Tag Archives: bitterness

Ever At Odds

I’ve been grappling with my feelings about an ongoing conversations I’ve been watching for the past few days. Long-time readers of this site know that I strive to always be respectful of the beliefs and opinions of everyone who comes here, even when those opinions are very different from my own. As a result I have won some unlikely friends and subscribers, and we have had some lively and engaging discussions, as a result. What I have struggled with lately is the debate between three particular groups that seems to have soured all parties involved.

I believe that apologetics are important. Generally, when one thinks of apologetics, they think of the formal defense of the Christian faith, but technically anyone who engages in the formal defense of their faith, whether they believe in God or not, is engaging in apologetics. The reason that I believe apologetics are important is because I think it is crucial that a person know what it is they believe and the fundamental reasons behind that knowledge. I mean, how else can a person stand on their faith and beliefs if they do not know the ‘why’ of said beliefs?

I’ve been watching a virtual apologetic slug-fest for a few days now. The three groups I have seen thus far are: 1) atheists intent on breaking down the Christian faith by showing its logical leaps and fallacies; 2) Christians reacting to said atheist arguments; and 3) other Christians in conflict with the former group of Christians over various issues, including the proper approach to apologetics and whether apologetics are even necessary. What I see is a lot of sarcasm, cynicism, and derision; snide remarks, caustic questions, and critical allegations. What I see is a debate that is merely spinning its wheels in the mud, with any headway in the argument being completely stalled because everyone is pushing against each other in a reactionary manner rather than working and talking together to gain a better understanding of one another and of Truth. As you might imagine, it’s frustrating to watch. I’ve been tempted to chime in a time or two, add my own viewpoint and perspective, but I really wonder if it would even make a difference. I think it probably would not, and so I have not.

I’m all for firmly standing on what one believes. I don’t like dealing with wishy-washy people ((So, when I’m wishy-washy about something because I don’t completely what I believe myself, I’m usually pretty frustated with myself.)), so I have a great deal of respect for an individual who knows what he believes and can back that belief up with reasonable, rational arguments. ((And yes, even statements of faith can be rational, contrary to what some might tell you.)) What I can’t abide is that same individual having a condescending and arrogant attitude about his beliefs, arguing with you about your beliefs simply for the sake of having conflict and with no intention of coming to an understanding with each other.

It’s difficult to determine attitude on the Internet. All we have are words to read. There is little to no inflection added to indicate tone or soften a seemingly harsh turn of phrase. So, something that reads like sarcasm or arrogance may not actually be so. Yet given enough time with the dialogue, one should be able to pick up from the response of the opposing party that one’s own words are being taken as sarcastic and arrogant, and one should then make an effort to couch one’s words from that point onward in softer language that conveys respect and humility. It’s tough, I know, but it’s well worth the effort in the longrun and greater strides are made at mutually beneficial discussion.

I’m watching harsh words be flung about haphazardly, words that contain bitterness and cold resentment, words that strike out with anger, and I think to myself, This ought not be. But I am helpless to do anything about it.

My faith is important to me, and it is important to me to be able to defend it to those who might call it into question. But I find it unreasonable to defend it with sarcasm and arrogance because in doing so, I validate the point of my challenger and forever turn him or her off to the message of Hope that I carry with me. Why do so few see the damaging affect that their words have on the hearts and minds of others? And when faced with the truth of what their words do, why do they then shrug that revelation off so that they may continue as before?

Hard are men’s hearts and blind are men’s eyes when they are confronted by Truth yet do not recognize nor heed it.

To all who come here, to all who read my words, know that you are welcome here and that you are welcome to present and discuss your beliefs in this forum. I cannot do anything about the others who do not seem to be truly open to discussion, but I can continue to assure that this will be a place of sanctuary, where people are free to believe as they will and are free to talk about their beliefs without animosity or rancor. I welcome you with arms wide open and hope that you will choose to stay awhile.

It’s Not About Christians

It’s always sad when the Body of Christ drives its members away. I’ve written at length in the past about the state of the American church and how we need to strive to refocus it toward the ideals that Christ taught, spurning the lackadaisical attitudes that have become so common in our culture.

But I want to focus on another perspective, that of the “former Christians”:http://deadyouthpastor.blogspot.com/. I understand where people are coming from here. I’ve been there myself — bitter and cynical and tired of the way things are in so many of our churches, among the very people who are supposed to demonstrate a higher calling and a better way of life. And when Christians turn their backs on God and church and begin calling themselves ‘former Christians’, that says one of two things to me — either they were never Christian to begin with, or they have simply allowed the flesh to rule out over the power of Christ to renew and restore, a very easy thing to do, I might add. I hurt for these people because I know what it feels like to be in that place, angry at Christians for being just regular people, for saying they represent a Higher Power but acting like everyone else and for not being different or special.

But it’s not about Christians, and it never has been. It’s always been about Christ, and while it’s extremely easy to focus on the people, that is not where our eyes should be set. I am learning again what it means to set my eyes on things above, what it means to live by the power of God exactly because Christ is my focus and not the people around me. When you focus on people, all you see is failure and shortcomings. When you focus on Christ, all you see if holiness and light and joy and peace. Focusing on people leads to the kind of bitterness and anger that we see so often in people who walk away from church. We see people who should know better and yet who fall into the very behaviors we are called to reject. It is only by focusing personally on Christ that we can find hope again, that we can see other people as Christ sees them, as people in need and worth reaching out to and drawing into the fold. We focus on Christ, and in turn, He grants us His vision to see the world as He sees it, restoring our spirits, restoring our hope, restoring our purpose. By focusing on Christ, we can then reach out to those Christians who have lost their hope and return them to the place that has meaning, restoring them to fellowship with the Body. But it starts with us, it starts with me. I must be focusing on Christ if I ever hope to help another do the same.

To Serve

In order to be a servant, one must first be willing to serve. Seems like that would be common sense, right? Not necessarily so. I went through a bleak period not so long ago during my work on my master’s degree where I wallowed in depression and where, while not exactly turning my back on Him, I did not exactly seek God out. I was cynical and bitter, with the bitterness leading from the cynicism. I was disgusted with my fellow man and felt that he got everything he deserved, myself included. I had watched people create their own problems, ask for help, be given good advice, and then ignore that advice or give up when the solution to the problem proved to be more work than expected. It was frustrating and painful to watch (still is), and inwardly I threw my hands up and said, Fine, have it your way. This isn’t worth it.

And so I trudged my way through my master’s education, ultimately dropping the counseling from my double-major and specializing solely in social psychology. Part of this decision hinged on my bitterness, but mostly it was because I found out that counseling was just not a good fit for me. I didn’t enjoy it, choosing rather to focus on theory and philosophy and analysis, capitalizing on the gifts and interests that God gave me.

Somewhere along this process I realized that something pivotal had been lost. During my undergraduate education, I had been both humbled and pleased to find that friends sought me out often for counsel and advise (part of the reason why I thought counseling _might_ be a good fit for me). Even after we had graduated and gone our separate ways, there had been a certain amount of a continued long-distance consultation. But at some point that had all come to an end. No one sought me out, no one asked for my advice.

It didn’t take me long to figure out why. I had become so cynical and bitter that I didn’t want to be bothered. I had, essentially, lost hope in my fellow man, lost the optimism that he could change. I’m sure that I unconsciously communicated some of this angst, but I believe also that God stopped using me for a while, stopped blessing my ministry to my friends. I had a bad attitude; I was no longer a servant, just a selfish, depressive individual with no heart for ministry.

I have been pleased to note that things are changing for the better as I struggle to get my heart right with God. It’s a daily process, typical of the Christian walk. Some days I am eager to reach out to God and serve Him, while other days I struggle just to get out of bed. But my heart has changed, softened, and while I don’t ever walk perfectly (I do LOTS of stupid things), I do at least feel like I am making the effort. And there must be some evidence of that because people have started seeking me out again. It always surprises me when it happens, too, because I truly do not feel like I have much to offer, being the prideful, oft-arrogant, struggling person I am. Yet, apparently God sees something in me I do not for He has sent people my way. I can only hope and pray that I am able to help in some small way without becoming ever more arrogant. Of course, it helps that whenever I become too comfortable, something happens to knock me down a couple of notches again.

God’s funny like that…

Living On the Fringes

It is the extremists of any major religion that end up giving the whole a bad reputation. Bad news travels more quickly than good news does, and poor behavior is more easily remembered and available to memory than is good behavior. So what typically ends up happening is that the whole organization gets placed under the banner of those who make the most noise, even though they are not necessarily a representative sample of that population. Christians are often perceived as hateful, unforgiving bigots because there are many who are exactly that. Note, however, that I did not say ‘majority’ or ‘most’ because it has been my own experience that, in general, those who call themselves Christian do strive to live up to the compassionate, forgiving ideals of the Bible and of Christ’s teachings. The same goes, as I understand it, for those of the Muslim faith. The vast majority are a peace-loving people, and those who perform heinous acts of murder and bombing are the fringe extremists, just as are those Christians who bomb abortion clinics, twisting the ideals of their religion into a perverted distortion of the actual. In the process they give the entire faith a black eye, and the world sees the whole as being just like the extremists.

So, the question becomes then, what underlies these fringe, extreme groups? What drives them to justify horrible acts and behaviors that are counter to the basic tenets of belief that define the faith they claim to espouse? Ultimately, I can only conclude that they are flawed people, just like the rest of us, who, whether through willful disobedience or through genuine ignorance, misunderstand the teachings of their religious system in such a way as to justify hatred and murder. They are the people who lack the personal discipline to control their emotional impulses, who act on their base desires, rather than striving to live up to a higher ideal of morality. They are the people who pick and choose which parts of their canon to abide by, rather than understanding that the bits they follow are parts of a whole and cannot be separated from it without ending up, by definition, with a completely different set of beliefs. They are the people who were already angry and bitter, who found a system of belief that was attractive to them and fit at least somewhat with their own preconceived notions of how the world should operate. They are the people who then twisted the system of belief to fit their own ideals, rather then reshaping their own ideals to fit the system. In so doing they found justification and an outlet for the violence already in their hearts, and by acting upon that violence, then sullied the name and reputation of the group they claimed to be a part of. Christians who bomb abortion clinics or express hatred, bigotry, and superiority to those not like them are Christian only in name; they are not Christian in actuality because anyone who truly understands the teachings of the Bible would not perform the sorts of behaviors that these extremists tend toward. Similarly, Muslims who fly planes into buildings and strap bombs to themselves and blow up a group of children, and who decapitate innocent victims are Muslim in name only; they do not represent the Muslim faith at large or the teaching of the Qu’ran and do more harm to people of that faith than good. These extremists cannot and should not be called Christian or Muslim, even though they call themselves that. They should be called murderers and hatemongers and should be separated, both in name and in deed, from the whole of the groups that they claim to be part of. Yet, perhaps because it is convenient to do so, they continue to be categorized into the group by the population at large, thereby stereotyping the whole by the deeds of the few. Unfair? You bet. But stereotyping is easy and convenient, even if it is at times unfair and makes it harder for those with the true ideals of their beliefs to communicate them. It is a challenge, no doubt, and that is why unity of the whole is necessary in order to overcome the misdeeds of the few.

In the Background

Christianity is a faith, I believe, that functions in the background. Or at least it should. The Christian faith is a personal one. It functions as the relationship of individual to Deity, but it is also a function of individual to individual. The most effective dissemination of the Gospel has always been on a one-to-one basis. Granted, God has blessed many great evangelists over the years with widespread ministries, leading hundreds and thousands to Christ at a time. But I think the numbers would show that the greatest spread of the Word has been through personal relationships with each other, with letting the Christian lifestyle speak volumes, with communicating our hope in casual conversation. When Christians take the Gospel to the public arena, particularly the political arena, the message somehow gets tainted and stilted. In that realm emotions like fear flavor the good news in a way that is often harmful because political-religious concerns involve protecting the right to worship. That fear drives that political action, and what starts as a movement to protect freedom of worship almost turns into a blanket action to forcefully establish a state religion, something that the founding fathers were very careful to protect against. (Of course, there are also those who use their beliefs to foster an attitude of superiority, who allow that attitude to breed anger, hatred, and bitterness, but those are the individuals that need to be separated from the whole because they clearly do not aid the Body. They are the cancer that brings the Body down and should removed.)

Christianity is a faith that operates best in the background. Our faith should be visible, but not obnoxiously so. Our faith should be presented with love and compassion but also with patience and understanding, two virtues that I think are all too often forgotten or ignored. No one can be forced to believe in Christ or in God, yet the practice of our faith should be compelling and awe-inspiring. This is why it is so important to develop active relationships with other people — with other Christians for the strengthening of our faith and the renewal of our spirits, and with unbelievers so that we may demonstrate with our lives and testify with our lips the power of the hope that is in us. Let us relate our hope to others and build the Kingdom one life at a time.

Response to a Blog

You can find the blog in question here. Discussion can be found here.

*sigh*

Once again, it is the hatred, ignorance, and bigotry of the fanatical minority that earns the vast majority an undeserved label and stigma. It is exactly because of this reaction that I sometimes wish to distance myself from those people who call themselves Christians, yet somehow use those beliefs to justify their hatred and bitterness toward anyone who does not believe exactly like them.

Unfortunately, the instances of behavior cited in this blog are examples of people who have little to no understanding of the Scripture and of the work of Christ. The author himself demonstrates his complete unfamiliarity with the teachings of the Bible (and historical and
archaeological evidence), yet somehow considers himself informed enough to comment. Seems ironic to me, somehow.

I understand and appreciate the fact that Christians are going to be hated by the world. I have accepted the inevitable. People simply do not like to be told that they are sinners, that their self-indulgent behaviors are wrong and damaging, that ultimately a life lived without God is a complete waste, utter vanity. And as such, they voice their scorn and exercise their displeasure at every point possible. They do hold valid points, so far as they go — there are some Christians who obviously violate the teachings of their own belief system. They are the only ones, however, who ever make headlines, who anyone ever hears about. As a result the entire Christian faith is characterized by those few individuals who really messed up. It’s not fair, but it is the way it is.

The rest of us have to work ten times harder to share our faith. Persecution increases, though in the US we have yet to see it escalate to physical violence. Partly, we as Christians have brought this on ourselves; partly, it is the ‘natural’ order of things as we share a message that many simply do not wish to hear. The only way for Christians to overcome the stigma assigned to us is to be even more open and obvious in our lifestyles about the TRUE message of Christianity, so that those who hate in the name of Christ are exposed as the true minority. We must share our Message, we must love more strongly than others can hate, we must sacrifice and serve and care so that others can see that Christ truly is the Son of God and that God
is, in actuality, a God of love and justice.

It is things like this article that sometimes make me wonder if we as Christians have a chance of influencing the world for Christ. Yet, I am reminded that we cannot change the world all once. It can only be changed one person at a time, and sometimes I feel like that is much
too slow for me. But Christ’s focus was always on the relationship, and so to change the world, we must have relationship with those of the world and demonstrate Christ’s love through that relationship.

The Disservice of Contemporary Christianity in America

The discussion on homosexuality here resulted in a few thoughts on the counterproductivity of the contemporary Christian approach to evangelism.

I do believe that Christians in our society today have done a great disservice to the homosexual community in their very angry, judgmental approach, something that Wilkins apologized for on behalf of those individuals in his speech. The result is that it makes it that much harder for us who do not hate homosexuals or pass judgment on them to share our testimonies of faith. I have been bitter and cynical toward Christians in the past because of this, something that God has been gracious enough to remove
from my heart in recent days, but I do feel weary at the thought of trying to break down those walls that separate Christians and the Church from those who do not believe, and not just those who are homosexuals. Personally, I do view homosexuals as every bit as equal as me and as every bit in need of a Savior as me. Why would I do them the disservice of holding my joy in, of being neglectful of their need? Where would I be today if no one had shared the Good News of Christ with me? Christ loves the homosexual just as much as He loves me and He wants them to live a life of righteousness, too, following close to Him. Those who follow Christ must give up some things, specifically those things that will hinder their relationship with Him. But in return He gives so much more. The homosexual is asked to give up an impure lifestyle, and at the very
least they are returned a healthy, vibrant, joyful relationship with the Savior of their souls. Is leaving them alone worth the cost, worth the sacrifice of withholding such a blessing?

I believe that Christianity would be a much more vibrant, much more influential faith today, especially in America, if all Christians would actually remember Who it is they represent and what it is that He taught us to do — love, share the Gospel, disciple, minister, serve – and compare that against they way they actually live and act. Actions speak louder than words, my friends, and I fear that the actions of Christians in America are sending the exact wrong message. No wonder we’re such hypocrites…

Accountability of the Body

It occurs to me this evening that within the Body of Christ, there is less accountability than there ought to be. Everyday I see instances where unbelievers are angry, cynical, and bitter toward Christians because of the general behavior of many they have seen and experienced. It pains me to know that Christians are perceived in such a negative light, but I also realize that those stereotypes and categorizations are justly deserved. Many Christians are sadly some of the more judgmental and hypocritical people I know.

But it also occurs to me that the Body should hold itself accountable. We should be policing ourselves, practicing the Biblical guidelines for loving, compassionate confrontation for the sake of the good of the whole. Anyone who claims to be a disciple of Christ is subject to this accountability, and any brother or sister in Christ should be able to approach any other brother or sister and confront them about sin, hypocrisy, heresy, etc. When notable Christians are in the news and/or are publicly behaving in a way that reflects badly on the Body, other Christians should be making phone calls, writing letters, making personal visits to that individual, expressing their concerns, citing biblical references for why the individual’s actions were wrong, and endeavoring to rectify the situation so as to repair the testimony of the Body as a whole. Yet we shy away from this duty because we are afraid of the confrontation, afraid of being rebuffed and scorned and ridiculed by those same individuals and possibly by others in the Body. But we should do it anyway because it is the right thing to do and because it so damages our testimony and hinders our work and the work of the Holy Spirit.

So, this is my challenge to all of you and to myself — stand up for what is right, seek to reprove, rebuke, and exhort according to the Word of God, and strive for greaty unity, harmony, and communion among the Body. In the long run, we will be stronger, happier, and
healthier for it, and we can really get about doing the work of the Lord.

Misunderstanding the Gospel

I am of the opinion that the Gospel is the single most misunderstood topic in the history of mankind (even among Christians themselves). It has incited Crusades of death and persecution and yet has inspired millions to give their lives to Christ.

The most current example of this misunderstanding is the criticism of the release of The Passion of the Christ. One news periodical criticizes the movie harshly, saying, “The Reporter also says that the movie’s violence is so intense and more important than character development that audiences may have trouble with that.” I’ve not yet seen the movie (though I hope to this weekend), but the point of this particular movie is NOT to provide quality character development or shield us from the violence of that moment in history. Quite the opposite in fact. It is to show us the very graphic nature of what Christ went through to atone for our sins. And quite frankly, if you want character development, take some time to read through the Gospels for the complete view of Christ and his earthly ministry.

A local talkshow host advocated the movie during his broadcast last night, pointing out that many of the critics of this movie have yet to see it. His advice to said critics was to go see the movie and then form an opinion. And while he advocated the movie and was so close to being correct, he was also soFAR from being correct. He made the statement that Gibson’s goal in producing this movie was marketing and that local churches also are using it as marketing to get people into the pews. This is both correct and not correct (and here is a facet of the misunderstanding). On one hand, it is marketing insofar as it is intended to draw people. But that is NOT the primary goal. The primary goal is to share the Gospel, using a clear depiction of what Christ went through in His final hours to drive home the weight of that moment that has forever impacted and changed history. This is the thing that the unsaved world simply cannot understand. It is not marketing that we care about — it is souls. We desire to bring others to Christ so that they, too, may be spared from eternal damnation, as we have been. And the ONLY reason this movie has been so criticized so harshly even before its official release is because it is a religious movie, and a Christian religious movie at that. No one complains about the intense violence and lack of character development in a Jean Claude Van Damme movie (or any other movie or television show, for that matter).

..edit.. This website is a prime example of the Christian contribution to the misunderstanding of the Gospel. While I respect this organization’s attempt to exhort and correct a perceived wrong, it is Christian ‘wackos’like these who inspire hate and disgust of all those who bear the name of Christ while at the same time taking the Scriptures out of context in order to suit their own purposes and interpretations of the Bible. And it is exactly this kind of ‘Christian’ that makes me want to distance myself from everyone who claims to be a follower of Christ so as to avoid tainting my own ministry to others and to cleanse this bitter taste from my mouth.