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Snyder: Recovering post-Christian Christians

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Editor’s note: The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not reflect the thoughts of Inside The Pew staff.

By John Snyder
Special to Inside The Pew

In the United States, many people are praying fervently and trying with all their might to recover a “Christian America,” and they’re convinced it can happen with just the right political candidate. “With our person in the White House we can go back to what we used to be!”

But even if we could elect St. Paul or St. Augustine as our new president, what impact would that have on a very un-Christian, post-Christian population without some massive spiritual awakening taking place first? It’s been said that no leader can be worse than the people who elected him/her.

It’s one thing for Christians to be living in a post-modern, post-Christian society, but it’s quite another for our churches to be packed with “post-Christian Christians.” What I mean is that unless and until we as Christians finally commit ourselves to live our lives as Jesus intended, it really won’t matter who occupies the White House or the seats of Congress, or sits in the Parliament of any other nation in the world.

Even if we can’t generate a predominantly Christian nation here in the USA, we can create a great number of Christian societies in the midst of it through our churches. But the church would have to be very different from what we see right now. By “different” I don’t mean in terms of the usual religious externals—clothing, appearance, religious language, and all of that—but in the way we act, what we value, and particularly how we treat one another.

“How they love one another!” and “With what great joy they live!” were things the pagan world said of the earliest Christians. Who says that about the church today? Virtually every poll that has come out in the last few decades has simply confirmed the continuous dismal slide of the church toward a complete conformity to the culture. We’re no longer distinguishable in any way from the secular world.

OK, so most of us have heard this before. Continuing to wring our hands about it won’t make any difference. Here’s what we can do about it. We can humble ourselves, turn from our own sin and selfishness, and give ourselves to prayer—real prayer, fervent prayer—continuing to ask, seek, and knock until God hears from heaven, forgives our sin, and heals our land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

For churches to have any impact on society, change has to begin in us and our families first. We need to clean up our act, ensure that our family is centered on Christ, and then become healthy, active members of a real, God-honoring church.

It’s been said of nations at one time influenced by Christian faith (but no longer) that their social problems are primarily the fault of the church. In other words, when the church really is the church—when the word “Christian” means a person in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells—things happen. The medicine of the Gospel works only when taken full strength. And history has demonstrated that the Gospel has the power to revolutionize society even when a minority are believers.

Few doubt that the world is at one of its most critical points in all its history. We can’t make a mistake here. We’re faced with a full-blown call to arms, not with the weapons of the world, but with unrelenting prayer and the power of the Spirit, manifest in sacrificial love and steadfast obedience to whatever God calls each one of us to do.

This just isn’t the time for Christians to be pursuing along with the world more and more luxury, ease, entertainment, property, toys, and all the rest. The church may have been lulled to sleep by bread and circuses as the rest of the culture, but we don’t have to remain so. Listen to the call of the Spirit. It isn’t too late…yet.

Let’s ask ourselves, what can we do personally to resist the slide toward total cultural absorption of the church?

John Snyder (@jisnyder)is a pastor, author, and conference speaker. He has taught New Testament Studies at New College Berkeley, California, and has pastored and planted churches in California, New York, Switzerland, and Hawaii. Snyder received his Bachelor of Arts from Vanguard University (Costa Mesa, Calif.); his Master of Theology and Master of Divinity degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary; and his Doctor of Theology from the University of Basel, Switzerland. Snyder’s new book, “Your 100 Day Prayer: The Transforming Power of Actively Waiting on God”, is now available from Thomas Nelson Publishers on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christian Book Distributors, and other major retailers. He is also the founder of Community 321, an online faith community, and Basel Community, an information and relocation service to expats in the greater Basel, Switzerland, area. Contact Snyder via email john@community321.com.

A fourth of Ju-lye I’ll never forget

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By Rick Marschall
Special to ASSIST News Service

Swartz Creek, Mich. – A number of years ago I was working on a book, a three-part biography of rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis, evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, and country music superstar Mickey Gilley, who all are first cousins to each other. A friend offered me his unused condo in Montgomery, Texas, to get away for research and writing one summer. Since Lewis lived in Mississippi, Swaggart in Louisiana, and Gilley in nearby Pasadena, Texas, it made geographical sense.

Once settled, I took out the Yellow Pages to chart the location of Assembly of God churches for all the weeks ahead, intent on visiting as many as I could. East Texas was in every way new to me, and I wanted to experience everything I could. I was born in New York City… you get the picture.

Well, the first church I visited was in Cut and Shoot, Texas. That’s the town’s name; you can look it up. A small, white frame AG church was my first stop that summer… and I never visited another. For one thing — coincidence? — I learned that a member of the tiny congregation was the widow of a man who had pastored the AG church in Ferriday, La., the small town FOUR HOURS AWAY where, and when, those three cousins grew up in its pews. She knew them all, and their families, and had great stories. Beyond that, the pastor of the church in Cut and Shoot, Charles Wigley, had gone to Bible College in Waxahachie, Texas, with Jerry Lee Lewis and played in a band with him, until Jerry Lee got kicked out. Some more great stories.

But there was more than that kept me there for that summer. In that white-frame church and that tiny congregation, it was, um, obvious in three minutes that I was not from East Texas. Yet I was treated like family as if they all had known me three decades. It was the Sunday before July 4, and a fellow named Dave Gilbert asked me if I’d like to go to his farm for the Fourth where a bunch of people were just going to get together and “do some visitin’.”

On the Fourth I bought the biggest watermelon I could find as my contribution to the get-together. Well, there were dozens and dozens of folks. I couldn’t tell which was family and who were friends, because everybody acted like family. When folks from East Texas ask, “How ARE you?” they really mean it. There were several monstrous barbecue smokers with chimneys, all slow-cooking beef brisket. (Every region brags about its barbecue traditions, but I’ll still fight anyone who doesn’t claim low-heat, slow-smoked, no sauce, East-Texas BBQ as the best) There was visitin,’ after all; there were delicious side dishes; there was softball and volleyball and kids dirt-biking; and breaks for sweet tea and spontaneous singing of patriotic songs.

I sat back in a folding chair, and I thought, “THIS is America.”

As the sun set, the same food came out again — smoked brisket galore; all the side dishes; and desserts of all sorts. Better than the first time. Then the Gilberts cleared the porch of their house. People brought instruments out of their cars and trucks. Folks tuned their guitars; some microphones and amps were set up; chairs and blankets dotted the lawn. Dave Gilbert and his brothers, I learned, sang gospel music semi-professionally in the area. Pastor Wigley and his saxophone, later in the summer, opened for Gold City Quartet at a local concert. But everyone else sang, too. In some churches, in some parts of America, you’re just expected to sing solo every once in a while. You’re not only expected to — you WANT to. So into the evening, as the sun went down and the moon came up over those farms and fields, everyone at that picnic sang, together or solo or in duets or quartets. Spontaneously, mostly. Far into the night, exuberantly with smiles, or heartfelt with tears, singing unto the Lord.

I sat back in a folding chair, and I thought, “THIS is Heaven.”

Recently I came across a video that very closely captures the music, and the feeling — the fellowship — of that evening. A wooden ranch house, a barbecue picnic just ended, a campfire, and singers spontaneously worshiping, joining in, clapping, and “taking choruses.” There were cameras at this one, this video, but it took this city boy back to that Fourth of Ju-lye, finding himself amongst a brand-new family, the greatest barbecue I ever tasted before or since… and the sweetest songs I know.

Rick Marschall is the author of 65 books and hundreds of magazine articles in many fields, from popular culture. He is recipient of the 2008 “Christian Writer of the Year” award from the Greater Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, and produces a weekly e-mail devotional, “Monday Morning Music Ministry.” His e-mail address is: RickMarschall@gmail.com.


Don’t put your spiritual life on a diet

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By Niya Allen
Special to Inside The Pew

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Inside The Pew staff.

When was your last diet? Did it work? I have been on and off a diet since I was 13 years old. I was always “thick,” but I wanted

Niya Allen

to look like the girls of the Caucasian persuasion I watched on television and saw in magazines. Growing up I was never instructed that I needed to eat my vegetables and told sweets were only eaten after meals. If I wanted ice cream for breakfast, I had it.

At thirteen, I lost my first 10 pounds by working out daily, but soon burnt myself out and gained it back within weeks. Let the yo-yo begin! All I had to show for those daily workouts was my grandmother’s overused step VHS tape and stretch marks!

Diets don’t work. We all know this, but we go on them anyway. The diet industry is a billion dollar business because we love quick fixes to counteract our years of poor eating. We deprive ourselves temporarily to see immediate results and when we don’t see them as quick as we like, we revert back to our old ways.

If I could add up all the pounds lost, I would’ve been in that bikini a long time ago. If only I had just kept at it and not gave up.  Sadly, food diets spill over into other parts of our lives especially where spiritual growth is concerned.

Most of us are from are a microwave generation! We want it now, now, now with the least amount of work or effort. Have you ever prayed for something immediate and said, “…God, if you get me out of this, I promise….” Then once the crisis is over, you don’t keep our end of the bargain? I know I have! The secret to losing weight and keeping it off is getting off the diet roller coaster and realizing that it’s not temporary, but a lifestyle.

It’s time to get off the spiritual diet roller coaster! We don’t want the experience of God’s blessings to be temporary so our dedication to the Christian lifestyle can’t be temporary either. One week we’re “sold out” for the Lord and promise to get our life together and then by the next, it’s a distant memory. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing expecting different results.

Try this: Exchange one counter-productive habit with a new habit that goes along with your spiritual goals and watch God put his super on your natural! He will meet you where you are and push you through the rest of the journey. And an apple for a candy bar isn’t a bad exchange either!

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV)

Niya Allen is a SPIRITpreneur, actress, writer, and editor in chief of faith-based Zoe Life Magazine, a thriving online publication dedicated to providing rich content for the faith crowds. Originally from California, Niya Allen, made the trip to New York with a scholarship to further her theater education at Marymount Manhattan College, and refused to leave. Her plan is to save the world, one blog at a time. Visit www.zoelifemagazine.com.