Half right; totally wrong: Shallow things religious people say

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine.  –Titus 2:1 

We hear them all the time.  Something about these oft-repeated claims just does not seem right, we think.  So–let’s look at a few of them.

One. “Christianity is not a religion;  it’s a relationship.”

Sounds right, but it’s wrong.  Ask yourself one question:  As a follower of Jesus, that is one in a (ahem) relationship with Him, would it be all right if I joined a religion and became a Buddhist or Taoist or a Jew or a Muslim? After all, as a Christian I’m not in a religion as such (according to this thinking) and there would be no reason not to.   Of course those religions are incompatible with the way of Jesus Christ.

“The way of Jesus Christ”?  What we call The Christian Religion.

Friend, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, well….

A religion may be defined as a systemized practice of worship involving a God, a place or places of worship, a system of beliefs, and in most cases exclusivity (that is, it claims to hold The truth).

Sure sounds like the Christian faith to me.

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Scripture’s cure for anxiety

“Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you” (Psalm 116:7).

Want to see anxiety demonstrated?  Get on any highway in the country during morning rush hour traffic.  One out of every ten drivers is either running late, in a hurry, under the gun from the boss or the school kids, and taking it out on every other motorist on the road.  They’re not wicked, just stressed.

They’re anxious.

A friend wrote to thank me for an article on depression.  “I’m not really depressed,” he said, “but anxious.  I have a lot of problem with anxiety.”

I could write a book on that subject myself.  (A friend, Dr. Larry Kennedy–now in Heaven and a member of the great cloud of witnesses–did just that.  I told him he might have thought of a more uplifting title than Down With Anxiety, but he felt the play on words worked.)

I’ve been anxious.  It seems to go with the job of pastor.

Ask any pastor how well he sleeps on Saturday night.

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The magic pill for depression: It doesn’t exist.

“And the Lord said, ‘Do you have good reason to be angry?’  And Jonah said, ‘I have good reason to be angry, even to death'” (Jonah 4:4,9). 

“And he came there to a cave and lodged there, and behold the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?'” (I Kings 19:9).

Several friends have forwarded links concerning the suicide of the 30-year-old pastor in Southern California.  Andrew Stoecklein had it all–a beautiful, loving wife and three children, a successful and supportive congregation (Inland Hills Church, east of Los Angeles), all the opportunity and acclaim any of us could ever ask for–and it wasn’t enough.  He was clinically depressed.  He sought help, took a 4-month sabbatical, and preached sermons on depression.  He understood far more about his problem than most people ever will.  And he took his own life.

There are no easy answers, and I’ll not be having any in this piece.

Early in my ministry, I would have.  I “just knew” that the answer to all depression was to believe God.  I’d tell depressed people to read Scripture and start believing God.  “Memorize these verses.”  “Start every day by reading 10 Psalms.”

Then, something happened to put a stop to all my shallow answers.

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You’re going through a transition: What to do.

The Lord is my Rock.  Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.  Shelter me under the Rock.  (found all through the Psalms)

You’ve just been released from one job (position, place of service, ministry, etc) and you are preparing for the next one.  What to do in the meantime?

You’ve lost your spouse of many years, whether by death or divorce or something else.  What do you do until the way opens up before you?

You’ve moved from the only home you ever knew to a new city/country, and you’re finding it difficult.  What now?

Keep your eye on the Rock.

Changes can be hard.  But they can be lifegiving and life-altering.

Life is about change.  Anyone who does not like change is going to have a lot of trouble in this life.  Any Christian who cannot handle change is going to have trouble following the Lord Jesus.

Here are our top ten suggestions to you on how to make the most of the transition time…

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Won’t I be your neighbor? And won’t you be mine?

“I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you. I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you….” (from Mister Rogers Neighborhood. Opening theme) 

“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). This verse is quoted in the New Testament in Matthew 5:43 and 19:19; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14 and James 2:8. 

Mr. Fred Rogers, who left us in 2003, is back in the news these days. Books and articles, television specials and a couple of movies remind us just how special this good man was.

Anyone who reads Mr. Rogers’ words or dwells on his life for even a few minutes comes away thinking more about being a good neighbor.

My wife and I saw the movie “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Thursday of this week.  There were perhaps 25 or 30 others in the theater, most of them seniors.  This was not the Tom Hanks movie on Mr. Rogers which I had expected, but is more of a documentary or biopic, I think they call it.  The Hanks movie will be out soon, we’re told, and is not so much a biography as a story about Rogers’ interview with a magazine writer.

A couple of observations about Mr. Rogers from the movie we just saw.  One, the man truly was almost too good to be true.  As a result, during his lifetime some had tried to find dirt on him and made accusations against him. All to no avail.  He was “all that,” as the saying goes.  One of his sons said, “I was raised by the second Christ,” with a smile.

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Responding to Sabbath-worshipers

“The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).

It often comes as a surprise to believers new to the faith that there are among us, in the Lord’s family, a small but vocal contingent who insist that true Christians should be worshiping on the seventh day of the week and not the first day, “The Lord’s Day,” as we call it.

Recently, on this page I told of a recent full-page ad in our local paper–and presumably in newspapers across the land–warning of the imminent fulfillment of the “seven trumpets” prophecies in Revelation.  The world’s population would soon be divided into two groups, said these doomsdayers. But whereas we would have expected the groups to be the faithful and the unfaithful, the sheep and the goats as Matthew 25 puts it, or something such, it turns out the single thing differentiating the two groups is one worships on the Sabbath, the seventh day, and the others on the first day of the week.  That’s it.

Truly amazing how much emphasis they put on a single command.  And they’re not alone.  Many who belong to denominations with “seventh day” or “Adventist” in their names promote seventh-day worship and rest and are constantly after the rest of the Christian family to get with the program.

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How legalism betrays Christ, violates the gospel, and destroys people

“Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem saying, ‘Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?….And He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?'” (Matthew 15:1-3)

“The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Historians tell us the Pharisees started off well, as revivalists in a way, calling the nation back to faithfulness.  Eventually, however, their insistence on righteousness settled down into a code of laws and rules.  They went from being encouragers to harassers, from lovers of God to bullies and legalists.

The legalist is someone who says, “I know the Lord didn’t say this, but He would have if He’d thought of it!”

The legalist is smarter than God.  He helps the Lord by completing His Word, by filling in the gaps where the Lord clearly forgot to say something, explain something, or require a thing.

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How to tell you’ve lost the joy of salvation

“Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation” –Psalm 51:12.

Just because salvation is for eternity, anchored forever in the faithfulness of God, does not mean you cannot lose the closeness and fellowship with our wonderful Lord.  A married couple can lose their joy and intimacy for a season, although the marriage is still valid and intact.

God’s faithfulness does not wax hot and cold depending on what we do or how we felt when we woke up this morning.  He does not undo our salvation when we weaken and falter.  The blessings upon us are conditional to our faithfulness and may dry up, but the relationship never varies.  Forever, we are His and He is ours.

My children may be in or out of my favor at given times, but they are still mine.

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No place for sarcasm in the Christian ministry

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6). “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

Mary Todd Lincoln was gifted in the dark art of sarcasm. Her sister Elizabeth said of her, “She was also impulsive and made no attempt to conceal her feelings;  indeed, it would have been an impossibility had she desired to do so, for her face was an index to  every passing emotion.  Without desiring to wound, she occasionally indulged in sarcastic, witty remarks, that cut like a Damascus blade, but there was no malice behind them.”  Lincoln’s biographer notes, “A young woman who could wound by words without intending to was presumably even more dangerous when angry or aroused.”  (Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln by Douglas L. Wilson).

Woe to the person bound in marriage to one gifted in sarcasm.  Lincoln bore many a scar from the blade his wife wielded.

Pity the church member who sits under the teachings of a sarcastic pastor week after week.  Such a pastor’s ministry will bear bitter fruit.

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How to dismiss a scripture that nails you to the wall

On our website, we welcome comments from friends who disagree, so long as they do so graciously.  But from time to time, we receive tirades from the angry, onslaughts from the dark side, hurling slanderous accusations at us for daring to suggest that (take your pick) Christians should go to church, the faithful should tithe their income, or the Lord’s salvation is for all time.  Such heretical positions, to be sure. (Not!)  I’ve noticed a trend in some of these mean-spirited commenters, which provoked the following little essay…. 

“I know I’m right! I’m not going to change!”

When you are wedded to your position, you tend to a) become angry at anyone taking a contrary position, particularly if their point of view is the historically orthodox view with Scriptural support.  In that case, you will need to b)  justify your position and c) deal with scriptures that say something different.

a) You become angry with contrary views. 

Each of us could learn a lot about ourselves by noticing what views on Facebook or in blogs pluck our strings.  There has to be a trend, and that trend will reveal great insights about us.

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