For those who read here, I hope you haven’t minded that the past several posts have been my rehashing and fleshing out the latest sermons from church! I’ve just found the content really fascinating lately, more so than usual, and I can’t seem to stop thinking about it through the week.
This past Sunday’s sermon was a continuation of Pastor Trevor’s “Better” series. He’s focusing on how the general public view of Christianity and religion as a way of life has changed in the past few decades. He explained how up until the fifties and early sixties, over 95% of Americans would have classified themselves as being Christian or having a belief in God, a way of living “religiously”. Even people who would not self-identify as Christian still had beliefs in a Higher Power, in a being “out there” who was greater than themselves and in control of things here on earth.
He brought up how much that has changed in the past twenty years especially. He talked about the similarity of our current culture that seems to be burnt out on religion as a whole and Christianity specifically to the culture that Jesus stepped into when He began His ministry. A statistic he quoted says that most people today say they feel their lives are better without any sort of religion.
Wow. That’s a huge departure from the days just before my own appearance on this planet. I was born in the late sixties and grew up feeling as if most of the kids I went to school with knew about God and believed in Him. It was fairly common that if you used the Bible to support your view of something, it would more often be accepted as truth than not. If you decided to pray over your meal, others around you would respect that by not interrupting or by turning their conversational volume down a bit while you prayed.
Nowadays, of course, the Bible is almost automatically questioned or outright dismissed as any reputable presentation of truth. I will interject here that back in the time I refer to in the previous paragraph there were also a good amount of folks who would just as soon thump you with the Bible as read it to you. At least the little I can recall of those years as a young child, people weren’t all that subtle about their religiosity or their beliefs. It was expected that you believed in the Bible and if you didn’t you were labeled stupid or rebellious. EVEN if you had a legitimate question about what was being taught from scripture, if it went against the mainstream of whatever congregation you affiliated yourself with, you would be severely chastened if not completely dismissed or blackballed!
Those are not what I consider “the good old days”. I’m still recovering from those “old
days” and growing up in a church culture that was more exclusive than inclusive, more separatist than mediator. That required me to learn that others who grew up in that same kind of culture had the same unasked questions that I did! Being able to learn from those people, getting together to discuss those questions we weren’t allowed to ask and find the Biblical answers was healing to my wounded spirit. It turns out that a lot of the ways, things I was taught and beliefs held by what I consider old, traditional church is not exactly the way Jesus presented it. It had strayed into some unscriptural rule-making and expecting the outside world to understand what we on the inside of the church were talking about when they (the outside world, non-Christian) didn’t have any context… and then getting mad about it when they didn’t comprehend our “good news”.
All that to say this…yes, our society is changing. Probably not for the best in general, but there are other changes happening too. While there is plenty of moral decline in America and the world, there is also some renewed Godliness. Not spirituality or religiosity, but true Godliness where the Creator of All is revered as the Ultimate Authority and the love of Jesus is shown to those who in the past would have been rejected in and by a church.
Like I mentioned in my last post, the very first thing God ever did when He began to give men the words that would become our Bible was to present Himself as a creator. And as a creator, you must have a certain amount of love, passion, and joy in whatever it is you create. God took SO much time… well, OUR concept of time at least, so much CARE, I should say, to make everything unique and beautiful. Why would He do that for a world He did not love? Not to mention His loving us SO MUCH that instead of giving up on us, He gave up Jesus for us.
It’s been wonderful to learn more about scripture and be able to explain why, in my childhood and teen years I felt so discouraged by “the gospel” and my church. It’s also been hard to move past the teaching that was drilled into me about who was and who wasn’t “suitable” to come in the church… who wore the right kind of clothes for church, who sang the right kind of songs, played the right music or had the appropriate instruments on the stage. It’s been freeing to learn that just because you like a different kind of music than me doesn’t make yours any less worshipful than mine. God doesn’t care what we wear, but rather about the condition of our hearts. On the topic of clothing, which was a major sore spot in my home and my childhood church, when I’d hear people picking apart someone else’s wardrobe choice I often wondered why then was it not a factor when David tore off his outer clothes and danced for joy in his underwear? (2 Samuel 6 – Where it says David wore a linen ephod? That’s his underments made of thin linen cloth!!) And why was it not a hindrance for the repentant thief who hung next to Jesus that day?? All of them– he, the unrelenting thief and Jesus– eventually were naked in public! Why was it okay to say he was forgiven while he was indecent in public? And what about the other sinners Jesus ate and sat with? I’m sure many of them were inappropriately dressed… um, hello!! You know those “loose women” didn’t run home and throw on a “church dress” before they met Jesus .. especially since Jesus met people where they were! In their mess! In their hooker clothes!
Oops… sorry. I got off track a bit there. But you can see how those nagging questions can lead a person to reject the gospel when there is a contradiction between what scripture says and what a body of Christians do. I know and have heard testimony of many people who literally walked out on God because of the way they were treated by or how they saw others treated by people who said they represented Jesus.
That needs to stop! We as the body of Christ need to get back to the basics of Jesus’ teaching. The greatest commandments are these:
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
I have a question for you…
What is the difference between a small-town girl from Appalachia and a Muslim? Sounds like the opener for a bad joke, doesn’t it? But stick with me…and think about it.
What is the difference? Not as much as you’d think.
We both have families. We both have feelings, baggage, opinions, worries. We both have skin and bones, health issues perhaps, concerns about the future. We both need love, just as everyone ever born has an innate need to be loved.
Is that surprising? Is it surprising to realize there are so many similarities or that I personally would find so much in common with a Muslim? Hmm…
Several years ago, I would have probably been insulted if you had suggested that I had anything at all in common with a professing Muslim. Like so, SO many people, in my mind, Muslim was the equivalent of “terrorist”.
A couple of years ago, an Iranian-American (because he tells you how proud he is to have become an American citizen) came to our church to preach and tell us about his mission to plant churches in the Burbank, Califonia area for the tens of thousands of Armenian people there.
I instantly fell in love with Ara Torosian. He’s the sweetest little man and I guess the ever-present smile on his round face is what makes me call him “little”. He’s just a precious person. He came to visit us again this past weekend.
Ara was born in Tehran, Iran to an Armenian family. He never saw a Bible or attended church or had any exposure to a Christian lifestyle. He was on the path to becoming a highly-paid soccer player, but God stepped in and revealed to Ara a different path. How unbelievably good He is!
Ara discovered Jesus on his own, as he explored other religions, trying to sort out for himself the faith of those who were not Muslim. He said what struck him was the love that was spoken of so much in the Bible. He didn’t know that love in his own life, it wasn’t taught or spoken of in his religion. He didn’t have the peace that Jesus promised and that is something he wanted.
Praise God Ara was responsive to the call into ministry! He became a Christian, something that was illegal for him! And he began to talk about that “joy of the Lord” to his family and friends.
When you hear the love and joy in his voice as he talks about how far things have come in his church-planting mission, when he speaks of the huge number of Armenians and Farsi-speaking people living in the L.A./Burbank area who had not one single place to learn about and worship Jesus, you know where his passion lies.
You think he must have had a wonderful life… then you hear the rest of his story. Ara was betrayed to the police in Iran for smuggling Bibles. Betrayed by a friend, then repeatedly tortured to give up more names of fellow Christians, Ara endured much physical and emotional pain. Until he speaks of that time in his life, you would never suspect he had dealt with anything like that. That’s the joy of Jesus that can overcome a painful past. That’s the peace of forgiving the unforgivable through Jesus.
I was so touched when Ara spoke of his love for the Muslim community and his flocks in the churches back in California. When he talked about the fact that he had no problem with a Muslim person…you may think, “Of course not, since he was one before.” but you see, we as Americans, especially as American Christians, should not have a problem with Muslims either. Our issue, as Ara pointed out, is with Islam, not the people. Islam is the problem but we should continue to love the people.
When did we forget about love?
I have attended churches in the past that had such small- and narrow-minded ideas of others. Not just Muslims, but anyone who didn’t act, dress or believe like they did. I was always so uncomfortable with this thought, but couldn’t articulate for myself why it made me feel “icky”. Where exactly is that teaching in the Bible?
Nowhere. Jesus was never exclusive. He called sin “sin” and charged hypocrites with their misdeeds, but he was never hateful to someone merely for being different than Him. Where did we come up with the idea that it’s okay for us to do that?
Just because SOME people who identify as Muslim have done terrible things doesn’t give us the right to write off ALL Muslim people. Have we forgotten the crusades that are always thrown in our faces when we try to talk to non-believers? They were horrible, unthinkable acts of cruelty and murder against others for simply not believing in Jesus.
Read that last sentence again and think about it…how exactly is that different than what Islam seeks to do?
The only difference here is that while the book of Islam actually teaches its readers to do this sort of thing, Jesus does not. Jesus gave Himself over to His murders knowing full well what they were about to do.
Now, do I think we should lay down and let the ideals of Islam go unanswered when confronted with them? No, but I think the discourse should be undertaken with love, not hate, not fear and confusion, not chaos and not in a reactionary way. We have to start doing things differently.
I’m the most NON-international person you’d ever want to meet. I’m the consummate homebody from Kentucky. You may have guessed, if you read about my upcoming trip to Florida…on a plane…when I’ve never EVER flown and never EVER gone so far away by myself, that I’m really NOT the kind of person who is comfortable or knowledgeable about people from other countries or cultures.
Thanks to the internet, I have “met” people of many different backgrounds, many different nationalities and customs. I have not always been very good at accepting or trying to understand the differences, but I am doing my best. We are all descended from Adam, after all. Have you forgotten that? I tend to forget sometimes. We are all brothers and sisters and as such, I believe we should be willing to give grace, to speak in love, to reach out and approach each other with understanding and patience.
I guess I’m trying to say if you have been someone like me, someone raised and taught either in church or at home to hate (or at least STRONGLY dislike) those who are not like you, then you need to re-educate yourself. You need to look again at the scripture you’ve been using to justify your actions and words. You need to assess the attitude of Jesus toward people in general and to mimic that as much as you can! Oh, to be like Jesus! If we could all only keep our focus on Him, what a wonderful world it would be, huh? I guess that’s why there’s a heaven, right? Heh.
I believe the Bible means what it says in John 3:16 “For God so loved THE WORLD that he gave his only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER believeth on Him should have everlasting life.” That’s my KJV memorization at work and the emphasis is my own, of course, but let’s don’t lose sight of the impact those words have…THE WHOLE WORLD…WHOSOEVER IN THE WHOLE WORLD…
I am going to link Ara’s Facebook profile here and give you this link to the North American Missions Board, through which Ara works and THIS link is to NAMB’s articles about Ara if you want to learn more or read his testimony. You can donate to help Ara’s church planting mission here. The church Ara started is called Armenian Fellowship Church of Burbank. You can visit the church’s website by clicking the link in the previous sentence. And here’s the link for Ara’s sermon this past weekend at The Creek Church.
I’m so privileged to have met and heard Ara preach. He has surely opened my eyes to the fact that we are all the same on the inside and just because the media only promotes stories of the misdeeds of both Muslims and Christians (and anybody else, for that matter) doesn’t mean I should fear them. They need God’s love just as much as anyone else.
Lord, help me to see with Your eyes and not focus on the outward differences and love people the way You do.
Wanna talk about this? I love to discuss!