Monday, August 30, 2010


I am uncomfortable with compliments. Though I like it when people say nice things about me, I have this feeling that if they really knew me …!

Well, anyway, the other day someone said that what he admired about Uni and me was that we are “real.” I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, so I checked out my Webster’s. None of the definitions given seemed to fit, especially in the context he was speaking of. The closest I could find to what I think he meant was, “not artificial, fraudulent or illusory: GENUINE.” I like that. I certainly would like that to be true of me. Sort of like Flip Wilson’s Geraldine, “What you sees is what you gets!”

Well, then, the next question is, is realness a Christian virtue, something to be desired? I couldn’t find it in any of the lists of virtues listed in the New Testament.

But the New Testament does have a lot to say about truth, and truth has to do with that which is real. Would it be to great a logical leap to say that to “be real” is to be, as the apostle John says, “walking in truth”?

John uses this expression three times in his letters:
  • “I was extremely glad that I found some of your children walking in truth …” (2 John 4).
  • “For I was extremely glad when some brothers came and testified of your truth, even as you are walking in truth. I have no greater joy than this that I hear of my children walking in the truth” (3 John 3, 4).
The Greek word peripateo “walk” or “walk around” is often used by the apostles Paul and John to describe a person’s conduct or way of life. It is translated simply “walk” in many of our English versions (Aristotle’s school was called peripatetic because he taught while walking around). But it is only John who ties together the words “walk” and “truth.”

I’m not sure exactly what John meant by “walking in truth,” but in his writings I find three ways this can be true of a person:

  • Doctrinal purity, especially a correct understanding of who Jesus is. John has much to say about this in his three brief letters. He warns, “ … many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh … Watch yourselves” (2 John 7, 8). “Who is the liar, but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? … Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father. The one who confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22, 23). We can’t “walk in truth” unless we hold to the truth about the One who claimed to be The Truth (John 14:6).
  • But it also includes a correct understanding of who we are – honestly about ourselves. “If we say we have fellowship with Him and we walk in darkness, we’re lying and we’re not doing the truth … If we say we don’t have sin, we’re deceiving ourselves and the truth isn’t in us … If we say we haven’t sinned, we make Him a liar …” (1 John 1:6, 8, 10). John’s remedy for deception is simple: “Confess our sins” and “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7, 9). So here’s a paradox. I can’t be real unless I admit that I’m not! “Walking in truth” involves recognizing and confessing to God that I often fall short in this walk.
  • And it involves a continual fellowship with and growing conformity to Jesus Christ. Perhaps that’s why the word “walk” is used. It implies motion, something that must continue all my life. This is, I believe, that aspect of walking in truth that can be seen.
These thoughts are not meant to be a simple 1-2-3 step program, but a continual process that goes on through our lives.

It is easy to put on the outward trappings, to be a different person on Sunday than we are during the week, or even to be a number of different persons. It is also easy to compare ourselves with others who are doing the same. But when we honestly compare ourselves with Jesus, recognizing who He is and who we are, when we allow Him to bring us into greater conformity with Him, I believe we can, to some extent, be “real.”

I’m not there yet!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


As anyone who reads, watches or listens to the news knows by now, the conflict I mentioned in my previous post between the Christian lady and her Muslim neighbor has been greatly overshadowed by a similar but larger conflict, which has the whole nation up in arms (well, not literally -- yet).

The building of a Muslim community center within a few blocks of Ground Zero has been proposed. This has caused a reaction much greater than that of the dear lady mentioned in that post.

Voices have been raised across the country opposing this “desecration” of our “hallowed ground.” Anger at Islam is expressed by demonstrations. Politicians and talking heads have expressed their indignation. Christians have expressed their hatred for the religion of Islam, and it would seem, for its adherents. Arguments, pro and con, abound. Polls, we’re told, show that nearly 70% of Americans oppose building on this site.

Well, what are we as citizens of two Kingdoms – as Christians and Americans – to do? What should be our attitude?

• First of all, I believe we need to recognize that the first amendment to our Constitution begins thus: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” That’s the beginning of our Bill of Rights! [The only other mention of religion in our Constitution is in Article Six, where it is stated that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”]

So it looks to me as thought these people have a right to build their building wherever they wish to. And I as an American have no right to deny them.

• But it has been protested that in many Muslim nations Christians are denied the right to build their buildings of worship. In fact, in some Muslim nations, it is against the law to even BE a Christian. This is true. Uni and I pray regularly for the persecuted church in these countries, as well as in others. We also pray for their persecutors.

However, I fail to see how the denial of rights to Christians in Muslim nations justifies in any way the denial of rights to Muslims in America. America is not a “Christian nation.” It never was and never will be. And I for one am glad it isn’t! My concern for persecuted believers in other nations leads me to this conclusion. I don’t want to see the church becoming the persecutor as it has been and still is, in some nations.

• All that I have said above has nothing to do with the “rightness” or “wrongness” of Islam. It has to do with my attitude as both an American and a follower of Jesus Christ.

I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the only way to God. He made that claim. He said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Though Islam believes Jesus was a great prophet, it does not accept these claims. It denies that God could have a Son. Therefore I have to conclude that Islam is false.

But Jesus also said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As I noted in the previous post, He left no loopholes. So while I believe my Muslim friends hold a false view of Jesus and of God, I am to love them as I love myself. It’s that simple, though it may not be easy.

Is this dangerous? I suppose it can be. My Muslim neighbor may not love me. He may even be out to convert me or something worse! (But then so also may my neighbor who is an atheist or a Hindu or a Christian of some other persuasion.)

Yet, even if all the fears expressed by the ranters and conspiracy theorists should be shown to be true, I have no other option than to love my neighbor.

Monday, August 2, 2010


A few weeks ago, an article that I found interesting appeared in our local paper (The Oklahoman, 7/17/2010).  It was entitled “Religious Tolerance at Issue.”  It told of a local neighborhood into which a new family was moving.  The family happened to be Muslim.  When one of the residents found this out, she “put a sign in her yard proclaiming her Christian beliefs and warning passers-by that Muslims are ‘dangerous.’”  The writer of the article, Carla Hinton gave her thoughts on this and told how it disturbed and troubled her.  We were told that the resident claimed she had a right to do this.
The rest of the article discussed free speech, religious intolerance and stereotyping.  Ms. Hinton commented that “stereotyping doesn’t fit in with the tenets of many religious faiths – least of all Christianity” and that this was also “very unneighborly thing to do …”  She then concluded by asking for her readers’ thoughts and said that they might be used in a future story.

Of course, I immediately e-mailed her my thoughts, and then waited to see them in print.

Two weeks later the column appeared giving some readers’ views.  Though I was disappointed to find that mine were not published, I eagerly read them all.  We were told that most readers agreed “that the yard sign was an example of religious intolerance,” though, “some others felt the woman who erected the yard sign was justified in doing so because of her Christian heritage.”  I assume that the views published were a reasonably good sampling.

One comment warned of the dangers of tolerance, that it is a satanic tool and that Jesus is the only Way.  Another pointed out that the woman’s beliefs and her “Christian” lifestyle didn’t seem to coincide and said that showing Christian love to the neighbor might cause them to want to know more about Christian faith.

One spoke of “the good and peaceful people who make up the Muslim community,” while another claimed this is all propaganda and that the lady’s sign was not unneighborly.

There were more, some in agreement with the sign lady, some in disagreement.  All the published comments (seven) appeared to be from those who claim to be Christians.

So, what do we do with this?  How can those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ differ so strongly?  Is this all simply a matter of opinion?

What bothered me is that though I would agree with much of what was expressed, I believe that the article and the responses seemed to ignore, even avoid, what Jesus Himself taught. (It’s in the Bible!)

When Jesus was questioned as to what the first and great commandment of the Law was, he replied:  “’You will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the great and first commandment.  And the second is like it.  ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-31).

Jesus was quoting, of course, from the Old Testament Law.  The commandment to love the Lord was from Deuteronomy 6:4, 5.  The commandment to love one’s neighbor came from Leviticus 19:18.  What is it about these two commandments that we don’t understand?

Just in case we’re looking for loopholes, the Bible seems to close them for us.

In the same chapter in Leviticus that Jesus quotes, there is another commandment:  “The stranger (or alien) who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).  Both verse 18 and 34 conclude with “I am the LORD !”

And that’s not all. In Matthew 5:43, 44, Jesus expands it still further, “You’ve heard that it was said, “You will love your neighbor and hate your enemies.  ’But I tell you ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’”

When a lawyer (teacher of the Law) tried to find a loophole by asking, “And who is my neighbor?”  Jesus told him a story of how one about whom the lawyer held racial and religious stereotypes (a Samaritan) behaved as a neighbor, and then told him to do likewise (Luke 10:25-27).

So if our neighbors include, not only those who look, behave and worship like us, but also aliens, our enemies, people of a different race or religion, then who is excluded?  Certainly not the Muslims next door!

Jesus left us with two Great Commandments – to love God and to love our neighbor.  He also left us with a Great Commission – to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).  The two are not mutually exclusive, as some of the above comments might seem to imply.  In fact, I believe that the Great Commission necessarily follows the Great Commandments.  If I truly believe that Jesus is the only Way to God (as some of the comments claim), and if I truly love my neighbors, then my great desire should be to see them come to faith in Christ.

Also, we should beware of using loving actions as a gimmick to win them to faith in Christ.  If I may express it thus:  We are not to use the Second Great Commandment as a means of carrying out the Great Commission, we are rather to use the Great Commission as a means of carrying out the Second Great Commandment.

So what should the “sign lady” do?  What should we do in a similar situation?  She (we) should simply love her (and our) neighbors, which means seeking what’s best for them.  This includes pointing them to Christ by her actions as well as her words.  But if these neighbors do not choose Christ, loving them is still our responsibility!

Bill Ball