10 Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe
Are urban legends and Sunday-school myths ruining your faith?
Multnomah, 2009, 205 pp., ISBN 978-1-60142-150-0
Larry Osborne is a teaching pastor at North Coast Church in Vista, California and the author of Spirituality for the Rest of Us. In this book he shows how cultural myths have been accepted as Scriptural truth and how we follow them down blind alleys. I found a lot of wisdom in this book.
The wisdom of Solomon + inaccurate facts or faulty assumptions = a fool's decision
"A spiritual urban legend is just like a secular urban legend. It's a belief, story, assumption, or truism that gets passed around as fact." (2) Spiritual legends are spiritually dangerous errors that eventually bring disillusionment and heartache. (3)
1. Faith Can Fix Anything
For most of faith is confidence. When we say, 'You gotta have faith," we mean "Think positively." (11) But biblical faith has more to do with our actions than our feelings. (12) Faith fixes our biggest problem, the only thing that really matters, our face-to-face relationship with God. (16) "Faith is not a skill we master: It's not an impenetrable shield that protects us from life's hardships and trial. It's not a magic potion that removes every mess. It's a map we follow." (17) "It's designed to guide us on a path called righteousness. Along the way, it doesn't promise to fix every flat tire." (19)
2. Forgiving Means Forgetting
Forgiveness is not an act of self-induced spiritual amnesia. God doesn't forget. The sins of the saints in Scripture were forgiven but they are prominently featured and widely known. When the Bible says God remembers our sins no more, it means that "he no longer responds to us in light of those sins. They no longer derail our relationship with him. They no longer garner his wrath. They are gone--completely--from our account. But it doesn't mean he can't remember all the things we've done. An omniscient God doesn't forget stuff." (23)
"We tend to assume that if someone has forgiven us, whatever happened in the past should be a dead issue. The other person should just get over it and move on. But that's unreasonable." In reality, healing takes time. "Forgiveness is a decision lived out as a lengthy process." (25) "In the spiritual and eternal realm, forgiveness wipes the slate clean." "But on the earthly level, things are different. God's forgiveness seldom if ever removes all the consequences or restores all that we've broken. Instead, it offers a second chance." (27)
"God's dealings with David model for us a pattern of forgiveness that retains earthly consequences while offering a genuine opportunity for restoration and productivity." (29)
"Biblical forgiveness always starts with a look in the mirror. It doesn't start with the wrong that was done to me; it starts with the wrongs that I have done to others. It asks, 'What have I done and how have I been forgiven?' And then it offers that same kind of forgiveness to others." (31-2) "Ultimately it's a supernatural act motivated and empowered from the inside out." (36)
3. A Godly Home Guarantees Godly Kids
"I'm reminded of the simple advice to keep my cool and never discipline my children in anger. Sounds good. Makes sense. But I, for one, could never figure out how to pull it off. What was I supposed to do? Wait until we were all having a good time--then bam!?" (52)
4. God Has a Blueprint for My Life
"If God's will is so important, why is it so hard to find? The surprising answer is that it isn't hard to find. Most of God's will is spelled out in black and white. It's not hidden." (56)
God doesn't have a blueprint for our life. He has a game plan. A blueprint contains a specific set of detailed instructions for everything. A game plan sets forth general guidelines with lots of freedom and flexibility for adjustments. In the vast majority of situations we have great latitude to exercise our preferences. (57-8)
Often our big decisions aren't nearly as important as a life of daily obedience. People ask God in all sincerity if this is the right one to marry while they are ignoring his instructions for right behavior with the one they are dating. (62)
"The starting place for finding God's will is obeying the commands and instructions we already know. The pathway of obedience always leads to further light." (64) "It is never illogical to do what God clearly tells us to do." (65)
"It's hard for an athlete to follow a game plan if he misses all the team meetings. It's just as hard to follow God's game plan if we don't know the Scriptures…." (67)
5. Christians Shouldn't Judge
Just call something a sin and see how long it takes someone to quote Scripture: "Judge not!"
"Jesus didn't say, 'Judge not,' followed by a period--or an exclamation point. He said, 'Do not judge,' followed by a clarification of what type of judgments to make, when to make them, and how to make them." He goes on to say, 'Don't cast your pearls before swine.' That requires one to decide who is a swine. (72) "He not only told his followers to judge, he also gave them instructions for how to judge properly. And he did quite a bit of judging himself." (73)
Tolerance is a great thing--rightly understood. It used to mean granting others the freedom to be wrong and offering evaluation in a spirit of grace and humility. It has come to mean to affirm everyone is right, no matter what they believe and do. (73)
"Underlying the idea that we have no right to judge the beliefs and moral standards of others is another widely held belief. It's the dogma that truth and morality are relative…." (74) "In every area of life where we can test outcomes, we know that some things work and some don't. Some answers are correct and some aren't. The belief that the spiritual and moral realms operate differently is an unsupported leap in logic. It's a dark journey into an Alice in Wonderland world where fanciful and wishful thinking replaces reality and common sense." (74-5)
"If we refuse to label the behaviors Jesus called sin, sin, we're disagreeing with Jesus, not following Jesus." (76) Note, however, that we're tempted to the hypocrisy of condemning the things we struggle with the most. (77)
"A second key to judging appropriately is to make sure that we deal with our own sins before we start worrying about everybody else's." (The speck and the plank) A third key is to make sure our judgments match God's. In many areas the Bible is less than clear. Another mistake is to judge non-Christians by Christian standards. This doesn't mean that we can't call their sin, sin. It means we're supposed to leave their judgments to God and focus on ourselves and the family of God. (82) The New Testament is strangely silent about judging the Roman government, leaders, and soldiers. (83)
Finally we must judge with grace. Hate the sin and love the sinner. This seems hard to do--except when it comes to myself! (85)
6. Everything Happens for a Reason
"No matter what happens, God is in control. He's King of the universe. And he's good. But that doesn't mean he's the direct cause of everything that happens. It doesn't mean that everything that happens is something he wants to happen. And it certainly doesn't mean that everything he allows is good. God did not cause Lucifer to rebel, Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, or David to sleep with Bathsheba." (88-9)
Romans 8:28 doesn't say what most people think it does. It means that in all things, God works for the good of those who love and follow him. The enemy's best shot can't thwart His plan. (90)
God does not 'have a reason for allowing' some sin, as for example a teenager getting pregnant. Even after repentance the likelihood is that there will be ongoing heartache and frustration and reminder of sin. "Sometimes the trials and hardships we face are the results of sinful choices. That's not God's doing. That's our doing." (93)
Sometimes bad things happen because we live in a fallen world. Mother Nature has been striking out at us since the Fall. Sometimes we make foolish decisions and our choices have consequences.
"In many cases, pinning everything on God leads to an unjustified anger at God." (96) We may tend to gloss over sin. "There's not much reason to fear sin or its consequences if everything comes out in the wash anyway." But this is nonsense. "God never approved of these people's sin. He didn't cause it. He didn't even 'use it.' He overcame it. That's what grace does." (97)
It also leads us to unrealistic expectations and misplaced hope, particularly among those faced with long-term suffering. (98)
7. Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide
"The idea that our conscience is a trustworthy moral guide is a myth." (108) "Our conscience doesn't tell us if we're violating God's standards. It tells us when we're violating our standards." (109) "Our conscience is also easy to reset." (110) Our sin nature clouds our understanding of spiritual truth and God's leading. It puts static on the line and creates spiritual blind spots. Over time, if we continue in sin, it can become callused and loses its sensitivity. Our ability to feel guilt goes away. (115) Prisons are full of people who let their conscience guide them. And the same is true in church. Business people break their word to make a deal. They think they have to. Many times someone's conscience is clear because it is no longer working. Our conscience is a valuable early warning device, a yellow light. But it's a terrible green light.
8. God Brings Good Luck
Jesus never promised his followers a long run of luck or earthly success. He promised forgiveness and eternity but not good health and wealth. (124) "We expect that living God's way should cause most things to work out but that's not always how life works. John 10:10 does not refer to a life of greater ease but salvation, which is excessive, abundant, and beyond all expectations. (131)
9. A Valley Means a Wrong Turn
"Consider the countless marriage vows broken on the assumption that staying in an unhappy or unfulfilling marriage can't be God's will. 'For better or worse' has somehow become 'Until I can't take it anymore.' So when things get tough, we move on, convinced that God will understand--and approve." (141)
"Most of us understand that hardships (even long-term hardships) are a natural part of life." "But something fundamentally changes when the deep and lengthy valley is our valley. The truths we so easily accept in theory and so quickly apply to others become difficult to fathom in our own life." (141)
In the valleys we can ask ourselves:
• Why am I here?
• How should I respond?
• What can I learn?
Different kinds of valleys call for different kinds of responses.
In the God sent me here valley, hang tough. Running away is not a good option.
In the I messed up valleys, it usually takes some major retracing of our steps to get where we need to be and that won't happen until we take personal responsibility and make some serious changes. These valleys don't go away the moment we start in the right direction. They often take far longer to get out of than to get into.
"There are always two ways out of every trial: the enemy's shortcut, which always involves compromise or disobedience, and the way of escape God promises to all who walk with him." (152)
10. Dead People Go to a Better Place
"To our modern-day sensibilities, the exclusivity of Christ, the reality of hell, and the need for salvation that includes personal piety have all become passé, if not downright offensive. And it's not just our culture that rejects these ideas; so do many Christians." (157)
"He's the One who said the path was narrow and few would enter in. It's not as if he danced around the issue. He spoke of it often." (159)
The idea that dead people go to a better place flows from the myth that all roads eventually lead to the same place. "The fact is, the more our world becomes a global village, and the more our nation becomes culturally diverse, the more many of us want to include everyone as a spiritual family member--even those who are unwilling to acknowledge our Father as the Father." (161)
"The cross and salvation are central to the gospel. Once we lose any real concept of hell, the natural consequence is more than just putting us at odds with Scripture; it eventually devalues the cross, redefines salvation, and turns obedience into an extra-credit spiritual add-on." "It's an error that inevitably leads to harmful spiritual results…." (163)
It kills any sense of urgency for evangelism. “Early church believers felt so passionate about the need to evangelize that they were willing to die trying. Today many of us see things differently. Evangelism is not only no longer worth dying for; it’s hardly worth stressing a relationship over.” “This myth [that everyone goes to a better place when they die] relegates the need for salvation to the back of the line. Once we decide that following Christ is merely the best path, but not the only path, then it’s not long until we decide that our neighbors, community, and world have far more pressing needs to address than coming to know Jesus.” “When conversion becomes unnecessary (just an opportunity to share a better way, rather than the only way go to God), then digging wells, eradicating disease, and protecting the environment obviously take precedence. And in many cases, it’s not long until compassion and liberation are no longer viewed as the essential other side of evangelism coin; they become the only side of the coin that matters.” (163-65)
"I'm constantly amazed by the number of people I run into who decide what they will believe not so much based on the facts as on what they wish the facts were. And it's not just in the spiritual realm." (175)
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