December 20, 2010

The Will of God (Defining the Will of God)

My brother called me in January, 2006 to tell me he had cancer. In May, he died. Was that the will of God? What if the medicines had reduced the cancer and he was able to live another 6 to 9 months, was that the will of God? If his death from cancer was the will of God, were the doctors attending him fighting against the will of God?  If they had been successful, was that the will of God? Obviously you can't have it both ways. There must be a middle ground to help understand what God will's for his children.

A women looks into the eyes of her husband and very calmly says, "I want a divorce." Was it the will of
God that this union sealed with vows that promised to love "until death do us part", be dissolved? Was it the will of God the wife had the courage to get out of a marriage where the love had long gone.  Was the husband thinking it was the will of God because he too wanted out of the loveless marriage but didn't have the courage to speak up. If they had reconciled, would that have been the will of God?

Two nations find go to war for any number of "good" reasons. Many are killed on each side. Were those deaths the will of God? Does God will war so humans can kill each other? Not my God! And yet each side will invoke the blessings of God. Mothers and fathers will send their sons and daughters to war and pray it is the will of God they return alive. If they do return, every one will rejoice and thank God.  If they do not return, many will tell the mourning parents, it was the will of God.

These situations all beg for an explanation. How can we explain the will of God in the face of these contradictions? Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, the pastor of London's City Temple, in the middle of the German bombings in World War II, delivered a series of sermons on the subject of the will of God.  Those sermons were collected in a book of the same name.  I have borrowed his concepts of the will of God for this series.

Dr. Weatherhead discusses three sub divisions to help understand the bigger concept of God's Will. Perhaps I can help illustrate the three sub-divisions from personal experience. My brother, Phillip, was a rebellious youth and young adult with all that implies.  In his adulthood, he began to settle down but still had an addiction to smoking and alcohol. I suspect he rarely entered a church and rarely read the Bible.

So how did the will of God work in Phillip's life? Certainly it was not God's will that he live the life he did.  God's intentional will for Phillip was for him to live a life that enjoyed all the benefits of being a child of God. But Phillip's choices in life reflect his choices not God's.  Phillip faced many hardships in his life, most of which came from his choices. But God did not abandon him. The truth of the verses in Revelation 3:20 (NIV), "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock, if any man hears my voice and opens the door, I come in and eat with him and he with me."  Ultimately, Phillip developed the cancer that killed him. But God was able to use this particular circumstance to bring about the His ultimate will for Phillip's life.  Phillip, perhaps recognizing he did not have the ability to control the situation, opened the door and let Jesus in. About six weeks before his death, Phillip accepted Jesus as his savior. He was baptized in that faith.  In the final analysis, God was able to use the circumstances of Phillip's free will choices to bring about His ultimate will for his life. Amen!

God has an intentional will for our lives. When life's situations do not allow God's intentional will to be done, He is still able to work with us to protect and guide us. While God's will for our lives may be changed by our free will or evils in the world, ultimately God's will prevails and can not be defeated.

Within God's Will, there is the intentional will, the circumstantial will and the ultimate will of God. We will look at these three sub-divisions of God's will in subsequent posts.

December 14, 2010

The six megathemes changing religious environment in the U.S

I found this story while searching Religious News on Google.  It is a bit long and it does not fit into my series concept for articles, but I thought it very revealing about the state of Christianity in Postmodern America. I extracted excerpts from the article. I suggest you read the complete article.  There is also a link to the authors of the study.(Note information below should be considered as coming from the Barna Group report unless comments are my comment in italics). 
Change usually happens slowly in the Church. But a review of the past year's research conducted by the Barna Group provides a time-lapse portrayal of how the religious environment in the U.S. is morphing into something new.
Analyzing insights drawn from more than 5,000 non-proprietary interviews conducted over the past 11 months, George Barna indicated that the following patterns were evident in the survey findings.

1. The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate. ...
data suggest that
biblical literacy is likely to decline significantly. The theological free-for-all that is encroaching in Protestant churches nationwide suggests the coming decade will be a time of unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency. (Most of us do not know what we believe. Pew Research developed a religious test to determine the religious knowledge of Americans.  Fifteen of the questions are on their site. I suggest you take the test and see how you compare. No, I won't tell you how I did.)

2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
Despite technological advances that make communications instant and far-reaching, Christians are becoming more spiritually isolated from non-Christians than was true a decade ago...With atheists becoming more strategic in championing their godless world view, as well as the increased religious plurality driven by education and immigration, the increasing reticence of Christians to engage in faith-oriented conversations assumes heightened significance. (We have this Good News and apparently are reluctant to share it with others. Why?)

3. Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.
When asked what matters most, teenagers prioritize education, career development, friendships, and travel. Faith is significant to them, but it takes a back seat to life accomplishments and is not necessarily perceived to affect their ability to achieve their dreams. Among adults the areas of growing importance are lifestyle comfort, success, and personal achievements....Practical to a fault, Americans consider survival in the present to be much more significant than eternal security and spiritual possibilities. (Perhaps we just do not believe Jesus when he said, "Seek you first the Kingdom of God and all these other things will be added to it". We continue to believe in our own abilities and not relying on God's abilities. It is hard to obey Jesus command, "Do not be anxious".)

4. Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.
Largely driven by the passion and energy of young adults, Christians are more open to and more involved in community service activities than has been true in the recent past. While we remain more self-indulgent than self-sacrificing, the expanded focus on justice and service has struck a chord with many....To facilitate service as a long-term way of living and to provide people with the intrinsic joy of blessing others, churches have a window of opportunity to support such action with biblical perspective. And the more that churches and believers can be recognized as people doing good deeds out of genuine love and compassion, the more appealing the Christian life will be to those who are on the sidelines watching.  (Our best witness is our action.)

5. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
The challenge today is for Christian leaders to achieve the delicate balance between representing truth and acting in love. The challenge for every Christian in the U.S. is to know his/her faith well enough to understand which fights are worth fighting, and which stands are non-negotiable. There is a place for tolerance in Christianity; knowing when and where to draw the line appears to perplex a growing proportion of Christians in this age of tolerance. (I wish I had written that!)

6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.
Christianity has arguably added more value to American culture than any other religion, philosophy, ideology or community. Yet, contemporary Americans are hard pressed to identify any specific value added. Partly due to the nature of today’s media, they have no problem identifying the faults of the churches and Christian people....In a period of history where image is reality, and life-changing decisions are made on the basis of such images, the Christian Church is in desperate need of a more positive and accessible image. The primary obstacle is not the substance of the principles on which Christianity is based, and therefore the solution is not solely providing an increase in preaching or public relations. The most influential aspect of Christianity in America is how believers do--or do not--implement their faith in public and private....With little time or energy available for or devoted to research and reflection, it is people’s observations of the integration of a believer’s faith into how he/she responds to life’s opportunities and challenges that most substantially shape people’s impressions of and interest in Christianity. (The underline is mine. If we are to be Christian in an increasingly non Christian world, we must begin living like Christians.  We need to understand what it means to be Christian. See 1st John 3:18: Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with action and in truth.)  

About the Research
This summary is based upon a series of national research studies conducted in the Barna Poll by the Barna Group throughout 2010. Each study was conducted via telephone interviews with a random sample of adults selected from across the continental United States, age 18 and older. With one exception, each study included a minimum of 1,000 adults; the exceptions were one study among 400 adults, and one among 603 adults. Each survey included a proportional number of interviews among people using cell phones. The data set for each study was subjected to minimal statistical weighting to calibrate the aggregate sample to known population percentages in relation to several key demographic variables.

Mosaics are individuals born between 1984 and 2002. Baby Busters are individuals born between 1965 and 1983.

The western states encompass Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.

Barna Group (which includes its research division, the Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization that conducts primary research, produces media resources pertaining to spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries. Located in Ventura, California, Barna has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

December 8, 2010

Who's reading "I Believe"?

The first post on I Believe was on July 8, 2010.  As of today December 8, 2010, the following are some interesting statistics. Counting the United States, I Believe has had visitors from 14 countries. The top five, other than the US, are Russia, Poland, Canada, South Korea and China/UK (tied). In the US, I Believe has had visitors from Tennessee, California, North Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana and Georgia.

There have been 1,309 page views all time, 172 last month and 62 in the past week.

The most read pages are Bible Versus to Ponder, My Study List and What shall We Do About Those
Humans? I predict The Bible Online will slowly move into the top three as more visitors discover the great links to Bible study sources online.

The most read posts are
     From the I Believe series ... The Bible is my Spiritual Guidebook
                                            ... In the Bible (Mostly)
     From the Being a Christian Ain't Easy series
                                          ...Part 1
                                          ...Part 2

In the next few weeks, I will start a series on Prayer.  The following series will be on The Will of God.

December 2, 2010

Being a Christian Ain't Easy (Part 5 Faith and Works)

Faith or Works or Both?
We know the problem.  Humans are not capable of being “good” all the time.  Our intentions are to do the right thing, but it is hard to do the right thing. Our natural instinct of self preservation makes it difficult to submit the control of our lives to someone else. God knew this and sent Jesus to bear the punishment that is required for our sins. It’s like Jesus agreed to serve a 30 year prison sentence because I committed some heinous crime. And all I need to do is believe that Jesus is taking my punishment.

It all sounds pretty easy doesn’t it? If that were the end of the story, it would be easy. But James, the

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