Archive for the ‘contrary to popular belief’ Tag

Compromise is Everywhere   Leave a comment

In recent decades we’ve witnessed many evangelical Christian churches, organizations and ministries gradually dilute the word of God in order to facility a more “seeker-friendly” conception of Christianity. There is a fine line between holding the truth of the Gospel and reaching out to others on their territory with the Gospel message.

Christians should be genuinely concerned that the modern church feels the  need to dilute the word of God in order to appear culturally relevant at the risk of promoting humanistic philosophy over Biblical authenicity.

Humanistic philosophy promotes artificial doctrines like self-achievement and life fulfillment.

Biblical authenicity promotes obeying all that Jesus commanded.

Seeker Christianity takes many forms, but largely it has become less about Biblical substance and commitment and more about a culture of “self”. Young people growing up within the church today are developing a heavy reliance on the social aspects of church rather than on the core teachings of Jesus.

This is not a new trend, by any means. There are always been churches that catered more to social “churchianity” rather than Biblical Christianity. But the trend, I think, has increased and it is becoming more prevelant within churches and denominations that strenuously avoided the social church model in past generations.

Gary Gilly wrote in The Little Church Went to Market that the “new paradigm church” has a profound fixation on church growth and expansion. Gilly, pastor of Southern View Chapel in Springfield Illinois, noted this church growth movement relies heavily on cultural influences such as market-driven philosophies, psychology and entertainment to produce seemingly successful church and dynamic Christians.

Let’s be clear at the outset. There’s nothing wrong with church growth or mega churches per se. I applaud churches with ministries that bring young adults into the church. I question the current preoccupation with amusing message and superficial praise over Biblical instruction and true worship in an attempt to market the church to young adults.

“Many Christians have the misconception that to win the world to Christ, we must first win the world’s favour. If we can get the world to like us, they will embrace our Saviour. This is the philosophy behind the user-friendly church movement.” John F. MacArther (Reckless Faith)

The philosophy behind “user-friendly” and ‘seeker-sensitive” programs is having a profoundly negative affect upon many churches because a vast number of American Christians are simply not getting the foundation of Christian teaching that past generations considered essential.

Stick with me as I explore the areas we are being told to compromise and show where that might be a really bad thing.

 

 

We Are the Guy in the Ditch   4 comments

Pastor Gary Cox is a great theologian, in that he seriously thinks about what he’s preaching about. I sometimes marvel at what he gets out of Bible passages simply by applying the evangelical mindset of “God is in control and we are almost never the subject of what Jesus is talking about.”

It provides a whole new perspective on standard Bible passages that we all know too well. The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) takes on a whole different light when you view it through that lens. When I put myself in the Samaritan’s shoes, I either feel really good about my efforts to live up to God’s love or I feel really bad about myself for failing to live up to God’s love.

Most Westerners know this story so well that even the Biblically-challenged can tell you the gist of it. Gary asked our Chinese congregation for their interpretation of it. They were unfamiliar. Apparently, Chinese Christians don’t spend much time on the story and it’s hard to have Vacation Bible School when the Red Army is looking to arrest you just for what you believe. But these brilliant University of Alaska scientists, researchers and graduate students put their minds to the story from their understanding of evangelical Christianity and came up exactly where Gary thought they should.

The Good Samaritan is not us. We’re the guy in the ditch. Jesus is the Good Samaritan. And that makes all the difference in the world.

Many of Jesus’ parables were told as a means to answer the trick question of the Pharisees, priests and scribes. He would then explain them to His followers in the after-session. This story is one such — a law professor asked Him what he needed to inherit eternal life. The Pharisees (about one-fifth of the Jewish population of Judea at the time) believed you needed to live an exemplary life to inherit eternal life. Jesus knew differently. He had come to make certain people understood that eternal life came through Him and Him only, by faith, not works. He’s encountered plenty of trick questions and this was no doubt one of them. He turned it back on the professor. “You’re the expert. How do you read it?” He asked.

The law professor quotes the Shema. “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5) and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19.18). Jesus commended his answer, but the lawyer wanted to justify his own lack of love, so he asked “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus already had a reputation of hanging out with prostitutes and tax-collectors and He’d not been unkind of Gentiles. Whenever a trick question was put to Jesus, almost without variation, He would answer with a parable.

Parables can be taken multiple ways, which is rather the point. The law professor took it to mean what most of the Western world takes it to mean — go be nice to your neighbors, feed the hungry and clothe the homeless.  There’s nothing wrong with these activities, but they won’t buy you eternal life, because you are not the Good Samaritan.

You’re the guy in the ditch.

The guy in the ditch took a dangerous route and paid the consequences. He was beaten and left for dead. First a priest came by and avoided him. The priest clearly represents religion. Religion sometimes walks through the dangerous places of this world too, but it doesn’t really have anything salvic to offer us. It looks good, but it’s powerless. Next, a Levite comes by. Think of the Levites as legalists. There are all sorts of people in this world who think that if you just follow the rules (you can pick them) you’ll be fine and if you end up in the ditch, well, you must have broken the rules. These people also have nothing to offer the broken and contrite sinner.

But along came a Samaritan. Samaritans were rejected by the Jews because they were half-breeds and didn’t exactly worship God exactly how they were supposed to. Kind of like Jesus, Who didn’t fit the Jews idea of a Messiah. The Samaritan stopped, took care of the man, transported him to a place of safety, spent the night tending to him, provided for his care during his recovery and promised to pay any future expenses. The guy in the ditch did nothing to deserve this great treatment. The Samaritan went out of His way to provide it. He then provided for the beaten man’s future. You can bet that the man was grateful and perhaps motivated to “pay it forward.”

Jesus left heaven to step down into our messy existence to sacrifice Himself for us.  He saves our souls, He binds our wounds, He provides us with a place of sanctuary, and He promises that He’ll take care of us in the future. In this story, the innkeeper is the church, by the way. We are the guy in the ditch, helpless to do anything for ourselves.

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus told the law professor. Doesn’t that mean that we should be picking people up out of the ditch? Yes, but remember also that Jesus said “the poor will always be with you” as His feet were being washed with expensive perfume. The Christians primary ministry on earth is not to care for the poor, feed the hungry, or provide housing for the homeless. It is to spread the gospel. That is what gets sinners out of the ditch. While those other things are worthy activities, they should not ever be the primary focus of the churches because feeding a body while the soul misses heaven is — well, nothing to do with eternal life.

Christianity Wanes   2 comments

Everywhere you turn these days, Christianity is on the wane. Islam is experiencing aggressive resurgence and people just aren’t going to church so much anymore. Islam is the second-fastest growing religion worldwide and will become the biggest religion during this century. We hear it from boosters of the Muslim community, from alarmists seeing the formation of the next caliphate, from anti-religionists who want to ban (or at least silence) all monotheistic, exclusivist religions (there are three, by the way). God is dying and His followers are not so much deserting the sinking ship, but sleeping in.

Sigh…

The reports of the death of Christianity are somewhat exaggerated! It is true that Islam (and atheism and universalism) is growing in the West. Most of the growth in Islam in America and Europe is do to the high birth rates among Muslims and immigration.

But …

Someone should inform the media that the United States and Europe are not the entire world. I think they call that ethnocentrism. Contrary to popular belief (driven by media misreporting), evangelical Christianity is exploding around the world.

There are about four dozen Chinese Christians attending my church. These are China’s best and brightest, professors, researchers  and graduate students from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, practioners of the hard sciences like geophysics. All but two of them (who are children) accepted Christ in China.

Yes, in China!

Offically, China remains an atheist country and official numbers of Christian conversions are suppressed by government authorities. China’s Protestant community had only 1 million members in 1949 when the communists took over, but some estimates put the current Christian population in China around 111 million. The underground evangelical movement is thought to be larger than the 75-million-member Chinese Community Party.

“By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon,” said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule. “It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change.” Prof. Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. By 2030, at current trends, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, making it the largest Christian nation in the world by mid-21st century.

The members at my church estimate 10,000 Chinese converts to Christianity every day. Most of the growth, they say, is in illegal house churches.

“Mao thought he could eliminate religion. He thought he had accomplished this,” Prof Yang said. “It’s ironic – they didn’t. They actually failed completely.”

In What’s So Great About Christianity Dinesh d’Souza wrote that 80% of Christians in 1900 lived in Europe and the United States. Today, two out of three evangelicals live in Asia, Africa, and South America. South Korea now holds the title as the second-place country for sending out missionaries. The number one country is the United States, but we have six times the population and Korea is closing on us fast. In fact, Korea sends missionaries to the United States.

The religious makeup of the world is changing, but the media focus on the West distorts the reality of that change. Christianity, particularly evangelical Christianity, is spreading more evenly throughout the world and those non-Western-based churches have begun to recognize the need to evangelize the post-Christian West. Someday, soon, expect someone with broken English and a Bible to knock on your door and announce he’s from the Seoul International Baptist Church and he’d like to talk to you about the most important question you can ever ask.

A Message to Non-Believers   1 comment

Before you get into a lather about how I “don’t understand” you, let me explain something.

I used to be you! I was raised in a non-Christian household in the very secular state of Alaska. I think my family went to church three times while I was growing up — once for a funeral, once for a wedding, and once because Easter fell on my dad’s mom’s birthday and he wanted to honor her memory … or something like that. My parents were not atheists. More like agnostic-edging-toward-deist-not-interested-in-god-ruining-their-fun American “Christians”. They didn’t give God much thought and neither did I until fog grounded a bush plane in the Alaska wilderness and the only choices for reading materials were the Bible (in German), Zane Grey novels and Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who Is ThereI really hated westerns and I can’t read German, so ….

I read the book in two days and I was challenged to question the presuppositions I’d been raised with. I wasn’t hostile toward God; I just never really thought much about metaphysics. I was a cultural “christian” in that I (sort of) knew the Christmas and Easter stories, but I largely accepted without examination that Jesus was at best a great man who lived a long time ago and at worst was a myth. Because I lived in a very secular state, I didn’t know any faithful Christians personally and the few that I had met turned me off because they seemed really fake to me. I grew up with an old joke about Christians as my basic impression:

“I’m perfect. I don’t drink, smoke or swear. God loves me! Dammit, I left my cigarettes on the bar next to my empty beer.”

Funny, but it turned out not to be true!

Francis Schaeffer’s book gave me pause because he explained why belief is a more reasonable response to the world than nonbelief. But it only gave me pause. I was still skeptical and for the next 16 months, I investigated the evidence for Christianity’s claims. By maintaining an open mind and by treating those faithful Christians who came into my life with respect rather than derision, I eventually came to a place where enough of my objections were answered satisfactorily to where I had to admit that the only thing standing between me and knowing if Christianity’s claims were true was my own unbelief.

I could choose to go on not believing or I could lay aside my objections for a moment and let God show me why belief was the most reasonable response to the world. It took 16 months to get to that point, so it was not a “leap of faith”. I had thoroughly investigated the subject before I accepted salvation.

During those 16 months I learned some things.

  • Christians are human beings who are not perfect. And most of them don’t claim to be.
  • Faithful Christians are generally consistent in what they believe from the Bible, but they struggle to reconcile their faith with their culture, which sometimes leads to perceived inconsistencies.
  • The Bible is surprisingly consistent with itself, but misconceptions abound among both believers and nonbelievers, with the nonbelievers holding the greater share of them.
  • American “cultural christianity” is mostly unfamiliar with the actual teachings of the Bible.
  • The Bible and science do not (contrary to popular belief) disagree about the world. Science properly cannot make any claims to understanding the metaphysical claims of the Bible and the Bible is a book of faith and history, not science. Those claiming that science has proven there is no God (or gods) are mistaken in their claims because they try to make science authoritative outside of the observation of the physical universe, which is its proper field of research.
  • Archaeology has so far been supportive of the Bible’s claims

Because I am not a true believer in science — and never was — I can see theories for what they are — someone’s opinion about the collected evidence. Materialistic scientism arrives at one theory about the origins of the universe and life on the planet by viewing the evidence through the lens of certain presuppositions. Intelligent design (it wasn’t called that in the 1970s, but it was around) has another theory also based on their examination of the evidence colored by their own presuppositions. There are extremes of both groups of theorists who try to take the evidence where it cannot go. Not being a true believer in materialism, I could have faith in God and still respect science for what it does well – collect evidence.

Archaeology hasn’t proven the Bible, but it has not found substantial evidence against the Biblical claims. The same summer I read Schaeffer’s book, I read an article in a magazine about how the Bible was crap because, among other things, Nineveh had never existed. Archaeologists had been looking for it for a century without success, so the writer insisted the Bible was lying about Jonah and, therefore the whole Bible was in question. I believed that claim without examination all during my investigative period. Within days of deciding to let God show me that my objections were misapplied, archaeologists announced that Nineveh had been found.  They’d been looking in the wrong places for a really long time and someone more or less stumbled upon it where they weren’t actually looking. Coincidence? Maybe, but it added evidence to the mountain that I was now scaling. Contrary to popular belief at the time, archaeology was actually confirming many of the claims of the Bible.

I came to the Bible and the claims of Christianity as a skeptic, but I had been challenged to approach the subject with an open mind. An open mind demands proof, but not absolute proof. Absolute proof is the province of a closed mind, a mind that is made up and will not be changed even by overwhelming evidence. I did not require overwhelming evidence. I only needed my reasonable questions answered. Essentially, when my collected evidence spoke more for God’s existence and, particularly for the claims of Jesus Christ, than it did against, I set aside my skepticism and let God answer the rest of my objections.

And, He did!

So, yes, I do understand skepticism, but no, I don’t think skeptics are right.

Non-Believers Misconceptions of Heaven Part 2   3 comments

“Heaven is a place, just as much a place as is New York or Chicago.” Charles Ferguson Ball

Everyone wants to know about heaven and everyone wants to go there. Nearly 80% of Americans believe there is a place called heaven and most people expect to go there when they die. That 80% includes a lot of people who do not attend church or align with the New Testament definition of a Christian.

Don’t you wonder why so many non-believers in the Biblical God want to go to His heaven?

Something deep inside the human heart cries out for something more than the pain and suffering of this life. They hope for something more than 70 or 80 years on Earth, of being born, living, dying and being buried. C.S. Lewis talked about a “God shaped hole” in the human heart, but even in an era when many Americans claim not to believe in God, there is apparently still a heaven-shaped vacuum inside the human heart. We somehow know we were made for something more than this life.

What I find interesting about all of those folks who think they’re going to heaven — especially the ones who do not seek a day-to-day relationship with God while they’re on this planet — is most of them have no concept of what heaven will be like and even if they do, if you push them, they wouldn’t really like heaven.

I suspect most Christians wouldn’t like the mythical representation of heaven either. What’s to like about floating around on clouds playing the harp? I l’ve hiked into many a cloud and they tend to rain on you and I don’t play the harp now, so why would I enjoy playing it for eternity in wet robes?

Fortunately, that’s not the Biblical concept of heaven. The Bible describes it as a real place, where believers will be free of sin, illness and death to pursue the work of God and worship Him without end. I don’t know any non-believers who would like to live that way for even a day, let alone an eternity.

Nonbelievers, I have a few questions for you. Please consider …

If you desire to go somewhere, shouldn’t you have some idea of where you’re going and what it will be like when you get there? Wouldn’t that be important if you were going somewhere forever? If you don’t like it, you’re going to have a long, long time to regret your decision. If you don’t want to worship God now, why would you want to worship Him forever?

How do you feel about serving Him forever? Luke 19:11-27 provides us a picture of what heaven will be like. We will use our gifts to administer the new heaven and the new earth. Bakers will bake, teachers will teach, singers will sing, and preachers will preach. For all I know, soldiers may march off to battle and quarterbacks will throw passes. Think of the flowers the botanists will study. Gifted astronomers will go from galaxy to galaxy studying the wonders of God’s creation.

No one will be sitting around on a cloud eating grapes and polishing his halo. We’ll all be too busy for that. And all of it will be in the service of God.

Non-believers –

You do realize — Christians will be in heaven? You know, those people you’ve ridiculed for believing in God — whom some of you have called stupid or mentally ill or weak willed. Are you sure you want to spend eternity with us? And we’re not just talking about one or two Christians. We’re talking about millions of Christians.

You can be as angry as you want about God expecting you to meet His standards to enter His home, but be honest with yourselves. If you hate God and are annoyed by Christians, would heaven feel like hell to you rather than a paradise?

Christian Misconceptions of Heaven Part 1   5 comments

To a certain extent modern Christians own the non-believers jabs on several topics, including heaven and hell. The prosperity gospel favored by many churches today paints a rosy picture of heaven as a place of temporal rewards where even a greedy person might overdose on the opulence.

Most Americans have a cliched notion of heaven as a blissful realm of harp-strumming angels. The vast majority of Americans also believe that after death their souls will ascend to some kind of celestial resting place where they will be “happy”.

There’s really no Biblical basis for that belief. First century Christian believers expected the world to be transformed into God’s Kingdom – a restored Eden where redeemed human beings would be liberated from death, illness, sin and other corruptions. They also believed that Jesus had established the Kingdom of God with His death and resurrection. In other words, they (and we) were (and are) living in the the start-up era of the Kingdom of God. This inauguration of God’s Kingdom was (and is) far from complete and required (still does) the cooperation of God’s people in spreading the gospel and being good examples of Christ-in-the-flesh, because God works through people and He is not willing for anyone to perish … if He can help it.

Which makes me sometimes wonder … is the delay in His return due to the rising tide of atheism? Is He allowing Christians the opportunity to find effective arguments to reach these misguided humans?

The idea of heaven veered off course in the Middle Ages. Writers and artists like Dante and Michelangelo and some theologians began to depict a heaven and hell (and a purgatory in Catholicism) that looked nothing like the New Testament version. Why? Depicting hell as the absence of God didn’t make such an exciting painting as the fiery hell painting? Maybe, but images like hell-fire and angels were actually pagan images from surrounding cultures, made more attractive because people couldn’t read the New Testament for themselves.

Twenty-first century Christians don’t have the same excuse. We have the New Testament literally at our fingertips. We can carry it around on our smart phones. We should read it, because our misconceptions, Christians, are crippling our faith. We have a temporal perspective rather than an eternal one. Many of us live only for the here and now and we don’t study that much about the world to come.

The Bible actually commands us to think about Heaven.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:1-2

When we understand what heaven really is, it changes how we live life now.

My cousin Rick (the research doctor) works with patients who have debilitating diseases and very little chance of long-term survival. I’ve met people from third-world countries where they faced difficult and dangerous situations, where sharing the faith can get them imprisoned or killed. Those who face adverse circumstances think about heaven a lot! Their perspective is not on their temporary lives, but on their hope for the future.

On Jesus’ last night on Earth, He told his remaining 11 disciples “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in Me. My Father’s house as many rooms, if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-4)

Heaven is about a restored relationship, which is what Christians have signed onto. The relationship we have now is intermittent because we are bent and twisted by sin. The relationship we will have with God in heaven will be in sharp focus. We will have renewed relationships also with our fellow believers and with ourselves. Heaven will be a place where sin, death and sorrow are absent, adventure, work and discovery await us and God will be present in a way that even we who seek Him have never experienced.

Now doesn’t the sound better than floating around a cloud playing the harp?

In a France suspicious of religion, evangelicalism’s message strikes a chord   3 comments

In a France suspicious of religion, evangelicalism’s message strikes a chord.

Christianity is on the wane in the United States as church attendance drops and most of the growing mega-churches are more about entertainment and prosperity than the gospel message of repentance, forgiveness of sin, salvation and living a Christ-centered life.

It’s often been said that the US is following Europe into a post-Christian era.

Ah, but Jesus Christ doesn’t listen to the pundits!

Maybe a decade or two from now, the US will be following France into the next Great Awakening.

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