"We humans keep brainstorming options and plans, but God's purpose prevails."Now let's jump over to Mark chapter 11 where Jesus cleanses the temple. You know the story-Jesus walks in and starts tipping over tables and driving out the sellers and money changers and says in verse 17 (NRSV):
"My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations. But you have made it a den of robbers."The notes on this verse say that Jesus wasn't opposed to the temple, he was opposed to what it had become. People looked to the temple to keep them in right standing with God-to cleanse them. But people were not living out that righteousness in their daily lives. Salvation had become cheap. It had no meaning. The temple had become a building for buying and selling rather than a place of meaning!
Well, that's how a lot of people view churches today. They are not opposed to religion, rather they find that church has no meaning to them. There is no depth, there is no "why does this matter"? If you look at the studies that have been done, a good majority believe in God and they say that they are spiritual but they have no faith affiliation. Church, in their minds, involves marrying and burying and baptising your children so gramma will get off your case! We know that churches are getting better at greeting people at the front door but we lose them out the side door. We wonder why and then we start making "plans" in order to "fix" the problem!
Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds around the world in places that you wouldn't expect. Africa, Asia, South America-these are areas where faith is flourishing despite the obstacles that these individuals face on a daily basis. There are some places around the world where being a Christian will get you killed if your faith is discovered! These are not easy places to practice your faith, these are hard places and yet faith flourishes! Many of these places do not have church buildings. They do not have Bibles. They don't have big budgets or "special programs". What do they have? They have faith with depth and meaning! They understand sacrifice and taking risks and they choose to follow. Cushy Christianity doesn't apply!
So if I had to put my finger on one thing in America that would explain our faith problem I would have to say it is Cushy Christianity. Grace is cheap and it comes with no strings attached and no sacrifices to be made. Instead of asking God what his plan is, we create our own do it yourself plans to fix our problems. We lack depth and we teach but we teach without meaning. We don't ask our members to crack open a Bible and read the words for themselves and think about what it is saying. We don't ask our members to pray daily. Mission is something you do to feel good. It's all just very comfortable. It doesn't involve risk and it certainly doesn't express something meaningful. In short, we are biblically and spiritually illiterate.
In the land of the free you would think that churches would be bursting at the seams. Think about it-we have the freedom to worship anywhere we want without fear of reprisal! Not only that, we can worship openly and publicly! We can read our Bible in our home without fear of going to jail. We can pray privately or publicly without fear of being charged with a crime! We are blessed, yet we take it for granted! We are free to do things that others only dream about! It's time we start taking our faith walk a little more seriously.
If our church leaders want our churches to be taken more seriously then we need to start preaching and teaching more seriously. We need to start answering the question, "what does it mean?" Spiritual faith and discipleship will bloom when we start adding some depth to an individual's faith walk. We are asking people to go out and make disciples yet we don't equip them with the tools to explain why making disciples is important! What does this church believe? Why does it believe this? What scriptures back up this belief? How can you use this in your everyday life? This is the depth I am talking about. These are the tools that show us that faith means something real.
As individuals we can choose to deepen our faith walk. We can open our Bibles and read and study. We can read about prayer and practice specific forms of prayer. We can openly share with others. We can choose to take greater risks. We can participate in mission work. We can go to church or join a small group of fellow believers in order to encourage and share our faith with others. We have the freedom to do all of these things so we can choose to walk a path that is more meaningful instead of taking it for granted! We do not have to choose Cushy Christianity! We can become the change that we wish to see in our churches our homes and our communities. We are blessed with the freedom to exercise our religion! Let's stop taking that precious right for granted!
The thing that really made me aware of how much I take my religious freedom for granted was when I read about St. Ignatius and St. PolycarpPolycarp we read about how the leaders of the city came up to him as he was being brought in and begged him to recant his faith in Jesus Christ. They liked him, they really didn't want to crucify him and basically they said "just recant publicly and then you can go do your own thing and this will be all over with." He refused. St. Ignatius told his fellow church members to stop trying to get him out of his date with the Lions because he knew he was going to a better place and he thanked God for thinking that he was worthy enough to meet this sort of fate in the name of Christ! Even when faced with death they didn't deny their faith! Could I say the same thing? Could you say the same thing? Their faith had meaning and depth and it saw them through to the end!
It's up to you to make a choice. Cushy Christianity or faith with depth and meaning? You have the freedom to choose! Let's stop taking our freedom of religion for granted!