Easter: Because contrary to popular opinion, Christianity is not about “no” but rather about “yes”

This last week, I was reminded of something as a martial arts instructor. Yes, I already knew it, but every now and then this truth resurfaces. And it is the power of the positive.

But when I say positive, I really don’t mean a “yay, happy, joy, good feelings!” positive, but rather a “Yes” positive.

You see, I was teaching some students how to have better balance on their kicks, and an old class management skill flashed across my brain:
“Use positive correction rather than criticism”

Or, in my own words…

“Stop telling the students what NOT to do, and start telling them what to do.”

There can be fifty wrong ways to do a technique, but there’s often one right way (okay, sometimes two or three, but the point stands). I can be a more effective instructor and waste less time if I spend my time on the YES’s instead of the NO’s.

So for balance? STOP saying “Don’t drop your hands” and say “Put your hands where you want them!” STOP saying “Don’t hop!” and say “Bend your base knee!” Stuff like that.

So what does this have to do with Easter?

A sermon that I heard at Generation Unleashed in Portland sticks out in my mind. “Everybody talks about that ONE tree that God told Adam and Eve not to eat from, but nobody is talking about the YES trees. You know, every single other tree in the garden of Eden that they were told that they could FREELY eat from.

In this season of politics, Christians are known for what they are against. (Like there’s anything new to that.) All the things that we say that you can’t do, or you can’t partake in, or any of that stuff. And hey, there’s a reason that God speaks against certain things, and woe to the person who says “Yes” to that which God says “No” to. And woe to the person who says “Uh, I don’t really know, that’s between each person and God” to that which God says “No” to. When God says “No”, then my opinion or my preference or my feelings are non-issues.

However, Easter presents this: God is a “Yes” God. Please do not misunderstand…I do not mean to say that God is a “Whatever you want, buddy” God. But God is a Yes God. While many people are pissing and moaning about the things we can’t do because of God’s commands, God is a God who generously gives opportunities.

While many believe that the Church (as God’s representative, imperfect as she is) is asking them to give up their money, God is providing many of us more money than we actually need (if you disagree, yet you own a video game system, then sit your butt down).

While many believe that God’s commands are sexually prohibitive (some would argue that this is the number one reason people walk away from God, conscious or subconscious), God is the one who provided your genitalia, and the correlated pleasure receptors.

While many, like me, have lost a parent or a loved one, or are losing a parent or a loved one, it is easy in a time of incredible tragedy to lose sight of the fact that every previous breath was provided by God, anyway (This is, in no way, meant to “downplay” the pain or the grieving. Rather, please know that God is your friend during this grieving…not your enemy).

And while many have called on the argument of “How could a good God send someone to hell?” (How could God remove us from something so good, like Heaven or eternal happiness/fullness/wellness) Easter represents God presenting an opportunity.

Is God about removing opportunities? Or is He giving opportunities?

 

He is risen. For those who like to intellectually grapple with Christianity: This means that Jesus wasn’t full of it…that His message was endorsed by God the Father Himself, because what other explanation makes sense?

 

Easter. He is risen.

 

The opportunity is given. God’s yes is given.

So what now?

 

 

 

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” (2 Corinthians 1:20, ESV)

Authoritative Religion and Humanism will never be friends, and we should stop expecting them to be

If you want to get to the meat of this blog post, scroll down about a page. Hey, and thanks for reading!

The WHAT of religious debates:

I’ve gotten to, over the last half year, observe and sometimes participate in a whole bunch of Facebook debates. These debates have been sometimes political, sometimes religious, and have definitely escalated in amount and intensity with the political season. But ultimately, I believe that many of them have been fruitless (not all of them).

The good reason to have them: To learn to what the other side is thinking and feeling. To ask: “What am I not seeing here? What do they know that I don’t know?”

The bad reason to have them: To “convince” or to persuade. To ask: “What do I know that they just aren’t getting? What do I know that they don’t know?”

The reason why these debates can be so depressing is because of one side seeking to overcome the other side, to nullify their arguments instead of asking agenda-less questions, intended to learn more about why they believe what they believe. Starting or participating in the debate believing that you know more than the other side is arrogance. But starting or participating in the debate with confidence that you know your position, that you know WHY you believe what you believe, having considered both sides is not. (Even though some will call this being “closed-minded”, but usually they say that to their opponents, not the people who share their beliefs.)

Yes, I am a Christian. But this blog post is actually not meant to defend Christianity.

First of all: This blog post is being written by an evangelical Christian. Having considered the evidence (not just the theories, but the evidence behind them) presented to me by both sides, my conclusion is that God exists, and the Bible communicates His words and values to us.

Others have not arrived at this position. Okay, cool. I’m just typing this so that you know my exact position.

Second of all: I am making an observation that I believe both sides will agree on. Just so you are aware: I am not defending all of the actions of the Christian Church throughout history. I am also definitely not defending the actions of Islam throughout history. I do not believe “Yes, all religion is good.” I believe “Yes, Christianity is good.” However, this post isn’t even to defend Christianity or religion. It is simply to define the reason why religions that make moral claims of right and wrong can’t get along with humanism.

Now, on to the meat of the post…

…Authoritative religion and humanism will never get along. Sorry. Stop trying to make them.

Here’s my definition:
Authoritative religion: Any worldview that claims that a higher power makes the rules, and claims to speak for that higher power.

For example: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.

Humanism: Any worldview that believes that we should (either as individuals, or as a macro-society) decide right and wrong for ourselves, based on what is beneficial or preferential for humanity as a whole.

It’s hard to say a for example here, because this worldview is typically not labeled. Some would say it is common sense.

I’m going to explain why we can’t get along, but I’m going to explain it from the perspective of a Christian.

What Christians call “the sinful nature” is interpreted in many different ways, in the eyes of many different people. Is hedonism (if it’s pleasurable, it’s good) the picture of sin? Is selfishness? Is elevating ourselves above others, and lowering them down? Is greed? Taking advantage of your employees?

If the sinful nature is still within us, then we will be disturbed at the real picture of sin vs not-sin. It will be hard to stomach.

The real question of the sinful nature is this…

  1. In my life, who sits on the throne?
  2. Who’s benefit is the most important?

So I’m going to explain the sinful nature as best as I can. If you are non-religious, you will not be able to stomach it. And I get it. If you are a Christian, it will still disturb you. Unless you have successfully eradicated every aspect of the sinful nature from your life. And if so, congratulations! You should tell me how to do that some time.

The sinful nature holds humanity (as a whole) as the highest priority and the highest authority. It does not say that God is not an authority, or that God is not important. But rather, God’s authority must be run past humanity first. We have to give our approval.

Perhaps the poster boy for this position is Thomas Jefferson, who created his own Bible by removing anything that was “contrary to reason”. The question…who’s reason? God’s teachings have to go through a filtering system, and that filtering system is our reason.

Humanity as the highest priority

God’s actions are okay AS LONG AS they benefit humanity. If they do not benefit humanity, they are not okay. Oh, and since God is perfect, then He always benefits humanity, so if it doesn’t look beneficial to humanity, then He must have said something else.

In fact, Christians think this without realizing we think this, and we defend God accordingly.

(By the way, DEFEND GOD? Are you telling me that in court, God is in the defendant’s chair? Who is in the judgment seat? How can one possibly need to “defend God”? I was really thinking that I would need a defender against His judgment!) (Oh, wait, I’ve got one, thanks. Phew. Close call.)

How do we know that God is good? Well, He gave us Jesus. We know that He is good because He saved us from our sins. He is good because He provides for us. Are you seeing the theme here?

The “if” clause of testing a statement goes into effect here…if God did not send us Jesus…would He still be good? Or is His goodness defined in what He did for us?

If His goodness is defined in what He did for us, then proper treatment of humanity is the central crux for all morality.

What Christianity actually teaches: The center of all morality is God. The most important thing in morality is treating God how He wants to be treated, and He wants to be worshipped and obeyed (faith is how we obey). The second most important thing in morality is treating mankind the way God wants us to treat them (which happens to be the way that Jesus treated them).

Or, perhaps you’d hear it better if you heard Jesus saying it…

Matthew 22:34-40 (NIV)

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’c 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’d 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

“See, Carson? The Golden Rule! It’s right there!”

Yes. It is. But the Golden Rule is second. Loving God with every last ounce of you comes first.

Worshipping God is the first priority.

 

So here’s the hard-to-stomach part for those of us with a sinful nature, who feel that the above reason is not good enough:

  1. If a society was kind to one another, loving, caring, generous, and just an overall joy to be around, but failed to acknowledge God’s existence, would God be justified in utterly and completely destroying them and wiping them off the map?
  2. If God says “I want it done this way” but it inconveniences our life…wait, no, not inconveniences, absolutely prevents us from living life the way we perceive to be good and right, will we be okay with it? Or will it be wrong because “God wouldn’t call me to live like that.”

Let’s bring it back to the main topic:
Humanism will not allow the above to happen. All truth must bypass our reasoning abilities before it can be accepted as truth (humanism has a higher opinion of our ability to reason than I do).

All morality must be what is good and beneficial for mankind…if it does not benefit mankind, it is not moral.

This is why the two can never get along, and they never will.

Humanism says that I must learn right and wrong by my reason.

Authoritative religion says that God makes right and wrong, and I must obey.

Humanism says that what serves mankind and furthers mankind is right.

Authoritative religion says that what serves God and glorifies Him is right.

Humanism says that I am the authority of my own life, and I get to decide my direction.

Christianity says to everyone that, since they were created, they must answer to their Creator.

Christianity says to Christians that their bodies are not their own, and that they were purchased by the blood of Christ. In other words, I don’t have the right to decide what to do with my life. If God tells me to go somewhere or do something, I don’t get a say in the matter. I either obey or disobey.

Humanistic worldviews will never stomach this, and I don’t expect them to. Neither should you. But for you non-religious trying to understand the religious…if a Muslim believes in his whole heart that Allah is calling him to blow up a bunch of innocent civilians…how dare he disobey Allah! Does he know better than his creator? (By the way, not all Muslims think that)
“I know, Carson! That’s the problem with religion! That’s why it should go away!” I knew you’d say that. That’s why we’ll never get along. And that’s cool.

But as for my religion, the Covenant that I am called to does not call for military action or violence. Although it respects the nations’ mandate for military protection, Jesus has never called for military action in His name.

It calls us to recognize what the Father has declared sin (things that contradict worshipping Him the way He wishes to be worshipped), but He has separated our actions from our verdict. Jesus has washed my sins away, and He does the same for anybody else who calls on His name.

The New Covenant reached out to a society that had slaves, and while not calling for the freedom of slaves, it did call for humane treatment. It calls for humane treatment of women, children, minorities, and sinners like me.

Galatians 3:28

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

This Covenant does not call for racism…it CLEARLY calls against it.

So in review: Humanity’s well-being is not God’s highest priority. The worship and glory of God is God’s highest priority. God is selfish…but He is the only being who is allowed to be, because He actually is the center of the universe. Remember that passage about God being a jealous God? HE IS. But He is allowed to be. God being jealous and selfish is good and right. Can you be okay with that? And what if you’re not?
Well, if you’re not, then really, who cares?
But by the way, when God is selfish, His people still win. He takes care of His own. And His own are all who have called on the name of Jesus, regardless of any other situation or decision going on in their lives.

Oh, and our likes? Preferences? Opinions? I don’t think that God “doesn’t care”, but I don’t think it’s high on His priority list. If you don’t like something He’s called you to do or some commandment He’s implemented…then…

…I don’t even know what comes after “then” in this one. Does your opinion or feeling change anything? Should it?

God is an authority. We are not. Atheists/Humanists will never agree with authoritative religion based on that alone. And you know what…that’s okay.

 

In closing: The middle approach

A lot of people, unknowingly, make their beliefs simple: God must think like me. God sees things the way I see things. If I don’t think it’s that bad, then God must not think it’s that bad.

The check and balance: Always ask…”When is the last time God and I disagreed?” and if the answer is never, that’s probably not a good sign.

Where, at this moment, do you and God disagree? Why do you think that?

ONE Picture: Removing the negativity epidemic from Christianity (Part 2)

Some (not all, but some) of the most negative people I have met in my life are Christians. I know some negative non-Christians too…I guess I would describe them as aimless and pessimistic. But Christians have this special flavor of negativity just for us (and by flavor, I mean stench). Which makes no sense…those who are redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ are negative? What?

Now before I continue: The negativity of certain Christians DOES NOT AFFECT my view of whether Christianity is true, noble, and/or good. A worldview cannot be judged by its adherents, since they all fall short of the ideal. But rather, a worldview is judged on its tenets, its ideals. In the case of Christianity, we do not follow a “set of tenets” but rather a Person. Therefore, if every Christian in the world were negative, morally bankrupt wretches, the veracity and value of the faith should still be based on Christ’s person…who He is, what He does, what He values. We will talk more about that on part 3.

However, Christians typically are far worse at being negative people. Why? Because the side effect of setting such a remarkably high standard of ethics (God, Jesus) is that we can clearly see how short everybody falls.

Christian parents lead the field when it comes to making people realize how short they fall of the standard. And woe to the Christian wife, who has studied up on what a Godly man should act like! Her real-life husband is not short of ways to fall short! Or the Christian husband, who was taught to choose a wife with Godly conduct! What a stringent requirement!

Our knowledge of a perfect standard, without fault, without blemish, can really mess up our relationships. It can screw up our children for life…if we can’t get this negativity under control.

Yet, this “beating” is not what I endure when I approach Scripture. Scripture does not beat me…it empowers me. The “standard” is not an unattainable thing that God beats my head against…it is a beautiful picture that I can be conformed to daily, and not only that, but Jesus specifically gave me a Helper to get me there!

Scripture doesn’t look at me and say “Why aren’t you there yet?” Rather, Scripture looks at me and says “I am confident that He who began this work in you will complete it…”

If our lives could be likened to the Olympic games, many of us would liken God to the judges, sitting in the seats, ready to give out the scores. Yet, Scripture teaches us of a God who is sitting in the coach’s chair! Enabling us to succeed! Teaching! Training! Encouraging! Empowering!

What if I, as a parent, could master this concept? Would Abrielle and Alsea grow up feeling like they always fell short of a great standard? Would Abrielle and Alsea grow up deceived by a low expectation of morality? Or maybe I can teach about a high ethical standard, and then empower them to say “I can do that! I can be more like that every day!”
Let our friends, family, our brothers and sisters in Christ, know this: We will not water down our standard. Our ethics. Our values. But we will also not water down our belief that the Spirit of God is alive, active, and in us. We will not water down our standards, but we will not water down our belief in God’s power to change hearts and lives.
So the question: Nitpick their shortcomings? Or empower their successes and their potential?
What does Scripture do?