the following is based off a sermon i recently shared at ocean city church. you can listen to it here if you'd like.
can i be honest?
re-adjusting to american culture has been much harder than expected.
but not for the reasons i expected.
part of me, since we're only in transition as we prepare to move again, wants to ignore this. but it's impossible. we're here. God wanted us to see it. and i believe he wants us share about it, too.
please don't mistake this for self-righteousness. that makes me laugh actually - me, righteous! ha! without the cross, i'm a filthy rag. and God knows i struggle with some of these same things. nonetheless, here's some honest feedback from the perspective of a family who has spent the last decade in third-world poverty, and is struggling to deal with the transition back into american culture.
this is a culture that craves, longs for, strives for – if not worships – comfort & convenience, health & safety, entertainment, and achievements.
please read that again.
because i believe it's leading millions of so-called american christians to a life that is in direct disobedience to the teachings and heart of Jesus Christ. it's leading people to a stale and idle faith, and it's destroying christian families. in some cases, it's keeping people from living anything that resembles a christian life at all.
this longing for comfort, safety, and success - and this desire for constant entertainment - would make total sense for non-christians! seriously, if what we "see" is all there is to this life… if it all ends when we die… then why not make it as long, comfortable, and enjoyable as possible?! why not fight to have better, make more, save more, live longer, and enjoy more?!
but what’s alarming, is how this same characterization describes the american christian community.
simply put: as i adjust back to the american flow of life, i have been profoundly struck by the fact that most christians do not look any different than the rest of the world. i think the reality of spiritual warfare has been made so real to me while away, that i find myself constantly looking around and thinking, "do they not realize we're at war?".
now i know that this discovery is most attributed to my departure and return. it's not like everything changed while i was gone. (well, some stuff actually did.) but in general, it just required living in a completely different reality - for a long enough time - in order for me to see it.
i believe this cultural transition, or shift of realities, can be beneficial as it shines a light on a very scary subject. similar to the laodicean church of rev 3, i believe american christianity has fallen trap to a delusion. a false security that suggests "we've got all we need, we're in good shape, we're fine." but like he said to the laodiceans, what if Jesus is saying to us, "you think you're good, but you're actually disgusting."
and what if this delusion is leading us to completely and unequivocally miss the point of our lives?
what if comfort, entertainment, hobbies, safety, health, etc… are creating false idols in our lives, that satan himself is puppeteering in order to make sure we miss the point of our lives?
and what if missing this means missing everything?
because it's not just the BIG sins that capture the hearts of the american church. (of course the big ones are always alive and well: pornography, greed, pride, love of money, worldly pursuits, etc.)
those are easier to spot and harder to defend. but what about when we simply allow things to distract them from Jesus? i mean, if it keeps us idle, or lazy in our faith (lukewarm), Jesus seems to say that’s even worse. "either be hot or cold – not in the middle. if you’re claiming me, and yet living like the rest of the world, that’s actually the worst because it gives people a false impression of what following me really looks like." (rev 3:15-22 paraphrase)
i think the line between "hobbies/interests" and "false idols" is very fine. tragically, idols in people's lives are often being written off as "interests." it's a subtle line, but satan is the master of subtlety. he delights in using this subtle space to render christians ineffective.
here's a few observations since being back. within the american christian community:
- politics is an obsession. people are so passionate about their "side" that they end up using politics as a measure for everything. every issue and conversation run through a political filter as opposed to a biblical one. ask yourself, do you spend more time reading political material than spiritual material?
- sports is an obsession. it is taken far too seriously. fantasy sports keep people passionately dialed-in to every game, every play. the passion, time, and energy given to sports is alarming. same question - how much time reading/watching sports material compared to spiritual?
- kids activities are an obsession. some families practically have no life outside of running kids to and from. no time to grow in faith together. no time to serve anywhere together. the entire home-life and family heartbeat literally revolves around kid's sports and/or activities.
- entertainment is an obsession. movies, music, internet, social media, and video games dominate people's hearts and minds. its so easy here to become a slave to a "whats next" mindset... always looking forward to the next fun thing. oh, how miss having few options and nothing to do!
- food is an obsession. what we like, don't like, can/can't have, conditions, restrictions, diets, etc. all of a sudden everyone has a highly complex situation! it consumes people and demands far too much energy, money, and affection. americans and their food...
- social media is an obsession. it is creating a me-centered, self absorbed society. Jesus spoke often about the importance of "denying ourselves", yet american christians - through social media - cannot get enough of themselves. frankly, its a form of self-worship and it's rebellious against God.
mature christians must be able to see these things for what they are. we can no longer be lulled to sleep by the ways of the world. remember it is satan who is the ruler of this world (john 12:31) and the god of this age (2 cor 4:4).
i fear many american christians don't realize we're under the sway of the wicked one (1 john 5:19).
i fear many american christians don't understand the biblical fact that we are at war.
there are only 2 possibilities for this:
1. people genuinely don't know (never been taught, don't read their bibles for themselves)
2. people set up their lives in such a way that makes it easy to forget
make no mistake, we are at war. there is a very real enemy who is waging war for our souls. he is constantly scheming and strategizing, looking for ways to take us out daily.
we cannot let comforts, conveniences, health, safety, entertainment, etc win our hearts and minds. our Lord Jesus requires much of us in the way of obedience, growth, and sanctification - and his teachings are clear on the subject. let us abide in him in such a deep and meaningful way that the scales are removed from our eyes.
j.c. ryle said "the most dangerous chains a prisoner can wear are those that he neither feels nor sees."
satan uses subtle, "culturally relevant" weapons (politics, sports, social media, kid's activities, entertainment, etc) to distract, consume, and confuse us... rendering us lethargic, ineffective and fruitless in our christian lives. we become slaves without even knowing it. unable to live in freedom, in wide-open pursuit of God, because of prison chains we don't even notice are there.
all of these distractions and pursuits can create a dangerously narcissistic life. simple bible teachings begin to get overlooked, and time with jesus scratched from the to-do list. the poor and hurting get forgotten about in all the chaos. no priority put on sharing jesus with our neighbors, coworkers, and classmates. not to mention the commission to reach the nations with the news of a savior.
both the greatest commandment (matt 22:36-40) and the great commission (matt 28:18-20), by default, nixed from the schedule.
there is hope in Jesus. we can be made new and receive a fresh start through repentance. its never too late! we receive discernment, clarity, peace, and conviction as we abide in him. he is the vine, and we are the branches. as we abide (cling to, connect to, remain in, get life from - pray, read, study, worship, fellowship) he will produce in us the fruits of his spirit, allowing us to live life to full!
as it says in psalm 119:18, dear God, open our eyes that we may see your wonderful truths...
in revelation 21 Jesus says, "write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. the one who conquers will have this heritage, and he will be my son, and i will be his God."
the one who conquers.
conquer. stand firm. persevere. be a soldier. spiritual warfare. sacrifice. strive. victory. armor up. fight the good fight of the faith. conquer.
the bible is full of these war terms.
but how can we conquer if we don't even realize we're at war?