Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bringing It Back To Basics.

A few months ago, I helped train a kid who quickly made it known he'd just come out of rehab. He told me some of his story during our lunch break. A relationship with a girl soured, he found himself deep into substance abuse, and he couldn't always control his anger. When I asked him what changed, he told me about the progress he made with AA. He used the phrase "God as you know Him" at several points. I casually asked him what he meant. "Well, I believe God's real, but we all recognize him in a different way. Whether it's Allah, Buddha, Jesus, or whatever."

"I don't think Jesus would agree with you. He made it pretty clear He was God and the only way for people to have a relationship with God." I kept my gentle, friendly tone. The kid didn't seem upset. He acted as if I had somehow agreed with him.

On December 10, the Tennessean printed an article full of quotes similar to my trainee's. A concerned Methodist pastor discovered how many of the people attending his church also claimed to be Buddhist and Wiccan. "Spirituality has become so individual," he said. "We can no longer assume that people embrace even the basics." Later in the article, Alan Cooperman, associate director for the research at the Pew Forum said, "It is as much now the norm as it is the exception for Americans to blend multiple religious beliefs and practices." According to the Pew Forum, a significant number of church-goers believe their interests in reincarnation, astrology, pantheism, necromancy, etc, don't conflict with Christianity. For a while now, I have thought about another quote from the Methodist pastor regarding his attitude toward the situation. "We spend a lot of time talking about the basics," he said.

Nashville has a lot of churches, Christian publishers, Christian musicians, and historically Christian colleges. Having lived here for a few years, talking to locals, and reading articles like the one in the Tennessean, I wonder how many people going to churches know about the basics. The trinity, the death and resurrection of Jesus, sin, salvation, the person and work of the Holy Spirit - some people growing up in the church don't know anything concrete about these simple Christian truths.

I feel like God has put it on my heart to learn how to explain the basics of Christianity. I'm not talking about all the details of a specific theology. I think every Christian should agree that Jesus is God, the Bible is true, stuff like that. So I guess this post in the Press has two purposes. One, I'm going to study on some basics for upcoming essays. Two, I wonder what Press readers think about some of these basics. 1 Peter 3:15 instructs believers to remain "always ready to give a reasoned answer to anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you - yet with humility and fear." If someone approached you and asked how you knew the Bible was true, or why you thought Jesus was God, what would you say? That's why I want to know more of why I believe what I believe. At the same time, I want to approach this with humility and fear. That is, I want to allow for grace toward others while keeping full respect toward God.

What do you all think about this? Have you ever felt trapped by questions about the basics of your faith? Have you thought maybe agreeing with a universalist mentality would make it easier to "deal" with the confrontation of people who don't understand these basics? I expect the next few months will do a few things. First, people who don't know Jesus will have answers to questions and come to know Him. Second, Christians who didn't know the foundation of their faith will grow into greater love and trust for Him. Third, nominal, no-faith church-goers will get called out on trying to blend or dilute Christianity.

We'll see you all next month.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Well-versed and Empty-hearted - Some thoughts on religious dullness.

Remember when I spent six months writing about the Minor Prophets (and yet gave you no links to Non-Prophets)? Instead of the now-familiar format where I share something I learn, I want to tell you about some meditations I've recently had while reading the Bible.

Last week, my friend Greg spoke at church about the presence of the Holy Spirit. In the message, he made two important points. One, the Bible is not enough. Yes, the Bible is completely necessary as a means for us to know God. But some people make the mistake of having a relationship with the Book and never get to know the Author. It's sort of like RLC Fan-club Christianity. There is a great danger in this. Modern man has tried for generations to understand God in strictly human terms. They use the Xerox copy as their standard of the total landscape. The picture is nice and all, but it's separate from their experience. So they use words like, "It's good to have faith, but..." As if faith were a pleasant virtue instead of a new way of life.

Two, the Holy Spirit changes lives. Some men from the church in Ephesus knew about repentance and baptism, they tried to "do" the stuff but hadn't received the Holy Spirit, let alone heard of Him. Acts 19:1-6 tells the story of these men finally meeting God, the Author, experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit. Their faith went from works to relationship in the space of a breath. Imagine watching this take place. They instantly began to speak in other languages and prophesy. How do you think they they would have explained it? Don't you think something like that would have changed their lives?

The Christian Church has seen its share of well-versed and empty-hearted people. In 2 Timothy 3:2-5, Paul warns the young pastor, "People will be self-loving, money-loving, proud, arrogant, insulting, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, uncontrolled, brutal, hateful of good, traitorous, headstrong, swollen with conceit, loving pleasure rather than God, as they retain the outer form of religion but deny its power." Don't slide your eyes over this list. I know I sometimes see words like "brutal" or "traitorous" and think the message couldn't possibly apply to me. The truth is I recently repented of a huge area of pride in my life, and I know I've insulted people. This warning should cause us to stop and consider if we are those who retain an outer form of religion while denying its power. Have our lives genuinely changed or have we merely memorized data about Him?

I grew up in dry and dusty Baptist churches and almost never heard anyone mention the Holy Spirit. This version of faith was a list of rules and guidelines, no matter how passionately I tried to tell my non-believing friends otherwise. Before I met the Holy Spirit, my faith, my life, was dull. I seldom repented because my heart was hard and I didn't understand the purpose of conviction. During a conference in 2004, Graham Cooke noted how Paul's last sermon in Acts was a message against religious dullness. "The Holy Spirit spoke well in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet, 'Go to this people and say, "You will keep on hearing but never understand, and you will keep on seeing but never perceive, because the heart of this people has grown thick - with their ears they barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, for fear that they should see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and do repentance, so that I could heal them."'"

Since Greg's message, I have asked God to keep my heart sensitive to the Holy Spirit, to keep me from dullness. I don't want to go from a life of Stark Raving Obedience to the lukewarm, practical atheism of nominal Christians.

How do you feel about this? Are you content with once-a-week Christianity? Does the thought of God speaking to you fill you with anxiety? Do you want life with God, living in His presence as you work and eat and study and socialize, or do you just want to go to a nice place after you die?