Last night I got home from an amazing time spent with an outstanding bunch of students at one of our grade 8&9 Super Groups and began to debrief the evening with my wife Bonny.
As our conversation continued onto the later hours of the night, I began sharing with her 3 different things that I have been observed about Christianity, faith and spirituality: Aesthetic, Apathy and Affluence. These three A-words summed up conversations I had been having with students and parents about what they see in church. Usually AAA is a good grade to give something, like beef for instance. But in this case AAA is the killer for authentic and relevant faith in our world today. I see three categories emerging that we need to be aware of in order to combat in an effective and efficient manner.
Aesthetic - This kind of faith is summarized as something that looks good on the inside, but reeks of rot on the inside. Basically, this category refers to keeping up appearances; making sure others' opinions and presuppositions of who we are stay intact at the cost of our joy of salvation and our assurance of faith in general. How many times do we engage in some sort of spiritual activity in order to look good or to make sure people don't speak negatively of us? Is there really any substance behind our motivation? I am reminded of 2 stories from scripture as I think about this dilemna of faith. The first is Samuel annointing David as king of Israel. In Samuel's summation, David was not the best option for his long list of brothers. He wasn't the tallest or the strongest. There wasn't anything that really made him stand out as an effective leader. But God chastized Samuel saying, "I do not look at the outward appearance as man does; I look into the heart." The second is the story of Cain and Abel offering sacrifices to God. Cain's sacrifice was rejected while Abel's was accepted...again, a matter of the heart, not the action itself. It's interesting when we begin to dissect our actions in light of God's interpretation rather than man's.
Apathy - Another word that comes to mind here is apathy. When you are trying to build muscle, you need to exercise it regularly. When you don't, over time the muscle begins to detiorate or atrophy. The same thing can be said of our faith relationship with Christ. If we don't put into practice what we believe on a regular basis, our spiritual muscles and our relational connection with God can atrophy, not because God isn't living up to His end of the deal, but because we have chosen to begin to slowly let our relationship with Him die. I realize there are many different theological opinions and ideas around this topic, and I don't have the time nor space to tackle each of them in this post. But what I will say is this, our eternal resting place may never be in question, but our willingness to take up our cross daily to follow after Christ just may be if we are not actively practicing what we believe from God's truth found in the Bible. We must be known for something other than apathy in our approach to faith in Christ.
Affluence - Perhaps the latest greatest spiritual craze to sweep our nation is this one...affluence. Affluence refers not only to stuff, but to choices as well. Think about how well we eat, sleep and live in comparison to someone living in a third-world country or even someone living below the poverty line in our great nation! Even right now, I'm sipping on bottled water as I type instead of tap water...just another sign of how deep the root of affluence is in our society. In the gospels Jesus talks about us storing up treasures in heaven instead of here on earth. There is something to be said about the need to eradicate affluent behavior...the accumulating of things beyond what our needs are...from our pursuit of Christ and our desire to partner with Him in changing the world.
If you look back over these 3 categories as I have, perhaps you have begun to wrestle with the feelings of guilt and shame. IT IS NOT my intent to guilt trip you or to make you regret something you have said or done. My hope and prayer is that as we become more increasingly aware of the pitfalls in our world and our society to following Christ, we may be able to combat them alongside our all-sufficient Savior and begin to take back ground from our enemy. The Holy Spirit will teach, convict and correct as need be. Remember, each of us is a work in progress, and the God who began the work in each of us will be faithful to complete it in His timing. I'm so grateful that He is able, and I am learning more about what it means to be willing!!