Tag Archives: God

The Gospel: More Beautiful Than You Think – part 4

Three Common Beliefs that Ruin Christianity

In the first three parts of this series I’ve been considering some very common beliefs that ruin Christianity. These beliefs are held by so many people that they are generally accepted without much thought. Even people who have been followers of Jesus for many years often accept these things as true because they sound good, and they make us feel good. But the problem is, according to the scripture we base our faith on, they are false. Not only that, the wide-spread acceptance of these things has diminished the beauty of the gospel.

I suggest you read the first three parts of this series if you haven’t already, because these things all come together as a package deal. If you believe one, you’ll likely believe the others.

Part one was an introduction to the series.

In part two we considered the commonly held belief that God is a tolerant God, and discovered that in fact he is not tolerant at all, but holy.

Part three asked the question, “Do you think people are basically good, or bad?” There are some exceptions, but for the most part we want to believe that people are basically good. But scripture, and personal experience, both point to the fact that people are basically sinners.

Now we approach the third commonly held belief which ruins Christianity. In order to get a handle on this belief we asked the people on Cincinnati’s Fountain Square at lunch time the following question:

“How does a person get to heaven?”

Take a couple of minutes to listen to their answers…

The widely held view seems to be that, because God is tolerant, and we are basically good, it is possible for us to earn God’s favor. That if we do enough good stuff to offset the bad, then God will look at us, wink and say, “Well done. You’ve done a pretty good job. Welcome to heaven!”

There’s only one problem.

We simply can’t be that good.

In fact, scripture tells us our “good deeds” are like filthy rags in the sight of God. (Isaiah 64:6) It says that all of us have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6). In the book of Romans Paul tells us that every single one of us has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23), which, by the way, is the standard we must live up to if we are to have any hope at all (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Here’s the deal:

Humans can do absolutely nothing to earn God’s favor.

Our only option is to trust in Christ’s atonement and accept God’s completely undeserved favor.

I mean, it only makes sense. If God is holy and cannot accept imperfection, then any attempt we make is going to fall short.  We can’t be good enough. We can’t attend enough church services. We can’t serve enough. We can’t give enough. We can’t do enough good works to cancel out or offset any one of our innumerable sins.

At this point I suppose it’s fair to ask, “What is beautiful about this?” I admit that the outlook seems kind of bleak.

But without that bleakness, we miss the incredible beauty of the gospel.

The apostle Paul describes the situation in a powerful way in Ephesians 2:1-10. You can read it here in the NIV if you like (It’s pretty daggone powerful in any translation!), but I love the way Eugene Peterson has paraphrased it in The Message:

It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

You see, it’s not that we are basically good people who do our best so a tolerant and understanding God allows our little mistakes to slide because He loves us. Not even close!

The situation is that we are sinful, selfish, and rebellious people who have intentionally turned our backs on our Creator. Yet this completely holy and just God did the unthinkable. He took our guilt upon Himself – sacrificing His own life – to offer us a way out of eternal punishment and into eternal life.

Now that’s a love that’s incomprehensible to us.

One more thought for those of you who have been Christians a while:

Do you have a particular sin that you struggle with?  Is it anger, or greed, or envy, or lust? If you’re like me, whenever you yield to your particular temptation you carry around this load of guilt for a while.  You know you shouldn’t have said or done whatever it was and in fact you knew you had the power to overcome the temptation. God has promised you could. You simply made a wrong choice. Let me ask you something…

If Jesus died for you when you were His enemy, will He not forgive you and love you now that you’re His friend?

Take a look at 1 John 1:8-9:

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

If you assume that God loves you because you are good, you can never know this freedom. If you think God loves because you’re good then you must continue to be good to be loved. Sadly, I realize that this is the very experience many have with their human father. You know the end result of this is a burden of guilt and despair because, as we have seen, you will never be good enough.

But God is not like our human fathers.

God loves us because He is good – not because we are.

See what I mean?

The gospel is way more beautiful than we think.

Lloyd

 

The Gospel: More Beautiful than You Think – part 3

There are three very common beliefs that ruin Christianity. These are some very basic things that you hear almost daily. You might even believe them yourself. We want to believe them. They have a way of making us feel better about ourselves. The problem is, that if these things are true, then Christianity is ruined.

If these things are true then the Bible is false.

I introduce the three common beliefs in the first part of this series.

The second part discusses the common belief that God is a tolerant God. Spoiler alert: He’s not tolerant at all. He’s holy.

Now in part three I want to turn our attention to the second common belief.

In the video I’ve been sharing we asked some folks who were hanging out on Fountain Square in Cincinnati…

“Do you think people are basically good, or bad?”

Listen to their answers beginning at about 2:31…

For the most part, except for that one smart-aleck guy, these folks think that people are basically good. We all want to believe that, don’t we? We would like to think that if you peel away all the bluster, pride, selfishness, violence, lust, and … well, um … evil … that at our core we are a good person.

But that doesn’t square with scripture, and, if we’re honest, it doesn’t square with our experience.

Because…

People are not basically good. People are sinful.

In Romans 3 Paul quotes two different places in the Psalms when he says “There is no one righteous, not even one, …they have all turned away, …there is no one who does good, not even one.” (vs. 11&12) Then he goes on to say “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (vs. 23)

Yes, there are likely people whose sins are more heinous than ours. It’s true that we’re not as bad as we could be. We all could probably sin more than we actually do, but that doesn’t mean we’re good. Just because we might not be as bad as someone else doesn’t mean we’re good enough to stand in the presence of the Holy God.

Remember that? He’s holy. Not tolerant. It all hangs together.

This doesn’t really sound beautiful for us, does it? In fact, so far it sounds pretty bleak. God is perfectly holy and cannot tolerate sin, and we’re perfectly sinful and are powerless to be holy. And yet, holiness is exactly what God expects from us, and wants for us.

How does this make the gospel more beautiful?

See, here’s the thing: You can’t truly appreciate the beauty of the gospel, God’s good news for humans, if you start with a less than holy image of God. And you can’t truly comprehend the amazing thing that has been done for us if you think you’re really not all that bad.

Trust me, you’re bad. And so am I.

This is why the gospel is beautifully good news.

But there’s one more common belief we need to address…

Lloyd


Go here for part 4.

The Gospel: More Beautiful Than You Think – part 2

I suggest you read the first part of this short series before proceeding. In it I shared a little “man-on-the-street” video we made several years ago. We approached total strangers on Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati and asked them three questions. The first question was this:

“What do you think God is like?”

We asked this question first because this is where everything begins. Watch the first two and a half minutes and listen to their answers…

There are a few exceptions, but generally you can see a picture emerge of a god who is the white-bearded grandfather in heaven. He understands that nobody is perfect so he accepts people because they try hard and do their best.

We like this image of God because it gives us comfort and makes us feel good, and we think it will draw others to him.

But this is not who God is. To be sure, God is love. Scripture says so. But it’s a perfect love. Not the soft “I’ll-support-you-no-matter-what-you-do” kind of love. In fact, just a few verses after John writes “God is love” he says “ …he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” In order to appreciate the power of this statement you might need to look up the word “propitiation.” We’ll talk more about this in parts three and four, but I bring it up now to show that…

God is not tolerant. God is holy.

Here are just a few verses that mention it:

Exodus 15:11  “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord?  Who is like You – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?”

Deuteronomy 32:4  “He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just.  A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He.”

I Samuel 6:20  “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?”

Isaiah 55:9  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” 

Psalm 145:17  “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.”

This God is unlike anyone or anything we’ve ever experienced. And, before you start thinking that this is only the God of the Old Testament, I assure you he hasn’t changed. In fact, when you move into the New Testament you find that, not only is God still perfectly holy, this holiness is God’s expectation of us as well…

I Peter 1:15-16  “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”

I know this all sounds very hard-nosed and off-putting. You may think think this is very legalistic, strict, and “fundamentalist.” But if God is tolerant of sin, and not completely holy, the gospel is diminished. It doesn’t even make sense.

If you are one who has this tolerant image of God and are having trouble shaking it, stay tuned for part three.

Lloyd


Go here for part 3.

The Gospel: More Beautiful Than You Think – Intro

I’ve always been taught that the word “gospel” means “good news.” If that’s true, if what we Christians proclaim to the world is such good news, why is it that Christianity has developed such a negative public perception in today’s culture?

I’m sure there are many answers to this question, but I suggest that one contributing factor is that we Christians have done a poor job of communicating this good news.

Maybe that’s because we don’t even quite grasp how good this good news really is. We’ve bought into some popular notions about God and heaven that sound kind of right, but have really only served to dull the beauty of who God is and what He has done.

A survey by U.S. News & World Report in 1997 asked Americans who they thought was most likely to go to heaven.

65% said Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jackson were “very likely” to go to heaven when they die.

79% believed Mother Teresa would “very likely” make it.

But there was one person who had a higher percentage than even Mother Teresa. Can you guess who? That’s right. It was the person taking the survey.

Over 80% of the people taking the survey felt it was “very likely” that they would go to heaven.

Yes, I know this survey is 20 years old, but do you really think it’s changed much?

There are some very basic assumptions shared by many people, even many who claim to be Christians. These assumptions have become embedded in our minds. They sound right.

I’d like you to watch a short video clip. In August of 2004 a couple of my friends took a video camera down to Fountain Square in Cincinnati at lunch time to see how people would answer three questions…

Now, you should know that Cincinnati has a strong Roman Catholic heritage, and is a fairly conservative city in comparison to most U.S. cities of its size. Also, it’s hard for me to believe, but this video is 13 years old! If we were to make this video today I imagine the results would probably be fairly similar, except I think we would encounter more open hostility to Christians and Christian beliefs, even in conservative Cincinnati.

I suggest that one contributing factor to the hostility our culture has to Christian faith is our own misunderstanding and miscommunication of these very basic points.

In the video, you heard a variety of answers but three general trends can be detected:

God is tolerant.

He is the white-bearded grandfather in heaven.  He understands that nobody is perfect so he accepts people because they try hard and do their best.  Sure there are some folks that he could not accept, like maybe Adolph Hitler but if you are sincere and do your best he will accept you.

The other two go hand in hand with the first – it’s a package deal.  If you believe the first the other two tend to follow close behind…

People are basically good.

This is why God can be tolerant of our shortcomings.  This is why God loves us – because of our goodness.  Our imperfections really aren’t all that important because our basic goodness can outweigh whatever badness there might be.

People can and must earn God’s favor.

Since God is tolerant, and we are basically good, it is possible for us to earn God’s favor. In fact, if we want to go to heaven that’s what we must do.

We want to believe these things. Maybe you do believe them.

But, if you think about it, Christianity doesn’t really make any sense if these things are true. I mean, why would Jesus have to come and sacrifice His life for us if God will accept us because of our “goodness”?  If God is tolerant, why go to such great lengths to cleanse us from our sins?

In fact, I believe these seemingly good and right beliefs have undermined the church’s witness and have contributed to much of our culture’s rejection and animosity toward Christians and Christianity.

They make the “good news,” …well, not so good.

In the next few weeks I want to challenge each of these assumptions. To look at each one and compare it with what we read in scripture. This isn’t about proving people wrong. It’s about showing them how truly, and amazingly beautiful Christianity really is!

Stay tuned…

Lloyd


Go here for part 2.

Understand?

https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/thumbnails/image/potw1649a.jpg
“The constellation of Virgo (The Virgin) is especially rich in galaxies, due in part to the presence of a massive and gravitationally-bound collection of more than 1300 galaxies called the Virgo Cluster. One particular member of this cosmic community, NGC 4388, is captured in this image, as seen by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3.”

 

“If God were small enough to be understood,
He would not be big enough to be worshiped.”

Evelyn Underhill

A Father Who Sings

https://scontent-ort2-2.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/17904453_10210748649245135_3022210157647973630_n.jpg?oh=8f6df3a4b11e9dbc7088d2aee31da509&oe=59E765C0
Good Friday service at The Christian Village at Mount Healthy. April 14, 2017.

My dad can’t sing.

It’s true. He has one note. It’s not musically identifiable, but it’s low.

That never stopped him.

I remember hearing him “singing” in the shower in the mornings getting ready for work.

I remember sitting next to him in church and trying to sing a harmony part. It was hard.

But he still sang. He still sings.


When I was young I knew my parents loved me. If you had asked me I would have said so. The evidence was there. They provided for me. Sure, they punished me when I did wrong, but they always forgave me. They went to my band concerts. They put up with my immaturity. For these reasons and more, I knew they loved me.

But I discovered a whole new perspective on a parent’s love when I had my own kids. I began to understand how you can be so angry you can’t see straight, so hurt you feel like your heart has been ripped out, and so proud you could burst…all at the same time!

It was then that I began to appreciate the depth of my parents’ love for me.

Sadly, I realize that some reading this may not have had the same experience of a loving family. You may find what I’m about to tell you incomprehensible. But trust me, it’s true.

But honestly, even if you grew up with a loving family like mine, you may still find this difficult to swallow, but here goes…

How do you think God feels about you?

God feels about you the same way a good dad feels about his kid. Sometimes he’s mad at you. Sometimes his heart is ripped out by you. Sometimes he’s bursting with pride. Sometimes he feels all that simultaneously.

And sometimes he sings.

The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

This is a beautiful description of the way I know my dad felt about me. No, he couldn’t sing a lick, but that didn’t stop him.

And this is the way God feels about you.

In the last line of this verse is the word “exult.” This a good translation because the original word means dancing or leaping for joy.

That’s God when he thinks of you.

Can you imagine?

This idea may be foreign to you. Perhaps, like so many, you’ve come to think of God as caring more about rules and laws. When you imagine God seeing you, your feelings are more like what you feel when you see a cop in your rearview mirror.

Make no mistake, God does have a very specific way he expects us to live.

So did my dad. There were things I did, or maybe didn’t do, that I knew I would be punished for. I didn’t want to be punished so I avoided those things. Well, at least I didn’t want him to know about them.

As I matured, and grew to know my dad’s heart, I was motivated less by the punishment and more by the desire to please my dad and make him proud. I knew he “exulted over me” and I wanted to give him good reason to.

My dad lives in a nursing home now. He hasn’t punished me in decades. But I still find myself being guided by what I think would make him proud that I’m his son.

I live for his “singing.”

I will forever be grateful that he has given me an earthly example of how God feels about me.

Honestly, I don’t know if we can even talk about God having “feelings” in the same way we experience them, but this passage of scripture seems to indicate that he does.

Jonathan Edwards was a famous preacher in the early 1700s. He is most famous for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Yes, it’s true that God hates sin and punishes the unrepentant.

But my Father’s Day prayer is that, through the grace of Jesus, you can grow to picture yourself not so much as a sinner in the hands of an angry God, but more as a child in the arms of a singing Father.

Lloyd

Monday Picks ~ 3-20-2017

This is some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing today that I think may enrich your day as well...

3 Mistakes to Avoid this EasterDan Reiland
For far too many church leaders, Easter is secretly a great disappointment every year. Not because of the attendance, that’s usually very strong, but because so few visitors return the following Sunday…

3 Mistakes to Avoid:

1) Designing your Easter service primarily for Christians
2) Emphasizing the wrong numbers
3) Comparing your church to others


We try, but we can’t…

Rejoice! We worship a God we can’t control
Aaron Armstrong
worship And that’s good news for us because a safe god, a safe Jesus, isn’t one worth our time. A safe god is one we can control, usually by trying to make it happy in some way. And a god we can control isn’t a true god at all, but an idol.


This little article popped out at me because today is my parents’ 65th wedding anniversary. He was 19, she was 17. My wife and I were barely 21 when we married. There are certainly challenges, but there are also many blessings to marrying young. Number three is my favorite. There is much more he could’ve written about that one…

3 Reasons I’m Grateful to Have Married Young
Michael Kelley
I read this week that the average age of marriage is now close to 30 years old. We, as a society, are delaying marriage. And while some of the reasons why are legitimate, I for one would offer a counterpoint to those arguments, for there are some great things in our own experience about having married at a young age. Here are three of them…


#FakeWeatherNews…
http://bizarro.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/bizarro-03-17-17.jpg
Bizarro

All Were Astonished

“Could ‘astonishment’ be a good synonym for worship?”

This question arose in one of my recent God Questions posts.

Luke 9 contains many amazing events. After Jesus heals a boy who was convulsed by an unclean spirit Luke tells us that “…all were astonished at the majesty of God.” (Luke 9:43)

I’ve been thinking about this for the last few days, and it seems to me that “astonishment” may not actually be a synonym for worship, but I believe it is an important aspect. An aspect that is usually far too lacking.

I remember the very first time we used drums in a worship service. Some people were astonished. Some in a good way. Quite a few in a bad way. They expressed their astonishment in phone calls, letters, and notes on the “silent roll call” cards.

I remember the first time someone had the audacity to serve communion without wearing a tie. Many were astonished that the elders would allow it.

I remember a time when I used the phrase, “come hell or high water” in a sermon. I received a phone call from an astonished church member who couldn’t believe a preacher would use profanity in a sermon.

People have been astonished at the use of dramatic lighting, modern music, video preaching, removing the organ, removing the attendance and offering statistics from the bulletin program, the way the worship leader wears his hair, an awesome guitar solo, and more. Much more.

When was the last time you were astonished in worship?

What caused it?

There have been times during a communion service that I’ve been astonished that God could ever accept me. I know me. I’m sure He does, too. It’s astonishing to me that, in spite of my selfish sinfulness, God made such a horrific sacrifice… for me.

Sometimes, when I look around me on Sunday morning, I’m astonished at lives that are changed through the ministry of my church. God does that. He uses us broken sinners to bring healing and hope to other broken sinners. Astonishing.

I see our worship team, our children’s ministry volunteers, our greeters, and many more servants, and I’m astonished at the number of people in my church who give an astonishing amount of time, energy, talent, and money in serving in the church, and in their community through Whiz Kids, Habitat for Humanity, and elsewhere. Astonished and thankful.

Sadly, I’m also astonished at the people who refuse to see any of that because they’re uncomfortable with the music, or the lighting, or whatever.

I don’t think comfort and astonishment mix very well.

“And all were astonished at the majesty of God.”
Luke 9:43

What astonishes you?

I think it depends on what you’re looking for.

Next Sunday morning, look for God.

He’s there.

Astonishing.

Lloyd

Where did that come from?

No automatic alt text available.My mind kind of goes wherever it wants when I’m on a run. That is, if I can distract it from the actual…you know…running.

I feel my heart beating and hear my lungs breathing.

I wonder: where did I come from?

I could say I was born in Louisiana, but I lived most of my life in and around Cincinnati, so when someone asks, I tell them I’m from Cincinnati. But that’s not really what I’m asking.

Where did I come from? My life, I mean.

My heart has been beating for 63.5 years. What started it? My lungs have been breathing, maybe not as hard as they are right now, but for just as long. What started this? My thoughts? My questions? Not just these specific thoughts and questions, but the existence of any thoughts and questions.

Where did they come from?

I begin looking around at my neighborhood and the streets of Cincinnati. Where did they come from? I suppose one answer is that a bunch of Germans, a bunch of Catholics, and a bunch of folks from eastern Kentucky decided to build a city here. (I realize that’s a major generalization, but I’m trying to keep this short.)

But where did they come from? And what was here before they came to town?

I suppose there were some Native American folks here. Some wildlife of some kind. A river.

But where did they come from?

I don’t know all the details, but I think science tells us that the animals and people probably evolved from fish. The river was probably formed by the ice age. Ok. That’s what all the evidence seems to indicate. But still: where did the fish come from? What caused the ice age?

Where did the ice itself come from? Well, it’s frozen water.

Ok, but where did the water come from?

Well, I know that a molecule of water is comprised of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. So I suppose that if you can somehow combine two parts hydrogen with one part oxygen you would get water.

I think this might be harder than it sounds. I don’t really know if it can even be done. I saw Matt Damon do it in The Martian, but I don’t know if that’s science, or just science fiction. Either way it begs the question:

Where did the hydrogen and oxygen come from?

Where did anything come from?

No automatic alt text available.Back to me.

I occupy a few cubic feet of space. What was in that space before me? Air? Probably. Before that?

Or maybe harder yet…

What was here before there was a here here? Where did this few cubic feet of space come from? Was this space always here? The truth is, this space wasn’t always here because it’s moving. The whole planet moves around the sun. In fact, the entire universe is in constant motion, so the actual few cubic feet that I occupy is never stationary. So, what occupied that space before I got there, and what is there when I leave?

More than that, where did the motion come from? What started it? A big explosion of unimaginable power?

Maybe.

But, where did the explosion come from? What caused it?

An enormous compression of all the matter in the universe into an indescribably monstrous black hole until it could no longer take the pressure and caused an energy release of cosmic proportions?

I just made that up. I know that smart scientific minds can explain it better than I can, but I still have a question:

Where did the matter come from?

Well, it’s been here for billions of years of time…maybe even billions of billions…

Ok. But that still doesn’t answer the question.

Where did it come from?

Where did any of this come from?

Was it always here? Always? For eternity? No beginning and no end? Seriously?

I really don’t know how atheists do it. I think most atheists look at belief in the existence of God, and Christianity specifically, as so much fairy-tale make-believe. The thing is, if I’m honest, I have to admit I can see their point. It does sound that way to me sometimes.

Until I start asking the questions.

Where did the thoughts, the ability to think, a sense of good and bad, right and wrong, DNA, an atom, the energy that holds the atom together, the solar system, the universe, movement, time, love, eternity, the ability to even think of the concept of eternity…where did any of this come from?

I love science. Scientists can analyze and describe what is. And the more they do, the more amazing it all becomes. But scientists can only theorize about where it all came from.

And then there’s the big question…

Why?

Science can’t even touch that one.

Anyway, that’s what I was thinking about while I was out for a run.

Lloyd