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Why People Don’t Like Christians – Part 1

Christians aren’t very popular these days. Never have been, really. This is no mystery, for people who have called themselves Christians have given the world plenty of reasons for a less than favorable review.

ghandi-quoteOne of primary reasons people don’t like Christians is because they think us to be hypocrites. We regularly fail to live up to the high standards to which we aspire, and about which we preach. We compound the world’s frustration when we lobby to see those standards embraced by everyone (e.g., championing “family values”, even political legislation) when we do such a poor job of living them out ourselves.

Genuine Christianity, however, is not hypocritical. In fact, it is the only faith that isn’t.

You see, all other religions are built on the idea that we must muster up a righteous life in order to please God. In all other faiths, the assumption is a) we are good enough to live right, and b) we are committed to living right. I can, and will. If you truly can, then claim you will, and then don’t … that’s being a hypocrite.

(And some people think this is what Christianity is: A group of people who have decided to live as the Bible describes, and who tell others they should, too. Sunday services, then, are a combination ethics class/pep rally, designed to motivate people to get it together. Then, when they go out and live poorly yet again during the next week, the world brands this approach to religion as a failure. And they’re right.)

But genuine Christianity, rooted in the teachings of Jesus and the other manning-quoteBiblical writers,is totally different.

We believe that man is not good enough to live right. God describes right living in the scriptures, and affirms in those same scriptures that it’s unattainable. Sadly (for us), He also said that only the righteous are compatible with heaven. We can’t, and won’t. Wait … we can’t do what we need to to get to heaven? What hope do we have?

This is where Jesus comes in: He lived among us as the one and only man Who lived a righteous life. (Have you ever heard someone say something bad about Jesus?) He then told us how if would be possible for us to be righteous (and get to heaven), too. Quite simply, He has to do it … in us. This is what Christianity refers to as the Holy Spirit – God Himself, living in us, being righteous through us. Jesus refers to this phenomenon as being born again in the Spirit. He can, and will. It’s the only way. And this is totally different than any other religion.

You may say, “so, if Christians have God living in them to be righteous through them, why are they still so lame?” You’ve got us there. We ought to be living our lives at a very high quality, but often look no better than our neighbor, and sometimes even worse. A few reasons why:

  1. Counterfeit Christianity abounds. As I already mentioned, there are many people practicing “a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). Sadly, they claim to be able to live well, but can’t. They’re hypocrites. I’m afraid this group makes up the majority of Christians in our churches today.
  2. Appropriating divine empowerment is a discipline. Theologian J. I. Packer says this: “The agent of [making us live well] is the Holy Spirit who works in us to make us will and act according to God’s good pleasure. Again and again we need to go down on our knees and admit our helplessness and ask to be empowered … If this sounds easy, it shouldn’t, because [it] is a battle. We never have our hearts entirely set on the things of God, so that even if our actions are right by external standards, our hearts are never quite right. It is struggle and conflict all the way.” The Spirit is available and willing, but we must “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16ff) in order to experience Him at work in us. And we often don’t.

This is why we are supposed to gather as a church. It isn’t primarily get a coffee, get emotionally “fired up” through faux rock-concert experience, and to recommit our hearts and minds to a series of best-intention propositions dispensed by a life coach. This approach to church will never fail to produce hypocrites.

No, church is so much more than that! We gather in the presence of God to recalibrate our spiritual relationship with the God Who can lead and empower us to live well. That’s why we confess our sins (primarily the sin of not living in the Spirit in the days prior), hear His Word (Heb. 4:12), receive empowering grace through His ordained sacraments, and experience the Holy Spirit through the yes-x-no-bettergiftings all our brothers and sisters around us.

People who practice this type of Christianity (e.g., real Christianity) are still fickle, still bumble, and will still likely disappoint the non-believing world by their less-than-Jesus-like lifestyles. But they’re not hypocrites — at least in the traditional sense. They know that they’re in a battle (“struggle and conflict all the way”), and they make no claims that they’ll bat 1,000%. They are not too surprised when they fail. Still, they forget yesterday, and press into today, prayerfully clinging to the God Who can bear the fruit of righteousness in them now.

On behalf of Christians everywhere, I apologize for the poor examples given by people who call themselves Christians, but are simply powerless moralists. I don’t like them either.

dont-like-selvesMy encouragement is for all to look beyond those poor representations of an incredible faith. See instead the real deal, the substance of genuine, classical Christian living. I am sure that, if our churches were full of these humble, prayerful, fruitful people, that Christianity would have a much better name in our world. You might even be interested in joining their ranks.

– EO

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A Lent of Doing, Not of Not-Doing

Image“I gave it up for Lent.”

Often, we enter into the Lenten season with a list of things we won’t be doing – eating meat, drinking coffee, facebooking. But I have been encouraged by two different sources to fill this year’s Lent with motion forward instead of motion against. Today I’ll share the first such influence, the second tomorrow.

The first comes from a bishop in the Anglican Church. In His fresh-off-the-press Lenten devotional, he begins with a familiar Lenten text: “Blessed are those whose strength is in You, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage” (Psalm 84:5).

I’m reminded by this text that my source of spiritual strength always, but not inevitably, comes from God. Whatever I can muster up in my own flesh and mind is not enough to get me anywhere. To the degree that I tap into the Lord’s strength, I have the possibility of spiritual progress.

It seems obvious. We get tired, so we sleep to renew our strength. We get weak, so we eat to renew our strength. These rhythms are engrained into our lives, and need no explanation, no convincing. We just do them, because … well, if we don’t, we’ll be at first miserable, and eventually die. Spiritually speaking, it is clear from our text, and from personal experience, that not everyone finds their strength in God. Rather, many (I would say most) live their lives in their own strength.

And I do, too, on all-too-many occasions. Why in the world would I do that?!?!?

ImageThe couplet of our verse today indicates the motion-forward that remedies our weak, under-charged existence. Our strength is in God – our hearts are set on pilgrimage. We are empowered as we move toward the goal. We are strong in that we are seeking. Much like bodily exercise, the counter-intuitive reality is that we develop our muscles as we exert our muscles. No pain, no gain.

The Lenten season calls for spiritual fortitude. We don’t get this by not sinning. We get this in our active pursuit of God. So, this year, I am going to celebrate and practice a Lent of doing, not of not-doing. I’m going to set my heart on a pilgrimage to the very face of the Lord … believing that, as I’m heading there, I’ll find renewed strength to live a holy life.

What will that pilgrimage be? We’ll pick this up tomorrow…

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2014 in Lent

 

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