Christianity

People, Goodness, Love—Us and the World

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Here are a few more posts from what I’ve posted on Medium. If you missed the other posts on Medium since early May, check out Haiku for You! and Reaching Out

These were published in Publishous and cover a broad range of topics.

I hope you’ll enjoy the reads!


Photo by  v2osk  on  Unsplash

Photo by v2osk on Unsplash

As a young believer, I had to learn how to trust God.

It wasn’t natural for me. It isn’t natural for any of us.

Just as toddlers exert their free will before they can say it clearly, we like to “do it by our self!” American culture only reinforces this innate self-willed resistance to trusting God.

My worry chair

When my wife and I started our life together, we had a wing-backed, turquoise chair in our living room. Read more…


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A Humble Love

“What the world needs now — is love, sweet love…” was the recurring line in a popular song in the mid-sixties sung by Jackie DeShannon. It was and still is one of my favorite songs from the ‘60s. This YouTube video link of the song captures the innocent hope of the sixties for universal love.

Another favorite song of mine from that era became somewhat of an anthem for the peace movement of the sixties. Sung by the Youngbloods, the chorus of “Get Together” epitomized the search for a unifying love— “Come on people now — smile on your brother — everybody get together — try to love one another right now.”!

A naive hope seemed to die with the close of the decade and the beginning of the “Me Generation” of the ‘70s. Read more…


Photo by  Warren Wong  on  Unsplash

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

The Need to See Beyond Ourselves

Agrarian economies still dominate a good part of the world, so planting and harvesting are important times of the year.

They impact the livelihoods of many people. How good the harvest is or isn’t impacts everyone.

Our economy in America is more diverse. In years past, we were considered an industrial economy with an agrarian backbone. But technology and its counterparts created an industry of its own.

Most Americans only see the effect of a good or bad harvest when it affects food prices. Read more…


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We Christians — genuine followers of Christ — need to stop moralizing the Christian faith. We need to quit portraying Christianity as a life of moral goodness.

Our effort at goodness is a weak facade for faith. It presents a false face like a veneer—an appearance of goodness as if it was faith. But this misrepresents genuine Christianity.

If you ask most people to describe Christianity, believer and non-believer alike, you’ll get a reply related to some form of moral goodness…

I try to be a good person, who does good things and is kind to others.

Read more…

Many Altars but One Gospel

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Most religions have some form of an altar as a means of worship. Primitive altars are where sacrifices, sometimes animals or humans, were made to appease a deity or god. In the Old Testament, altars were part of the worship of Israel using prescribed sacrifices for specific reasons.

Altars can also be figurative. In most traditional churches, a table or cabinet serves as an altar where certain elements of the worship service are placed. More contemporary churches might consider the front platform area as an altar.

Physical altars or places to offer gifts or sacrifices are common in many cultures around the world. I'm more familiar with Thailand and the Philippines. I've traveled and ministered in Thailand many times. It has an abundance of altars in many places.

Most religions have some form of an altar as a means of worship

Land of many altars

Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist nation, and Buddhism breeds and thrives on an animistic belief. One look around at all the spirit houses and altars or shrines erected throughout the nation makes this clear.

It is difficult to preach the Gospel in Thailand and see genuine conversions to following Christ—both culturally and spiritually. The truth can get lost in the various layers of culture and spirituality present in Thailand and in other nations.

Living in another culture different than your own helps you see things from a different perspective.  This is one of the values of true cross-cultural missions. In a sense, I had two home cultures—American and Filipino—while living in the Philippines for fifteen years.

Living in another culture than your own helps you see things from a different perspective

Although they are quite different from each other—one is western and the other eastern philosophically—a vast difference exists between both of those cultures and Thai culture, at least on the surface.

Is there really that much difference between how Christianity is practiced in America, Roman Catholicism in the Philippines, and Buddhism in Thailand? Perhaps not as much as you think.

Buddhism and altars

Buddhism with its thousands of gods is intertwined in its origin with Hinduism, an ancient religion with millions of gods or deities. How can there be so many gods?

Most ancient religions were prone to associating deity or god-likeness with creation. This is noted in the first chapter of Romans (Rom 1:25). It's termed animism—the worship of non-human things as if they had souls or spirits.

Animism exists throughout the world today, even in unexpected places and ways.

It's common to see small altars of fruit, toys, incense, and other things offered in many places to many gods throughout Thailand. Ancestor worship is also mixed into many ancient religions with animistic belief systems.

Most ancient religions were prone to associating deity or god-likeness with creation

Roman Catholic shrines

Throughout the Philippines, it is common to see both Roman Catholic statues or images along with Chinese religious symbols, where ancestor worship is common. Shrines to Mary and to the infant Jesus are found in homes, businesses, as well as in churches.

Riding in a Filipino cab one day, I noticed the driver—a Roman Catholic—had a Chinese religious symbol hanging from his mirror and a Christian image or two on his dashboard. As he drove me across town, we talked about Jesus. "He's my protector, I trust in Him," said my taxi driver. 

It made me realize how many Christians in America have a similar approach to covering all the bases. Of course, as evangelical Christians, we don't see it that way.

Many Christians in America have a covering-all-the-bases approach to their faith

American altars and shrines

People in animistic cultures have a difficult time with the typical western approach of sharing the Gospel in bits and pieces—"Jesus died for your sins" or "God so loved the world." It's difficult for them to disassociate these bits and pieces from what they already believe.

When bits of pieces of the truth spoken without their greater context come across as abstract truths. Abstract truths connected to testimonies of success and blessing as often occurs in evangelism, lack the scriptural frame of reference to be understood well.

People in such cultures can both accept and reject the Gospel readily. They pick and choose between what appeals to them and what doesn't fit their belief system and worldview of life.

Are American Christians much different than religious people in other places?

The church potluck

American Christians tend to pick and choose what does and does not appeal to them regarding the Gospel, and with doctrine and practice. It's as if the gospel and Christian beliefs are laid out on a table as with a church potluck.

Perhaps it doesn't seem this way, but consider how many different Christian churches exist. Often times, the only distinction between one church and another is the presentation or methodology of the church service itself.

There's too much to get sidetracked on with this issue, but consider what draws you to a certain church or type of worship service. What do you expect when you go to church?

American tend to pick and choose what they like and don't like about the Christian faith

Is your Christianity animistic?

For more than four decades, I've heard questions from prospective churchgoers like, "What do you have to offer that's better than the church down the street?"

Why are so many American Christians like this? Is it because we are so self-focused? Well, yes! 

We take the bits and pieces we hear of the gospel and Christianity and connect them to our own perceptions of blessing and success. In this way, our Christianity becomes more animistic than the gospel in the Bible.

Christians prefer bits and pieces of the gospel that connect to blessing and success

The western church promotes this with how we present the Gospel, Jesus, and various concepts of church-community. Consider the following questions—

What appeals to you about church, the Gospel (God's Story), and Jesus?
What is it you like or dislike? What makes you comfortable or uneasy?

Over the next couple weeks, I'll continue to look at this issue of altars and the gospel. Next week, I hope to challenge you to answer whether you come to God's altar or God's throne?

The gospel and animism—

The following articles may provoke you to thought, even upset you. I hope so. They are written by missionaries—one in Thailand and one in Zimbabwe in Africa. You can post responses on this blog or on social media— but let them be edifying and gracious

Animism and the Prosperity Gospel

Why Your Gospel May Be More Animistic Than You Think

Go! Get Out of the Bubble!

Bubbles_Juneau
Bubbles_Juneau

No doubt you've heard the phrase, living in a bubble or something similar. It was coined a few decades ago, based on the movie of a boy with an underdeveloped immune system who had to live in a bubble-like environment.

This made-for-TV movie came out in 1976 (The Boy in the Plastic Bubble), combining the life stories of two boys with rare diseases. Of course, the movie dramatized the story (added some fiction) and a romantic theme far from reality.

But the concept of living in a bubble—like an incubator—caught hold as a cultural expression. In real life, these boys were unable to venture out of their bubble-like environments without fatal consequences. And yet, their great desire was to live outside the bubble.

Imagine what it would be like to live in a sterile environment without physical human contact. 

Living in a bubble

It wasn't long before people applied the phrase living in a bubble to other situations and people. For example, the office of the U.S. presidency is bubble-like, with the 24/7 Secret Service guard, and screening of people with whom the president will come in contact.

Today it could apply to people focused on their cell phones, gaming, and social media in a virtual bubble. The phrase came to describe anyone isolated from the world around them.

Living in a bubble can describe anyone isolated from the world around them

Sadly, this describes many Christian believers.

Many Christians live in an insulated Christian world surrounded by other Christians and locked into Christian-oriented media and music. And, many Christians like it this way. They don't want to leave this protective bubble—their faith bubble.

And so, the world around them is untouched by their Christian beliefs and values. Why? Intentionally or not, we've constructed an ivory tower of faith.

Not as Jesus intended

This is not what Jesus had in mind when He spoke of the Kingdom of God on earth. Not at all.

This bubble-like isolation isn't reflected in Jesus' teaching about the kingdom of God. What Jesus intended for His followers is seen in several parables and other teachings.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus sent out twelve disciples to "preach the kingdom and to heal the sick" (Luke 9:1-6). Later, in the last year of the Lord's ministry on earth, Jesus sent out seventy others in the same way (Luke 10:1-12).

Here are His final instructions to those who would lead the church after His departure—

But the Holy Spirit will come on you and give you power. You will be my witnesses. You will tell people everywhere about me—in Jerusalem, in the rest of Judea, in Samaria, and in every part of the world. (Acts 1:8 ERV)

This is echoed in all four of the gospels and termed the Great Commission. Jesus intended for His followers to be empowered and go out with His message to the world around them.

Jesus wanted His followers empowered to go into all the world with His message

Getting out of the Christian bubble

For the "Boy in the Bubble," leaving the bubble put him at risk for his life. But it's different for us followers of Christ. Our spiritual life is at risk if we don't get outside the Christian bubble!

We need to engage people who have different values and beliefs than our own. Here's a blog post by Pastor Cary Nieuwhof that addresses this— The Evangelism Conversation No One Is Having.

I've posted similar or related articles related to sharing your faith without being aggressive or overbearing. But, we still need to get out of our faith bubble to engage people who don't share our faith. How will they know if we don't share God's redemptive message with them?

Our spiritual life is at risk if we don't get outside the Christian bubble!

One simple question— 

Are you willing to get out of your own faith-bubble to engage people about faith?


Christianity Is Not About Moral Goodness

Photo credit: lightstock.com
Photo credit: lightstock.com

We Christians—genuine followers of Christ—need to stop moralizing the Christian faith because this misrepresents genuine Christianity.

We need to quit portraying the face of Christianity as moral goodness. Because representing the Christian faith as moral goodness is just that—a face, a veneer, an appearance of goodness.

If you ask most people to describe Christianity—believer and nonbeliever alike—you'll get a reply related to some form of moral goodness...

"I try to be a good person, who does good things and is kind to others."

But is this what Christianity is all about? No!

A caricature of Christianity

When we try to establish our own moral goodness, we are doomed to failure. We may look good on the outside to others, but inside we'll remain corrupted by our selfish nature. This is what self-righteousness looks like.

It's what condemned the Pharisees. Jesus saw through their religious veneer of goodness and saw into their heart. But they couldn't see past themselves and their form of religion.

Their own religious attempt at goodness was only a caricature of moral goodness.

Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matt 23:28 NLT)

Our attempt at parading our own sense of moral goodness as the Christian life makes Christianity nothing more than a caricature of the real.

The problem of pursuing moral goodness

No matter how hard we try to be good—whatever the description—we can't change our selfish nature from the outside in. It just doesn't work.

This is what the Apostle Paul spoke of in his epistle to the Galatian believers—

For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. Gal 3:21b

So, what is Christianity?

Over the centuries, Christianity as a religion has morphed into the pursuit of living according to a biblical moral code of goodness. Someone might ask, "So, what's wrong with that?" The short answer is—a lot!

Should we discard any desire for moral goodness? Not at all!

We just have it backward when we see Christianity as living by a moral code of goodness, rather than a trust relationship with God based on faith. When we trust in God and His goodness, He transfers a measure of His goodness into us.

When we try to live by moral goodness alone, we are trapped in a squirrel cage of behavior modification—"Don't do this... do this," and so on.

So... how are we to live?

We are to live by faith (Gal 3:11). Is that too simplistic? Yes and no.

Let's face it, we like a good set of parameters to tell us when we're doing ok, and when we're not-so-ok. It's easier that way... sort of.

When we have a certain code to live by things are defined, right and wrong are delineated and there's no guess-work, if you will.

But a life of faith, like the patriarch Abraham for example, is not so defined. Faith, real faith—an implicit trust in God—is messy. Yet, with God, faith is necessary (Heb 11:6).

The Christian faith as a way of life

At its core, true Christianity is not about a life that follows a prescribed moral code. It's about following Jesus the Christ (Messiah). Of course, it's also not to be a life void of a moral compass.

The issue isn't about moral goodness, but relationship. This becomes easier to see when we look at those God esteems, and as we focus on what God says (the Bible).

Some examples

Abraham was considered "a friend of God" (James 2:23) and declared righteous because he believed—he trusted in God. But he presented his wife Sarah as his sister, not just once but twice, to save his own skin (Gen 12:11-13). So, he wasn't a model of moral goodness.

The Lord called King David "a man after his own heart" (1 Sam 13:14) and chose him to be king of Israel. Yet, he also was not an example of moral goodness, especially with his infamous affair with Bathsheba that cost Uriah, her husband, his life (2 Sam 11).

Even the Apostle Paul, who wrote most of the epistles in the New Testament, denounced his own goodness (Phil 3:4-7 NLT)—

For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. (1 Cor 15:9 NLT)

How can we gain an understanding of true Christianity?

What are your thoughts about this? 

What do you think Christianity is all about if it's not about moral goodness?

I'd like to hear from you!

 


The Core of the Gospel

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Culture has an amazing impact upon people. It subtly shapes their worldview of everything in life, from birth through adulthood.

This impact is strong and resistant to change, but it will change given sufficient cause. The change can be either good or bad depending on one’s worldview, values, or beliefs.

For example, the enslavement of Africans, abducted and traded as if they were cattle, was culturally acceptable in European countries and America. Now, it is illegal and immoral. But that change did not come easily.

A major culture change

A British Member of Parliament named William Wilberforce challenged his prevailing culture in the late eighteenth century. He proposed legislative measures at great cost to his reputation, wealth, and health for more than forty years.

But change came in 1833 when slavery was made illegal in England. It had a ripple effect felt across the oceans of the world, which included the newly established United States of America, the former colonial territory of Great Britain. [1]

Religion and culture

In many countries around the world, religious conviction is tied to the intrinsic culture.

The Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic, with a strong contingent of Evangelical (Protestant) Christianity, a significant Muslim minority, and ancient folk traditions.

Many Filipinos struggle with becoming born again, [2] because of the strong influence of Roman Catholicism—it’s rituals, traditions, and longevity.

Thailand is primarily Buddhist. Many Thais find it difficult to distinguish their national identity from their religion.

Likewise in Indonesia and Malaysia, where the world’s largest population of Muslims reside. In many countries, it is illegal to proselytize someone of Islamic faith towards another faith.

The impact of culture

In the early 2000's, our Bible school in the Philippines sent out two young Filipinas as missionaries to Thailand.

MJ and Ruchell learned the Thai language quickly and made friendships with ease. They lived out their Christianity with genuineness and simplicity and were well received by their neighbors, including the landlord of the simple apartment they rented in Chiang Mai.

As they built relationships, they offered prayer for their new friends. Prayer was accepted with gratefulness. But when it came to accepting the Gospel and Jesus, who was unknown to them, there was resistance.

They were Thai. They were Buddhists. They were afraid of changing their religion and no longer being true Thais.

American culture and Christianity

America’s culture is known for its respect for individual rights. As a result, Christianity in America is often self-focused and personalized.

Based on versions of the gospel, as given by popular preachers, many people regard Jesus as their best friend, someone personally interested in them, but not as their sovereign Lord. It is such a prevalent view it’s been categorized as a religious belief of its own—Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. [3]

A popular worship song about the Lord’s death on the cross goes,

“You took the fall and thought of me, above all....” [4]

The Father’s purpose for Jesus going to the Cross was, indeed, to bring redemption for all people. But a self-focused bias is not reflected in the biblical version of the gospel but is in a plethora of popular songs, teachings, and various Christian self-help books.

Culture bias

This cultural bias is exported around the world, reflecting an American, self-absorbed view of Jesus and the Gospel, which adulterates the gospel message. This has a crippling, often tragic effect.

The Gospel can be minimized and reduced into brief terms. When this happens, its importance and significance are overlooked. Biblical truth may be talked about and discussed without being passed on to those who need to hear it.

Ministries in America can focus more on getting people into the church than caring for the physical and spiritual needs of the people. Worship services can be more focused on presentation and performance than the Lord Himself, whom it is all intended to exalt.

A distorted focus

Are believers in churches being discipled unto the Lord Himself, or trained for doing certain tasks? The need to accomplish a list of spiritual activities can take the place of spending personal and intimate time with the Lord.

Things like spending time in prayer, devotions, reading the Scripture, serving in various ministries, and so on, are good things, but not an end in themselves.

The Lord desires His people to give themselves to Him.

These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:8-9 NKJV)

I want you to be merciful; I don't want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that's more important than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6 NLT)

It's all about Him, not us

Christian activity can look past what is most important—the personal element. The Christian life is far more than the sum of all Christian activities to be done.

What the Lord considers most important is revealed in the story of Matthew 16:13–28. It’s not complicated or theoretical, but simple and essential.

It is the core of the Essential Gospel and the Christian life. It runs counter to the culture of the day—the culture then and now.

Whether the culture is primitive or sophisticated, the Gospel and the call to follow Jesus is not “...all about me,” nor any individual. It’s all about Jesus.

Do you see your own culture's influence in how you view Christianity?


This is an excerpt from my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Unraveling God's Story

Footnotes for this excerpt are below—

[1] Reference for William Wilberforce— William Wilberforce

[2] Born again is a term Jesus used in John 3:3-8 when talking to Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee. It has become synonymous with a personal faith conversion to orthodox Christianity, especially within evangelical circles.

[3] Here are a couple links to articles about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)—

http://goo.gl/RvllH | https://goo.gl/fxIwRm

[4] The lyrics are from the song, “Above All,” by Lenny LeBlanc