19 January 2007

Authentic Spirituality and American Christianity

Just a short thought:

I've heard a lot of people say that America is turning away from God. I've heard many older people say that "back in my day" more people followed God and now we are turning away from Him. I've heard many blame our country for the moral decline of our society because they took prayer out of schools and questioned "under God" in the pledge. I've heard it said that this country used to be Christian and now it is falling away from that.

I have a theory, however, that says that America hasn't changed in its allegiance to Christianity over the past few generations. I say that because I believe that the majority has never been committed to Jesus, even if they thought they were. Here's what I'm getting at: It is not that less people are following Christianity now than decades before; instead, it is that less people are faking their spirituality than decades ago. I would dare say that the high percentages of Christianity in America decades ago were merely high percentages of people who followed religion, not true Christian spirituality. Many were faking it because it was somewhat socially expected to be a Christian. They went because it was expected and they thought that their rituals and religion was how to truly follow Jesus (but it wasn't). I would dare say that the change is not the numbers necessarily (at least not to the large margin that we think), but the change is actually that not as many people are faking it anymore. This "decline" in numbers is a good thing because it is not a decline in true followers of Jesus; it's a decline in those who claimed the religion without the spirituality. Less people in the newer generations are now going to church because they aren't interested in ritual and religion, which is a good thing. So, it has the appearance that Christianity is on the decline. However, I say that America's social atmosphere is finally being honest with itself and the merely religious are falling away in mass numbers. People are tired of the fake religiousity, so more Americans are not playing the game.

I'd rather the numbers be declining. It has been far too long that Christianity has been a socially accepted religion and not a selfless and costly authentic spirituality. Let the masses of merely religious go. Jesus did not ask for those who would follow Him out of social requirement or follow Him with a little bit of themselves. Jesus called for the committed. Barry Callen, in "Authentic Spirituality," states:
To be authentically Christian is to be fully human and to join God in the costly ministry of redemption and justice. Nothing else is worthy of being called 'Christian spirituality.' " (14)
If a person's life is striving for anything less than this mindset, then he/she is not seeking the true spirituality that Jesus asked for.

To some degree, I thank God for the move away from the church. I'm tired of the bride of Christ being full of those who are merely religious and not willing to actually follow Jesus. Finally, the church can become the servant to Jesus and mankind instead of a social club.

13 January 2007

Asbury Acceptance!

This past Thursday, January 11, I received an email from my admissions rep and he said:
Congratulations, you've been admitted for Fall 2007! You'll be receiving
an official letter in the mail from my director soon, but I wanted to go
ahead and give you the good news.
Awesome news! I submitted my application for the Presidential Scholarship on Friday. This scholarship is a full tuition scholarship for two years. Financial Aid told me that a decision on that scholarship will probably be made by early February. That would be a wonderful birthday present if I receieved it, but who knows. I'm sure there are tons of worthy and scholarly applicants.

As of right now, I am feeling that Asbury is certainly my next step. I felt amazing peace and comfort each time that I have visited Asbury, including my week up there over break. When I visited Gordon-Conwell in Massachusetts, I felt uneasy the entire time I was on campus. It was strange. I had that upset stomach feeling, except it wasn't a physical feeling. Maybe I'm just strange. I have nothing telling me not to go to Asbury next. The doors are opening and I have great peace about it. They have great programs to offer for me to grow as a leader, minister, follower of Jesus, Biblical scholar, and more. No signs to hold me back. Thanks to God for all that He has given to me. So many don't receive this sort of opportunity, yet I do. It doesn't seem fair. I hope that my life can be spent giving people who were given the "short end of the stick" opportunities that no one else would chance on them.

02 January 2007

70 mph looks crazy through tear-filled eyes

When deciding on how to get to Asbury, I consulted Google maps and Mapquest. Google maps told me to go I-40 to I-75. Mapquest told me to go I-77 to I-64. Either way was roughly 7 hours--one was due west and then north...the other vice versa. So, I decided to go the 40 and 75 route. I packed my car and drove off towards the sunset.

For my trip, I decided to listen to sermon podcasts the whole way up (I know, I'm a dork). So, I decided to listen to a playlist of some of the ones I have missed recently. The playlist consisted of my favorites, such as Erwin McManus, Mark Driscoll, and Rob Bell. Somewhere along I-40, I was listening to Mars Hill's podcast (Rob Bell's church), and the guest speaker (not Rob Bell obviously) was speaking about serving. He then invited a few members of the church to speak about serving experiences they had. Somewhere in the midst of the stories from these members, God hit me like a ton of bricks. For some reason, I began to weep (Believe me when I say that I'm hesitating to mention this story because I'm just like any guy...I don't cry very often and it's not easy to admit it either. However, when God moves, I can't help it.) I didn't just cry, I wept, and it wasn't a slow process of feeling an emotion, letting it swell, getting teary-eyed, crying, and then weeping. My spirit skipped all the steps and went straight to the weeping. It happened so fast I didn't even feel an emotion connected to it. It was crazy. This has never happened to me. Other times that I have cried (which has, of course, only been a couple times because I'm a man, right?...) there was always a physical or emotional pain behind it. This time, the emotion didn't show up until a short time later. It's as if my spirit was grieved before the emotion had time to show up. I don't even know how to explain it.

Anyways, so I started weeping in my car going 70 mph down I-40. I'm listening to these stories and my spirit is grieving bitterly inside of me. My heart finally catches up, and my mind right with it, to bring to the surface my thoughts and grievance. So I started praying to God, telling him about all the hurting people in the world (as if He didn't know). I started telling God about the people of Africa, the epidemic of AIDS killing them all, the enslavement of many ethnic groups there, the ethnic cleansing being done by the Muslims in some African countries, the poverty and starvation of so many of them, and the lack of much chance to hear about the love of God. At this point, I believe I was probably screaming at God with tears coming down my face. If only I could know what other people were thinking that passed me. I then proceeded to tell God about the European people and the ever-increasing trend toward atheism, humanism, and existentialism in many of their countries. I began to tell God about how it must be so hard for them to understand God and His love when so much of their culture was caught up in the other "isms" and very few were there to show them God's love. I then began to tell God about the people of Asia. I began to tell Him how many Muslim countries were creating theocracies that were oppressing their people and not allowing them the chance to think for themselves, have a personal will or thought. I began to tell Him of the Hindu people and the people who follow the other mystic Eastern religions. I began to tell Him that their man-made philosophies would only make them into better people with better ideas about life, but nothing more than that.
I began to yell at God, as if He didn't know this about all these people.
I then yelled at God for the American people. I yelled at Him, to let him know of the materialism and self-centered "American dream" that are blinding the eyes of Americans to deeper matters, matters of the spirit and soul. I began to yell at Him about the growing disgust with the church because many Christians have made Jesus a sidenote in their life and have misrepresented Him. I began to yell at God to let Him know this was happening so something could be done. My heart burned for all these people all at once, and all I could do was weep. I was in a car on I-40. In that very moment, I couldn't speak to the existentialist in Europe, or feed a dying child in Africa, or liberate a people from genocide in Sudan, or bring freedom of thought to Iran, or speak of one God to the people of Calcutta. All I could do was tell God how these people are hurting and weep for them.

As I ask God, He continually has been breaking my heart and my own selfishness for the needs of the world. He has been opening my eyes slowly to understand the hurts and needs of these different people, the ones who live in other continents and the ones who live in the same town as me. However, in that moment, God brought me to a point where I could truly be sorrowful for the world and the problems in it. I began to hurt (not just think about, but physically and emotionally hurt) for all these people. Selfishness is a battle that is not easily won, and I don't know what it feels like to win that battle yet. However, God did give me a bigger glimpse of what it is like to take on the selflessness and the heart of Christ for the sake of the world.

I don't know how this will play it in the rest of my life. I might never make an impact on any those continents. I might make it to one, but not the others. I don't know. I do know that God knew I needed to be broken a little more, and He decided to do it while taking a random trip on I-40 to Kentucky.

Back from my Asbury visit

I just finished a week of hanging out in Wilmore, KY. Well, I really didn't stay in Wilmore much at all. I went up on Dec. 27 and stayed until today. I went to visit Benji and to check out the area, since there's a good chance I'll be living there for the next three years after graduation. We spent a lot of time in Lexington doing stuff and we also took a day trip to Cincinnati (which turned out to be an interesting trip that I'll blog about later). I met up with Jake a couple times as well. We had some good times. We even ate at the Huddle House in Lexington (we had to!)

I can't unpack my whole trip and all my thoughts into one blog, and I'd rather stretch it out into multiple posts to give me something more to do while I'm home. So, I'll continue to blog about different events or thought-provoking moments as I spent my time up there. I'm spending the rest of this week in Salisbury and then should be heading back to SWU on the 7th (even though classes don't start again until the 16th). Well, be back soon!