Tag Archives: false ideas

God doesn’t expect that much from me? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s desires for Christians. Part 5]

29 Mar
Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

How much does God expect from us, really?

It is very tempting to think, “God does not expect that much from me,”  when you know you are so thoroughly loved by God, so thoroughly forgiven, and in fact rightfully believing that there is nothing you can do to earn your salvation. We can almost theologically justify “God does not expect that much from me,” by saying that we are saved by grace through faith not by works. 

But that would be an improper way to live out the theology of grace.  Let me say clearly that this phrase is right only when it comes to our salvation.  It is true that God expects nothing from us in that sense, because Jesus did all the work salvation required through his birth, life, death and resurrection.  Only he could do that.  We could not. 

But our response, James says in James 2, is to have a faith that works in thankful gratitude for God’s grace.  Paul said the same thing in Titus 2:11 when he said “Grace teaches us to say, ‘No’ to unholiness and pursue a righteous life.” (my paraphrase)

Jesus also taught that God expects everything from us.   He told his disciples, “Die to yourself, and follow me.”  There is only one way to follow Jesus, and it is by giving your life completely to follow him.  Believing is not even close to enough.

Jesus told the rich young man, “Sell all you have, and give it to the poor.” Yet how many of us, upon hearing Jesus teach like this, think to ourselves, “Well…he doesn’t really mean that, does he?”

Sojourners magazine recently ran an article about wealthy Christians in the midst of so many in need.  The author talked about how Christians know there are people struggling with homelessness, for example, and yet we rarely give up our vacations or our hobbies in order to make a difference.

In the Deuteronomy series we talked about how Old Testament Law is not binding on Christians.  Consider how that relates to the practice of generosity. We Christians might say, “Whew…I’m glad I’m not bound to the Old Testament Law, so I don’t have to tithe like ancient Israel did…I don’t have to give to 10%!” 

But if you look at the New Testament teaching on giving, it is way more sacrificial than 10%.  In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul teaches the Christians to give generously, sacrificially, consistently and cheerfully.

And it is not just money.  It is about our whole lives.  Jesus lays claim to our entire lives, including our bodies. 

“You are not your own,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “You were bought with a price, so glorify God with your body.”

God’s desires for Christians is that we will give all to him.  All means all.  That might sound scary or too difficult.  But remember that God has your best interest in mind.  His ways are far superior to our ways.  Are we willing to trust him with our lives?  Go all in.

So as we fact-check this one, God doesn’t expect you to do anything to save yourself, but as a follower of Jesus, he expects you to give everything.

God wants me to be happy, not angry, and never to doubt? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s desires for Christians. Part 4]

28 Mar
Photo by Bruce Mars on Unsplash

In 1 Timothy 3:12 we read that “all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  Woah.  Maybe God doesn’t want us to be happy, and only cares about us becoming godly or holy, even if it takes us being persecuted? How are we to understand this?

Does God want us to be happy?  It sure seems like he would, right?

In this series of posts we’re fact-checking common phrases Christians believe, and in this post there are two phrase: “God isn’t interested in making you happy; he’s interested in making you holy.”  VERSUS “God always wants me to be happy.” Which is it? This takes some explaining.

First of all, God is most interested in our character, in our heart.  And sometimes going through trials is the way to get to our heart.  But as we have seen in previous posts in this series, the trials we go through are not necessarily from God.  The world is broken and fallen, and we will have troubles in this world.  God can redeem those struggles, though, as we strive to follow him in middle of our troubles.  And he promises that he will be with us always.  The result is that we do often grow in godliness during difficult times. 

But can we grow in holiness through joy and plenty and comfort?  Yes.  That’s why a life of spiritual practices and habits is so important.  God calls us to pursue practices like prayer, biblical meditation, silent listening, generosity, and disciple-making all the time, not matter if life is going great or if it is really difficult. 

So the phrase “God isn’t interested in making you happy” is wrong.  God DOES want us to be happy!

Remember the festivals in Deuteronomy?  God embedded happiness and celebration in the life of the nation of Israel.  Ecclesiastes talks about enjoying life.  Philippians says “Rejoice in the Lord always!”  And James 1:2-4, says “Consider it joy when you face trials of many kinds.”

It is very hard to feel joy in the middle of the pain. 

Is there a difference between happiness and joy?  Can we be joyful while being unhappy? 

Happiness is fleeting.  Joy is a choice.  It can be hard to distinguish the two.  Especially for those who struggle with anxiety.  “Consider it joy?”  This means that you can use your mind to control your emotions.   Happiness is an emotion, and emotions do not always tell you the truth.

So we need to remember verses like Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” 

The song “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns speaks to this when it envisions God saying to us, “if your eyes are on the storm, you’ll wonder if I love you still, but if your eyes on the cross, you’ll know I always have and always will.”   

Isn’t that so similar to the lamenters in Psalms?  In the pain they turned and ran to the Lord rather than running away from him.  And when they ran to him, they brought all their pain and doubt and anger to him.

And that is a great lead-in to the next phrase we’re fact-checking:God is not OK with doubt and anger.

We’ve referred to James 1 already.  Take a look at verse 6.   “When he asks he must believe and not doubt”?  Wait, is doubt wrong?  And later in verse 19, “be slow to anger, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires.”  So doubt and anger are wrong?  Or are they?

Read the psalms, the laments.  In them you’ll find gut-wrenching doubt and anger.  Raw pain. 

That means we can also declare that this is a false idea.  God is absolutely okay with doubt and anger. 

Saying that God is not okay with doubt is potentially dangerous, making it seem like a good Christian should never struggle with doubt. There is a sense in which God doesn’t want us to doubt.  He wants us to trust in him.   We should have faith in him.  But even then, we have to remember the promise of 2 Timothy 2:13, “if we are faithless, he is faithful for he cannot disown himself.”

In Mark 9:17, we read a fascinating story that relates to doubt.  The disciples were trying to cast a demon out of a boy, but to no avail.  The father of the boy brought him to Jesus to help.

Notice the father’s response to Jesus: “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” We all doubt, and we all get angry.  Remember that there is nothing that can separate us from the Love of God.  But God’s gracious love for us should also not be an excuse to just stay in our doubt or anger.  Instead, God’s grace should motivate us, make us grateful, to trust in him and allow our anger to subside.  If you have an anger problem that keeps popping up, and you can’t control it, I urge you to get professional help.  It’s not okay to be angry and damage people. 

God’s love for me is determined by my behavior? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s desires for Christians. Part 3]

27 Mar
Photo by Francisco Gonzalez on Unsplash

How many of you have secretly wondered if we have sinned so badly that God actually doesn’t love you anymore?

I remember when my grandmother was in hospice near the end of her life, and she had really struggled with anger, and with treating my grandfather with unkindness in those later years, in a moment of vulnerability, when it was just me alone with her in the room, she said with tears in her eyes and an ache in her voice, “Joel, I have been a bad Christian.”  It was heart-breaking, and yet very authentic of her.  I don’t remember her doubting God’s love or fearing that she lost her salvation, but she definitely agonized over her sin. Many of us do the same, fearing that God no longer loves us.

That’s why in the post we are fact-checking the phrase: “God’s love for me is determined by my behavior.” Let me state this clearly: this phrase we can deny wholeheartedly.  Let me just read a few passages for you. 

First Psalm 103:8-12: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

And then Romans 8:38-39 “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God always loves you, no matter who you are or what you have done. 

But what are God’s desires for us? Check back in to the next post in this series, as we’ll fact-check more phrases related to that topic!

Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s desires for Christians. Part 1]

25 Mar
Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

What are God’s desires for Christians?  He just wants us to pray and read the Bible, right? 

Well, actually there are a lot of ideas about what God wants his people to do.   Unfortunately not all the ideas are based in Scripture. In fact, some of the ideas that Christians use to guide their lives, or to assure themselves that God is honored by their lives, are downright false.  Sometimes we create alternate Christian realities that insulate us from truly knowing and following what God wants for us.  What does God actually want for us?  In this series we’re going to find out that it might be surprising. God’s desire for us is sometimes in direct conflict with what Christians desire for ourselves.  Because that can be very hard to take, we can create false ideas about what God wants us to do, or how he wants us to live.  So let’s do some fact-checking about ideas that Christians believe about what God wants for us. 

Have you heard any of these phrases?

  • Christianity is not a religion it is a relationship.
  • God isn’t interested in making you happy; he’s interested in making you holy.
  • OR it’s opposite: God always wants me to be happy.
  • God’s love for me is determined by my behavior.
  • God is not OK with doubt and anger.
  • God does not expect that much from me.

Each week as I have displayed these lists of phrases, I’ve thought, “Whew…what are you all going to think?  There are some phrases each time that seem like they absolutely should not be on a fact-checking list, as they are phrases that are obviously true.”  Same goes for this week. 

Right off the bat, that first one is one that Christians say so frequently that it can’t possibly need to be on this list, right? 

Actually, last week, I had one of those strange moments when I was writing one line of thinking, while at the same time considering another thought to myself.  I wrote that, “God gives us free will because he does not want us to be robots, but wants us to be in a real relationship with him,” and at the same time as I was writing, the thought hit me, “next week you’re going to be fact-checking this!”

Am I now disagreeing with myself? I’ve probably said this phrase thousands of times: “Christianity is not a religion it is a relationship.”

So what is Christianity?  A religion or a relationship? When we think of religion we think of harsh rules and dead rituals, and in our evangelical tradition, we have reacted quite strongly against that, saying that Christianity is not a religion, instead it is a vibrant relationship with God. 

Let me start this fact-checking by saying, I agree with that!  Take John 15:12-17, for example. There Jesus says to his disciples, “I call you friends.”  He says that he so deeply wants to be in friendship with us that he lays down his life for us.   It’s not just an acquaintance; Jesus says he wants to be in close friendship with us.

He is describing real give and take. 

Think about relationships with me.  How does a relationship start?  And how is relationship maintained?  It takes lots of communication.  Real time spent together.  That’s what God desires to have with us!

As a result, some Christians are very anti-religion because they feel it goes against the concept of relationship.  But does it?  Is religion automatically bad?  In our next post in this series, we’ll look at the concept of religion more closely. For now, let’s take time to dwell on the words on Jesus in John 15:12-17. He wants to have a close friendship with us! In fact, he did lay down his life for us to make that friendship possible. Consider your own relationship with Jesus. Would you call it a friendship? How does it compare to your human friendships? What would it look like for you to pursue closer friendship with Jesus?

God works in mysterious ways? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s involvement in our lives. Part 5]

22 Mar

Does God seem mysterious to you? Confusing? Distant?

In this fifth and final post in our series fact-checking phrases about God’s involvement in our lives, we’re seeking to evaluate the phrase: “God works in mysterious ways.”

This is related to “everything happens for a reason”.  When we say “everything happens for a reason” we are saying we believe God is working things for good, and though we might not immediately know that good outcome, if we look for it, we will find it.  Or we might realize it later on.  Sometimes it only becomes apparent many weeks, months or years later. 

But when we say “God works in mysterious ways,” we are saying that we might never figure it out.  That sometimes God’s purposes are unknowable.  Sometimes God is mysterious. In fact, the Bible teaches this.

In Isaiah 55:8-9 we read, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Or we could turn to, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)

So what does this mean?  Theologians tell us that one of the first things we need to learn about God is that he is incomprehensible.  What “incomprehensible” means in the theological sense is that we in our human capability will never be able to fully understand God.  God will always be somewhat mysterious to us.

But that does not mean he is totally mysterious, as he has revealed himself to us.  In fact we Christians believe that he has revealed himself quite extensively, to the point that we can know him well.  He has revealed himself in nature, in his Word, and especially in Jesus, who shows us a wonderful picture of what God is like. 

What do we learn about God through what he has revealed?  That God wants to be in relationship with us, and he has revealed enough about himself for us to have a close relationship with him. 

When we say “God works in mysterious ways,” however, we are often in a quandary, unable to figure out why a bad thing has happened.  Thus it can be our attempt to console ourselves.  There is, however, another way we use “God works in mysterious ways,” as expression of trust.  Though we don’t understand our pain, we still want to express our faith in God. This is in keeping with the psalms of lament which, after a major complaint against God, still include a statement of trust.

“God works in mysterious ways” can also be an expression of frustration or despair.  We might not want to be in the situation.  We want answers and details and they are not coming.  We don’t want God to be mysterious, and we rebel against the confusion. 

Think about Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he was going to be arrested and crucified.  What was God’s answer to Jesus’ prayer?  “I hear you, son.  But you will have to go through this.”  Sometimes God will answer in a way we don’t expect or we simply don’t like! 

The problem is that saying “God works in mysterious ways” can give the idea that God is random, or purposefully mysterious, almost like he is playing games with us, trying to be sneaky or tricky.  There is no doubt that there will be situations in life that we cannot figure out, but God also has tendencies, patterns, ways of working, and is not mysterious.   As you walk with God, you get to recognize his work in the world. 

To say “God works in mysterious ways” can be a way of pushing God to the margins of life, however, rather than embracing him in the midst of mystery.  Think again of the psalms of lament, crying out in complaint to God.  In those laments, the psalmists are fully embracing the mystery, and yet still reaching out to God, seeking to bring him close in the middle of the pain. 

So in conclusion, we Christians believe God is at work in the world.  Yes, there are times when we might not be able to figure out what he is doing or why.  But we use our free will to choose to follow him, to honor him, in the middle of the pain.

If you are trying to comfort or encourage people who are in pain, I encourage you to avoid these phrases we’ve studied in this series of posts.  I know it can be very hard to know what to say, and thus we often default back to what we have heard ourselves.  This is the tendency where as adults, to our horror, we realize, “I sound just like my parents!”  Even when we promised ourselves we would never say the things our parents said to us.  Now it’s coming out of our mouths!  Why?  Muscle memory.  We heard it said to us, and it just comes right back out.  Often we learn later in life that what our parents said was actually based in wisdom! But when it comes to these phrases we have been fact-checking, we would do well to battle the tendency to just let them spill out without thinking.  It might mean forcing yourself to be quiet.  It might mean giving the hurting person a hug and simply saying, “I’m here for you, I love you, call me anytime,” and then checking back on them over and over and over, not giving up on them.

Let go and let God? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s involvement in our lives. Part 4]

21 Mar

I would like to recommend that you not say the following to people going through pain: Let go and let God.

This is popularized in Carrie Underwood’s song, “Jesus Take The Wheel.” 

Before I explain why this might not be a helpful statement, it is important to note that there is much to commend about “Let go and let God.”   Especially the idea of relinquishment, which is encapsulated in the common Christian sentiment: “Lord, have your way in my life.” 

Furthermore, this idea is biblical! My favorite expression of relinquishment is found in John 15:1-4.  There Jesus teaches that not only should we depend on God, but he also says that we humans need to see our powerlessness, and therefore depend on his power.  In other words, we have to depend on God because we are unable to accomplish the kind of life God desires for us apart from him.  God wants us to give up control of our lives to him, making him Lord of our lives.

So what could possibly be wrong about this statement? 

First, it might not be appropriate for certain people you are trying to reach out to.  A friend of mine told me a story about a fellow soldier in his National Guard unit.  This guy was a very typical alpha male, my friend said.  A “Get ‘er Done” guy, who could handle anything you bring him.  He is the kind of person who would receive “Let go and let God” as a weak statement.  We Americans have a tendency toward individualism, and it can be hard for us to give up control of our lives.  If you know you are talking with a person like that, it might be a bad idea to say to them “Let go and let God.”  It could even come across as offensive to them.  I would recommend looking for another way to reach them.

Second, this statement needs clarification: “Let go and Let God” does not negate the responsibility we have.  “Let go and let God” does not absolve us of effort on our part. It is very much connected to what we said in the series fact-checking common phrases dealing with difficulty when we talked about the phrase “God helps those who help themselves.” Take a look at how these two phrases could be in direct contradiction to each other: 

“God helps those who help themselves” emphasizes human responsibility to obey God.

“Let go and let God” emphasizes human dependence on God.

They could be conceived as contradictory, but I would like to suggest that these two phrases actually work together well.  Both are needed, providing checks and balances on each other.

God does not ONLY help those who help themselves.  As we saw last week, sometimes God helps people who are incapable of helping themselves, because he is merciful and gracious like that.

Likewise, when we “Let go and let God,” we must still be actively depending on him, and working to serve him and grow and become like him.  Depending on God, at least in part, means letting go of our ways of thinking, or our cultural ways of thinking, and doing things God’s way.  Following the way of Jesus.  Learning from him how to live. 

My conclusion is that “Let go and let God” needs some explaining. Avoid using it as guidance for those going through a difficult time, unless you balance it with further explanation about what it means to depend on God, and why that is so important. By itself, “Let go and let God” could be very vague and confusing, and as a result, counterproductive. At it’s root, though, is a wonderful concept of relinquishment that is vital for disciples of Jesus.

Check back in to part 5 as we fact-check our final phrase about God’s interaction with the world: “God works in mysterious ways.”

How to walk through pain [False ideas Christians believe about…difficulty. Part 5]

15 Mar
Photo by Thiago Barletta on Unsplash

How should we respond in the midst of pain?

The psalmists often lament, crying out their complaint to God as to why he is not answering their prayer.  This is why we are fact-checking statement about dealing with difficulty. The post you are reading is number 5 of 5. If you’re starting here, I encourage you to go back to the first post, as we fact-checked statements like “God helps those who help themselves,” and “This too shall pass,” finding that we Christians are too quick to dole out these mantras and can actually increase a person’s pain. Many going through hard times are actively seeking God, remaining faithful to God, even if it seems God has grown silent and is nowhere to be found. So what can we say to people that will help them?

First of all, we need to check out motivation and pause before we say or do anything. Remember that difficulty is called difficulty because it is difficult.  We struggle.  We feel anxiety, panic, stress, and fear.

Perhaps the best initial response is simply to give the person a hug, and affirm that you love them and are here for them. Then pray for them, out loud, right then and there. You don’t need to make any statements about the pain going away. Just like the lamenters in the psalms do, just ask God to be there.

Then listen. Allow the person to talk. We Christians would do well to practice the discipline of empathy, learning to mourn with those who mourn, as Paul says in Romans 12:15.

As difficult as it can be in those situations, the proper response is to continue to trust in God, following the way of Jesus. 

It is okay to try to encourage someone with the phrase, “this too shall pass”, but be empathetic to remember that the person is struggling, and it might not pass. These statements are proverbial, meaning they are generally true, but there are exceptions.  And those exceptions are what we need to be very attuned to.  People and their struggles don’t fit neatly into categories. 

It is okay to try to point someone to God in the midst of their struggle, but remember that they might have been seeking God already for days, months, and all they are feeling is distance.  In those moments, it is okay to lament, to complain to God, saying “How long O Lord, are you going to make me wait?”

My wife recently heard someone speak about losing their child.  They said they turned to their spouse at that moment and said, “This will forever change us.  How we move forward in this will determine exactly what changes it makes.”  This couple decided to pray hard and regularly for God to grow them and teach them through this pain that will be with them forever.  I can tell you, as we know them on the other side of their pain, that that is exactly what happened.  There are other situations where I’ve seen pain, and people have simply just asked God to remove it.  Sometimes he does, but sometimes it is not removed.  Some people battle for years with bitterness and anger and negativity. How we walk through difficulty matters. We are not promised it will be taken away.  We are not guaranteed to be able to handle it on our own.  Sometimes stuff happens because our own choices, or because of others’ choices.  Sometimes stuff happens because of how poorly we handle it or how badly we respond to other’s actions.  Stuff happens because we live in a fallen world with sickness and disease.  Through it all God is here.  He hasn’t left.  Let’s invite Him into our mess and ask him to change us and grow us to be more like Him, even as we do the work to make things different in the midst of it.