Photo of wheat by Jimmy Lemon

It seems to me what is lacking today is grace and the recognition of grace.  Grace is a word that has many meanings, but I think a core meaning to grace is “free and unmerited favor”, or a similar definition is “undeserved love”.  With these definitions you think of God and his grace.  A related definition for us also is “courteous goodwill”.  That seems to be lacking today.  

Another way of looking at grace is to look from a justice perspective.  Justice is you getting what you deserve.  Mercy is not getting the bad that you deserve, and grace is getting the good that you do not deserve.  Some people argue that grace and mercy (and forgiveness) promote injustice. Practicing grace, mercy, and forgiveness is not fair, and today some people are against this leniency. Maybe the unfairness of showing grace is why we do not see more gracious behavior today. It is always the person showing grace, mercy and/or forgiveness who sacrifices their personal right for a fair outcome.  Without mercy, grace, and forgiveness, reconciliation becomes very difficult.

Pondering the gracelessness of today’s society, I am reminded of a book that I first read about 25 years ago called “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” by Philip Yancey.  It is an excellent book that I have read several times and it helped me grow in my faith.  Now I just got done defining the word grace, but Philip Yancey avoids those definitions and instead uses stories to describe grace.

For me,  one great story told in the book is “Babette’s Feast”.  (The Danish movie is worth watching too.) This great French cook, Babette, flees for her life and arrives in Denmark at this small strict pietistic aging congregation where she begs to be taken in by these two aging sisters of the founding pastor.  She works for free, cooking their bland food in keeping with their belief to avoid the pleasantries of the world.  A friend in Paris keeps buying a lottery ticket for her every year.  After many years, she wins 10,000 Francs in the lottery, and she buys and prepares this fabulous feast. The small congregation decides not to offend her and to eat this exotic meal but they decided they would not speak of the pleasures of the meal.  Of course, they can not help but enjoy this fabulous meal.  During the meal, various relationships are restored. The sisters thank her for the meal and ask when she would be leaving.  Babette replied that she had spent all the money on the feast and she would be staying.  That story of a free undeserved feast illustrates grace wonderfully.  There are so many good stories in the book.

In the book, we have the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).  Philip Yancey modernizes the story in his chapter called “Lovesick Father”.  Think of the concern and agony a parent feels when a child rebels and disappears.  It is because the parent loves them and is concerned for their well being.  The parent rejoices when the child finally reappears.  Throwing a party is not out of the question.  The child does not have to prove their worth.  In the same way God loves us unconditionally (Romans 5:8), and because of his love he sent Jesus (John 3:16) so that we might be reconciled to him (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

On the other side of grace, there is a story of a grandmother who was unwilling to forgive and see her formerly drunk abusive father, even after he cleaned up and found Jesus.  That unforgiveness was passed onto her daughter and onto her estranged grandson who spoke the exact same words of ungrace about his ex-wife, “I hope I never see her again as long as I live”.  The lack of forgiveness in each generation results in broken relationships.   Your words and attitudes create a culture that can affect generations.  My dad had a coworker who had not seen his mom in many years even though he drove past her house everyday on his way to work. It is hard for me to imagine the hardness of heart in that broken relationship.

Attitudes of grace can affect political situations.  South Africa’s transition away from apartheid to an open and free democracy was bloodless.  This was because of grace and forgiveness that was offered.  Grace brings reconciliation.   The fall of the Berlin Wall was in part due to the churches having candlelight vigils and processions.  It was another peaceful transfer of power.

Are we being gracious? Do we give people the benefit of the doubt or do we assume the worst?  Are we willing to forgive? Jesus forgave those who accused and put him to death (Luke 23:34).  Can we not do the same?  Jesus also tells us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44).  So as we imitate Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1), we should be able to show some grace.

I have read most of Philip Yancey’s books and they are all good and insightful.  I highly recommend his books, especially “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” and “The Jesus I Never Knew”.

The Identity of the Expressive Individual

Living Network 2 (Peter Farkas Photo)

The individual is king in today’s Western Culture. I  just finished reading a very enlightening book that made sense of how this messed up world in the West has changed in the last 50+ years.  This excellent book is “Strange New World” by Carl R. Trueman.  While reading it, there were times, I stopped and said to myself, “So that is why those people think that way” and by the end of the book I was also wondering how much of my thinking has been influenced by these ideas. The problem is every good lie has a kernel of truth in it.  That is what makes these false ideas believable for many people.

The expressive individual wants to be authentic and to express the real person they are, so they look inside themselves to find their core feelings and intuition, while dismissing any external influences, such as the surrounding culture. That defines them and gives them their identity. The person then expresses their inner core to be an authentic individual. The authority is only in themselves.  Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) developed the idea and you can see his influence in the following centuries.  The traditional identity authorities of nation, family and faith would say of me that I am an American, son of Erwin and Irene Hein, and a Christian.  And there are also other ways to identify oneself (e.g. occupation, sex, marital status, etc).  Whereas the expressive individual rejects all that and only looks to oneself as the only authority.

Along comes Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Marx who both said that morality is society’s way of oppressing or controlling the individual.  In other words, they believe that there is no natural morality. It is only a societal construct used to oppress or control us.  That idea is present in today’s culture.  Also today’s cultural thinking was strongly influenced by Sigmund Freud, who declared sex is fundamental to human happiness.  He considered that the inner self was primarily defined by our sexual desires. Because of Freud, our identity became our sexual psychological self,  His student, Wilhelm Reich, a Marxist, put it all together to form the intellectual underpinnings of today’s culture change.  Only one thing missing was the technology to make it practical.  The birth control pill allowed sex to become much more recreational, and the internet allowed the porn industry to easily reach us and influence us in all things sexual.  (Note the author of the book, Carl Trueman, said the evolution of this culture change is more complicated than his broad overview, and in this post I have significantly simplified it a whole lot more.)

So an expressive individual today will usually look inside oneself and decide one’s identity with the eye on one’s sexual desires. With the collapse of the traditional identities (nation:loss of trust in government, family:high divorce rate, and faith: church scandals), the LGBTQ+ community has stepped in to encourage the individual to consider their alternate sexual identities.  They have become a major influencer, in part, because they also provide a sense of belonging as they praise you and validate your chosen sexual identity.

With the individual being the only authority, it has left Western Culture in a very unstable fluid state.  Your self, your identity, is fluid.  It can change. It can be anything.  Nothing seems to be solid. You get to decide.  With your identity being personal and psychological (and many times sexual) that sets situations where one’s identity can offend another identity. Or one finds a viewpoint to be oppressive to them and an attack on who they are. Dealing with a variety of identities can be tricky business. This is especially true with transgender people. How do you handle a boy who identifies as a girl or vice versa? Do you let a transgender boy, who is biologically a girl, use the boy’s locker room? Or let a transgender girl, who is biologically a boy, use the girl’s locker room?  This is happening today.

Also today’s thinking is that moral codes of society are oppressive and  support the (past) status quo (where white heterosexual males dominate). So then, one needs to rebel against this systematic bias, and oppose all institutions (like the Christian Church) who were part of the old culture.  They declare that they are victims of this systematic bias, and therefore deserve our support.  If this sounds a lot like Critical Theory, that is because it is at least related to it.  Anyone who does not support them is an oppressor who is attacking their identity, the core of their being.  Those whose identity is found in the past status quo could be considered to be a threat to the emerging status quo and must be censored and in this way prevent hurting the feelings and thus the identity of the oppressed victims. Thus, this radical freedom of the individual can end up restricting freedom of speech, in the name of preventing an attack on an individual’s identity and feelings.

As Christians, we need to realize that this emerging culture is not friendly to the Christian Faith. Because of this we need to have strong communities in our local churches. We need solid meaningful worship services. We do have our identity as forgiven and loved children of God, being found in Jesus Christ.  We are his. We need to know that and have a firm foundation in the who, whats, and whys of the Christian Faith.  Though the Bible is our authority, it is not an authority for many people today, so we will need to also use Natural Law to help share our Christian ideas.  Those ideas are quickly becoming lost to Western Culture.  We need to stand firm in the Christian Faith.

The book ends with this paragraph:

The world in which we live seems set to be entering a new, chaotic, uncharted and dark era. But we should not despair. We need to prepare ourselves, be informed, know what we believe and why we believe it, worship God in a manner that forms us as true disciples and pilgrims, intellectually and intuitively, and keep before our eyes the unbreakable promises that the Lord has made and confirmed in Jesus Christ.  This is not the time for hopeless despair, nor naive optimism. Yes, let us lament the ravages of the fall as they play out in the distinctive ways that our generation has chosen. But let that lamentation be the content for sharpening our identity as people of God and our hunger for the great consummation that awaits at the marriage feast of the Lamb. 


Subsidiarity is a word and concept I did not know existed until recently. One of the first places the word first appeared for me was in a list of 10 Principles of Catholic Social Teaching. I am fairly certain this is not an official list, but it appears to be a summary of Catholic social teaching. I found the list interesting and well thought out.  The list got me thinking.  I am not certain of all the implications of the list, but I like it. 

The list starts with a foundational principle that every person has dignity and is invaluable, because they have been created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ.  So we must consider the common good, so that all may prosper.  We are all part of the human family and all in this together (solidarity).  We need to take care of the needy and the poor.  We also need to take care of the earth.  The government has a role to play to promote human dignity, protect human rights, and develop the common good.  This should be done at the most immediate, or the lowest local level possible (subsidiarity).  We all are entitled to participate in all aspects of the community.  No one should be excluded.  We all have human rights and responsibilities that need to be protected.  We all have a right to fair wages, good working conditions and dignified work.  The goal, the end result, of all of this should be a wholesome peace between us and God, and us and others.

It is hard for me to argue with the list, except possibly with subsidiarity and that may be me just having a hard time getting my head around how that works in real life. So I am going to explore more of this concept of subsidiarity.

Subsidiarity has been described by Pope Pius XI with “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.

Pope John Paul II with regards to the principle of subsidiarity saysA community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”  

With these two descriptions, I take this to mean that the top down approach to society’s organizations, institutions, and governments is considered to be wrong.  I would say communism breaks the principle by setting up community life from the highest level, and I would say laissez-faire capitalism also breaks the principle by not actively supporting the lower community for the good of all. Subsidiarity seems to plot a course between individualism and collectivism. 

Also I see this principle as a bottom up approach to social work.  We need to involve those who are being affected by the ministry.  They need to have ownership as much as they are able. It should not be a top-down-one-size-fits-all program.

Subsidiarity also shows itself in the economic theory of Distributism, which states the belief that wealth should be widely owned instead of being concentrated in the hands of a few corporations and individuals.  Distributism is in favor of small family or locally owned businesses and is against large corporations controlling a market.  It is in favor of competition.

I am not certain how to put subsidiarity into practice in today’s world and how well it would work but I can see it working in some small ways.  I like a lot of what I learned about subsidiarity.  I am not certain I agree 100% with it but I do appreciate all the thought that has gone into it.  Catholic social teaching has been well thought out and I appreciate the effort over the centuries that have been put into it.  Again the key Biblical foundation principle is every person has dignity and is invaluable, because they have been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and redeemed by Jesus Christ (1 John 2:2).

God’s Holiness

Rays of light in a forest

When I think of God’s holiness, I think of his moral perfection (Matthew 5:48) and my sinful behavior (Romans 3:23), but there is more to God’s holiness than just his purity.  God’s goodness, his moral perfection, is definitely a big part of his holiness, but there is also his transcendence and his otherness that sets him apart and makes him holy.  He is the Creator of the Universe (Jeremiah 10:12).  He gives life (Acts 17:25).  He is totally unique (Jeremiah 10:6).  He is above and beyond all of us, above and beyond everything. He is incomparable (Psalm 89:6-8).  And God is changeless (Psalm 102:27). God is self-existent.  He has always existed (Genesis 21:33).  He is 100% independent.  He has no needs (Acts 17:25), so he is totally self-sufficient.  He is complete in himself.   He is without fault.  He is transcendent in all things. There is no one like him.  He is very different from us, and yet we are made in his image (Genesis 1:27). God is faithful, and there is no falsehood in him (Numbers 23:19).  We can trust his love and goodness (Psalm 145:8-9), and God is worthy of our worship and praise (Revelation 4:11).

This excellent Bible Project video on God’s holiness inspired me to write this post. (I would rather read, so I tend to avoid videos, but Bible Project videos are very well done.) Do watch the video! I am going to ruminate on what the video talked about.  The video starts out by comparing God’s holiness to the Sun as a metaphor. Our Sun is unique, the only star in our solar system.  It is powerful and its rays give life to us on Earth.  It is also dangerous.  If you get too close, you can burn up.  The same is true of God’s holiness.  God’s holiness can be dangerous too.  Because we are morally impure (i.e. sinners) we can not abide in the presence of God because he is so very good.  Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush illustrates this.  He was told to take off his sandals and not get too close (Exodus 3:1-6).  God’s holiness is intense. Moses never got to see God’s face.  He could only see God’s backside from a protected place (Exodus 33:18-23).  Another example is only once a year on the Day of Atonement could the High Priest enter the Holy of Holies, where God was in the Temple, and atone for the sins of the people by sprinkling the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat..  Any other time was certain death (Leviticus 16:2). 

Besides us being morally impure, the Old Testament law designated several things that could make you ritually impure, things like menstruation, childbirth, nocturnal emissions, touching a corpse, certain types of skin diseases, and eating ritually unclean food. There was a lot that could make you ritually impure.  A ritually impure person was unable to worship in the Temple and had to be isolated (Numbers 5:1-4). Touching an unclean person or thing could make you ritually impure. There were a variety of ways to become ritually clean, varying from washing (Numbers 19:11-12) to sacrifice (Leviticus 15:25-30).  Leprosy is the skin disease I am most aware of in the Bible and it has a pretty serious procedure for one to be proclaimed clean (Leviticus 13).  These ritually impure things point out how God’s holiness is something to be taken seriously and that sin has corrupted us and broke the world. Our impurity (sin) must also be taken seriously.

When Isaiah had a vision of being in the presence of God, he cried out that he was done for, because of  his uncleanliness (Isaiah 6:5) , but he had his lips touched by a burning coal from the altar and he was cleansed of his sin (Isaiah 6:6-7).  God’s holiness went out with forgiveness and made him clean.  That was his commissioning as God’s prophet. Similarly, Ezekiel has this vision of water flowing from the Temple (Ezekiel 47:1-12).  It creates a river and brings life to the land with fish and fruit trees and more.  Here again we see God’s holiness going forth and restoring the brokenness of the world.

This all comes together with Jesus.  He was and is morally perfect,  the human embodiment of God’s holiness (John 6:68-69), because he is God.  Jesus went around and instead of becoming impure when touching a leper (Matthew 8:1-4) or a dead person (Matthew 9:23-26) or being touched by a woman with chronic bleeding (Matthew 9:20-22), he remained pure and instead brought healing and restoration to those in need.  The holiness flowed out from him to heal and restore.

By the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are God’s Temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and we have “rivers of living water” flowing from us (John 7:37-38).  We have the ability to heal and restore. That is our calling. We can be a part of the Lord’s business of reconciling the world to himself.  One day at the end of time, we will be totally free from sin, pure, and fully restored. Ezekiel’s vision of the River of God will then be fully realized (Revelation 22:1-2).

Let us praise God now for he is a mighty and holy God!

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100)

Do Justice

What does justice or injustice look like?  How do we live life so that we “do justice”  (Micah 6:8)?  I see Genesis 1:27 as being a foundation verse from which justice should flow.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  (Genesis 1:27)

We all have been created in the image of God, and that means everyone deserves dignity and respect.  There needs to be equal treatment for all. Whether you are rich or poor, the Lord is the Maker of them all (Proverbs 22:2).  Justice is for all.  This means there is no place for bias, partiality, or bribery (Deuteronomy 16:19).  The same laws apply to all, whether immigrant or native (Leviticus 24:22).  People, regardless of race, class, gender, ability, and behavior, must be treated equally with fairness and respect.  Justice means there is equal treatment for all.

Justice also is about being generous.  The Bible is very clear that private property exists.  We own, create, and produce stuff that is ours.  It is clear that we should not steal (Exodus 20:15), and that includes kidnapping, stealing of a person (Exodus 21:16).  And yet at the same time God reminds us that reality is that we really own nothing. We are only stewards of what God has given us. He is the real owner (Deuteronomy 10:14). Even our abilities are a gift from him (Deuteronomy 8:17-18a).  In Israelite society, the farmer was required to leave some of the crop for the poor to be able to glean (Leviticus 19:9-10). This allowed those lacking to be able to eat.  Also debts were forgiven every seven years (Deuteronomy 15:1-2), so that no one would be in a situation they could not recover from.  The principles derived from these passages lead not to strict socialism, and they are also not laissez-faire capitalism.  Either extreme is not Biblical. God calls us to be generous with what he has given us.

Doing justice, also means being an advocate for those without power. The wealthy have the power and money to take care of themselves.  The poor, the needy, the destitute, and the oppressed need us to advocate for them and defend their rights (Proverbs 31:8-9). They too were created in the image of God and need to be given dignity and respect. Back in Zechariah’s day, God said:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”  (Zechariah 7:9-10)

Who are the oppressed today?   How can we stand up for them and defend their rights?

So how does injustice happen? It can happen in two ways, directly and indirectly.  If I am robbed, injustice to me has directly happened.  And there can be socially institutionalized ways of life that promote sin, and/or favor the rich and powerful allowing the poor and the disadvantaged to suffer injustice. We may not directly be involved in those sins, and yet we may be complicit and responsible as a society. God can hold and has held families, groups, and nations corporately responsible for sins that others committed in the past.   The consequences of those sins can linger for generations.  There is a corporate responsibility for injustice that lingers.  Daniel repented for the sins of his ancestors (Daniel 9:3-19) even though it is likely that he was not directly guilty of those sins.  In Amos, God pronounces judgment for the past sins of the surrounding nations (Amos 1), as well as the sins of Judah and Israel (Amos 2).  Those nations bore the responsibility and all in those nations suffered the consequences. What are those national sins today? What consequences of past national sins still linger today?  What past and present national sins do we need to repent of?  How do we do justice and work to make things right?  In America, racism is still affecting Americans of all colors. It is one old national sin that continues to produce consequences that still needs to be dealt with.

So we need to treat all people equally because we all are made in the image of God.  This can be done by being generous to those in need.  That includes standing up for the powerless and oppressed, and helping them get by in today’s society.  And it also means taking responsibility for past national sins and working to make things right. Let us do justice.

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear.  (Deuteronomy 10:17-20)

This was inspired by a section in Timothy Keller’s book, “Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter”.  Timothy Keller also has a book on how God’s grace empowers us to be gracious, generous, and just.  It is called “Generous Justice” and is also an excellent and inspiring book.

A New World

You have been set apart and chosen. Photo by Gift Habeshaw.

Today, we in the West are living in a new era or a new world that is very different from the one 50+ years ago.  Today, there is no social benefit to being a Christian. In fact in many cases, there is a social cost.   Christian values are seen by many as oppressive, incomprehensible, and/or outdated.  Today, Christian values are very countercultural.  So how does a Christian interact in this new world?

We need to be intentional.  We can not wait for people to ask about our faith.  We need to identify ourselves as Christians, and explain what we believe.  Note today many people think they have an idea of what a Christian believes, but many times they have wrong ideas.  Christian ideas can seem strange to a non-Christian (e.g. people are not naturally good).  We may need to start by explaining some very basic Christian concepts, because these concepts have been forgotten by society.

Society today is hyper-individualistic.  Everything revolves around oneself, and freedom is a key concept.  The ideal that is promoted is that you are free to be whoever you want and to do whatever you want.  Ultimately this means everything is dependent on you.  All moral values are determined by you.  All relationships end up being transactional since you are at the center.  Your identity is fragile because it depends on you and others’ opinions.  And life fulfillment is also dependent on you and your circumstances. The end result is that many of today’s young adults are struggling with anxiety and depression, and with life in general. 

We Christians have the answers for a full life with purpose.  Because of Jesus Christ’s saving work, we have a purpose and meaning to life that suffering cannot take away.  Circumstances cannot take away our joy or satisfaction with God in control.  Because of our secure identity as a loved and forgiven child of God, our relationships can be more than just transactional.  Because of God’s forgiveness, we do not need to be burdened by guilt and we can offer forgiveness to others.  We also can offer a generous justice to those oppressed without becoming an oppressor, because of God’s love for all.  And because we know God is good, we can face the future with a sure hope that not even death can take away. We Christians have a lot to offer this hurting world.  We need to help them see that their needs and longings are really echoing their need for God.  We have God’s love as our driving force, not power or the need for freedom.

And it all comes down to the fact that throughout history our attempts to create a utopia, a good full life for all, have utterly failed. We are broken beyond our repair.  We can not save ourselves, but God can and in Jesus Christ he offers freedom from our brokenness, so we can live that full life to his glory.

Because society in the West today is at best neutral-Christian and at worst anti-Christian, we need to make certain ourselves and our children are well grounded in the faith. The dominant worldviews today are not Christian. We need to not only know why the Christian worldview is the right one but why the dominant worldviews are lacking when compared to the Christian worldview.  This way we can be “vaccinated” against the dominant worldviews.  Not only should we teach ourselves, but we need to let society know the love of God and what Christians are all about.  One of the best ways to do that is for Christians integrate their faith life into their work life. Do not compartmentalize your life.

The early Christian church formed a unique community.  They were racially, ethically, and economically diverse.  Everyone was welcomed.  They were highly committed to caring for the poor, the sick, and the marginalized.  They did not retaliate but rather were committed to forgiving.  They were strongly against abortion and infaticide, so to make certain any unwanted baby was cared for. And they had a unique stance on sex.  It is only for married couples.  Today when we look at these five characteristics we would call the first two liberal and the last two conservative.  You can not pigeon hole the early Christian church, so we Christians in today’s non-Christian culture should not be pigeon holed. We might want to model that early Christian community today.

Looking at what is happening in the West, one might think Christianity is on the decline, but that is not the case.  By God’s grace, Christianity is growing (but not in the West).  At least 70% of Christians live outside the West.  The Christian Church is definitely global, and because of that there is hope for a revival in the West.  God can do it.  God has started sending missionaries from “deepest darkest Africa” to the West.  Some have already arrived.

This post was based in part on the article “How to Reach the West (Again)”.


Das Bean Photo by Mark Publava

When people say “I am a Christian”, what do they really mean?  I was looking at a 2021 survey of Millennials (which includes Gen Z adults), and found some very interesting statistics on Millennials, who say they are Christian, view God.  The percentages were surprising.   It confirms I live in a Christian bubble and I have not realized how much the world has changed, even though I have been interested in declining church attendance among the younger generations for over 20 years. 40% of Millennials do not know if God exists, or do not believe that God exists, or do not care whether God exists. 40% have effectively written off God.  57% of Millennials say they are Christian.  Of those 57%, only 46% agree that God is “all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect, just creator of the universe, who rules the universe today”.  I would have hoped that statement would have had 100% agreement for those who say they are “Christian”.

So if only 46% Millennial “Christians” give the Christian answer of who God is, what do the other Millennial “Christians” think God is?  6% “don’t know”.  1% say “there is no such thing as God”, and 22% agree with the statement that “a higher power may exist; nobody knows for certain”.  That is 29% of Millennial “Christians” that doubt the existence of God.  They are part of that 40%.  To continue, there are 4% who say “Everyone is god”; 15% who have a new age take saying “God refers to the total realization of personal, human potential or a state of higher consciousness that a person may reach”; and 7% who agree that “there are many gods, each with different purposes and authority”.  Those responses are from all who claim to be Christian.  The word “Christian” does not have the traditional biblical meaning for many people. (An interesting aside is that 31% of “Non-Christian” Millennials gave the correct Christian answer from the choices to who God is.)  I believe that for many Americans saying that one is a “Christian” is the same as saying “I am a good person”. 

And I believe this is also true for other generations.  It is just more pronounced for the younger generations as America has become more and more a post-Christian nation.  This is made clear in the percentage of people with a biblical worldview.  Only 4% of Millennials have a biblical worldview.  It is 6% for Gen X, 8% for Boomers, and 9% for Builders.  There are not all that many with a biblical worldview, but the decline is also clearly seen.  So what is the worldview that these generations have?  The dominant worldview for each generation is the same (from 83% to 89%). It is Syncretism.  Syncretism is the amalgamation (or patchwork) of different religions or worldviews.  In this case, it is the worldview where you pick and choose what you want to believe in.  For the Millennials and Gen X’ers, they tend to pick their concepts from the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism worldview.  For the Boomers and the Builders, they tend to pick from the Biblical Theism worldview. The Create-Your-Own worldview has always been popular.  The difference is as the Christian influence wanes through the generations, the younger ones are less likely to pick and choose from Biblical Theism.  Still the dominant worldview for each generation is not a biblical worldview. 

The end result for Millennials is that most of them are searching for purpose in their life, and a majority of them often have bouts of depression and anxiety.  They want to belong, so many of them have connected with what I call the latest social contagion, that is they identify with or as LGBTQ. The table below lays out the percentages.  They are hurting.  They want a good life, but today’s cultural influences and forces have left them lacking.  Their patchwork worldview does not handle reality the way it should.  It is sad that 40% of them have effectively written off the existence of God and the Christian Faith, because I have a full and abundant life because of Jesus. I think a lot of their problems would be solved if they would turn and embrace God.

Thinking about your commitments, would you describe yourself as …Percentage of those who answer “Yes”
Searching for purpose in your life75%
Believing all religious faiths are of equal value74%
An American patriot55%
Often feel anxious, depressed or unsafe54%
Deeply committed to practicing your faith52%
Prefer socialism to capitalism48%
LGBTQ30% but39% for Gen Z only

Note a Gallup poll that was taken at roughly the same time put LGBTQ Millennials at 9% and LGBTQ Gen Z’ers at 16%.  I believe the difference may be in the way this survey worded the question.  This survey question may show more of the support for LGBTQ cause as opposed to their own sexual preference. It may be some of them are identifying with LGBTQ cause but not identifying as a LGBTQ person.  Whatever the case is, both surveys show a large uptick in LGBTQ identification among the younger generations. I believe it is about identity.  They want to know who they are and gender identity is the big issue in today’s culture, so they identify with LGBTQ.  If they don’t effectively write off God (like 40% have done), they can find their identity as forgiven and loved children of God.  That identity has been a solid rock for me.

My takeaway from this post is that we live in a very different world from 50 years ago.  We, older Christians, need to recognize the change and not assume nothing has changed.  The world has changed significantly and Christians need to realize that the world they live in today is in many ways more like the world first century Christians lived in than the world from 50 years ago.  We need to get out of our Christian bubble and reach out to those hurting because of a false worldview.  And we need to support the real Christian Millennials.  It is rough out there for them in this very post-Christian world.

Praise God for Jesus’ Resurrection!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3)

All Christians, praise God for his great mercy!  Though we were dead in our sin (Ephesians 2:1-3), he has made us alive in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-7).  We have been born again (John 3:3-8).  We are  a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).  We have a living hope, a great expectation (Romans 15:13),  because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28:1-10).

All this is already ours today.  We have been born again.  We are a new creation.  God has made us alive.  Because of his resurrection, through baptism, we can walk in the newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).  If we have been raised with Christ, we can set our mind on things above (Colossians 3:1-4) and not on earthly things (Colossians 3:5-8).  It is by God’s grace we have been saved (Ephesians 2:8-9) to be his workmanship so we can do good (Ephesians 2:10).  Because of Jesus, the Kingdom of God is here now (Luke 17:20-21 and Matthew 12:28), and we are empowered to serve in the Kingdom of God as ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20).

And yet at the same time the Kingdom of God is not fully realized.  Because of Jesus’ resurrection we have this living hope, this great expectation, of a certain future.  Jesus in rising from the dead was the firstfruit of those who died in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:20) and he is the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18).  His resurrection makes our rising from the dead a certainty.  We can live life knowing that an inheritance in heaven (1 Peter 1:4-5) that waits for us.  It will be a wonderful life with a full enjoyment of God’s gifts and a fully restored relationship with God (Revelation 7:9-17).  We will be free from sin and its brokenness (1 John 3:1-3), able to live life to its fullness as it was originally meant to be.

But today we are in an “already but not yet” state. Today we live by faith (2 Corinthians 5:1-7 and Hebrews 11:1).  We are already a new creation and yet we sin and keep on doing what is wrong (Romans 7:18-19). We are already living an eternal life (John 3:16) but death still exists (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). So we wait for Jesus’ second coming when all God’s promises will be fully realized and everything will be made right. Today we live knowing that Jesus is our resurrection and life (John 11:25-26).  It is all about Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:56-58)

PS This post was inspired in part by Timothy Keller’s book, “Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter”.

PPS Check out this Bible Project video on Jesus’ resurrection as recorded by Luke.

Are You Okay?

I remember the phrase “I’m okay, you’re okay”.  It was a popular phrase in the 1970’s and 80’s.  It originates with a 1967 self-help book.  The phrase took on a life of its own, and has been used to promote self-esteem, especially in children.  I think the phrase is still in use today to promote self-esteem, but for many people, in practice, I think it has become “I’m okay but you are not okay”.  People today seem to feel that they are pretty good and have it together most of the time, but those they disagree with are not okay.  Those disagreeable people have been misled and/or have serious issues.  They must not be okay. I think that is a common way of thinking today.

People today look around and blame today’s problems and the problems we experience on cultural influences and other people with serious problems.  These are problem people, who we believe by our own definition, do not want to do things the way we want them done. Today’s “enlightened” people believe it is wrong thinking and wrong societal ideas that are creating the problems, which can be found in societal structures of domination and oppression (Critical Theory).  It can not be our fault because we are okay, relatively good, so we look outside ourselves to locate the problems.  Even though there are cultural influences and other people creating problems, the real core problem is inside each and every one of us.

Here is the reality.  Each and every one of us is not okay. We all have our problems.  We all are broken. Some people want us to embrace our brokenness and say that is just who we are.  I do not think it is a good idea to deny or embrace self destructive behavior.  I believe our brokenness is self destructive and it is also not good for others.  The fact is I am not okay.  I am not good or good enough.  I have my problems.  I have my issues. My brokenness is not healthy for me and for others.  And since it is true of everyone, that is why the world is as messed up as it is.

If you pull back the curtain and look deep inside you, you will find that you are a self centered selfish person whose ego is focused on yourself.  Whether you are feeling good about yourself or despairing, the focus is on you.  Even when you try to be generous and giving, that self centeredness is still there. That self centeredness corrupts everything.  That is the core problem with you and the world. Christians have a name for that condition and for all the wrong doing and wrong thinking.  It is called sin.  We are left in a pretty hopeless situation.

But there is hope.  Though we can not solve the problem, God, the Creator of the universe and of us, can.  Because he loves each and every one of us, he has sent Jesus to us as the solution.  Jesus came to Earth and was born.  He grew up and lived a perfect life.  He died on a cross as a payment for our sin, and then he rose again so that we may have a full life in him.  That full life in Jesus empowers Christians, those who have received Jesus as Lord and Savior, to work for a better life for all, and one day we, Christians, will live eternally with him in a world without sin.  Today it is clear that we are not okay, but God still fully and completely loves each and every one of us, so it is okay.

That is what the Bible says. Below is from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans.

  1. Everyone is a sinner and needs God’s salvation. “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God(Romans 3:23)
  2. The consequence of sin is death, but God offers salvation for free. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
  3. In love, Jesus Christ took our place and died for our sins.  He paid the price for us. “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
  4. It is through faith that we receive salvation and eternal life. “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)
  5. Because of Jesus Christ, our relationship with God has been restored.  We are no longer condemned by our sin. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) and “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

Father God,  Thank you for saving me because of all that Jesus has done.  I am yours.  Forgive me, cleanse me, and restore me for I am broken, a sinner in need of your forgiveness.  Thank you for that forgiveness and for your love, mercy, and grace.  Let your Holy Spirit enable me to live a full life dedicated to you.  I ask this because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. He is Lord and Savior!  Amen! 

Fear and Anxiety

Fear and anxiety seem to be a big part of today’s society. Questions abound!  What is happening to society?  Will I die from Covid-19? Will the Democrats usher in communism?  Will the Republicans put into place a theocracy?  Will the other party take away my freedoms?  Will I be a victim of a crime?  Will I be killed because of the color of my skin? Will I be able to pay my rent?  Will global warming spell the end of the human race? And there are many more concerns.

There is an element of truth in most of these concerns.  What makes for an effective lie is to have a kernel of truth and then blow it out of proportion by adding falsehoods to it.  That leads to anxiety and irrational fears.  Today there are many people who are promoting fear.  They use fear to promote their agenda, to sell advertisements, to sell products, and/or to dehumanize others.  The end result is stress because we become anxious about things that may or may not happen.

Fear is not always a bad thing.  You do not step in front of a speeding car.  You do not run off a 200 foot cliff.  Fear of getting hurt should prevent you from these stupid acts.   You demonstrate fear and respect for the speeding car and for the 200 foot cliff.  However, it is irrational to not be able to walk up to an edge of a cliff.  Also it is irrational not to be able to cross any street because of the fear of getting hit.  Both of these actions can be done in a safe manner.

In the same way, it is good to fear God and to give him the respect, awe, and reverence he deserves.  When Isaiah found himself in the presence of God, he cried out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…”.  And that he was and because of his sin he was right to fear God. And yet forgiveness was spoken to him in the words, “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for”.  The same is true of us.  We are lost in our sin, and yet God desires to forgive us and bring us back to him.  We turn to him as forgiven children of God and are told not to be afraid.  

God is our foundation, our rock, in this frightening world we live in.  We need not fear and be anxious about the happenings in the world.  God is at work in the world, redeeming it and there will be a day when Jesus will come back and make all things right.  Though we can go through some tough times, when we may wonder where God is, know that God works all things for good for those who love him.  We need not be afraid and anxious even when things look bleak.  Trust God and he will come through in his time and at the end of time.  As children of God, we cannot lose. We will win in the end.

I have experienced some tough times, and God has used those tough times for my good.  23 years ago, I fell deathly ill with Guillain-Barre Syndrome.  I spent 6 weeks in the hospital (2 weeks in the ICU) and 7 weeks recovering in a nursing home and many more months getting back to near normal.  All this happened while I was engaged to Gail. This was a tough time for Gail and I.  The strange thing was through the illness, I grew closer to God by recognizing more of his goodness and grace.  Because of my illness, Gail got time off from teaching in Oregon to come and see me in Colorado, albeit in a hospital bed.  And going through that struggle, our love for each other was strengthened, so that our marriage started strong.  Though I would not recommend it to anyone, God used my illness for my good as well as the good of our marriage.  There was no reason to be afraid or anxious, because God was in control and he was working things out for our good.

So whether it is Covid-19 or political divisiveness or something else, trust that God has this and God will work it out in his way and his time. You need not fear. This hope and trust is not some sort of pollyanna positivity, and it is not wishful thinking.  You need to be realistic and realize that the world is broken and bad things happen.  And yet God is there for you, to walk alongside you, and to give you hope.  He is there with you through the tough times though you may not understand why things are so bad. Just know that there is no need to be anxious, because God is working things out in his way and in his time for your good. Our calling is to trust God, and to follow and serve him as we live out our lives for him. Do that, and do not worry about the rest.  God has it.