God: Nice Thought or More?

Back in April, I was thinking about how people think and act about God. Later, I saw a commercial of a show that Morgan Freeman was narrating about who God is across cultures. Watching the promo, I noticed a pattern emerge. To many of them, God was a concept, an abstraction that made them feel good.

Is that the reason many professing Christians aren’t standing out that well in a broken world? Like the rocky soil in Mark 4:16-17, they accept the thought with joy. Did you accept Jesus with a good feeling but no real life change?

A good feeling is temporary, an intangible thought doesn’t trigger change unless it’s accepted wholeheartedly. A term going around for it is practical atheism–where someone believes in God, but behaves like there is no God. He’s just a concept to them, like charity is something that is nice.

Do you fit God into your life when you find the time?

May I be so bold as to say it should be flipped?

God isn’t a concept. He’s the sovereign creator of the universe. A nice thought doesn’t get you through life’s struggles, the emptiness, none of it. That requires something bigger than you. I was told to have faith in my darkest time. Faith is having a trust in something. A nice thought that requires something or someone.

When God arrives, what I call a Godquake happens, everything is shaken up. An overwhelming feeling occurs, your heart breaks as it feels like everything is being pulled out. Then the dirt is scraped off, the gunk poured out, and it’s put back as good as new.

God is so big that when he comes in, things get knocked over.

It can happen at church during altar calls for prayer. It can happen in your home during a really good time in prayer and praise. I don’t cry, for me to shed a tear is rare. I was raised that it wasn’t manly, a foolish thought that was conditioned in me. But I cried so hard in my office at home that I couldn’t see while singing At The Cross (Love Ran Red).

Why?

Because it’s personal, more than a nice thought. Look at the chorus:

🎶At the cross
At the cross
I surrender my life
I’m in awe of You
I’m in awe of You
Where Your love ran red
And my sin washed white
I owe all to You
I owe all to You Jesus🎶

My life was surrendered to Jesus, I had done a great job at screwing it up. The fact that he put me back together is awesome because of why he did it. It wasn’t anything I deserved, yet he took the hit for me. Everything I had done wrong doesn’t weigh on me. Now it’s a cautionary reminder of where I came from. I truly owe all to him, he saved my life.

Yes, it’s a gift I can’t repay, and I follow him in gratitude for what was done and is being done now. It’s not like a codependent parent bailing you out again and again that you can call when needed. He picks us up, knocks off the dirt, and says follow me. 

You do follow then. Life is shaken up and you fit in his agenda rather than Jesus fitting in yours. God is the priority, so everything else is seen as a loss in comparison.

An idea cannot do that for long. Like a new toy, it’s forgotten after a while. It requires grabbing onto someone, not something. Life changes when we embrace two people, and is never the same.

Your spouse.

Your child.

With both, your dreams and priorities change. It includes them now, their needs come before yours. That’s what it’s like with a relationship with Jesus, things change.

He’s the perfect spouse, selflessly giving you what you need. Because of that, you listen and go with him wherever you go. Like it’s obvious you’re married, it should be obvious by how your life is now that Jesus is a part of it.

To see what the self-sacrificial love of God is like, look at a parent’s relationship to their kids. What would you do for your kids? What would you do to protect them?

Anything. And instruct them to stay away from things that can hurt them.

It’s the same with God. Do you know Him like that?

What’s Holding Back Those Who’ve Thought It Through?

We’ve gotten to the final post of this series where we’ve been analyzing and answering why some people aren’t listening to the case for Christ. We’ve explored the systematic processing error that is cognitive biases, that three types of conscious unbelievers from Tim Keller’s book Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism and Mark 4:15, are prone to. The types are the willfully rebellious, the unreasonable skeptic, and the willfully ignorant. The final type we’ll look at is different; they’re genuine.

8815533744_fa7fe5a687_zIt’s the person that is aware of most of, if not all, their biases. They’ve examined the evidence, dived into the philosophy, the theology, and how it fits with the world. They have come to their conclusions with well thought out reasons for not accepting it. They still consider every new piece of information that comes to light.

So, what could be stopping them?

Maybe they want a smoking gun piece of evidence. Or a voice from heaven directed to them in a public place. They could be putting their trust in science, believing that it will figure out the mysteries we have currently in the future.

There may be another reason.

Say you’ve read Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. Then you watched every one of William Lane Craig’s debates on YouTube. You checked bibliographies, read opposing views by Bart Ehrman, Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins. You may think the evidence for is better than the evidence against.

That leaves you with a decision to make. To accept it, or reject it. Intellectually, you accept that Jesus and God are real. All the points lead to this being true, so what happens if you accept and put your trust in Jesus as a person and not a concept alone?

What does it mean if the God the inference of the evidence matches the God of the Bible who created everything?

What does it mean when you see thousands of years of prophecies are pointing to one historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth? The same person that history records being killed by crucifixion. That there was a darkness and earthquake as recorded by an extrabiblical source. That no one can see the body of Jesus because it’s not in the tomb or an ossuary. The disciples that claimed to see him and died because of it when rejection would’ve saved them. That James and Paul, hardened skeptics, believed after seeing him after he died.

It means there must’ve been some truth to his words. That he was the Son of God here to die for you so you can have eternal life. If you accept that, what does it mean for you?

That you or any other person are an accident of nature?

Or that you have tremendous value.

God wants a relationship with you.

Your world will not be the same.

It’s the last part that worries people. If no one is an accident, then it follows that they were created for a purpose. If God the Son incarnated as a man to pay the penalty for your sins on the cross, then you must be incredibly valuable to him. So is your best friend, and your worst enemy.

If you follow Jesus and do as he says, it won’t always be rainbows and puppies. You’ll see this life as a fleeting moment in light of eternity. Because you’ve been forgiven, you’ll be called to forgive. You’ll have to let go of hate, grudges, and anger, it’s a process, and on this side of it, I can tell you it’s easier than you think.

You’ll have a new nature, and as you grow, the old you will start to flake off, exposing someone pristine underneath. Is it fear that keeps you away? Fear of the change? Or the desire to not let go of something or someone you know isn’t good for you?

In the end, it still falls to a heart issue. Do you have a heart issue? Is it due to an ‘all about me’ attitude? Maybe it’s an anger issue? What is it? Ask yourself that.

The Willfully Ignorant

We’ve been looking at the receptiveness, or lack of it, in people over the course of the past two posts. The idea came from the Parable of the Sower in Mark 4:14-20. We’re looking in particular at verse 15, the conscious unbelievers.

Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.

To recap, we’ve looked at those who are willfully rejecting Christ, and the heart issues underneath it that are fueling their biases. Then we looked at those that reject the evidence of Christ out of hand without much consideration. This comes with it’s own set of biases.

Remember, cognitive biases are from a system error in our thought processes like memory, attention, and attribution. It’s a two-edged sword, sometimes shortcuts are necessary, like making decisions in the face of a charging lion. You don’t put much thought in that. In this post, we’re going to look where I suspect many people fall, rejection due to imitation.

It’s not much of a secret that our attention spans are shorter. The internet is a blessing and a curse. All the information is a click away, available, and you don’t have to remember it. We also don’t really think through things as thoroughly as we used to.

We collect information, mash it up, and spout it without much, if any, fact checking. Who has time for that? I have cat videos to watch on Facebook. It’s opinion by consensus.

One of the most obvious biases at play is the bandwagon effect. If you’ve heard the term, then you probably know what it means. Adopting a belief because others do. Paul quotes the Greek poet, Menander, in 1st Corinthians 15:33 when he writes, “Bad company corrupts good character.” That’s the same principle in effect with the bandwagon effect.

A bias that isn’t obvious to anyone is the blindspot bias. We see others’ biases much easier than our own. Try this, look for your own biases and find ways to counteract them. The anchoring bias is one I have to watch for. That’s why I stressed thinking like a detective in the last post.

Stereotyping is another bias; it fits a mental profile on the first impression, so the person goes with it. Blondes are dumb, people with glasses are smart (people thought that about me until I showed them my report card), and gingers have no soul. All Latinos are here illegally, black people steal, Democrats hate America, Republicans love war and want Jesus for president. It goes on and on and on. It’s pervasive.

These at the heart are blind group think. Sadly, they’re found in every group. They either haven’t vetted the information or have never been taught. Bible verses are taken out of context, without anyone looking beyond it. I run into that a lot more than I would care to. For example, loving your enemies (Matthew 5:44) ties into loving your neighbor (Luke 10:27), who your neighbor is (Luke 10:25-37), and which of the four Greek words used for love is used in those verses.

The willfully ignorant won’t go deeper than that.The Willfully Ignorant

Then it’s justified with the confirmation and selective perception biases. The last two posts covered the confirmation bias. Selective perception is allowing our expectations to influence our perceptions.  You expect the opposing sports team to cheat so you see “every infraction” and suspect the referees were bought off.

There is a saying that you’ll find what you look for. Someone cuts you off in traffic, well they’re obviously a jerk. What you may not know is that their kid was bit by a snake and they’re rushing to the ER.

Being willfully ignorant is at the heart of rejecting Christ by consensus. You have to learn about and meet him before passing judgment.  This type is the opposite of our final type that we’ll go over in the next post. In it we’ll look at those who “have their decision and these are the reasons why.” With it, we’ll close the four part series.

When Skepticism Leads to a Closed Mind

In the previous post, we looked at the cognitive biases of the mind and the underlying heart issues. Remember, a cognitive bias is a processing glitch. Jesus characterized the type we’re looking at as the “Path” or “Road” soil, nothing gets in, from Mark 4. We’re still looking at verse 15, “Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.

 

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The last post was about those who say, ‘I know and I don’t care’. This one is about the type that says, “it can’t be proven” or “it’s false”. It stems mostly from a rebellion of the mind, and it can get tribal. Politics is a good example of that.

 

In this issue—rejecting Christ—there are six biases in play:

The anchoring bias, going with and allowing the first piece of information to influence you. Suppose you see a link on Facebook that says Jesus is a copycat of pagan myths. Everything you see after that is shaded in that lens despite any evidence to the contrary. You dropped your mental anchor on that piece of information.

Rather than dropping anchor, be a detective, make a note of it and continue the search for evidence. Then see where it leads. Pull a piece out, see if it changes direction or is still the same conclusion. I wrote about that in Investigating Christianity. Once we fixate, the next bias tends to feed that fixation.

The confirmation bias, only listening to information that confirms our preconceptions. It’s evident everywhere in daily life. You research a car you always wanted, that brand is the best ever, despite the amount of recalls on it. Your boyfriend is so nice, he’s the one, everyone saying he’s been going behind your back is lying. A good Christian casemaker doesn’t ignore the arguments against Christianity, they evaluate them. Investigating all the evidence and coming to a reasonable conclusion is how to defeat it.

The choice-supportive bias ties into it a bit, it’s where you feel good about a choice despite its flaws. Your spouse hits you sometimes, but they’re “not that bad”. These are dangerous biases that go down to a tribal level.

It’s seen in politics a lot, where a politician you like makes decisions you wouldn’t tolerate from another, yet you still support them. This is why I don’t play in politics anymore, the blind tribalism got tiring. Where do these point? What’s the center of it?

It’s the emotional investment in select information. The stronger you feel about something, the less engaged your neocortex‒the logical part of your brain‒is. It creates an emotional blind spot. Belief is fine, but only after reasoning through all the evidence, not just a single piece.

The availability heuristic is also at play, basing a judgment on limited info that leads to poor estimates. We all should all watch for it. On a personal level, it’s when you only have a limited side of the story. On a bigger scale, it will help you if you picture a circle. That’s the world of information. Place a smaller circle inside it. That’s the information that you have in comparison. It can lead to nihilism.

The Greek philosopher Socrates said, “The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” Skeptics love this quote. It’s good to question. However, at a certain point, it’s reasonable to accept something when it’s beyond a reasonable doubt. Face it, we’ll always have questions.

If we don’t have questions and accept something wholeheartedly, then it may be the bandwagon effect at work. That bias is where you accept a belief because others do. Tribalism again. Do you go one way because of your friends or family? Or did you jump from one bandwagon to another?

Recency is the tendency to weigh newer information heavier than older data. The danger is that the older information was heavily evaluated and yet still stands firm. The gnostic gospels, for example, are dated later than the four in the Bible. Mark was written within 10-20 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection. So was Luke, it was written before he wrote Acts, which documented Paul’s travels before his execution in AD68. Look in the New International Version of the Bible, and you’ll see footnotes and sections where scholars show where different words or phrases are used, and what sections aren’t in the earliest manuscripts. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is a very heavily evaluated book.

The core of these last three biases is decisions from limited information and peer pressure. It depends on the depth of one’s thought. We can make a claim, but it takes more work to support it with reason. Have you noticed the sliding scale of intensity, from deep to shallow. There’s a surprising depth to it.

I have two more subtypes to examine and not enough space. Next week we’ll continue with the imitator and the thinker types. My question for you is do you fall into any of these subtypes or know someone who does?

Speaking With the Stubborn

Have you ever tried to persuade someone and nothing changes their mind? You appeal to their emotions, form logical arguments, present every piece of evidence short of a video. Facebook is really bad when it comes to memes that are so easy to knock down, and when you do, nothing changes. It’s frustrating.

The answer is simple and complex. There are at least two ways to look at this. They’re obstinately hard-headed, or there are deeper issues at play. We’re going to dig. It’s important for a few reasons: first, it’ll identify our own issues; secondly, we’ll understand the person we’re talking to; and thirdly, we’ll be able to speak to them on a deeper level rather than talking at them.

Jesus taught a parable about a sower scattering seeds through a field. Some landed on the road, some in the rocks, some in the weeds, and some in the good soil. The sower is us when we talk about the Gospel and the seed is the Gospel.  We’re focusing and going deeper on verse 15 in Mark 4; “Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.

Tim Keller in his book Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism breaks down the four soils described in the parable even further. I’m going to look at it from a different perspective, from our cognitive biases. We all have them, and even our biases have biases. If you want your brain to hurt, look them up, find yours and find a way to combat them.

What is a cognitive bias? It’s a mental system error in our thought processes like memory, attention, and attribution that affects judgment. It’s when the mind takes shortcuts to reach decisions.

They’re not the same as logical fallacies. That comes from errors in a logical argument. Logic can help in mitigating biases. However, we make too many quick decisions to think that we’re thinking logically all the time. Those decisions are generally in the lower levels of the brain. That’s not a bad thing, some decisions need to be made quickly, like when jerking the wheel of the car to avoid hitting something.

The first type of receptiveness is characterized by the hard packed road. Nothing is getting in. Tim calls those of this type the conscious unbelievers, skeptics, and rejectors of the faith. Then he breaks this group into five subtypes. We’re looking at the first subtype in this post, those in willful rebellion. Is that you?

Willful Rebellion

This type knows, or think they know, but just don’t care. In this, several biases are at play. 366927039_0a227467f4_zStarting with the Overconfidence bias–too confident in their own abilities, thinking they don’t need God. That was me at one point.

Personal Preference bias–how we perceive our actions as opposed to what we see others do. Humans are really good at rationalizing and justifying bad behavior that we wouldn’t accept from others. Yeah, been there too.

Self-Serving bias–when things are good, it’s because of our intelligence and abilities. When things are bad, though? Well…we just didn’t have control over that, it’s not our fault. Sometimes that is the case; it also means that sometimes we did mess up.

Blind Spot bias–not even seeing our biases, a scary one. This holds the others together, where while I can spot your particular biases a mile away, I can’t see my own. That’s why I issued the challenge earlier to explore and combat your biases.

These four biases, distilled to their essences, point to an underlying heart issue. They all stem from our focus on ourselves to the point we have essentially put ourselves in God’s place. Then we justify it with four more biases.

False Consensus–the overestimation of how many people agree with us. We hear it when someone says, “Well, everyone knows…” and you can probably finish the sentence. It can happen when we surround ourselves with others like us, so everyone else must be the same as our group, right? Broaden your horizons, serve and eat with the homeless, speak with the powerful, comfort the hurting, and hold a conversation with someone from a different culture.

This rolls over into the Bandwagon bias, which is essentially, “everyone else is doing it so I will too.” Whenever someone presents contradictory information, it’s ignored in favor of what we want to hear. We’re all in danger of that one, especially on the information superhighway.

The final bias for this type is Selective Perception. It’s where we allow our expectations to influence our perceptions. Think about the time someone said, ‘Of course they did that, they’re ________.’ Or how about this, are you an optimist or a pessimist?

These boiled down show our heart’s desire for justification. In this type, it’s justifying their self-centeredness. There is hope for this type, though it’s not anything that we can do other than praying for them.

Here’s why, it’s a heart issue, something at their core that needs changed. We can change minds, but we cannot change the hearts of others. While we can work on our own hearts, it’s a holding action. A better option is a heart transplant.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9 NIV

We’ve seen how far it will go to hold us in place. Here’s how it can be fixed.

“And I will give them one heart [a new heart] and I will put a new spirit within them; and I will take the stony [unnaturally hardened] heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh [sensitive and responsive to the touch of their God],” Ezekiel 11:19 AMP

God is the heart surgeon that is able to help the sick in heart. Some say be true to yourself, however, what if you’re a horrible person? Should you still stay true to yourself? Or will you justify it in pseudo-spiritual language like, “God knows my heart.”

He does, and that should concern you as we’ve seen above. The only time it shouldn’t is when with your heart–the core of your being–you put your trust in and rely on Jesus. Then there will be true justification before God (Romans 10:10).

This was going to be one post on the five subtypes, but we dug so deep that for the sake of time, I’ll split it up. The next post will deal less with the heart and more with the head.

Searching For Fulfillment

People look their whole lives for the thing that will fulfill them. It could be a high-paying career in a Fortune 500 company. It may be prestige and celebrity. Meeting that special someone that makes your whole world stop. Happiness, pleasure, love, family, all great things, all temporary things unfortunately.

If it could all be met in one thing, wouldn’t you want it? What if it was also temporary, would it be worth it then? What if you could have something enduring and eternal?

To set the stage, Jesus just fed over 5,000 people, and the word got out. Soon more arrived in the area after he and the disciples left looking for a free meal. Who doesn’t like free food? However, when they found Jesus, he called them on it.

“Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” John 6:26 NIV

They were thinking of the present, and while important, that’s not all there is. Jesus told them there was more.

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” John 6:27 NIV

What Does That Even Mean?

They asked the same question. What kind of food? What kind of work? What’s the catch?

It was pretty much hand-to-mouth, so it wasn’t the easiest life. The poor begged and gathered food from the uncut edges of the fields to sustain life (Leviticus 19:10; 23:22).

They had to work for it. So what kind of work was Jesus talking about that lasts for eternity? The prevailing thoughts these days is if you do your best, then you can walk through the Pearly Gates or you get a second chance and reincarnate. Both depend on your efforts.

Jesus said the work of God is only one thing.

It’s simple, and surprisingly hard. I like how the Amplified Bible puts verse 29. Want to know what you have to do to have eternal life?

“Jesus replied, This is the work (service) that God asks of you: that you believe in the One Whom He has sent [that you cleave to, trust, rely on, and have faith in His Messenger].”

It’s true that you’re saved by grace through faith alone. In non-Christianese, it means you’re saved because of the love of Jesus if you trust him to. However, that’s the work involved, you have to take that step and trust him.

If It’s So Easy, Then Why Aren’t People Doing It?

Great question. For now, read the fourth chapter of Mark. I will admit, it’s something that bothers me, too. I may do a series of posts on it from Mark 4, looking at the four types of soils-the receptiveness of people. It’s not hopeless, though; there’s been a way made for you.

When we do this work, we get the Bread of Life, which is a metaphor for Jesus. In John 4, when he was speaking with the woman at the well, he told her about living water. He sure loved his food metaphors, didn’t he? Why?

Consider this, people look for a physical need to be met. The Jews wanted food so they would live. You need food or water so you won’t die. Eternal life requires something more than Wonder Bread and Evian.

Have you taken Communion, also known as The Lord’s Supper? Jesus told them he is the Bread of Life. In Luke 22:19, he broke the Passover bread and said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Because of him, eternal life is available. It’s a symbol that shows the sufficiency of Jesus to meet those needs we desperately long for.

Why Is It So Hard To Believe That?

It was an issue then as it is now. Jesus said, “But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.” (John 6:36.) It’s a number of factors: nothing is free so I have to do something, don’t see the evidence, don’t believe the evidence. It could also be more of a heart issue rather than a head issue.

You want to do things your way. Or, you’re angry at God or someone who says they follow him. Maybe you consider all religion as bad without considering their fundamental cores.

God still calls to people, though, regardless. It’s what Jesus meant in John 6:37; 6:40. There are four ways God calls to you:

  1. Through the Holy Spirit.When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. John 16: 8-11 NIV
  2. Nature (natural theology): “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20 NIV
  3. The Moral Law: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” Romans 3:19-20 NIV
  4. The Conscience: “(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)” Romans 2:14-15 NIV

            “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.For in my              inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against                the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” Romans            7:21-23 NIV

We rebel at the thought, but as we step closer, the hostility fades. The seed starts to take root because the ground is ready. When it sprouts, then you’ll be secure.

We fear losing security. Our jobs, homes, families, and lives; loss of any of these is absolutely devastating. John 6:37 though is a beautiful promise once you have a relationship with Jesus: “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.

You could be the perfect spouse, and still your loved one wants a divorce. A top-earning salesman that is still laid off during budget cuts. World’s greatest parent, and your kids hate you.

Jesus says you could be the worst husband, steal from work, and neglect your kids; he still wants you, and despite all your failings, he won’t reject you once you come to him. He also won’t let you stay that person.

Those personal failings and issues we fight, he’s there, knocking off the rough edges and polishing you up. The Creator of the universe says, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” He keeps his promises, too.

Creator. Sustainer. Alpha and Omega. Savior. Lord. Friend. Brother. In him there is life eternal. Lonely? In him you have a friend that is also family, he’s your brother. Lost? He is the Lord that will lead the way. A nobody? Because of him you’re adopted into the family of God. You’re a child of God, heir with Christ, who is the beginning and the end. Every need of importance is met in Jesus, just come to him and he’ll never turn you away.

Jesus Would Vote For…

This site used to be filled with political posts. I even campaigned for Gary Johnson and the 69337_540638712616748_1005414912_nLibertarian Party in 2012. After that season, I was pretty burned out and took a break. I read ConCom by Rory Miller and then was done with politics altogether after seeing the dynamics at work underneath it all.

Now it’s a new election season and my Facebook feed is deluged by posts about Trump, Sanders, and Hillary. It raised a question in my mind about how we should look at political issues as Christians. Philosopher Peter Kreeft in the book The Philosophy of Jesus has a chapter on Jesus’ ethics that provides some insight.

Liberals, Conservatives, Moderates, and Jesus?

Think about your favorite issue. What are the different ideological stances on it? Guns for example. Do you favor banning them, having no restrictions, or having some restrictions? Either way you look at it, you’re weighing the choices against each other.

The World’s Smallest Political Quiz has five results on two scales: left, center, right, and anarchy or totalitarianism. Your politics can be liberal or conservative, maybe even sitting in the middle. The question is how much do you want the government involved in the issue and what areas do you want them involved in?

They’re still being weighed against each other. Human morality and clashing worldviews meeting on the battleground. Caveats are made, compromises are added into bills on issues of morality. We’re using the wrong standard.

Which Standard Then?

If you follow Christ, then you weigh it against his standards and decide from there. Kreeft said that the standard is found in divine revelation (the Bible), natural law (a person’s intrinsic value and freedom) and our consciences. When looking at the Bible for the standard, remember that much of Leviticus and Deuteronomy is about the newborn nation of Israel being set apart to be fundamentally different from other nations.

It’ll take some homework, but I’ll make it easy for you. Find the two greatest commandments, then logically weigh an issue against them. Is God first, and does it recognize the value of others? Then you have to answer that for every group affected.

Ever hear the term “walking the straight and narrow”? That line should be Jesus’ teachings. It’s integrated and when we pick and choose, we step off the path and go either left or right. Then we have to convince others why your pieces are better than their pieces.

Kreeft wrote that Jesus gives us better reasons for doing things than political moralizing. His examples were to feed the poor because Jesus said it was like doing it for him, in a parable (Matthew 25:31-46), and not for sentiment or political correctness. He also loves sinners (which is good since that’s what we are), but hates the wrong they’re doing. If your kid is messing up, intentionally or not, do you hate them for what they did?

We’re to do good for people because Jesus did. We can’t hold any prejudices because he didn’t, not against Jew, Samaritan, Gentile (non-Jews), leper, or sinners; he wants them all to come to him. We follow him, not our preferences; if something is to be sacrificed, it’s the latter.

Don’t get hung up on traditions in case something new and better comes along. However, be faithful to the standards because Jesus is unchanging. An example I’ve heard used is a circle with three layers: the center is the non-negotiables of Christianity, then the traditions in the next layer, and finally opinions are in the outermost layer. Only the center matters.

Jesus is that center. I like how Kreeft put it, and I’m paraphrasing, “Jesus is a ‘bleeding-heart liberal’ and a ‘hard-headed conservative’”. He then goes on to say that Christ isn’t a team player with people’s causes. They can’t recruit him. He has to recruit them, and they have to team up with him. Case in point, after he fed the 5,000, the people wanted to make him king, and Jesus left before they could grab him. You can’t recruit him.

The religious right have to beware slipping into legalism like the Pharisees did. One can follow the rules, but not have love, and be like a healthy looking tree that is rotting inside. The standards are there, but it’s only a part of the picture.

The religious left have to watch out for worshiping Jesus’ values, but not him. It is its own form of legalism that is also just a part of the picture. Kreeft compares it to the Sadducees during the first century. Both miss the mark.

You can be legalistic, but will never match Christ’s perfection. Alternatively, even the most altruistic heart is cold in comparison to Christ’s heart. You don’t change people for the better by winning just their mind or heart; they change by coming to Christ himself.

How Do Politics Stack Up Against Jesus?

01.09-cijty-debates-generic-d0dc84ee065e3934bc74a54a8cb33cbf2b90539b-s300-c85Poorly. The sides can’t compare to Christ, they only point to a part of what’s needed. The reasoning is flawed in that sentiment and laws both change, but if it’s because of Jesus, it won’t change. Love God, make him the center of your life; love others, do for them what you would have them do for you.

You don’t need a particular candidate; it’s Christ that is needed, not just his doctrines or values. They don’t save you. Societies fade into history, empires fall, time marches on, new ones appear. Put Jesus at the center. To quote Pastor Rod awhile back, “Be followers of Christ, and leaders of others to him.” It’s the change inside that truly changes the outside. That’s how you can affect change that lasts, not by enforcing laws or values.

How We Can Make An Impact

What happens when someone stands up and stands out? They get attention, sometimes it isn’t good attention either. Why keep going forward?  Why sometimes you may not even be a victim, you could just be acting like a jerk. Why don’t we look like the early church and how we can start right now? This is the questions we’ll deal with today.

You’re Not Alone

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” 1 Peter 4: 12-14 NIV

It’s even in the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:11, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Paul writes in Romans 8:17 that we’re heirs that share in the inheritance with Christ, His glory, and also his suffering. Why?

Because of who we represent. In Matthew 10:24-25, Jesus reminded them of how he was scorned. He was called demon-possessed, and illegitimate, people tried to stone him to death, and he was betrayed, beaten, and died a painful death.

Comforting, huh? Especially when he says in verse 38, “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” It can get uncomfortable to say the least. What does he know about being uncomfortable? Imagine Bill Gates walking away from his assets and wealth, moving to Wichita, Kansas without a dime to his name to help people under a new name. He doesn’t have his resources or reputation, and will die a “nobody”.

Jesus understood, and there is comfort in this, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:28-32

There is hope in this, he stepped out of Heaven to provide a way to bring us to Heaven, and returned to Heaven himself. We are heirs inheriting the Kingdom of God. We have a down payment that is the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:14) who Jesus provided (John 14:16-17). The Spirit has many roles: comforter, counselor, helper, intercessor, advocate, and strengthener that is there to help. We’re not alone in our trials and suffering.

What Suffering For Jesus Isn’t

There is a line, though, on whether you’re being persecuted because of Jesus or because you’re a jerk.

“But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or any sort of criminal, or as a mischief-maker (a meddler) in the affairs of others [infringing on their rights].” 1 Peter 4:15 AMP

Cloaking a bad attitude, self-righteousness, and condemnation in the name of Jesus doesn’t make you legitimate. Killing or hurting others in the name of Jesus is so far from what he taught, it isn’t even funny.

Yes, we can have a bad day and snap. The point is apologize, ask for forgiveness, and don’t do it again. Don’t overlook bad behavior, nor condone it; however, it’s not our place to condemn the person either. We all were facing condemnation until we choose to follow the one who took the hit for us. Forgive others freely because we’ve been forgiven. Actions won’t change until someone’s heart–their inner being–is changed.

Even living by Christ’s example, there will be some push back.10422528_794711780632606_2088819777424735679_n

“But if [one is ill-treated and suffers] as a Christian [which he is contemptuously called], let him not be ashamed, but give glory to God that he is [deemed worthy to suffer] in this name.” 1 Peter 4:16 AMP

When Peter wrote this, he was probably remembering when the Sanhedrin arrested him, beat him, and told him to keep his mouth shut (Acts 5:41). It can make people uncomfortable to see something different. Until we learn about it, it’s unpredictable, which is worrisome. When someone is uncomfortable they retreat, try to make whatever is making them uneasy retreat, or they learn more about it. I’m for the third option.

Why Don’t Churches Look More Like the Early Church?

In 130AD, the Epistle (letter) to Diognetes was written. Here is an excerpt from it: “For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life…” “…They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives.” “…To sum up all in one word–what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. The soul, when but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in number. God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful for them to forsake.” 

Check your life in comparison with these that were living their faith rather than just spending a morning in church. They were the church and they brought it wherever they went. Aristides wrote “They observe scrupulously the commandment of their Messiah; they live honestly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them.

Gods Not DeadDo you truly follow your Lord?

What Do We Do?

When Jesus walked the earth, he walked in the will of God. Look at John 5:19, “Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

Then in verse 30, from the Amplified he makes it applicable to us.

I am able to do nothing from Myself [independently, of My own accord—but only as I am taught by God and as I get His orders]. Even as I hear, I judge [I decide as I am bidden to decide. As the voice comes to Me, so I give a decision], and My judgment is right (just, righteous), because I do not seek or consult My own will [I have no desire to do what is pleasing to Myself, My own aim, My own purpose] but only the will and pleasure of the Father Who sent Me.

Christ did what God the Father said, Christ-followers do what God the Son said. Does that mean you have to memorize the Bible and do everything in it? No, that’s missing the primary principle.

Jesus leaned on God for strength; he was a mortal man when he walked the earth, not a superman. He surrendered his desires to God and made God’s desires his own. What does God desire?

It’s found in the Great Commission in Matthew 28: 19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

What does that mean in practical application? “Seeking first the Kingdom of God…”, the tagline for my blog and personal priority. This is done by the “Golden Rule”, doing for others as you would have them do for you and pursuing Him and Them. Why?

Because his desire is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV). I was once astray, lost, and he brought me back. He wants us to bring others back as well. FirstNLR has it summed up like this, “Every Soul Matters To God.” Because of that, they should matter to us.

I’ve covered much more than I expected. Look to see what you need to change in your life, then surrender it to God to live life as a high-impact Christian. When it gets tough, just remember Galatians 6:9 NIV, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.