Please, No More Information!

Recently I read an article that started with the following statement,

Do you know what your problem is? Your problem is not that you are uninformed. That is what you might have thought your problem was. Your problem is also not that you lack information. This is a common misconception. In fact, people nowadays have lots of information… Ezra Klein’s philosophy in running Vox.com has been precisely this: people do not need facts, they need explanations.

I didn’t agree with the article, but the above statement reminded of a church meeting I’d attended a few days earlier.

The meeting was good. After a great time of worship, the pastor introduced the guest speaker who spent 30 minutes or so talking about how every believer was a light and the salt of this world. He talked about the properties of salt and light. He said what it meant for each believer to have those qualities. He gave examples using a flashlight while the lights in the sanctuary were dimmed. He had us tell the person next to us how precious they were for being the light and salt of this earth. By the time he was done, most of us knew more about salt and light than we needed.who-wants-change

While sitting there, I wondered how many believers in that room weren’t already familiar with Christ’s teaching in Matt 5:13-14? How many needed more information about those verses? How many had not, over and over again, heard what salt and light do? I am sure that for most of those present, the problem was not lack of information, but what to do with it. I’m confident that everyone left the meeting feeling great about who they were in Christ, but to what end?

I am a practical follower of Christ. I believe, at this age, after being a believer for over 40 years, I don’t need more information on what it means to be a disciple/servant of Jesus. What I need is how to implement all I’ve learned about what it means to be a Christian.

I wish, unlike most teachers I’ve heard all these years, our teacher that night had sent us home with some practical steps on how to make our lights shine, or how to attract people to our saltiness, so they become thirsty for the things of God. I wish he had said something like:

Now that you know you are the light and the salt of this world. Now that you’ve become aware of who you are in Christ, I want you to implement what you learned tonight. Go from here and be the light and salt to your own neighborhoods. Fulfill God’s greatest commandment—loving your neighbor through God’s love—by, at least, getting to know your next-door neighbor’s name, offer to mow his/her lawn (if they need it), make a casserole dish and take it to them, or something like that.

In order to be the light and salt of this world, the majority of us doesn’t need any more facts and information on the subject. We need to put to work all that we already know. And for that, we need teachers who can give us simple and yet practical ways to achieve that goal. And for the Church to stop being just a hearer/information gatherer and become a doer also.

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Please Do Not Go To A Bible College 2

A few years ago, I posted a blog, Please Don’t Go To A Bible College. I wrote the article after teaching at a small Bible college for five years and noticing many students committing themselves to thousands of dollars in student loans to earn a four-year degree, which could only land them a job that

  1. a) had nothing to do with so-called ministry and
  2. b) they could have gotten with their high school degree — “Would you like whipped cream on top?”

At the time, I got a lot of feedback on the post, especially from some of my former students. However, a few months ago I received the following long email from David. A young man I’ve never met. To keep this blog as short as possible, I have only included the Reader’s Digest version of David’s email.

Mr. Afshar,

I’ve read your article on not going to Bible College over a dozen times. I agree with you 100%. You have one of the very, very, very few articles on the internet about this subject and I decided to finally email you asking for two things: 1) advice and 2) you write a follow-up article.

After high school, being terrified to be out of God’s will, rather than joining the military to work on nuclear reactors, (An ASVAB test had highly qualified him for that position.) David, who comes from a Pentecostal background, felt he was called to be a missionary, so he went to a Bible college.

After finishing college, he tried to go to Japan as a missionary, but all his plans failed, so he tried to pursue a Master’s program to, as he put it, “…bring another skill to the table…” It was then that he found out his former Bible college’s accreditation was so poor that the only school that would accept him for graduate work was a seminary.

After the door on Japan closed, he applied all over the country for a youth pastor position while “volunteering everywhere like crazy” trying to build up his resume. But he was turned down everywhere mostly due to being single. He couldn’t find a job even at McDonalds or Starbucks.

Today, at the age of 32, David is back to school again starting from scratch. None of his credits, even English, was transferable. He has three more years to complete his BS. He’s already been awarded the engineering student of the year, been put on the board of directors for a non-profit organization that gives scholarship to qualified students, has an internship at an aerospace company, and is waiting to hear back from NASA regarding a grant for a summer project (According to his last text, he got it).

If it wasn’t for the following, we could all say, “All’s well that ends well.” However, this is not the end of the story. David continued with these sobering words:

Going through all of that has left me in a bad shape. I am cynical about the things of God. I have trouble seeing God as someone who is good and blesses. I constantly struggle with disappointment, disillusionment, anger, and regret. I remember imagescountless sermons on hearing how God will, “open doors” ,”bless my sacrifices”, and etc. My anger is affecting my schoolwork now (My 3.81 GPA will drop down considerably after this semester). I don’t have a dating life because no women in her mid-20s to mid-30s wants to marry a guy who doesn’t have a job and won’t get one for at least three years. I did ALL the things I was told to do and this is where it has left me. I’m ashamed of having gone to a Bible college, and these days I do not tell people.

Because I had many students who went through what Dave is experiencing — and I’m deeply sorry to say that some now consider themselves to be atheists — I wrote another post a few years back to deal exactly with the above issues and questions. Please see, Modernity, Post-Modernity, Metanarrative, And….

In that article I showed how the church, in general, has made God a being who operates like a computer: by correctly using a set of programs and algorithms, God will give you the right answer. And if the answers are not what you expected, it is due to your insufficient input (lack of faith, sin in your life, not reading your Bible enough, not praying hard enough, not being present at every church service, not tithing, and…) and hardly ever preparing us for the reaction of a sovereign God whose answers might often be, “NO.”

Dave ended his email with these questions,

How do I move on? How do I get past the regret and anger? How do I get into a good relationship with God? How do I let go? Do I need to see a therapist and who would I see or how do I find one? How do I heal? How do I deal with being sexually frustrated and not being able to do anything for at least three more years and when it is slim pickings in your 30s?

Could you please write another article in case there is anyone like me, who is going through the same thing?

Since receiving this email, I’ve spent a good hour talking to Dave on the phone. He’s a brilliant and articulate young man. I don’t know how much I was able to help him. That’s why I need you to help me answer the above questions. What would you say to Dave? Please give me some practical advice and not just spiritual clichés.

 

Why So Many “Dones” And “Nones”?

As I came out of the bookstore, I had one thought in mind, “I wish I was dead!” The thought of death was the most soothing thought I had had since I’d started college.

The year was 1971 and after two semesters of college, it was obvious that getting a degree in civil engineering, something that had brought me to the US, was not going to be that easy.

In two semesters, I’d gotten nothing but lousy grades, which had made me quite ashamed of being the failure that I’d become. But even more painful was letting down my parents, who had made a great sacrifice to get their oldest to America. So, not being able to live up to a standard that my Iranian culture had set before me, my next step was committing suicide. But that day, as I came out of the school’s bookstore something happened that gave me a glimmer of hope.

As I stepped out the door, with the weight of the whole world on my shoulders and my head bowed down, the guy coming towards me was dancing and scat singing. As he got next to me, he looked me in the eyes and asked, “How are you?”

imageedit_2_2122402828Never being one who hides his emotions, but at the same time not expecting anything, I said, “I’m not doing well.”

What happened next, as simple as it might sound to some of my readers, was something that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.

The man stopped dead in his track and asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?” A stranger, a man I didn’t know stopped and offered to help me. I needed that so much. I deeply wanted to know that someone cared about this worthless failure of a man.

I don’t remember what happened next. I might have said, “No, thanks! And went on my way” But I still remember that act of kindness, and try to implement it in my Christian walk whenever I can.

————————————————————————

I’m invited to fill in for my friend who is an adjunct professor at a Bible college. As it is my habit, I show up early. Because it was lunchtime, I sit on the retaining wall next to the entrance to the refectory (Whatever happened to the dining hall?). I want to see how the students react towards a stranger who is much older than they are and seems not to belong to their school.

As these Bible college students, our future Christian leaders, begin to pass by me, I stare at them in hope of,

  1. Out of respect for an elder, they would greet me, and
  2. At least by smiling at me, acknowledge me as a man who is made in the image of the God that they would be studying right after lunch.

Out of about 100 students who pass me by, only a few of them acknowledge my being and give me a hurried glance. That breaks my heart. Don’t they realize that I might desperately be in need of a smile, a “how are you?” an affirmation that I am still a human being made in the image of God?

‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t come across of an article about the “Dones” (The believers who’ve left the church) and the “Nones” (The nominal Christians who’ve left the church), lamenting the fact that church attendance is drastically dropping in the US.

Many of these articles sound like Chicken Little running around and screaming, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling. People are leaving the church. What can we do to bring them back? Maybe if the church offers better programs, then people will stay and the ’Dones’ will come back and the “Nones’ will be attracted to the church.” But very few talk about why these people have left and why the Millennials are not going to church.

The issue isn’t having better programs. The issue isn’t having strobe lights and fog machines or having the music so loud that you need to hand out earplugs to the parishioners as they enter the sanctuary on Sunday mornings. I personally have no problems with any of that. But that will not solve some of the much deeper issues the church needs to face and resolve.

To think that better programs will solve the crisis the church is facing is like the old joke about a man who had 3 ugly daughters (Upon reading the word “ugly”, I wonder how many of my young readers needed to retreat to their safe spaces while clinging to their teddy bears?). One day as he’s walking on the beach, the man comes across a bottle and when he opens it a genie pops out.

“For freeing me from this prison, I’ll grant you a wish. What is it that you want?” said the genie.

Showing genie a map, the man said, “ I love Hawaii, but it’s quite expensive to travel there several times a year. I want a bridge over the ocean that will directly connect LA to Hawaii.”

The genie looked at the map and said, “I’m just a genie, not God. What you’re asking is out of my hands. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Yes! I wish for my daughters to be married. Can you find them husbands?” pleaded the man.

“Do you have a picture of them?”

So, the man excitedly pulled a photo out of his wallet and showed it to the genie upon looking at it, the genie said, “Let me see the map again!”

There’s a broken bridge between the church and the people. Until we rebuild that bridge; until we learn to smile at the old man sitting on the retaining wall rather than being too busy parsing Hebrew and Greek words for our next Sunday sermon on how to love people, until we learn our neighbor’s name who’s lived next to us for several years, until we acknowledge the fact that we’re all made in the image of God and should be treated as such, and until the church learns to love for no reason, but to obey Christ’s commandment, she will continue to be as unattractive as the above three daughters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If You Don’t Change Them, They Will Swallow You UP!

 On the Sunday after 9/11 my message to my Iranian church started by me asking the following question and answer.
Who put a gun to your head and demanded that you leave Iran and come to America?
If you don’t like living in America, I’ll personally buy you a one-way ticket and send you back to Iran.
Using Jer. 29:4-7, I then went on to show them, as immigrants in this country, what our responsibilities towards America should be. Once I made them aware of our role as immigrants, I then challenged them, as followers of Christ, to put aside our Third World corrupt habits that almost all of us were raised with, and be a light and salt to our community.
Over a year ago, I felt the need to preach the same message again, but this time to English speaking churches—Christians who are born and raised in America—along with a long disclaimer repeated throughout my message. I felt the need to include the disclaimer because these days, many Americans take offense to everything, even on behalf of those who are not asking for it. So, I had to start my message with the following warning, which I kept repeating throughout my teaching:
Please be advised that I gave this message to my IRANIAN church, and it is NOT directed at you. By the way, after I was done preaching it, the whole church gave me a standing ovation, so PLEASE don’t get offended on their behalf.
My message had to do with change, that of heart, mind, soul and behavior. It was an attempt to help them become more like those who belong to the Community of Jesus. It challenged them to outflowing action that would influence the adverse Iranian community that surrounds them. In doing so, I gave them example after example of the corruption that exists within much of our culture. The type of Third World mentality that is so, so foreign to the majority of American Christians, but so, so natural to us who were born and raised in Iran.
“But, why are you giving this message to the American church,” one might ask.
Because I am very concerned about the type of society my grandchildren might be facing in America.
In his article, 4 Trends in Christianity That Could Scare You, Ed Stetzer says,
As the Nones (Nominal/Cultural Christians) rise in their number, Christian influence on culture will begin to wane. The minority of Christians in a culture will begin to feel even more like a minority when more nominals become Nones. As people no longer claim to be Christians, Christianity will be further marginalized…
Although Mr. Stetzer considers this to be something positive for the future of the church—She then will be full of REAL (Whatever that may be according to him) Christians.—he doesn’t take into account the vacuum this lack of Christian influence will create in the society. Those of other mentality/cultural mindset, i.e., Muslims, will not sit back and wait for the Christians to easily once again get their influence back. These non-Christians will fill the void.
In his recent column in Los Angeles Times, How corruption abroad threatens U.S. national security, Doyle McManus wrote,

 We often look at corruption as a secondary issue in international affairs: as a moral problem that allows Third World governments to steal from their people and gets in the way of equitable economic development…But the lesson of the collapse of the Iraqi army, an army built with $25 billion in U.S. aid, is this: Corruption isn’t only a moral issue; it’s a national security issue, too.

That’s the message of Sarah Chayes, a former reporter for National Public Radio, who spent 10 years working on economic development projects in Afghanistan — only to find that corruption was getting in the way of nearly everything she did.

 I want the American church to understand what happens when she losses her influence in society, an influence that is directly related to the teachings of Christ. I long for the church to realize what an unscrupulous society awaits her if she doesnt stand up for Christian Principles and offer the life changing teachings of Christ to those around her, especially those of us from the Third World.
After hearing my message at his church, a member, a white American, who was offended by what I’d said, asked the following question,
“So, what is the redemptive value in this message?”
My answer: If you don’t change my mindset with the teachings of Jesus, I WILL swallow you up.

Not At My Church!

The name of my organization is Shahzam Factor…Seeing church different. The tagline has to do with something I have begged the American church to do for over 30 years, CHANGE. The following article is about that very subject. It’s written by my friend CK who, from time to time, will be doing guest appearance on this blog.                                                                                             Shah
                                                                                                         
Why is it so difficult for us to realize the need for change? From churches and businesses, to non-profit organizations and even families, so often we fail to see the need for change. It seems that we so often need to come to the brink of disaster before we come to terms that if we don’t change, our organization, our relationship, or our church will fail.
As I have researched “change” in my graduate studies the past two years, it has struck me how difficult change is for people, people in some of the most successful companies, people throughout history, even people in the Bible. Let me give you a couple of examples.
World Class Medical Center Nearly Closes
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts is one of the leading hospitals in the world. The quality of this institution is due in part to the long standing and coveted relationship with Harvard University. Many of the doctors who practice and teach at the medical center also teach at Harvard. However, this institution nearly closed. For years, the medical center was losing money. During this time, several CEOs hired reputable consulting firms to determine why the medical center was consistently losing money. Report after report was submitted to the executives, board of directors, and the chief medical staff. Yet nothing changed and the medical center continued to lose money. It wasn’t until Paul Levy was appointed CEO in 2002 that things changed.
In Levy’s first few months on the job, he faced the fact that the medical center was nearly bankrupt, and that the governor and city officials were planning to take possession of the institution. But Levy had a plan to revamp operations and was able to convince the governor to delay the closure for six months. Confronted with the fact that they were about to lose everything, the medical center’s executives, board of directors, medical staff, and employees finally saw the need for change and made some tough decisions. Over those six months, Levy spent a great deal of his time explaining what needed to change—from leasing space on the expansive campus, and cutting jobs, to refining operations, and restructuring the medical staff and board of directors. He also communicated how the changes would take place and secured the support of everyone involved. His plan worked. Today, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is going strong.
Resistance to Change in the Bible
The Bible, particularly the Old Testament, can be seen as a book about people who resisted change. Prophet after prophet warned the Israelites to change their ways otherwise judgment would come. But they didn’t and judgment did come—they were captured and displaced. In the New Testament, Jesus proclaimed the message of peace, love, and reconciliation to God. He performed the most powerful act of love, ever. Yet, people who heard his message and saw miracles did not believe him or change how they lived their lives. For more than 2,000 years millions of people who have heard the gospel refused to repent, to believe, to love, to receive grace, and to see the need to change their lives.
Any believer, who has evangelized, especially pastors, would probably understand how difficult it is for people to change their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. However, believers, especially pastors, are the very people, who need to realize the need for change. Modern-day prophets—the statisticians and researchers—are sounding the warnings. The Hartford Institute of Religion Research estimates fewer than 20% of Americans actually attend church every Sunday, more than 4,000 churches shut down every year, and between 2010 and 2012 less than half of churches added any new members. In June 2014, CharismaNews published an article by Ed Stetzer, examining trends, which paint a picture of a dwindling church. In their book, “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore”, Joani and Thom Schultz show how church membership is declining and why. Research conducted by Steve McSwain, author and consultant, was published on Huffington Post showing statistics that the church is in decline across different denominations.
Are we going to be like the Israelites and ignore the prophets? Will church leaders be like the doctors at Beth Israel Medical Center and disregard the research only to say “Not at my church”? Are you going to be like those whom you have shared the Gospel with and yet, never saw the need to change? We have passed post-modernism and entered a new age when EVERYTHING is changing. Right or wrong, People who were once employed are becoming free-agents; schools are shifting from teacher-centered instruction to student-centered learning; established industries are being threatened by new business models; social media has changed how people communicate and the list goes on. With all of the research showing that church attendance is declining, and every aspect of society changing, are you able to see a need for change in the church?

                                                                                                                    By CK Miller, guest blogger