Monday, July 26, 2010

Spiritual Disorientation

When flying, an aircraft pilot experiences many different kinds of weather conditions. One of the worst occurs when he is unable to either see the horizon or the ground. Points of reference that have guided him disappear from sight. His perceptions become unreliable. He no longer is sure which way is up or down. He is experiencing “spatial disorientation”. Spatial disorientation can be deadly; this phenomenon is thought to have caused the death of John F. Kennedy Jr.

To overcome spatial disorientation a pilot must be trained to use his cockpit instruments. He has to trust them when he can’t see the way ahead. They will tell him what is real. Because of the likelihood that it will happen, flight instructors spend time teaching their student pilots to fly by instruments alone. They must fly on autopilot, even when it appears to be totally nonsensical. Using GPS navigation tools, the autopilot system can safely bring the plane to its destination.

The same effect can happen in our spiritual lives. There are many times we face difficulties. God may then seem very far away and distant from us. We can experience spiritual disorientation in our lives. And it can be just as deadly to our spiritual lives as spatial disorientation is for the pilot of a plane. These are the times we need to let our spiritual autopilot system, faith, take over. But too often we have not effectively listened to our flight instructor, the Holy Spirit and followed his leading. If our faith and trust in God is not actively growing, we will not be prepared for the battles ahead. Thus our faith is weakened, and may not be able to pull us through the difficult periods of our lives.

The life of the prophet Daniel illustrates the results of living on spiritual autopilot. What allowed him to function in this way? Times of spiritual preparation and discipline. His decision to refuse the king’s meat was not spontaneous; he resolved in his heart to decline the king’s food. Many times he was in situations where he had a choice as to whether he would live on faith or not. Each time his faith was increased, making it easier to run on spiritual autopilot during times of crisis. During the long desert march from Jerusalem to Babylon he never lost faith in the fact that God was with him, thus he was willing to make a stand for God in his new environment. He and his friends refused to eat of the king’s food, and he declined to take credit for the ability to interpret the king’s dream. He told one king he was going insane and another that his reign was over, never compromising his faith in the pronouncements that could have easily cost him his life.. During the ordeal over the fiery furnace, his friends went on autopilot, as did Daniel when threatened with the lion’s den. Their practice in the little things prepared them for the larger crises when they came.

A pilot must spend long hours in flight and on a simulator, pass knowledge and practical exams as well as demonstrate flight proficiency before being certified for flying by instrument. In our spiritual lives we must also spend many hours with God in study and prayer in order to be able to spontaneously switch over to spiritual autopilot when the storms of life buffet us. We must be able to trust him even when it doesn’t seem to make sense. How’s your autopilot system? During rocky times will you switch on faith or experience spiritual disorientation?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Modern Idols

When reading the Old Testament it is easy to ask why the Old Testament people could have had so much trouble with idols. The prophets are continuously rebuking them for following and worshipping idols. It is easy for us in the twenty first century to think of them as being superstitious and unsophisticated. Believing in idols is somehow very old and quaint. We have grown beyond such things. In our modern times, no one believes in and worships idols any more. Or do they? Perhaps we do so, only giving them more modern names.

There are four idols which are frequently worshipped in the world today; power, control, approval and comfort. We can describe them by putting them into sentences. Power idolatry can be described in the following manner. "I am irritated, discontented or unsatisfied unless --- I have power and influence over others.” This leads to the desire to always be in command of others, making decisions for them and controlling them. Control idolatry is described by the sentence "I am irritated, discontented or unsatisfied unless --- I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of _____.” It might be our weight, our addictions, our jobs, etc. This leads to the belief that we should be in total charge of our lives, the master of our own destiny. Approval idolatry is described "I am irritated, discontented or unsatisfied unless --- I am loved and respected by _____." We may seek approval from our spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend, parent or child or boss. Approval idolatry leads to conditions of co-dependence where we are always looking for approval from others. The final idol is comfort. "I am irritated, discontented or unsatisfied unless --- I have this kind of pleasure experience, and a particularly desirable quality of life." Comfort idolatry leads to narcissism, hedonism and the pursuit of personal happiness.

The danger in worshipping these idols is that all idols always disappoint. They are weak: They can't deliver. When you succeed; they only raise the bar to a higher level. You are never satisfied, always wanting more. They will never forgive you when you fail. They are harmful and grievous, causing pain and harm to oneself as well as others. They hurt you spiritually, emotionally and physically. They hurt others by undermining your ability to love. Most importantly, by going after these idols one is saying to God: "Jesus is not enough. I also need _________ in order to be happy and content with my life.” The perceived need for happiness and comfort often leads to the compromise of our morality and the breakup of families. How many divorces are caused by succumbing to the comfort idol? Teenagers particularly find the approval idol enticing, often doing things they wouldn’t normally do in order to gain peer approval. Many relationships are broken permanently due to a person’s worship of the power idol. How many of the weekly visits to one’s psychologist result from finding that the control idol is a hard taskmaster? All four of these modern idols exact a huge price from their followers.

The idols of power, control, approval and comfort are all counter to God’s desire for our lives. In his kingdom the first shall be last and the last shall be first; Jesus, the Lord of our lives, is the one in control; we should be more concerned about God’s approval of our lives than those around us, and we need only rely on God for our daily needs. Put yourself into the sentences that describe these idols. Which one has the most allure for you?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Embassy Christianity

When living abroad, a person is bound by the laws of the country in which he lives. But when he enters the American embassy located in that country, he is bound to obey the laws of the United States for as long as he is in the embassy compound. This makes sense when living in a foreign country. But it is dangerous when we take the same approach in our religious life. There are many in our secular world today who believe that religion is a private personal matter which shouldn’t affect the rest of our lives. While we can live for God on Sunday, we should not let our religious faith affect the rest of the week. They expect us to live as embassy Christians: following the laws of God while at church but following the laws of society when outside of church. This view has even led some to desire to replace freedom of religion with freedom of worship. We can worship as we want, but make sure to keep our religion on the sidelines, where it is ineffective in our daily life. The results of such thinking, as noted in various surveys, show that the lifestyles of many Christians are practically the same as society at large. The only real difference is that Christians may attend church on Sunday.

I wonder how many of us have succumbed to this approach in our relationship with God. Do we order our lives after the pattern of the world for the majority of our lives? But then for one hour on Sunday (0.6% of our week), we switch to following God? This attitude can be called embassy living. Others have coined it as “living for God on Sunday and for the Devil the rest of the week.”

While it is true that as the Apostle Peter says, we are strangers and aliens here on earth, God does not want us to have an embassy mentality. He wants our total allegiance 24 / 7. He calls us to holiness. As citizens of his kingdom, we are bound by his laws and commands. He calls us to be a part of a redemptive community that lives in and reaches out to a fallen world. We are to be, as the Apostle Paul says, ambassadors for Christ.
An ambassador is the representative of the government whom he serves. In effect, he is an extension of that government. He has the responsibility to faithfully serve those he represents. He doesn’t represent his country only when on the embassy grounds. Wherever he goes, whatever he does, he represents his country. His every action is governed by his reflection upon its effect on the country he serves.

As Christians, we are to have the same type of attitude. Wherever we go, whatever we do, God expects us to be his ambassadors. All of our actions should be governed by the question of how aligned they are with the desires of our King. As representatives of His kingdom, we are to represent Christ to the world. We are to be incarnational Christians, living Christ-like lives. Anyone who sees us should see Christ. He expects us to live this way day in and day out. It is only through incarnational living that we will have an impact upon the world. God does not want us to be embassy Christians. He wants us to fully represent Him here on earth. How do you live your life? Do you live your life as an ambassador or as an embassy Christian?