What’s So Bad About Works Righteousness?

The week before Christmas I heard the best argument against Christianity I’ve heard in years.

I met with a professional woman who had worked seven years for near minimum wage in the administration of a Christian ministry. When they decided to move their headquarters, they abruptly dismissed her with two weeks’ severance. She felt used and discarded.

And she felt anger: How could they treat her so callously after seven years of sacrifice? She said, “If they believed God would judge them for their callousness, they would have treated me more generously.”

She added: “What’s so bad about works righteousness?”

Conquering Chronic Sins

My twelve-year-old self had a violent temper. My fuse was short, and my bursts of anger detonated at perceived-insults as unexpectedly as bursts of laughter explode at well-timed jokes. Without the mutually pleasant consequences.

I once chased my older brother Andy around the house with a knife. I don’t remember what he had done (probably something HEINOUS), but I remember him chuckling as he easily evaded my thrusts. His laughter did nothing to calm my storm.

I hated my uncontrollable anger, so I memorized verses about the angry man:

  • A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
  • Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty.
  • But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.

Whenever I sensed an outburst begin to rise, I tried to calm myself by repeating those memorized verses. It even worked a few times, but not for long. I soon boiled over again.

When I was thirteen, a friend offered to pray for anything I wanted. I asked him to pray for my anger problem. Six months later, he asked how I was doing, and I realized I hadn’t lost my temper once since he prayed. I hadn’t even had to fight it.

My explosive temper had been miraculously defused.

Since then, I’ve asked God to take away other bad habits, and he’s never acted again so instantly. He usually works slower, a little less dramatically, and (it seems) less miraculously.

When “Good” Christians Do Bad Things

I hate the presidential election season, the rhetoric, emotional responses, hushed conversations, and mud-slinging candidates. I especially hate those damned, political phone polls! Don’t worry, this is not about the election. It’s about when good Christians do bad things.

when-good-christians

And yet, weeks after the elections, the rhetoric is still meteoric and the mudslinging has not abated. Friends of mine from both political camps willingly participate in this mud bath. And it gets nasty. Winners ooze smugness and losers dribble bitterness. We all get spattered.

And both believers and non-believers, from the right and the left, hurl slurs. Their opponents are racist or communist, uncaring or unthinking, dumb or dumber.

This absence of distinction bothered me. I had hoped Christians would handle their victory or defeat with better grace. But we didn’t. Just this morning a thought raced through my mind:

A “good” Christian knows that our atheist neighbors are often better people than us.

I Cannot Do This Without Your Help

I write Beliefs of the Heart articles to help people see and know God personally. Many of you help me with this goal. Each week hundreds of you share the articles on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. I thank you. The articles are read by others because of friends like you.

I cannot do this without your help.

Would you consider helping in two other ways?

First, give copies of Hearing God in Conversation to friends, family, colleagues, Latest March 22 2016and fellow church members. I wrote it not so much for the spectacular (though hearing God is spectacular) as much as to help people nurture a deep relationship with God. We might know much about God, but we mostly need to meet God, to know him personally, in conversation.

For this season, the price of Hearing God in Conversation is reduced. The paperback price $11.35 (reduced from $14.99) and the Kindle version cost is $7.99 (reduced from $9.99).

Please consider giving copies to people you know who are hungry for more of God. It’s a great stocking stuffer.

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Second, would you consider giving Beliefs of the Heart a donation? We are 100% funded by contributions. We only ask for financial gifts once a year. It’s that time. If you feel led to contribute (and please only give if you feel led), Beliefs of the Heart is a U. S. charitable organization and such gifts are tax deductible.

[I said we only ask once a year, but I know how we all forget, so I’ll send out a reminder in a week or so. But just one reminder. Until next December.]

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Thanks for your friendship,

Sam

Living a Staged Life

A year ago, my wife and I decided to sell the farmhouse we’ve lived in for twenty-five years. While we were excited about moving into the next chapter of our life, the grown kids were less enthusiastic: our daughter’s next blog was entitled, Don’t Buy This House.

staged-life-r2

Nevertheless, we followed all the commonsense guidelines for home-sales:

  • We decluttered our closets, removed beds and furniture to make the house more spacious, and rented room at a storage facility.
  • We removed antique wallpaper and painted the walls with neutral colors.
  • And we updated older appliances and countertops, and revitalized the landscaping.

No bites. Not a nibble. Undaunted, we hired a stager who suggested we suck all personal intimacy from our home. Family photos were banished and personal artwork was expelled. Including the life-size, cowboy-hat-wearing skeleton in my office (in my office, mind you, not my closet).

Next our stager replaced every stick of sitting furniture with pure white pieces: sofas, easy chairs, and love seats. Which we immediately covered with sheets. Our stager styled it Farmhouse Chic. Our kids dubbed it, Farmhouse Sheet.

After hundreds of hours of expectant preparation for the dozens of hopeful showings: Nothing.

Last week my wife and I realized we spent our last twelve months living in limbo, neither here nor there. We were like swimmers treading water, going nowhere.

We’ve been living a staged life.

Circumstantial Evidence

A pastor-friend of mine once went through a series of disappointments. His favor with his followers faltered, his once fruitful ministry began to fail, and many of his former friends became his biggest opponents. And that was before events really got bad.

circumstantial-evidence

My friend was well known. If I told you his name, you’d probably recognize it. And his meteoric fall from favor was not due to any moral scandal on his part. Yet rejection and controversy, like circumstantial evidence against him, attacked from every side:

  • He began with a big splash and became famous in a few short months;
  • His fame attracted detractors, and major church leaders spoke against him;
  • His followers, who used to think he walked on water, began to drift away;
  • Then his treasurer embezzled funds;
  • Over time, his ministry crashed and burned.

And, of course, he asked God, “Why?”