Why is Our Culture so Confused?

Do you realize the culture and standards in the USA have changed, and changed significantly over recent years? Of course, the USA has never been a perfect country, nor have her people ever been a perfect people . . . no, not by a long shot.  But the reality is that historically we always had a moral compass and enough dignity so that we kept many things regulated to the back streets or out in the boon-docks.  We did that as a society because we knew that some things were just wrong and offensive to a decent society as a whole.  So, knowing that such things could not be eliminated, society demanded that they be kept out of sight.  What was the point?  That a line be drawn, a standard established so that certain things not be called “normal” or “acceptable.”  So that our children always knew there was a difference between acceptable behavior and what was wrong and offensive.


I believe the change that has occurred in our culture is that we have allowed that line to be removed, and we have begun to accept unnatural and bad things as normal.  We have done that by describing the things once viewed as wrong and offensive as “personal preferences.” Part of the switch is that we, somewhere along the way, lost the sense of society and replaced it with individual rights.


I think history will one day put much of the blame on political and religious leaders, both of which have strayed from their intended purpose in a society.  There was a time in our history when both called right “right” and wrong “wrong.”


Of course, there are a great number of behaviors that could be identified and discussed in this arena, but I want to simply point out something I heard on the radio last night as I drove home. The topic of discussion was one of the State having recently eliminated laws against possessing and using pot.  The host of the program was interviewing two women and asked them how they felt about this now being legal.  One of the women quickly said, “I like it and think it should have happened long ago.”  She went on to state that she “hoped that it would open the door and the other states would follow.”  The host asked her if she was ok with the fact that her 14-year-old daughter would be able to legally buy and use pot.  The lady said, “By all means . . . I love her and don’t want to keep any good thing from her.”  I almost wrecked my car . . . that sure is different than my mother.  At 85 years of age, she would use her walking-cane on me if she even suspected that I even thought about using pot.


So what is wrong?  What caused this drift away from what we once believed was nailed down? Is it a lack of churches?  Is it because the churches have lost influence?


If we look in the yellow pages . . . or look at an internet directory . . . we quickly discover that there is no shortages of churches.  They are everywhere . . . in every community.  There are churches with just about every kind of ministry, program, style of service, and ministry.  The lack of churches cannot be the problem.


Ed Stetzer in his book, Comeback Churches provides a list of churches he has identified as being incapable of advancing the Kingdom of God and impacting the community in a positive way . . . at least in the way they are currently.  He describes several as follows:


The Institutional Church: This Church is more concerned about programs and activities. The activities choke out productivity.


The Voluntary Association Church: A church of the people, by the people . . . and most importantly, for the people.  Well, the people who are already there.  Its focus is on retaining the people who are already there.  When new people do show up . . . they are always kept in their place.  The underlying premises: maintaining the status quo.


The Unintentional Church: This church has the best intentions but just never manages to actually get around to doing anything.


The “Us 4 and No More Church”: This church is afraid of growth.  The concern is, “If we grow, we might lose the fellowship we so enjoy.”  This makes it almost impossible for new folks to break into the clique . . . because the church wants to maintain the family feel and new people might change the dynamics.


The “We Can’t Compete Church”: This is the church that has completely given up on being able to make a difference at all.  It just feels like it will never grow . . . So, it simply becomes satisfied with where it is and determines to just stay the way it is.


The Decent and Order Church: This church has a high regard for process . . . but lacks passion. This church wants to run everything “by the book,” but sadly and unfortunately that book is not the Bible.  Everything has to meet the approval of various committees; everything has to be discussed to the minute details.


Stetzer goes on to list and label a dozen more churches . . . all of which seems to affirm an alarming and chilling statistic that many churches today lack sufficient health to effectively impact the people in the community that surrounds them.  He goes on to say that there is evidence that 70-80% of the churches in our Nation are in an unhealthy status.


That is tragic . . . yet, it helps to explain the shift in values within our culture.


I submit that God’s goal for my church and your church is that we be a strong, vibrant, and healthy body.  His purpose is that we be able to touch our communities through the power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  The truth is that God has not called us to be a closed community of cronies . . . but He has called us to go outside our comfort zone for the sake of reaching others with the life-changing, destiny-altering message of God’s amazing grace.


This Sunday, I will begin teaching a 13-week series, entitled “Revealing the Heart of God.”  The series comes from the Old Testament books of Hosea, Amos, and Jonah. The series was published by LifeWay (Biblical Solutions for Life).  The first lesson is, “Exposing a Broken Relationship” and covers Hosea 1 – 3. It covers a time in Israel’s history (8th Century B.C.) when the nation was enjoying financial success and prosperity, reminiscent of the days of Solomon. Everything looked good to them . . . and for them . . . on the world stage.  But all was not well . . . storm clouds were forming over them . . . because God looked down from Heaven and He saw things differently . . .


How do you think God sees our Nation today?


Are there storm clouds forming over us today just as there were for Israel in the early 8th Century B.C.?


How do People See Us?

Last Saturday morning Sandy and I went to the nursing home to visit Granny.  We arrived mid-morning and first checked in the dining/activity room for her; she was not there.  We then went to her room; she was not there either.  We went to the nurse’s station to inquire. One lady told us she had gone out, but another lady walked up and said, “No, she is back, now.”  We began looking for her.  As we walked through the dining room again, a resident asked if we were looking for Granny.  We replied that we were, indeed.  He said she was in one of the side rooms.  We went there and sure enough she was there.  She was in a group-exercise session.  The meeting was over and we made our way back into the dining room.  Granny pointed out a round table and said, “Let’s sit here,” so we did.

In a few minutes, an elderly lady rolled up in a wheelchair and said, “You people cannot sit at this table . . . you must move to that table” which she pointed out.  We smiled at her and continued visiting with Granny.  The lady remained where she was and after a few minutes, again demanded that we move.  Finally, we moved to the other table. It was interesting what happened afterwards.  The lady went all around the room, telling everyone that she “had to make those people move.”  I was saddened as I watched her work the room . . . saddened by her behavior and how people responded to her.  She obviously had reduced herself amongst her peers to such a degree that they simply didn’t pay her any attention; I found that very sad.  I found it even sadder that she did not recognize what she had done.  Ultimately, she ended back at our table and whispered that she had done us a big favor by making us move and stated that the table we had been sitting at belonged to a really mean, contrary woman . . .

I have worked with elderly folks for almost 40 years and I have come to believe that . . . sweet people just become sweeter as they get older; while busy-bodies and mean people just get meaner as they get older.  I don’t think there are many things sadder than a mean, old, busy-body . . .

Marshall Shelly, in his book, Well-Intentioned Dragons, points out 8 types of people who operate inappropriately in our lives. Here they are:

  1. Bird Dogs: always ready to point out our mistakes.
  2. Wet Blankets: appear to offer warmth and comfort . . . but up close, they only spread doom and gloom. They are negative.
  3. Fortune Hunters: They look at us and only see contacts, potential clients, or an opportunity. We may be the key to them getting their bonus . . .
  4. Steam Rollers: They get great pleasure from straightening us out . . . and flattening our joy.
  5. Fickled Financiers: This one uses money to try to control people and events.  But the bank closes immediately when they don’t get their way.
  6. Busy-Bodies: Always in everybody’s business . . . while neglecting their own.
  7. Snipers: They shoot at us from the bushes . . . But avoid the light of confrontation.
  8. Book-Keepers: This one keeps a detailed set of books on everything we do wrong . . . But never records anything we do right.  Amazingly, this one remembers everything he does right . . . But never recalls anything he did wrong.

At first glance, these folks may appear quite spiritual as they attempt to straighten us out.  That is simply because they practice their criticism in spiritual language . . . but sadly they leave a wake of destruction and injured people in their wake.

Sometimes, it is like with Job’s friends . . . appearing as if they have come to help and provide comfort, but in reality they act more like foes.  Sadly, they come simply to criticize . . . and do so with a sense of arrogance.

It is good to remember that not everyone standing around us is necessarily pulling for us.  Some folks sadly seem to believe the best medicine for us is criticism rather than compassion.

Their concept of theology is strictly “cause and effect”. . . if you do this, then you get that.  

It is also good to be on guard so that we never behave in such a manner.  The sad truth is that it is always harder work being on the building crew . . . and the easier work is found on the crew that tears things down.

I pray for that poor lady . . . I also pray for her family.


Can We Dream Again . . . Will We Dream Again?

The photo is of Zach’s son, Pierce.  Zach is my dear friend of many years; Pierce is a cool kid.  He has been mentioned in this blog before.

In the photo, Pierce is, obviously, standing on the front bumper of a fire truck.  The fire truck was on exhibit during his flag-football game in the Houston area this weekend.  Pierce tells his dad that he is “going to be a fireman” when he grows up. Zach texted me the photo yesterday, and as I looked at it, I wondered how many guys had dreamed about becoming a fireman when he grew up.  Every little boy or girl has a dream . . . we all did!

What happened to those childhood dreams?  How many people actually became, as an adult, what they dreamed of becoming as a child?  What happened to cause us to let that dream die?

As we become adults, do we simply settle into life and quit dreaming?  Is that because we are self-satisfied . . . or is it that we simply let go of our dreams and settle for something different . . . and perhaps something less?

I suspect that where we are in life today is a result of three things: (1) The events that have occurred in our lives; (2) The circumstances we each encountered in life; or (3) The choices we made along the path of our lives.  I suspect that the biggest contributor is usually the choices we have made.

But, even so, we ought to dream again . . . life is wonderful and full of possibilities.

As I thought about it, I came up with three things that I suspect became a problem for us and got in the way of our ability to dream:

  1. We can become burdened by Unfulfilled Expectations: Life can become confusing if we are limited and controlled by unfulfilled expectations.  That is in the times when we expect help . . . but we only get hurt; times when we expect success . . . but only get stopped; times when we expect support . . . but only get discouragement; times when we try to focus on tomorrow . . . but get sabotaged by yesterday; and times when we try to look ahead . . . but keep falling behind.  The danger when things aren’t working out like we want, is that we may simply give up. That will certainly diminish our dreams.
  2. We can also suffer from Unrelenting Doubt:  Unrelenting doubt causes us to quit believing in ourselves and let go of dreams.  Unrelenting doubt tempts us to believe the enemy’s lies, and makes them begin to seem real and believable.  Lies that say, “You are not smart enough” . . . “You don’t have what it takes” . . . “What you had hoped for will never materialize” . . . “You are not pretty or handsome enough” . . . “Your dream is too big for your capacity” . . .  The result is that we may begin to make excuses . . . feel sorry for ourselves . . . become easily intimidated by others and our focus is turned to.
  3. Unchanging Circumstances: Sometimes, our circumstances just don’t cooperate with what we want . . . sometimes those circumstances are not conducive to what we expect . . . we find too many obstacles . . . too little time . . . too little money . . . and simply too many restrictions  in front of us . . . those things just seem to block our path.  Over time, we can begin to see our circumstances as unobtainable . . . unchangeable . . . and the danger is: we hit a spot where we simply give up.

I am reminded of the story of a man named Abraham.  His story is found over several chapters in Genesis.  His story is a great story, and it should serve as a model for us.

As Abraham comes into the focus of the Scripture . . . he is living in a pagan area.  God calls out to him and invites him on a journey.  The promise is, “he will be shown a place especially prepared for him.”  Abraham believes and follows where God leads him.  It is a long journey, filled with amazing experiences.  As he is led along the journey, he becomes quite prosperous. Then one day, God promises Abraham a son . . . exactly what Abraham had dreamed about and yearned for.  When the promise was made, Abraham had just about given up on that dream.  His wife, Sarah, had been unable to bear children over the years . . . and now both of them were getting on in age.  Yet, he believes the promise, hopes and continues ahead in his journey.  He had a dream . . .

Some amazing things happen in his journey.  One example is a group of four kings and their armies passed through the region he was occupying and captured his nephew, Lot, and took him and his possession away.  Abraham learns of the event and assembles his 317 servants and sets out after them.  Abraham and his men catch up with the armies and rout them in battle. That is pretty amazing, and from a human perspective it a battle that Abraham should not have won.  But he had a dream and a promise . . . and that changes some stuff . . .

When Abraham returns home, he has a vision while he sleeps in his tent.  He hears God say to him, “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward” (Genesis 15:1 KJV). This was 15 years after he had received the promise about one day having a son.  As the story moves forward, it becomes obvious that Abraham had developed a bit of an attitude on that subject.  What was wrong?  He had been holding onto a dream for a long time . . . yet his circumstances hadn’t change.

He says to God, “O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”  (Genesis 15:2 NIV) It just doesn’t seem too important.”

Wow, Abraham, the champion in our story is in danger of giving up on his dream.  His comment makes it crystal clear that he had begun to question “Plan A” and was comparing it to his reality.  He had begun to think about a “Plan B”.  He allowed some of that thinking to surface as he spoke about the estate-planning going on in his mind.  We get the sense that Abraham complains a bit.  He had been bowing on the outside, worshipping God . . . but he had been standing on the inside focusing on his lack of . . .  (his own inability).

God gently takes Abraham on a field trip.  He invites Abraham to exit the tent, look up to Heaven, and count the stars.  He tells Abraham to count the stars . . . Abraham discovers that it is an impossible task.  God said to him, “. . . and behold, ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude” Deuteronomy 1:10 KJV).   What we ought to see in this experience is that this great man, Abraham, had come to a place where his faith and hope had been reduced to the size of his tent.  We should also see that God lovingly took him outside so He could remind Abraham that he should never put a ceiling on what God can do.  In this experience we see Abraham moved outside so He could see God’s capacity . . . and His amazing ability.

Here is the simple truth: when we allow our circumstances to define us . . . what we are and what we believe, we are in dangerous waters.  If we allow our circumstances to get between us and God, something tragic happens . . . we begin to operate from a position of fear and apprehension.  Those things are negative and they get in the way of faith and dreams.

A wise and prudent person strives to keep God between him and his circumstances.

Chapter 15 in Abraham’s story, opens with “After these things . . . ”  That raises the question of “what things?”  Those things were the things Abraham had experienced; things that had emerged through his journey.  Those things included: famine, conflict, failure, warfare, and even prosperity.  It was after these things that God showed up and reaffirmed His promise to Abraham.  “Don’t let go of your dream . . . you are going to be a father”!

What do we need to do to begin to dream again?  Perhaps, we ought to remind ourselves that all things are possible with God.

The next time you see a mighty oak tree, remind yourself that tree began its journey as a little nut that refused to give up his ground!