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Written by: C. W. Booth

Monday, January 07, 2013

Distracted by Cares at Church?

Ever since I was a very young Christian I have heard pastors and Bible study leaders pray very sincerely that the people attending the service would be able to put away all the distractions of life from their minds so as to focus more fully on the teachings about to be presented. The past few days I have been thinking hard about that and came to a startling conclusion.

I asked myself, Why do I go to church? To be trained in the Scriptures and to worship God, of course. But why? One reason is to become equipped to train the next generation just as I have been trained. But why? To perpetuate the faith with integrity. Yes, but why? To serve Christ in this world, to seek to please Him during my lifetime, and to give others merciful and grace filled access to the abundant life in Christ now and eternally. That’s it!

All of that has to do with the “distractions” of life! Those things often are the key concerns behind the distractions of life. We come to church to learn how to cope with what distracts us in our ordinary work-a-day world: jobs, disappointments, losses, desires, fractured relationships, sin habits, ignorance, unsaved family members, and so much more.

So, if we put away the distractions of life during church, that is if we stop thinking about those very things for which God provided the church as a remedy then we lose touch with the solutions to our problems. We do not want to lose touch but to figure out how to righteously endure or solve our difficulties.

The world tells us the best way to cope with problems is to get some distance from them. So we take vacations to amuse ourselves, empty our thoughts, and pretend our problems have evaporated. We turn on TV and turn off our brains. Or worse, we turn to chemicals to temporarily blunt the emotional pain of our present circumstances.

God wants us to bring our “distractions” into the church service. He wants us to actively think about our worldly problems while studying the Bible or listening to a sermon. During that time of being immersed into the Scriptures He will bring to our minds the very words of His written revelation which will address, calm, and sometimes even resolve our daily strife issues.

I am reminded of Emma Lazarus’ lines from her famed sonnet, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” with regard to inviting the emotionally wrecked individuals of this planet to our church. Bring your burdens and your cares to the Lord here, don’t leave them at home, bring them here to be dealt with now.

So, perhaps my next prayer at church will be something like, “Gracious Lord, please bring to mind the burdens each of your servants here today carry around with them and address those cares with your ancient and holy words, bringing comfort and wisdom and rest to each care-filled heart as they contemplate their pains.” If we cannot find answers when we bring our distractions to God at church, then just where are we going to discover them?

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)


Post Script: Booth added this comment in response to a reader's comment:

Indeed, God is not only interested in our problems, but often delivers us a customized bundle of them to keep us humble and focused on him.

God gave Paul damaged eyesight (presumably) and a thorn in the side, ailments that did not go away with prayer, so that he would learn humility. God brought Lazarus to death so that Jesus would be glorified and the crowd humbled. God told Amos that He brings great calamities to bring nations back to Himself. Job tells us God brings about such hardships and deliberately keeps from us their purposes so that God's sovereignty will be glorified. Paul informed us that all things (bad and good) are orchestrated by God for the good outcome of conforming us to the holy and righteous behavior of His Son.

Our "distractions" truly are God's handiwork to call us back to humble dependence upon Him.


Post Script: Booth added this comment in response to another reader's comment:

Thanks, those are very good observations. You reminded me that God calls us to carry one another's burdens...something that becomes very hard to follow through on if those burdens are not contemplated and discussed during fellowship times as a church, which means they are on the minds of those who are at church.

Of course, my wife chastened me this evening by saying, "You WANT people to be so consumed with their problems they won't even listen in church?" No. I want them to bring their problems to church so as to be looking at every word of the sermon and Bible studies in order to find solutions, hope, and ways of enduring through their troubles. Christianity and worship services are not a feel-good diversion from the common difficulties of life, it is a calling to OVERCOME such things with intense and intentional faith, prayer, biblical research, and action based on God's Word.

Come, bring your problems to church, and look for solutions, reassurance, help, and hope in what you find at church as you constantly assess what you hear against your real world hardships.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Trust vs. Doubt for the Christian

Faith can thrive over and against doubt for the believing Christian. Truth and information are the friends of Christianity. More truth and more information means more friends.

Not all that alleges to be truth or information is genuine (e.g. the allegation that there was no such ancient peoples as the Hittites, the allegation that Neanderthals had no language or industry, the allegation that the universe is self-existing, eternal, and had no beginning). False information has a way of falling over time, so often a piece of data that appears to contradict biblical truth may not survive the test of time and need not be the substance of faith-crushing doubt.

Once faith has been established for an individual, even the smallest seed of faith, inevitably allows trust to follow. Trust is the pragmatic implementation of faith. Trust is the practical application that grows from belief.

Trust is the action that says, “I will confess my sins to a holy and forgiving God because I have come to believe in the living Christ, God Himself.” Trust is the corporeal outworking of faith that is spoken of by the writer James in such glowing terms.

Doubt and fear can often be temporarily paralyzing because we stop entrusting our efforts to God. Nonetheless, when even the smallest amount of saving faith is present trust can be expected to win out over the debilitating effects of doubt.

Faith is not merely the end result of logic and persuasion alone but is the achievement of the Holy Spirit working within. A Spirit-indwelt Christian always has that advantage and the Holy Spirit can become an obstacle so bewildering and confusing to the unbeliever that they are at an utter loss to grasp how Christians can have such foolish and enduring faith.

Faith is an internal assurance of that which we cannot see or otherwise prove. Faith brings about trust and all that trust can accomplish.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Is Every Doubt a Sin for the Christian?

Doubting is a Range

Earlier in a previous blog I speculated that it is possible that not every doubt is necessarily a sin. Like every other language on the planet the English language has a range of meanings for most of its words. Doubt can mean, “I don’t know what action to take next to please God,” all the way to, “I seriously do not believe that God is a real or good God.”

God Meets Sinful Doubts with Mercy

Gideon’s tale is one of doubt and mercy. God gave him prophetic revelations, but instead of immediately obeying Gideon tested God’s truthfulness twice, once with supernatural fire and once with a silly supernatural dewy fleece. Well, God could have chastised Gideon in any number of ways for not being immediately obedient to His words. Yet, God showed mercy instead, and even demonstrated His own trustworthiness via the fire and the fleece. Were Gideon’s repeated doubts sin? Gideon likely thought it was, for he said to God, “Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece.”

God often meets our doubts with mercy instead of rebuke,

“And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” (Jude 1:22-23)

Similarly Jesus, showing mercy, allowed Thomas to finally touch Him after He had risen from death so as to dispel his many doubts.

At other times Jesus rebuked doubters while simultaneously granting mercy. For example when the eleven remaining apostles saw Jesus on the mountain after His execution the text tells us that some doubted even then that He was alive (Matthew 28:17), yet in spite of their doubt they worshiped Him and He did not rebuke their doubt. By way of contrast when Peter was walking on the water during the storm (Matthew 14:29) he doubted and began to sink, Jesus both saved him and rebuked his doubting.

So doubting God and the Word of God is sin, but a sin that God deals with in a very merciful manner. So are we also commanded to be merciful to the doubting.

Willful Sins are Actions of Doubt

Other kinds of doubt include taking actions which we think are sinful (regardless of whether the action is a biblical sin or not). Whenever we are willfully disobedient (or think we are being willfully disobedient) we are no longer acting in a good conscience and that is sin, “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats [that which he thinks is unclean], because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23)

Doubts about Bible Interpretation

Another typical doubt the Christian has may not be a sin at all. This doubt questions whether we or others have properly understood or interpreted the inerrant Bible. Do we correctly understand how to read and apply Ecclesiastes? Do we read the Psalms as Hebrew hyperbolic poetry or do we try to read it as commands and instructions from God? Do we understand that the Old Testament is no longer the Gentile’s covenant with God and need not be obeyed?

By questioning whether we, the church, or the teacher has properly interpreted and applied a passage of Scripture is not generally a sinful doubt, unlike the others listed above. Such questions need to be researched and answered as honestly as is possible.

Did Jesus’ spirit burn in Hell even while His body was alive on the cross? Most modern commentators say yes even though I find Scriptures to cast doubt on that theory. That kind of questioning or doubting is not a sin. Is tithing an obligatory commandment held over from the Law for the Christian today? Many churches would say yes but doubt is raised in me that they have correctly applied the Scriptures. These doubts are not sin so long as I do not act in doubt and disobedience.

Doubt about being Redeemed by God

Perhaps the most difficult kind of doubt is the one that expresses itself this way, “I am afraid that God has rejected me from salvation and from His good favor.” This category of doubt most often arises from listening to poor or confused doctrine, or arises from judging oneself against the wrong standard instead of using God’s standards.

Salvation is not based on what we do, but on what Christ did. We do nothing to earn redemption. God alone calls, convicts, forgives, regenerates, and redeems. We must respond in repentance, but all the chosen people of God will do that when called.

Since our salvation is God’s effort, not ours, once indwelt by the Holy Spirit then nothing we can do can cause us to be uncalled, unadopted, unfound, unforgiven, unregenerated, and thus unredeemed. So why do we feel that this has happened to us?

Feelings of lostness for the believer often are unnaturally sparked from comparing ourselves to other people and other people’s claims of how they feel. We see a celebrity author claim he has this euphoric encounter with God and we realize this is not our experience so we begin to think God has rejected us. Even worse, maybe our lives are now filled with hardships and distress instead of bliss; surely an indicator that God is unhappy with us, or so we improperly think.

Then we forget that the Bible nowhere reveals such rapturous experiences as being normal, and because we forget this we feel left out and rejected. We ignore the fact that most often those who encounter God in the Bible are filled with fear, terror, and visions of their own sinfulness and are not filled with indescribable elation.

A second common reason for doubting one’s salvation is that we begin to adopt rules of conduct as our measure of faith. Do we wear the clothing that other people say God wants us to wear? Do we talk in the soft tones of voice that others say the pious always use? Are we giving time and money to the church that others say are sufficient to demonstrate a faithful heart?

Such legalisms can be faith crushing. There is no possible way to ever measure up to the combined good qualities we see in others, much less to the manmade rules of righteousness that are unendingly invented. We tend to replace God’s liberty of conduct with rules because they require less effort to identify. Sadly, manmade rules, though easy to create are impossible to adequately achieve. Consequently we judge ourselves more harshly in this life than possibly even God judges us and we conclude that we are too sinful to have ever been in the ranks of the saved. Such a doubter needs to be shown what rules are Christ’s own divine commands and which are those optional guidelines imposed on us by well intentioned but faulty human logic.

Doubts that Utterly Reject God

A final type of doubt is to disbelieve in God or in God’s goodness. Those who reject God and His good character entirely are the unsaved and thus the un-forgiven. Their ranks are populated by the majority of earth’s inhabitants.

Those Christians who have temporary doubt in this matter but are sorrowful, fearful toward God, and repentant in spite of having some doubts, such believers remain in His hand as His chosen adopted children, albeit in a state of earthly sin until they do come to their senses and repent.

In the following passage James differentiates between God’s benevolence to the prayers of believers versus His rejection of the prayers of the unbeliever who is unstable in all he thinks and does,

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5-8)

Why would an unbeliever even pray to a God he has never entrusted with his eternal soul? The unstable unsaved person treats God like a cosmic candy dispenser or a good luck charm. Such a person lacks the faith to see that God is Holy and has called us to repentance, salvation, holiness, adoption, and service to one God only.


Most kinds of doubt are sin. But to the believing Christian who has doubts God is most often merciful in His dealings with him or her. God also calls upon the church to act in mercy to those believers who are suffering temporary doubt.

Doubting that Scriptures have been properly interpreted by the contemporary commentator is rarely a sin. There is room to debate Young Earth Creation against Old Earth Creation so long as the believer holds to God as the Creator.

Disobedience to the Word of God is always a sin. That type of doubt which reveals itself in willful rebellion must be addressed in the heart of every Christian.

Each Christian and all churches must ask themselves what it means to be merciful to the doubting Christian. What form such mercy takes depends on the person, the church, and the circumstances. But the goal is to restore the doubting believer to a stronger faith and a more sure relationship with Christ.


Post Script: Booth added this comment in response to a reader's comment:

Thanks for the comment, but of course the use and meaning of the word "superstition" betrays the belief system of the writer. To a Christian superstition is the root of Wicca and paganism. To the atheist superstition is the heart of any belief in a spiritual level of existence.

Yet, do not some atheists favor a form of superstition (though they would never call it that)? I have conversed with many atheists who "believe" in a self-existent eternal universe; a belief that I see carries the full embodiment of the word superstition. Some atheists that I have talked with fully embrace the idea that life was seeded on planet earth by super-advanced aliens; aliens who are creator-parents of human life--a belief I also see as a form of superstition.

Why would I see these beliefs as superstitions? Because there is no hard evidence from which to derive these beliefs. The belief is in something that cannot be seen, touched, experienced, demonstrated via experimentation, or proven. In short, it is an unsupported belief.

Now, by that definition I fully well know that Christianity can also be labeled as a superstition by those outside the faith. So be it. But for me the evidences that move Christianity from superstition to credible religion is the content of the Bible itself. Yet, if the Bible is rejected as evidence, then I understand how Christianity can be equated with superstition and be held in the same non-credible light as belief in an eternal universe and extraterrestrial aliens.

It is not a matter of whether one is superstitious, but rather a question of which "superstition" one embraces.


Post Script: Booth added this comment in response to another reader's comment:

As I mentioned in my original blog posting, doubt has a range of meanings. Questioning everything is good. I have questioned how it is that we have a Bible in the first place, how it is that we believe there is a God, how it is that a man named Jesus was widely reported to have done miracles opposite the laws of observable nature. The Bereans were called nobel because they investigated everything Paul preached to them to see if those things were factual. Asking questions and investigating the answers is good. It keeps everyone honest.

Doubting the answers, even after you have done the investigation and found that the answers are more likely true than not, that doubt is what leads to spiritual trouble. For example, the Jews were led out of Egypt by Moses and immediately doubted that they should continue to follow the God that Moses preached because it was inconvenient. That led to big problems.

Believing in a saving God but then abandoning that faith in favor of doubting merely on the basis of the peer pressure coming from one's social circle is problematic. That kind of doubting is not driven by sincere conclusions but by fear of one's fellow human beings and compels us to violate our own consciences just to conform to the group.

So, no, I do not think all doubting is based on reason. Just like all other dumb things we humans do, our doubting can be based on fear, greed, desire for comfort, hope for power, etc. In other words, doubt toward religion can be just as driven by poor motives and faulty reasoning as can embracing a religion that you do not really believe in. Doubt is no more profound than is faith; one must examine the underlying motives and logic behind it.

But asking sincere questions to hear sincere answers...that is always noble.


Post Script: Booth added this comment in response to another reader's comment:

Per your first point, I see a significant difference between “question everything” (a philosophy I do endorse) and “doubt everything” (a philosophy I do not endorse). I do not see doubt as intrinsically noble. It is a subtle semantic difference but a major practical difference.

Your second point, “Did you question to see if these things were actually true or just to better understand how and why they're true?” Many of my investigations and questions were to identify what actually occurred to cause these things to have come into being, like the Bible and the Christian faith. I am hard pressed to see such an inquiry as anything other than a quest for the truth without a precondition of doubt or belief.

Your precondition on questioning and investigation seems to be to approach it with doubt rather than allowing the answers to sort out conviction or not. Such a prearranged bias as doubt will often significantly color the findings…a form of self-fulfilling prophecy or even closed-mindedness.

For your third point you asked, “So once you come to think something is probable it's locked and to question it is a sin?” When it comes to matters of faith (things that cannot be proven, such as “God does not exist” or “God does exist”) then all one has to determine is whether one is more probably true or more probably untrue. Faith, and for this definition atheism is also a faith, cannot be proven for it is a personal conviction. Without proof one relies on probabilities.

For your fourth point you wrote, “If I recall moses hit a rock with a stick and god the prankster went back on his promise to make water come out of it, prompting moses to hit it again and for this idiotically tiny transgression of one man an entire ethnic group were punished (horribly racist) for decades. It's an awful story.”

Moses’ actions are an awesome demonstration of our discussion here about doubt. Like you Moses thought “Who cares what God said, I have already proven that hitting the rock gets it to do what I want it to do and that pragmatic approach is all that matters.”

That is doubt. Not doubt that God exists, but doubt that God means what He commands while elevating faith in oneself, as if Moses were really the principal agent in providing the water.

Just for those reading this who have no idea why God was so very angry at Moses regarding the striking of the rock a second time is that this imagery of hitting and speaking to the rock was supposed to be a special archetype of the coming Christ. To get forgiveness of sins (the meaning of the symbol of water) the Christ would have to be struck (sacrificed) one time in history only. But once the Christ was struck once for all time then to get forgiveness of sins it is only necessary to speak to the rock.

By striking the rock in a second event it ruined the archetype imagery. Moses’ actions illustrate a common heresy of Christianity, namely that Christ must be sacrificed over and over again to obtain salvation anew. To draw unending attention to Moses’ error and improper archetype God imposed a very severe punishment on Moses and Aaron alone--they were forbidden to enter Israel. Of course, Moses did indeed attain heaven (the Word tells us that), he was just not allowed to enter Israel. The punishment was against Moses and Aaron alone for their joint sin of doubt.

Your fifth point, “I agree entirely, peer pressure is a terrible reason to believe (or disbelieve) anything. However the door swings both ways, millions believe in god and go to church merely out of peer pressure. Probably hundreds of millions. I've read the testimony of many members of the clergy who stayed in their positions and preached sermons for years after losing faith.”

I agree. Being a member of a church without having faith is called cultural Christianity, opposite being a genuine Christian. Muslims have this same phenomenon, which may help explain and be explained by their law which calls for the execution of anyone who leaves that faith. As for preachers who remain in the clergy after losing their faith…that is not as rare as I would have hoped but spotlights the extreme degree of hypocrisy that resides and has resided within such people all along (in other words it is unlikely that they ever were committed believers but used the faith as a means of convenience).

Your sixth point did not make sense to me, so I will move to your seventh point, “’But asking sincere questions to hear sincere answers...that is always noble.’ Unless it's about the existence of god, then it makes you an ‘unstable’ sinner bound for hell, right?”

Actually, prior to having saving faith one MUST ask whether there is a Savior God. However, having asked but then concluding that there is no God does ultimately mean that one condemns himself to an eternity apart from God and apart from God’s forgiveness.

Thinking about that practically it would make no sense for God to be obligated to grant forgiveness to someone who has never been sincerely sorry enough about his sins to ask for that forgiveness, nor would it be logical for God to impose eternal fellowship on someone who does not respect God enough to believe in Him. So, unbelievers evaluate the same evidences which cause others to believe, but the unbeliever remains unconvinced and remains desirous to be separated from God; God gives them their desire.

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