Americans believe only in America

Intelligent comment from Giles Fraser in The Guardian on American Christianity.  In conclusion – American doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ, it believes in America.  Worth a read.

Donald TrumpI particularly like this quote, “On the whole, I defer to people’s self-description when it comes to religious belief. If people say they are Christian then that’s good enough for me – unless we are talking about school places or running for office. Then it’s worth a little more scepticism.”

A couple of questions to Americans who love Jesus:  Does this resonate?  Is the commentary fair?

 

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Black Friday reveals detestable idol

Throughout the Old Testament God speaks to his people, urging them to put aside things that distract them from him, things that dishonour him.

At one point he says,

“Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on…do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt.”  Ezekiel 20:7

In ancient times God called his people out of Egypt.  Today God calls his people to come out of ‘the world’ around us.  That is, to be wise to the idols of the culture we find ourselves living in, and to cast these idols away.

Black Friday has certainly revealed one of these idols loud and clear.  Yet it is easy to distance ourselves from the blatant madness of Black Friday riots – but not so easy when the idol of materialism is dressed up in a cute John Lewis penguin advert.  Or when you do your weekly food shop and you see something that would make a great extra present for one of your kids.

All materialism serves to achieve is to distract us from worshiping God.  Whether we are getting ourselves crushed in an insane Black Friday shopping spree, or whether we are clicking on the insipid adverts in the middle of our facebook pages, we are demonstrating that we are putting our trust in the possessions we can accumulate.  Is that what you really want to be trusting in?

When God isn’t there…

In 1873 a prominent American lawyer called Horatio Spafford sent is wife and four daughters on a steamship to England for a holiday with the plan to follow them shortly after.  Tragically the steamship sank and his four daughters, along with 222 others, died.  His wife survived. Spafford was a Christian, this event must have shook his faith in God to the core.

Spafford's four daughters

Do you ever doubt God?  Do you ever feel like God just isn’t there?  Maybe your prayers are not answered, or you feel such apathy, hurt or doubt that you cannot even bring yourself to pray.

Please be encouraged and keep going.  There are all sorts of reasons why bad things happen but it is important to remember that God is in control of all situations, no matter how grim, hopeless, or even tragic they may be.

In the Bible a prophet called Ezekiel had a vision where he saw many people who had completely turned away from God and had begun to chase after other reasons to live.  Some had begun worshiping the sun, others had started behaving in ways that hurt themselves and those around them.  Their reasoning was, “The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land.”  But in the vision there was a real sense of the holy jealousy of God.  Even when God seems absent we should still give him the worship that is due to him.

Many wise and insightful people have written books exploring about how pain and suffering can be reconciled with the existence of a loving and powerful God.  It is important to engage our intellect on this issue but a great way to engage our whole being with the issue of suffering and an absent God is to actually worship God!

After receiving the news of the death of his four children Spafford came immediately to England.  It is said that it was shortly after passing the spot of the tragic accident in the Atlantic that Spafford wrote the hymn ‘Peace like a River.’  An amazing response of worship in the midst of the worst nightmare that could happen to anyone.

Everybody’s suffering is unique.  Our experience of God is unique.  What will mark us out as those who loved God is how we respond to him in those difficult times.

Guest Post: Just Turn Around

Pip PearceThis is a guest post from the wonderful and inspiring Pip Pearce. I had the privilege of being Pip’s youth worker for a few years but as you can read I am incredibly blessed from having Pip as a friend in my life.  Pip lives in London, works as a PA for a radio producer and is studying part-time for her Art Therapy Masters.

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“I’m Marilyn and I’m terrified”, “I’m Damien and, no offence, but I don’t believe in God”. Isn’t it amazing how willing people can be to share snippets of their messy, mystified and often hurt existences, when simply asked their name?

A few months ago I made a pact with my (does-what-it-says-on-the-tin) Boldness Buddy to ‘just turn around’. Prior to this decisive step I had honed my ability to appease the growing itch within that told me I needed to make a positive impact upon the streets I beat (or pedalled) down each day. But being frustrated wasn’t enough. Frustration without action is useless.

What are the implications of those special three words that it’s just so easy to throw around…

I love you. Really? Show me how.

Three more words:

Just turn around.

I’m not claiming to have solved all the problems generated within this overly-busy, increasingly self-serving Western society around which I happily trot, simply with a command to change direction. But this personal challenge has started me on a journey to becoming the expression of love that I believe my world really needs.

The first time I saw Marilyn I smiled as I ran red-faced past her on my way to work. “Have you got the time?” she called out. I fumbled for my phone, “Um.. 8.46” (“Oh no! 8.46. I have to be sweat-free, composed and at my desk, 5 miles away from my current location, in 44 minutes. 43 minutes now.” I thought to myself. “No time”). As I panted onward, her words jangled round inside. Have I got the time?

‘Will I make the time?’ is perhaps the more pertinent question. ‘Yes’, I decided. ‘I will have the time’.

Tonight I finally decided to turn around when I passed Marilyn on her usual strip of road. I hopped off my bike, asked her if I could get her a cup of tea and sat down next to her. “Can I give you anything else?” I asked as I removed the teabag from her cup, her own hands shaky and gnarled, bent around the cigarette she lit and re-lit. “Just talking helps”. So I sat and listened. I was shocked at what Marilyn had to tell me about her lonely struggle through life. Wow. What an honour it is to sit and be included in someone’s journey, their reflections on life, even just for a moment. Why would I not do this more often…?

… Because I feel too self-conscious to step out of my own confines. Because my own comfort is more important than someone else’s momentary happiness. Because clearly I don’t think that that prompt to stop and see if I can make a difference in someone’s life is worth listening to and my actions suggest that really my desire to love others isn’t as great as I thought it was. I’m disgusted that as someone who knows they are loved, not just by family and friends, but by a God who went to inconceivable lengths to show his commitment to me, I can’t stop, turn around and engage with those who have been placed in my path.

A sentiment of the Mozambique-based missionary, Heidi Baker whose motto is to ‘stop for the one’ in her book, Always Enough, returns to my mind weekly. She saw the correlation between saying ‘no’ to someone in need for selfish reasons and the hardening of her own heart. ‘Just turn around’ is imperative to the softness of my being and my ability to change the world in which I live.

Even in this short period of time I have been ‘turning around’ I have found the good, loving heart that has motivated these steps out of my comfort zone, has been sucked out and replaced with a legalistic sense of duty that repulses me just as much as my inactivity. I constantly find I am reminding myself of my real motivation to love others. I love because I have been loved unconditionally. I love because everyone is worthy of the best love. My heart is softened and changed with every fresh revelation of this. How can I not share this good thing with others?

Love has cost.

The cost I have experienced at ‘just turning around’ has been minimal – mild discomfort as busy office-workers dodge past this pavement-impediment or at worst being told my offer wasn’t wanted. But such is my desire for authentic love that I want to grow into a person who is willing to pay the cost, however great, to show people how great is the depth of God’s love for them. So far I haven’t been disappointed as I’ve made small steps to turn around. Most often the experiences haven’t been what I expected them to be but boy, they have made my daily life richer and I trust I have left someone with a glimmer of hope they hadn’t had when they woke up that morning.

Just turn around today?

Cultural Perspectives: United States on Montenegro

The second post in the Cultural Perspectives series is written by Vicki Surbatovich.  Vicki is an inspiration in godly obedience, patience and hospitality.  I have learnt so much and experienced so many great times with Vicki and her family.

Nearly eighteen years ago we moved from sunny Southern California to Montenegro with the desire to bring the gospel, the living Word, the Good News of Jesus Christ, to this land.  We moved to a city with no evangelical church, no known evangelical believers, and no welcoming committee.    From being part of an active, loving, living fellowship, we were abruptly  on our own, a lone Christian family desiring to love and serve the Lord, and we knew we’d  experience both delights and hardships and learn many lessons.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned (and am still learning) is to view this life, this ministry, these years from God’s perspective:  Do not despise the day of small beginnings. (Zechariah 4:10a, NLT).  As much as we would love to be able to report that as the Word is being preached faithfully, thousands have come to know the Lord and are being added to the church daily, we can’t: That is not what God is doing at this time and in this place; that is not reality.

This is reality:   After all these years, there are only five registered evangelical churches in the whole country.  When we hold our yearly All-Montenegro Believers meeting, where believers from every church and those believers scattered about the country join together for a day of worship and fellowship, there are fewer than two hundred people gathering.   Think about it:  Fewer than two hundred in the whole country after twenty years of ministry.  Pretty pitiful, at least by man’s standards.

But we do not lose heart, we do not despise the day of small beginnings because the verse continues for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin. (Zechariah 4:10b, NLT)

In the beginning, for years, we hosted all the Bible studies and meetings at our house—there was nowhere else to have them.  Now we are able to go from house to house as different families host our mid-week meeting and our Sunday services are held in rented facilities.  Back then, we were the only Christian family (husband, wife, and children) in the fellowship—all others were divorced, widowed, or married to an unbeliever.  Now there are several young families, committed to the Lord, raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  Formerly, we were the worship leaders: my husband strummed the guitar and I led the singing—he was the only one who knew how to play and I was the one who knew the songs.  Now our singing is led by gifted, godly worship leaders.  We are blessed beyond our greatest imaginings.

All this is the LORD’S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.  Do not despise the day of small beginnings for this is the day that the Lord has made;  let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Cultural Perspectives: Middle East on UK

The first guest blog in the Cultural Perspectives series is by a lady originally from the Middle East but now living in Britain:

For a person like me, who became a Christian from another religion and hated religiosity, it was difficult to find the right church that doesn’t make people run away!

I personally like Charismatic churches which are alive and where you can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in the atmosphere.  Also you can see the action of the Holy Spirit and the lives of people changed.  Also, the way of worshiping God is so important for me and a prayerful atmosphere.  Good preaching and teaching are important too.  When I lived in Germany I went to some churches that were Charismatic and I loved to be in that atmosphere.

However, the first time I visited a church in the UK I didn’t have any idea about churches here.  I chose the church because it was near my home, so I went there and found the people were really friendly and kind.  I only attended that church for couple of months because it was not what I had expected.

I tried to find out about other churches and how they differed so I attended some others but none of them were what I was used to.  I spoke to a lady who was from that first church and she kindly helped me and didn’t get upset about my decision to leave their church.

She sent me to the church that I am now a member of.  The first time you experience something is very important for someone, and the first time I went to the new church there was a lady who was so friendly and accepting.  She came to me and started to speak to me.  She touched my heart and I felt like I was at home!

I think it was God’s plan for me to find this church which now is my home and family!  Before that day I was so desperate and was thinking I couldn’t settle in the UK because church for me is like my home and it’s sooo important for me to be in the right one.  I am glad and thankful for being a member of this church and they bless me a lot.  Their kindness and mercy touch my heart, in fact they are good examples of Christians who I can learn from them.

Because I was a Muslim before, I had lots of fear that maybe God would leave me or get angry with me but by attending church in the UK I’ve learnt even more about our God and his mercy than before.  I feel free now from all of those lies which religion and society in my home country taught me!

Also, I went to some christian conferences which built me up and I’ve learnt a lot about being a community in Christianity.  I am still learning and love this adventurous life which Jesus gave me.  Every day living with him is like a gift and I love to find out what’s waiting for me in it.  Sometimes I can’t wait or be patient to find out his plan for my life but I trust in him so I know anything that happened to me was for a reason and I let him work on me to become that shape which he wants me to be!

Cultural Perspectives: New Guest Series

Tomorrow will see the first in a series of guest posts on this blog.  The series is called Cultural Perspectives and will be written by Christians who are living, or have lived, away from their native country.  The posts will observe, encourage and challenge the expressions and experiences of Christianity in the country where the writer has lived as a foreigner.

It is my belief that we all live blinkered existences and this is no different for Christians, in fact the conviction of our beliefs can sometimes make us even more oblivious to the cultural waters we swim in.  The point of the series is to explore some of the different cultural nuances that we take for granted in churches and Christian communities.

The writers are from a diverse background of nationality and Christian experience.  It will be interesting to see how the series turns out and fascinating to see what can be learnt from the different pieces.  Please do join in with comments and observations of your own.  It would be great to stimulate some open and edifying discussion around culture in the church.

To follow the series as it progresses simply click ‘Guest’ in the category index on the right hand column, or click on ‘cultural perspectives’ once it appears in the tag cloud.