78. What about those who have never heard of Jesus?

“Are you saying that only Christians will go to heaven?” asked the person indignantly.  “What about people who didn’t grow up in a place where Christianity was taught?  What about people who have never heard the name of Jesus or at least had Him explained well?  Are they condemned to eternal suffering?  How is that fair?!”

Read More

77. The Church as a Family

 When we become a born-again follower of Jesus Christ, our relationship with millions of other human beings  abruptly undergoes a dramatic metamorphous.  In Christ, we who were separate are now joined .  The Bible uses all kinds of metaphors to try to describe the relationship of believer to fellow-believer.  We’re the bride of Christ (Rev. 19:6-9), the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12) and brothers and sisters in God’s family; (John 1:12). 

Read More

76. Blank Check Promises

There are a number of verses in the New Testament which have long fascinated and frustrated me.  Let me quote a couple of them for you.  John 14:13 “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

Read More

75. All Truth is God's Truth

I’m big on the Bible.  If you’ve listened to these podcasts or read my blogs you know that by now. I’m constantly memorizing and quoting Scripture.  Yet you might be surprised, though, to hear that I also listen to and read from sources outside of my conservative Christian circle – even sources antagonistic to my faith.  I find this helpful in a number of ways.

Read More

74. Wait for It

     I spend a few minutes most days scanning Facebook.  Videos are among the most popular re-posts.  A simple phrase sometimes appears under a video which always captures my attention: the phrase “Wait for it.”  This is a phrase usually freighted with a sort of mischievous delight.  It tells me that, in a rather ordinary video, say people fishing in a boat, craziness is about to erupt – like a whale suddenly breaching three feet away, scaring the fishermen silly.

Read More

73. The Well-Dressed Christian

    So much of the spiritual life involves trying to gain control over and maneuver invisible spiritual attitudes which influence the invisible entity we call our “spirit”. For me this often feels like trying to position air.

Read More

72. Is godliness really "great gain"?

Paul says, in 1 Timothy 6:6, that "godliness with contentment is great gain." The context here involves money, but I've been thinking a lot about the broader context. What is the value of godliness in this life? As a 61-year-old man, who's been seriously seeking the Lord since early 1970’s, I sometimes wonder what it's accomplished in my life.

Read More

71. The Meaning of "Acceptance"

I’m in the market for a new English word.   The only term I can find that comes close to what I want to say, says too much.  I always have to explain, in fact, to over-explain;  to state that I only mean this but not that

            The wordthat doesn’t quite work is the word“acceptance”.   By “acceptance” I’d often like to mean that I love a person just as they are. Whatever their flaws might currently be, they don’t have to change a thing for me to continue to value them, care about them and be committed to their welfare.  I will not reject them, in the sense that I stop loving them as a person.    

             The word “acceptance” has a couple of other nuances, though.     The second nuance is that sometimes we have to “accept” things that we don’t like about another person.   Maybe they eat too loudly or tend to procrastinate.  We’ve challenged them to change, but they haven’t, so at some point we decide to let it go, to “accept” it.   It’s not worth the conflict – “That’s just the way she is.”  Or we accept that it’s raining on the day of our picnic. This isn’t really full acceptance, it’s more like resignation  (“It is what it is”).  Deep down, though, we wish things were different. 

            The third nuance is the one that causes some confusion regarding my meaning.  In this use the word “accept” means “acceptable”.   Something’s acceptable if it meets our standards— it’s good enough or right or fair or satisfactory.  This is an act of approval.   

 Here’s where it gets tricky.  To say that I “accept” someone in the first sense – that I’m committed to love them,  is not the same as saying that everything about them is acceptable.  If one of my friends, for instance, enters into an immoral lifestyle, I may accept them in the first sense, as a person I will always care about, while at the same time strongly rejecting some of their moral choices.   In fact, if I really do love someone I will reject anything they do that is destructive to themselves, to others, or to their relationship with God.   Accepting another person should not necessitate accepting their sin (and vice versa since I’m a sinner too).  God never accepts sin as being okay .  This is a distinction, by the way, which is sometimes vigorously contested by people caught in sin.  Supposedly it’s intolerant to “love the sinner and hate the sin.” “You either accept all of me or you don’t accept me at all!” some have insisted.  This is a silly standard, one that even they can’t follow – would they “accept” someone else's destructive drug addiction or abusive behavior? 

So I’m left looking for a new English word which captures nuance one – “I’ll always care about you” without automatically throwing in the third nuance – “I approve of everything you do”.  This, I think, is a weakness in the English language.  I need all three nuances of “accept”, but it’s easy to confuse which one I’m using.  Each one is useful in its own way.

 How is each type of acceptance useful?

1.     Acceptance of a person as a worthwhile being allows me to love others well

This type of acceptance is an imitation of God’s attitude toward human beings.  He’s made us in His image (Gen. 1:26).  He loves all of us deeply and shows it in many practical ways. He’s provided all sorts of resources and works to build a close personal relationship with us, even sending His Son Jesus to earth to remove the sin barrier between us and Him.  All of this is done, not because we’ve earned it, but out of sheer grace; undeserved favor.  Another phrase for this sort of acceptance is “unconditional love”.  He’s freely chosen to bestow  great worth on all of us.  Without it, you and I would not survive or thrive. 

            We’re called, in Scripture to do the same for our fellow human beings (Matt. 22:39) and even for our enemies (Matt. 5:44).  They don’t have to earn it.  It’s an act of grace.  This acceptance of the innate worth of others creates a healthy relational greenhouse where relationships can grow and  flourish despite the inevitable problems we face in a sinful world. It’s the foundation for healthy families and thriving communities on every level.   The bottom line is that others, whatever we may think of the way they act, still have a basic worth in God’s eyes.  If we believe this, it will guide everything we do toward others in a more constructive direction.   On the other hand, much of the chaos in our world today is directly traceable to an unwillingness to accept one other as worthwhile human beings created in God’s image.

            This sort of acceptance, this unconditional love, doesn’t come naturally to us as sinful beings. It’s a gift that God must teach us to give. We grow in this area by first receiving God’s forgiveness and then relying on His strength; a slow process, but well worth it.

2.    Acceptance of others’ actions even, when they’re not what I’d prefer, allows me to get along with them and build our relationship

Another word for this, at least as used in an older sense, is “tolerance”.  There will always be aspects of other people which bug us.  While some of these aspects are unacceptable, like physical abuse,  here I’m more concerned withactions or attitudes which, in themselves, are not necessarily wrong, or at least not seriously wrong, but are still inconvenient or annoying.  It may be a marriage partner who’s messy or a co-worker who’s a bit on the lazy side.  We ask them to change, and they may even promise to do this, but they don’t.  Often, in these cases, it’s better to just accept the situation.  It’s not worth fighting about.  In fact, perfectly good marriages or friendships are sometimes ruined over an unwillingness to leave minor matters alone and enjoy what we do have.

3.    Acceptance of what is good and right in others reinforces God’s wise standards

This third sense is, our way of saying that something or someone is acceptable because they meet certain standards.  If, for instance, I pay to have my house painted, I expect this to be done properly according to our prior agreement.  It’s not acceptable for a painter to take my money and then drive off with the house half-painted.  It’s not acceptable to abuse a child or to cheat on my marriage partner.  As a Christian, I find many, though not all of my standards, in the Bible.  I evaluate myself, others, and my world by God’s standards of right and wrong.  I believe God to be the final Judge of what is acceptable.  If this is true, and we are all one day accountable to God, it’s important that I live and teach God’ holy and absolute standards.  If I love others, I will encourage them to do the same.  Many in our world, of course, resist these standards of God, and find it distasteful and even arrogant for believers to proclaim them.  “Who are you,” they say, “to tell me what’s acceptable?!” I’ll do it anyway though, because I love them too much to look the other way.

 

70. Separation from sin pt. 2

4.  I maintain a healthy separation from sin when I remember the extra vulnerability that comes while I’m being entertained
          It’s one thing to encounter sin in relationships. It’s another to face it in the Lazyboy. 

Read More

69. Separation from sin pt. 1

       Many years ago two Christian friends and I were listening to comedy on a Steve Martin record.  I had heard it before and knew that some of it was racy, so I monitored the volume knob, muting out what I considered to be the bad parts.   This prompted one companion to glance at me with incredulity and laugh.  She thought it odd that I would try to spare her from hearing Steve’s blue humor.  That’s when I realized, that in some people’s eyes, I was a card-carrying member of the Christian “fuddy-duddy” club.

Read More

68. Tolerance

“It’s okay to tell someone else what you believe as long as you don’t say that what they believe is wrong.”  The person who shared this with me, calmly and thoughtfully, was a Christian.  We went on to have a good-natured  conversation about her statement and what it implied.  This sort of belief is common coin in our culture today.  It sounds enlightened and is often well-motivated.

Read More

67. Faith as a placebo pt. 2

   Last week I told the story of a young man, raised as a Christian, who was concerned that his faith was just a placebo – that he only saw evidences of the truth of Christianity because that’s what he’d been told to expect.  If he’d been raised differently, say as a Hindu, or an atheist, he would instead be seeing evidences for their truthfulness.  It was a legitimate concern and one that actually contains some truth.

Read More

66. Faith as a placebo pt 1

“Faith is a placebo,” said the young man, “you’re just experiencing what you expect to experience.”  Wow.  Hadn’t heard that one before.  I must admit, though, that it really got me thinking. A placebo is fake medicine, a sugar pill, which sometimes makes the people who take it feel better even though it has no medicinal value.  It’s a mental thing – they expect to feel better, so they do.    Does faith do this as well?   And if it did, why would this matter?

Read More

65. Are Christians really different from non-Christians?

   Bill was a church kid through and through.  As a child, his parents had read him Bible stories and Christian books.  He’d gone to Sunday School and Christian camp.  He’d sat through hundreds of sermons.  Now, as a college student, away from all this Christian influence, he was seeing the world through fresh eyes.  One of things he began to notice was that, while many of his classmates did not claim to be followers of Christ, in the end they seemed a lot like him. 

Read More

64. Your God

Despite all the hoopla over the last fewyears about atheism, a 2016 poll stated that only about 3% of Americans call themselves “atheists” with an additional 5% labelling themselves “agnostics”, which means, “I’m not sure what I believe”.  The vast majority of Americans still believe in God.  We could debate why this is, and it would be a valuable dialogue, but that’s not the focus of today’s discussion.  I want, instead, to ask a couple of different questions.

Who is your God?

Read More

63. "I had to go to church as a child!"

you go to church anywhere,” I asked my mechanic in the last town.  “No,” he replied.  “When I was growing up my parents made me go to church.  So now I don’t go any longer.”  He sounded slightly aggrieved, as though his childhood rights had been violated; that his parents had somehow overstepped their bounds.  At the very least, the experience of going to church, whether he wanted to or not, had left a bad taste in his mouth toward the church.

Read More

62. Hypocrites in the Church

A friend of mine recently confronted his boss over mistreatment of both him and his fellow-employees.  The boss routinely placed staggering loads of work on their backs, not because it was unavoidable, but because it made more money for his company. It was an unreasonable amount of unnecessary stress.  “Everyone in the yard wants to quit,” my friend told him.  He’d might as well have been talking to the wall.  The boss put on his “so what?” face.  If they didn’t like it they could leave. 

Read More

61. The Challenge of Systematic Theology

  “If God already knows my future actions, then do I really have freedom to do something different if I choose?”  This is a question most Christians ask themselves at one time or another.  It’s a tough one and I have no intention of trying to answer it today.  I simply want to use it to point out one of the challenges every Christian faces.  That challenge is part of the larger task of trying to figure out how all of the Bible teachings and facts fit together.

Read More

60. Fighting Fairly in the Church

In his first letter to Corinth Paul’s barely started before he gets right in their face. . . “My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.” (1 Cor. 1:11).  In the local body of Christ at Corinth, the body parts are bruising one another.

        Sound familiar?  While local churches often provide a place of comfort and support, they can also be hotbeds of hostility. 

Read More

59. Theological Labels

        If you are a believer, where do you place yourself on the theological spectrum?  Are you conservative or liberal/progressive?  Far right or far left?  Evangelical or fundamentalist?  Moderate or some other designation? 

Read More