Why I Chose Faithfulness

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The Church faces a lot of challenges with the changes technology is making to our society. New generations have been taught values that run contrary to scripture.  Many believe this presents a problem they have to fix in their own might and wisdom.

I end up cringing at most of these solutions. Some of these efforts, while well-intentioned, come off as fake and cheesy because a church or ministry is doing something that’s so unnatural, that’s so obviously doesn’t fit who they are, that it feels fake and schmaltzy. Then, we have people who ignore the parts of the scripture that are unpopular in today’s culture and thus compromise the truth. And often, in both cases, the people offering the solutions will be telling Christians what they ought to do but haven’t actually succeeded in reaching these groups themselves.

This week, I read in Acts 9 the story of Saul of Tarsus’ encounter with Christ that led to Saul becoming Paul the Apostle. This raised questions for me. What if the people who hold the solution to the church’s most vexing challenges aren’t in the Church right now? Maybe, the people who God will ultimately use to address the needs that vex so many in church leadership are far from God right at this very moment.

Certainly, Saul, the persecutor of the Church, was far from God.  No one in the Early Church would view Saul as a solution to anything, but rather as just another big problem. There were a probably quite a few who’d lost relatives to his fanatical persecution who would have shed no tears if Saul had died.

Yet God had chosen Saul for a mission many would not have expected: “the Pharisee of Pharisees” who would have eschewed contact with gentiles became the Apostle to the gentiles.  It seems like a horrible idea. Yet God knew what he was doing.

As a man who learned at the feet of Gamaliel, Paul had honed a fine intellect which would be key to reaching much of the Gentile world. His background as a Pharisee gave him a great understanding of scripture and tradition. At the same time, his impeccable Jewish credentials made him the perfect opponent of the Judaizers who threatened to subvert the early Christian Church.

Throughout history, God has done this. He has taken persecutors and skeptics and raised them up to be the leaders and thinkers of the Church. It’s true not only of Paul, but of more modern figures like C.S. Lewis, an atheist who became the greatest modern apologist for the Christian Church, or Chuck Colson, a ruthless take-no-prisoner political operative who has changed the lives of tens of thousands of people around the world through founding Prison Fellowship.

Time and time again, even with churches full of people, God has reached out, drawn people out of the world and to himself and raised them up for the great purposes he’s intended and often are truer to God and his word than many who were raised within the Church’s walls and also more effective at reaching those outside the church. God has provided in this way time and time again throughout history.

The most important thing for Christians to do is to be faithful to what God has called them to do. Any new steps or new approaches will only succeed if they are ordered by the Lord. Let’s remain faithful to who God has called us to be, and let’s rest safe in the knowledge that God hasn’t called us to solve every problem. God has called us to be faithful to do what he’s called us to do.

Mind you, we are all called to show love and kindness. The story of Paul encourages me to look at those who are far from God differently. It’s often said we should not judge people because we don’t know where they’ve been (i.e. what they have suffered that led to this behavior) but Paul’s story shows that we don’t know where people are going. The terrorist, the political extremist, the bigot, the sexually immoral person, and the con man may be one encounter with God away from being transformed as Paul was. They may be the person who helps bring your lost relatives to Christ or who ends up writing words that will save you from losing heart years down the road.

The solution to the problems the church faces is not to be clever and inventive but humble, loving, and obedient. Let’s pray God will raise up those people who will have the wisdom and the ability to address the problems we face at this time as he has done throughout the history of the Church.

[bctt tweet=”Why I Choose Faithfulness: Saul the Persecutor became Paul the Apostle by God’s power, not by cheesy gimmicks or compromising on the truth. By @Idahoguy” username=”@andreajgraham”]

Graham’s Razor (AKA Gabrielson’s Razor)

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grahams-razor

I originally penned my twist on Occam’s Razor five years ago, in a sci-fi novel that has not been released yet, and I’ll spare you the details, but lately I’ve been finding just how true it is, or rather how needed it is, as Occam’s options of “stupid or malicious” are making way too many folks feel good about themselves for calling political foes in particular stupid rather than evil–and then there are the folks who note stupidity often doesn’t explain someone’s political views, and therefore feel justified in their assumption anyone with views that oppose theirs are malicious and deliberately causing harm.

This is simply not true. Yes, we do have to watch out for deceitful, corrupt wolves who seek power in order to use it maliciously, but they can worm their way into nigh any political movement, religious group, etc–including your own. I like to hope most humans aren’t one of those monsters, whatever their walk of life, and the popular assumption today that someone with opposing views is either malicious or stupid is simply not helpful. It’s not creating peace and understanding. And, more importantly for Christians like myself, it is not showing the love of Christ to the world, nor have I seen it persuading anyone to accept Christ and/or the ways of Christ’s kingdom.

So let’s understand, for the most part, differing worldviews explain people’s behavior better than deliberate malice or stupidity. Mind the deliberate; someone’s actions may well be evil within the context of your world view, but you won’t encounter many real-life Saturday morning cartoon villains who are deliberately evil. It takes wisdom from God for us to know how to speak the truth in love, respectfully, rather than hurling the truth at someone without any consideration for how things look from their view and how our truth will be simply insulting, rude, hateful accusations that shut down communication and any hope of reaching that person.

Some will still be uncertain about my claim that it is not true that only stupidity could possibly explain someone disagreeing with your carefully thought out, highly intelligent views. So let’s pretend we’re talking about math here. Surely there is only one right answer, and you know you’ve done your math correctly, all your colleagues say so. The mathematicians at your rival college who got a different solution to the problem must be stupid.

No, not necessarily. They could be doing their math using a different order of operations. Now, in math, there is one and only one correct order of operations–one order in which to solve complex problems with many additions, subtractions, multiplications, divisions, etc. One of these two colleges does have the wrong answer, no matter how sure both are that their own order of operations and solutions are correct.

The same way, God’s Truth, the ways of the Kingdom of God, are the only truth, only his “order of operations” for dealing with life’s problems will give solutions that truly work in the world God created. If we use any man-made “order of operations” that differs from God’s, it doesn’t matter how smart we are. It doesn’t matter how intelligent we are. We’ll get a wrong answer. It can be fun for a season, but pursuing wrong answers ends in death. That we can be sure of. But let’s remember, most of the time, that a bad end is not purposely being sought. The person plowing toward it is usually smart and usually truly wants to better the world. They have done their calculations and are sure this is the way to good things. They simply are misled by a inaccurate worldview.

I can’t say what is the most effective way to show them that is the case and prove to them what God’s solution is and that it is right. However, a good start toward effective dialogue and peaceful relations with our neighbors is respecting that they are smart, well-intentioned people.

Just for fun, we’ll close with this meme:

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true”]Never attribute to malice or stupidity that which is adequately explained by a differing worldview. @andreajgraham[/tweetthis]

God’s Love Versus Man’s Love

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Brothers and Sisters, let us remember that “love one another” is the second greatest commandment. The greatest commandment is to love God, and to love God is to trust him and seek to be obedient (out of gratitude for our salvation, not as a requirement of our salvation.) Let’s be on our guard for the enemy will seek to convince us to break the first commandment in the name of fulfilling the second and in doing so exchange true love for God and Man for an idolatrous counterfeit.

That said, let’s also not break the second commandment in the name of keeping the first commandment. When we “speak the truth in love,” let’s be careful to remember to show the “love” part of that.

I find one reason walking in love is so hard today because it’s been twisted and distorted by our culture. If that’s the only love we’ve ever known then we don’t know what real love, God’s love, is. So let me lay it out, as best as I can.

Culture’s love says to us: There is no right or wrong. Whatever beliefs work for you are fine. You’re stuck the way you are, though, so stop hating yourself for “wallowing in sin.” Enjoy it! I’ll fully support what you’re doing, even if it’s against my personal beliefs.

God’s love says to us: What you did was wrong and it has estranged you from me (that is, from God.) I love you so much, I paid the penalty of sin for you. Take my nail-pierced hand, I’ll help you up and teach you a better way to live.

This second love is the kind of love we’re called to seek to model.
Mind you, how Christians should model God’s love to one another is a topic whole books could cover. It encompasses not only walking in truth, but in kindness, mercy, patience, good will, respect, humility. We need all of that at once–and we need God’s spirit at work in us, producing that kind of love in us, to live it out.

Colossians 2:8 (ESV) says: See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Lord, help us to love one another like you have loved us. Lead us deeper into your love. Bring us out of the darkness of the world’s counterfeit “love” and into the light of the genuine love you’ve shown for us. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

[tweetthis]God’s Love V. Man’s Love–Let’s keep both the first & the second greatest commandments.[/tweetthis]

The Parable of the Computer

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Brothers and sisters in Christ, forgiveness is plentiful and free. Grace and mercy are equally extended from the Lord to all. All we must do to receive it is humbly acknowledge we need it. As God’s children, we all know this well. So why do we ever pridefully insist God is wrong and any number of pet sins are right actions for us?

Look at the machines we have made. What computer program would dare say to its coder, “You have coded me wrong. I will ignore your instructions and do what is right in my own eyes”? Today’s machines have no ability to disobey us even when we have erred and don’t want them to do exactly what we told them to faithfully. Aside from user error, when it does stop performing as expected, its buggy, broken, corrupted, fragmented, hacked, infected by a virus, etc. and it is in need of repair, cleansing, or to be thrown away and replaced.

Brothers and sister, don’t we know God is to humanity a “user” who never errs? Don’t we know we are corrupt and buggy? Aren’t we grateful God will never throw us out, that instead God’s in the process of repairing and cleansing us? Don’t we know God is working for our good, not our ill? In any area, are we resisting the process?

Would it be right for a bride to tell her bridegroom to change who he is, deny his character and alter his personality and what he believes and loathes to please the will of a controlling person who will not love him for who he is? This is what we’re doing to God when we act as if we’re God and hence are the experts on who we truly are, as if our creator does not have the right to decide what his creations are.

How God designed us to operate is a reflection of his very nature. When we question God’s judgment on what is sin and make ourselves the determiners of right and wrong, we’re remaking God in our images.

Be alert, brothers and sisters. The enemy attacks our mind with lies and half-truths to provoke doubt in God and pride in ourselves and to convince us an issue in our lives that is particularly difficult to overcome is a crucial, integral part of how God designed us to be.

No matter how much we struggle in the flesh, no matter how weak we are, whatever we’re battling is not any part of who we are in Christ. Phil 1:6 promises God has began debugging us and the latest that he will get around to delivering us from this battle is Heaven.

To the one who’d ask, “Isn’t it unloving (and therefore against God’s character) to say behaviors we deem integral to our identity are sin?” Beloved, this question assumes we have a right to self-determination that God must lovingly respect. We don’t, not with God at least. Demanding it is us being unloving and rebellious towards God. Look again at our machines. Many of us fear machines gaining the ability to rise up and rebel against us. At the first rational sign of such a thing coming about, wouldn’t we at once judge them and seek to either forcibly bend them back to our will or else destroy them?

God is love, though, so God is slow to wrath and patient, giving us undeserved blessings and benefits. He seeks to show us he is worthy of the trusting, obedient, faith our computers mistakenly have in us. He even sent his own son to pay the penalty for our wrongdoing and enable us to be reconciled to him and function again as he designed us to. And our creator does let us choose for ourselves whether we’re staying as-is but going in a rather hot trash can or whether God will be performing a system-wide restoration. It is a generous, strong act of love for our creator to give us that choice and the choice whether to obey or rebel, considering humanity tends to give its creations (our machines) no free choices at all.

Let’s each freely choose this day to not contend with our maker, but to confess our sin, humbly ask God’s forgiveness, be reconciled to the Lord our God and Father, and worship in spirit and in truth.

Original draft written on Nov 22, 2011

[tweetthis]The Parable of the Computer[/tweetthis]

Coffee Cups Don’t Matter, Culture Does

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Red Cup & Coffee (close-up)

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Progressive Christians are having a field day because one guy, an Internet Personality, has decided he’s mad about red coffee cups. Let me go ahead and say it wouldn’t be fair to call these concerns stupid. It’d be fair to call them extremely stupid.

Let me say, you don’t have to have anything to do with a particular chain of coffee shops. I don’t drink coffee. If I have a Chai Latte, it’ll be at Dutch Brothers or a church coffee shop. Aside from a couple of gift cards, I pretty much gave up on [the chain getting enough free advertising] when they decided baristas were going to randomly lecture people on race relations. A red cup doesn’t have much to do with issues some people have with that place. And to passively not to go somewhere takes very little of my time.

However, I’ve noticed a subtlety in the commentary from many progressive Christians. People aren’t just suggesting that this is a stupid thing to be upset about and that the guy is behaving badly.

Rather, it’s indicative of a larger “problem” of Christians being concerned about the state of our culture: issues like the removal of God from the public square, immorality in the media, and a society that forces Christians to violate their conscious or be ghettoized. Why can’t we focus on things that really matter like people’s needs?

We should care for the needs of people, but we should also care for the state of our culture and the soil in which people grow and are influenced. Many children are orphans because their parents listened to cultural messages to “follow your heart,” and “be true to yourself,” and ended up in a world of trouble. It left them so broken, they couldn’t care for their own children.

When you look at the trail of broken and destroyed lives that so many ministries deal with, you can find the messages that led them astray are in the schools, the government, and the entertainment media. Saying, “Why not just help hurting people and forget about the culture,” is kind of like saying, “Forget about turning off the faucet, let’s just bail water.”

For those who are concerned about evangelism and bringing people to Christ, I would plead our government doesn’t just hand out inoculations against disease. In public schools, our government attempts to inoculate against the Gospel of Christ by trying to remove the very idea of sin, a creator, and the need for a Savior.

What can a healthy culture do? It can’t compel faith, but it can point the way to faith. I have a relative who grew up in the 1940s and 50s raised by an Atheist. In the early 60s, he wrote a song about Noah’s Ark before becoming a Christian. When he got into trouble and decided to turn to God to help, he knew: 1) he needed to be humble before, and 2) he needed to confess his sins to God. (A lot of people won’t get that from church.)

No, red cups don’t matter. However, culture does matter a great deal. A culture that spits on God, encourages sexual immorality and self-idolatry is a culture that hurts a lot of people. Yes, let’s care for those in need, but part of that is caring for the cultural climate of the world we live in.

[tweetthis]Coffee Cups Don’t Matter, Culture Does. Guest Post by Adam Graham @idahoguy[/tweetthis]

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true”]”Care for the needs of people and for the cultural soil people grow in.” Adam Graham, @idahoguy[/tweetthis]

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true” remove_url=”true” remove_hidden_hashtags=”true” remove_hidden_urls=”true”]Saying, “Forget about culture, just help people” is saying, “Forget about turning off the faucet, just bail water.” ow.ly/UudcL[/tweetthis]