Friday, July 3, 2020

How the News Media Manipulates National Meta-Narrative

If there is one thing I've learned over the past few years, and particularly the last few months, it's that the power of the news media is greater than any other institution in our nation.  The news media holds the power of the meta-narrative. Friends, beware the narrative.

What is a meta-narrative?  To break down the phrase, meta means going beyond, or a higher transcending viewpoint, and narrative is a story of events.  The power of the news media is to control the meta-narrative of our country, and even, of the world.  Most people, most Christians don't have or take the time to really delve into news.  So we look to news outlets to help us understand what is going on in the world.  

The narrative is the key.  The narrative is the larger overarching story that appears from the hundreds and hundreds of hours of television news reports, and the thousands of pages of online articles, magazines, and newspapers.

A narrative begins to take hold in the national mindset.  Let's consider some of the key narratives that have taken hold from time to time in the past.

Many will recall the narrative of the Watergate scandal, and how it took hold.  Many would recall the narrative of the 1960s, the radicalism, the protests, the free love, the drugs, and so on.  Others would recall the narrative surrounding Westboro baptist church promulgated by the news media.  Another key narrative particularly of the 80s was the Cold War, the Reagan era, and the Aids epidemic.  

Today we have many narratives being put forth by the mainstream news media. Of course we think of the recent corona virus pandemic, and the sensational reporting surrounding it.  We think of the intense 24/7 coverage of police violence toward people of color.  We think of the coverage of the protests and the riots, and how it's framed for us.  We think of the continuous battle between the press and President Trump.  We think of the Russia scandal, the Supreme court, LGBTQ issues in our day and age, and the transgender debate, along with issues like abortion, human trafficking, and various other concerns that appear in the narrative.

I would make the suggestion to you today that there certainly should be a national narrative, which ought to reflect the ideas, perceptions, political movements, causes, and concerns of a nation.  But I would also indicate to you today that the mainstream news media has increasingly taken to manipulating that narrative, instead of just reporting on it.  Our news media has increasingly weaponized the narrative of our nation, twisting it to suit those they favor, and twisting it to attack and minimize those with whom they disagree. 

So what are some ways that the news media in the United States manipulates our national narrative?  Here are a few of the tactics: 

Emphasize Certain News Stories - This may be the single most powerful tool.  CNN or NBC can run a single news story about say, corporate corruption, give it a few minutes, but that means it will never take hold as part of the national narrative.  But, if they take a single news story, such as a police officer hurting someone, and they focus on that, 24/7 continuing coverage, endless discussions, panel discussions, interviews, and keep harping on it day and night, it will take hold in the mind of the nation. Even if studies have shown that a bias in police conduct simply doesn't exist in statistics.  And the scary thing is, it will take hold even if it's an isolated incident.  It will be shown so often that people will assume, without checking the statistics and facts, that it represents the whole, that this is an extremely common thing, even if it isn't.  Scary isn't?  Imagine if the news reported on every single car crash with a fatality, just endless, continuing coverage day, and night, 8 dead today from car crashes, interview the families, with tears in their eyes, how long would it take before the whole nation would be screaming for car driving reform of some kind?  That's the insidious power of taking isolated incidents and representing them as the whole. 

Ignore Certain News Stories - This to me is nearly as powerful as emphasizing selective stories.  This is the power to completely ignore events that don't fit the narrative the news network is pushing forward.  One example would be the increasing violence and genocide against Christians in the middle east.  Hundreds of thousands of people have died. But the news media never talks about it. Why? Well, because it doesn't fit the narrative.  In the news narrative, churches and Christians are generally portrayed as colonialist, imperialist oppressors and anti-LGBTQ haters. So stories, even if they're true, that portray Christians as victims can't be allowed to see the light of day.  Another example would be mass shootings prevented by lawful citizens with person firearms.  These stories happen more than you realize, but they are rarely reported on, because they don't fit the media narrative that says guns are the problem.  That is the power of ignoring stories, by the news media.  When Planned Parenthood was caught selling aborted babies body parts to the highest bidder, there was a near total media blackout on the incident. Imagine if the media had covered it honestly, and given it the prominence it deserved. It could've changed the entire country's perspective on the issue of abortion. But it never saw the light of day.  It was ignored by the news media, strategically.  It didn't fit the narrative of oppressive religious people trying to steal vulnerable women's healthcare.

Spin a News Story - Have you ever heard the saying "Be careful because the press will have you believing that the victim is the criminal and the criminal is the victim?"  Well, it's true.  Think of the 1996 Olympics, when the Richard Jewell a security helped to save lives from the bombing.  What did the press do? They portrayed the situation as if Richard Jewell had committed the crime, and an innocent man's life, a hero, was turned into a villain.  Though eventually he was exonerated. Think of the confirmation hearings of Justice Kavanaugh, or Justice Clarence Thomas, for the Supreme Court.  The news media gave intense overage to the accusers of Kavanaugh, who one by one after he was confirmed, came out and indicated they had invented the charges, and they were baseless. The same thing was done to Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings.

Repeat Falsehoods - Gas Lighting - The last few times when my mom visited me she said she heard a train going by near my house.  I told her I never heard any train.  But I few times I did hear the train. And it became a joke between us, I kept saying there was no train, even though there really was a train.  And I heard it.  This is done sometimes in abusive relationships by sociopaths, not as a joke, but seriously, to manipulate someone's perception of the world.  They call this "gas lighting."  The news media, when they repeat falsehoods, are engaging in this practice of gas lighting. An example of gas lighting by the media would be when President Trump came out against white supremacist hate groups numerous times, but the press kept repeating the lie that Trump had shown support for white supremacist hate groups.  A larger meta-narrative example would be the Russia scandal, that went on for four long years, of gas lighting by the media, which in the end turned out to be smoke and mirrors. There was nothing there.  But they kept that narrative going for years.

Minimizing the minority - This is done a great deal during things like pride month, or now during the BLM protests, the media reports on it like everyone agrees with pride month, and the BLM, refusing to show that there is a minority out there that doesn't agree with these agendas.

Code Words - Have you heard this phrase used?  "Oh that's code word for racism."  Or that phrase is a dog whistle for hate groups?  This is taking an innocuous statement like, we need to stand up for western civilization, and then saying there is a hidden meaning behind it, that is actually bigoted, racist, sexist, and so on.  So someone say almost anything, and it can be twisted to be a "code word" for something nefarious or evil. Conspiracy theorists are good as this as well, watching for little signs, like a triangle, and that infusing it with tons of code meaning, that probably doesn't even exist.

Firing those who depart the lockstep - have you heard of the growing tide of cancel culture?  Those within organizations and businesses, such as Google, or major universities who depart from the lockstep, can often end up losing their jobs.  Think of the Google employee, James Demore, who tried to speak up about the ideological echo chamber at the business. He was fired.  Many scientists who dare to question Darwinian evolution have lost their jobs, catalogued in a documentary by Ben Stein called "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed."

For many years there had generally been only one narrative, the narrative of the mainstream news media, produced by the main outlets like the NY Times, the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, and so on. This narrative tends to bend toward a more left-leaning perspective on the nation and the world at large.  Many felt that this narrative left out much of the truth, and strangled out the viewpoints of those with dissenting opinions on issues of the day.

So increasingly we see a second narrative taking hold promulgated through outlets like The Wallstreet Journal, National Review, Fox News, The Washington Times, The Daily Wire, Breitbart News, The Daily Caller, and so on.  Talk radio is a big component of this counter-narrative as well, by hosts such as Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh.  This narrative also tends to gather on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and so on. 

So I think the big take away from all this is to recognize that the news networks you watch or read have an agenda.  In the past I think many of us regarded news as fairly unbiased. But that is simply no longer the case.  We should be careful when formulating opinions, and consider various sources before getting too excited and hyped up about issues.  We should ask ourselves: Have I really been told the truth?  What do the statistics say?  What is the narrative here?

Hopefully, we as Christians can begin to take hold of the media narrative in more serious ways to help get the truth out there.  Because the news media has little trouble demonizing Christians as bigots, haters, and judgmental jerks.  But we know those things aren't really true.  They are narrative.  Most Christians, not all, but most Christians really do love people and seek to share the gospel in love and truth.  

Be aware of the narrative.  The narrative is powerful. It can make people think you hate them.  It can make people think you love them.  It can control the entire mood of the nation, and right now the media narrative is in the hands of people who do not like or support Jesus or Christianity.  Don't let the narrative sweep you away.  Think for yourself.  Check both sides.  Form your own opinion, don't just follow the crowd.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

What is the truth about the New Social Justice Ideology?

“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly." -Leviticus 19:15

The new social justice causes have increasingly caused concerns with many in the church. The concerns are rooted in that many of these ideologies are not properly grounded in traditional Christian beliefs, but actually come out of the secular university system, and tend to be rooted in thinkers like Karl Marx, Herbert Marcuse, and Max Horkheimer.  These thinkers come out of ideologies that tend to be rather anti-Christian, and based around an ideology that views the social structure as a constant battle between the powerful and the powerless. We should be very careful as a Christian movement when embracing ideologies like critical theory, group identity, and class warfare.  I'm sure many of us have not given it a great deal of thought, so let's get into it a bit.

Let's identify some terms.  Critical theory is the idea that people are enslaved in various forms by society.  Therefore the fundamental reality of society is that of a constant battle between the haves and the have nots.  The chief goal then is to set people free from oppressive societal structures that perpetuate oppression.
But is this actually true?  It's debatable. There are elements within the scriptures that tell us of our need to advocate for the powerless.  Such as Proverbs 31:8-9  "Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy."

Yet in Proverbs we also see Proverbs 28:5 "Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely." So it's hard to believe that a secular social theory like critical theory could be useful for us as Christians. 

But fundamentally, is society a struggle between the powerful and the powerless? Think of the United States, a country where people rise and fall largely based on their merits. A place where someone like Martin Luther King Jr. can lead a movement to bring about justice for the oppressed.  A society where a poor kid like Abraham Lincoln can become president. A society where a Dinesh D'Souza or a Barack Obama, or a Clarence Thomas or a Morgan Freeman can rise to be influential leaders.

Our society is considered a democratic republic. For many, it's hard to see it as an oppressive power structure of racism and bigotry.  There may be individual examples of racism and bigotry, and those should be addressed. But there isn't a great of evidence to suggest it's systemic. The United States is a meritocracy, where we rise and fall based on our merits and how hard we work, not based on oppressive structures. Of course if oppressive structures do exist, they ought to be rooted out.

Critical theory is rooted in Karl Marx's ideology of power structures, that power is controlled by a select few, and only by enforcing total equality can people be free.  Marx thought the structures of society must be criticized, (critical theory) attacked, and torn down to destroy the elite ruling class (the bourgeoisie).

Group identity is part of critical theory in some ways. It's about dividing people up into aggrieved groups.  Victim groups are people who are considered to be victimized by the oppressive power structures of society, and need to be liberated.  From this concept comes the idea of "community organizing." This is where an identity group is organized into a force to leverage political change.

Thus we are told we must advocate for victim groups, such as women, different ethnicities, those with differing views on sexuality, and so on and so forth. So, once these various disparate groups have been organized, by community organizers, they are linked through the concept of intersectionality, to advocate on a larger scale, and also to stack victimologies. So in intersectionality, someone who is female and a person of color and transexual, would have a greater victim status than say, a white female.

Scripture in the Old Testament did refer to many peoples on the basis of groups, such as Israel, Judah, Gentile and Jew, and so forth. Generally those divisions were based on nation, or religious standing, not so much on color, gender, or sexual preference.  But in the New Testament we see a radical dissolving of all classes and groups, famously, in the scripture from Galatians 3:26-29, "So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise."

We as Christians no longer consider others to be separate based on country of origin, or gender, or skin color, instead we are all viewed as one body of Christ.

Last term, identity politics is the process by which political movements attempt to gain power by organizing aggrieved groups. In the concept of critical theory, and thus identity politics, perceived political enemies of these groups must be criticized, or slandered, thus you see many words like "racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic" and so on directed toward political opponents.  This also means that anyone who departs from the group think of an aggrieved group, like people of color for example, are slandered and ostracized. You'll often see black individuals who leave the group think, like Dr. Ben Carson, or Thomas Sowell, or Larry Elder or Candace Owens slandered as "uncle toms" (a racial slur) for having differing political views. 

How have these social justice causes come to hold such prominence in evangelical church movements?  If politics is downstream from culture, the church is also downstream from culture.  The university system teaches many of these ideologies like secular humanism, Marxism, feminism, intersectionality and so on, and then those ideologies are gradually brought into the church and become part of the churches identity. 

Gathered together under one umbrella, these various social justice causes can be considered part of the larger progressive ideology.  The progressive viewpoint tends to see the American founding from a critical theory perspective.  Critical theory says that the systems in place are in place because they are evil and stole power from the masses.  So the American founding is criticized and deconstructed.  The American founding is re-packaged as evil slave-holding white men killing native Americans and forming an evil oppressive religious theocracy that must be toppled and rebuilt from the ground up. This viewpoint is encouraged by a new movement called The 1619 Project that views America's founding and history fundamentally as 400 years of racism.

Essentially, progressivism is an utopian ideology. The idea is that the United States' existing structures must be overthrown, because they are racist and evil, and they must be replaced by an entirely new society. Only then will a true utopia come about, in which economic equality exists, and all classes are united as one classless society.

We in the churches of western civilization, we who follow Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Bible should consider carefully these concepts before embracing or rejecting them.

Many in the church are motivated by the desire to bring about justice in society.  That is a good thing. But in our zeal to rally for justice, we've embraced many ideas that upon examination appear increasingly suspect. What we really need as the church, is a biblical alternative to critical theory based social justice.  We need a biblical formula for biblical justice ministry based fundamentally on scripture and informed and strengthened by secular practices like psychology, sociology, and so on. But let's continue. 

Multiculturalism - Multiculturalism is essentially the opposite of the melting pot.  The melting pot is the idea that various cultures and peoples come to America for a new life, and they assimilate in various ways to American culture, while also enriching American culture with their own unique cultures.  Multiculturalism is the idea of cultures remaining separate and unique.  We see this play out in major cities where various cultures are divided into different parts of the city.  Multiculturalism suggests that immigrants should not learn the native language, but speak their own language.  Multiculturalism also largely rejects assimilation.  This is not good my friends.  And in the Christian worldview, we come from various cultures and societies, but we make up a unity, as the body of Christ.  We are all parts of the same body, we're not broken up into groups and separated. 

An improvement, possibly, on multiculturalism is the concept of interculturalism. This ideology suggests that various culturals intermingling in the larger society through dialogue form and shape one another, while still remaining distinct and separate. But once again, isn't the melting pot still the best option, in that various cultures and ethnicities all become part of the American culture, while also enriching it and bringing about needed growth and change? It would seem so.

White Privilege - White privilege is the concept that the white majority of countries like the USA have special advantages and abilities above and beyond those of other races and cultures.  The cure then is for whites to "check your privilege" and listen to aggrieved groups, instead of talking. According to books like White Fragility, if you attempt to argue with these ideas, you're just being racist and trying to protect the white power structure. So to repent, you must give up your power, and listen. You must advocate for victim groups hurt from harms of the past, like slavery or Jim Crow laws.

This ideology indicates that all cultures are equal, aside from "white culture" which is evil (a misnomer because European Caucasian cultures are very diverse). It tends to place the bulk of the blame for slavery on the United States, which is a strange concept, given that slavery existed in the world in virtually every nation, including most Native American tribes, and ancient cultures like Egypt, Israel, and Babylon thousands of years before America even existed.

Your individual conduct doesn't seem to be the chief concern. Instead you are required to take group ownership, ownership of slavery, of racism, and of all the evils of white people, even if you've never personally done those things.  Even if your ancestors immigrated from Poland in the early 1900s, like mine, you still are supposed to take ownership of racism and slavery, and repent accordingly. 

Institutional Racism - This is the idea that entire institutions of society are racist and evil.  The suggestion then is that many police departments overall are racist. Government agencies are racist. Businesses and church organizations are considered racist.  They would argue societal norms are also rooted in racism.  And essentially, suggest that many, many various aspects of culture are fundamentally racist. The American flag is seen as racist. Household products like bread, or Aunt Jemima are considered racist. Even statues of Ullyses S. Grant and George Washington may be deemed racist and torn dorn, or vandalized.

Racism certainly does still exist in our society.  But it exists on an individual basis, not as a part of oppressive societal structures. We should fight racism and put an end to it forever. But not based on institutions. That's not where it exists. Racism exists on an individual level.  Identify an individual racist based on their personal conduct, and deal with them personally. Based on Matthew 18, this seems a more biblical approach to dealing with racism. 

When fighting for a more just society for all races and ethnicities, please recall the important word from Leviticus 19:15 NLT “Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly." In other words, don't favor perceived victim groups, or favor the rich and powerful, instead treat everyone equally.  Sometimes we think we need to give certain groups special privileges to make up for the past, but that is in actuality, a perversion of justice.

Illegal Immigration - Illegal immigration, also referred to as undocumented immigration is the practice of individuals or groups crossing borders of nations without going through customs or immigration departments. Biblically speaking, we are commanded to obey the ruling authorities (Romans 13.)  Very simply, countries have laws. All countries have borders, and laws to cross those borders.  There isn't anything wrong with that. But if we do deal with those who are on the run, disobeying laws, on an individual basis, we ought to treat them with grace, with love, and reach out to care for their needs.  

Matthew 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy."

We should also try to look deeper at the border crisis and it's political realities. It's been suggested that many politicians make use of the crisis, hoping to transform the voting blocks along the border states.  Which is a sad situation, but you know how it is with politicians. They are always looking for the angle.  It's also been suggested that wealthy businesses on Wallstreet want cheap labor.  There are often distinct political motivations behind these issues.  It's ugly, and grim.  But there it is. 

Refugee Advocacy - We ought to care for refugees who are in need. As Deuteronomy 24:14 says, "Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns."

There is no problem with advocating for helping refugees. We should also keep in mind that there can be dangers in assisting refugees, depending upon the ideologies of the places they come from. It always comes down to the struggle between compassion and truth in the church.  Recall that Jesus Christ came full of both grace and truth (John 1:14).  There is a need for balancing the two, in showing compassion, but also being discerning.

Gender Inequality - Does Gender inequality still exist in our society? I'm sure it does. But once again, we must be discerning. One of the key talking points in this debate is the "gender pay gap." Please do be aware this study has been shown to not be accurate.  The study suggested the gender pay gap, has been debunked because it didn't take into account several factors, like job choice, for example. Of course that's not always the case.  Once you factor in differences of lifestyle choices and preferences for certain jobs, the pay gap virtually vanishes. Should women and men be treated equally? Absolutely. But not by force, in my view, but by merit. Women are wonderful, equal with men, and we shouldn't encourage an attitude of hatred or division between the sexes. Receive the promise from Psalm 46:5  "God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns."

Wealth Inequality - The concept here is that wealth inequality exists because the rich are oppressing the poor.  I'm sure there are some cases where that is true.  But it's not a rule for society overall itself.  In a capitalist society, like the United States, one rises and falls economically based on various factors like education, marriage, children, and just how determined you are to work hard and do your best.  It's actually amazing how much people can rise and fall economically in the United States.  For that reason and others, it doesn't seem wise for the church to be encouraging Marxist/Marcusian ideas of wealth inequality.  We as believers are encouraged to be content with what we have, according to Hebrews 13:5 "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

In conclusion, instead of encouraging secular social theory in our church movements, we should look to the Bible, the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to understand what justice is and is not. 

We as Christians need to be careful. Many, sadly, don't really love the word of God. They don't really love Jesus, in fact. They are more focused on ideologies they've been taught. As we know, in the end times there will be many false teachers, and many who turn away from the truth. 

From 2nd Timothy 3:2 "For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred."

For some, not all, the ultimate goal is to transform the church into a progressive movement, in other words, apostasy. For many more, the desire is simply to live out biblical justice.  And that's a sincere and good desire that we should encourage.

We should advocate for those who struggle and suffer. We should stand up for traditional marriage, pro-life causes, ending human trafficking, caring for refugees, advocating for religious liberty, and we should carry the gospel to the lost all over the world.  But we should reject secular social theories based on critical theory, and instead look for our causes in the pages of the Bible. 

Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” -John 7:24 NLT

Monday, June 29, 2020

What is a Spiritual Journey: The Road of Trials

"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good." -1st Peter 4:12-19

We’ve been called to the adventure. We’re on our spiritual journey. Last week we talked about the moment of clarity, where we realize a profound truth, that God is real.

Now we come to the road of trials. We begin a process that is life long in which Christians, followers of Jesus go through trials and tribulations. And we’re going to look at four of the common trials that Christians will go through. But your trials will be your own, as you walk with Jesus. They are indeed unique.

The first trial, the trial of persistence. Will you keep going? It’s a beautiful summers day and you have the joy of Christ in you. And very suddenly the whole sky turns dark, and the rain starts pouring. The evil one begins fighting against you with all his might to stop you, to get you to turn back and go back to the plantation, the slave farm, of the world system as it is today. Go back to the house, go back to your old ways, go back to the bar, leave the church, and the enemy offers us, if you just turn back, I’ll make things easy on you. I’ll give you an easy life. But if you keep going with Jesus I’ll fight you with everything I have.

I had left a life of sin, and I knew early on that it was going to be tough. I felt depression, and anxiety overpowering me every day, but I kept going. Kept showing up at my job. Kept showing up at church. Somehow trying to fight to embrace a new life.

You achieve victory in this trial by doggedly continuing to show up, doggedly refusing to give up, over weeks, months, and years. The enemy is throwing it all at you, but you refuse to give up, you fight forward into the wind, into the rain, into the darkness, and stand firm. The trial of persistence.

The second trial, is the trial of temptation. The trial of temptation is when the evil one whispers to you, it won’t hurt, it won’t become a habit, there’s no slippery slope here. Just try a little. Just one night. It’ll be fine. The trial of temptation is when our old lives call back to us, come back! Get back over here. The beer calls us from the shelf at the supermarket. The cigarettes call us back. The desire to sexually act out comes at you. And you’re hurting, your in the trials. So you know it might make you feel better for a few hours. But you also know, the next morning, you’ll be twice as depressed, and even more broken. And that desire to do it again, will be even stronger. And ever compromise you make will lead to another compromise, and after a few weeks, then months, you’ve left the church, and you are back completely enslaved and trapped in your sin.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? But the enemy whispers to us, saying don’t worry, just once. Don’t worry, you can’t lose your salvation. So it doesn’t really matter! What a lie! If we allow sin to overtake us again, and die in that sin, we will not go to heaven, we will go to hell. You are called to live in purity.

How do we overcome the second trial? We resist the temptation of the evil one. We resist the temptation that comes from our own flesh. It’s not a sin to be tempted. It’s a sin if you indulge in it. So resist temptation. However, if you do succumb to the temptation of sin, and end up enslaved again to sin, which I know does happen for Christians from time to time, you’ve got to pray hard, and repent again. You can always turn from sin again. Jesus washes us clean anew, and we continue on our Christian journey spotless and blameless.

The third trial we face, the trial of the painful experience. An example would be someone close to us dies. A friendship falls apart. A relationship falls apart. Your car breaks down. You lose your job. You fall off your bike and break your arm. You get sick with the flu. These are the random, difficult experiences of life that come against us. We face COVID-19 crisis, would be another example of this. Just a general time of pain. We didn’t cause it, well, maybe we did, maybe we didn’t, but it happens. And we go through a time of painful reflection. This is where you’re sitting by the river just staring, thinking. When you spend time reading a book, and thinking. You talk with a close friend. And you suffer.

How to overcome the painful experience? Well, generally we go through the typical process of suffering and healing. First, we refuse to believe it’s really happening. The shock phase. Next, anger. We get angry about what happened. Bargaining, we try to find some way to stop it from happening. Depression, this is where we really process what happened in our minds. And then acceptance. We accept that it happened. We find a peaceful outlook on it. We are at peace with it. We’ve processed it, and it’s no longer that splinter in our mind driving us mad.

Fourth trial, the trial of apathy. This is usually when you’ve been on the journey a bit longer. You are studying God’s word, you pray, you go to bible study, you share your faith with others, and you volunteer at church. But over time you start to get tired of it. You start to get a little bored with it. That bright fire starts to die down a little bit. And a little bit more, and a bit more. And pretty soon you are becoming apathetic. You start to not care as much anymore. You start to drift a bit.

You overcome this trial by finding ways to re-invigorate your faith walk. Maybe you try something new. You delve deeper into prayer and fasting. You try a new form of evangelism. You watch some youtube sermons that really spark that fire anew. But probably more so you realize this dull period will pass, and you’ll be on fire again, so you simply wait it out, and keep showing up.

Fifth trial is the trial of pride. Ah yes pride, this is a very insidious trial. This trial whispers to us about how great we’re doing. This temptation puffs us up, and makes us think that we did it, not god. This is a dangerous long term trial, because it can happen slowly over months and years without realizing. And pretty soon we’re judging and condemning everyone around us. And we’ve become a religious pharisee, so puffed up with pride that we’ve become useless to God. Watch for this in your life. I watch for it in my life. It will destroy everything good in your ministry.

How do we overcome this trial? We get on our knees before God and confess it. We get low before God and declare that he is God, and we are unworthy servants, simply doing our duty. We humble ourselves. But there is another option, we continue to be prideful, then God will humble us. Through probably some pretty embarrassing moments.

These trials pop up time and again in our lives as believers, in different forms and ways along the journey. They’ll continue until we die and go into the next life. But you may be asking yourself, why? Why does God allow us, in fact lead us into trials and temptations?

Why does God put us through the first trial, the trial of persistence? God is building us. We are the clay, and he is the potter. Persistence builds character in us. What do they say about someone who quits, and give ups? It will become a pattern in their life. And they may spend the rest of their lives quitting everything they try. But if we establish a pattern of persistence, not giving up, we’ll go through our lives seeing things through.

Why the trial of temptation? I remember when I first tried drugs, it seemed harmless enough. But after a few months, I realized I’m desiring this every day. Every time we indulge the temptation, we give more power over to it, until it has us completely. But the same is also true of resisting temptation. Every time we successfully resist a temptation we gain more power to resist it in the future. To the point that years ago I couldn’t go an hour without obsessively thinking about drugs, today, I don’t think about it at all. God establishes in us a pattern of obedience and continues to build like a snowball rolling down a hill.

What about the trial of painful experience? There are two reasons, one when we go through a hard time it keeps us humble. It prevents us from going whacky prideful party animal. It makes us stop and reflect on what’s really important in life. Secondly, it gives us wisdom, so that if we lose a family member, and we meet someone who just lost a family member, we understand their pain and can minister to them in ways no one else can.

Why the trial of apathy? This trial challenges us to grow in our faith. Otherwise we might always sit in the same place, not really drawing closer to God. But apathy makes us search out new ways to draw closer to God and challenges us to be truly on fire for God’s word, sharing it with everyone we meet.

And why the trial of pride? Perhaps because of what happened when Lucifer became Satan. Lucifer became prideful, he was so beautiful, so beloved, that he became prideful, and decided, I’m so great, I’m going to become god. And he fell from all that love and beauty, to darkness and evil. And we face the same struggle as Christians, will we serve God, or serve ourselves? At the end of the day will we give God the credit, or try to take it for ourselves? When we humble ourselves, we show our true devotion to God. That is the way we must walk in. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

What is a Spiritual Journey: The Moment of Realization

Last week we talked about the call to adventure. We start at a place in our spiritual journey where we don’t have any interest in God or spiritual things. And something profound changes in our lives, where we sense that call to take the spiritual adventure.

So we start down the road. We show up at dinner church. We join a bible study. We start to read the Bible. We watch Christian movies. We start to pray. We start to consider, maybe there really is a God. And believe me, we don’t just jump on this train as it goes by.

What’s happening behind the scenes is that God is pulling the strings inside us, drawing us slowly to Himself. In theology they call that prevenient grace. The grace that goes before salvation, you might say. The grace that finds you at the “not interested” phase, and guides you onto the road.

So you’re at the point of the call to the adventure. Many times what happens is we refuse the call. We run back to the dope. We run back to the bottle, the pills. We ditch the church stuff. See ya. But often times, something new will happen that will draw us again to be humbled, and to accept the call to adventure.

So you’ve accepted the call. You’ve begun the journey. Next in the journey, we come to the moment of realization, what Campbell, the author of the “hero with a thousand faces” calls “supernatural aid.”

For Luke Skywalker, in Star Wars A New Hope, this was the moment when he met Ben Kenobi and received instruction, and his father’s lightsaber. In Lord of the Rings, it’s the moment when Frodo meets with Bilbo and receives his armor, the mithril, and the sword, named sting.

For me, this moment would’ve been in 2011, when I had begun to search after spiritual things. And I wasn’t sure what to believe. I used to wear a necklace with the symbols of all the various world religions on it. It symbolized my own exploration of spirituality. I was still very much addicted at this time, but I was searching for truth. And as I’ve shared before I was watching out the window, during a beautiful sunny day, and I was watching hummingbirds buzzing about, wings moving as a blur, dipping their beaks into the tips of flowers that seemed shaped just right to allow the hummingbird entry. And so at this moment, I had a moment of clarity, what you might call a “holy moment” where I realized that indeed there must be a God of the universe.

For a moment in my darkness, and struggle, the glory of God appeared, drawing me to himself. So, have you come to that moment in your own spiritual journey? Have you come to the moment of realization: There really is a God. Jesus is really real. Or perhaps it takes the form of, I will finally decide to follow Him. I’m giving myself to God. I’m giving up cigarettes. I’m throwing out the alcohol. I’m done with sexually acting out.

God’s glory appears at beautiful moments in our lives. That is our moment of clarity, of realization. And indeed it happens through God’s word, through prayer, and in the natural world.

Our scripture today talks about the power of God’s glory, how he shines into a moment. It said this: “7 The Law was carved in letters on stone tablets, and God's glory appeared when it was given. Even though the brightness on Moses' face was fading, it was so strong that the people of Israel could not keep their eyes fixed on him. If the Law, which brings death when it is in force, came with such glory, 8 how much greater is the glory that belongs to the activity of the Spirit! 9 The system which brings condemnation was glorious; how much more glorious is the activity which brings salvation! 10 We may say that because of the far brighter glory now the glory that was so bright in the past is gone. 11 For if there was glory in that which lasted for a while, how much more glory is there in that which lasts forever!”

God’s glory appeared long ago through the old testament law. Indeed those who read it loved it, David himself writes time and again in the psalms, Lord, I love your statutes. I love your law. But in our time an even greater glory came through the activity of the Spirit.

The Spirit moves in this very room. I’ve seen it before. People moved to tears. That’s not me folks I’m just some guy. That’s God’s spirit moving in the room. Scott once said that he felt a hand touch his face as we prayed. That’s God’s spirit. We see people start to live differently. I’ve seen all of you grow and change over the last year. You aren’t the same people. Even those of you who don’t really care so much about God or the Bible. I’ve seen you change too. The Spirit moves. And it’s glorious.

The scripture finishes like this:

12 Because we have this hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who had to put a veil over his face so that the people of Israel would not see the brightness fade and disappear. 14 Their minds, indeed, were closed; and to this very day their minds are covered with the same veil as they read the books of the old covenant. The veil is removed only when a person is joined to Christ. 15 Even today, whenever they read the Law of Moses, the veil still covers their minds. 16 But it can be removed, as the scripture says about Moses: “His veil was removed when he turned to the Lord.”17 Now, “the Lord” in this passage is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. 18 All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.”

So that’s what it’s all about. At the moment of realization, the veil is partially removed, you might say. I was given enough by God in that moment to know that He was really real. It would be another year before he gave me the knowledge to cry out to Jesus Christ. And even at that moment, I didn’t fully understand who Jesus was or what he did until months later. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’re gonna continue this series and explore this spiritual journey. Engage with this journey alright. Seek after God. And our ministry is going to be praying constantly that your eyes are uncovered and you come to see that God really is all in all.

Many of you have spent far too many years sitting on the sidelines, you’re a hero, inside, I can see it in your eyes, but you’re stuck. Addicted. Locked in. Depressed. Lonely. Alcoholic. Self centered. And Christ is the only way you can break free from the gutter that you’re caught in now. Christ took me out of the gutter, why, because I had to make that unthinkably terrible decision, and it was the very last thing I wanted in the world, to give my whole life over to God almighty, something I knew meant everything in my life would have to change. And I just didn’t want to have to do all that, I liked my sin. But I got so desperate, so miserable, so chained to sin for so long, that I finally said ANYTHING is better than what I’m doing now. So cry out in truth to Jesus Christ. Give it all to Him. That unthinkable thing, you must do. Give it all over. Do it quickly. And make a plan to live it out in the future.

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