Thursday, September 15, 2005

Bad Faith vs. Good Faith (Part 4)

See posts below for background... (read the full sermon here)

Monologue vs. Dialogue - Bad faith has everything figured out and wants to tell you all about it. But don't try to talk back because they don't want to hear it. Bad faith only has one-way conversations whereas good faith is open to dialogue. I have a friend who has engaged me in dialogue about the possibility of gay marriages. He is working through his theology and thinking and turned to me for my input since he knows that I don't agree with gay marriage. I'm happy to correspond about this because it's an important issue. I could tell him to not waste his time, it's wrong and why bother. But I told him just the opposite. I told him that even though I don't agree, someone has to be asking these questions - turning over every rock, so to speak, to make sure that we haven't missed anything in our certainty. Love and grace demands it, don't you think?

Selfishness vs. Sacrifice - Bad faith is in it just for what they can get out of it. The corrupt TV evangelist wants your money and a diamond ring, we want to be saved from hell and happy. But good faith moves beyond self-interest and seeks the benefit of God and others. How do we benefit God? I suppose we can't, but thanking, praising and obeying him are means to honor him with our lives. We recognize him in these ways just like we would any other person. In addition to God, good faith seeks to be people through our personal sacrifice - the giving of our time, our talent and our finances.

Mutual respect, Free Choice, Responsibility, Relationship, Dialogue and Sacrifice are all markers of good faith. When we see these things eminately from a person we are attracted to faith. It lifts our spirit and draws us to God. But when we see the opposite, it drops a wall in our heart and turns us inward. We go into a defensive posture and insist that we will never become a person of faith if faith means to be these things.

If you are seeking to find faith, I hope that you won't be scared away by bad faith. And in your pursuit of faith, I hope that you will cling to only that which is good and reject all that's bad.

Bad Faith vs. Good Faith (Part 3)

See previous posts for background...

Irresponsible vs. Responsible - We've all known people of faith who would rather talk about Jesus saving them than lifting a finger to help with the job at hand. They leave the work to "unbelievers" while they do "the work of God". The truth is they are using bad faith as an excuse to shirk their responsibility - just another form of denial that has probably defined their life. Bad faith may be used on a larger scale, say, regarding the environment. Rather than deal with the problems and complexities of being a good steward of God's creation, bad faith says that "Jesus is coming soon so it doesn't matter what we do to the earth."

But good faith actually takes on more responsibility. Good faith sees that life is not about the individual but life is about the community; family, local and global. Where they were once concerned only for themselves they are suddenly concerned about all people everywhere as well as all of God's creation. Good faith sees life as a stewardship or an entrustment of the riches that God has given to us.

Rules vs. Relationships - Like the Pharisees of Jesus day, bad faith focuses on obeying rules not developing relationship. Relationships are expendible but rules are sacred. Bad faith spends an inordinate amount of time of studying the rules, executing the rules and judging the success and (mostly) failure of others who attempt to fulfill the rules. But good faith understands that "the letter kills but the Spirit gives life" and that "mercy triumphs over judgment". Good faith seeks to keep the unity of the faith, prefers one another and accepts one another. Good faith goes out of it's way to maintain relationship and only breaks relationship after every other attempt at reconciliation and restoration fails.

Bad Faith vs. Good Faith (Part 2)

I'm continuing on from the post below contrasting bad faith with good faith...

Simplistic vs. Complex - I've always appreciated the focused simplicity of what Paul said in Corinthians, that, he preached Christ and him crucified, period. I even wrote here in my blog about that a while ago. Every believer should keep their faith that simple. But simple does not mean simplistic. When seekers have troubling questions about evil and hatred and car bombs and hurricanes that destroy entire cities it's offensive to resort to the refrain, "You just have to believe!" or "It's all about loving Jesus!"

We are complex people living in a complex world in a complex universe. Any microscope or telescope will tell you that. Bad faith always wants to reduce lifes complexities and loses the wonder of creation. Bad faith seems to fear that if the big questions are asked that it may destroy faith and then where would it be? So it's safer to just play dumb, kind of a "don't ask, don't tell" mentality regarding faith.

But good faith believes that God is bigger than any question. No answer will destroy God. We don't have to fear losing God among the complexities of life. In fact, without God the complexities can never be unearthed, mined and marveled at.

Bad Faith vs. Good Faith

I'm fleshing out my message for Sunday so let me use you as my guinea pig! Brian Mclaren (see post below about the book "Finding Faith") says that the number one enemy of true faith isn't atheism or false religion but bad faith, that is, bad examples of what it means to know and/or follow God.

It's easy to take pot-shots at the big hyocrisy of others; the Crusades, the foolish and corrupt TV evangelists or the child molestation cases among priests and other ministers. But bad faith is more pervasive and subtle than that. Let me list six contrasts between bad and good faith.

Unquestioned Authority vs. Mutual Respect. Bad faith is final. It's set in stone. There is little or no mystery to God. It's been disected and labeled so that there is no longer a reason to think or question. That's all been done for you by people much wiser and more spiritual. But good faith allows questions because it knows that God is bigger than any box you can put him in. Questions enlarge our view of God and makes him even more worthy of praise. Plus, questions make sure that our faith is good, that we haven't overlooked something or assumed something or taken things for granted. A questioning faith is what keeps faith fresh, authentic and true. Good faith respects, honors and encourages the right of people to think their thoughts and hear from God, not just parrot the thoughts of others.

Forced Choice vs. Free Choice. Bad faith has a surprisingly low view of God. Bad faith doesn't think that God can speak to people, or at least that people don't have the ability to hear from God when he speaks. It doesn't believe what Jesus said, that "My sheep hear my voice" and "I will send my Spirit to lead them into all truth." Because of this, bad faith feels compelled to coerce people into their way of thinking. They would confess, "Yes, it's a bit manipulative but it's really for their own good. They'll thank us some day!" But good faith, though passionate and directive, leaves the choice to the individual. Each person is responsible to God alone, which frees good faith from the burden of having to make sure that everyone does the right thing all the time.

More later...

Monday, September 12, 2005

Choosing Between Dread and Desire

Proverbs 10:24 struck me as I read it this morning...
"What the wicked dread will overtake them;
What the righteous desire will be granted."

I love Proverbs because its sayings are able to capture truth and relate it so concisely. It takes things that I have observed and puts them into a memorable saying.

This proverb immediately reminded me of people that have complained to me about their lives. Their lives have been misfortune after another. In fact there are so many misfortunes lined up that after a while it appears that they are almost cursed. This sense of doom ( or "dread") then leaves a cloud over them. Their head is cast down as they brace for the next storm.

But what they don't see in all of this doom and gloom is that, where the original misfortunes were truly coincidental, much of the subsequent pain was self-induced. They rarely see it. They would protest wildly if pointed out. But they have no concept of how their negative attitude has altered their thinking and they are now actually choosing problems. Of course, they don't choose a specific calamity. For example, if someone is hit by a car, they didn't throw themselves in front of it. But maybe they were so down on their luck that they drank all day. Then they chose to walk in the street instead of the sidewalk. When they saw the car they couldn't react in time and BAM, they got hit. Now they have another tragic story to sing their dirge about. Do you see what I mean when I say that it is self-induced? But they interpret that event as God punishing them.

In contrast to this is the person with a godly desire. They are filled with the hope and joy that only God can give. Though trials come their way they keep the hope of resurrection ever before them because that is God's story - not only for Jesus - but for all of his children. No matter what comes their way, they are convinced that they can be an overcomer. They have a desire to succeed, to be victorious in spite of their circumstances and Proverbs tells us that that desire will be granted by God.

Two people. Two lives. One leads to ruin and the other to victory. Is God playing favorites? No. One has chosen desire and one dread. Choice is a powerful thing - for good and evil. The moment you choose to let God be a part of your life equation and expect him to do good things, you have just opened up the windows of heaven to receive all it's blessing. But when you are filled with dread you nail those same windows shut.

We all have a lot more to say about how our story reads than we realize. Choose wisely.