When you reach a certain point in your own spiritual development, you begin to take certain things as axiomatic. You realize, for example, the futility of arguing doctrine with anyone. You can’t change people’s basic ideas. Once they’ve internalized them, they’re ensconced for life. The more you want someone to “see” your point of view, the less likely they are to see it.
You realize that you can’t reengineer people to conform to your own ideas of how they should be – and that includes your children, your husband, your wife or even your parents, friends and employees. We are who we are, and that’s that. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit on the inside of us, the dye is pretty much cast from an early age. Once you get to know people, they tend to act predictably.
We all tend to hunker down in comfort zones. Once there, we flood the moat, pull up the drawbridge and try to insulate ourselves from the chaos that’s going on in the world around us. Change is threatening, so we resist it.
Leadership is largely about effecting behavior change. This is why we tend to find ourselves in adversarial relationships with leaders. We have to ask the question: are they operating in their interests, or ours? Who is truly looking out for us? Who cares whether we live or die?
The Ebb & Flow of Power
When someone gains power, someone else usually loses it. When the government gains power, the power of the people is reduced. In our time, governments at all levels are gaining power and we the people are losing it. The socialists on the Left want to micromanage our lives to produce an envisioned Utopia of socially engineered, easily controlled, human cattle governed by an elite that “knows best” what is good for the rest of us.
As Christians, we live in an increasingly hostile environment. Organizations like the ACLU and others are zealously working to eliminate the Christian faith from public discourse and expression. Even the imagery of crosses on city plaques is under attack around the nation. Incrementally, we are being painted into an ever-smaller corner. One might say the “spirit of anti-Christ” is in the air.
Denominations in Chaos
Increasingly of late, I have heard Christian ministers, and ex-ministers, express growing disillusionment with “organized religion.” It’s too much about personalities, relentless fundraising, church politics, empire building, marketing, building programs, numbers, church government, hidebound traditions and doctrinal intransigence, they say. I tend to share their views.
I’d love to have a “church home,” but I simply can’t find one with which I feel even a little bit comfortable for the above-stated reasons. At the same time, I know many Christian individuals with whom I feel utterly comfortable. I know of a significant number of Christian scholars and teachers at whose feet I would gladly sit to learn. I am also greatly blessed to be a part of two large, largely Christian, families – my own, and my wife’s.
I know of congregations, or study groups, to which I’d want very much to belong, but none of them are close to where I live. One is in Jerusalem, on Narkis Avenue in the Old City. Another is in Dayton, Ohio. These are rather long commutes from the Los Angeles area.
Meantime, I have a small but qualitatively rich collection of excellent study materials off which I can feed for the foreseeable future. I can live my Christian life – at least for the moment – without interference. I can serve my families, my neighbors, and anyone whom God sticks in my face to serve. There is no shortage of people who are in need of our “good works.” I can freely attend any church I want to – with the exception of some of the more uptight Pod groups – and those I wouldn’t want to attend anyway.
For me, these days, this is the best way – to have a quiet, personal faith that is constantly under construction and revision as need be. Spiritually speaking, we are all “works in progress.” As Paul told the Philippians, we need to keep in mind the fact that: “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6b). Our beliefs about doctrine we can keep between ourselves and God (cf. Romans 14:22). In time, the Lord will straighten us all out on the things about which we now disagree with each other.
Most importantly, we must live our faith. It isn’t enough to possess deeply-held beliefs. We must live them. It is how we live that is most important to God, not what we believe. Living the kind of life Jesus and the apostles taught us to live is no easy task, especially in our “post-Christian” world. It takes courage, faith and conviction. It’s not for the faint-hearted.