Faith Matters - Current Posts

Friday, June 5, 2009

Religious vs. Secular

I’ve never liked the word “religious.” To me, “religion” smacks of organizations, institutions, rules and loads of self-righteousness. So I don’t want to be “religious.” I just want to be Christian.
But there is a sense in which “religious” is a good word. It refers to the practical living out of faith. It means living with a constant awareness of God. Living “religiously” is the opposite of living “secularly.” Living “secularly” doesn’t mean denying God, it indicates a lack of awareness of God. It means not thinking about God at all.
Let me put it this way: Imagine a person coming up to you and bluntly asking, “What do you think of me?” And you say, “I don’t.”
I mean, how could you be more offensive to someone? You’re saying, in effect, “I don’t think ill of you, I don’t think good of you. I just don’t think about you at all. You’re not part of my life.”
That’s what a secular person thinks of God ? not at all. A secular person is not anti-God. God just isn’t part of his or her thinking. But the opposite is true of the godly person. The person who lives religiously thinks about God almost all the time. God is important whether you are waking up or going to sleep, working or playing, worshiping or praying. For the godly, religious Christian, God is woven into the very fabric of every part of life.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Did you ever think?

My wife, Charleen, and I were reflecting back on our years of marriage one day. It wasn’t a “what if” conversation, it was a “did you ever think” conversation. Did you ever think that we would live in the places that we lived in? Did you ever think, Charleen, that you’d work for a daily newspaper? Leith, did you ever think that you’d become a mobile home repairman? Did you think we’d be at a university in Illinois and graduate school in Colorado? And did you think that we’d end up in Minnesota? I’m not sure I even knew where Minnesota was at the time we were married. On our wedding day we promised that we would love each other for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, until death us do part. We had no idea what paths we would take, what decisions we would make – no idea how life would process out.
Marriage is about relationship. It isn’t primarily about the specific decisions. We can’t even remember many of the decisions that we agonized over at the time. Those decisions are certainly part of our relationship, but the relationship is far more important than the individual decisions.
And that’s what decision making is for a Christian. God's will is mostly about relationship. To be a Christian is to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Maintaining that relationship is more important than career, money or even marriage. When making the important decisions of life we need to worry less about the outcome and focus far more on our relationship with God.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Following the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, the dictator Joseph Stalin hoped to eradicate Christianity from Russia. In an effort to replace Christian faith with Communist atheism he sent commissars to every city and town and village, even to the most remote places in the Soviet Union. They delivered long speeches, trying to persuade the people that God did not exist and that they should renounce Jesus Christ and replace him with Karl Marx. After one such speech to an assembly of peasants in a remote rural village, the commissar finished with a flourish. He had talked a very long time and he was pretty well satisfied with himself. He was convinced that he had talked the impressionable peasants out of their faith and into his communism and atheism. When he sat down there was a deep silence in the assembly hall. Then a Russian Orthodox Priest stood up in the back of the hall and shouted out, “I have one thing to say to you. Christ is risen!” The entire crowd immediately and resoundingly replied, “Christ is risen, indeed!”
The people in that hall had experienced Jesus for themselves in their lives and they had believed. Nothing was going to dissuade them. Karl Marx had remained in his tomb, but death could not hold Jesus.
This Easter I invite you to see for yourself. Experience the risen Christ. See the empty tomb. Believe in him and be transformed from now to eternity.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

We All Need Hope

We all need hope to help us get through tough times. When we’re sick, we hope to get well. When we’re unemployed, we hope for a job. When our family breaks up, we hope for reconciliation. Prisoners serving a long sentence hope for a pardon or parole.
One of the very best parts of Christianity is that it’s a religion of hope. Many world religions are more about fear – fear that either there is no life after death or that the next life might be worse. Christians, on the other hand, are all about hope. God has promised to see us through the worst this world can deal to us. God promises us eternal life. The best is always yet to come.
This was especially important to first century Christians who were few in number and constantly threatened with suffering. Their confidence in God in the midst of uncertainties was amazing. Their enemies killed them because of their faith, only to discover that Christians faced death with hope. Martyrdom became a stunning tool for evangelism and recruitment. As the pagans saw the hope demonstrated by Jesus’ followers even as they died, many decided to become Christians themselves.
It was to these suffering Christians, and to us today, that St. Peter penned these words of hope, “And the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.”

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Needless Death

Many years there have been small plane crashes in the Rocky Mountains. Some times the planes and their victims are never found because the crash occurs in a remote area. I remember one in particular. The pilot survived for several weeks in the crumpled fuselage of his single engine plane. He recorded his struggles in a diary until he finally died of exposure. The next spring some hikers found the plane, his body and his diary. The irony of the whole thing was that the wreckage was only a few hundred yards from a major thoroughfare. It had been traveled all winter long by thousands of motorists. Help was so near, yet so far.
We ask, “How could that have happened?” We can only guess. It had to have been ignorance. The pilot obviously didn’t know how close he was to help. It could have been because of disbelief. He may have heard the hum of tires and thought he was hallucinating. Or it might have been delusion. Maybe his mind told him something contrary to the facts of reality. Whatever it was, the pilot had needlessly died.
What about you? Is your life being eked out in the crumpled fuselage of unfulfilled dreams? Is your diary full of shattered hopes and of bitter resentments?Then listen carefully. Do you know that you can find happiness and fullness of life by believing in Jesus? Don’t miss out on God’s rescue because of ignorance, disbelief or delusion. Fullness of life is yours through Jesus.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Be Joyful Always

In a letter to the first century church, St. Paul told them to “Be joyful always.” The fact that it’s written in the form of a command is very significant. What we have here is not a suggestion, an encouragement or a piece of wise advice. It’s not implying that the greatest griefs of life can by easily replaced by some superficial happiness. This is the Word of God ordering us to be joyful! So, you say, “How do I do that? I can’t control how I feel.” And that’s the point exactly.
This quote is talking about actions, not feelings. Feelings can’t be commanded. Feelings are emotional responses to both what’s inside of us and to what’s happening to us on the outside. Feelings are extraordinarily difficult to control. Not even God commands us how or what to feel. But he does command us what to do. And one of those commands is to “be joyful.” Let’s compare it to going to the doctor because you feel run down and tired all the time. Your physician would not tell you to “stop feeling tired” or order you to “feel energetic.” But she might say, “Exercise 30 minutes every day.”
She knows that if you take her advice and go home and exercise, the action of exercising will have the byproduct of altering your feeling of tiredness.
Joy is an action, not an emotion. And the action of joy has the power to change our emotions.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Under the Surface

I grew up near the Atlantic Ocean and it was an important part of my childhood. To this day I have a deep love and respect for the sea. I can spend hours just watching the waves. There's a beauty and a restless excitement about it all. But when I studied the ocean in college I came to understand it very differently than the way I experienced it as a boy at the beach. As a child I saw the ocean only in terms of the waves on the surface. I delighted in plunging in and trying to swim around. Some days it was too rough to risk and other days it was as calm as a pitcher of milk.
It was in a college classroom that I began to understand that you can't make a surface judgment of the ocean. I learned that the life of the sea is far more determined by the deep currents than the surface waves. Miles below the surface there’s a stability that no hurricane can stir. So, do not try to understand the Atlantic or the Pacific by what you see on the surface, but by studying what flows beneath.
And so it is with this thing we call Christian joy. It is not directly tied to whatever storm is stirring up the surface of our lives. Joy is who we are and what we believe. To be joyful is to choose God’s reality for the deep currents of our lives, rather than having life controlled by the turmoil of circumstances on the surface.