New England: An Evangelical Dead Zone

Evangelicals_in_america_3    CONNECTICUT: "THE" EVANGELICAL DEAD ZONE

First let me say I don't like the term "evangelical."  I never use it for myself, and I don't recall anybody ever using it when referring to me. It has been used to marginalize and define people for political and / or popular media purposes.  Yet, the word is out there and is both descriptive and misused, so if you can't beat them, we'll join them for the sake of this conversation. An Evangelical is basically defined by two things: (1) They had a point in their life where they had a conversion to Jesus Christ, an experience that they can point to. (2) They believe the Bible. Even that second definition is variously defined within the movement.  But it is safe to say "Evangelicals are Bible believing converts to Jesus Christ." It has nothing to do with political associations or social activism.

As such Pat Robertson is certainly an evangelical, as is Jimmy Carter.  Ollie North by definition is an evangelical, as is Bono from U2. (listen to the podcast where he talks about his faith and inspiration.) Jerry Falwell falls into the category, as does Joel Osteen. Deion Sanders, George Foreman and Kathie Lee Gifford all register as evangelicals.  It's a pretty broad category, as the definition is pretty generous. Folks that have come to believe in Jesus and the Bible.  Evangelicals can be found everywhere as they live and work among us.  You won't however find too many in New England and the Northeast, as the Time Magazine map shows.

The Time Magazine map (from the "America turns 300 Million" issue) shows the number of evangelicals per one thousand people. The tan color (double click the map to blow it up) of New England shows less than 100 in 1,000 are evangelicals. People who converted to Jesus and believe the Bible.  George Barna shows similar statistics and has Connecticut at the very bottom of the barrel of evangelical adherents. We are 'dead last' with the lowest number of converts to Jesus in the USA!  Wow!

New England is a bona fide mission field with less than 10% evangelical. We send missionaries to countries with larger Christian populations than that. According to Patrick Johnstone of "Operation World" (who tracks believing populations around the world) countries with larger believing populations than the state of Connecticut include Guatemala with 23%, Nicaragua with 15.1%, Ethiopia with 13% and Zaire with 21%. Don't hear me wrong, we are responsible as New Testament Christians to send our people to fields abroad. But Connecticut is as dark spiritually as many fields we send missionaries to.   Read my friend Bill Lamorey's post about church planting / missions work in Connecticut.

It's not just Connecticut, although we are the worst in the country, but much of the Northeast is in a similar condition.  Here's some more statistics:

* Of the 86 largest metropolitan areas in the nation, those with the lowest proportion of evangelicals were Salt Lake City, Utah; Hartford, Connecticut; and Providence, Rhode Island.

* Involvement in an adult small group is most prolific in Shreveport, Louisiana. The three areas with the lowest rates of small group participation are Albany (NY), Boston and Providence.

* Adults are most likely to claim they have a responsibility to share their religious beliefs with other people if they live in Birmingham, Alabama. That perspective is least common in Providence and Green Bay.

* Believing that God is “the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe who still rules it today” is most common in Tulsa. It is least predominant in Boston and San Francisco.

* One out of every six residents of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Washington are atheist or agnostic – nearly double the national average. Atheists and agnostics are hardest to locate in Louisiana and Missouri.

There are other areas around the country that have relatively low percentages as well, including parts of southern California. The difference there is the density of the populations. So while the percentages may be low, the numbers are high. Los Angeles County has a small percentage of Evangelicals, but because of population density has millions of them.

I'm not complaining.  But we do have our work cut out for us. It's appropriate for us to maintain a missionary posture and find creative and innovative ways to reach more people with the Good New of the Gospel of Jesus. 

We've definitely got a lot to do, but God is good! Let's roll up our sleeves and let God do His creative and innovative work among us>

Look out Connecticut, here we come! 


Sunni and Shiite: What's the Difference?

Prayer12Muslims are Muslims right? It’s not that easy. 

A few years ago I had the privilege of taking a week-long class on the Koran taught by Muslims.  Honestly, my head was spinning most of the time, but I finally began to figure some of it out. Not all Muslims are the same.

First, let’s look at the similarities between Sunnis and Shiites:

Both believe in the Koran.

Both follow Muhammad

In Iraq leaders like al-Sadr (whose father Sadr City in Bagdad is named after) is Shiite.

Hezbollah (meaning Party of God) who is engaged in the struggle with Israel on the Lebanese border is Shiite..

Al-Qaeda is Sunni.  Osama bin Laden is Sunni.  Saudi Arabia is Sunni.  Iran is Shiite.

Both the Shiites and the Sunnis are committed to the worldwide spread of Islam, meaning all nations everywhere would be subject to Islamic Law.

Both the Sunnis and the Shiites are against Israel and want to see Israel destroyed.

The Sunnis (Iraq) and the Shiites (Iran) were involved in a decade long war against each other in the 1980’s.  Iraq, under  Saddam Hussein, which was predominantly Sunni fought Iran, under the ayatollahs which were Shiite.  Muslims against Muslims, but Sunnis against Shiites is the way they viewed it.  There really was never any clear victor in that war and some say there were upwards to one million deaths. These scars are still very much present in the region today.

Today, July 2006,  those fighting against Israel in southern Lebanon are the Shiites, known in this context as Hezbollah.

So, what happened to make them enemies? It wasn’t their common beginning, but it happened after Muhammad died. There was a struggle for succession. Who would be the leader of Islam.  There were two groups, each believing they were the ones following what Muhammad desired. 

The Sunni faction believed that some kind of ‘election’ or group consensus by Muslim leaders or elders were supposed to pick the right person to lead Islam into the next phase. Muhammad’s father-in-law, Abu Bakr, came out the winner.

The Shiite division believed that Muhammad had already picked his successor before he died, his cousin Ali.   That's what Shiite means: “Followers of Ali” or “The Party of Ali.”

Shiite1_5 _39129209_sword203afp_1                                                                                    That was in 632 AD and they have been fighting ever since with varying intensity through the ages.  One of the most famous battles happened after Muhammad’s death. Once a year this event is remembered by Shiite Muslims who cut their heads in remembrance. Unbelievable really. Pretty gross as the picture shows.  I don't know, is it just me, or does hitting your head a few times with a sword not sound like any fun.  And then hitting your kid's head with a sword? What's the point of all that?

Shia_map_2 Sunnis are the largest group of Muslims, with the Shiites mostly concentrated in a  smaller region. Iran, Syria and parts of Lebanon. Although they are the smaller group, they are strategically located to cause Israel and the world an awful lot of trouble.  The map shows the primary locations of Shiites.


Domestic Violence and the Evangelical Church

SilencedSilenced! Or at least silent. That describes the evangelical church on the topic of domestic violence.  Statistics tell us that one out of every four women and/or girls growing up in America will be touched by physical (violence) or sexual abuse by the time they reach full adulthood. Yet it is a topic rarely addressed, at least in the evangelical church.  Here's the short response: From a Biblical perspectice, nobody desrves to be beaten (especially a woman by a man.)

When I first heard the one out of four statistic, I thought that it could not possibly be true.  I had heard it in a college class, called "Confronted By Violence," from a lady that had founded one of the first Women's Shelters.  The early Women's Shelters grew out of the Rape Crisis Lines that were springing up across the country in the late 60s and early 70s.  As the lines became open for women to call seeking help for sexual assaults, some women were calling in saying they were in battering relationships. The Rape Crisis Lines across the country began to give way to the forming of Women's Centers that opened their ears and hearts to women seeking help and refuge from violent relationships.

Upon hearing the one and four statistic, I soon became aware that in the church I was planting the one in four number may have actually been a bit low. In a meeting one night I did a stupid thing. I asked for a public show of hands of how many women had been either sexually or physically abused. The number was higher than one in four.  Since it was an issue in the church, I tried to track down Christian books and literature that would shed more light on the situation.  To my dismay I couldn't find anything written on domestic violence from an evangelical Christian position. This was (or is) affecting one out of four women in the church at large and nobody has been exploring it.  There are probably a few reasons for that.

Here are some statistics:

* "Physical violence is estimated to occur in 4 to 6 million intimate relationships each year in the United States."

* "Nearly one in every three adult women experiences at least one physical assault by a partner during adulthood. Approximately four million American women experience a serious assault by an intimate partner during a 12-month period."

* Age trends:  Domestic violence is most prominent among women aged 16 to 24.

The first reason that most people shove domestic violence into a corner somewhere is believing the event to be a one time abnormality that it will never happen again.  It's a nice thought - the Bible tells us to believe the best about each other in 1 Corinthians 13 - but believing it will never happen again is naive. One report says, "On average a woman suffering domestic violence will be beaten 32 times before she seeks help."

Cycle Those that study violence in families know that it usually happens in cycles.  There are exceptions to the cycle in homes that are constantly violent, but in most situations it follows a predictable pattern described by Dr. Lenore Walker as shown in the circle.                                             

PHASE 1: is the "Tension Building Stage."  In this stage the situation builds as frustration grows.  Verbal abuse, fits of anger and irritability are common. The woman feels as though she is being treated unfairly, but complies and tries to diffuse her partner's anger.

PHASE 2: "The Violent Incident." The whole family is freaking out at this point. The male is out of control and irrational. The children feel helpless and may jump in and take a side. In extreme cases children may even kill the batterer, but most just end up feeling really confused.

PHASE 3: "The Kind and Loving Stage." The woman at this point will usually feel relieved believing that everything is over and may become rather hopeful in the relationship for real change. The male is full of remorse, may be apologetic and promises to change.  While everybody may feel relieved at this point, it is very often just the beginning of a new cycle as tensions in the near future begin to build again.

To be fair about the issue it needs to be noted that men are sometimes battered by women as well, but the bulk of domestic violence and dating violence is perpetrated by males and not females. Perhaps it is as simple that the males dominate physically because men generally tend to be bigger and stronger than women. Regardless of the reasons, domestic abuse is still largely the  role of men in the relationships.

I've looked all over for an book by an evangelical author that deals with the issue of abuse and violence in the Christian home. Catherine Clark Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark have written some on the subject over the past few years and have a book on physical abuse published by Inter Varsity Press in 2001. It's definitely a step in the right direction. It would be good to see some books published by men as well, it would point out that we are at least acknowledging the issue.

Until the Evangelical world changes, why don't we start speaking up about the issue. I'm a fan of saying "let's bring the sickness in the light and see what the sun does to it."  Just talking about it is a good start.

Let's pray about it as well and create environments where it is OK for the abused and the abusers to come forward to talk, to pray and to work towards healing and change.

Truth is nobody deserves to be beaten and abuse on any level is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Here's the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi. How about if some of his prayer starts with us? 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen


Where Was God in the Amish Killings?" Trouble in Paradise

AmishwomenIt's ironic that the killings of the young Amish children were in the village of Paradise, Pennsylvania. It was the third school violence incident in the United States involving guns in one week.  This time it was in the most unlikely of places, in an Amish community, where non-violence and pacifism are practiced and held as high vlaues.

Where was God in the midst of the killing of the Amish school children? It's a good question and one that we should ask and try to answer. When we start to dig a little deeper, looking at the lives of some of those involved, we start to see Him all over the place. Understanding where God was begins with the knowledge that faith goes deeper than tragedy and life goes deeper than death.

THE AMISH COMMUNITY DOESN'T SEE GOD AS REMOVED FROM THE SITUATION.  In fact their lifestyle and belief structure predicts that such horrible things will happen. The Intelligencer Journal, a Lancaster County newspaper, quotes Amish researcher Donald Kimball, "The Amish are a resilient, peace-loving people of faith who won't be changed by Monday's spasm of violence, which they likely will view as a one-time incident. 'I think the community will understand it as an aberration, a crime committed by a man with a severe psychiatric disorder... I think they have a sense of resignation in accepting these kinds of things as somehow a part of God's larger plan.'"  David Weaver-Zercher, of Messiah College said in the same article that the Amish have a view of the world as "an evil place, and one's only security is with God."

THE ELDERS IN THE AMISH COMMUNITY ARE TALKING FORGIVENESS.  Rev. Robert Schenck told CNN he was standing with the grandfather of one of the slain girls, while the grandfather was teaching the young boys that they were not to hate. He is quoted as saying, "We must not think evil of this man." 

Amish woodworker, Sam Stoltzfus told an Associated Press reporter that "the families would be sustained by their faith." He said, "We think it was God's plan, and we're going to have to pick up the pieces and keep going. A funeral to us is a much more important thing than the day of birth because we believe in the hereafter."

The same article that quotes Stoltzfus, quotes Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community who said people were trying to follow the teachings of Jesus. He said, "I don't think there's anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts."  Wow! Reaching out to the family of the man that killed your children. Supernatural power and love exists in the hearts of the effected Amish families. God is spilling out all over that situation.

THE KILLER WAS HAVING AN AWFUL TIME IN HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. Charles Carl Roberts IV, was having a hard time finding God in just about anything. He was experiencing a number of troubling thoughts that he recorded in suicide notes he left for his family. He was particularly troubled by the death of his daughter, Elise, born prematurely in 1997 and living for only 20 minutes. In his note Robarts said Elise's death, "changed my life forever. I haven't been the same since it affected me in a way I never felt possible. I am filled with so much hate, hate towards myself, hate towards God and unimaginable emptiness it seems like every time we do something fun I think about how Elise wasn't here to share it with us and I go right back to anger." Whew, that's some tough stuff, really rough emotions. But not a denial of God or His existence, just an overall anger.

One of the strangest places that God showed up in the incident was that Marie Roberts, the killer's wife was leading a prayer meeting for the community's schoolchildren at the time that he had stormed into the one-room classroom.  Marie Roberts has been asking for prayer all along in this tragedy. CNN reported on Wednesday night, October 4th in an interview with two of the midwives that delivered two of the Amish girls that died, that Marie Roberts had asked to meet with the families of the slain children after the funeral and the Amish bishop agreed.

Even emergency response workers were saying "God was with us while we were taking care of those kids."

SPONTANEOUS PRAYER MEETINGS ERUPTED ACROSS LANCASTER COUNTY.  Lancaster Online reported on one of the many meetings. “We come here tonight as a grieving community,” Sam Smucker, pastor of The Worship Center, said. “We’ve come here to pray and proclaim the lordship of Christ and to put our arms around each other and the community and ask God to put his arms around us. God hears our prayers.”

Contemporary Christian artist Michael W. Smith led the group in worship, playing the piano and singing hymns like “It Is Well With My Soul,” as well as praise songs
like “Above All.”

Smith, who originally had been scheduled to perform at a rally for U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum in Lancaster Tuesday night, said, “It’s not an accident that I’m here (at The Worship Center’s prayer vigil). I’m a big believer in the providence of God.”

Smith told those attending the vigil that the shooting “could be your grandest
opportunity to turn tragedy into good, to grieve with those who grieve. What happened (Monday) will see what you’re made of.” As long as it takes to heal, “we have to stand in the gap.”

Of all the places in the world, Smith said, this is the last place one would think anything like this would happen. “But God is in control. ... Was this God’s will? Absolutely not. But he will use it for good,” Smith said. “Satan has won the battle
— temporarily. God has overcome the evil one. Let’s get on with building the kingdom. Let’s get on with God’s agenda.”

Smith closed his portion of the service by dedicating his new song, “See You on the Other Side” to the “five precious girls” who died in the shooting, Naomi Rose Ebersol, Anna Mae Stoltzfus, Marian Fisher, Mary Liz Miller and Lina Miller.

THE POWER OF GOD WAS EVIDENT IN SO MANY PLACES IN THE MIDST OF SUCH A HORRIBLE TRAGEDY. Forgiveness is being extended to Roberts family by the Amish. God has been evident throughout this whole situation.  Enos Miller, the grandfather of the two Miller sisters, was with both of the girls when they died. He was out walking near the schoolhouse before dawn Wednesday _ he said he couldn't sleep _ when he was asked by a reporter for WGAL-TV whether he had forgiven the gunman.

"In my heart, yes," he said, explaining it was "through God's help."


Apes: In the Image of God?

Time_mag_what_makes_us_differentIt seems as though Time Magazine, more than other news weeklies, likes to probe spiritually provocative and evangelical Christian themes.  Sometimes they do a good job, especially in terms of religion, as they have had some decent religion editors, including Richard Ostling, in the past. The October 3 cover article explores "How We Became Human."  The opening line says, "No single, essential difference separates human beings from other animals."  We'll have to explore and challenge that one.

The article centers around two tracks. One, being that evolutionary research and conclusions are being thrown into confusion by recent and contradictory finds. This includes the new belief that humans evolved simultaneously in several regions of the globe at the same time.

The other track is the similarities between humans and apes.  I don't know about that.  I remember hearing about evolution when I was in elementary school and wondering if this were true, why were there 'still' monkeys around? On the most basic level so many of these things never made sense to me.

I was recently at a whale demonstration with my family. The trainer was young and a lot of fun, interacting with us and making the experience really enjoyable.  The trainer then pointed to the whale's blow-hole and told us that this 'adaptation' took millions of years to develop. The trainer then went on to tell us that the whale could submerge several thousand feet and stay under water for up to an hour.  That didn't make any sense to me.  I later asked the presenter if the whale only had one hour of air before using the blow-hole for more air, wouldn't it stand to reason that the adaptation would have to happen within an hour or there would be no whales?  He replied, "Yea, that's kind of interesting, I never thought about that."

So much in evolutionary theory doesn't make sense. That's probably why, according to a CBS poll, after one hundred years of teaching evolution only 15% of Americans believe that life came through evolution without God.  People just don't buy it despite mandating creation out of textbooks, magazine articles like the Time cover, television specials and teachers telling it to young impressionable minds day after day, year after year. What's going on?  Maybe we have something inside of us that tell us this isn't true and we trust our internal resources more than we do the efforts of modern education to convince us differently.

The argument of similarities, points more to design than "image." Agricultural scientist Don Batten writing for "Answers in Genesis" says, "Think about a Porsche and Volkswagen ‘Beetle’ car. They both have air–cooled, flat, horizontally–opposed, 4–cylinder engines in the rear, independent suspension, two doors, boot (trunk) in the front, and many other similarities (‘homologies’). Why do these two very different cars have so many similarities? Because they had the same designer!" 

The works of artists, painters, musicians and writers have similarities that help us to identify the work as theirs.  John Cougar Mellencamp has an identifiable sound. He has written a variety of songs about differing topics, yet his 'signature' comes through his songs.  He is the creator and they sound like they came from him. Each is different, but they are variations on the theme of the one that created them.  Eyes and hands are not the "Image," but design.

That the animal world has 'similarities' to the human world should come as no surprise.  All of the 'created order' shares similarities.  But everything is not the same, nor does it stand to reason that they descended from each other because they bear common traits. This is to be expected with a Master Creator. In our house we like the French Impressionist painters. Although they all derive their style from common techniques, each can be identified by their own style and twist. It is possible to identify a creator through their works. So it is with God, the creator of all things. Shouldn't we 'natuarally' expect that we will see similarities?

Humans are as different from the animal kingdom, including apes, as they are similar.  It is claimed that he DNA between apes and humans is 97-99% similar. That still allows for huge differences. But the biggest difference isn't in physical characteristics, but in what the Bible calls being created "in the image of God."  (Genesis 1:26) What does that mean?

Being created in 'the image of God" does not refer to physical likeness.  What is does mean is that there are many characteristics of God that we share.

The ability to choose to love, to commit to love, to make intellectual, emotional and volitional decisions to love makes us "like God" and unlike the animal world.

The ability to communicate about past, present and future and to build monuments and museums to recall our past achievements and failures are uniquely human and something we share being created in the Image of God.

Being created in the image of God gives us an innate sense of right and wrong and of justice. All humans everywhere have a sense of justice, of what is right for people.  This stems from us being created in the Image of God. It is the basis of all human rights. The fact that every individual has worth and value, simply because they are exist is part of being creating in the Image of God.

The same?  Sure.  One creator, with variations on a theme.  Descending from each other? No way. After God created the order of nature and the animal world, he created human beings. People in His image. The same creator placing us on the same shared earth, but with a different task and with a different purpose.

In some ways it's not even worth debunking the evolutionary belief structure, since no matter how hard they try hardly anybody believes it anyway.  That's because God placed eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11.) It's only one other way that we are created in the Image of God.


The Metro-Spirituals Are Here!

Richard20gere I'm fond of saying, "People are incurably religious." The apostle Paul on Mars Hill said, "His -God's- purpose in all of this was that the nations should seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist."  Centuries later, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) said it this way, "There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every person which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known by Jesus Christ."  You can't escape it, sooner or later people are going to have to find 'some way' to express this inner, created need.

There's a new outward expression of this inner need on the scene, this time lead by some of the more visible personalities in the entertainment industry.  Many of us have started to notice it, but haven't known what to call it.  It's the "spiritual expressions" of the likes of Angelina Jolie, Richard Gere, Gwyneth Paltrow, Uma Thurman and even Madonna. Last year a BeliefNet article called it 'metro-spirituality.'  This time around, it mixes Buddhism, Taoism and other ancient forms of spirituality with products.  A spiritual consumerism.  Going shopping as a holy experience?   It's not shopping at Wal-Mart, QVC or Stop and Shop though.  Although these wise retailers are sure to have a product line for metro-spiritual types soon.

OK, what is it? It's about values, choices and the search for inner peace in the modern world turning into expressions of spiritual life.  This time much of the expression comes from purchases and consuming. Food and where it comes from is a big part of a metro-spiritual lifestyle.

Some say the "Holy Trinity" of metro spirituality is: (1) Honoring the Planet (2) Healing Yourself (3) Exploring Other Cultures.

Others see it in a more consumer oriented package (1) Organic, artisan foods purchased under fair trade agreements (2) Clothes and furnishings from the global community (3) Health, Beauty and Alternative Medicine Products.

Before you hear anything too negative about all of the above, it should be said there is nothing wrong and maybe a lot of things right with those categories.  The church I pastor deliberately buys coffee from PuraVida because they enter into fair trade agreements with coffee farmers in places where they otherwise are frequently taken advantage of. Truth is we probably pay a bit more, but the coffee is good and the practices are fair. PuraVida also returns a percentage of their profits back into coffee growing communities and social projects. Everybody wins. That's good.

Recently more Christian leaders been paying attention to the environment, without resorting to worshiping the earth.  The earth has been given to us as a stewardship and we should care for it in a similar way to how we care for our bodies and our cars. Which for many of us, isn't much care or investment at all, but even the worst of us give occasional thought and maintenance to both.

Take note that you can't really be poor and be a metro-spiritual, most of this costs money and the products that appeal to metro-spirituals are quite a bit more expensive than their counterparts in WalMart.  The Yankee Candles we burn in our house probably won't pass the muster with most metro-spirituals.  I do have some sandalwood oils I brought back from India, they would probably have a better chance of towing the line.

Origins, a health and beauty company, whose byline is "The Genius of Nature" offers "Peace of Mind" aroma products.  The "Peace of Mind" product line includes some spiritual hints on living the peaceful life: (1) Turn off your cell phone for one hour (2) Create rituals (3) Reconnect with nature (4) Breathe deeply (5) Reach for a 'Peace of Mind' product.   

For totally cool and very expensive clothes and home furnishings putting you in tune with the global community and making you feel spiritual be sure to shop Anthropologie or ABC Carpet and Home.  If you have doubts that home decorating can be a global spiritual experience, just click on the link to ABC and enjoy the world music and world visual collage on their home page. They put forth their products as "illuminate, timeless, sustainable, spiritual, nomadic, beauty."  And they DO have some totally cool stuff!!

Food, the organic kind, grown by artisans is course part of the life of metro-spirituals.  Be forewarned though, it's expensive!  Somebody described the life of a metro-spiritual as one having, "hippie values and a yuppies pocketbook."  Pretty fair.  But what drives it?

The human need to touch divinity, to experience inner peace and be connected to others is the driving force. We're incurable. We need to be religious.  The 20th century made all of us aware that we are in fact a global community and equality does not exist across the global spectrum.  Metro-spirituals are trying somehow to connect with the rest of the world and to show their solidarity and concern, even if their carpets are overpriced and the profits never get to the peasants that wove them together with bleeding fingers.  But at least they're aware and they are trying to appease an inner calling to connection. Or as others would evaluate it, maybe they are just filthy rich and are trying to appease their conscience. Maybe a little of both. 

The problem, as I see it, and what makes it obviously clear that it doesn't embody absolute truth, is that everybody cannot practice metro-spirituality. The truth is the people in the developing world that are creating the product base that connects so many metro-spirituals to the global community are not earning a sustainable income from their products. In fairness many companies are recognizing this, but the Buddhist peasant that carves out a statue sold in a Manhattan shop could not pay the street price of his own creation if he saved all of his income for a lifetime.

If something is true, it will be true for all people in all places at all times. This is what we mean when we use the phrase "absolute truth."  With one billion people still without clean drinking water, metro-spirituality is a long way from being able to meet the spiritual needs of the global community.

Some say that metro-spirituality is actually contributing to some of the problems it is trying to identify with. Eco-tourism is a growing industry among metro-spirituals, but some say it is harming the very environments people are coming to see and experience.

One of the proofs that true, Biblical Christianity, is the expression that has come from heaven is its ability to morph in every culture, every locality and any age. Poverty is no barrier to the practice of pure Christianity and neither is great wealth. The Bible is full of the accounts of people with nothing and people with abundance. Christianity works for both and has admonitions to both.

Jesus gives peace to people who are not able to afford luxury health and beauty products.   

The up side is that it's finally OK for Hollywood and celebrities to be spiritual.  Celebrities are humans too. They have a God-shaped vacuum as well. Madonna told Larry King, "I was looking for something. I mean, I'd begun practicing yoga and, you know, I was looking for the answers to life. Why am I here? What am I doing here? What is my purpose? How do I fit into the big picture? I know there's more to life than making lots of money and being successful and even getting married and having a family...  There's only one thing that lasts and that's your soul. And if you don't work on that, and you don't pay attention to that, then all the money in the world is not going to help you."

Some say that America is 'post-Christian,' that they have tried Christianity and moved right past it. Maybe so. But if it is post-Christian, than it must also be pre-Christian. Most of those that have rejected Christianity haven't rejected Jesus. They've rejected the institutions they have seen around them.  Beginning with the baby-boomers, America began to increasingly distrust institutions and started to opt for more individualized and personal outlets of spirituality. That would be fine, except that it will not ultimately satisfy.  There is only One that will satisfy and put our hearts at rest.

Metro-Spirituality is only one more evidence, one more proof that there is an emptiness in our hearts that is longing to be filled.  Madonna's Kabballh is destined to end up empty and fashions and home furnishings will go out of style. The day will come when getting into an aroma bath will be more painful than it is helpful.  There is something of eternal weigh and worth that works for all people everywhere. As the old hymn says, "Come into my heart Lord Jesus, Come into my heart today!"


Polygamy: Today in History, September 25, 1890

Wilford_woodruffThat's a picture of Wilfred Woodruff, the fourth president of the Mormon church. He's the one that made the proclamation on September 25, 1890, that plural marriage or polygamy would no longer be allowed in the Mormon Church or be a Mormon practice. But the polygamy issue just won't go away.

Although, the Mormon church put aside polygamy, under tremendous pressure. many Mormons know that polygamy was the original practice of Mormonism ans that it is the real Mormonism. When Mormons that practice polygamy are called fundamentalist Mormons' it is a correct description. They are the ones that are building their lives on the foundational and fundamental practices of Mormonism. The Mormon church through its young history (it's not even two hundred years old) has had a policy of one prophecy or proclamation from God being over-written by another. A rather convenient doctrine.

But polygamy is back and it looks like the battle is going to rage.  HBO has a show about a polygamous family called "Big Love."  Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints recently ended up on the FBI's "10 Most Wanted List"  along with the likes of Usama bin Laden. I don't think the name Jesus Christ should be the mane of his church, but this is America and you can do that if you want.   

Look for this battle to come to the forefront as we as a culture of dialog and individualism become increasingly confused about how to think about issues like marriage. 

When I do pre-marital counseling with couples moving towards marriage I asked them this question, "Who invented marriage anyway?"  You be surprised the number of people that have never even asked the question. The answer of course is that God created marriage.  If you want to know how marriage works, we'll have to ask him in the pages the scripture.  As Francis Schaeffer was fond of saying, "He is there and He is not Silent."


Does God Want You Rich?

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The cover of Time Magazine last week asked the question, "Does God Want You to Be Rich?"  The article was mostly about Joel Osteen, the 43 year Houston preacher with one of the fastest growing churches in America. Joel is pretty popular, not just in Texas where everything is big, but he was able to bring 43,000 people together over two nights at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

All in all the article was pretty balanced, sort of pitting Rick Warren, of 'The Purpose Driven Life' fame, against Joel. Warren is quoted as saying, "This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy? Baloney. It's creating a false idol. You don't measure your self worth by your net worth."  You go Rick!

But Osteen, came out with an equally powerful quote. "Does God want us rich?" Osteen asks. "When I hear that word rich, I think people say, 'Well, he's preaching that everybody's going to be a millionaire.' I don't think that's it.' "Rather," he explains, "I preach that anybody can improve their lives. I think God wants us to be prosperous. I think he wants us to be happy. To me, you need to have money to pay your bills. I think God wants us to send our kids to college. I think He wants us to be a blessing to other people. But I don't think I'd say God wants us to be rich. It's all relative isn't it?"  Hmmm..

The plot thickens when Christians are polled about their beliefs on Wealth, Handling Wealth and Giving it Away. When asked "do you agree God wants people to be financially prosperous," 61% of Christians answered yes.  But when asked if "material wealth is a sign of God's blessing," 73% said no.  More people agreed than disagreed that Christians don't do enough for the poor.

While the debate and the issue is spreading around the world, it is mostly an issue in the United States and where it exists in other parts of the world, it is there as an American Church export. So which is it? Rich or poor? And why is the debate so continent-bound?  I have a theory. Feel free to correct me and inform me. OK, here we go.

Over the last thirty years or so there has been a lot of rewriting and explaining of American history.  Books on "America's Christian History" flooded the scene, as did books to discount the Christian contribution to the building of our society. On the one side are those that say folks came to America to start new lives and to seek economic prosperity.  One the other side, with equal passion, historical quotes and antidotes, are those that say America was founded on purely Christian principles to bring glory to God.  Each adamantly states their case and neither will give any room or accommodation to the other.  Personally I don't think we can understand the "Prosperity Gospel" or where we are at in today's "Culture Wars" without examining our history.  The truth - in my opinion - is that both 'Christian America' and 'America: Land of Opportunity' grew up side by side, constantly interacting, sometimes colliding with each other, but ultimately each effecting and shaping the other.

I live in New England. There is no doubt that many, if not most, of those that originally settled in that region had religious freedom as a prime motivator. Certainly this is true of the Pilgrims, the Puritans, preachers like Roger Williams and William Penn.  But there were other settlements that  were built more on a desire for newfound wealth. 

Much of what went on in the Virgina colonies falls into that category of seeking newfound wealth. These were folks that were eager to bring their families to the New World for a new start and the hope of economic advancement. In response to that, some say, "Yes, but the Virginia colonies were also dedicated to God."  Perhaps, but it was the God of the British Empire, and those colonies stayed loyal to the crown not aligning themselves with the Puritans or the Pilgrim 'free churches.' They stayed loyal to the Church of England.  Indentured servants were common in these colonies.  Tobacco became the center of the Virginia economy, even being used as currency. In 1617 the first slaves arrived on a Dutch ship. Enslaving human beings for personal economic advancement is a part of our national history. Personal economic prosperity was driving force in many sectors of the emerging nation, while freedom of religion was a driving force in other sectors. America has a dual history of the drive for economic prosperity and the yearning for the free practice of pure religion. (As an aside, I often wonder and am still exploring how and when the 'Bible-Belt' shifted from New England to the South and the "Financial Centers" shifted from the South to the North. If you have some insight, let me know!)

The glue that tied the two together was 'freedom.' Freedom to succeed and freedom to practice religion as one wanted to without government oversight. The combined contribution of the colonies north and south created an atmosphere of unbridled economic opportunity, seen a right, and unrestricted worship.

The tension that exists in the Time Magazine cover article is the same tension that has existed for 400 years in America.  The tension between a life that revolves completely around Christ and His Kingdom or a life that pursues economic prosperity.  The Puritans had it as close as anybody has ever achieved in the United States.  The Puritans have a misunderstood reputation in American history. Most people think they were called the "Puritans" because of a dour and sour morality and lifestyle that eschewed any enjoyment of life. Nothing could be further from the truth. They were "Pure" in their doctrine and their desire to be "free" from State Government controlling the church. But they were industrious, innovative, life-affirming, prosperous and fearful of being too entangled with a world that is passing away.  They were not afraid of possessions, but they knew to not hold on too tight.

Back to the article. Does God want you to be rich? Well, let's ask it another way. Does God want you to be poor?  One of my favorite characters is Tevya, the tailor in Fiddler on the Roof. His monologues with God are priceless. In one, he looks up to heaven and says to God, "I know it's no great sin to be poor. But it's no great honor either." He captures the essence of the dilemma. It might be that Time Magazine used the wrong phrase to frame question.  A better question might be "Does God want you to prosper?"  My guess is that properly defined most people would agree that God does want us to prosper. Prosperity by definition does not need to be locked into strictly economic parameters.  Prosperity means to thrive, to be successful. In that regard I want to prosper. I would think this would be true for most of us and would define God's will for our lives.

I can be a successful parent without being rich.  I can be a successful husband without being rich. I can be both and be poor. I want to be a successful pastor, not so I can boast at pastors conferences, but because God wants success in our ministries. I want to see transformed lives and people coming to Christ on a regular basis. I want to try and create an atmosphere that promotes spiritual growth and has the best fed, most loved congregation anywhere. Why not? Doesn't God want us to pursue things on this level?  When people come to a worship service, they should be coming to a table that has been set thoughtfully, carefully and lovingly. I think God wants our congregations to thrive, however that might be defined by a local fellowship.  He doesn't want us full of pride, arrogance or off on our own looking down on others. Those are un-Biblical, anti-Biblical and sub-Biblical characteristics.  So the issue isn't rich or poor, but it may be a question of prospering, thriving, succeeding.  If success is defined as being faithful, than success can come without many results.  It is possible that prosperity is defined in quality and not quantity.

It's no wonder that in America we have birthed the "health and wealth Gospels." Some came here for the Gospel, some came here for wealth. We've been building on that foundation for nearly 400 years.  No wonder we have Crystal Cathedrals, extravagant television studios, prosperity preachers and Elvis shooting out a television with Robert Goulet on while holding a Bible in the other hand. As a culture we're as conflicted as Elvis floating between the Bible and spiritual life and accumulating more stuff. This is America. It's always been America. We were built on a foundation of money and God and we've been struggling with it ever since.

In the midst of the growing debate some twenty years ago, Paul Cho, pastor of the world's largest church said, "Prosperity is accomplishing God's will for your life."   I can buy that one.

Maybe the argument isn't, "Does God Want You to be Rich," but, "Does God Want You to Prosper."  I'm going to go out a limb and say, "Yes, God does want you to prosper."  As a mom, he wants you to thrive.  As a husband he wants you successful. As a salesperson, he wants you honest and helpful.  As a delivery person, He wants you to get it there on time and in one piece. As a pastor, He wants you to teach the Bible. Teach the Word of God, not your opinions. He wants you to feed the sheep. As a pastor, He wants you to do the work of an evangelist, even if you're not one. As a student He wants you to keep your nose in the books. He's not looking at grade point averages, but at faithfulness. You keep your nose there and He'll help you get in to the next grade. As a single person, He wants you to live sexually pure. As a parent He wants you to instill a sense of right and wrong and drive foolishness out of your children before they drive a car.

Is rich better than poor? Not if it causes you to live in fear or lose the most valuable relationships you have. Does God want YOU to prosper, to thrive, to be successful. You bet! 

I pray you have a great day, a good week and a prosperous life! And if you get a lot of money in the midst of it, remember where it came from, remeber money is not prosperity or success, remind yourself it is not going with you and use it to bless others they way you've been blessed. 

God told Moses to tell Aaron to pray for the people this way, "The Lord Bless You and Keep You, the Lord Make His Face to Shine Upon You and Give You Peace!" Amen! 


Muslims Firebomb Churches to Protest the Pope Calling Them Violent

Angry_muslimsIn response to the Pope quoting an emperor from the Middle Ages saying Mohammad was violent, Muslims violently attacked five churches on the West Bank with guns and firebombs.  Am I missing something? Doesn't this just add to fuel to the fire? Read the Pope's remarks in context here.