Monthly Archives: November 2006

Blind Faith

“Behind every question of faith or practice is a presupposition – a premise. If you start with an incorrect premise, you may end up with a logically sound argument, but you will have a conclusion that simply isn’t true.” – Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth With a Mission

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Making decisions based on a certain set of presumptions is common even in science. Some people think that all science is exact. But science revolves around theories. These assumptions are either proven to be true or false. And there are many instances where we can’t really prove theories either way due to human limitations in time and space. And in those cases, we have to make the best scientific guess possible. Much of established science today is still at the theory stage. This includes sacred cows, such as evolution and global warming.

I am thinking about global warming due to former vice president Al Gore’s movie called An Inconvenient Truth. This movie and most journalists present global warming as a proven ecological crisis. And while many respected scientists point to global warming as a pending ecological nightmare. There are others that doubt if the situation is as bad as many “experts” make it out to be.

I am not sure what to really think about global warming. I am all for being responsible with the planet. But I don’t want to sign on with the preservationist agenda because I have seen them be wrong many times in the past. The way that many journalists act as if there is not a legitimate scientific debate on the real danger linked to the issue seems dishonest and wreckless.

Consider what Dr. Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace and respected ecologist, said when I asked him about global warming.

What is your view on the science behind global warming? Is it really as big of a problem as many experts make it out to be?

Moore: The people who are saying there is no longer any need for debate are the ones who would stifle debate. They think they’re right. The fact is that there is huge discussion about global warming. There are a lot of climatologists who do not accept that humans are the definite cause of the climate change. Most of them admit that humans could be part of it or maybe some or most of it, but we don’t know that. Then there are the people who say there is a consensus among scientists that we know for sure that humans are causing this climate change and we know for sure that it will be bad.

    Those are the two different questions of course; whether or not we are causing it on the one hand and on the other hand whether or not it will be all bad. I personally believe that we don’t know if we are causing it all. But even if we assume that we are causing it, some positive impacts will result. As usual, when there’s change there are going to be winners and losers. If you focus on the losers, like a lot of people seem to be doing, then certain island states will have the water level rise, and there may be drought in other places. But there may also be deserts blooming somewhere. There may be increased fishery productivity and a whole bunch of positive things, such as, longer growing seasons, shorter winters, reduced energy requirements, and forests growing in areas that are now just tundra.

    There are all kinds of possibly positive impacts from climate change. The activist groups and a lot of political people seem to think there’s an advantage for them to be accentuating the negatives, the climate catastrophes and the climate apocalypses. They talk about global warming plunging Europe into the dark ages when, in fact, we’re in a cold period right now compared to most of the earth’s history. During much of the earth’s history there was no ice at either pole. Then there was a time hundreds of millions of years ago when it froze nearly to the equator due to a real cold period. And for the last two million years we’ve been in the Pleistocene period, otherwise known as the “Ice Age.”

Group Think

Forgive me. I am guilty of thinking that small groups are the answer for most if not all of church woes. But I am starting to see that small groups is not a one-size-fits all solution.

Statistics indicate that few churches ever get more than a 30-35% participation rate in small groups. Some might think of this as a failure. But Joseph Myers in his book, The Search to Belong, indicates that many church leaders have wrongly assumed that small groups are the answer for most fringe Christians. Instead, he indicates that how people belong and grow is much more complex than many people realize. His book is a practical look at the issues behind building community in a culture that increasingly values belonging over believing.

Here are some of the things that I took from Joseph’s book.

  • Initial gatherings set the tone for how people will look at the group. Bad experiences cause people to pull away. Many people shy away from small groups because of bad experiences in the past. They think it either didn’t work or were hurt by someone betraying a confidence.

  • Myers wrote, “A church of small groups? Sounded like forced relational hell to me.” – People have to want to be part of a small group.
  • Time has little to do with a person’s ability to experience significant belonging. Many people click even after meeting for a short time. Others never do. Time is a factor, but it is not the only thing that makes a group work. Time by itself does not develop belonging.
  • Greater levels of commitment may not make people feel more connected. It can actually do the opposite if people over commit or pledge loyalty out of a sense of duty. People may show up without their real heart being there.
  • Proximity is more than just being geographically close to someone. People around the world can be close due to technology and a changing world. Proximity may be as much about openness and desire as anything else.
  • Myers wrote, “I have often heard ministers say to their congregations, ‘We are glad that you are here. But if you really want to know what it is like to be part of our congregation, participate in a small group.’ The implication is that small groups are the best if not the only way to build authentic community. Almost every book that I have ever read on developing a successful church touts small groups as the key.”
  • Small groups are only one tool in a kit full of ways to build community. Small groups are not a magic bullet, and Jesus is the key to building community.
  • Larry Crabb once wrote, “The future of the church depends on whether it develops true community. We can get by for a while on size, skilled communication and programs to meet every need, but unless we sense that we belong to each other with masks off, the vibrant church of today will become the powerless church of tomorrow. Stale, irrelevant, a place of pretense, where sufferers suffer alone, where pressure generates conformity rather than the Spirit creating life – that’s where the church is headed unless it focuses on community.”
  • Myers wrote, “Announcing programs that promise intimacy to every person within reach creates unrealistic expectations. Worse, it actually pushes those who are not ready for such relationships farther away.” – The answer: Be realistic and disarm unnecessary concerns.
  • Larry Crabb said, “Maybe ‘going to church’ more than anything else means relating to several people in your life differently.”

Trusting God

There are very few people who realize what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into his hands, and let themselves be formed by his grace. I ask for the grace to trust myself totally to God’s love. -St. Ignatius

 

It can be hard to trust people who we do see. It can be even harder to trust a God that we cannot see face-to-face. Scripture tell us that without faith it is impossible to please God. We must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him.

 

Faith and trust are intertwined. I don’t know why I find it so easy to trust myself and so hard to really trust God. I know my failures and inabilities. And I claim to believe in God’s awesome power and love. Seeking to truly believe what I know to be true is one of the hardest aspects of the Christian life. Faith is truly a gift from God. We cannot muster enough courage on our own to really abandon all into God’s hands.

 

That is why the first steps of faith must begin with prayer and surrender. God will do the rest.

 

The Lie of Self Sufficiency

In America, we encourage people to be self sufficient, self starters and self reliant. The problem with this is the first word in those concepts is “self.” The Christian life is all about Jesus and not self. We can’t even live the Christian life if we are the ones trying to do it.

Watchman Nee once wrote, “The life of many Christians today is largely a pretense. They live a ‘spiritual’ life talk a ‘spiritual’ language and adopt ‘spiritual’ attitudes, but they are doing the whole thing themselves. It is the effort involved that should reveal to them that something is wrong.”

Nee led an underground church movment in China starting in the 1930s. He spent a long time in prison for his faith. And he has written some of the deepest spiritual teachings in print today.

Nee called Christians back to Jesus as the one who gives us the power to live as God intended. Jesus said that our righteousness has to exceed that of the Pharisees. He set the bar extremely high just for us to realize that we can never please God by our own efforts. Holiness is attainable though for those who are in Christ.

Nee also wrote, “God does not demand what He will not perform, but we must throw ourselves back on Him for the performance.”

Going beyond being a Christian, everyday tasks necessary for survival require the assistance of others. None of us are really self sufficient for our daily lives. We all really on the sun for life.

In most industrialized worlds, we pay money for food, water, clothing and shelter. We generally don’t make, grow, build or gather any of these things ourselves.  

The hardest thing about being a Christian is dying to my own self.

Stuck in Suburbia

Sometimes I think that my life would be better and more pleasing to God if I just went away. I am talking about selling my house, moving to a poorer part of the world and living a minimalist life. This has a real attraction to people who become disillusioned with more when they find it meaning less and less each day. And while a change of setting may help spark some deep changes within me, a new address is not the real answer. My real problem is not where I live.

My real problem is the idolatry and soulish desires within me. These cannot be fixed my a mere chagne in location. No, these aspects of my life can only be transformed by a deep change within me. At the foot of the cross I will find deliverance from me for me.

The real answer is not to run from suburbia. Instead, God wants to redeem my heart while living in suburbia, a place that desperately needs the Good News found in Jesus alone. God is calling me to live intentionally in suburbia as a vibrant example of Christ’s light and love.

The more I travel the world, the more I sense my place at home in the USA. I especially desire to see those who “have it all” and are still hungry to find God’s best. That is why my next book hits on the topic of spiritual hunger. It should be out soon. I will release more information when it is available. Called Starving for Hunger, this new book hits on the deeper spiritual hunger within society today. And it points the way to Jesus as the source for what we all want most.

Dave Goetz, author of Death by Suburb, recently wrote, “I think to stay in the burbs and to thrive spiritually requires a continual mending of your life. It seems cliche to say, ‘You must be intentional,’ but there’s no other way to really say it.”

The key is more of God and less stuff, noise and distraction. Silence, meditation and to simply enjoy being in relationship with God are the paths to freedom and fulfillment.

The Danger of Suburbia

Safety and comfort are two of the key selling points for any good suburban community. While these may appear to be two very good things at first, there are some unforseen dangers associated with being too comfortable or too safe.

Consider the following quote by Mike Erre in Youth Worker Journal, “Jesus is not vitally committed to our comfort and safety. He is committed to the advancing of His kingdom revolution in the hearts of people everywhere.”

Wow! Mike, the author of The Jesus of Suburbia, hit on a big issue many of us in the American Church want to ignore. We serve a wild and dangerous God who is not overly concerned with risk management compared to spiritual growth and extending freedom to those bound by sin and death.

The values of America’s materialism has creeped into the American Church and caused us to lose our effectiveness. The USA is one of the largest mission fields in the world. North America is the only continent where Christianity is not growing. Do we have too much? Are we too safe? Do our gated communities and perfectly manicured laws actually hide deep needs and insecurities?

The more that I look closely at what I see, the more I think that suburbia may be robbing us of God’s best. By trying to go after the American dream are we actually losing out on heavenly treasures?

Erre wrote, “We love the illusion of danger but not the real thing. We want Jesus to be the same way: all reward, no risk. We don’t give ourselves fully to Him because we are afraid He will send us to China or ask us to become poor. We want the illusion of faith, as long as we are safe. But walking with God is not a no-risk proposition; it is one of the most dangerous things you can do. Risk is inherent in the life of faith.”

The answer is not to burn everything and live in a cardboard box. No, the answer is to abandon everything we have into the hands of God. The solution to death by suburbia lies in trusting God with everything and being willing to follow wherever He leads.

Desire, Discontentment & Affluenza

Pastor Carter spoke on discontentment the other day. He hit on a key issue for many people who grew up in the land of plenty. I can relate. One reason that I stopped having cable TV was that I was tired of always being told what I needed. The latest kitchen gadget never brings eternal happiness like the guy in the infomercial said.

Affluence has made us a people known for our appetites. The problem is that desire can breed discontentment where nothing is every good enough. Left unchecked, this attitude can cause us to become nothing more than appetite. Satan loves to keep us chasing the next thing. All it leads to is ever increasing appetite and constantly decreasing satisfaction.

Dissatisfaction can be a good motivating force. The real question is, “What we are seeking, is it a God thing or a me thing?”

Pastor Carter said, “Your sin creates your theology.” He gave the example of a disgruntle employee who steals two hours a day playing Solitare because he doesn’t feel he is paid enough. This person is seeking to get justice as he defines it. The person is discontent he then seeks to make things right by taking a little extra time off during the work day. This is just one example where discontentment creates a situation where a person sins to counteract the perceived injustice.

How can we know if we are discontent? Pastor Carter challenged the fellowship to look at their words. Do you talk about something or someone as if you are never satisfied and things are always bad? Do you look around and always want what the other person has? You may have caught the discontentment bug. A jealous strain of affluenza tends to be the cause.

When we are discontent, we are in essence saying to God, “What you have given me is not enough. You aren’t doing your job right.” While we are free to be honest with God about our feelings, we must remember that murmuring is not the answer. As a Christian, we have to come to the point that we realize we have signed away our rights. We are bound to God’s direction and will.

Christians should take a lesson from the Apostle Paul. He wrote, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Have you had enough?

What if?…

Have you ever stopped to consider what life would be like if some major turning points in world history had ended differently. What if the Germans were the first to have the atomic bomb? What if the Russians had been the first to develop personal computers and software? What if Pompey had defeated Caesar? What if the Crusades ended with Muslims controlling most of
Europe? What if Moses never received the Ten Commandments from God?
What if the South had won the Civil War? That last question was explored by a mockumentary produced by Spike Lee. Called The Confederate States of America, the movie looks at what could have been if the rebels had won. Here is the timeline for what might have been – http://www.csathemovie.com/timeline/index.html

Some aspects of the movie are great. And it certainly makes you think, and that is probably the producer’s whole point. Other aspects I think are a bit exaggerated. The movie appeals to many stereotypes that I as a southerner find offensive. While condemning racism, the movie itself is racist. I have thick skin so this doesn’t bother me much.

In some ways, I am not sure what to think of the film because it paints Christianity as pro slavery. Although it is true that people have used Scripture to support slavery through the years, I believe these people have missed the point.

God desires freedom for all people that is why Jesus came and died for the whole world. Of utmost importance is spiritual freedom from sin and death. I believe God intends both spiritual and physical freedom for all people. Comments made by the apostle Paul or stories about Israelites owning slaves must be interpreted in context.

Paul encouraged humanity among masters and slaves. The book of Philemon shows how Paul tried to temper the brutality of slavery without outright opposing it. Slavery was so common during those days that a pure abolitionist message would not have been received. And even though it was important, ending slavery in the physical world was of secondary importance compared to calling people from spiritual slavery to sin and death.

You must always remember that Paul’s goal was first spiritual not physical. Throughout history God has not taken people from pagan practices and complete depravity to holy justice in one big leap. We as human beings can’t deal with such dramatic change. No, God meets us where we are. Then he calls us to change one step at a time. In the Bible, we see a loving, patient God trying to get His children to the best life possible. Taking any one Scripture out of context can help you develop some pretty weird theology.

This Spike Lee joint certainly made me think. It also made me a little upset to see how our past sins keep giving Jesus a black eye.

Is Myspace Safe, Sacred Space?

New online communities give youth ministries incredible access to students. 24/7 you can log on and connect even with people who are half way around the world. This access has its benefits and some serious drawbacks. Students and youth workers are not the only one frequenting sites such as Myspace.com, Xanga.com or Facebook.com. Sexual predators and marketers of illicit material use these sites too. If you want to reach the students, you have to go where they are. Many of the old ways of communicating just don’t work. However, the new technologies and gateways are fraught with challenges. For example, Myspace.com markets many sexually explicit products and sites even to minors. These ads are not harmless.

I wonder how many middles schoolers have been educated to online porn due to these new “community” sites. By using these network sites, some critics say that youth ministers are legitimizing them. Implied endorsements may cause students to lower their guard. It may also make parents less aggressive about monitoring student activity.

Can you really be effective talking about spiritual issues next to ads for
Victoria’s Secret and porn sites? Some students will be willing to share things online that they would never say in person. While this can help unveil real problems, it may also create a situation where sensitive information gets in the hands of someone who makes problems worse or even exploits a hurting person.

Older youth can become friends with younger students and educate them on things they are not really ready to process. It’s kind of like what you hear by sitting in the back of the school bus. While a parent cannot shield their child from every negative influence, adults should be aware of the dangers associated with these networking sites. Youth workers should develop strategies to limit any problems and encourage healthy online communication with and between students.

As already mentioned, these sites can lead to minors being taken advantage of or abused by adults. And a less obvious problem may be that too much online communication may not help students socialize and interact offline. Many people escape online without dealing with their real world problems.

Jim Manker, outreach pastor at
Sun
Grove
Community
Church in
Sacramento, Calif., recently said in Youth Worker Journal, “The popularity of the sites reveals something fundamental that is missing in our interaction with one another. I think Myspace is particular is an illustration of how desperate we are for relationship and intimacy, and how terrible we are at authentic relationship. It’s a substitute for doing the harder work of sitting across the table from one another.”

Many students don’t know how to have authentic, safe relationships because they have never seen such a thing at home. This leads to an even deeper challenge.

Can Myspace become Godspace? Well, that has to be decided by each ministry. I have decided not to participate at this time. Today, I mainly communicate with students through email, cell phones and my blog on my own personal Web site.

The Final Apostasy

The New Testament contains many warnings about false teachers and deception sneaking into the Church. Many scholars and preachers have debated what this means and how the Gospel will be polluted. Every theological camp tries to paint others as wrong or possibly even a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The Apostle Paul warned of a great falling away. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament we see a pattern of people seeking religious voices and prophets that told them what they wanted to hear.Some believe the apostasy has already begun. Bible thumpers like to point to the influence of cultural values into the Church where it can be hard to tell the difference between Christians and everybody else in the world. Others talk about people who spend all their time seeking the next spiritual high by going for supernatural wonders and signs. Some point to the megachurches and seeker services as attempts to please the congregation like a car company would consumers.

A popular whipping boy of late is the emerging church conversation. Fundamentalist tag these guys as liberal activists looking to re-write the Bible to placate today’s cultural norms. Others believe the fundamentalist have become legalists and have made institutional Christianity into an idol.

You can find Protestants who have tagged Catholicism as the great Satan. I am sure you can find some Catholics who believe that Protestants misunderstand the beauty of orthodox disciplines, rituals and traditions. They may feel that they have the best path to the ancient faith.

Christians in poor areas could point to exploitation by the West and say that American believers are bound by consumerism. I could go on and on.

Hopefully, you get the point. We can easily see how other people miss the mark. But it can be difficult to see our own mistakes and sins.

Here are some ways that I believe apostasy is creeping into the Gospel. I know that I have dealt with these deceptions in my life.

  • Focus inward not upward and outward: Many “Christians” live as is the most important thing is what they want. Living to honor God and serve others is the highest life. Many give lip service to this truth while failing to really believe it. They don’t see the beauty in the Gospel as Jesus modeled it. Christ lived among the people as a man held captive to God’s will. Where is this attitude in my life? Where is this reality in the modern Church? Good examples of this apostasy is the consumerism and selfish attitudes that
  • Calling good evil and evil good: We don’t like to talk about sin these days. Nobody wants to call sinners to repentance. That might offend somebody. I got news for you. The Gospel is offensive. Wherever the Apostle Paul preached, his message either caused revival or protests. Many times people wanted to kill him. A soft Gospel produces weak Christians.
  • Overlooking the Spirit: Many Christians don’t realize it is the Spirit that gives us the power to live as God intends and to know His will. People try to live in the soul with their mind, will and emotions calling the shots. This leads to powerless Christians and works that do not please God.  
  • Localization & Division: God meant for the Gospel to impact how we look at the whole world. Many Christians do not stop to pray for needs in other parts of the world or encourage those outside of their immediate church fellowship. Churches throughout the world are not working together or attempting to find Oneness. Greater sense of love and unity among Christians would go a long way in helping the world see why they should become part of Christ’s body.  
  • Forgetting the Kingdom: Becoming a Christian is about a lot more than just getting a ticket to heaven. Many people stop there. Jesus preached a lot about theKingdom of
    God. He called His disciples to become like Him in character and to help reclaim all creation for God’s glory. Becoming a Christian is about living the best life possible here and now so that we overcome evil and have a lasting reward. A kingdom life will impact the world for positive change. This comes as we follow Jesus’ example and live according to the Spirit.   
  • Abandoning Grace: It can be easy to slowly focus on our works, our theological knowledge or our passion as what saves us. This impacts our worldview influencing where we spend our time and money. When we abandon grace, we tend to become judgmental and prideful. This can lead to the adoption of legalist attitudes. Or we become so aware of our sin that we become ineffective as God’s ambassadors on earth.  
  • Reshaping Truth: Today everyone wants to do what is right in his own eyes. This is hailed as progress, but it is nothing new. The “postmodern” viewpoint has been around for thousands of years. The fundamentalist viewpoint can be just as damaging as people interpret Scripture based on man-made traditions and not the Spirit. Scholars have attempted to strip Jesus of His deity. Many are questioning the accuracy of the Bible and foundational Christian principles. Many people increasingly are taking liberties with God’s Word to serve their own ends. While the search for better historical understanding of Scripture is important, it can also be misused. Christians should want to understand Scripture in its cultural and historical context. The search for the historic Jesus is the quest to really understand what it means to be like Christ. Increasingly, people need to test all teachings. We should cling to what is true and disregard those things that are false.
  • Idolatry: This last trap can take many different forms. Many idols are good things that get polluted because we make them more important than they really are. All idolatry is rooted in pride, selfishness and discontentment. Idolatry causes us to look to something or someone other than God as the key to life.  

Apostasy is something the Church is guilty of not non-Christians. Revival preacher, David Wilkerson, defined apostasy as “God’s people abandoning the truth that saved them.”

Have you strayed from God’s truth in any of the above areas? The Good News is that it is never too late to repent. As long as you have breath in your body, you can say a prayer and refuse to fall away from the truth.