Burning the Koran is the latest example to hit the news of unchristian Christianity!  A Florida pastor last week announced that he would stage a Koran burning day (on the ninth anniversary of 9/11) as a protest over the proposed building of an Islamic Cultural Centre near the World Trade Centre site.

It is my personal opinion that building an Islamic Cultural Centre so close to the area where thousands of people lost their lives because of the action of Muslim extremists is insensitive and inappropriate.  But to threaten to burn the Muslims’ Holy Book is also insensitive, inappropriate and flies in the face of Jesus’ teaching – especially the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).

Almost all organized religions have such an ethic, and Islam is no exception.  Muhammad, in his farewell sermon said, “Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you.”  The Koran states, “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”  It also teaches, “Seek for mankind that of which you are desirous for yourself, that you may be a believer …”

Fascinating isn’t it?  That even in the light of Jesus’ and Muhammad’s teaching so many of their followers get it wrong.  And because of this we have “Christians” threatening to burn the Koran and “Muslims” blowing up buildings.  Would these people want others to do this to them?  Of course not!  So why – when their faith teaches so differently – do they behave so “unchristianly” and “unmuslimly” to others?

Of course this is not a new phenomena.  Muslims can point to numerous atrocities committed against them by Christians over the centuries – not least of all The Crusades.  And Muslims have likewise persecuted Christians, destroyed churches and have been guilty on many occasions of burning Bibles:

2005: Saudi Arabia desecrates hundreds of Bibles annually
2006: Muslim students urinate, spit on and then burn the Bible
2007: Christians in Gaza fear for their lives as Muslims burn Bibles and destroy crosses
2008: Muslims burn Bibles in Pakistan

Just put some key words on this subject into Google and it brings up a wealth of examples of both Christians and Muslims failing to obey their Golden Rule as taught by Jesus and Muhammad.

The biggest problem though is that many people – and often the media – tend to lump all Christians and all Muslims together in the same category, so that “all Muslims are terrorists” and “all Christians are Koran burners.”  Of course that is just not true.

We do far better when we stop making broad generalizations about categories of people and instead get to know precious people as individuals.  As a Christian I know many fine, genuine Christians who are horrified by the threat of this Florida Pastor.  Over the years I have also met some wonderful Muslim people who are equally horrified by the actions and attitudes of a minority who bear the name “Muslim” but do not live up to their faith’s teachings.

What the world needs to see is genuine faith without hypocrisy!

It’s time for the church to face facts.  The fact that many people’s perception of the church is that it’s too sheltered, boring, unintelligent and out of touch with reality.

This perception has come because of an unnecessary and unbiblical separation of the church from the world.  The perception is that the church is like a club that only certain people – good people – can join. How wrong this is.

The church is also seen as being separate from the supernatural world and therefore lacking in spiritual vitality.  During many of my teenage years, I had a fascination with the spirit world but didn’t see any spiritual life in the church or those who called themselves Christian.

There is also a perception that the church doesn’t encourage curiosity and questions and that Christianity doesn’t make sense and is not relevant to life.  It’s like “come to Jesus and cut off your head!”  Strange when you consider John 1:1 which says, “In the beginning was the Word (Logos = logic), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I know we can’t understand everything about God, but the Christian message is the most logical and simple message; even a child can understand it!

The solution to this perception is a revolution where we engage with the world in the same way Jesus did – radical identification and radical difference.  Jesus radically identified with people – and not just the “good” people.  This was totally out of character for religious leaders of his day and the religious establishment was vicious to him as a result.  This didn’t stop Jesus from mixing and mingling with the up-and-out and the down-and-out because, as he said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)  He realized there was no impact without contact.  The church is the salt of the earth, but to be truly effective, we need to get out of the shaker!

The flipside of this is a radical difference.  Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, but he was neither.  He was holy and blameless. He mixed with the people of the world but He didn’t compromise with the world.  We would do well to follow His example.

Mark Metzger summarizes this succinctly: “Being salt and light demands two things: we practice purity in the midst of a fallen world and yet we live in proximity to this fallen world.  If you don’t hold up both truths in tension, you invariably become useless and separated from the world God loves.  For example, if you only practice purity apart from proximity to the culture, you inevitably become pietistic, separatist, and conceited.  If you live in close proximity to the culture without also living in a holy manner, you become indistinguishable from fallen culture and useless in God’s Kingdom.” (Fine Tuning Tensions within Culture: The Art of being Salt and Light).

Jesus put it this way: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”

One reason for the “hypocrite” tag is the way in which the Christian message has been promoted and taught over the years – predominantly as a religion of rules and regulations that even Christians can’t live up to.  People then measure us by our own standards – which we don’t fully keep – and then label us as hypocrites.  Jesus spoke about this: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” (Matthew 23:2-3)

There is an underlying belief, even amongst many Christians, that one can be saved by being and doing good – that is, by keeping the Ten Commandments.  But what does the New Testament say about the Ten Commandments?

In 2 Corinthians 3, the apostle Paul refers to them as “the ministry that brought death” and “the ministry that condemns men.”  Why?  The Law was never meant to be a way of salvation.  It was introduced in order to make us aware that, in our own efforts, we cannot attain the standard of God’s perfection.  Paul puts it this way, “Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.” (Romans 7:9).  That’s why he refers to the Law as “the ministry that brought death.”

The Law is like the black cloth that jewellers use to display their gems.  The black shows up the beauty and value of the gem in the same way that the blackness of the Law shows up the beauty and value of God’s grace.  The church was never meant to preach the Law as a standard for the world to follow – we don’t even live up to it ourselves, and this leads to accusations of hypocrisy

In his book Unchristian, David Kinnaman says, “Christians believe the primary reason outsiders have rejected Christ is that they cannot handle the rigorous standards of following Christ.  The unchristian faith – hypocritical, judgmental and full of empty moral striving – is what Paul warned his readers about.”  (See Galatians 3:3; 5:1, 13-15)

No one can live up to the “Christian image” of being good and not sinning. As a result because of the “wrong message” many Christians feel the need to project an image of “having it all together.  It’s at this point that hypocrisy is perceived.

The solution is radical transparency.  The Bible teaches that we will not attain perfection in this life.  We need to be honest and transparent about this.  God calls us to be authentic people – the real deal – not pretending to be something that we’re not:  “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)

Does your life point people to a life in Christ that bursts with the freedom to love, restoration, purity and transparency?  Or are you burying people under the weight of a self-righteous life?

I love the way Leo Tolstoy articulates this: “Attack me, I do this myself, but attack me rather than the path I follow and which I point out to anyone who asks me where I think it lies.  If I know the way home and am walking along it drunkenly, is it any less the right way because I am staggering from side to side?”

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“Why are there so many hypocrites in the church?”  This is an often-heard question and impression that people outside the church have of Christians.  So, what is a Hypocrite?

The word was originally used by Greek and Roman actors who would use large masks and pretend to be something they were not.  The word came to be used by people who were externally religious but internally insincere.  Hypocrites care more about appearance than truth.  They’re more concerned with reputation than reality.

Of course, hypocrisy is nothing new.  Jesus scathingly denounced the religious hypocrites of his day and encouraged people to be sincere in their faith and pure in their motives.  Have a read of Matthew 23:1-36 to see the extent of Jesus’ anger towards religious hypocrites whom He viewed as “Whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones.”

There are still religious hypocrites around today.  I was turned off Christianity and became an atheist during my teenage years partly because of the hypocrisy I saw in one of my mate’s families, as well as at a Church of England Grammar School I attended.  If you have been turned off Christianity because of hypocrisy then allow me to apologize to you on their behalf.

People are genuinely disappointed when those who call themselves Christian don’t live up to the message they preach.  Some people who have sincerely sought truth have been turned away from the Christian faith because of hypocrisy.

Others use it as an excuse: “I won’t become a Christian because there are too many hypocrites in the church!”  I love motivational speaker Zig Ziglar’s response to this: “Why not?  We can handle another one!”

Why are there hypocrites in the Church?

– Because there are hypocritical people in all walks of life.
– Because there will always be counterfeits of the real thing.  For example, you’ll never find a counterfeit $7 note because there is no such thing as a $7 note.  The fact that there are counterfeit Christians around means there must be the real thing as well – that’s good news!
– Because some people call themselves Christian but they are really not.  They go to church, wear a cross, have a sticker on their car, and carry a big black Bible but they’ve never had a life-changing encounter with Jesus!
– Because some people have a wrong understanding of what a Christian really is.  Some have an enormous expectation that Christians need to be perfect.

But the reality is Christians are not perfect; they’re still under construction.  In fact, the first step to becoming a Christian is to acknowledge to yourself and to God that you cannot make it in your own strength.  The Bible says we all fall short of God’s standard of perfection – we all miss the mark (Romans 3:23).  That’s why we need God’s grace.  That’s what being a Christian is all about.

Why are there so many hypocrites in the church?  I have a better question for you:  Are you going to allow a hypocrite to deny you from having a life-changing relationship with your creator?  The fact is, if a hypocrite is standing between you and God, the hypocrite is closer to God than you are!

Nearly 2000 years ago Paul the Apostle wrote these words to the Christians in Rome: “Don’t live any longer the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed.”  In other words, the way the Christian thinks is not to be influenced by the world’s way of thinking.  This, of course, is easier said than done as we are constantly bombarded with what the world thinks.

One area of the world’s influence on Christian thinking that concerns me is the consumer mindset and how it influences our response to God and to church.

A number of years ago Christie and I lived next door to a couple from a Catholic background. A year or so after we moved in they shared with us that she (the lady of the couple) had been diagnosed with a severe form of breast cancer.  She had all sorts of drastic treatments but nothing worked and she eventually lost her battle at the age of 32 leaving a husband and a one-year-old son. In her last months Christie spent a lot of time with her, shared the gospel and led her to the Lord. Surrounded by God’s presence she testified to having no fear of death and that she was looking forward to going to heaven. In the weeks following her death I had the privilege of leading her husband to Christ and he is still an active member of our church.

The thing that stands out to me from this story is the way that suffering brought this couple to Jesus. They had a theology that pain and suffering is part of this life and that drawing closer to God in times like these can actually ease the pain and make some sense from the suffering. How different this is to the “consumer God” theology of many contemporary Christians. Consumer God is ever present to answer every prayer, meet every need and grant every wish.  When consumer God doesn’t respond in our way, our timeframe or to our agenda we walk away.  “God mustn’t love me or maybe God doesn’t exist after all.”

The same is true for consumer church. I met a guy recently who had taken his family out of their church because the facilities weren’t meeting his family’s needs. Now, I’m all for providing facilities to properly pastor and care for people and their needs, but there is a fine line between providing these services and a worldly expectation that “I deserve this and if I don’t get what I want I’ll join the church down the road where I can have my needs met.” This attitude treats Jesus’ church as a commodity rather than a family. It’s like me leaving Christie and the kids because I can get better meals with the family down the street.

Consumer Christians need a mind shift.  We need a revelation that God has already done more for us than He had to by providing forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus.  We didn’t deserve it – that’s why it’s called grace.  And He doesn’t owe us anything now – we owe Him everything.  I live with the mindset that if God doesn’t ever do another thing for me then it’s fine. The fact that He does continue to bless and give is a benefit not a guarantee.

And it’s the same with church. I love leading a church that provides excellent facilities and ministries to see people grow in their faith; but I’m not interested in simply accommodating those who come to “use the house.”  I’m interested in building a family of believers who love God, love each other and love making a difference in the world – and will stick it out with one another through the good times as well as the tough times because we’re family.

So if you find yourself guilty of being a consumer Christian let Paul’s words challenge you: “Don’t live any longer the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed.”


Now, right from the start I want to make my position clear so there can be no misunderstanding from what I’m about to say (I hope!). I am Pro-Israel. I believe that God chose to work through this people group in order to bring forth the Messiah who would save those who put their trust in Him that’s what Genesis 12:3 is about – “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  But being Pro-Israel does not mean two things:

1. That I agree with everything Israel does, and

2. That I am anti any other nation

I believe it is vital that our Pro-Israel stance does not blind us to these two very important truths, because some Christians I have spoken to are so Pro-Israel that, in their eyes, Israel can do no wrong.  These same people often speak disparagingly of nations that Israel is at enmity with, such as the Palestinians.

Regarding the first issue: Blessing Israel does not mean I have to agree with everything it does.  I love my kids; I love to bless my kids; but that does not blind me to their faults and it does not stop me from exacting appropriate discipline when they do the wrong thing.  In the Old Testament God often punished the nation of Israel for their wrong actions.  Over the years Israel has been guilty of some dreadful injustices to others.  We have some Palestinian people at Bayside Church who have recounted to me the horrors their families were subjected to by Israeli soldiers many years ago.  My point here is that just because Israel does it doesn’t mean it’s right.

Secondly, being Pro-Israel does not mean I have to be anti any other nation.  I am not anti-Palestinian; I am not anti-Arab; I am not anti-Lebanese – and neither is God.  Jesus came to save people of all nations.  Glimpses of heaven in the Book of Revelation refer to there being people of all nations worshipping around the throne of God.

One of the things I love about the church is that we start to get a glimpse of heaven on earth.  In the Church we see Jews and Palestinians worshipping side by side as well as people from Lebanon, Iraq and other nations.  We see Protestant and Catholic Irish people loving each other.  This is why heaven will be heaven.  The Church’s task now is to bring heaven to earth:  that’s what Jesus told us to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer.  Supporting injustices of one nation against another or being anti any nation creates hell on earth rather than heaven and ultimately works against the plan and purpose of God for the World He loves.