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Archive for the ‘F & L Insights’ Category

[228] Non-spiritual

Faith and learning is arguably more important today than it was a decade, two decades, five decades ago.  The reason is that our culture is increasingly non-spiritual.

By non-spiritual, I am not talking about trust in in science as some final authority here.  As far back as I can remember science has been venerated.  In my youth, commercials regularly presented their products as “scientifically proven.” I am talking about the marginalizing—the making irrelevant—of all things spiritual.  It is as subtle as the serpent in Genesis 3, but over the decades our culture has evolved into one in which a spirit world—angels and devils, for example—is not a part of our consciousness.  For many, even the thought of such spiritual realities is preposterous, a venture into a sort of religious science fiction.

Thinking Christians are surrounded by exactly that mindset.  To the secularist, the notion of a Christian colleague moving from the scientific pursuits of academe, business, or some other professional sphere to a time of prayer is incredulous.  It is a quantum leap from scientific reality to unprovable fantasy.  For the Christian it is seamless.  Science is part of the Creator’s order, so studying that creation in the context of a personal relationship with the Creator is smooth logic.

Prayer may increase in importance for the thinking Christian, as she is living and working in a non-spiritual culture, one which dismisses as fiction the central force in her life.  DC

[227] Consciousness

Why do so many people seem so uninterested in things of faith?  Some time back I dined with Bill, one of my dearest professional friends on one of his trips to Las Vegas.  He asked what was new in my life.  I think he was surprised when I told him that it was the impact of a prayer discipline I was practicing—and still do.  “I’m not interested in that,” Bill said dismissively.  I was startled. Such a cold shutdown was unlike my charming friend, who used to be a practicing Lutheran.

So what is going on here?  I submit that Bill is the product of an era that–due to the carefully orchestrated efforts of secular progressivism–no longer has a “God consciousness.”  The mention of God is unwelcome in our schools; many groups recite the Pledge of Allegiance omitting the “under God” phrase, or do not say the Pledge at all; the national media assiduously avoids reporting on stories of faith and avoids any reference to the God of the scriptures, Yahweh; and sports reporters show their disrespect for our Judeo-Christian tradition by referring flippantly to “the gods of basketball” or some other sport.

The secular progressive movement wants to remove any consciousness of God from our culture.  They want a nation that simply does not put God into its life equation, hoping to spawn new generations that will be functional atheists.  This movement goes back to the Madalyn Murray O’Hair days of the 1960’s and has gathered force ever since.  Its members would be proud of Bill. DC

[226] Prosperity Gospel

The prosperity message qualifies as gospel in that is indeed good news.  Good health, more revenue, and an upward spike in one’s career direction are a good return—a nice payout—for a meager faith investment.

And that is the problem with a prosperity gospel.  It is not about taking up one’s cross, glorifying God, or standing strong amid unanswered prayer—the stuff of discipleship.  It is about self-interest.  It is about “your best life now,” to borrow from the nicely-coiffed Joel Osteen, with the key word being your.  The life of faith, however, is not about us, the creatures.  It is about God, the creator.  Faith is not about what you put into some divine vending machine as you await the size of the payout.  In fact, you may get no material payout at all.  Myriad martyrs, including all but one of the disciples experienced that.  Your payout is a membership in God’s kingdom, the only payout really worth having. DC

[225] #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

[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

[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

[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

[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

[220] Socialization

A few years back, Bart Campolo (son of pastor/activist, Tony Campolo) and Franky Schaeffer (son of the renowned Francis Schaeffer) sent spasms through the evangelical world with their public repudiation of the faith in which they were raised. For many, their apostasy was a faith-rattling experience.

How does this happen?  I do not claim to know the hearts of either of these two people.  I have read a good bit on each and am an acquaintance with the elder Campolo. I do know this.  It is easy to mistake socialization for commitment.  In simpler terms, it is easy to mistake the behavior from someone raised in the faith as evidence of a personal faith.

Take Bart Campolo.  He loves and respects his parents, and by all indications spent his youth engaged in the expected Christian practices for children of Christians. Nonetheless, he claims he did not become a Christian because of his parents’ faith, but because he wanted to be a part of a “cool” Christian group when he was 15.  He makes clear that he was not drawn in by a personal relationship with Christ so much as the desire to be a part of a group he admired.  Having been socialized (brought up, socially shaped) by Christian parents likely made that adolescent decision less difficult.  In any case, Bart’s “testimony” does not sound like a real commitment to the Christian faith ever took place.

Schaeffer seems filled with anger toward evangelical hypocrisy. One comes away from reading his rants with the sense that he is a troubled, disillusioned, and confused man.  As far as socialization is concerned, he clearly loved his now departed parents and early on served in his father’s international ministry, but again there is no real story of personal commitment.

The stories of Bart and Franky become a collective cautionary tale to Christians.  Socialization is not commitment. Being raised in the faith is not the same as a personal faith.  DC

[219] Two Reasons

Whenever you encounter people who claim there is no god, that life is random, and only science can speak authoritatively on what is true, I encourage you to consider two things.

Reformer John Calvin referred to a sensus divinitatis, meaning that humans are genetically endowed with a sense of the existence of a god.  Empirical studies support his claim. Religion is what sociologists call a “culture universal.”  Religion appears in virtually, every known culture.  Why would every society affirm the existence of a deity, if there were none?

Second, we live in a moral universe—at least in the human world.  While there is no evidence that rocks or trees or dogs or cats possess a sense of morality, there is prima facie evidence that humans do.  Rocks and trees do not decide on whom to fall, nor do dogs and cats consider the rightness of an attack on another creature.  Humans, however—even those who claim no religious faith—are forever assessing their own and others’ actions in moral terms.

Remember the old saying, “You can’t legislate morality.”

Nonsense. Every piece of legislation is justified on some moral ground. What can’t be controlled by legislation is human behavior.

Why would humans–world-wide—live in the context of some moral code, if our universe is totally random, a godless galaxy ruled by mechanical laws that just happen to be so precise that the solar system does not explode?

While the infinite is mysterious to the finite, and faith can be challenging to the believer, the argument that there is “nothing out there” is not a strong one. DC

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