The Times They Are a-Changin’

photo credit: ky_olsen via photopin cc
photo credit: ky_olsen via photopin cc

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always like Bob Dylan’s singing voice. Although I was born a little late to join the protests of the sixties, I must have somehow absorbed the feel of the era. Dillon’s title track from his third album, The Times They Are a-Changin’, became an anthem of sorts for those wearied of the uncaring, repressive ways of the old order.

I don’t know if Bob Dylan ever truly gave his life to Christ, but there is no question that he was drawn toward Biblical themes. I suspect he inherently understood that humankind can never provide the answers for all that it needs.

Almost forty years later, a similar sense of weariness has settled into our bones. We live in an era of global upheaval—there’s no question about that. Old methods, old mindsets, old structures, and old technologies are just that—old. The “new”, however, continues to lack the moral substance missing through much of the turmoil of the ’60s.

The Western church saw a powerful move of God in the 1970s, filling faithful believers with a sense of confidence that she (the church) would fix the ills of society in a way that hippie protests never could. Today, it seems, we don’t see the expected fruit from either movement.

photo credit: zappowbang via photopin cc
photo credit: zappowbang via photopin cc

Born during the upheaval of the ’60s and born again at the tail end of the ’70s’ renewal, I have spent much of my life looking for answers. I’ve never been satisfied with the status quo—especially the institutional ineffectiveness of the Western church. But now, in an era when we seem to have fewer answers for the pain of the human condition, I finally feel as though I am beginning to see and understand the transformational power that the gospel professes to possess.

In spite of the onslaught of criticism that’s been directed toward the church in recent years, I don’t think that we have it all wrong—a large number of devoted and sincere followers of Christ continue to make a significant impact on broken lives. At the same time, I believe that our version of Christianity is lacking in several key areas. We emphasize repeating the sinner’s prayer over counting the cost to become disciples of Christ. We preach and teach a form of grace that breeds passivity. We fail to grasp the importance of identity in the battle we wage against sin.

photo credit: Sean McGaughran
photo credit: Sean McGaughran

I could elaborate further, but time and space do not permit. My point is that we have much right, but that significant adjustments still need to be made if we are to see the church become the fullness of Christ she was meant to be. The upheaval of our times serves as a mysterious blessing in that it simply will not allow us to be content with the status quo.

Personally, I have been changing as I’ve sought to become more usable for God’s purposes. As a ministry, we are changing to prepare ourselves for a greater measure of influence in the coming days. A major part of that change will involve our web presence. Our new SfMe Ministries web/blog site (searchforme.info) is now live. Our new SfMe Media website (sfme.org) will be unveiled in the coming weeks. As a result, we will soon begin phasing out the use of https://searchforme.wordpress.com/.

Rather than automatically switch all of our subscribers to the new site, we’d prefer to give you the option of continuing to follow my weekly posts. Please take some time to familiarize yourself with the great new website that Sean, our faithful employee, has put together. It’s easy to subscribe to my weekly “blogotional” by providing your email in the top right section of the home page. (You may also want to unsubscribe from my Hidden Trails blog.)

I think that you will find my weekly posts to be both insightful and beneficial. The Times They Are a-Changin’. Let’s collectively seek to position ourselves for the further advance of God’s awesome kingdom!

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The Church of Whatever We Want Jesus to Be

Paul's Letter
Valentin de Boulogne – Public Domain

If ever there was a person who was an authority of the Christian gospel, it was the Apostle Paul. Author of one-third of our New Testament, Paul penned letters to the churches in Rome and Galatia, both of which have become premiere sources for our understanding of the gospel.

Notice how Paul begins his letter to the Romans:

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…. Romans 1:1 (NASB)

This verse provides a point of convergence for all Christians. Would any of us dispute Paul’s calling—or his authority for that matter? We all might also agree that the gospel (good news) is integral to the Christian faith. Even those who do not consider themselves to be evangelicals still revere the centrality of the gospel.

Christ's Resurrection
Noel Coypel – Public Domain

Professing Christians begin to diverge when it comes to the heart and purpose of the gospel. Jesus came to earth as God incarnate—that is God in the flesh, in human form. The Son of God walked amongst us as the Son of Man. After fulfilling a supernatural ministry on earth, Jesus suffered a torturous death on a wooden cross as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of all men and women. But death could not hold the Son of God! On the third day following, Jesus rose in power from the grave, never to die again.

Sadly, there are some professing Christians who would disagree with this Biblically-based representation of the good news of Jesus Christ. They might say, “Humans aren’t all that bad and are able to please God by being good people and doing nice things—like helping little old ladies across the street.” They might say, “Sure, Jesus was a great moral teacher, but he never believed himself to be God. A few misguided souls simply misunderstood his teachings.” Further still, they might say, “Jesus never performed any actual miracles and we all know the resurrection to be scientifically impossible.” “Of course, these things are recorded in the Bible, but the book is more of a teaching tool intended to help modify human behavior than it is the inspired word of God,” they might say.

It is not my goal to be rude, but I can’t, for the life of me, understand how such a perspective can be called “Christian” when it attempts to strike a dagger in the heart of the Christian faith. If we remove the reality of Christ’s miracles and His subsequent resurrection, we lose the power to transform human lives. Christianity, then, becomes more of a humanistic self-improvement project than the radical, life-changing movement it was intended to be.

I understand that some people find certain tenets of the Christian faith to be repulsive. Seriously, how many of us relish the thought of needing a Savior to remind us that we are thoroughly inadequate in heaven’s eyes? The picture of a bloody sacrifice does little to make me feel warm and fuzzy. And, of course, dying to my own selfish desires has never been at the top of my bucket list!

I disagree with the theology of Unitarian Universalists but I do respect them for their honesty; they don’t claim to be Christian. On the other hand, I really struggle with those who profess Christianity but deny the substance thereof. It is one thing to disagree about the meaning of Scripture. It’s a totally different issue to deny its authority.

Church of WhateverWe live in a world in which the title “Christian” means just about everything; therefore, it means nothing. What makes this state especially sad are the precious human lives adversely affected by such confusion. Would we, perhaps, be better to make a distinction between those who embrace the supremacy and authority of Christ, and those who would like to reinterpret the Bible according to their own desires? We could call one group the church of Jesus Christ and the other the church of whatever we want Jesus to be.

I realize that the abrasive tone of this post breaks from my usual pattern but I believe there are times when we sacrifice honesty for the sake of nicety. If you would like to make your own religion, have at it! Enjoy yourself! Do it up right! Create whatever makes you feel good. But let’s not forget that Jesus Christ is the head of His church and that He will form and shape her according to His desires—not ours.

No Power, No Game – A Key Lesson from the Super Bowl!

Mercedes-Benz Superdome
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It was an odd moment in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome suddenly went half black. The players and coaches stood befuddled, the broadcasters went ominously quiet, and the television cameras simply panned the half-darkened ceiling of the massive dome. Nobody really knew what was going on but one thing was certain—no power meant no game. At least for the next 34 minutes.

As I begin to wrap up this series on violence, I can’t help but make an observation that is somewhat critical of the conservative community standing in total opposition to any form of gun control. This is quite difficult for me to do because I have quite a few good friends I might possibly offend.

The New Testament clearly emphasizes that God has given His church powerful spiritual weapons for the purpose of advancing His kingdom.

The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 (Phillips)

I understand that the primary context of this passage is the Apostle Paul writing about truth as our primary weapon for breaking down enemy strongholds; however, in the greater context of the New Testament, we find that truth is not our only spiritual weapon.

Receiving from God
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In His final words before ascending into heaven, Jesus made something quite clear to His followers—He would empower them, through the person of the Holy Spirit, to do all that He called them to do.

But you shall receive power (ability, efficiency, and might) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends (the very bounds) of the earth. Acts 1:8 (AMP)

In addition to His awesome truth and the amazing power of prayer, God has invested within the heart of every true believer a power that far exceeds anything that the human race could ever envision. Unfortunately, for the most part, it is a power that lies dormant as we pursue a multitude of other methods to satisfy our lives and to do ministry.

A fundamental strategy of any type of warfare is to attempt to disarm the power of the enemy. And I must say that, for the most part, Satan has done an effective job of getting the Christian church to lay down its weaponry. We often give minimal attention to the truth of God’s word, a lesser amount to individual and corporate prayer, and even less to operating in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The church has been effectively disarmed to the point of having minimal influence in a society being overrun by dark forces.

Gun Rights Rally
photo credit: Elvert Barnes via photopin cc

Our reasons for allowing this to happen may be many but I think they are as weak as our spiritual vitality. In the end, we are either ignorant of God’s power available to us or we aren’t willing to pay the price to lay hold of all that He has for us. Perhaps it is a mix of both, but either way, I can’t help but wonder how the spiritual landscape in America would look if we as conservative Christians were as outraged at the loss of our spiritual weaponry as we are about the possibility of losing our gun rights.

Still, there is good news in all of this! If we will only take the time to dig deeper into His word to discover the power and authority available to us, if we will fast from food and some of our media, if we will spend extended time in prayer seeking His face, God will gladly restore the church what has been lost and neglected. Although God’s power is readily available to every believer, generally, it does not come as easily and quickly for us as it should. Deliberate and extended effort may be necessary.

No Power, No Game! We can whine and complain all we want, but unless we take up the call to spiritual arms, the spiritual landscape of our nation won’t be changing any time soon.

How You Can Help to Prevent Mass Shootings

Sandy Hook Shooting
photo credit: Daniel M. Reck via photopin cc

It has been several days since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and I am still struggling to process the reality of such a horrible event. Other mass shootings in recent years have scarred communities, but this one has left deep and lasting scars for our entire nation. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 had a similar effect, but there is something different this time around. Those killings were the work of religious extremists operating from halfway across the globe. What happened in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, December 14, 2012 was the product of our own societal dysfunction. That a young man would maliciously murder twenty first-grade students, jolts suburban and rural America with the realization of what inner-city dwellers have known for quite some time:  something is terribly wrong in our beloved nation.

Of course, an intense battle will be fought over gun control. Some will contend that guns should be banned. Those in opposition will argue that law abiding citizens who carry weapons will actually help to make our streets safer. Both sides will support their arguments with various statistics and anecdotal stories. The battle over gun control, however, provides a convenient diversion from deeper, more difficult issues that must be addressed. To say that guns are at the core of the problem is to grossly over-simplify the issue, while avoiding any sense of personal responsibility for the collective citizenry of our nation.

Greed
photo credit: deltaMike via photopin cc

The bottom line is that we have become a nation of self-centered consumers. And while I would never say that such a description applies to every person in the U.S., I do believe that it is quite accurate in a general sense. Even issues such as the misappropriation of pharmaceutical drugs or the prevalence of violent movies and video games are closely tied to greed.

Our freedom that was purchased in blood has now become our demise, for freedom only works when the people of a nation collectively seek the greater good. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians was both true and prophetic:

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:13-15 (NASB)

Today, even the Church is driven by a consumer mentality. Unfortunately, many Christian leaders cater to this destructive mindset because they believe it is the only way to get people into their churches and to fund their ministries. Our American gospel is all about what God can do for us, while the true nature of the Christian faith remains relatively untouched.

Money App
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God, it appears, has become an app that we can access in time of need. We have a salvation app, a provision app, a comfort app, and, at this time of the year, a Baby Jesus app. The sovereign King of the Universe, however, will not cater to our self-centered terms. If we want to relate to God, we must fully subscribe to His entire operating system—one that calls us to seek Him with all of our hearts as a way of life. If we would flock to our churches to seek His presence and drop to our knees in prayer with the same intensity of emotion before a national tragedy, there probably would not be the need to do so afterward.

Violence in America began to seriously escalate in the 1960’s. What brought it on? I am convinced that the roots can be found to have materialized just after World War II with our collective pursuit of the American Dream. While our nation held to a form of religion, at that point money became our national god. We honored Jesus with our lips, but the real god of our hearts was materialism. Psalm 16:4 tells us that, “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply” (ESV). Is this not an accurate representation of our grief over the Sandy Hook shootings? The violence of our day is, at least in part, the fruit of over half a century of materialistic idolatry on the part of an entire nation.

Shooter
photo credit: LINUZ90 via photopin cc

On a practical level, our incessant quest for more stuff, combined with the rise of secularism and the gradual rejection of the Christian faith, has precipitated the horrible decay of the nuclear family—the building block upon which a healthy society functions. More specifically still, the growing absence of loving, faithful fathers has led to an identity vacuum in the hearts of our nation’s children. Show me a culture lacking in a healthy sense of identity and I will show you a nation of young men immersed in a climate of violence.

As I consider these things, I can’t help but think of the ancient nation of Israel as they found themselves exiled in Babylon—an exile brought upon by their own idolatry. But the God who they had rejected and ignored spoke to them through the prophet Jeremiah with a message of kindness and hope.

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NASB)

No matter how far we have fallen, no matter how things may appear, and no matter how dark and foreboding the future may look, we can all help to turn the tide of violence in our culture by seeking God with all of our hearts, by putting material possessions in their proper place, and by genuinely loving those around us. Can there be a better season of the year to get our priorities right than at Christmas?