WHERE DID WE GO WRONG TRYING TO LEAD OUR CHILDREN TO GOD?

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A survey released recently by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) says that almost 20 percent of Americans belong to a category that transcends stereotypical religious identity. Any more, almost one-fifth of Americans identify themselves as spiritual and not religious.

On one hand, the study describes religious people as those who frequently attend worship services and consider religion to be an important factor in their personal lives. On the other hand, it describes spiritual people as those who somehow feel connected to something much larger than themselves, particularly, to the world around them and to a higher purpose. According to Tara Isabella Burton, “Often, people who have sought spirituality outside of organized religion have done so because they do not feel that there is a place for them in their childhood faith.”

This is what the study reveals about spiritual people:

They believe spirituality benefits them even if they see that spirituality as being opposed to organized religion. They are generally happier than nonspiritual people. They maintain links with a more formal religious identity and tradition even if they are not attending any services. The single greatest spiritual experience for this group is music.

To them, spiritual experiences can occur in unlikely places like artistic practices, nature, meditation, yoga, and personal ritualistic acts that provide similar feelings of transcendence. Yet they crave community, one thing that their solitary ritual practices are not able to provide them.

woodstuckThis study reminds me of the counter-culture movements of the 60s and 70s. At the time, many young people were running away from anything organized, especially religion. Yet, in the midst of all that running away, which included sex, drugs, and rock n roll, there was also an absolute longing to belong. And God used that longing to start the Jesus People movement.

“I am NOT religious! I’m a follower of Christ.” “Christianity is not a religion. It’s the way of life.” said many of the Jesus People. For us, (I became a follower during the movement) to follow Christ was a spiritual journey and not just following a set of mandates. However, eventually, most of us left the spiritual journey and along with our organizations/denominations, became so religious that today’s spiritual people are running away from us.

Where did we go wrong? How did we, the epitome of all that is spiritual, end up leaving our spiritual path and instead follow a set of rules and directives that our Christian communities/denominations had set for “true” followers of Christ?

Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe in rules and directives. I also know that many of today’s spiritual people don’t like organized religions/church because they want to live their lives free of any accountability, which requires some level of commitment to an authority. But I also believe that we have gone wrong.

During the Jesus Movement, we were like children who were in constant awe of thejesus-movement-main_article_image Creator. In the process of growing up, we lost the ability to wonder about God. We got so caught up in everyday affairs that our astonishment at Christ got pushed into the background. We became comfortable with replacing the awe and wonderment of the Divine with our rules and directives or to put it bluntly, SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY.

At one time, Christ and everything about him was new, something that gave rise to astonishment, but today, we accept him as a matter of course. Where in fact, this is where the followers of Christ should be a notable exception. A follower of Christ should NEVER quite get used to God. To him/her, God should continue to be unreasonable, bewildering, mysterious, and even enigmatic.

We need to decide if we are still children in awe of our Father or a bunch of grownups content with our limited knowledge of the Divine. If we’re no longer astonished by who God is, but more interested in keeping the status quo through our systematic theology, creeds, directives, and rules, then we are on thin ice. And we should no longer wonder why our young people are walking away from our churches in search of something bigger than their parents’ God.

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This Is Where The Pilgrims Of Contemplation Differ!

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When God commissioned Joshua, Moses’ successor, He told him,

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. — Josh 1:8

The Psalmist says, “I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” —Ps. 77:12

paulAnd finally, Apostle Paul encouraged his disciple, Timothy, to: “Ponder (meditate) these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to all.” — 1 Tim 4:15

However, there are many followers of Christ who are either unaware of this ancient and biblical practice, or they immediately relate it to some Eastern, or New Age cultish practice. Something that Mr. and Mrs. Regular American also did for years.

I vaguely remember the trend that emerged after the Beatles went to Rishikesh in northern India to study Transcendental Meditation (TM) with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. TM became a popular word throughout the late 60s and 70s. But like most fads, it eventually faded away. Yet lo and behold, it has been reinvented over three decades later.

We can mostly thank Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is the originator of the term “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” (MBSR). As you’ll see, the word “Meditation” has been replaced with the word “Mindfulness.”

How did this happen? According to Mary Sykes Wiley, it all started in 1979, when Kabat-Zinn, a 35-year-old student of Buddhist meditation and MIT-trained molecular biologist was on a meditation retreat. He had a vision of what his life’s work—his “karmic assignment”—would be.

Man meditatingWhile he sat alone one afternoon, it all came to him at once: he’d bring the ancient Eastern disciplines he’d followed for 13 years—mindfulness meditation and yoga—to people with chronic health conditions right here in modern America. What’s more, he’d bring these practices into the very belly of the Western scientific beast…

However, he had a slight problem. During the 70s the only people really interested in meditation were, New Age hippies, Asian studies scholars, and a small population of home-grown seekers (young middle-class adults, often left-wing Vietnam War dissenters at odds with consumer capitalism and looking for a spiritual lift they weren’t getting from drugs or the rejected Main Street religion of their parents).

So, if one was to mention meditation to Mr. and Mrs. Regular American, you might just get a blank look, or worse, they would ask, “Why would any normal person want to get caught up with one of those Eastern cults?” And this is where the genius of Mr. Zinn is revealed.

Kabat-Zinn repackaged Eastern meditation as a secular health intervention that wouldn’t frighten the locals. As he has said, “I bent over backward to structure it and find ways to speak about it that avoided as much as possible the risk of it being seen as Buddhist, New Age, Eastern Mysticism, or just plain flaky.” And instead of meditation, he called it mindfulness, a lesser known terminology. And millions of Americans rushed to sign up for it.

Some scientific research has shown that mindfulness and other meditative disciplines are genuinely useful to many people in many ways for many conditions. Mary Sykes says,

group meditation1Today, more than 20,000 patients have participated in the UMass program, which has produced 1,000 certified MBSR instructors and MBSR programs in about 720 medical settings in more than 30 countries. Mindfulness training—and other forms of meditation are now used for an almost unimaginable range of medical conditions…This has made mindfulness meditation a multi-billion-dollar industry in the US.

As one who believes and has practiced biblical meditation for many years, I was interested to see what MBSR means by mindfulness and meditation. So, I did some research, and this is what I came up with.

According to Kathryn Remati,

By definition, “mindfulness” refers to the informal practice of present moment awareness that can be applied to any waking situation. It’s a way of being actively aware of what you’re doing while you’re doing it.

It is an attempt at focusing completely on the full experience of a usually “mindless” chore such as taking a shower. Be aware of the temperature of the water and how it makes your skin feel, along with the texture and smell of the shampoo. “Engage all five senses and see if you are actually more relaxed and less stressed when it is all finished.” In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn says that “When unawareness dominates the mind, all our decisions and actions are affected.”

On the other hand,

Meditation is the formal practice of finding peace within. Awareness of peace is achieved when mental chatter is decreased… While meditating, we are mindful of our thoughts from the viewpoint of an observer, without clinging to the thoughts themselves. Our thoughts float by like clouds, while we learn something about our inner selves…

To me, this all sounds good, but this is nothing new. The practice of mindfulness can (I’m aware that they are not exactly the same) be equated to what, 1500 years ago, Saint Ignatius of Loyola called the “Prayer of Examen” where, in thoughtfulness, one ponders on every event of the last 24 hours (taking a shower, washing a dish, watching a bird fly, and so on) and be thankful to God for it. Or how a century later, Brother Lawrence, a lay member of a monastic order in Paris sought to live his life constantly in the presence of God even while doing “mindless” chores such as washing dishes.

Monk prayingAlmost 2000 years ago, the Christian Desert Fathers and Mothers found peace within and overcame daily temptations by meditating on the Scriptures in solitude and silence. And by doing so, they introduced us to what eventually became one of the most fulfilling types of prayers called “Lectio Divina”.

In practice, there are some similarities between Eastern and biblical meditation. Learning how to avoid mental chatter to be quiet and find peace in silence are things that are common in both disciplines. However, what separates the Christian meditation from Eastern is the centrality of the Creator.

The Christian meditation is NOT for self-improvement—although that could very well be a part of it—but for drawing closer to the Divine. We do not empty ourselves of mental chatter to be filled with the universe, but we fit “every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by the ‘Creator’.” — 2 Cor. 10:5

For me, the following prayer by Saint Guigo II sums up all that Christian meditation is about.

Lord, you are not seen except by the pure of heart. I seek by reading and meditating what is true purity of heart. And how it may be had, so that with its help I may know you, if only a little. Lord, for long I meditated in my heart, seeking to see you face to face, it is the sight of you, Lord, that I have sought; and all the while in my meditation the fire of longing, the desire to know you more fully, has increased. When you break for me the bread of the sacred Scripture, you have shown yourself to me in the breaking of the bread, and the more I see you, the more I long to see you, no more from without, in the rind of the letter, but within, in the letter’s hidden meaning… So, give me, Lord, some pledge of what I hope to inherit, at least one drop of heavenly rain with which to refresh my thirst, for I’m on fire with love.

 

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Do you want to draw closer to the Creator? Let’s walk the journey together. Go to my website, pilgrimsofcontemplation.com, and contact me.

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How Many Millennials Do You Think Have Experienced God?

One of the best times in my life was when I taught at a Bible college. I taught from 2001 to 2006. I loved it! I spent many hours with about 400-500 young men and women. To some, I became more than just an adjunct professor; I was a caring pastor, who had them to his house at least once a week. Since then, via social media, I’ve kept my relationship with a number of them.

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Reading some of their posts on Facebook over the past several years I realized that since graduation a percentage of my students have either left the church, do not consider themselves Christians, have become agnostic, or even atheists. I was deeply surprised and wanted to know why, so I began to ask questions. This is what I found out.

Some of them left the church because they were disappointed with the metanarrative style of teaching that has distilled Christianity down to a formula. You plug in the right numbers, and the outcome was a life of success, void of disappointments and pain. But these young people painfully asked, “How come my ministry, my marriage, or my business failed? I did all the right things according to what my mentors taught me.”

Some left because of the hypocrisy they saw in their leaders. They desired a level of transparency that was non-existent in their churches. Others left due to a crisis of faith. Once their beliefs were challenged in the real world—outside of their Christian bubble—they weren’t able to rise to the challenge, so they packed up and left. And finally, some left because as Apostle John says, “They did not really belong to us…”

I asked these students, “What made you believe you were a Christian, to begin with?” Some of their answers were: “Well, my parents were Christians.” “I raised my hand at an alter call.” “I went forward when I was 12.” “I said the Sinner’s Prayer when I was in high school.” “I got baptized when I was 8.” “My dad was a pastor and that’s why I went to Bible College.” “I wanted to please my Christian family.”

Almost all of these young men and women have one thing in common, they never experienced God.

Coming into the Kingdom from a Muslim background, I didn’t have a Christian upbringing. I’d never read the Bible. I never went to Church. I didn’t believe in Christ being divine, Son of God, or having died on the Cross. And I definitely never repeated the sinner’s prayer. So, it wasn’t my adequate knowledge of Christ, my moral values, or even the Bible that saved me. It was my “LA Road” experience of Jesus that saved my soul.

It was November 26, 1971. I was riding my motorcycle from Lancaster to Los Angeles, and I simply said, “Jesus if you’re really who these people (my Christian friends) tell me you are, I’ll accept you if…” I didn’t have a light or angels appear to me, but I experienced a presence, a peace that surpasses all understanding, an awareness of a hope that said, “Everything is going tobe OK.” As a result, I felt a sense of purpose for my life. No one can take this away from me. This is something, to my estimation, the above students haven’t experienced.

I realize many Christians believe the word “experience” is an anathema. They say, “Experience cannot be relied upon. After all, even heathens have experiences with the supernatural. What if your experience is from the devil?”

Is it fair to say that with all his knowledge, it was the Burning-Bush experience that brought Moses face to face with YHVH and changed his life forever? Is it correct to say that with all his theological knowledge, Saul, the Pharisee of Pharisees, would have never become Paul the Apostle if he’d not been knocked off his ass on his ass on the road to Damascus? I don’t see any place in the Bible where Paul’s experience was questioned by other Apostles as being suspect.And finally, I remember reading somewhere in my Bible where Jesus said,

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?”

Do you honestly believe God lets Satan step in when men or women sincerely ask the Lord to reveal himself because God is not into experiences? Is your god that weak and heartless?

Even after all these years, I will not be shaken because no one can ever take my experience away from me, or prove it wrong. Someone could shred the Bible in front of me and prove every word is a lie. They can question my faith and show me all the places in my life where God did not live up to his supposed promises. But it will mean nothing because I know I’ve been touched by someone transcendent, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I am convinced with all my heart what this generation of Millennials needs is to experience the Creator, or as they like to call him, the Divine. Are we, the followers of Christ, equipped to create an environment where these young people can experience the living God? If you know the answer, please share it with us. And if you don’t, would you like to know how?

 

 

 

 

 

Vote For Trump! He’s A Christian.

A few years ago, I posted a blog, The $5 Sinner’s Prayer. In it, I shared a story about my eil_570xN.803635590_hw0hncounter with a very shrewd homeless man. As I began to tell the man how Jesus had changed my life, he abruptly stopped me and said, “For $5, I will repeat the sinner’s prayer with you.” Apparently, he was used to evangelicals having him repeat a prayer that would supposedly make him a Christian.

Even from a psychological perspective, I thought he was worth the $5. I am sure he’d made many naïve evangelicals walk away with the satisfaction of thinking they’d made one more person a Christian by simply having him repeat some words. However, he was also an excellent businessman who’d learned what it was that those evangelicals wanted to hear, and would provide it for them.

Recently, I heard a rumor that went something like this, “Pray for Donald Trump. Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family recently reported that Donald had prayed with a good friend of his to receive Christ and to establish a personal relationship with Him.”

I have not heard or seen Donald make such a confession. In fact, in 2015 when moderator Frank Luntz asked him whether he had ever asked God for forgiveness for his actions, Trump said, “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there,” he said. “I don’t think so. I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

I do realize that as early as last June he softened the above words by saying he hopes not to ask God for “much” forgiveness, but I still have a question for my evangelical friends. If Mr. Trump has prayed a typical “sinner’s prayer” with Dr. Dobson’s friend’s uncle’s cleaning lady’s brother, would he have asked God for blanket forgiveness of all his sins, or just a little for some of the mistakes he might have made?

I know, I know! How dare I question a man’s faith when only God knows a man’s heart? You are absolutely correct. I don’t’ know Trump’s heart. So, I’m supposed to take Dobson’s friend at his words and believe what the man claims. Something that even Donald himself has not claimed.

I just wonder if the same evangelicals were willing to extend as much grace to President Obama, who not only attended church before getting elected, but also on many occasions has confessed to being a Christian? Many might say that they wouldn’t extend the same grace to Obama because “His actions didn’t match his confession!” Do Donald’s actions match his confession? Could it be that he is, like the above homeless man, just a shrewd businessman who knows what it is that we evangelicals need to hear?

You might say, “We need to give Mr. Trump time. After all, he is a new believer.” How much time? Do you honestly believe that a man in his 70s can change overnight because a few days ago, he repeated some magical words? And if this is true, don’t you think we’re setting the man up for failure since there’s no way he would be able to live up to the standards we expect of our Christian politicians—becoming a saint in the next few months before he takes office? How absolutely foolish! Unfortunately, we evangelicals are notorious for doing stuff like this. You have to be my age or older to remember what we did to Bob Dylan after he publically made a confession of faith.

Maybe it’s my Muslim background, or maybe it’s just common sense, but I’ve come to love even more Christ’s words, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” In this crooked age, we have to put aside our naiveté and take Jesus’ words much more seriously.

If you want to vote for Mr. Trump, do it because you’re voting your conscience, or as a man on a radio talk show said, “I am voting for Trump because Hillary is the devil that I know.” But PLEASE don’t do it because of a rumor that says he might have said a prayer and now he is a follower of Christ. That’s an insult to my Lord, my faith in my Savior, Jesus Christ and my intelligence.

 

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. had nothing to do with so-called ministry and
  2. 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 Steve’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 as a civil engineer, (An ASVAB test had highly qualified him for that position.) Steve, 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 abroad 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 being a missionary 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 28, Steve 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 scholarships to qualified students, has an internship at an engineering firm, and is waiting to hear back from another organization regarding a grant for a summer project.

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 20s want 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 Steve 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.”

Steve 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 Steve 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.

 

My Church Has Gold Dust! What About Yours?

water__lights__colors__people_in_awe_by_wokie15-d9345qtI love to talk to young people about spiritual matters. For reasons only God knows, I can connect with people younger than my own children with very little, or no problem at all. And, as a matter of fact, the other day I had one of those interesting conversations with my friend, Henry.

After attending a mega church for the first time, Henry called with a question about a phenomenon that had taken place at the Sunday service. He wanted to know what I thought about the supposed “gold dust” that had appeared in the atmosphere and landed on people during the worship time.

Before I go any further, I know that some of you might be already hot under the collar even at the mention of the phrase, “gold dust” because gold dust is not mentioned in the Bible. Fair enough! By the way, neither is dating, yet I wonder, as the Bible says, how many of my dear friends allowed their parents to choose mates for them? In any case, I promise this post isn’t about the validity or lack of such appearances, but it’s about the outcome of them.

“I have no objections to this phenomenon. I’ve been around these appearances since 1995. I don’t care if they got gold dust coming out of their ears. However, what I have issues with is what they do with it after they leave their gold dust meetings? How is this helping them share the Gospel with those outside the faith?” I told him.

My answer had a lot to do with a discussion I’d earlier had with a young Christian leader whose organization operates in these appearances and prophetic gifts with a great emphasis on worship/loving God.

I’d mentioned to him that Christ’s greatest two commandments to us is to love God and with that love to love our neighbors. That we should use the God-given gifts of the Spirit as tools in sharing the Gospel with a lost world. His answer rather stunned me, “Our ministry is called to fulfill the first part of the commandment—loving God in worship— and not the second!” I didn’t know Christ’s greatest commandment to his disciples could be parsed so decisively. Maybe it’s my English, but I always thought it was called “the great commandment” and not “the great YOU pick and choose”.

In the last 20 years, I’ve spent much of my life focusing on “centering prayer” and intimacy with God, but always with one goal in mind… using what I gain in being closer to my Creator to invite those who don’t know him to follow suit. What are all the worship, prophecies, and intimacy with God going to do for the Kingdom if we don’t love our neighbors through our love for God?

Some might argue that the purpose of the gifts is to strengthen the body of Christ, but to what end? Why do we need to be stronger if it’s not to be better followers of Christ in doing all that He’s commanded us? I have a hard time believing that He allows us to experience some of these manifestations just to make us feel good, which eventually causes some of our gatherings to become nothing but “bless me” clubs. I can’t help but be reminded of James’ admonition, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3)

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As the technician starts hooking me up to the Echocardiogram machine in my cardiologist’s office, I begin to ask her questions. This is the first time I meet Shirin (It’s pronounced Shee-reen), my Iranian technician. My questions are mainly about her personal life­– questions like how long she’s been in the US, how old she was when she came here, where she was born in Iran, where she went to school and so on.

As I’m talking to her, I’m also praying for the Lord to show me what kind of questions to ask in order to establish trust. To me, the main ingredient for a long lasting relation is winning people’s trust. “No trust, no real relationship!” is my motto. It is to that end that I’m praying.

As I close my eyes, I see a picture. I ask Shirin,

“Are you facing making a big decision in your life?”

She shows no reaction and turns her back on me.

“Boy, I must have blown it,” was my first thought.

Then she turned around and said,

“I don’t like my job. I’m a graphic artist. This is what my parents want me to do. I’d like to leave this job and start being an artist again.”

Then she looks at me and says, “How did you know? Did I give off a vibe?”

I chuckle! “No vibes! It was God, who loves you so much, who uses a total stranger to tell you that He cares for you. In fact, He wants you to know that when you jump, not one parachute, not two parachutes, but He will provide you with three parachutes to make sure you land safely.”

With tears in her eyes, she says, “All I needed was a push.”

The picture I was given was of her standing on the edge of a flying airplane door debating whether she should jump or not.

After the exam, I go to my car and get her one of my books and leave.

This is what I call using the gifts of the Spirit to share the Good News with people you come in contact with every day.

How do you use your God given gifts?

 

 

 

Millennials And Christianity!

Megan Haleh is one of the most spiritual young women I know. She loves the Lord with an insatiable passion. She attends a small church in the Bible Belt. I consider myself to be an enormously blessed father to have a daughter who spends hours talking to me about the Lord. A few days ago, we had one of those interesting conversations.

We were talking about what it would take for her generation to become followers of Christ. Today, there are ample studies on Christian “nones” and “dones.” Study after study talks about what’s wrong with the church, why Christians are leaving her, and what needs to be done to bring them back, but there’s almost nothing about replacing those who’ve migrated with new blood through evangelism.

I established the first Iranian Christian church in the US purely through evangelism. Working with Muslims, I didn’t have the privilege of simply coming up with better programs to attract them to our gatherings. As I’ve always said, “Muslims don’t wake up Sunday mornings saying, ‘Honey, where would you like to go to church this fine morning?’” We had to go find them and win them to Christ. So, for me, evangelism has always been the only means of church growth. Consequently, I’m very interested in how to introduce Millennials to Christ, who for the most part like Muslims will not on their own go out of their way to come to our churches.

Subsequent to our conversation, Megan sent me the following email, which is a personal assessment of her own generation.

My generation is running around and searching every corner for the next big thing—the next distraction. We love shiny new objects, but they only hold our attention for a minute and then we lose interest. We burn out easily. The majority of our day-to-day experience is very shallow (this bar, that date, this new job, twitter this, instagram that, etc.). This is why I think my generation would thrive on a real God-encounter. Something substantial. Something lasting. Something that isn’t dulling the senses for a moment holding our attention until time passes, but a REAL encounter that quenches the thirst of our desperate souls, and leaves us longing for more.

My generation does not want the God that we saw our parents worship. I am sure that stems from much deeper generational issues than I could uncover. But we don’t want legalism, and a checklist-Christianity

But in the midst of this tension, we have the mega churches in the South doing very well. They draw in a large demographic of unchurched young adults who would have never been caught in a church otherwise. The church services are short (50 minutes), they appeal to our shiny object attention span with loud music and flashing lights.

The pastors are polished and preach good and easy messages that aren’t “churchy”, but easy to listen to and digest. They’re Bible-based messages with just one or two scriptures teaching us how to be better people, but they’re never deep. No, once you scratch past the surface, you have to probably find a new church to find out what is beneath that surface.

These types of churches are full of an amazing void. They are bringing the unchurched to Christ, but then what? They make it to church on Sunday. God peels back the layers of their heart to the extent that they are exposed to in 50 minutes, and…then what?

Is their community going to be better, or even different because Mary and John went to a 50-minute service on Sunday? Quite Possibly

But are they going to be world changers? Are they going to seek out real God encounters? Maybe, but I don’t think so. In my personal journey, the biggest changes have happened when I have had life changing encounters with God. And going back to my initial statement, this is what I think my generation is longing for—depth, tangible encounters, and relationship—though we may be pacified with 50-minute snippets of a dim reflection of glory.

Along with thousands of ex-Muslims, I am a good example of someone who has had that REAL encounter Megan talks about. The majority of us became followers of Christ not because of a profound message an evangelist preached to us, but because we had a tangible experience with our Savior. My own experience was very much like that of Paul’s. I met God face to face and then believed. This is something that the Millennials need to experience before accepting Christ as their Lord and Savior.

What do you think will draw people to God?

Are Pastors Ready To Give Up The Pulpit?

pastor preachingFor hundreds of years, communication has flowed pretty much in one direction, from the top down. The industrial revolution brought great change to societies as new businesses grew in size and hierarches of management helped things flow efficiently. Instructions and directives were given at the highest levels and workers were expected to comply.

The church has followed the same organizational structure for more than two thousand years. The Catholic Church has its hierarchy of pope, bishops, cardinals, priests, etc. Protestant churches have their denominational leaders, district supervisors, division leaders, and pastors. And pretty much communication too flowed in only one direction, from the pulpit downward. However, at the turn of the 21st century this flow of communication was disrupted.

Many factors have caused this disruption. These include the invention of the telegraph, then the telephone, and now new digital technologies. This last factor, I think, is one that has changed the world the most because it affects people at all levels of society: young and old, rich and poor, from every culture and nation. The invention of the computer, the internet, cell phones, social media applications, blogs, web sites, have given more people the ability to change societies, governments, and businesses—technologies have given everyone a voice. Let me give a few examples.

All social media applications allow people to voice their opinions about products, services, companies, injustice and more. Much of the Arab Spring was organized through the use of Twitter. These days, American businesses have whole teams of people monitoring social media channels listening to their customers. News organizations listen to their viewers through any and all social media applications. And why have the above organizations devoted so much effort and resources to listening and understanding their constituencies’ complaints and preferences? Because they have learned that if they don’t listen and keep their customers happy, they will soon be out of business. But what about churches? Are pastors listening to their congregations?

It seems they are not, and lots of people are communicating with their feet. People are no longer willing to sit, watch, and listen. In my last blog post, I wrote about the “Nones,” and the “Dones”. Among this group are those who are “done” sitting in pews listening to somebody preach at them. In both Catholic and Protestant churches, weekly attendance is declining. Comments from people who no longer attend church say that they are tired of the pulpit/pew divide. But it doesn’t seem pastors are listening because according to the Pew Research group, more and more people are becoming unaffiliated with a church.

Customers, or using church terminology, congregants now harness tremendous power. They have a voice and want to use it. What will it take to create open channels of communication in the church? Are pastors willing to give up the pulpit, stop preaching, and start having conversations? Are they willing to accept a church that is less structured, with less hierarchy, and open to change?

                                                                By Guest Blogger, CK Miller

Church’s Shallow Teachings

shallow teachingThe other day, I got a call from a dear friend who wanted my opinion on a church related issue.

“I stopped going to church,” she tells me

“Why?”

“Well, I need deeper teachings. What comes my way on Sundays is very shallow.”

I know my friend well enough to know this is not an excuse. I’ve also been around long enough to know how valid her complaint is. Let’s face it, on most Sundays, much of what we hear from the pulpits in America is rather shallow. By shallow, I mean elementary. But, how does a teaching become elementary? By hearing it over and over again. So, what many Christians are asking their pastors is, “Teach me something new!”

Did you hear about the young pastor who’d just been hired by a church?

On his first Sunday at the new church, he preached an amazing message. The church council was hi-fiving each other for having the fortitude and the wisdom to have hired such a great preacher.

The following Sunday, half way through his message, everyone who’d been at church the week before, knew the pastor was preaching exactly the same message, but the council members figured that was for the sake of some who’d not heard the original message.

However on the third Sunday, things really got tense when the young man preached the same message again. After the service was over, the council members pull the man aside and began to question him.

“Don’t you have any other messages?” they demanded.

“Of course, I do,” said the young man.

“Then, why repeat the same sermon over and over again? Preach something new!”

That’s when the young man said, “I will, as soon as, you start practicing what I’ve been teaching you these last three weeks.”

I do understand that the above story may sound like a practice in futility, or it could very well be an excellent poster story for the definition of insanity—repeating the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. Unfortunately, for years, pastors have thought that all the church needs is another good message to change the lives of all the pew occupants, thus preaching the Word has become the crown of the church service.

It’s also fair to ask, “Is the above pastor modeling what he’s preaching? Is he walking the talk?”

However, I believe for the most part, our problem isn’t with shallow teachings, but the shallow way we practice these so called, “shallow teachings” we’ve been hearing. And, by doing so, as the book of James says, we’ve simply been making fools out of ourselves. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it ways.”  James. 1:21

How many times have we heard teachings on Christ’s greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.”   Luke 10:27

Would you consider another homely on the above verse a “shallow” teaching? Then, let me ask you a question—this not only goes to church members, but especially to pastors.

Are you practicing this “shallow” teaching? How many of your next-door neighbors do you know by name?

If you can’t obey this “shallow” teaching, how can you handle a “deeper” teaching?

This Is Me!

My name is Shahrokh, but my friends call me Shah. I was born and raised in Iran, however have lived most of my life in the US. Because of my Muslim background, and my subsequent decision to follow Christ, my worldview is different than many people. I see things differently, which can be protruded as controversial.

I blog publicly for a couple of reasons. First, to let my views be known on subjects of, religion, race, social issues, and so on, and because I want to create a community where people can agree or disagree on these subjects without any fear of judgment or condemnation.

I know my blog might not appeal to many people, but I look so forward to meeting new people who might like to join my community, and get involved in the ongoing conversations.