A Sign of Our Times

An article published on September 13, 2021, titled, Study Reveals Stunning Statistics About Profession Christians,” by the Charisma News Staff at CharismaNews.org, reveals some interesting stats from a study published by the Cultural Research Center of Arizona Christian University. The  following statement is from the article:

George Barna, the lead researcher at the Cultural Research Center, says that the term Christian has become “somewhat generic” rather than a name that reflects a deep commitment to passionately pursuing and being like Jesus Christ.

“Too often, it seems, people who are simply religious, or regular churchgoers, or perhaps people who want a certain reputation or image embrace the label ‘Christian,’ regardless of their spiritual life and intentions,” Barna says. (Quote source here.)

Some of the statistics on errant perspectives mentioned in the article include:

  • 176 million American adults identify as Christian, but only 15 million, or 6%, actually hold a biblical worldview.
  • 58% of people who identify as Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is not a real living being but merely a symbol of God’s power, presence or purity.
  • 7 in 10 adults (69%) have adopted the label “Christian” to identify their faith, this large group entertains a wide range of perspectives that are not in harmony with biblical teachings.
  • 58% believe that if a person is good enough or does good things, they can earn their way into heaven.
  • 72% argue that people are basically good.
  • 71% consider feelings, experience or the input of friends and family as their most trusted sources of moral guidance.
  • 66% say that having faith matters more than which faith you pursue.
  • 64% say that all religious faiths are of equal value.
  • 58% believe that if a person is good enough, or does enough good things, they can earn their way into heaven.
  • 57% believe in karma.
  • 52% claim that determining moral truth is up to each individual; there are no moral absolutes that apply to everyone, all the time. (Quote source here.)

The article concludes with the following paragraph:

Christians are also likely to reject a number of biblical teachings and principles. For example, slightly less than half (46%) believe that the marriage of one man to one woman is God’s plan for humanity, across all cultures; just 40% believe that when they die they will go to heaven, but only because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior; only one-third (34%) believe that people are born into sin and can only be saved of the consequences by Jesus Christ; just one-third (32%) believe premarital sex is morally unacceptable; and about 1 out of every 4 (28%) believe that the best indicator of a successful life is consistent obedience to God. (Quote source here.)

The term “Christian” today has too often become a hodgepodge of things that are not even remotely related to what it means to be a follower or disciple of Jesus Christ. The term “Christian” is first mentioned in the Book of Acts in the New Testament (see Acts 11:19–26). GotQuestions.org provides the following information as to what it means to be a true Christian:

According to Acts 11:26, the followers of Jesus were first called Christians at Antioch. Why were they called Christians? Because they were “followers of Christ.” They had committed their lives to “walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6).

Other Scriptures explain how a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ and begins this relationship. For example, Ephesians 2:8-9 reveals that a person becomes a Christian by faith, not by following a list of rules or good works: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” A true Christian has faith in Jesus as the Savior.

Romans 10:9-10 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” A true Christian is unashamed to say Jesus is Lord and believes Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

First Corinthians 15:3 says this message of the resurrected Jesus is of “first importance.” Without Jesus’ resurrection our faith is “futile,” and we are “still in [our] sins” (v. 7). A true Christian lives by faith in the resurrected Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:13-14).

Paul writes, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ…. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:916). A true Christian has God’s Holy Spirit living within.

The evidence of a true Christian is displayed in both faith and action. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). James says, “I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). Jesus put it this way: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). A true Christian will show his faith by how he lives.

Despite the wide variety of beliefs that fall under the general “Christian” label today, the Bible defines a true Christian as one who has personally received Jesus Christ as Savior, who trusts in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness of sins, who has the Holy Spirit residing within, and whose life evinces consistent with faith in Jesus. (Quote source here.)

It is not the world that shapes Christianity. It is Christianity that shapes our personal world if we allow it to shapes us. We cannot fit it into our own mold or liking or lifestyle; we must be willing to fit into its mold. We cannot change the tenets of the Christian faith to be what we deem is acceptable to us; we must be shaped by the tenets of genuine faith in Jesus Christ. And we cannot make Jesus Christ into an image that we want Him to be; we must be conformed to the likeness of His image, and not our own. As Romans 8:29 states:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

In an article published on April 2, 2016, titled Making Jesus in Our Own Image,” by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, Chancellor’s Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, he states:

Many years ago now there was a scholarly movement that became known as “The Quest for the Historical Jesus.” Scholars said “Let’s try to get behind the Gospels to find out who Jesus really was, and what he was really like.” So they took bits and pieces of the Gospel testimony and made a picture of Christ. One of the shrewdest things that was said about this movement was that these scholars were like people looking down a well to find Jesus, but didn’t realize that the “Jesus” they saw was really just a reflection of themselves from the water at the bottom of the well!

Sometimes I feel this is actually what has happened in popular evangelicalism. Our “Jesus” is actually a reflection of ourselves. This is the constant danger when we don’t simply open the Scriptures and listen to their testimony about Jesus: we make a Jesus in our own image, usually domesticated. Sadly, much that dominates the Christian media seems to fall foul here. Any Jesus who isn’t both Savior and Lord, Sacrificial Lamb of God and Reigning King, cannot be the Jesus of the Gospels. And any Jesus who does not call us to radical, sacrificial, and yes, painful, discipleship, cannot be the real Jesus…. (Quote source here.)

Regarding the results of the survey posted above, if we really don’t believe some or many of the basic biblical essentials of the Christian faith that make it Christian in the first place, then why do we call ourselves Christians? What purpose or whose agenda are we really following? And if we are basically following what we want in life and only give God a nod on Sunday morning, yet we call ourselves Christians, isn’t that hypocrisy?

One of the questions asked on GotQuestions.org is Why are all Christians Hypocrites?” and their answer is worth considering:

Perhaps no accusation is more provocative than that of “hypocrite.” Unfortunately, some feel justified in their view that all Christians are hypocrites. The term “hypocrite” enjoys a rich heritage in the English language. The term comes to us via the Latin hypocrisies meaning “play-acting, pretense.” Further back, the word occurs in both classical and New Testament Greek and has the very same idea—to play a part, pretend.

This is the way the Lord Jesus employed the term. For example, when Christ taught the significance of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving for kingdom people, He discouraged us from following the examples of those who are hypocrites (Matthew 6:2516). By making long public prayers, employing extreme measures to ensure others noticed their fasts, and parading their gifts to the Temple and the poor, they revealed only an outward attachment to the Lord. While the Pharisees performed well their dramatic role as public examples of religious virtue, they failed miserably in the inner world of the heart where true virtue resides (Matthew 23:13-33Mark 7:20-23).

Jesus never called His disciples hypocrites. That name was given only to misguided religious zealots. Rather, He called His own “followers,” “babes,” “sheep,” and His “church.” In addition, there is a warning in the New Testament about the sin of hypocrisy (1 Peter 2:1), which Peter calls “insincerity.” Also, two blatant examples of hypocrisy are recorded in the church. In Acts 5:1-10, two disciples are exposed for pretending to be more generous than they were. The consequence was severe. And, of all people, Peter is charged with leading a group of hypocrites in their treatment of Gentile believers (Galatians 2:13).

From the New Testament teaching, then, we may draw at least two conclusions. First, hypocrites do exist among professing Christians. They were present in the beginning, and, according to Jesus’ parable of the tares and wheat, they will certainly exist until the end of the age (Matthew 13:18-30). In addition, if even an apostle may be guilty of hypocrisy, there is no reason to believe “ordinary” Christians will be free from it. We must always be on our guard that we do not fall into the very same temptations (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Of course, not everyone who claims to be a Christian is truly a Christian. Perhaps all or most of the famous hypocrites among Christians were in fact pretenders and deceivers. To this day, prominent Christian leaders have fallen into terrible sins. Financial and sexual scandals sometimes seem to plague the Christian community. However, instead of taking the actions of a few and using them to denigrate the whole community of Christians, we need to ask whether all those who claim to be Christians really are. Numerous biblical passages confirm that those who truly belong to Christ will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Jesus’ parable of the seed and the soils in Matthew 13 makes it clear that not all professions of faith in Him are genuine. Sadly, many who profess to belong to Him will be stunned one day to hear Him say to them, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:23).

Second, while it should not surprise us that people who pretend to be more holy than they are claim to be Christians, we cannot conclude that the church is made up almost entirely of hypocrites. One surely may concede that all of us who name the name of Jesus Christ remain sinners even after our sin is forgiven. That is, even though we are saved from sins’ eternal penalty (Romans 5:16:23), we are yet to be saved and delivered from the presence of sin in our lives (1 John 1:8-9), including the sin of hypocrisy. Through our living faith in the Lord Jesus, we continually overcome sin’s power until we are finally delivered (1 John 5:4-5).

All Christians fail to perfectly live up to the standard the Bible teaches. No Christian has ever been perfectly Christ-like. However, there are many Christians who are genuinely seeking to live the Christian life and are relying more and more on the Holy Spirit to convict, change, and empower them. There have been multitudes of Christians who have lived their lives free from scandal. No Christian is perfect, but making a mistake and failing to reach perfection in this life is not the same thing as being a hypocrite. (Quote source here.)

As I read the article with the survey mentioned at the beginning of this post, I was reminded of something Paul told Timothy, his protege, near the end of Paul’s life that is found in 2 Timothy 4:3-5. The following are those verses taken from The Message Bible:

You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you—keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant.

These are the days in which we are living. The truth is stretched to fit our feelings and emotions, and thus it is perverted. Hebrews 13:8 states, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” He doesn’t change with our desires or whims or anything else we can come up with. So let that ring loud and clear…

Jesus Christ is the same . . .

Yesterday, today . . .

And forever . . . .

YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” sung by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

I’m Back and Complining

No, that isn’t a typo in the title of this blog post. During my short break from blogging (less than a month) since I published my last blog post on this blog, I’ve learned something new, and it’s known as “Compline.” In short, Compline is an “end of day” prayer (a longer explanation is below).

Since my last blog post, I’ve been spreading my wings this past month and trying some new things. One of those “new things” has been becoming involved in a two-hour class that meets once a week at a local church, and it is a class for women who are new to living in this area where I moved to last fall that helps to acclimated us to our new surroundings in the community. It is held at a very large church in a beautiful facility, and it has been quite enjoyable getting to meet some women in this area.

This past week after we met (we also stay and have lunch after the meeting is over), as I was leaving the building, there were a number of publications and other materials about the church and it’s various offerings on a table, and I picked up the latest copy (September/October 2021) of a publication titled, Good News: Leading United Methodists to a Faithful Future.” As I was looking through it, I came across an article titled, Prayers When Things Are Dark,” by Tish Harrison Warren, a priest in the Anglican Church of North America, and the author of several books. She opens her article, which can be read in its entirety at this link, with the following description:

It was a dark year in every sense. It began with the move from my sunny hometown, Austin, Texas, to Pittsburgh in early January. One week later, my dad, back in Texas, died in the middle of the night. Always towering and certain as a mountain on the horizon, he was suddenly gone.

A month later, I miscarried and hemorrhaged. We made it to the hospital. I was going to be okay, but I needed surgery. They put in a line for a blood transfusion, and told me to lie still. Then, I yelled to Jonathan, lost amidst the nurses, “Compline! I want to pray Compline.” It isn’t normal–even for me–to loudly demand liturgical prayers in a crowded room in the midst of crisis. But in that moment, I needed it, as much as I needed the IV… (Quote source and continue reading at this link.)

I never heard of “Compline” before I read this article. I was raised in a non-denominational church that had a tendency to hire pastors with Baptist backgrounds, and later on in my life I attended a very large non-denominational church where the senior pastor came from a Methodist background, but the church itself was not a part of any denomination. I also worked for several years at a small private Catholic university, and later I worked at another small private university that was affiliated with the Assemblies of God; however, in both cases, I was not required to be a Catholic or a member of the Assemblies of God; however, the latter required that staff members held to a Christian worldview.

In all this time of being affiliated in some way with various Christian institutions, I never came across the term “Compline,” so I was fascinated to learn more about it after reading Tish Harrison Warren’s impassioned article linked above. As I researched the subject online, I came across an article in the Anglican Compass” titled, What is Compline?” by Porter C. Taylor, the Rector of St. David’s by the Sea Episcopal Church in Central Florida. He states:

…Maybe you’re familiar with Compline and maybe you’re not. It doesn’t really matter…yet. In either case, this ancient prayer hour is prayed at the conclusion of every day and ought to be embraced as a powerful tool and beautiful liturgy. My goal in this post is to inform, equip, and empower you that you might add Compline to your daily routine and continue telling time liturgically rather than chronologically.

…Compline was the last service of the day, to be said by the monks in their dormitories before bed. It was a simple service without flourishes or flashes. St. Benedict had this to say about the simplicity of Compline:

“Let Compline be limited to the saying of three psalms, which are to be said straightforwardly without antiphons, after which let there be the hymn of that hour, a lesson, a versicle, the Kyrie, and a blessing to conclude.” (Source: “Commentary on the American Prayer Book” by Marion J. Hatchett, HarperCollins Publisher, 1995, p. 144.)

To this day, Psalms 4, 31, and 91 form the backbone of the service. Psalm 134 is often included as an additional, optional reading. Whereas Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer were designed as Cathedral offices, to be prayed corporately, Compline has always been a monastic, private office used in the comfort and seclusion of one’s habitation. (Quote source here.)

While there are different formalities in varying denominations, I am not familiar with Anglican, Methodist, Episcopal, or Catholic forms of worship as in the past I have not been a part of any of them, so this is new to me. What I discovered as I read the articles on Compline that are linked above is that I wanted to find something I could do in the privacy of my own apartment, informally, along the lines of what is done in a Compline service at church (which is an evening service).

As stated in the second article above, the backbone of a Compline service includes reading Psalm 4, 31, 91, and 134. And also stated in the article and quoted above by Rev. Taylor, he states that “Compline was the last service of the day, to be said by the monks in their dormitories before bed. It was a simple service without flourishes or flashes.” Therefore, it could be as simple as offering these psalms as a prayer at the end of the day.

My interest in “Compline” comes from the experiences I have gone through over the past dozen years when my life took a distinct turn in a direction I never expected it to go in, especially given my age at the time, and it never did go back to the way my life had been before that event happened that changed my life so dramatically.

This past year has been a big change for me as I moved into an apartment almost one year ago that brought to an end a rather fruitless search for income-based senior housing over a six-year period of time that, due to circumstances beyond my control, left me living in hotel rooms as my only housing option during those years I was searching for income-based senior housing. And once I gave up looking for it, that is when I found this apartment I am currently living in which is not income-based but I can afford the rent for a while, and it is in an “all ages” apartment complex. I haven’t given up my search for income-based senior housing, but this apartment is a very nice reprieve from hotel room living, and I feel like I got a big part of my life back again. Yes!

I moved into a completely empty apartment almost one year ago, and I had no furniture or other household items to put in it as I lost all of mine a dozen years ago; so I had to go looking for new furniture, and the last time I bought furniture was back in 1997! I was in “sticker shock” to say the least, but during the first few months in my apartment I purchased was I needed, and I love feeling like I have a real home again instead of a small hotel room to live in.

I was surprised to find that during my first few months living in this apartment that I had to adjust to having my own place again as opposed to the very transient nature of hotel room living. Unless you’ve “been there and done that,” you won’t understand but there really is an adjustment period. Of course, since we are still in the middle of a pandemic that has changed life as we knew it ever since it started back in March 2020, most social settings were “cancelled” and most activities went “online.” When I moved into this apartment last fall, it was located in a community 20 miles north of the hotel room I had been living in, so I was not that familiar with this area. Churches, colleges, bars, restaurants, shopping centers, and many businesses were still operating mostly online at that time, so the usual places to go to meet new people were closed down, and they only started to open up again this past spring and summer.

As the summer progressed, I visited a local community college to find out if they had any classes for seniors that I could take as a way to meet people in my age range, and to start getting connected within the community. I did end up finding two online classes (discussion groups) that meet on a weekly basis, and I joined them in July (they are still ongoing). And I also found out about the in-person class I’m currently taking at the church that I mentioned above when I stopped there to find information on senior activities that they offered. They were finally starting to offer some “in-person” classes for the fall term starting in late August.

So what does all of this have to do with discovering “Compline”? Actually, it has a lot to do with it. Since Compline is something that is done at the end of the day right before bedtime, it give us time to reflect on the things going on in our lives and the lives of others, too, and in particular what has gone on during that specific day. And it brings our focus back to God and being grateful for all He does for us, even in the challenging times we face.

It is a great way to end the day with a time for reading those four psalms that are often read/prayed as a part of a Compline service found in Psalm 4, 31, 91, and 134. And it’s a great reminder, too, of where our true strength comes from as found in Psalm 46:1 which states, “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble.” Indeed, He is, and that’s a great reflection to consider as we go to sleep for the night no matter what we might be going through at any given point in time.

I’ll end this post with these words which are so appropriate to use for Compline right before bedtime that are found in Psalm 4:8 (NIV)-In peace I will lie down and sleep…

For you alone, Lord. . .

Make me dwell. . .

In safety. . . .

YouTube Video: “Hills and Valleys” by Tauren Wells:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here