Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vacation [continued] and America's Seven Faith Tribes

Some pics...
Top to bottom: Dara...being Dara,
Drew and I about to throw down on some Calabash seafood!
Me and D
Typical family beach setup in the sandstorm (before the umbrellas became unmanageable)

Reading on the beach is one of my favorite things in life. There’s not much better than the shade of an umbrella, a soft constant breeze, and the sound of the waves crashing interrupted only with occasional calls of seagulls! My reading this week began with a commentary on the book of John (I’m getting ready to teach John at Providence late this fall). I know, I know, only pastors read that kind of stuff. The last two days I’ve been reading the latest book by well-known researcher George Barna entitled, The Seven Faith Tribes. Great stuff! It’s really making me think.

In short, Barna’s research indicates there are seven primary faith-based “tribes” in America with different worldviews: Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Pantheists, Skeptics, and two separate Christian groups—Casual Christians and Captive Christians. I’m not finished, so I’ll save opinions on the book for later. So far, I’ve read about the two different Christian “tribes” and the Jews. It’s really got me thinking. The Casual Christians make the largest “tribe” in America with about 66% of the America’s adult population in their ranks. They are poor givers to church or charity, somewhat faithful to attend church and say they believe in God, but their worldviews are anything but biblical. They generally don’t believe all the stories in the Bible are literally true. They are average among Americans regarding divorce, porn viewing, drinking too much, media influence, gambling, and they are statistically the LEAST happy of all groups except one. They are all over the map regarding politics.

The Captives are a different group. Only 16% of the adult population, they’re the happiest of all tribes, they’re not likely to trust the media or view porn or get divorced. They consider themselves as far from perfect but have high moral standards. They are solidly biblical in their worldview. They give significantly more of their money to church and charities; they are very faithful to attend church.

As I’m reading about these two Christian tribes, I’m reminded of Jesus’ parables of the wheat and the tares, the sheep and the goats, and his explanation of the two gates and ways. I’ve been thinking of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Barna makes the comparison to Jesus’ letters to the churches of Asia Minor transcribed by John in Revelation 2-3. Of seven churches addressed by Jesus, only 2 were commended and not warned. Barna says the difference between the two groups of self-described Christians in the United States are broken down about the same. Interesting.

I must say, while reading these two chapters I thought about our church (and churches in general) in two different lights. First, I think of all the people that call Providence home whose lives do not reflect a “fully devoted follower” kind of desire. I wonder how many people in our church are Casual Christians who are relatively unchanged and unaffected by Christ’s influence on their lives? They really live for this world rather than the next, and their lives show it. Here in the south we are experts at spiritual compartmentalization and keeping God in his place. Second, I wonder if we have been primarily going after the wrong crowd of people? We generally go after the minority tribes: the Skeptic, Jew, Muslim, or Pantheist. At least, I’ve got these “unbelievers” in my mind as I preach. That’s what we usually mean by the term, “unchurched.” But if what Barna says is true, we should perhaps be more intentional about going after these Casual Christians—the “churched” or “semi-churched”—some who come to our church one out of three (or four, or five) weeks and unhesitatingly claim to be Christian. That’s what the Mormons and Skeptics do. They fill their ranks with these. My thought is that we already have a head start on them, since they are at least familiar with the Gospel. My question is how do we best reach them? Is it worthwhile to put most of our eggs in that basket to try? Thinking out loud, reaching the people of this tribe probably requires a different kind of strategy. They are, as evidenced by their own actions, uncommitted to things they have heard. So how can we help them be committed? How do we help them see that Jesus is Savior AND Lord (Master)?

Speaking from experience, adult Casuals rarely cross-over to Captive status unless something really tragic happens to them or someone they love. Death (or a close call), diagnosis of a disease or serious condition, divorce, or some other life-altering situation is what God seems to use to wake them. Perhaps sweeping revival or awakening (both are perfect terms for this) comes with a national disaster or crisis. Since our strategy depends on relationships, should we not let them feel a sense of belonging before committing and then be ready to articulate the importance of surrender when they are really listening (i.e. when faced with trial)? Once again I’m reminded of the importance of Life Groups and getting people to try this level of community.

[Three days later…]
Well, I’ve read almost all the book. I’m glad to be home! The last day at the beach was like riding 80 mph in the back of a pickup full of sand! We were pummeled by wind and sand! It made reading a real challenge. Barna’s book is great. Not sure I agree with all the conclusions, but wow, what a thought provoking read. Really helps me understand the worldviews of people and why they do what they do. I’m still processing…and finding sand in my stuff. More later.

Monday, July 13, 2009

First Days of Vacation at Ocean Isle

Wow was I ready for a vacation. The whole family was. Darla had a big “Cow Appreciation Day” at the Fil-A, which capped off a long week of work for her. It always takes me about two days of being away before I’m able to really relax. This year was no different.

We ate at the famous Beacon Drive-In in Spartanburg SC on the way down to Ocean Isle, NC where we’re staying. It’s kind of a tradition. We got pictures of Darla and the kids standing with J.C., the well-known “caller” of the restaurant, saying “CALLLLL IT.” He’s been working virtually every day (except Sundays when he goes to church) for over 50 years. I got a “Beef-a-plenty, heavy on the red” (that’s a beef bar-b-q sandwich with extra sauce, covered with fries and onion rings in “Beacon language,” as Dara put it). Drew got a “J.C. Pounder-a-plenty” (a quadruple-patty cheese burger covered with fries and onion rings), and he ate it all! Drew’s never been afraid of a food challenge.

The condo we’re staying in has a view of the Eastern Channel of the Intercoastal Waterway and is a quarter-mile stroll from the beach. Always looking for a deal, we got this one for a little more than half-price through a relative of a friend. We are soooo thankful, as our budget has been strained lately.

Speaking of budget, we haven’t eaten out in two weeks in preparation for the trip (the only one who cheated was me—I ate a salad at staff luncheon). We love eating seafood and finding other local favorite eating establishments. For one meal, we plan on keeping another tradition. We usually go to a local seafood market and buy shrimp for a low country boil. We eat well for dinner, but we skimp for breakfast (cereal) and lunch (sandwiches or hotdogs packed for the beach).

This beach is pretty cool. It’s not overly crowded, but we can walk down the beach about 150 yards and be all alone! That’s what we like. There are lots of shells, no seaweed (so far), and the waves are great (we’ve even had surfers around). Pretty typical Atlantic ocean beach. The weather was sunny and windy yesterday, but today was calmer and cloudy. It rained a little. My only complaint about the beach is the rule forbidding use of any cabanas or canopies of any kind. They only allow umbrellas!

Sunday we stayed all day on the beach! I prayed for God to bless Providence (I did fight the feeling of wanting to be there). I even called Greg in-between services to see how it went. We all got lots of sun.

This morning Drew and I went to a used bookstore nearby. It was quite an experience. Not a lot of books. The elderly gentleman that worked there was an interesting guy (can’t really discuss why!). Many of the books were paperback romances, cookbooks, and outdated public school textbooks. Drew is fascinated with old books (I have no idea where he gets this!). He wanted South of the Rio Grande by Brand, Pride and Prejudice by Austen, Volume 4 of Reader’s Digest’s Condensed Books from 1976, The King’s Agent, a novel by Clark, and Mystery of the Hidden Face, by Honness. All were old hardbacks in good condition. I found a parallel edition of the Wycliffe Bible Commentary and the New Testament (over 1100 pages) for $1! The guy at the store didn’t even know what it was! It’s not often you leave a bookstore with your arms full of books for ten bucks!

We all ate lunch at the condo. Since it was rainy looking, Drew and I stayed on the deck and read our books while the girls went to the beach. A good time. Later we went to the dock and watched some folks crabbing and then went to find the girls on the beach. We played foxtail until time to shower before going to supper. After supper we played games together in the condo. I love vacation! Time for bed. Tomorrow's gonna be even better.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

When God Moves

It’s been a while since I spoke at an event. I all but dropped the speaking at extra-Providence engagements around four years ago when things got really busy at the church. My old friend Dwayne Sanders called me several months ago about speaking at an FCA football team camp and I hesitatingly told him I would.

Truth is I love speaking to kids…especially athletes…especially football players. There’s not a group before whom I feel more comfortable, and for whom I have more empathy. All the teams at this camp were from East Tennessee—about 300 (?) players from around eight teams. During the day they scrimmaged and worked on skills. I got three chances to speak to them. Something I like about speaking at team camps is that they have lots of kids who haven’t heard the Gospel.

I prayed much concerning this camp: about what I would say—and that God would work. The most critical meeting is the first night. It’s when I must make a personal connection with them and make the Gospel clear.

So I started by telling my “wild man wedge buster” story. It is an exercise in hyperbole about when I truly embraced the fact that football was a sport of aggressive courage—when I made the transformation from quarterback to wedge buster in order to make the high school varsity team. As the late comedian Jerry Clower would say, it’s not about telling a funny story, it’s about telling a story…funny. I go way over the top on telling this one. It’s always a hit and people call me “wild man” who hear it. It gets requested a lot.

After the “wild man” story, I talked about the facts of death and life. My text is Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16.

Sometimes God just chooses to move in an unusual way and call many people to himself. Last night was one of those times. As usual, I tried to explain the Gospel as clearly as possible, and I gave them an opportunity to respond. I led them in a prayer to receive Christ if they truly wanted to surrender their lives to him. I asked them that if they had done so—and were serious—to stand and walk out of the room (where I would meet them). At least 50 (I don’t know the exact number) indicated that they had been saved, and did so.

Wow. It was almost overwhelming for me to see God work. I get emotional when God uses me—an undeserving instrument. It is really humbling. Thank you God for saving people and for somehow using fools and weaklings to make known your truth and grace.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Redneck day

Had an incredible day today (Monday, July 6) with the fam.

We decided to load up the truck with lunch, dog, and tubes and head up to the Big South Fork River for a redneck day. We stopped at a little full-service gas station in Oneida (not an uncommon thing there!) where the owner let us use his compressed air for free to blow up our tubes and the little raft we brought for Sparky (wish I had a picture, tubes were stacked high and Sparky shared the front seat with Darla!). We drove several miles over narrow gravel roads to an old railroad bridge called the O&W bridge and ate a picnic lunch under it beside the river. After unloading the tubes and some bottles of water, we hopped back in the truck and drove to Leatherwood Ford bridge (about 3 miles downriver), parked and hiked back up to our tubes. The hike is beautiful. It follows the river and winds through large boulders across small creeks and through beautiful trees.

When we reached the bridge we grabbed the tubes, jumped in and floated down. The water was lower than the last time we did it so it took about 3 hours to get back to Leatherwood Ford. The day was perfect! It was about 79 degrees and sunny. Rocky cliffs tower above the river and eagles soar high overhead. The river is calm most of the way except for a few small rapids and a few very slow spots, it’s like a lazy river ride at a water park—only it’s real, has no chlorine or crowd, and only nature sounds are all around. We brought a little inflatable raft for Sparky, but he was much happier just swimming back and forth to everyone’s tube, making sure they were ok. I took the raft, turned it over and laid on it like a big air mattress! By the time we got to Leatherwood Ford, everyone was ready to get out.

A good way to spend a day off!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Fourth

I haven't posted in a long while. I'm feeling a bit nostalgic this morning, so I'll share a thought. Today is July 4th. It has always been one of my favorite holidays. Not only has God shown me his incomparable grace by calling me to be one of his children, but he has predetermined that I be born in the greatest nation in the history of the world. In fact, the two are very much related.

Because of the tyranny of the church and rulers who placed restrictions on Christians who wanted to read, interpret for themselves, and practice the Bible, hundreds of thousands had fled England and other European nations for the New World in the 1600s and 1700s. America, still under jurisdiction of the king of England, offered the opportunity for people to experience freedom because of three primary factors: 1) the king was far away, 2) the frontier (which made imposing rules difficult) was vast, and 3) the defining majority of those who came to the Colonies were English Puritans who brought several fundamental ideals that became intrinsically American. These ideals included the following: belief in God and biblical authority, human dignity, God’s grace, hard work & capitalism, the rule of law, religious freedom (they had experienced religious tyranny in England), representative democracy (republican polity and accountability), and low taxation.

However, America in the early 1700s was still a wild and untamed place (and I’m not talking about the Indians). Because of the vast frontier and the lack of law enforcement and the great amount of liberty and opportunity to own land, exploitation and crime was more the rule than the exception. Townships were weak, and the American church was (except for a few exceptions) splintered and separated by great distances. Then something profound happened: we know it as The Great Awakening. It is when America was saved. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the Colonies responded to the Gospel in a sweeping movement of God that defies reasonable explanation. It was after this revival of Christian religion that King George III came to power and patriotic sentiments began to stir in the Colonies. It is no accident that the vast majority of our founding fathers were committed Christians, a fact that is obvious in their writings.

In the last 80 years, another ideal has come to our shores—European Socialism. It is in many ways directly contradictory to the ideals that made us who we are. It is an “areligious” system of elitism and soft tyranny. It believes in the authority of the state (read: the government), which determines what activities are favored more than others, rather than the ultimate authority of God and the freedom of individuals under the protection and rule of law. It utilizes class envy and the promise of "progress" and "change" (indeed some proponents call themselves "progressives"). It encourages people to see themselves as victims and see the state as their savior. It seeks to empower elitists by creating a dependent voter base. It depends on dependence. It penalizes personal achievement by taxing those who make a profit, giving to those "disenfranchised" who pay little or no taxes at all! The "beneficiaries," who want to keep the tax burden on the "rich" ignore all manner of social engineering, loss of individual freedom, government intrusion, and moral decay AS LONG AS THEY CAN KEEP THEIR BENEFITS that their "victim" status affords them. And they will vote for any politician who will continue the deal. The "progress" the "progressives" desire almost always makes government bigger, creates dependencies, takes away freedoms, and costs taxpayers' money.

The soft tyranny of Socialism has been creeping its way into our culture and institutions (including the press) for decades. It has grown in its influence and is now about to overthrow the America we once knew as our government takes over companies, becomes less accountable & more bureaucratic, and spends trillions it doesn’t have that our children & grandchildren will! God has been removed from meaningful discussion and relegated to trivial lines in politicians’ speeches. True human rights—the right to life itself—is being sacrificed on alter of a “freedom” to do whatever I want, as abortion is made more available and the aged are not honored but considered an inconvenience.

I am profoundly thankful to God to be an American. I am profoundly concerned that we are moving fast in the wrong direction. Pray with me that God will awaken us before it is too late.