breathed by God; therefore we are all special to Him.  No sin is too great to cause God to no longer consider us worthy of redemption.

Family is a bond that cannot be overcome or broken.  Are you gay?  You are still part of the family—you were still created by God.  Are you an alcoholic?  You are still part of the family—you were still created by God.  We all have problems.  We all sin.  Our sin is all bad, that is the definition of sin.

It is not judgment that brings us to correct our relationship with God, it is grace.  Judgment will often drive us away.  Adam and Eve feared judgment and they hid from God.  God brought grace and opened up His arms to receive them.

We must do the same.  After all, the immigrants I do not like are my brothers and my sisters.  Nothing can change that fact.

Changing Foundations: The New American Norm

Most of us grew up in a world where people had an inherent belief in a Christian version of God.  America’s foundation was strong and it was Christian when it came to a moral foundation.  As a result of the foundation we all spoke the same language and did not need to make our views relevant, we only had to make our views understood. 

A recent survey by Lifeway Research with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points shows the changing foundation.  Here is what they found: 

In the new America 61% of non-churchgoers believe the Christian God is no different from the gods depicted by Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and others.   86% believe they can have a “good relationship with God without belonging to a church.”  79% believe that Christianity is more about organized religion than loving God.  72% believe the church is “full of hypocrites.”  And finally 44% of non-churchgoers claimed that Christians get on their nerves. 

Against this background are some interesting findings.  72%believe that God, a higher or supreme being, actually exists.  The most telling foundation change in the key points of the survey is that in spite of the trouble with how Christians are viewed 52% of non-churchgoers believe the most central principle of Christianity; that Jesus died and came back to life.   

With this last piece of information we can see what a crumbled foundation we have.  If a majority of non-churchgoers believe the key tenant of Christianity why do we have so many people dissatisfied with the Church? 

I have a friend who preaches Christianity on university campuses.  He shared with me an interesting story that illustrates this point.  When he is preaching on these university campuses students come up to him and demand to know who decided that he should be the one who speaks for God.  They will ask him, “Who appointed you God’s spokesman?  Who gave you the right to tell us what is sin?” 

When my friend began to talk with these students he made a startling discovery.  The students who were questioning his authority were Christians by their own declaration.  Yet, they did not understand that a preacher could declare certain actions to be sin. 

There was a time when even non-Christians understood that preachers are responsible to call sin what it is.  Now the foundation has shifted or deteriorated so much that even the Christians do not believe what non-Christians used to believe.

The Trouble With Normal, Part One

Canadian singer, Bruce Cockburn, summed it up best when he declared that the trouble with normal is it always gets worse.  We live in a world that exemplifies this statement. What was unthinkable to our grandparents was thinkable to us.  Our parents, to some degree, thought like their parents.  Now what is unthinkable to us is thinkable to our children.  

The world is changing so rapidly it is hard to keep up with it.  Everyday we are becoming more and more accustomed to change.  As a result, we are being inoculated against the angst that used to come with change.  Nothing is stable.  Nothing is sacred.  You ideas today might be obsolete as early as tomorrow.

Only two generations ago divorce was a much more complicated matter than it is today.  Husbands and wives stayed together and worked through the problems that now commonly lead to separation and divorce.  For our grandparents’ generation divorce was scandalous.  Our grandparents valued a traditional family.  Today it is becoming more and more difficult to find a traditional family.  

Children are born out of wedlock and there is no shame.  Marriages crumble for no real reason and there is no shame.  Children are damaged through it all and there is no shame.

What was unthinkable in the middle of the past century is normal today.  And so society deteriorates and, like the preverbal frog in the kettle, we do not even notice the dumbing down of normal.

This is just one example; a perfect example of the trouble with normal is it always gets worse.


Books Worth Reading

C.S. LEWIS--Mere Christianity; CLAIRE BERLINSKI--Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's Crisis, Too; BRUCE BAWER--While Europe Slept: How Radical islam is Destroying the West from Within; DAVID LEVERING LEWIS--God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215; THOMAS SCHIRRMACHER--The Persecution of Christians Concerns Us All; PHILIP JENKINS--God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis

Top Clicks

  • None