Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Voices of Vanity Fair -- Part 2 -- The Voice of the Consumer

Continuing with a blog that I wrote back in August concerning the voices of Vanity Fair (Part 1), I trust you will find some food for thought with this thought. Long before Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress Paul wrote a letter to the Galatians addressing some of the voices of Vanity Fair.

Galatians 1:6-7 KJV I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: [7] Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

He was alarmed that there were those who would work to create great upheaval in the soul. It was of such a nature that it could be described as a hellish agitation attempting to perplex the soul. It was with the subtle suggestions of doubt or half-truth created by asking questions that would subvert the simple. The Greek indicates that the words “trouble” and “pervert” the Gospel implies a shaking back and forth with the intent of stirring up spiritual distress.

They would work to twist or turn around the message of truth. Our generation is no different from the one Paul was confronting. He was preaching the thought that everything has to flow through the filter of Scripture and the direction of the Spirit. Discernment must be one of the prevailing traits in our relationship with God. The reality is that Paul understood the fragile nature of faith and that listening to the wrong voices can turn us away from the faith. A certain amount of vigilance is required in our spiritual life. This thought opens up a question, “What voices are you allowing to influence you?”

There is a pattern in the book of Galatians. . .

• It starts with a troubling and a perversion of the Gospel (1:6-9).
• Then it progresses to a bewitching that will lead one toward disobedience (3:1-3).
• Then it moves even further in that it changes the appetite for godly things into the things of the world (4:9).
• Its deadly conclusion leads to a disabled runner who cannot complete his race (5:7-8).

Everything about Vanity Fair was designed with the spiritual shopper in mind. You can still have a bit of religion and a lot of the trinkets of Vanity. Everything about the American culture encourages us to seek after a wide variety of things. Take note of the choices, it is from bottled water (strawberry, raspberry, or lemon), to burgers (Whoppers, Big Macs, Swiss and Mushroom, or even Chicken), to computers (Dell’s, Macs, or simple PC’s), or to cell phones (Blackberries, I-Phones, Voyagers). It becomes almost endless as the sellers attempt to coerce people to spend their money on their newest invention.

With a deadly accuracy these voices of Vanity Fair wants us to make the same application in our service to serving God. The consumer has a mentality that makes him in charge instead of God being in charge. But in the process, God ends up being bought out and He disappears from the scene.

The reality is that the Gospel is a call to the denial of self. The Gospel is not a call to self-fulfillment but it is a call to sacrifice. I might add that there are hard demands to following this Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Luke 9:22-27 KJV Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day. [23] And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. [24] For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. [25] For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? [26] For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of the holy angels. [27] But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.

Living for God is not about us. Being a saint of God is not about us. In fact, it’s not even about our self-esteem. Being a saint of God is being sick of sin and having a sense of desperation for redemption. It is about seeing the Lord as the crucified Savior and His offer as being priceless and saving us from sin, death, and hell.

The popularity of cross-bearing is as popular now as it was back then, not very! However, we have no choice in the matter as to how that we come to him. Don’t listen to the voices of Vanity Fair that says that you can have it your way! When it comes to the kingdom of God, a consumer mentality is deadly. You cannot shop for choices in your relationship with God. What was required of the primitive, first church is the same requirements that fit in today’s society.

The consumer mentality causes people to “shop” their doctrine, “shop” their church, “shop” their pastors and elders, and “shop” spirituality. Instead of what is good for the soul, the choices are made on what is good for their schedule, their family, or their location. The consumer mentality fills churches while it empties the soul.

Someone recently sent me a link from Facebook for an online sermon in one of the most popular churches in my hometown. I watched with a progressive sense of horror and astonishment as a sermon from Mark 5 was preached by the pastor and before it was over, the demoniac from Gadara had been labeled as mentally ill and not demon possessed. The place was packed and the crowd appeared to be hanging on every word and I could only wonder how many people on that day had been misled, most if not all. How many people in that room on that particular day really were being oppressed by a very real devil (of which he has almost disappeared from American pulpits and church life) and it was being billed as mental illness? Can a host of pills fix a spiritual problem? That question is rhetorical in nature and needs no answer but just in case, let me say that there are no pharmaceutical answers for spiritual dilemmas. I was incredibly sad as the sermon came to a close on that day because I realized that many in that crowd were simply there because of programs, social contacts, and nice facilities rather than a true love for Christ and His Word.

The sad fact is that spiritual consumerism wipes out biblical discernment and true discipleship but it fills up buildings and makes budgets blossom. For a moment transition to the material side of being a consumer and its effects and note what happens. Professor Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania wrote concerning the American “happiness quotient” being in a consistent decline for more than a generation: “In the last 30 years—a time of great prosperity—the proportion of the population describing itself as ‘very happy’ has declined. It has decreased because of an abundance of choices and a consumer attitude that pervades our lives.” Having more “choices” probably is not going to make anyone more spiritual. The cost of discipleship is the only thing that brings about lasting spiritual transformation.

Resist the flow of that voice of Vanity Fair that calls you to a life of ease and comfort and invest yourself to the hilt in the Kingdom. . . it is the only thing that really matters (Matthew 6:33).

Monday, November 02, 2009

Book Recommendation--Timothy Keller. . . Counterfeit Gods

One of the noticeable differences in my reading habits over the last three or four years has been the content of religious materials that I now read. Years ago, I spent a lot of time reading Max Lucado, Max Lucado, and Max Lucado. Max was good for my inspirational quirks years ago but after the 45th book has dropped out of the chute and landed on the bookshelf, I discovered that Max was apparently saying the same things but under a different cover. I gained a bit of inspiration but little education. All-in-all, it was good because his writings caused me to reach for things on the next shelf.

Higher up on the proverbial shelf is a writer that I have grown to enjoy reading simply because of the “thinkabilty” factor involved. That writer is Timothy Keller and his newest book fills the bill. He has written a new book entitled “Counterfeit Gods—The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters.”

The introduction kicks off with a provocative thought concerning the Idol Factory which is the heart of a man. He takes a quote from a very liberal thinker Friedrich Nietzsche, There are more idols in the world than there are realities. Keller then recounts multiple documented suicides of Fortune 500 bankers and investment managers who could not handle the collapses of Freddie Mac, Bear Stearns, and other financial firms. At the heart of their demise was the idea that money had become their sole savior and sustenance for life. However, inanimate things can never fill the void of the spiritual yaw in a man’s soul. The only thing that will ultimately fulfill and provide a sense of contentment in a man is a transforming and redemptive relationship with God.

Keller writes, “If we look to some created thing to give us the meaning, hope, and happiness that only God himself can give, it will eventually fail to deliver and break our hearts.” This single sentence explains the maddening pursuit of the very fragile American dream. The American dream is no longer what it was 30 years ago (or even five years ago for that matter) simply because the system has now been broken by the insatiable demands of greed, self-proclaimed “rights” and the refusal to embrace delayed gratification. Bigger is not necessarily better but bigger does warrant and feed an out of control idol factory.

Later in the chapter, Keller explains, “Sometimes God seems to be killing us when he is actually saving us. Here he was turning Abraham into a great man—but on the outside it looked like God was being cruel. To follow God in such circumstances seems to some to be “blind faith,” but actually it is vigorous, grateful faith. The Bible is filled with stories of figures such as Joseph, Moses, and David in which God seemed to have abandoned them, but later it is revealed that he was dealing with destructive idols in their lives and that could have only come to pass through their experience with difficulty.”

The Chapter titles are:

Introduction: The Idol Factory
1-All You’ve Ever Wanted
2-Love Is Not All You Need
3-Money Changes Everything
4-The Seduction of Success
5-The Power and the Glory
6-The Hidden Idols in Our Lives
7-The End of Counterfeit Gods
Epilogue: Finding and Replacing Your Idols

There is a very detailed “Notes” section along with a “Bibliography” that runs for 30 pages which is loaded with some very good fodder. Worthy of your time and be sure that you read with a red pen in one hand and an open notebook available. . . that is how good this book is.

A Prayer Pouring Out of Psalm 119

--> I am presently preaching through the stanzas of Psalm 119 and it has been a spiritually enriching exercise.   Toda...