Thursday, October 06, 2005

Stay Tuned

Once again Uncle Sam has prohibited users from blogging on government computers, even during their break. Given that I have more free time during breaks at work than I have at home (2 kids), it's been difficult to post new material. Once things get settled I'll be back to blogging.

Expect some changes in the near future, and thanks for checking in..

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Worldviews

"We're so used to being manipulated by the image industry, the publicity industry, and the politicians that we hardly know we're being manipulated." (Eugene Peterson)

Have American Christians like me unwittingly surrendered our brains to the influence of unbiblical philosophies? This is a question that I've been asking myself a lot lately. What influences shape my worldview? I think every believer will agree, at least in theory, that the Holy Spirit and the Word should hold sway over all else. Yet I wonder if I've fully allowed the Spirit and the scriptures to shape my outlook and opinions. At the moment I'm exploring the impact of the consumer mentality on my Christian faith.

"Consumer Christianity is a mentality or methodology that attempts to enrich Christians both temporally and spiritually, as well as to attract converts to the faith, through ways and means that are true neither to the Word of God nor the work of the Holy Spirit. Whether introduced subtly or overtly, wittingly or unwittingly, it always involves what appeals to humanity’s fallen nature." (T.A. McMahon)

Consumerism approaches day-to-day life championing the concept of personal choice, and encourages us to seek maximum happiness in exchange for minimal costs. Many churches have adopted this mentality, seeking to convert the masses using the supposed "benefits" of belief as a hook: total happiness, perfect health, prosperity, etc. It's the Burger King approach to faith: your way, right way. While this certainly appeals to the consumer mindset of many individuals, does it accurately reflect the faith? Unfortunately such a basic question isn't always asked, simply because the sales pitch sounds so "positive" and often invokes the name of God with a wide and warming smile.

"I think the besetting sin of pastors, maybe especially evangelical pastors, is impatience. We have a goal. We have a mission. We're going to save the world. We're going to evangelize everybody, and we're going to do all this good stuff and fill our churches. ...And we get impatient and start taking shortcuts and use any means available. ...This impatience to leave the methods of Jesus in order to get the work of Jesus done is what destroys spirituality, because we're using a non-biblical, non-Jesus way to do what Jesus did." (Eugene Peterson)

The problem is not, however, isolated to televangelists and megachurches. Consumerism can be found in our hearts and homes even when it is not preached as an essential component of our faith. This form of consumerism is most insidious, because we rarely recognize that it even exists. Basic assumptions that we probably don't even consciously acknowledge prompt us to ask, "what's in it for me?" We apply this philosophy to our relationships, our professions, and even our worship, often without even knowing it. Though readily accepted in this world, such a mentality is incompatible with the gospel's message of service and self-sacrifice.

This begs one final question, are we more influenced by the philosophies of this world, or by the renewing of our mind in Christ Jesus?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

In the Midst of the Storm (Version 2.0)

Note: I've substantially modified this post from its original form in order to clarify my thoughts and reasonings concerning the Christian response to Hurricane Katrina.

In the previous incarnation of this post I stated the following:

"While numerous churches and Christian organizations have joined the government and private agencies in relief efforts, some prefer to stand on the sidelines shouting accusations and recriminations toward the suffering people of New Orleans."

I then referenced the below quote.

"We must help and pray for those ravaged by this disaster. However, we must not forget that the citizens of New Orleans tolerated and welcomed the wickedness in their city for so long," Michael Marcavage of Repent America stated in a recent press release.

I concluded with the following remarks.

"It's a sad, but all too real, example of Christians lacking adequate love. While this group might claim that by encouraging repentance they are in fact "loving" the people of New Orleans in a more profound way, I doubt that anyone in that area would view Mr. Marcavage's comments as an act of compassion. Nor should they. While the Repent America press release was extremely specific in listing the moral failures of the city, it was exceedingly vague in detailing just how the organization would "help" the citizens of New Orleans. This is not the time for righteous indignation. It's a time for love and action (kinetic faith)."

I stand by those comments, but I want to clarify the original intention of my post. I was simply addressing the arrogant attitudes that some Christians seem to be developing toward events in New Orleans. Yes, God has used natural disasters to bring judgement upon cities and nations in the past. While I don't see anything in scripture to indicate that God abandoned this particular means for dealing with the disobedience of mankind, I won't presume to speak for Him regarding his intents with Hurricane Katrina. Yet I know that God is surprised by nothing, because he is absolutely sovereign over all things.

"Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6).

Divine judgement or not, Christians should respond in love (and deed) toward the suffering in LA, MS, and AL. We all deserve much worse than Hurricane Katrina, and that knowledge should keep every believer humble in all that they say and do.

Remember to love thy neighbor.

"If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth but didn't love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal." (I Corinthians 13: 1)

Safe Harbor
Operation Blessing
Salvation Army
American Red Cross

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Christian Atheists (or) It's All About Me

The point is almost cliché. We live in a society that emphasizes the supremacy of the individual (self). It's a philosophy that confronts us every day, and a trap that even that most sincere and dedicated Christians can fall into. After all, the great minds of western pop culture champion the pursuit of self-fulfillment as though it were ascendance to nirvana. Just watch one or two afternoon talk shows and you'll feel compelled to change your life because some talking head has discovered new ways to empower you. Companies make millions utilizing marketing campaigns that encourage us to indulge in their product because we (as individuals) "deserve" above all else to be happy. As if a chocolate bar, a sports car, herbal shampoo, and cold beer can combine to bring you ultimate bliss. Yet that is precisely what our consumer culture tells us day in and day out. The key to ultimate happiness is indulging yourself with the trivial, so long as it is done in the name of fulfillment and it doesn't hurt anyone else.

God, on the other hand, tells us the exact opposite concerning "the self."

"For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin." (Romans 6: 5-7)

Additionally...

"But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth." (Ephesians 4: 20-24)

Max Lucado, in an interview for his book It's Not About Me asserted that "[t]he big agenda item is God and His glory, not me and my comfort." Yet how many of us as believers still hold onto our self-focused worldview? This is no minor issue, as it impacts every facet of our lives: how we worship, how we minister, how we relate to God, family, friends, and others.

To borrow a quote from Qui-Gon Jinn, "Your focus determines your reality." If we continue to focus on self, and self becomes the center and anchor of our reality, do we as Christians live as practical atheists in spite of everything that we claim to believe? Have we (perhaps unconsciously) avoided the radical transformation of our minds? I'm curious to hear what others think about this subject.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Shooting From the Hip (But not at Hugo Chavez)

Yesterday I strayed from my typical lunch-at-home routine. Our always ravenous two month old kept my wife up all night, so she was napping through my midday break anyway. I decided to be sociable and join a few of my coworkers at the local Mexican restaurant. As conversation ensued over chips and salsa, one of the guys referenced the Pat Robertson situation. Gulp! As if the chili relleno I'd just ordered didn't pose enough of a threat to my stomach's welfare, they had to bring up old Pat. Most believers know that same feeling. There are just certain issues that we wish our non-Christian friends wouldn't bring up, either because we're not really sure how we feel about them, or because we're embarassed at how most of our brothers and sisters in the faith have handled them. Obviously this issue falls into the latter category.

"You know," the guy sitting next to me remarked, "anyone who doesn't think that Christians are capable of the kinds of acts we see carried out by Muslim extremists is sadly mistaken."

How pathetic is that? No, not his comments, the fact that he perceives Christians in such a way. This man that I know to be intelligent and thoughtful is convinced that Christians pose a potential threat equal to that of bin Laden and his ilk. Now I know most believers would simply chalk that situation up to being slandered and hated for the Lord's sake, but I disagree. Not once during this conversation did faith, theology, or doctrine become a factor. Everything centered on the politics of, quoting now, the "Christo-fascists."

Point: If we're simply being criticized for our politics, as opposed to our faith, in my humble opinion that's anything but persecution.

These friends and coworkers see the primary goal of evangelical Christianity in America as the accumulation of executive, judicial, and legislative power within the U.S. government. Some might ask what is wrong with that, and I suggest that the answer is in our priorities. If the masses believe that we Christians are more concerned with power than with people, regardless of the validity of that assertion, we've already lost the battle for their souls. We are dealing with the perceptions of the individuals we are commanded to reach, and no legislation or court ruling will ever soften a hardened heart.

Point: We're not suffering from a failure in public relations, or unfare media portrayals, we simply refuse to make unconditional love our top priority.

Now before some of you decide to dismiss me as some crazy liberal hippy type who wants to hold hands and sing around a campfire until Jesus returns (nothing against any of you who fit into such a category by the way) , you should know that I'm a lifelong Republican who has been a part of the political process for years, and I currently work for the U.S. military. Even so, I see an extreme overemphasis on politics within the evangelical community. I rant about it continually because I don't see it getting any better. If anything it's getting worse!

Point: We have politicized the Gospel of Christ by employing it as a partisan campaign tool.

While it saddens me to no end listening to comments such as those heard from my coworkers, I couldn't defend the "us versus them" certain of some prominent Christian leaders and their followers. While I don't doubt their sincere desire to make a positive impact on American culture, I can't help but believe that their strategy is completley flawed and counterproductive in the long run.

Question: Do Christians have a responsibility to de-politicize the gospel of Christ in order to make it accessible to the full range of the political/ideological spectrum? If so, how do we go about doing that?

Dick Staub on the subject of evangelical hubris.

John Piper on the subject of Christians and Culture.

Back Again (Finally)

It's amazing how the birth of a child, hurricane season, and job-related trips can dominate your time. I know that it's been roughly two months since my last entry, but in all honesty I've just been trying to catch my breath over the last sixty days. Provided Tropical Storm Katrina doesn't strengthen and head in our direction, I should be back in the blogging business again. You'll probably notice a different tone though, more open-ended dialogue than monologue. I'm more or less exhausted from pinpointing the numerous problems in American Evangelical Christianity, and now I'm concentrating on looking for answers. How do I go about understanding these problems, and what can I do as an individual to help fix them? As always dear reader, your input is greatly valued.

More to come...

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Radically Orthodox? Maybe Just a Little.

Our culture is fallen, and we as believers have effectively abandoned it to its failings.

As society drifts further away from traditional values and the idea of absolutes, believers tend to respond in one of two ways. They either seek to distance themselves from reality by withdrawing into a "Christian" subculture, or they simply accommodate the existing culture by providing a "cheap grace" that soothes the conscience, but fails to transform the soul. In the end, western Christendom's schizophrenic message has little impact on society. How did we get to this point?

Lately I've been reading up on an emerging Christian philosophy dubbed "Radical Orthodoxy." While I don't accept everything that Radical Orthodoxy offers, particularly in the realm of economic theory, their ideas on the realtionship between faith and culture influence my thinking to a degree. According to proponents of this worldview, all truth is God's truth. That actually makes sense to me. When you think about it, how could any "truth" exist apart from God? So when you speak of a medical truth, a scientific truth, or a historical truth, you are in essence discussing God's truth.

Radical Orthodox Christians don't accept the notion of dividing reality into "sacred" or "secular" realms. As a believer who wants to engage and enrich the culture through my faith, I tend to agree. They also say that the church has allowed itself to be "ejected" from public life (philosophy, science, economics, politics, the arts, etc.), resulting in the marginalization of faith as an irrelevent private matter. The resulting void has been filled by philosophies originating in the state (government), the marketplace, and pop culture.

If the Christian worldview (truth) serves as both society's anchor and compass, abandoning our culture to pursue a more believer-friendly alternate reality (our subculture) seems short-sighted, and inherently inconsistent with the gospel of Christ. Instead, our calling and election as believers should necessitate a thriving Christian counter-culture that engages and contributes to society, while refusing to conform to anyone but Christ himself.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Art of Spiritual Warfare

"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War

You might not be familiar with Sun Tzu, or his work The Art of War. The Chinese general penned his treatise on conflict sometime around 500 BC. While this non-biblical text is hardly holy scripture, I believe that it contains timeless truths that every Christian should consider within the context of their own faith. Specifically, what do we know about our enemy?

"For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms."

-Ephesians 6:12, New Living Translation

Although the scriptures are quite clear concerning the nature of conflict in this world, many believers live as though they don't know who their true enemy is. In fact, most Christians seem to have trouble making the distinction between the spiritual forces of evil that manipulate our world, and the unwitting human souls that serve as their pawns. All too often we as Christians fall into the trap of targeting certain groups and individuals, as if by eliminating political and ideological opposition we can win the war. And yet the scriptures tell us that "we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood." Even so, we continually, stubbornly, and dare-I-say-it, ignorantly attack the very men and women that we are commanded reach!

We can't seem to get it into our heads (or hearts) that these people aren't our enemies, they are our primary objectives! We're fighting fortheir souls, not against them. Yet it's far too common to hear even good intentioned Christians, concerned about valid issues such as abortion and prayer in schools, launching vicious personal attacks against non-believers via the media and the pulpit. When we portray individuals as enemies of our Christian faith, even if they are promoting beliefs and ideologies that we abhor, we miss the point entirely. We were never called to engage in character assassination. And frankly, we shouldn't act as though we are shocked when those who don't know God choose to do ungodly things.

Can we really expect to function as a light in this dark world if teams of self-appointed Christian assassins insist on targeting wayward souls stumbling in the shadows? We need to focus on combating the underlying evil, which originates in the dark spiritual realm, through earnest prayer. We must counter the devil's lies with the gospel and our love for humanity, while at the same time going the extra mile to avoid any and all appearances of personal attacks. The Air Force calls these "precision strikes." In other words, the cliche "hate the sin, love the sinner" should be applied as often as it is spoken.

If our true enemy is Satan, not those who are unknowingly serving his interests and falling for his carefully constructed lies, then we need to take this fact into account when we choose to make a stand on the issues. If we're commanded to love our neighbors, then maybe we should start by behaving like good neighbors ourselves, instead of operating as though we are an angry homeowners association intent on enforcing the community rules. We can express our concerns, and openly debate others, without adopting the tactics of the devil himself.

"But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!" -Matthew 5:44

"A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack." -Yoda