Last evening, I stepped inside a diner a few blocks from my house to pick up the sandwiches I’d just called in. The place was busy–it was Friday evening and suppertime–and I spotted two kids at a table with their mother, so took my sketch pad inside.

“Ma’am, may I draw your sons?” showing her my pen and sketchpad.

“You’re an artist?”

I said, “Cartoonist.”

“Sure. That would be fine.”

The first one, a boy about 9 or 10, looked up with a killer smile and eyes aglow, so I drew him first. It takes 90 seconds. Then, I sketched his big brother while we made small conversation. Last, I drew the mom. She was friendly and trusting and we talked about that. I get a lot of skepticism when walking up to complete strangers asking, “May I draw you?”  People worry that someone is going to try to con them into something. It’s understandable.

A few minutes later, while in the line to pay for my order, the mother came over to give a takeout order, and we continued our conversation. One of her sons goes to a local Christian school, but she does not go to church anywhere.

“I’m skeptical of religions and churches,” she said.

Our visit was cut short at the counter, and she promised to check out my website, so I want to continue the discussion with her on the blog. Had we had longer to chat, this would have been my next statement:

“That’s good. There are so many weird religions today, so many churches of every type imaginable, and so many unfaithful ministers, it’s good to be skeptical. It’s good to have a healthy skepticism.”

A “healthy” skepticism is simply an inquiring mind that demands sufficient evidence before it believes anything.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated so much of the Gulf Coast, charlatans flowed into the area making all sorts of claims: “We will rebuild your house for you,” “We will get you a government grant,” “We will put a new roof on your house that will last 50 years.”

The people who were not skeptical–who did not ask the hard questions and demand satisfying answers–were often taken advantage of by these con men.

When one of my neighbors told me he owned a roofing company and would be glad to reroof my house, I asked for evidence and the names of satisfied customers. Once I checked him out and found that past customers were satisfied and saw that his price was competitive, we had a deal. That was late 2005 and I’ve not had reason to regret the decision.

Be skeptical about religions.

There are so many claims out there, they cannot all be right.

The person who blindly (and blandly) says, “All religions are right; they’re just different manifestations of God in us” is as unthinking and misguided as the one who says, “All religions are wrong; religion is a crutch needed only by the weak.”

Be skeptical about churches.

Not far from my house is a church of a liberal denomination that ordains gay men and lesbian women into the ministry. The pastor is someone I’ve known for many years. In fact, he used to be a Southern Baptist and even edited one of our national magazines. He’s a genuinely nice guy. One day we got into conversation at the grocery store. I mentioned that his denomination was known to ordain homosexuals into the clergy, and said, “Are you comfortable with that?” He said, “Yes, I am, Joe.” I said, “Okay. Just wanted to know.”

In my mind, that goes against a hundred teachings of Scripture. I am not sure what kind of mental gymnastics a person has to go through to accept such practices in his mind.

Be skeptical about ministers.

My wife heard on the news the other evening that the minister of a well-known church in another state was just arrested for child molestation. (Note: I am well aware that to be charged with a crime does not automatically mean one is guilty.)

There are preachers in prison for embezzling funds, and probably a lot more who ought to be.

There are preachers who have never broken the law or hurt a child but who believe some truly weird things about God and the Bible.

It pays to be skeptical about religions, churches, and ministers.

To be skeptical means:

1) You are asking hard questions.

Entire books are written on this subject, so our treatment here will be brief, but some of the questions to ask about religions and churches include: What do you teach? What is your authority? Show me some satisfied customers. What are the negatives, the reasons some people reject your religion or your church?

2) You are seeking the truth.

In order to know the truth when we find it, we must be willing to do it. Jesus said, “If any man is willing to do (God’s) will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself” (John 7:17).

If your search is merely to confirm your own agnosticism, call off the search. That is no way to find anything. No scientist unwilling to consider all the evidence and pursue any leads will ever arrive at the truth.

3) You are demanding evidence before making a commitment.

How do I know your system works? What is the authority for your faith and why should I believe it?

I asked a fellow from a sham religion (see? I’m making a judgment here. But only after a long investigation.) how he knew his religion was true. He said, “Because it gives me a warm feeling inside.” And he was a college professor with a doctorate!

I said, “Chili does that for me.” He was offended, but I was speaking (ahem) truth to him.

You do not want easy answers or to take anything on blind faith (that is, without evidence).

This is why I love being a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. He welcomes questioners and seekers.

Listen, my friend, no one who says something like “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me” can expect that to be taken on face value without some severe questions.

Jesus expects you to inspect Him. He invites your search, your questions, your seeking.

A few hours before He was crucified, Jesus was questioned by the old “high priest godfather,” a man named Annas whose son Caiaphas was the present high priest. The old man said, “Tell us what you’ve been preaching.” Jesus replied, “You can ask anyone who has heard me. Everything I had to say, I said openly. I have nothing to hide.” (My paraphrase of John 18:20-21).

So, come on in. Bring your questions. You have nothing to fear here.

I’d love to invite you to my church. You will find answers there, and a people who genuinely love the Lord and will love you.

This week, my wife and I have been keeping Baxter, our granddog, while Neil and his family have been enjoying the beach. Baxter is a West Highland terrier and about the sweetest animal the Lord ever made. He is a delight.

Early this morning, before the sun came up, Baxter and I were making our daily walk around the block for him to get his system stirring. He was sniffing at every mailbox and checking out invisible things in the grass.

At one point, Baxter found something on the grass. Before I could investigate, he was eating it. It was a slice of bread.

I thought, “I sure hope there was nothing wrong with that bread, because he’s eaten it now.”

The little dog needs to be more skeptical and not take something into his system just because it smells good and looks familiar.

His predecessor, the Westie our grandchildren owned before Baxter, was a precious little dog named Beignet (named for the powdery pastries for which New Orleans is famous). One day, Beignet ate the fruit from a neighbor’s sego palm. We found out too late that this is poisonous to pets. We still grieve at the 24 hours of sheer agony that precious pet went through before dying.

“Wisdom is better than jewels; and all desirable things cannot compare with her” (Proverbs 8:11).

Lord, when you made us, you equipped with us inquiring minds. Now, give us hearts that recognize Thy truth when we see it and want nothing more than to know Thee and serve Thee. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Publication date: August 7, 2012