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#1 Institution

What is the most powerful institution in the world?  The US government?  The UN?  A global business network?

The answer is the church.

That’s right.  The often seemingly puny, hypocritical, impotent, shrinking, divided, irrelevant institution—the church–is #1.  How do we know this?  Is this the result of social research?  Surveys?  Polls?  Membership?

We know this because Jesus said it.  In Matthew 16:19 he states that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church.

And they haven’t.  The Christian church is 2000 years old.  Think about that.  Civilizations, empires, global entities, have come and gone.  The church is still here.  Famous people—Alexander the Great, Julius Cesar, Constantine, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, JFK, Martin Luther King, Elvis, Nelson Mandela, Frank Sinatra, Muhammad Ali, and Michael Jackson—dominant figures by any measure—are not only gone, but they have largely faded from memory.

Humanly speaking, what are the chances the church would outlive all these entities and the vivid impact of all these people?

The sportsbooks of Las Vegas would not post a line on that.

Yet the church bells keep ringing.  And they will continue to ring.

Christ said so.  DC

[225] Polarization

I see no end to our current political polarization. It is not like the Civil War, divisions over FDR’s liberalism, or Nixon’s Watergate.  The current divide is spiritual.  It is a culture war between Judeo-Christian values and secular progressivism.  Though the water is muddy on both sides of the divide—those advancing the Judeo-Christian side are often neither Jewish nor Christian, just conservative, and not everyone in the secular progressive wing is at war with Judeo-Christian thinking, just politically liberal.

Nonetheless, at core, the struggle is between those who want God in the national equation and those who want him out.  It is a battle for the soul of the country.  And that makes the war spiritual.  For 200 years, from the Founding Fathers to recent times, the name of God was welcomed in the institutions of the nation. Often that mention was merely ceremonial, or from the lips of deists, or other not necessarily Christian public leaders.  But the mention was there.  In fact, it was expected, because America was a Christian country based on percentage of its citizens that claimed to be Christian.

In the last half century all of that has changed.  Famous people openly profess their atheism, and it is no longer politically incorrect to deride Christian beliefs or values in public.  In short, it is open season on God and all he represents.

For the time being, this is a war without guns.  More concerning, it is a war through which many Christians are sleeping while their always-at-the-ready adversaries are steadily advancing. DC

[224] Impact

Despite all the problems with evangelicalism—its frequent self-righteousness, unnecessary divisiveness, and instances of troubling hypocrisy—I find myself more drawn to its camp than the less biblically orthodox churches.

I can state the reason in but a simple word: impact.

Despite our human flaws, all of which show up in our churches, those churches that sincerely attempt to be biblically orthodox pack a wallop.  People enter a relationship with Christ, believers are taught how to be disciples, and one can sense the power of the Holy Spirit in them.

These churches proclaim the foolishness of the gospel, often in less than intellectually sophisticated ways, but that foolishness continues to transform its people.

I do not see spiritual impact in more liberal, mainline denominational churches. I do not see transformed lives. I hear varnished, blurry, let’s-not-offend-anyone sermons, tired rituals, and happy coffee hours. I sense a warm, fuzzy feeling about God among those in attendance, but not one that has much impact on me, or my ability to have impact on the world.

DC

[224] Purpose

In a recent blog, I cited the epidemic of loneliness among Generation Z (18-22-year-olds).  Some years previous, USA Today posed a question: If you came face-to-face with God what would you ask?

Here are the responses.

–What is my purpose in life? 34%

–Is there life after death? 19%

–Is there intelligent life elsewhere? 7%

–How long will I live? 6%

The results reveal a stark fact.  People are aimless.  They are alive, but do not know why. And it bothers them.  They are less concerned about life after death than why they are alive now.

This was a national survey.  Given how unchurched, and drenched in secular progressive thinking the lonely members of Generation Z are, I suspect the concern over one’s purpose is life would be even higher.

There is no transcendent purpose in life without God. Without God one has to determine his own reason for staying alive.  Life purpose becomes the product of one’s own wholly subjective efforts. It is completely devoid of any objective reality, in fact any reality outside of one’s self.

For most, finding purpose that way is above their pay grade.  For the believer, the answer is simple: The purpose of life is to honor God and enjoy him forever. Interestingly, that is the very first answer in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Honoring God is one’s purpose.  Enjoying him is the benefit.

I have met a lot of people who take that seriously, and they seem to have a very clear and meaningful agenda for living. DC

[223] Identity

There is a line in a contemporary Christian song that goes, “I know who I am because of who you are.”

Simple words, but profound.

Identity is a challenge for many. For the believer, the first answer to the “Who am I?” question is that I am a child God.  To understand one’s own self then, begins with an understanding of who God is–the one in whose image we are made.  God has taken much of the difficulty out of this endeavor through the incarnation of his son, the ultimate role model of all time, Jesus Christ.

Reading, studying, reflecting, and following Christ is the first step on the journey toward finding our ideal self—a journey that not only honors God, but is also the way in which we discover who we are. DC

[223] Epidemic

Decades ago I wrote a book about what was becoming a national epidemic: loneliness. Little has changed. Loneliness not only continues to be a national killer, it is apparently getting worse.

Christianity Today cited a survey, sponsored by Cigna, that found young people were more likely to report being lonely than senior citizens. Social isolation among those between 18 and 22 was higher than that of those 72 and older.

So in other words, that college student next door is more likely to feel lonely than granny (who longs for visitors).  How is that possible?

One reason is that we are an increasingly urban, impersonal society.  Another is that social media has replaced social relationships. The article quoted Jagdish Khubchandani, a health science professor at Ball State University. “I have students who tell me they have 500 ‘friends,’ [in social media] but when they’re in need, there’s no one,” Khubchandani says.

I would push this cart a bit further. Generation Z is one step further away than the previous one from being part of a culture that affirms the existence of God. As secular forces continue to succeed in driving God out of every inch of the public sector they succeed in removing any thought of him from the minds of millions, particularly young people.

Think about it.  Unless a child is brought up in a believing family, there is little likelihood she will engage the thought of there being a God, much less a personal one. God has been removed from our public educational system.  Not much chance there. Virtually any serious public mention of God in government elicits a nasty separation-of-church-and-state attack, making God at best, irrelevant. Judeo-Christian values—an expression of God—have been replaced by secular progressive ones.

This removal of any thought of God is not an accident. It is the goal of secular progressivism.  Away with God–and especially rules that interfere with the human desire to be “free” and make one’s own decisions.  Submission is even less popular now than in the Garden of Eden.

But without God we are alone.  And Generation Z is feeling the impact. DC

[222] Silent Killer

There is a silent killer in the kingdom of God.  It is bad relationships—alienation–in Christian families. Almost every time I run across a Christian family who have “covenant children” who are not believers, I see relational dysfunction in the family.  This can take many forms, but often its genesis is an unhealthy relationship between the parents. I know one spiritually active Christian couple in which the husband—while staying married and getting along with his spouse on the surface—literally despises his wife.  I have a hard time imagining his children have not picked up on the scent.  Most of the children are either very quiet about their faith or have openly rejected it.

This happens over and over and over again.  Unhealthy families composed of spiritually disabled believers—if they are believers at all.

Why?

I think one reason is that the church has drifted away from focusing on the part of the Second Great Commandment that advocates love, forgiveness, and grace.  It is hard to get definitive stats, but many report the divorce rate among professing Christians is running close to the national average. I (and many of my Christian friends) have contributed to those statistics, and it is the biggest failing of my life. My concern is that the church seems to be looking the other way, more interested in discussing gay marriage and other “them” issues than the ever growing “we” issue of marriage breakdown among its members. And it’s everywhere.  People with television ministries quietly get divorced, and then reappear a few years later with a new spouse as if the previous marriage partner never existed.

Please understand, I am not advocating a reintroduction of the scarlet letter era.  I am saying that healthy disciples come from healthy families, and if the church really wants to make a difference in the world, a good place to start might be placing healthy Christian relationships at the top of its agenda. DC

[222] Division

Paige Patterson, a major figure in the Southern Baptist Convention, is out as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Patterson was caught in a cultural and generational crossfire involving the role and treatment of women.  The 75-year old church leader was charged with having made a spectrum of comments about women over the years, comments many regarded as sexist and demeaning.

You need only google up Patterson to get the details.  The issue, however, is much larger than the case of one fired seminary president. The issue is about the cultural and generational division among Southern Baptists.  There is evidence that women and younger Christians take much more contemporary approaches to the issues of race and gender from that of their male and older counterparts.

I suspect this split is present among more than Southern Baptists.

This is not a good time for the church.  It is divided—and profoundly so–over race, gender, divorce, sexual orientation, and other issues.  For years, the church—not knowing what to do with these complex dilemmas—tried to imagine they did not exist.  Denial is no longer an option.  All the concerns are now “above ground.”  Resolution will not come soon. It may never come.  Let’s pray that zealots on all sides will realize they are stewards of God’s institution, not shareholders of one that belongs to them. DC

[221] Distinction

Believers within the evangelical camp love to talk about salvation.  They are forever concerned that their family and friends are saved.

Salvation, however, is not the goal for humanity according to the New Testament.  Discipleship is.  In fact, discipleship is much more important because it not only includes salvation, it is the life purpose for every believer.

The Westminster Catechism states that the chief purpose of humankind is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  It is not to escape hell and be saved.  It is to be a disciple—the Lord side of the “savior and Lord” profession, and the works side of “faith and works.” Stated simply, believers–Christ’s body on earth–are called to build the kingdom of God.  The church needs to focus more on this, because disciples are the difference-makers for the faith.  They are the ones working toward effecting God’s will on earth.

I, like many other Christians, have spent too much time as a spiritual invalid, a believer but not really a disciple who makes working God’s agenda the direction of his life.

As important as evangelism is, it is step one.  Salvation is one-sided.  It is about us.  It puts us into his family. It is God’s gift to us. Discipleship is not about us.  It is about the one who put us into his family.  It is about the reason we are saved. DC

[221] Visible Hope

One of the more disturbing elements of secularism is the disappearance of visible reminders of the presence of God.  One of these is the gradual ebbing away of churches in the city.  I am not talking about groups of believers.  I am talking about church buildings.  Daniel Darling at Christianity Today cites the trend of church buildings being sold off and converted into non-religious structures. Darling points out that church buildings are significant to urban culture for reasons beyond being a places of worship. Churches function as a spiritual sanctuary for citizens, a place to get help with temporal needs, and a meeting place for recovery programs and community events.

Darling is right, but let me add one more.  The often ancient, majestic church buildings are visible witnesses to the presence of God in the city.  As these visible reminders of God’s presence disappear, the consciousness of God in the minds of the people—believers and more important, non-believers—is also diminished.  Our cities are filled with poverty, violence, and despair.  They are desperately in need of what the prophet Jeremiah (29:12) calls “a future and a hope.” When we remove those bricks-and-mortar structures, we are losing more than buildings.  We are losing hope. DC

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