What Defines a Good Christian?

I hear it all the time. Someone is being described to me and they will be labeled as a “good Christian.” It sounds something like this: “You should meet him, he is a good Christian guy,” “She will handle your business well, she is a good Christian woman,” or “That teenager is such a good Christian.”

Every time I hear that description I wonder what people mean by it. How do you define a good Christian?

Is it someone who believes in Jesus?
Is it someone who goes to Church?
Is it someone who serves others in some way?
Is it someone who is truly generous?
Is it someone who is generally nice?

I am not really sure what people mean when they say it.

I think the answer lies in a contrasting lifestyle. Can someone be a lousy Christian? Well … yes, yes they can.

1. Some people who call themselves Christians are counterfeits. There are people who will claim to be Christians who really have no relationships with God. They simply use the name for some type of benefit. For example, this time of year numerous politicians will find religion. They know to get a certain vote they need the proper credentials, even if they are fake.

2. Some people are Christians in name only. There are people who come to Church and might say they believe in Jesus, but you would never see them live it out. They know the right words and the right phrases but have no action to match their words.

3. Some people who call themselves Christians lack transformation. There are people who go to Church and do a few religious activities, but there is something wrong. They never seem to change in any way. They are in the right places but have no real evidence of the effects of being in that place. Even though they attend religious events nothing has changed in their lives.

I think people who are labeled as “good Christians” are people of active faith. They are people who answer my initial question positively. You see their faith in their activities and their words. You see their faith in their name and in their character.

The hard part is that being a good Christian is that it is not a label I can put on myself. I tend to judge myself by my intentions and others by their actions. So in my eyes, of course, I am a good Christian. But the biggest question is not how I see myself, but how other people see me. So that begs the question, “Are you a good Christian?”

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Thinking About Myself

Inside my head, there are two opposing thoughts that continue to polarize my life.

On one side I think I am so smart. On the other side, I am so stupid
On one side I think I am so strong. On the other side, I am so weak.
On one side I think I am deeply spiritual. On the other side, I am completely sinful.
On one side I think I am a masterpiece. On the other side, I am a wretch.
On one side I think I am clear thinking. On the other side, I am a mess.
On one side I think I am nearly perfect. On the other side, I am far from perfect.
On one side I think I am totally awesome. On the other side, I am a total failure.

If you were to take all of the stories of my life you would find there is ample evidence for either side of the equation. Believe me, I have spent many nights replaying both sides in my head.

One of the great struggles in life is to find the proper middle ground for thinking about myself.

In Jesus, the Bible proclaims that we are sinners but it also tells us that we are saints. We are both a wretch and a masterpiece at the same time. As believers, we have to live with this tension. We ought not to think too highly of ourselves but we must not think too lowly either. The tendency of most people I know is that they only see one side of the story. We bounce between over inflated egos and depression.

The bad news is that you are not as good as you think you are. The good news is that you are not as bad as you think you are. The best news is that you are everything you think you are in Jesus.

You are a foolish person who is wise in Christ.
You are a weak person who is strong in the Lord.
You are a sinner who can connect to God in Jesus.
You are a wretch who Jesus made into a masterpiece.
You are a mess who found the truth in Jesus.
You are imperfect and were made perfect in Jesus.
You have failed but God has forgiven you in Jesus.

Be clear about who you are and who you are not. Wrong beliefs about yourself will lead you down a dark path in life. Jesus helps us think clearly and brings the light of life.

A Plan For Giving

Yesterday I spoke about the reasons we take up an offering on Sunday morning. I am not going to repeat the whole sermon on here, you can listen to it on the church website (adriancc.org). I did, however, want to give the final part of my sermon. I think it can be helpful to anyone considering giving.

The passage for the day was 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 “Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. [2] On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.”

From this verse I gave a simple plan for giving:

1. Give Regularly – “On the first day of every week”

Have a regular time to evaluate all of your finances. Make sure you include giving in your plan.

2. Give Personally – “Each one of you”

Giving is for every individual.

3. Give Systematically – “Set aside a sum of money”

Include giving in your budget. It is one thing to say you need to give $40 and another thing to write out a check long before you arrive at Church. You should have a plan for giving that includes, when, how much and how.

4. Give Proportionately – “in keeping with his income”

In the Old Testament, the standard was a tithe or one-tenth. We are not under the law, but it does give us a general idea about how much we should give. My encouragement is to simply “grow one.” Give a dollar more. Give 1% more. Stretch yourself and see how generous you can be.

Talking about giving is an ugly subject. I worry about how non-Christians heard my sermon on the topic. The hard truth is that believers do need to be confronted with this topic in order to become complete followers of Jesus. I hope this helps you on that journey.

One Lesson at a Time

I have two different files in Evernote that I use daily. One file contains blogs that I have started and put together several lines. Some of these fragments are almost complete and others have a long way to go. The other file is just an idea file. It contains a phrase or a one line idea for a blog post.

I just counted up both files and I have 138 ideas for blog posts.

Why do I tell you this? Simply to underline the fact that there is a lot to learn in the Christian life. Almost every day I see something, read something or watch something that gives me a small lesson worth remembering. I have a lot to teach, but I also have a lot to learn.

Some days I get discouraged and think I am not learning fast enough. I wish I knew more. I wish I was a better Christian. I wish my life was a perfect example of what it means to be a believer.

Then I remind myself that I am growing. My growth is coming at my own pace. If I can learn one thing new each day, then I am a success. If each week I can do one new thing for the Lord, then I am growing in my faith.

I continually need to remember that I am living one day at a time and learning one lesson at a time. Even small growth is still growth.

Why I Still Believe

I often wonder what happened to the teens I attended youth group with as a young adult. We had a group of about 30 teens who gathered every Sunday night to play, connect and learn. I have no idea if they continued in the Church and in their faith. I do know that statistically speaking most of them are no longer involved in any Church even though they might still claim to be believers. Time is not kind to people of faith. Quite often people will quit on their journey with God long before they reach their destination. Some people get hurt, others lose interest and still, others fail and just quit trying.

I am unique. I have stayed their course with my faith. It has been 36 years since I proclaimed Jesus as my Lord and Savior and was baptized. My faith has changed through the years but I am still trusting God’s grace daily and actively involved in Church. Lately, I have been kicking around the question, “Why do I still believe when many others have given up?”

1. My decision to follow Jesus was purely my decision
I did not feel any manipulation from my parents, my youth leader or my Church. In fact, I think I surprised people the day I walked forward to accept Jesus. Many people come to faith at a week of camp or CIY where there is a lot of emotion in the moment. Some people come to faith to make their parents happy. I really didn’t feel that pressure. I made my decision based on what I understood and as a result, I feel a personal obligation to God.

2. My faith is built solely on Jesus.
My dad explained the gospel to my brother while we rode around in his truck. I overheard everything and it made sense to me. My preacher offered an invitation to accept Jesus and be baptized and I went forward. I trusted Jesus as my Savior. I did not get scared at some “Thief in the Night” or “Heaven’s gate and Hell’s flame” production. I clearly understood the gospel message and built a life of faith on a strong foundation.

3. I have sought answers for my questions.
Through the years I have had numerous questions about my faith. I struggled through the death of my best friend. I was tossed around in seas of doubt. I have nearly drowned in guilt and shame. Each time I encountered a new struggle I went back to the Bible. I prayed and read God’s word. I read books and articles to help me understand. I talked to people who lived through a similar crisis of faith. Each time I came out of the mire of doubt a little stronger than before.

4. I wanted to help instead of fleeing
The Church can be incredibly ugly. I was there in the Church lobby when my dad was verbally assaulted by a lady about his work as an elder. I have heard the horror stories of my dad as a young man. I decided I wanted to make a difference in the Church and not run away. As an adult, I have realized most of my childish fears. People were mean, ugly and nasty to me. With each encounter, I asked God to teach me and help me make changes that would make the Church better. Honestly, wherever two or more are gathered to do anything, there will be issues. The Church is no different, unfortunately. You can either be a part of the problem or a part of the solution.

5. I still need grace
No matter how hard I try to achieve it – I am still not perfect. I still make mistakes. I still struggle with temptation and sin. I still struggle with guilt and shame. I still need the forgiveness that I find in Jesus Christ. I still need the grace to let go of my yesterdays and embrace today. I still need the hope of heaven. I still need Jesus.

I have always said that if I find anything better than Jesus and I come to the point of believing it, then I will leave my faith in him. To this point, I have found nothing that can compare with my faith in Jesus. In fact, I find most people desperately need what he offers. Even when I could have walked away from faith and no one would have blamed me, I didn’t. To whom shall I go? Only Jesus has the words of life.

One Pastor’s Thoughts on the Church Today

As a preacher, I am thinking about the Church all the time. I work at the Church building 5-6 days a week. I will preach 49 times this year. I am here for youth group and numerous other meetings. If you were to ask my wife, she will tell you that I think about Church and my ministry a great deal even when I am away from the office. I talk to Christians and some non-Christians about faith. I keep notes on what I am thinking and what I am seeing.

Here are a five of my current thoughts on Church.

1. Bible resources are high, Bible knowledge is low.
Honestly, I am not completely sure what is going on. People have Bibles on their phones and resources that past generations would have never dreamed about. There is great preaching on the web along with some wonderful Bible study tools. And yet, most people I meet have little Bible knowledge. They don’t know the stories or the point of the stories. There is a huge disconnect between the amount of tools and the amount of knowledge we are getting from them.

2. Time Management is more important today than financial management.
I see this in the Church along with every other area of life. Money is no longer as valuable as time. People will gladly give their money to a project long before they will give you a single minute. Time is a resource that must be managed to be used effectively.

3. Christian parents need Godly guidance.
I fear we are raising a generation that is selfish and confused at the same time. Christian parents are striving to be good parents and in the process, they give their children everything. Unfortunately many are neglecting the most important things in life while exalting the temporary. Sports and success are the idols used to deceive a new generation.

4. A one-time good work is quickly becoming a replacement for discipleship.
People would rather spend one Saturday month doing some project like working at a homeless shelter or food pantry or meals on wheels than time in Bible study or prayer. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in people serving and doing good works. I simply do not believe that those are the only part of living a righteous life. In fact, we can quickly shift to a works related salvation that has very little to do with the grace of Jesus. True believers will develop into a Christlikeness through all that they do.

5. Strong, real relationships are second only to Jesus.
Our first priority is a saving relationship with Jesus. Our second is to connect people to other people. With the rise of electronic devices, there has been a steady decline in relationships. Combine that with poor time management and overactive parenting and most people are very lonely. One of the biggest issues for the Church of the future is how to get people connected into deep meaningful relationships. In fact, I believe many people will develop a great relationship with Jesus but struggle with other people because of limited to no social skills with other believers.

These are five of the biggest issues that I see facing the Church today. Would you add anything to my list? I know that some of these will change in the very near future, but some will only increase in the future. I spend a lot of time thinking, reading and praying about these issues. I don’t have a lot of answers yet, but I am asking God to guide his people through these into a better future. I hope you will join me.