Theology on Fire

20 04 2009

In the 24-page summary of the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey, one reads that in the past two decades the percentage of identified Christians in America has dropped 10 points.  The number of Americans who say they have no religious affiliation has nearly doubled since 1990, rising from 8 to 15 percent.  Al Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary takes note, “A remarkable culture shift has taken place around us.  The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered.  The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture.”  I couldn’t agree more. 

Christians in America are morally exhausted.  After one political and cultural fight after another has ended in defeat, the church is tired.  With a family structure that is not just crumbling, but is in a moral free fall (this year over 40% of the babies born will be out-of-wedlock).  With a constant emphasis on trying to change the culture through political change, and with many evangelical presidents for the past 25 years, it is increasingly obvious that the occupier of the oval office has little power to change the hearts and minds of the American populace.  Don’t get me wrong, I still believe very strongly in trying to influence the culture through the political arena.  But there’s more to the story than politics.

It seems that the pulpit in America is theologically exhausted.  With an increased ambiguity among pastors about what exactly they believe and adhere their convictions toward, the evangelical church is battling for her very spiritual soul.  Just last week, one of the most prominent evangelical pastors in America, Rick Warren, made a public apology for his involvement in Proposition 8, a California bill last November that defined marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.  If we as pastors are now feeling compelled to apologize for the most basic of our biblical beliefs, we are in big trouble.

But do we even know our basic core beliefs anymore?  George Orwell wrote in 1939, “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”  This might well be written to the evangelical church in America.  As Chuck Colson has recently written in a column entitled, “Doctrine bears repeating,” he concludes, “The greatest challenge for serious Christians today is not reinventing Christianity, but rediscovering its core teaching.” (CT April 2009, p. 72) I believe the church is entering a time in which we must really know what we believe, not just how we should vote in elections. 

If there was ever a time in the history of the Western Church to know what our foundations of faith are, and why, it is now!  J.I. Packer on his 80th birthday said that the greatest challenge facing evangelicalism is to re-catechize our churches.  More than ever, Christ followers must be able to speak intelligently and with passion about what they believe.  We must have hearts and heads on fire for God!  The Dogma is the Drama!

We quite simply must have a theology on fire.  John D. Woodbridge and Thomas McComisky writes, “A church that neither is interested in theology nor has the capacity to think theologically is a church that will be rapidly submerged beneath the waves of modernity.” Doctrine and Theology is the “study of God” and it’s this endeavor that separates us, the church, from all other institutions.

Last June, the Pew Foundation on Religion and Public Life survey discovered that American Christians don’t really know what they believe.  Fifty seven percent of evangelicals believed people who follow other religions other than Christianity can enjoy eternal life!  Almost half believed that everyone, including atheists will go to heaven when they die.  Hello?

The prophet Jeremiah in his ministry of calling the Israelites back from their apostacy wrote,

Thus says the LORD:
“Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”
(Jeremiah 6:16)

The old ways are still the new ways if they are God’s ways.  God has shown us The Way.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  (John 14:6)  His way is still the right way, even when all the other ways oppose it.  The early church grasped this at the risk of their own lives.  As they proclaimed a “One Way God” to a many ways culture, they “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) and rocked the religious, political, and social culture of the Roman Empire.  It is interesting that Luke, in compiling his history of the early church, chose to mention first in his list of the characteristics of the early church, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine…” (Acts 2:42a).  Foremost to the historian Luke was the doctrine they taught.

So, I am compelled to repeat the obvious.  It is a time in our history to return to the fundamentals and deep theological truths that have laid the foundations of our Faith. We have foundations laid and it’s the cornerstone, Jesus, that holds it all together.  A return to Jesus and His ways is the answer for the 21st century.  The ways of Jesus are the great theological truths found in the Scriptures. 

I certainly can’t speak for other pastors, but I want to be a pastor whose heart and head are on fire for Jesus.  I want to continue to build a church of heart en-fired and head en-fired people. I am feeling compelled these days to restudy Luke and Acts to observe the truths and actions of Jesus and the early church found there.  Simultaneously, I’m restudying the great doctrines of Christianity.  Join me as we retool and reinvigorate our head and hearts for the kingdom of God.  We can certainly do less, but we can’t do more than have a theology on fire for Jesus!

If you are a member of Mountain Springs, join us over the next two months as we study the great doctrines of our Faith.

Carpe Diem Gloriae Dei,
Pastor Steve





Created to Crave

29 07 2008

You were created by God to crave.  Advertisers know it.  Hollywood knows it.  The self help industry knows it.  Every magazine and periodical cover is designed to create a craving within you. The world we live in is constantly attempting to arrest a desire for some got-to-have-it thing that will finally make us happier than we were.

This desire did not originate with the 20th century.  God placed it within our hearts.  God placed a craving in all of us.  This craving is a desire, a desire for love, for acceptance.  A desire for adventure.

It is this unmet desire that drives some people to chase after adventure in ways that can never satisfy.  This deep thirst for fascination and beauty drives men and women to daring acts and longings of the heart that are seemingly unreachable.  Thomas Dubay, in his book, The Evidential Power of Beauty, explains it this way:

You and I, each and every one of us without exception, can be defined as an aching need for the infinite.  Some people realize this; some do not.  But even the latter illustrate this inner ache when, not having God deeply, they incessantly spill themselves out into excitements and experiences licit and illicit.  They are trying to fill their inner emptiness, but they never succeed, which is why the search is incessant.  Though worldly pleasure seeking never fulfills and satisfies in a continuing way, it may tend momentarily to distract and to dull the profound pain of the inner void.  If these people allow themselves a moment of reflective silence (which they seldom do), they notice a still, small voice whispering. Is this all there is?  They begin to sense a thirst to love with abandon, without limit, without end, without lingering aftertastes of bitterness.  In other words, their inner spirit is clamoring, even if confusedly, for unending beauty.  How they and we respond to this inner outreach rooted in our deep spiritual soul is the most basic set of decisions we can make; they have eternal consequences.

Solomon understood this when he wrote, “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time.  Also He has put eternity in their hearts.” (Eccl. 3:11)  Everyone is searching for eternity in their hearts—the churched, the unchurched, the saved and unsaved.  I have traveled to over 20 nations of the world and I have rarely met a person who is not searching, hungering, and longing with deep desire for an eternal purpose to their lives.

Spiritual hunger is driving people of all ages to experiment with virtually any religion or pleasure to find a way to quench this deep passion.  Right now Islam is the fast growing religion in America.  Hinduism and other eastern religions are growing quickly in the west.   It seems that we are living in an age where spiritual hunger is at all time high and people are willing to search for anything that will at least pacify temporarily this hunger.

I have been a missionary and pastor for the past twenty-five years.  As a missionary I spent time observing and conversing with Buddhist monks and the people who considered themselves followers of Buddha.  In virtually every situation and conversation I found a person who was lonely, frustrated, and unfulfilled in their search for meaning.

The other day I was in a coffee shop in Colorado Springs and I met a young woman who told me that she often listened to my radio broadcast.  She said she liked it because it seemed that I really believed what I was talking about.  I then asked her, “What is it I believe that I’m always talking about?” She looked confused and then got it.  “Oh, you believe the Bible!” What was it about the Bible that I believed, I asked her.  She wasn’t sure.

A lot of us are unsure of what we are listening to and what we really crave.  I believe we are all searching for beauty and eternal fascination.  Even Jesus understood this.  He used passion and desire to draw people in.  In Matthew 13:44, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”  This man found something that so satisfied his cravings that he was willing to sell everything he had in order to get it.  He was consumed by a treasure.  This treasure captivated his heart.

When I was a freshman in college a campus minister sat down on a lawn with me and shared that Jesus passionately loved me so much that He willingly left heaven and came to this earth and let Himself be shamed, tortured, and killed for me.  The man told me that even if I was the only person on the earth,  Jesus would have done this for just for me.  At the time I was finding great adventure in being a champion gymnast and all the allurements that accompanied such a lifestyle.

But that day, a new craving began to grow.  It was small, very small, like a little treasure in a field.  I chose to pursuit that desire and that decision has changed my life for the past thirty years.

Are you searching for beauty?  Are you searching for the fascination?  In our next blog installment I look forward to sharing with two hero’s of mine who found the cravings of their heart.
 

Carpe Diem Gloriae Dei,

Pastor Steve





Heads and Hearts on Fire

12 06 2008

 

From time to time members of our church ask me about my thoughts and opinions on various topics…Bible stuff and theology.  Due to the fact that I was “born to talk,” as my mother once said, I find myself increasingly piping off to someone my “inkling” and viewpoint in a hallway or our lobby.  As Mountain Springs Church has grown larger, I am hearing the same query more often than I care to keep answering.  Thus it has come to my attention that I might consider writing some of these thoughts down into something of a regular “column” or, to use more modern language, a “blog.” (Whatever in the world that means.)

So, this is the first installment of my “inkling” on various topics that God is laying on my heart for our Mountain Springs Church family.  I have chosen the word “inkling” because I think the word befits the purpose.  “Inkling” in the Merriam Webster Dictionary means, “a slight knowledge or vague notion,” as in “he had not the faintest inkling what he was talking about.” And since that is often the case with me, I thought I might use this as the title for my column, blog, musings or whatever we call it. 

Now I must clarify that using this name has nothing to do with The Inklings of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien fame who were an informal literary group from the University of Oxford in England that met at the The Eagle and Child Pub weekly to discuss the literary works of several of the members.  No, I’m not an author and I’m not a literary critic, but I just like the meaning of the word and its apt description of my purpose.  So, enough on the disclaimer and introduction to my column.  Now to the subject for this first installment. 

Heads and Hearts on Fire

God wants all of us to have heads and hearts on fire for Him!  God doesn’t just want passion-filled hearts with a theological vacuum upstairs.  And God is even less interested in Bible-packed heads with no heartfelt intimacy for Him.  God wants both a theologically, biblically-grounded head and a passionate, loving heart for Him.  This is part and parcel with truly growing to know and  love  God.  You can’t love someone you don’t know and you can’t know someone deeply without loving them.  So, God desires passion from our heads and our hearts.

 The synergy of the head and heart is not easy to find in the body of Christ.  Among Charismatics, passionate exuberance is often emphasized to the detriment of good theology and deep biblical thinking.  On the flip side, among conservative evangelicals, rigorous Bible study has devalued heart-filled passion and zeal.  At times both sides are looking too askance at the other.  And both are missing the point.

At MSC I want us to keep striving to value what Jesus valued.  In being probed by a lawyer as to “which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus responded, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)  I suspect that this may be the most important, all-embracing passage in the Bible.  Jesus is saying very plainly that if you want to get it right with your whole life—meaning everything—then you must start with love, love for the Lord that includes your heart and your head.  Not either or, but both.

So what does this kind of radical love look like?  Jesus clearly indicates that loving Him fully with our heart and head means that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  I have an inkling that this just might be the greatest outward sign of a true head and heart on fire for God—loving others as much as we love ourselves. 

Now this is pretty revolutionary stuff if you ask me.  The meaning is clear.  Jesus is saying, “If you are loving God with all of your head and your heart, then you will love your neighbor as much as you love yourself!” I don’t do that very often!  But Jesus says that this is the “greatest commandment.”  And Jesus even goes further in another place where He says, “whoever desires to be great in God’s kingdom, become a servant.” (Matt 20:26)  I have a sneaking suspicion that He means be a servant to PEOPLE.  Sounds a lot like the above passage?  I’m getting uncomfortable.

So, it seems that Jesus is saying that if we are delving into the Law and the Prophets with a head on fire for the Scriptures, and if we are worshipping and loving Him with our hearts aflame, then we will naturally be loving and caring for our fellow man.  Now this only works if you really want to follow the “first and great commandment.”  I think this was why Jesus was always so ticked off with the Pharisees and Scribes—they knew the scriptures but totally missed the love of God, and thus missed the real purpose of following Him—loving others as a result.  But, I suspect that Jesus could also get pretty frustrated with His twelve disciples too—for they loved Him but they were still fighting all the time about who was the greatest.  A little ego problem there?

So, bottom line is that God wants your head and your heart, and nothing less will suffice.  And if you are asking the right question, “Does He really have my head and heart?” then the answer lies in…yes, you guessed it, what are you doing with your “neighbor?”  Are you loving people?  Maybe the better question is “Are you really loving God?”  For it is in loving God with our full head and our full heart that we will begin to love people fully!  And I want a church like that!  How about you?  

Carpe Diem Gloriae Dei,

Pastor Steve