Trust

A recent newspaper article I read referenced a survey that determined two-thirds of Americans believe other people cannot be trusted. [1]  Only 50 percent felt that way in 1972.  The article noted the consequences of this attitude.  It harms our political climate because political compromises are more difficult if you do not trust your political opponents.  It harms our economic climate because it diverts our dollars to protecting ourselves with security systems, gated communities, and legal maneuvering.  It is very destructive to our personal lives such as when we discover a friend or spouse has deceived us.

Why are we less trusting of each other?  The article mentions several causes such as technology which keeps people to themselves instead of socializing at community gatherings, the 24 hour news coverage of near and distant violence which enhances our sense of the untrustworthiness of people, economic inequality which eliminates a sense of a shared future, and a decline of moral values where everyone is looking out for themselves.

While all the above reasons might be true, what is forgotten is that trust is earned.  We trust people based upon their pattern of behavior (which is a definition of character).  If someone constantly takes advantage of us, we will not trust them.  The article mentions Dennis Hess who runs an unattended farm stand.  The only reason he is successful in his unattended stand is because the majority of his customers are honest.  If most of his customers were dishonest, then he would be forced to close the stand or make it an attended stand.

Asking why we are less trusting of each other is the wrong question.  The question should be:  Why we are less trustworthy?  We do not solve the problem of trust by blindly trusting others.  The solution is for each of us to demonstrate we are trustworthy regardless of the political, economic, technological, or moral climate.

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[1]   Connie Cass, Associated Press, “Poll:  Americans less trusting of each other, Tulsa World, December 1, 2013, p. A8.

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Israel

The purpose of this blog is to ask questions about the Christian faith and the Bible in order to better understand them.  Many Christians think questioning our faith is wrong or at least unseemly.  I remember when I was in a class at a Bible institute and I asked a question about the topic we were discussing.  An audible gasp came from another student who then exclaimed:  “He’s questioning God!”  Fortunately the professor knew I was just trying to understand the topic at hand and replied appropriately.

Why has asking questions of God become taboo in Christianity?  Marvin Olasky notes that:  “Many Christians are passive and complacent in their faith, forgetting that the word Israel means the one who wrestles with God.” [1]  Olasky is referring to Genesis 32 where Jacob is about to meet his brother Esau and he is uncertain how Esau will receive him because Jacob had essentially stolen Esau’s birthright from him.  The night before Jacob meets Esau he goes off alone and wrestles all night with a man (who the Bible does not clearly identify).  As daylight approached, the man requests that Jacob let him go but Jacob refuses unless the man blesses him.  The man then blesses him by stating:  “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” [Genesis 32:28 ESV]

Why would we wrestle with God?  The reason is because we are finite.  We cannot assume we have accurately interpreted the Bible; we cannot assume our version of reality is accurate.  Additionally, we have a sinful nature that is opposed to God.  As we strive to better understand ourselves, the world in which we live, and how God relates to us, it should not be surprising that we would wrestle with God.

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[1]   Marvin Olasky, “Graduation presents”, World Magazine, May 18, 2013, p. 28.

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Confirmation Bias

Christians really don’t believe in the Bible.

If we really did believe the Bible, we would not ignore passages in the Bible that conflict with our belief system, with our doctrinal statements.  When I talk to Christians about the issues raised in this blog—that salvation is not belief in Jesus and his death and resurrection for our sins but instead is the change of our soul so it becomes like God—they say it is interesting but engage in no conversation about these issues. Why?  There are over seventy verses in the New Testament that state salvation is through belief in God or through our conduct, pattern of behavior, motivation, use of abilities, and repentance.  God put those verses in the Bible for a reason.

I have yet to find a Christian who can refute the doctrine of salvation put forth in this blog.  Yes, if you ignore certain passages in the Bible you can claim you have Biblical evidence against this position.  But if you believe the entire Bible is the word of God, you must find an explanation for what the entire Bible says not just a few or even most passages.

This tendency of Christians to ignore Biblical evidence against a particular doctrine is an example of one of our human weaknesses—confirmation bias.  “Confirmation bias is our dysfunctional predilection to pick and choose information that supports our beliefs while dismissing any data that doesn’t agree. . .[it] is your Yes Man hard at work.” [1]  The problem with confirmation bias is that it “contribute[s] to overconfidence in personal beliefs and can maintain or strengthen beliefs in the face of contrary evidence”. [2]

God desires us to search for what is true (I Thessalonians 5:21, Acts 17:11).  Since we are finite, it is very likely that many of the beliefs we hold will eventually prove not be valid—even some of our Christian beliefs.  That is why we must always be on guard against our confirmation bias.

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[1]   Rod Machado, “Confirmation bias”, AOPA Pilot, December 2013, p. 22.

[2]   http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Confirmation_bias.html

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Believing the Bible

Christians really don’t believe in the Bible.

If we did, we would follow what it teaches.  Instead as Eric Metaxas explains in his book Amazing Grace, Christians in England in the 18th and 19th centuries supported slavery and still claimed to be Christians because it was an acceptable social norm to believe one thing and do another.  It was not considered hypocrisy.  Have things really changed?  In the last blog, we mentioned that some business people do not always practice Christianity in their workplace because they believe one cannot be successful in business doing so.  In other words, they say everyone should follow Jesus’ teachings but somehow think they are exempt when it comes to running a business.

We do the same in our personal lives.  Life Church (see www.lifechurch.tv) is currently running a series on what it calls “Necessary Sins”.  God may say a particular action is wrong (lying, gossip, etc.) but we think it is a necessary part of life.  We consider these sins to be necessary because they help us make it through life or because it is accepted in our society (and it is so necessary to get along in society).  Is that any different from the Christians in England in the 18th and 19th century?

Maybe we Christians should start believing in the Bible again.

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Implementation of an Idea

Over my 38 years in business, I have heard many business persons express the opinion that business and Christianity do not mix; that one cannot consistently practice Christianity and be successful in business.  I disagree.  Lean Enterprise with its three principles of focusing on the customer, eliminating waste, and respect for people (customers, vendors, employees the surrounding community) has proven to be very successful in business and non-business settings and is very compatible with Christian principles.

I also believe that business can also teach us about Christianity.  I have been reading a book about management and the author, Chet Holmes, asks how one can become very proficient at anything.  His answer is:  The mastery of any skill “is not about being special or more gifted than anyone else.  Mastery is a direct result of pigheaded discipline and determination”. [1]  He also emphasizes the importance of habit.  Repetition trains your mind so your responses become automatic. [2]

How does the above relate to Christianity?  In this blog we maintain that salvation is the change of our soul so it becomes like God.  The natural response to that question is:  So how do we change our soul?  My answer is from Holmes:  By “pigheaded discipline and determination”.  We must implement the teachings of Jesus in our lives, not just learn them.  Jesus’ teachings must be so engrained in our minds through practice that our response to a particular situation automatically conforms to what Jesus taught us.

Holmes tells his audience that they will agree with his concepts but most will not implement them.  Why would we humans not do something that we know works?  Because it takes effort.  The same applies to our spiritual lives.  Jesus’ teachings work but we do not put them into practice because it will require that we change our soul so it becomes like God and that change is hard work.

In business and Christianity and in all of life “Implementation, not ideas, is the key to real success”. [3]  How well are you doing in implementing the teachings of Jesus in your life?

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[1]   Chet Holmes, The Ultimate Sales Machine, NewYork:  Portfolio, The Penguin Company, 2005, p. xviii.

[2]   Holmes, p. xix.

[3]    Holmes, p. 4.

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Core Beliefs

In the last blog, we asked how we decide what our core Christian beliefs are.  Of course, they come from the Bible but the problem is that there are all manner of interpretations of the Bible and there are all manner of ideas concerning which Biblical teaching is a core belief.  However, I believe there are a few principles upon which all Christians should agree.

First, we should consider the earliest Christian creeds as the most authoritative.  These creeds were developed closer to the time of Jesus and have had less of a chance for erroneous and/or nonessential ideas to infiltrate.  As we mentioned last week, the earlier creeds are much simpler than the later.  If the writers of the early creeds did not consider a particular Biblical teaching to be a core belief, why did the writers of the later creeds?

Second, Paul tells us Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sins is the gospel (I Corinthians 15:1-7).  This is the main reason why Jesus came to this earth; it was not to teach us about the Trinity or baptism.  Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sins must be a central part of our faith.

Third, Christianity is about Jesus.  Much of Jesus’ teachings involve our actions and the person we become (Matthew 13:41-50, Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 18:18-30, John 5:27-29, John 12:44-50) so our core beliefs must address our actions as well as our beliefs.

Taking the above three principles, I believe our core beliefs should include:  Belief in God, Jesus and his death and resurrection for our sins, the Holy Spirit, the universal Church, our eternal existence, and our judgment by Jesus.  These tenants clearly follow the early Christian creeds.  The only thing I would add concerns our judgment by Jesus—we will be judged according to our actions and the person we become not just our beliefs.

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Essential Beliefs

In a previous blog (August 28, 2013), we discussed the various Christian creeds that are in existence.  As I have reread and thought about them I noticed that the creeds became longer as time passed.  The earliest creeds simply proclaimed belief in God, Jesus and his work here on earth, the Holy Spirit, the universal Christian church, and our spiritual and eternal existence.

Part of the reason the creeds became longer was that differences of opinion arose about certain aspect of the Christian faith, such as the nature of Jesus—was he divine or human or both.  But is that a reason to make the Christian faith more complicated?

Jesus placed great emphasis on the unity of Christians.  In John 17:21-23 he stated that the world would know God sent Jesus to our world if Jesus’ followers were one like Jesus and God are one.  However, with our multitude of creeds, we have divided ourselves up into multiple Christian religions and denominations.

A creed should be as its definition states–a statement of essential or core beliefs.  It should not be packed with various opinions and interpretations.  In issues that extend beyond our core beliefs, Christians should be tolerant of other beliefs.  Instead we seem to be intolerant.  We all need to recognize that, as the Bible teaches, we are finite and are in some ways deficient in our knowledge of God’s truth.  If that is true, why are we so intolerant of differing points of view?

So how do we decide what are our core beliefs?  I’ll get back to you in a future blog.

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Elevator Speech

A couple of years ago I read an article by Harvey Mackay in which he states we should be able to explain any idea and stimulate an interest to learn more about that idea within three minutes or in the time it would take to explain our idea to someone while we ride in an elevator with them. [1]  So below is the “elevator speech” for the idea that I am attempting to communicate in this blog.

 

Salvation is the change of our soul so it becomes like God; it is not the belief that Jesus died for our sins.  Belief in Jesus is the means to the end, not the end itself.

Salvation being the change of our soul so it becomes like God is taught by the Bible.  There are over 70 verses in the New Testament which teach salvation is by belief in God or through our conduct, pattern of behavior, motivation, use of abilities, and repentance.  If belief in Jesus and his death for our sins is the only way of salvation, why did God include all these verses?

Salvation being the change of our soul so it becomes like God is taught by logic.  God made us finite; he constructed our existence so certainty in regards to historical events is not absolute.  For example, while there is substantial evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus, there will always remain an element of doubt about this extraordinary event.  So how can God condemn people to hell for not believing in something for which they cannot obtain certain proof?  Also, how can God be a God of love and justice and yet condemn people to hell who either have not heard of Jesus or whose culture and/or religion tell them Jesus is irrelevant?

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[1]   Harvey Mackay, “Book explains art of the elevator speech”, The Tulsa World, June 5, 2011, p. E5.

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Looking and Seeing

Our world is incredibly complex.  There is so much going on around us that we only can grasp a small portion of it.  That is part of what it means to be finite.  Our inability to comprehend the entire world means we select the portions of the world we want to observe.  What we do not select, we do not observe.  David Matheny, in writing about an aviation related matter, states a truth that applies to all of life:  “You have to look to see, and you won’t see what you’re not looking for.” [1]

If we Christians do not look for problems in our belief system, we will not see them.  If we do not see them, we will not resolve them.  Why would we not want to resolve problems in our beliefs? Each of us must answer that question for themselves for problems do exist in the Christian belief system and we have listed several of them in this blog.

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[1]   David Matheny, “The Deer in the Headlights”, EAA Sport Aviation, Vol. 62, No. 10, October 2013, p. 32.

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Why God Made Us Finite

Why did God make us finite?  The lack of knowledge has caused and still causes so much suffering and hardship in our world.  Three examples will suffice.

First, we are lacking in our scientific knowledge of our world.  In the book The Little Ice Age by Brian Fagan describes the effect changes in climate had on civilization between 1300 and 1850 but the book also describes other causes of the famine and disease that killed millions.  The other causes were the lack of knowledge and the lack of coordination among the people of that time.  It was not until humans developed new agricultural methods that increased the yields of crops, imported new crops from other lands, and shared that knowledge with others that most farmers moved beyond substance farming and began to produce a surplus which they could sell.  Methods of transportation were developed and used to move food stocks from country to country which helped eliminate famine when one country’s crops failed.  Governments began to coordinate relief efforts during times of crisis. [1]

Second, many people lack the knowledge of personal finances.  Dave Ramey has built a multi-million dollar company helping people understand how to structure and greatly improve their personal finances and wealth.

Third, we humans obviously lack knowledge on how we relate to each other—just read any newspaper.  Also, the Bible has much to say about how we are to treat each other—the Golden Rule, Jesus’ summary of all the Law and Prophets as love God and love your neighbor as yourself, and the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13.  We would not need all this instruction if we already knew how to properly relate to each other.

The only reason I can think why God made us finite is because he sees a need to put us into certain situations to teach us lessons about ourselves and about life.  If our knowledge was complete, we would not be in many of the situations in which we find ourselves.  Exactly why God structured our lives in this fashion I cannot explain.  It makes life somewhat strange as is expressed in the German saying:  Too fast old, too late smart.  But I guess this is all strange because we are only looking at this one life; we are not looking at eternity; we are not looking at the person we can become.

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[1]   Brian Fagan, The Little Ice Age (New York:  Basic Books, 2000), pp. 106-112.

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