Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Biggest Threat to Christianity

Why would anyone looking from the outside want to be a Christian? And why choose Christianity over the many other religions out there? In this ever-growing, post-Christian America, I’ve heard commentaries on all sorts of threats to Christianity: Secular Humanism, Islam, New Age Spiritism, Wiccan Paganism, etc. To be sure, these are all different world views, competing in each of us as well as the culture at large for our habits of thinking. But in reality, the greatest threat to Christianity in America is Christians. One of the most critical statements I heard about Christianity in America came shortly after the tragedy of September 11th. I read: “We went back to church after 9/11 only to remember why we left in the first place.” Ouch. Going along with this line of thought, I had read something years ago attributed to Mahatma Ghandi: “If it weren't for Christians, I'd be a Christian.” Or as C.S. Lewis put it: “Of all bad men religious bad men are the worst.”

The church is meant to be a safe place; Christians are meant to be kind, sincere and caring ambassadors of Christ’s Kingdom. But the church has not always been safe and Christians often fall far short of their calling. It’s especially hurtful when a wound comes from someone who is meant to be trustworthy: a friend, a spouse, a parent, a pastor… We aren’t surprised when the world tries to exploit us. Companies try to get every last bit of sweat from their employees, and there are con-artist-types that we learn to be wary of. But when we extend trust and offer transparency to someone who betrays that trust it really hurts. Some people learn the wrong lesson from that experience and come to believe that you can’t trust anyone. The more discerning realize: “I can’t trust that person right now.” And the really courageous determine to learn who and how to trust while striving to be trust-worthy themselves.

But the root problem with Christianity in America is that Christians have forgotten who they are and how they’re supposed to live. We are called to die to ourselves. We are not called to plan a great retirement or to map out a life of comfort. We are at war, not with others, but with the old man inside us who seeks to draw us into a self-seeking life. We are called to a life of crisis, as Blackaby puts it, a crisis of belief where our relationship with God is strengthened each time we chose to respond in obedience to Him regardless of the apparent consequence. And as we respond in sometimes fearful obedience, the world around us observes the unlikely results… or at the very least admires our conviction.

I have believed for over a decade that the first pains of suffering for End Times Christians will be our rejection of things that are otherwise considered “good” out of an obedience to God. The world will laugh at us as it enjoys greater and increasing pleasures and prosperity while we refuse to take part in the party. Who wants to be a Christian in that kind of environment? Who can be faithful? But the believer willing to die to their own desires is the one that will find the Hope of their salvation! No one ever died for a lie knowing that it was a lie. At the heart of Christianity is repentance, turning away from our self-seeking ways and accepting God’s ways in hope and faith that He is both Sovereign and Caring. We repent in word and action, interceding for the world around us, including our family, the church, and our nation.

The greatest threat to Christianity is the professing Christian who refuses to yield to the truth of God’s Word in both trial and triumph. I don’t want to be that kind of “Christian”, especially when I read Paul’s warning to the End Times Church:
For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree?
For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.
Romans 11:24-25
I believe that a partial hardening will come into the Church so that some natural branches will be grafted back on. Perhaps that hardening is already occurring. From the reports I’ve heard, we are starting to see a growth in Messianic Judaism, which both excites me and causes me to reflect on the importance of being a full-time Christian regardless of what the “Church” or other “Christians” around me are doing. 

And I plan to write about the basic values that I think should be foundational to every believer… stay tuned!
copyright ©2013 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Imagine There is No Heaven

Shortly before the ball dropped in New York, signifying the start of 2013, Train sang John Lennon’s song: Imagine. I think the band, Train, is very talented, and I don’t want to sound critical of them or anyone who enjoys this song, but I disagree completely with the philosophy behind the lyrics. Now there’s a goal behind the song that I completely agree with and which everyone can get behind: aspirations of brotherhood and peace. And according to the song, the strategy for getting there is to eliminate those things that prevent men from attaining the desired goal: faith in God, patriotic affiliation, religious affiliation, and personal possessions. In other words, the solution to all the world’s problems is communism: “from each according to their abilities and to each according to their needs”, fueled by the understanding that “religion is the opiate of the masses”. These concepts are attributed to Karl Marx and are cornerstones of his vision for communism.

Now I believe it’s good to seek genuine brotherhood and peace, and I think it’s a solid strategy to pursue it by eliminating the things that get in the way. But we aren’t going to get there unless we come to understand the real obstacle. It’s not faith, patriotism or possessions; it’s man’s wicked desire. Greed and strife originate inside of man’s heart. 

Socialism, according to Marxist theory, is only a transitional state between capitalism and communism. (See http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/socialism) It’s no coincidence that communist revolutions have only resulted in socialist states, never reaching their intended goal. Ironically, history has shown that socialism is more likely to lead back to capitalism, leaving a bloody trail of carnage rather than the peaceful utopia promised by communism. History has also revealed increased tensions between socialist countries like Russia and China rather than a collaborative pursuit for a truly communist society. The road to communism is a bloody redistribution of wealth and power and the new, resulting authority has no desire to relinquish its newfound power: new system; new rulers; same greedy hearts.

Now while I agree with Marx that religious structures can be used to manipulate and subjugate people, I understand that this is just a symptom of the same root problem: man’s depraved heart. The truth is that religious structures can also provide a framework for authentic spiritual growth, a set of disciplined rhythms and exercises that enable a growing relationship with God. I also understand that spending time with God changes my perspective: it changes my heart. When I spend time with God, the Fruit of the Spirit grows on me… and conversely when I don’t spend time with Him, the Fruit starts to wither as the selfish desires of my heart strive to take control again. The Fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, and Self-Control. (Galatians 5:22-23) When that Fruit is ripe on me, peace and brotherhood happen naturally, but when it starts to fade, the tendency of religious zealotry is to focus on the external rather than fixing the root cause: our heart problem. The zealot starts to criticize, manipulate and control others rather than yielding to God’s reign again. That is when religion is used in a negative sense and the benefits of the structure are turned into a weapon. 
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5 NIV)
A more modern analogy might be that of an airplane passenger, who is instructed to put on their own oxygen mask before attempting to help others. It’s true that our efforts may help someone else, but without breathing in our daily supply of God’s Presence, we may find ourselves empty and in need. Our present relationship with God enables us to effectively minister to others. A devoted follower of Christ yields to the authority of God in their lives on a daily basis. All their possessions belong to God for His purposes. All their abilities are submitted in service to the Kingdom. In obedience to Him, they give of their abilities to other men, representing the values of the Kingdom. So the first verse of Lennon’s song has it all wrong:
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there is no heaven? That is the road to hell, both here on earth as well as in the eternal! Imagine there is no heaven, and you congruently imagine there is no God. Without God, who determines what is “right” and “wrong”? Imagine there is no God, and the one with the most power becomes “god”, establishing the rules by which less powerful beings must live. Imagine the person in power who recognizes no authority greater than himself, and ask yourself if that person would easily relinquish control to another? That’s why Russian and Chinese socialism never merged into a truly communist utopia. Imagine a world that rebels against the reign of heaven, the laws of absolute truth, and it’s easy to see the resulting power-plays and deceptions that people will use to work their way up the power pyramid of society, where agenda takes precedence over principal. Imagine the person in power who recognizes no authority greater than himself, and you have a glimpse of the Antichrist, the spirit of the Antichrist that seeks to manipulate and control others for his own agenda and self-gain. Imagine all you want, but without God changing our hearts, we will never find the brotherhood and peace we desire!
Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.
Not so the wicked!
    They are like chaff
    that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
(Psalm 1 NIV)
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:26-27 NIV)
copyright ©2013 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)