Saturday, January 5, 2008

Spiritual Realities Revealed

Lately, I've been reading "Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises and a Revolution of Hope" by Brian D. McLaren. And, he is not kidding with the title. He is really challenging the way I've thought about every aspect of life and the story of the world. The perspective of the book is so different that I'm sure I'll have to re-read it when I'm finished in order to glean and retain everything he's saying.

He states in the first chapter of the book why he has put so much energy into researching the biggest problems that the world faces.

"More personally, I'm a rather ordinary person. I care about my young adult kids and the kids they may someday have. I care about my friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens and our common future on this beautiful, imperiled planet. I care about the billions of people I've never met and never will meet, including people who might be called my nation's enemies. I also care about our fellow creatures -- brown trout and blue herons, raccoons and gopher tortoises, red dragonflies and royal palms, barrel cactus and woodland ferns. I care about all of these for a lot of reasons, especially because I am a committed follower of Christ, and people with this commitment, it seems to me, can't help but care about all these things. " (Italics mine)

It has always seemed to me that it should be a natural overflow of our love for God to love all his people, and yet, it's so easy to love the lovable and simply by-pass loving those who are our enemies and those we don't ever know or see. However, if love is an action, then my life should be lived in such a way that I am considering all those people. Loves comes alive in my own willingness to be a loving and responsible steward of my time and resources.

And yet, as McLaren reveals in the book, these thoughts of practical nature are rarely taught in the church. In fact, a trip to Africa revealed to him a shocking truth. At a meeting, a leader in the church there opened his eyes.

"Friends, most of you know me. You know that I am the son of a preacher, and as a result, I grew up going to church all the time, maybe five times a week. What may surprise you though is to learn that in all of my childhood, in all the church services I attended, I only heard one sermon... That sermon went like this: 'You are a sinner and you are going to hell. You need to repent and believe in Jesus. Jesus might come back today, and if he does and you are not ready, you will burn forever in hell.' "

And, while I would have to say that that is not the sermon I'm hearing every week, it is the general thrust of what I've heard over my lifetime. I'm thankful that the sermons I'm hearing every week are very practical, life and community changing, and Jesus focused. But what is disturbing is that if I look at all the books, sermons, magazine articles I've read in the past 15 years, the teachings are not just about afterlife. They're about me.

Even our worship is self centered. Many times, during a worship service, I can't even get myself to sing the words to a song because the focus is on me. Take, for instance, how singing this is worshiping God:

Running through the forest
Dive into the lake
Barefoot on beaches white
Standing in the canyon
Painted hills around
And the wind against my skin

The song then goes on to sing about how I will not be silent anymore -- focusing on me, rather than the eternal attributes of God as a creator that we should be worshipping Another one is "Our Love is Loud" , again focusing on us and how great and exciting our love is. These songs are fine (if you're into that kind of stuff) but are they worship? I don't think so, unless you're talking about using worship time to think about how great we are at adoring God. I've always understood worship to be a time when you express to God just how amazing and wonderful He is, and yet it's just hardly ever about that anymore.

I don't think mis-focused worship music is the problem, though. I think it's a symptom. All the books on self-help, counseling, emotional healing, prosperity, books such as "Your Best Life Now" have all made Christianity about the individual.

This is totally missing the mark! God blesses us when we take our eyes off of ourselves and put them onto Him and others. God heals us when we risk to love in His name. It's like our minds are riddled with some kind of illness that distorts our thinking. It's the same illness that causes people to tell me how I'm just "so special" for adopting handicapped children, or how I've been given a "gift of compassion" or how someone could "never do what I do". It wasn't compassion, it isn't a gift, and anyone can do it! I traveled to difficult nations to rescue children because I love Jesus and Jesus loves them. If you radically love someone, then you care about what they care about. Their passions become your passions. Will your love always take that form? No, but it will take some sort of sacrificial and active form, as that is the very nature of love.

Acting on your love for Christ is the very visible expression of spirituality, and yet, as a nation, we're looking to feel rather than do -- with a significant chunk of our leaders telling us that that's okay. I don't see how anyone can read the book of James without coming to that conclusion.

So, to start off. I do agree with McLaren -- everything must change. How we think about our life, our time and our resources. We can't just think about ourselves anymore.

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