Dear Angry Non-Christian Friend…

Dear Angry Non-Christian friend,

I’ve been meaning to write to you for quite a while now. I’ve heard your feelings about my beliefs quite clearly – from your Facebook posts, your arguments in person, and your comments on religious articles in the newspaper, some of which have occasionally been responses to my own editorial essays and blogs.

You communicate your feelings about “people of faith” pretty clearly. And I have resisted the urge to respond to them…until now. But at the risk of sounding harsh, for the sake of clarity I think the relentless nature of your attacks on believers in general warrants a little push back now.

So to make sure I’m reading you loud and clear, what follows is a collection of what I have learned you believe about “all Christians”, followed by what many Christians wish you understood. I apologize ahead of time, as I’m quite sure you will find much of it offensive. That is not my intention, but it is hard to answer…forgive me…rather ignorant attacks without making your attacker sound ignorant. Again, I apologize.

Here’s what I have learned about Christians from your comments…

“We’re all hypocrites”

You seem to take particular glee in pointing out how imperfect we people of faith are. You mention that we don’t live up to everything we say we believe. You see this as a flaw. But I see this as actually quite noble.

It is easy not to be a hypocrite if you don’t stand for anything lofty in the first place. If you aim at nothing, you’re very likely to hit it on a consistent basis. When your goal in life is to be a scoundrel, you’ll probably never be accused of being a hypocrite. Congrats.

Most Christians would be the first person to tell you they are not perfect. The fact they are shooting for a higher goal than a base, hedonistic existence does not make them hypocrites. It simply means they want to be better than what others settle for.

I realize this may make you feel bad about yourself, that we strive for something more even though we often fail to achieve it. Sorry, but I’d rather try to be like Jesus and fail than never try at all.

“We’re dumb as rocks”

Please forgive me ahead of time for how intellectually arrogant what I’m about to say will sound, because from many of your condescending rants I know just how distasteful condescension can be. But I have come to understand that even after years in college and graduate-level studies, I still must know nothing of science, history, literature, the Arts, etc.

I suppose you think Christians spent all our time at Bible camp and have never read the opinions of those critical of our faith. Funny thing, in preparation for my ministry, I was required to read many works by Freud, Bertrand Russell, Nietzsche, and many others. And as astounding as you might find this, most ministers I know had to do the same.

Many Christians know very well what the arguments are against faith. It is not that we are ignorant of them – it is simply that we don’t think they stand up that well. I distinctly remember picking up Russell’s “Why I Am Not A Christian” with great fear and trembling, on the challenge from an atheist professor that it would utterly wreck my faith. How stunned I was to find myself giggling with delight as I finished it, realizing how very weak his arguments were. To this day, I keep the book in my library as a kind of faith trophy!

Though I know you’d like to think we believe only out of ignorance, the truth is often right the opposite. Many of us came to Christ PRECISELY BY LOOKING AT THE FACTS, not by looking away from them. That scenario is almost a cliche now, because it has been repeated in the lives of so many doubters who eventually ended up believers (C.S. Lewis comes screamingly to mind).

But I understand there is comfort found in believing you are just too smart to be a Christian. How many times have I heard you say, “I wish I could believe your religious fairy tales, but I just can’t bring myself to it”? I would pose that it’s not your intellectual honesty keeping you at bay, it is your stomach for true adventure. Because risking this whole cosmic existence on the truth of God is the ride of a lifetime!

“We’re judgmental”

I have heard the stories of many people who have been hurt in churches. They are legion and legend. I have been on the receiving end of some pretty painful stuff myself, and even have had my own children attacked by supposed “believers” who used them to pay back a grudge against me.

So I do not deny that this exists. But does it not exist outside the church as well? Is not your work place and beauty salon just as gossipy and judgmental, if not more so? But that’s the problem. You are expecting the church to be perfect, even though it is populated by admittedly imperfect people reaching toward a uniquely perfect God. As soon as the first human shows up, church ceases to be perfect and somebody gets hurt. Since God has never been that choosy about whom He lets in, we seem to think an “open door policy” is good for church as well.

So yes, if you come to a place populated by lots of imperfect humans, someone will eventually tick you off, hurt your feelings, step on your toes, or not kiss your boo boo. Buck up, buttercup and rejoice in this: if they made it in, there’s a good chance there’s room for one more sinner like you and me, too!

“We’re intolerant”

You grouse that we are unwilling to change our cherished beliefs held for over 2000 years now to fit into your current social climate. You are shocked…yes, SHOCKED that we don’t see the wisdom in (INSERT LATEST CULTURAL FAD HERE), and that we refuse to get with it and sell out everything we believe in hopes of gaining your fleeting approval…which you wouldn’t give us anyway.

Most Christians are not trying to take away your rights, but are simply standing for what they believe. When you stand for your beliefs, we do not call you “hateful”. But before you will be happy, we not only have to tolerate your beliefs, we must cry “uncle” and proclaim your beliefs are just as right as our own or else we are intolerant. This is not tolerance – it is tyranny.

Ironically, Christianity is the “genesis” of most true tolerance we know today. Jesus broke with the custom of His day and spoke to women with respect as equals. Paul argued with Philemon to set free a runaway slave who had come to Christ. He also taught in Christ, there is no Jew nor Greek, male nor female…all are one!

Without the tolerance that Christianity first taught, I doubt some of you would be able to speak your minds in these political columns and blogs without endangering your lives. You’re welcomed.

What you miss is that the beliefs which are not being tolerated today are, most often, the Judeo-Christian ones. To hold onto these is somehow seen as bigoted, hateful, and intolerant.

What is truly shocking is you do not see the brazen irony in your being “intolerant to our tolerance” and calling yourself “tolerant”. Brilliant.

“We believe fairy tales”

After what probably amounts to ten to twenty minutes of Google and Wikipedia research, you are pleased to have found several arguments against the veracity of the Bible and Christianity in general. And of course we all know anything printed on the Internet is “Gospel Truth” (pardon the expression).

What you don’t realize is that most of these arguments take a verse of Scripture, jump to an erroneous conclusion about it’s original meaning or application, and then flash said conclusion in the face of believers with a brash “whaddaya think about them apples” bravado.

Do you really think no one else in the past 2000+ years has asked those questions before? And do you really think that no one else, out of all the great minds of Christendom, has come up with a sufficient answer? If Christianity were that easy to topple, don’t you think someone would have done it by now? Seriously, how much easier it would be for us all just to believe God thinks we’re perfect just as we are, and requires no adjustments in our actions and character? Human nature is dying to believe something that juicy.

But Christianity has held up quite nicely to the honest questions of believers and doubters alike for a couple of thousand years now, thank you very much. And when you quote verses out of context or completely misrepresent their meaning, or ignore other parts of Scripture which explain or qualify the passage further, you actually betray how little you understand about history, archaeology, or textual criticism at all.

Are there valid questions? Of course, there are. Are there reasonable answers? Yes, quite reasonable ones most of the time. Just because your western civ. professor told you the Bible was junk doesn’t necessarily make it so. I know, Christians are completely biased in their beliefs, unlike professors in liberal arts universities, right? Oh, please.

And while you love to make fun of the kosher laws against pork and shellfish in the Old Testament, you ignore the fact that thousands of years before Louis Pasteur the Jews knew how to stay healthy and live sanitary lifestyles. As unscientific as you say the Bible is, it somehow managed to see the danger of germs and disease without benefit of the first microscope! It somehow saw the earth was a ball hung in space thousands of years before the first telescope!

OK, my little rant has now come to an end. I apologize if my tone has seemed snarky at times, but just consider it a verbal “eye for an eye”. After years of Bill Maher and Jon Stewart making fun of us, maybe it’s finally time the Christians had a little good-natured fun of our own!

But I hope I haven’t caused you to question any of your own cherished beliefs against God. Far be it from me to cause anyone to doubt (“snort”, “muffled chuckle”)…

Have you ever been on the receiving end of these comments?

Which of these do you believe is actually a valid critique of Christianity?

socks

The revolution continues, as the rebels wear their hearts on their feet. Little did anyone know today that while listening to an innocent Bible study, my socks were making a statement!

My International Outreach Office

Here’s the view today from my International Outreach Office (the Starbucks on 5th Avenue South). I hang out here occasionally to sabotage…er, I mean…chat with people about God. And since I live in a vacation paradise, there are people here from all over the world. Hence the title. Yeah, I think Benny Hinn’s a little jealous, don’t you?IMG_1105.JPG

Seriously, I wish more pastors had an “office” outside the church like this. One of the big problems for Christians these days is we are often too insulated from the world. Jesus said we should be “salt and light” to the world, but it’s pretty hard to brighten up and spice up the world from inside your very own church “fortress of solitude”.

Sure, I need privacy and time alone just as much as the next guy…maybe even more. But that’s no excuse for being unapproachable. As Christians, we need to make ourselves conspicuously prone for those who don’t know Christ. We should be as vulnerable and available as possible.

People shouldn’t have to wade through a phalanx of church members and security personnel to talk to me. That’s not ministry, that’s “celebrity”. And I think pastors need to get out of show business and back to God’s business – loving people. But that’s just my opinion…

By the way, I never force a conversation on anyone. But God has set up some awesome “divine appointments” here, along with a few train wrecks. You never know the mental state of the folks you’ll meet, so I’m ready for anything. I try to be friendly, and I dress casually so I won’t intimidate anyone. At least I think I don’t intimidate anyone. Anyway, my teenage son told me I looked “fresh” when I left the house today. I believe means something good. It was twerk that means something not so good, right?

I enjoy having my office in a Starbucks right now: it feels alive and you never know what to expect. That’s the fun in this life…well, for me, at least – leaving myself open for God to work through me, however He may choose and often when I’m least expecting it!

If you asked God His favorite way to work in our lives, I believe He’d say very simply…, “SURPRISE“!

What are some ways you can make yourself available for others?

Do you think the church is too removed from the world, or too worldly?

Awkward Prayers

When I study for a part in a play, it always helps to know my character’s “motivation” – the thing that makes him tick. If I figure out what it is he wants the most, my actions and delivery on stage come more naturally.

It works the same with God. If this whole existence really is about Him, then we’d better get to know Him and figure out what it is He really wants – what’s His “motivation”.  And all through the Bible, it’s clear that more than us simply following rules or believing certain doctrines, God truly seeks a relationship with us.

That’s probably why your last dozen prayers fell flat. You were asking for damage control of some situation, while what God wanted was for you to know Him. While that may sound heartless to those who are going through pain, it’s really not.  God understands that more than anything we’re asking for, knowing Him is the one thing that will truly make us happy and fulfilled in life.

So in our unhappiness, we keep asking Him to take our butts out of the fire. Instead, He keeps putting us through that fire so that in our desperation we will finally cry out to know Him…and finally find true happiness!  It should be so obvious when we see that pattern repeated all through the Bible. Yet that’s what I have to help most people understand about their prayers…

They pray to get out of prison. God gives them fulfillment in the midst of that same prison.

They pray for physical healing. God gives them spiritual strength as a result of going through illness.

They pray for more money. God shows them what matters more than money, and in Him they find true riches.

If we are truly following God and learning from Him, we eventually catch on that this relationship with Him is all that really matters. We see that our friendship with God is the source of all strength, and ultimately the answer to every prayer.

PRAY FOR ME

I prayed with a friend today who is worried about his marriage. He spent most of an hour explaining the situation to me, and why he thinks she might leave him. As he spoke, I began to worry because I knew he would probably be asking me to pray that God saves his marriage. That would surely be high on my list of things to pray for, but I know that answer will only come if his wife listens to God. As much as I want that answer for him, I know that it may not be the answer in the end.

When we finally sorted through all the details, my friend got to the point. He said, “As I’ve cried out to God these past days to save my marriage, I’ve realized that what matters most is not my marriage, but God! I’m starting to realize that even if my wife walks away, I’m gonna be OK because my happiness depends ultimately on God, not her. So either way, I’m good”.

Tears running down his face, he asked me to pray with him that he would respond properly no matter God’s final answer. As we bowed for prayer and linked our arms together, I knew my friend understood something most people don’t.

He knew the ultimate answer to every prayer we pray is found in the very Person we’re praying to. It is not what He can do for us – it is He Himself.

And when our prayer is for more of God, that is a prayer I can guarantee He will always answer with “yes”!

Robin Williams – “Genie, I Wish You Free”

This article on Robin Williams death has had hundreds of views in just the last few days. I’m reposting it here for your convenience. Please feel free to share it with friends you think might be helped by it. Thanks, Dave

Tuesday morning as I awoke, the thoughts of Robin Williams’ death barged into my mind again. I never met him, but like millions around the world, his apparent suicide has left me troubled as if he were a family member. This is one we all feel more than we logically should.

Did anyone not love Robin Williams?

Our grief seems pretentious – truly only family and close friends knew him, if anyone did. Yet we feel we’ve lost a friend.  For a man so filled with apparent joy, his passing brings questions that bother us.

How could anyone that loved by so many people not be happy?ROBIN-WILLIAMS

The obvious answer is to point to his continued battle with depression and substance abuse, both of which are serious and life-threatening. But even with those challenges, he still had so much for which to live.

He was not alone – he had a family who evidently loved him very much. He had warm friendships with many gifted people we’d all love to know. News came out last month he was in treatment for addiction, but that was a struggle he had always acknowledged transparently. Yet with all he had going for him, including a loving support system and the collective admiration of the world, it wasn’t enough.

One thing performers realize is that the love of an audience is thrilling only for a time. When the audience goes home, you’re left with who you really are. Those of us who look on adoringly never seem to realize that talent is as much a responsibility as a gift. One thing repeated by the endless talking heads on TV has been how he was always “on”, joking and entertaining anyone near him. While that seems lovable, it also is evidence of someone with an insatiable need to please. That need, while so entertaining for us, may have been a curse for him.

It’s always surprised me how people react to my piano-playing. No, I am not the musical equivalent of Robin Williams – far from it – but I play a pretty good piano. I can’t count the number of people who’ve come up to me and said, “Boy, I’d give anything to do that. It must be a thrill to be able to play beautiful music any time you want!”

Well, sort of…but not how you think. Creative performance is fun for the performer in about the same way your golf game is fun for you. You get in a zone focused on one thing, you forget about your other problems for a while, and the people with you have a good time together. But it is not this transformative, transcendent experience non-musicians think it is.

Join me in the orchestra pit of the next show I play and look at the bored expressions on the musician’s faces. No transcendence, just guys doing their craft, same as any other craft. Sure, we take pride in doing it well, and there are moments of fun when we get to play something we like. But that’s it, so stop beating yourself up for quitting piano lessons. You played football, I played piano. Not much is different except that my knees probably work better than yours now.

The Bible talks about the key to happiness in a stunningly simple way: “God gives some people the ability to enjoy the wealth and property he gives them, as well as the ability to accept their state in life and enjoy their work. They do not worry about how short life is, because God keeps them busy with what they love to do.” (Ecclesiastes 5:19-20)

So it would appear the key to happiness is a matter of focus and acceptance. You focus on the things you enjoy and not on your failures and the fact that the clock is running out. But talent, fame, money? Those have little effect.

I’m not saying Williams didn’t know that truth, nor am I offering him up as a cautionary tale. I loved him probably as much as you did.

I am saying his life is a reminder to us never to presume people are OK, just because they have a lot going for them. Like Robin, we are all fragile and need purpose in life. That purpose is found in the simple things, not the flashy ones. So after we’ve taken time to mourn his passing and pray for his family, let’s remember to stay focused on the things in our own lives that matter and forget the ones that don’t.

And let’s remember that the gifted, funny person sitting next to us may actually need some encouragement. When you look at someone, you rarely see the battle going on behind their eyes. So…tread carefully, and always be kind.

Rest well, Robin. We’ll miss you.

Haven’t Got a Prayer?

People often ask me to pray for them. Guess it’s an occupational hazard. But seriously, I don’t mind it at all. In fact, I consider it an honor anyone would value my prayers over their lives.

Sometimes I’m a little overwhelmed by the needs I’m asked to pray about. One guy’s in jail today, separated from his kids and afraid he’s going away to prison. He asks me to pray he will get out, but I have a funny feeling he will probably won’t. It’s not that I lack faith God has the power to set him free. It’s that I understand a little of how God works.

Truth is, God may not want him out yet – the guy might go right back and do the same crime again. More than helping us escape, God wants us to learn from the situation we’re in. Ironically, we’re often praying for God to get us out of something He led us into in the first place. He sent us there to change us, and He won’t let us out under the transformation is complete.

“CAN I SPEAK TO THE MANAGER?”

Sometimes I’m afraid when people ask for my prayers, they’re expecting big results because I’m a pastor. It’s as if they think I’m someone who really has the Big Guy’s ear. So instead of their prayer being one in a million offered up right now, they go to someone with real influence. They think I’ve got connections!

That’s where the TV preachers make the big money. They say, “I’m really tight with God, so if you send in $19.95, I’ll send you the healing cloth/anointing oil/trinket of the week and God will give you what you want”. Sorry, I can’t do that. I know in my heart of hearts that my prayers are no more special than the next Christian’s. I do believe that God hears my prayers and listens to me, but no more than Joe AverageChristian.

So sometimes I’m a little uncomfortable with people’s expectations from my prayers. I’m wondering if they’re going to be disappointed if/when my prayers don’t seem to pay off for them. I’m willing to pray all they want, but i also know God doesn’t get my OK first before doing His will. In fact, in my own life I can assure you God does whatever He wants.

I have been around that group who thinks they can “proclaim it in faith, speak it into existence”, and it will happen. That’s sounds very empowering, but it also sounds like heresy to me. Only God speaks things into existence ex nihilo, and commands things to change. Little old me is left with humbly asking Him to do it, and then accepting His ultimate will. I know that doesn’t sound very impressive, but it actually is tougher to believe in God when He doesn’t do what you want than to convince yourself He’s your cosmic errand boy. The former is faith – the latter is living in denial.

SPIRITUAL FIRST RESPONDER

Some of the people who ask me for prayer see God as little more than a 911 call to be made in emergencies. The same way you’d rarely call the police or fire stations on a daily basis, they don’t talk to God until they’re really facing a cliffhanger. True, they’ve ignored Him for 99.9 percent of their existence on this earth. But now that they’re in trouble, good old God is supposed to hop to it and fix the problem lickety-split.

I think some of us have an exaggerated opinion of our own importance. We’ve heard all our lives that God loves us, so we think He’s a sucker for any con we want to pull. Sorry to break it to you, but while God does loves you, He’s not emotionally needy. Yes, He wants your love, but He’s not dying to get it. Actually, He already did that once. That should be enough – the next move is up to us.

It’s funny to me that while everyone is so quick to tell God what they want, few people ever stop to ask what God wants. And what God wants is the key to understanding how prayer really works.

Based on what you’re going through right now, what do you think God is doing in your life?

How do you plan to respond to Him?

This Sunday@Legacy…

Please join us Sunday@Legacy to show support for those struggling with depression. Pastor Dave will be dealing with the stigma many Christians face about admitting they are depressed, and sharing what the Bible says to help us. Also, he’ll speak very personally to creatives on my own struggles and the dangers they face specifically from this illness. Invite someone you care about to come Sunday, and be there to show your support for those who are suffering. This Sunday, 10:30am at Legacy Church of Naples.

Today's Subversive Socks are submitted by my beloved son, Micah.

What are Subversive Socks?

When you work in a job or workplace that is generally conservative (oh, like, let’s say a pastor in a church, for example), you still want to show your individuality and sense of panache. So underneath your sensible gray suit or navy blazer, you wear sock that scream your individuality…while you conform to “the man”.

Send in your pictures of your own Subversive Socks, and live it large, people!