Monday, August 2, 2010

Reason to Get Up in the Morning

As I usually do, I consulted The Economist recently for perspective on a political issue that is getting significant buzz these days. In this case, I mostly wish I hadn't. Nevertheless, it opens the can of worms, which in hindsight is what I needed. This issue matters for Christians. Be advised.

Build that mosque

To your surprise, I'm sure, this post is not about what I think of the idea of a mosque built at Ground Zero. But the debate itself, and the way that the Christian church in America handles it, sets the table for what I wanted to highlight. I'm prepared to accept the fact that not many people, even Christians, care about, or have the time to be concerned about, the trends and developments in the contemporary Christian church in America today; or more generally, in the future of religion. Perhaps you have little to no interest in church or things of God or spirituality, in which case I understand that you don't care. Or perhaps you have just never had anyone tell you that you should, and you are quite sure that the "future of religion" is irrelevant. Consider this me saying you should. It is relevant.

Recently I worshipped at Veteran's Memorial in downtown Indianapolis, among thousands of people of different backgrounds and ethnicities. Shortly after I was introduced first hand to the reality of homelessness in my city, and listened to the challenges and victories of ministry to the forgotten from someone who would know, because he lives with them. The church in our generation has the capacity, and in increasing measure the willingness, to make a huge difference in our world. In light of this reality, and because we know from the Bible that this kind of opportunity will surely face opposition and persecution from the inside and the outside, I deeply care about how the church is adapting.

It fascinates me to read about and be a part of history in this way. Its humbling to carefully discern when to follow "movements" or "trends" because they are Spirit-led and biblical, or when to boldly and unapologetically raise caution flags to the church and the culture because the current direction may be temporary, man-centered, and eternally unwise. That this is a unique time in history is not specific to religion or church. This video (Social Media Revolution) hopefully indicates to you in shocking fashion that our culture is changing and technology is advancing at a pace that is seemingly impossible to understand, and even harder to keep up with.

As I wrote about in an earlier post, it is total confusion on earth right now. Politics, weather, celebrity culture, sports, education, world affairs, economics - they are all a mess. No matter your stance on the mosque idea, you cannot deny that it is shocking. This is feeding both sides, which is dangerous and chaotic. We have to keep perspective. To paraphrase Alistair Begg, the difference between me, and the guy who tonight is boozin' it up in some saloon, is not that I'm smarter than him but it is the grace of God to me. And as my new friend in homeless ministry says, there is no difference between the guy living in the luxurious suburbs who gets drunk every night and the guy living on the streets doing the same. We are all in the same situation. We all have the same hurts. We all have the same sin. The church is God's vessel of grace to people. How are we doing with this commission?

It is amazing and humbling to see that Christianity is not the only worldview that interprets this confusion and applies it to people and the future. The church, though, is at risk of being in the same boat of confusion as everyone else and offering a poor (and untrue) interpretation of history, culture, and the future. This is a problem for Christians because it damages our example and confuses people as to our motives in society, the Sovereignty of our God, and the exclusivity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as an objective truth not a subjective opinion. And this is a problem for non-Christians, because Christianity, whether you like it or not, has influenced and continues to influence many things that are important to us.

I, for one, would like to try my best to keep up with how God's people are adapting so that I will not spend my life unsure whether the direction I am following is God-centered, biblical, and effective for people, or whether it is borderline blasphemous and dishonoring to the Creator of the Universe. Christians are at risk of wasting their lives in this way if they allow themselves to be naive and disconnected from what is going on around them. That is a lot of pressure, I know. You are busy meeting deadlines at work, taking care of your family, finding a job, or whatever. You can't be expected to figure all this out. Reading your Bible and going to church and providing for your family and loving your neighbor should be enough.

Yes it should. But I am convinced that the enemy wants us to be sheltered in our comfort zones while chaos erupts around us. He wants us to be vague on the Gospel so that it has no power and deteriorates into social action only. He wants us to be marginally committed to the authority of the Bible, so that it offers no grace to people's lives and becomes a good history book only. He wants us to be splintered in our understanding of what the church should look like and what our mission as Christians is, so that we make no difference in our communities and meet in our homes only and argue about mission for years without ever doing anything. He wants our "Christian life" to be altogether separate from our "work life" and our "family life" and our "personal life". He doesn't want us to be having these types of conversations around the water cooler, or over a cup of coffee, or or on a road trip, or on the internets. He wants the uniqueness of Jesus and the nature of the Christian Gospel to blend in with every other religion so that well-educated and well-meaning people make ridiculous, inherently illogical, claims like "all religions lead to God" or "pluralism is the answer".

Hopefully this will be a helpful and fairly quick way to expose yourself to all of this. If you're in ministry, I pray this is top priority for you. Your people will need some clarification at some point in the next few years I can assure you. If you are not clear, they will flounder in a culture that is waiting to devour them. You won't be able to just say, "I know, it's crazy, but God loves you, so go love others", and be done with it. If you're not in professional ministry, I pray that you share this with someone who is, and ask them what they think about it, and along the way gain a dose of sanctifying spiritual discernment yourself. You don't have to be a professional Christian to make a difference. If you don't care about ministry or the church or religion at all, I pray you will give Christians the benefit of the doubt and do us a favor by carefully observing all this and hopefully see our hearts and the grace of Jesus Christ shine through. I believe that no movement or trend in the church or anywhere in society will make much difference or offer much lasting benefit to people if its core purpose and ultimate result is not increased glory to God in the face of Jesus Christ. If you see that at any level here, than this post will not have been in vain.


The website is doing an interesting series on the Future of Religion. Actually, not just interesting; incredible. Check it out. Devour it. Share it with your pastor, or your rabbi, or your friend, or your psychic, or whoever. There are enough articles to keep you busy for months. Nevertheless, read them. My next post will unpack the Future of Evangelicalism, in light of a lot of the other perspectives, since that is the "religion" with which I identify. Unfortunately, my purpose here is not to defend that Evangelical Christianity is the most true, the most God-centered, and the most heaven-bound religion. If that interests you, check out some Ravi Zacharias. He will get you going. This post is to expose you to the future of religion in general, and the thoughts and actions of people today, hopefully to help you (and me) discern how Jesus Christ really is the center of history past, the center of life now, and the ultimate culmination of the future as the creator and sustainer of all things.

As I look at perspectives from different faith systems, and the complex traditions and beliefs that exist within them, and that influence people, seemingly for good, one question resonates in my mind: what about a Savior? As I get more involved with people who are living on the street in downtown Indianapolis and talk to them and try to discern what scraps of hope they might have left, I wonder: do they know there is a Savior? To the people that don't acknowledge they need saving, I have very little to say. Except maybe that their efforts in identifying with a religion and trusting in faith at some level, and expressing their innate desire to worship, seems to indicate that they are seeking just that. Even if their "faith" is in the prediction that there is no God, or their "faith" is in the chance that the bottle will help them permanently forget their situation, and their "expression of worship" is gaining knowledge, or escaping reality through intoxication. Outside of Jesus, it just seems obvious to me that people searching are not finding any salvation that lasts or even makes much sense.

I want to give just a few examples of that from sporadic articles on Patheos, and then let your thoughts run wild, hopefully landing you safely back at the cross. As timing would have it, the articles on the Future of Islam, which is partly how I started this post, have not been written yet. Stay tuned to that site and this blog and I'll update when the time is right. What I believe to be confusion about God in other faith systems is not a reality that is unknown, or outside of the control of, the Sovereign and Triune God. So I will not pretend that there is not an answer to explain the existence of so many religions, or a definite assurance that Jesus is the only way. There is an answer and an assurance and Jesus is the only way. This is not mean because it is true. Please hear my heart in that. This is good news because you can know this. Not wonder it. Not believe it halfheartedly. Not just hope for it. You can know it.

A man named Stephen Prothero has just written a book called God is Not One. Surprisingly, the existence of this book I think is a good thing. I haven't read it. But its premise is that the idea that all religions are the same is ludicrous and dangerous, and the better approach is to embrace and celebrate the differences. To Christians, this opens a door to conversations about how Christianity is different in a unique and saving way. That is a good thing.


Hinduism. Thankfully, it seems that Hindus realize the inherent evil in the caste system, and most specifically the sufferings of the lowest caste. And apparently, reconciling this injustice is an acknowledged challenge and goal for Hinduism in the future. The question, then, is what hope does the Hinduism tradition offer to the poor?

"In India, the biggest challenge that Hinduism faces and has faced for centuries is the continuing presence and influence of the caste system in rural areas. While urban India has moved beyond the negative effects of caste in many ways and most Hindu communities outside the Indian sub-continent have rejected the system completely, it nevertheless continues to operate in villages. This persistence hampers the ability of people to work together to improve the lives of the lowest castes.

"Currently, a great deal of tension exists between Christian missionaries who seek to exploit the caste situation to promote conversion among the low castes and Hindus who are attempting to make Hinduism more relevant and more accessible to the same groups so they have no reason to convert. Foreign-based Christian NGOs have actually been active in the rural areas since the 19th century, while it has only been since Independence that Hindu NGOs have been formed in any significant numbers to provide an indigenous religious vehicle for addressing rural needs. Although the success of these efforts will surely have an influence on the future religious ethos in rural areas, Hinduism will continue to provide the vast majority of village Indians with their sense of self-identity and of belonging in a vastly changing economic and social landscape." Ramdas Lamb

Well, Jesus offers more lasting hope than the shaky prediction of an improved economic and social landscape and the sense of belonging that might come from it. Jesus offers eternal community with himself, and eternal community with other believers. In downtown Indianapolis right now, there is a network of Christian communities forming among the homeless who are living with hope and joy in Jesus, and not hope in an improved economy, which at the present time could be a false hope anyway.


Judaism. I would do well to more humbly understand and practice the devotion and faithfulness of the Jewish people today. Their reverence for God and desire for obedience is remarkable. I see it everyday at my place of employment. In doing this, my heart's desire would be that I would understand what hope looks like for people who sacrifice so much and try so hard to live in such a God-centered way. In the Old Testament, the promise of a Messiah who would deliver them, and save them, and eternally provide for them was the hope. Wasn't it? Now, it is apparently something different.

"In contrast with the Christian and Islamic traditions, Rabbinic Judaism asserts that prophecy ended with the last three prophets of the Hebrew Bible (Hagai, Malachai, Zechariah) and that therefore Jews no longer have prophets; they have rabbis who preserve and interpret the traditions handed down at Sinai. We also have no Messiah, or more precisely, our Messiah is permanently delayed. As Franz Kafka put it, 'the Messiah will arrive only on the day after he is supposed to get here.' Over the centuries, claimants to the role of prophet and/or messiah arose, but they were rejected and marginalized by the normative Jewish tradition, and the followers of some of them -- Jesus and Shabbtai Zevi, for example -- founded their own sects or religions. Thus the Messiah was delayed -- until the Zionist movement and the establishment of Israel suggested a new understanding of Messianism...

"In the face of the return of the biblical and the messianic, the challenge for the future of Judaism is how to think about Israel in a rational considered fashion, a fashion not influenced by the supernatural and the messianic." Shalom Goldman

Is the future of Judaism really centering their hope somewhere besides on their promised Messiah, and even somewhere outside the God they obey? How can that be? Where will that lead?


Buddhism. John Piper once said, "I could not survive psychologically in my sin if it weren't for the cross." This is a far cry from the main tenets of Buddhism that advocate looking within for meaning and purpose, and apparently, for hope. Yet it cannot be denied. As Tim Keller says, if you don't believe that you are originally sinful, just give it some time. It doesn't take me even a day to be completely assured of this truth. So the fact that "Buddhism is clearly moving from the fringes of American religious life into its mainstream", could indicate that what appears on the surface to be peace resulting from self-discovery and oneness, could underneath actually be a generation and culture of people dying a slow death psychologically. We have to acknowledge this possibility and confront it.

John MacArthur, in a sermon on Acts, talks about how adding anything to salvation by grace through faith alone eventually reveals itself as ridiculous. For example, at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, Jewish Christians come saying that all the new Gentile believers must be circumcised to be saved. There were thousands of them. Can you imagine the local medical clinic's reaction to this possibility? (I have an inappropriate joke I could tell at this juncture. I will resist.) Similarly, Buddhism speaks of oneness, and the encouragement to seek this as a method of self-help to find peace. I'm not trying to be mean, but this logic is ridiculous. Natascha Bruckner explains it this way:

"In the great kaleidoscope of life, none of us can exist without all the others. But it gets deeper: each of us is all the others. So, really, there are no others.

"Brother Phap Niem explained: 'Inside of you, you can find everything. There is only one thing you do not contain -- a self.' This is a Zen master's way of saying: a) you're purely made of stuff that isn't you, and b) everything that seems to be outside you is actually part of you. The fancy spiritual term is nonduality, also known as oneness.

"Some people have had direct experiences of oneness. They've realized their true self, inclusive of everything and everyone, in moments of divine interconnected bliss. I occasionally access this oneness in fleeting instants, when I feel someone else's emotions, or know what they're going to say before they say it.

"Practicing Reiki (hands-on energy healing) brings me closest to that feeling of oneness. In Reiki, my body becomes a conduit for energy, like a hollow straw. Healing energy pours through my palms into the other person. Sometimes I let my consciousness extend out through my hands, into the other body, and I sense colors, shapes, dark blockages, currents. I see dreamlike images. Once while giving Reiki to a client, I envisioned her practicing non-violent martial arts, not in self-defense but to cultivate inner strength and integrity. After the session I asked if she had ever done martial arts. She said no, but she'd been wanting to take a class. Many other times I've seen and felt clients' inner truths. How could I perceive these visions if we weren't all one?"

"But my mind protests. Even if we're all one, we are also separate. I don't feel pain every time somebody stubs a toe (thank goodness). It's a bewildering paradox. How is it that we are separate bodies, and also all one consciousness, one vast ever-moving organism?"

Seems a strange mental battle to be fighting. Seems very far off from an understanding of reality that completes the narrative lines of our life and fulfills the desires of our soul. Seems to not offer much of a lasting salvation that can have any assurance at all. But what do I know? Maybe Tiger Woods is on to something.


I mentioned above about the book God is Not One. From the synopsis and table of contents (sorry, haven't had time to read it), it is clear that the author's summary of the major world religions is that each defines a human problem and human solution. This is helpful. In Islam the problem is pride and the solution is submission; in Buddhism the problem is suffering and the solution is awakening; in Judasim the problem is exile and the solution is return to God; in Confucianism the problem is chaos and the solution is social order; in Hindusim the solution is devotion; in Daoism the solution is flourishing: in Yoruba Religion the solution is connection. Et cetera. In Christianity, as he defines it, the problem is sin and the solution is salvation. I'm no scholar, but it seems all the problems are sin, and all the solutions are attempts at salvation by human means. They cannot all be the same, as the author himself argues, so they can't all be effective. So it seems to me that all the human solutions are temporary and not assured, as history would attest, and the one divine solution makes a lot of sense.

Kramer once asked George, "Do you even have a reason to get up in the morning?" George, broken and depressed, answered through held-back (comedy) tears, "I like to get the Daily News." That's one reason. Surely there are more. In a recent USA Today article, columnist Oliver Thomas concluded, "It's not so much about this doctrine or that, Mass or the Lord's Supper or even Ramadan or Yom Kippur. It's about purpose, meaning and whether I ought to get out of bed in the morning." Well, let me say this: you outta. And the only honest and sure reason I can give you as to why has nothing to do with The Daily News, or self-realization, or economic recovery, or political cooperation, or geographic agreement, or salvation by any means other than grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Don't waste your life searching for anything less eternal and don't get blown off course by developments in our culture leading people in any other direction.