Why I’m not a charismatic…

One of the reasons I began writing/blogging again, is because some extreme charismatic/word-faith/speak it-claim it teaching was taught at my church recently. My previous post was also inspired by this occurrence. In the weeks that followed, I did a lot of reading and listening to Bible teachers who have studied this global “renewal” movement, and so here I provide some resources which have given me a better understanding of this religious movement and its theology.

Video: Teachings and Personal Testimony

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Saved from seeking religious fame & feeling good.

andrew zook profile imageWell, it’s been years since I posted anything to this blog… but some life circumstances have encouraged me to start writing again, about various things. This post has actually been in development for years already, but I began to polish it up again to post here. I hope you enjoy this and find it encouraging. I welcome your in-person questions or questions in the comments below.

I was a firstborn and grew up in a large family in this area with amish/mennonite background.  When I thought about writing this in the first place, I considered my family life, and everything that came with being the oldest and trying to maintain what was, I believe now, favored status, while also trying to be peacemaker between various warring factions. But the focus of this piece will be some aspects of my spiritual journey…

My spiritual/religious training took place in conservative settings with a heavy revivalist/emotionalist tone and expectations. It was emotionally charged, bordering on charismatic, with an emphasis on holy living and being very separate from the world. All the spiritual leaders around me were very outgoing A types who shouted when they preached and pounded the pulpits and verbally rained down hellfire and brimstone.

And this is where me, a self-conscious, genetically melancholy, fearful kid who wanted to do the right thing – found himself.  And it didn’t take long under those sermons and types of role models to figure out that I needed to do what other more brave kids were doing; go forward and accept Jesus into my heart so I wouldn’t go to hell…and so I wouldn’t feel so scared all the time and even more important: to be spiritually outgoing (On Fire!) and preach and argue at people – ie a great warrior for God!

Ahh but it was not to be… I remember after doing the sinner’s prayer thing with my parents and feeling a little different – that only a few days later I felt just as afraid of not being saved as before…maybe even more so, because I was thinking about it more. This was one of my earliest experiences with spiritual disillusionment – by this time in our family’s history we were listening to christian radio and on the program, “Unshackled”, when you committed your life to Christ, everything changed – usually overnight! That wasn’t happening to me at all -ever. Why was I feeling what I was feeling…there must be something wrong with me? Or maybe I should be a really bad sinner so that I could get that really dark-to-light feeling/experience…Or maybe I wasn’t doing the right spiritual experiences, in the right way… Why did I still not have peace or faith (Faith as I understood it in this environment, was a feeling you got, a confidence, a knowing for sure, a buzz of adrenaline, a special kind of emotion that could push you to do anything! Faith was certainty! Faith was loud! Faith was confident! Faith was No Fear!) ie On Fire!

And so I always felt condemned, and sometimes I used that condemnation as an excuse to dabble in sin… “I’m no good; I don’t feel any faith, I must not be saved…I might as well just give up and do whatever I feel like…” And this was the story of my pre-adolescent and teenaged and young adult years… and most of the time I bottled it up. I was one of those who could go forward at the revival meeting, confess every sin that I could possibly think of and the next night feel just as horrible at the end of the sermon as the night before, and feeling guilty for not going forward again – but definitely not wanting to go forward because then what would people think?

So for years, I sought after finding these feelings and experiencing these ideas of “faith” and doing more “outgoing” christiany things. I still went forward, although less than before. I went to TBS, the youth Bible studies, retreats, the church “gifts” seminar and other things. (Not bad things btw – I learned a lot… but I didn’t get what I now know I really needed) I didn’t give much credit to the gifts that God gave me from birth. I disdained my thinker-quiet-artzy personality. I hated my hesitations and public awkwardness. My artistic abilities were mere parlor tricks, not something to pursue for life. I still thought God really only used/valued outgoing, extroverted (On Fire!), public ministry, missionary-type people the most…

This unfortunately lead me down some painful dead-ends… I got the notion that I should do teaching-english-as-a-second language as a gateway to being an overseas missionary eventually. The traveling I did before and around that goal was of immense value. The college degree I earned got me out of my churchy bubble in good ways and I met my wife! But, the “faith” I had in my determination to become a good, up-in-front-of-everyone classroom maestro of learning was a blind and lying faith. Hadn’t I done really well in school, better than expected? (Graduated with honors, in the top 10 of my class – a sign!) Despite the praying-over by others, despite the little “signs” I thought I got from God, despite the lying feelings I felt in some “worship” times, I was never cut out for teaching and I failed completely… My efforts to get up on a pedestal and be a public something-for-God like I was led to believe in church and by my own misunderstandings, backfired spectacturly.  I found out the hard way, that “faith” is more works than a feeling or emotion or confidence. Faith has more to do with Reality than most christians believe and/or are taught. We cannot often do what we were not born to do, or what our personalities are not capable of, etc. God’s not a vending machine who doles out magic overcome-anything-regardlesss-of-Reality powers to you, if you will it in your mind hard enough, or gin up enough “feelings” of faith. But through those painful experiences, God pushed me to start searching and digging and deconstructing all the ideas and assumptions in the Christianity of my childhood into early adulthood.

For starters, I came to realize that all of this seeking “faith” and spiritual confidence and good feeling, religious experiences (On Fire!) was about Me… I call it spiritual self-centeredness… ie a lot of navel gazing. Lots of self-pity. fear, depression… Instead of being a friend to the picked on kid in high school; instead of praying for and listening to the hurts in my siblings lives; instead of reaching out to others… I was focused on being assured that I really had that get-out-of-hell card. I was completely focused on “feeling” right and finding God’s perfect will For ME… (what the churches seemed to emphasize too!) The Evangelical Zeal for Zeal   I had bought into the evangelical/fundamentalist/charismatic lie that being (On Fire!) for Jesus is the only way to be a Christian… (by implication, the teachings of Matt 5, the fruits of the Spirit, the ethics of Jesus and apostle’s, the kingdom lifestyle apparently aren’t enough – you had to be sooo much more than just those things…)

More recently God graciously brought me into contact with some wise speakers/writers  who have helped me find some footing concerning some of the biggest questions I struggled with. What is the message that Jesus and the apostles taught and that when believed and followed, one begins living the eternal life?  And the funny thing is that as some of those lightbulbs went off in me, I unexpectedly received some of the feelings of assurance, even confidence in Christ, that I so longed for years earlier. I thank God for being with me all these years and being patient with me; for giving me a renewed hope and showing me that I can do faithful works for Him – I can follow Him and that He is molding me into a disciple of Him – despite my personality, my feelings or failings. I’ll finish off with some understandings/convictions I’ve learned and been taught recently that have brought a sense of salvation.

  1. Getting saved is not the end all and be all; it is the means to an end.  It’s not about saving myself – it’s about losing myself to and in Christ and His Body in order to participate in God’s restoration of all of creation.
  2. I don’t have to wait till I feel good/right to do what I know God is calling me to do…
  3. Faith isn’t a warm fuzzy feeling – it’s Doing (See Hebrews 11/OT saints stories)
  4. I believe the gospel is Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and even more… the gospel is the Good News that Jesus is Lord. That’s it. Choosing to acknowledge Him as Lord is all that He asks (and He doesn’t have one specific way of doing that either!)
  5. The Christian life is communal more than it’s individualistic. It’s surrender to God, and to others in order to redeem the world/earth – it’s not about saving oneself or getting to a sit-at-Jesus-feet-forever state…(individualistic nirvana).
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Spiritual things

dualismOnly in the past 5-10 years have I come to an awareness of the gnostic dualism that permeated all of the different stripes of evangelicalism that I grow up in –  from the revivalist Beachy-Amish strain to the contemporary, liberalized Mennonite strain I find myself in now. What is this gnostic dualism? It’s a tendency to mark off things as “spiritual” and everything else as “less spiritual” or “not-spiritual” because, well they’re not “spiritual” (as defined by teachers/preachers). It teaches that ‘spirit’ is the part that God is most interested in, or that it’s the only channel where God/man connect. It teaches that ‘spirit’ is at the top of a hierarchy and everything else is lesser. It often implies that individualized, subjective feelings/emotions/thoughts are the path to God. It teaches that if you get the ‘spirit’ part right, then the outward stuff, like good works, community, unity with believers, etc will follow…

The outcome of these propositions? There are numerous consequences of this line of thinking, but one I’ll mention now involves an unspoken table with two columns (dualism); one being “spiritual” and one being “earthly”. And subsequently the more stuff you do in the “spiritual” column, the better, spirit-filled Christian you are, and the more likely you are to “fall in love with Jesus and have an ‘intimate’ individualized relationship with Him.” One astute writer describes this kind of christianity too perfectly… “Just being a decent human being for one hour [at restaurants for brunch] each Sunday and the world sees us in a whole new way. But it’s not going to happen. Because behavior at lunch isn’t considered to be “working on your relationship with God.” Behavior at lunch isn’t spiritual.” (My emphasis)

Now there are some shades of this dualism in Scripture, and I will not deny that or dismiss out-of-hand someone’s proof-text in support of this dualism. But we’ve (especially the revivalistic-pentecostal/charismatic strains of evangelicalism) too often overemphasized these proof texts and ignored others that balance out the dualism. And more recently the part of christianity I’m most familiar with has gone beyond more ‘traditional’ spiritual things, and added new ones or replaced old ones in the ‘spiritual’ to-do column… Here’s just a quick list of some of these.

  • Mental faith/hope/belief (mental assent…)
  • Getting ‘into’ contemporary worship set
  • Reading/listening to ‘Christian’ radio, books, movies, music.
  • Reading the Bible every day (The collection of books that were canonized/bound 300-400 yrs after Christ’s death & resurrection)
  • Personal, individualized signs and wonders experiences
  • Feeling really good, positive and happy about God and yourself
  • Being alone with God
  • Aggressive witnessing; Intense, emotional preaching/arguing/praying

Now go and search the Scriptures and find the passages (not just one verse) that show Jesus and the apostles emphasizing those listed above to the exclusion of other things. Is not spirituality both seen and unseen? Is the “spirituality” in the NT not openly visible and tangible? Is it always individualized and just personal?

Recently I’ve come to feel that many other things besides the list above can be considered spiritual activity. Here are some things I find to be ‘spiritual’ as well:

  • just being with fellow believers, eating, talking, playing, etc.
  • sharing food and fellowship with non-believers
  • being in and with nature
  • science
  • art/creativity
  • learning new things
  • family life
  • self-sacrifice/sacrificial giving
  • being a decent, kind, empathetic, non-violent human being
  • enjoying, participating with or even making transcendent beauty
  • Intellectual study/rumination
  • intimacy
  • doing anything that is not contrary to the tangible, can-see, can-do love/peace/justice/abundance of the Kingdom of God

Now a second challenge… Show me what is not spiritual or transcendent or miraculous about those things… How can those things not cause one to praise and worship the Creator and Lord of all things? (unless you’re going through life hurriedly and unthinking…) I know there’s room for misunderstanding me here: I’m not saying you shouldn’t do the things in the first list. What I’m saying is those aren’t the only things that are spiritual. The kingdom of God is more expansive than the few things modern western dualistic christianity deems to be “spiritual”. Earth and heaven and whatever else is beyond will be God/His people’s space, and it will be filled with activity, much of which may not fit into the ‘spiritual’ column we’ve been taught to focus on. And that space isn’t going to be some ethereal vapor-land with disembodied souls floating around singing non-stop. It’s going to be pinch-yourself physical, albeit “glorified”! What a hope we have and if you’re following Christ now, you are partaking in some measure, of that glorious kingdom already!

For an easier to understand, more coherent read regarding this subject, see this article: “The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity” (quoted above)

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Palestine/Israel: Tears and Blood

red-heart1Many hearts around the world, including mine, break and sigh under the cloud of violent news coming from Palestine/Israel. Interceding and beseeching God seems to be the only thing to do anymore. The supposed “neutral” arbiters seem more impotent than a dead weed. As a bystander, I’ll won’t offer much in the way of solutions either, but I would offer these thoughts and suggestions.

  • I believe God’s heart is with those suffering on both sides of this conflict. Those who stand unscathed in the places of power and command and privilege are most likely far from His favor as they rain down death and destruction knowing they’ll continue to be “safe”.
  • Please, please read and study the stories of both sides. But especially to us who have grown up in the american evangelical radio/bookstore bubble, please read the story of the Palestinians. I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of us have heard the Israeli side, many times and from many angles. That’s only half the story. Please know the other side too. (And that’s not a recommendation to read Hamas or some other terrorist group’s rhetoric. Read the Palestinian story – there is a difference)
  • Try, even if it’s just for theoretical/thought-experiment purposes, to separate this conflict from the “biblical prophesy” stuff that’s energized us american evangelicals for so long. Look at the context and history through other glasses besides the “book-of-Revelations” one and see how that effects your perspective. Remember, the pre-millennial dispensationalist “Left Behind” eschatology is a very recent innovation/interpretation (early 1900’s). It is not the only logical, viable interpretation and therefore it (and its uniquely Western bias, and its emphasis on the modern state of Israel could be wrong; way wrong. I’m also pretty sure adherence to it (mainstream evangelical eschatology) is not necessary for the salvation of one’s soul… so take a second look at the situation, through some other glasses.  Read some early church father’s or Reformer’s take on Revelations… God may show you something new.
  • Tune out the partisan politicians and TV news and websites, especially those who dogmatically shout for only one side or the other. At the least, hold what they say lightly and don’t swallow it whole. Be a Berean and search them out a little. Vet their rhetoric. And hold it up to the Light of Jesus’ teaching and example. If your eschatology/end-times ideas make you sound/come across like a bloodthirsty heathen, then your eschatology/end-times ideas may be far from the way of Jesus.

Finally, pray and study and listen. May Jesus’ peace and hope come to Palestine/Israel sooner, rather than later. It will be a huge step towards God’s restoration of earth and humanity.

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Simplistic thinking + Our fallen nature = Destruction

karlMarxIf you took note of the books I’m currently reading (Listed in the GoodReads widget to the right, under the header), one of those books was the Communist Manifesto. This may cause some consternation among some of you. If you stick with me past this paragraph, you may be surprised. Here’s a bit that came out of my reading of the Communist Manifesto.

First and foremost, it’s large on generalities and short on complex details or thoughtful solutions to complex problems. It tries to build a case for one simple solution to an incredibly complex situation. That situation was the industrial revolution that began rocking the West in the mid 1800’s and into the 1900’s. Continue reading

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Going the second mile for liberals, gays, Muslims, atheists, gun-haters, feminists, animal rightists etc.

woodsRoad_1I love the circles of mainly christian/evangelical, middle to upper middle class friends, family, work and acquaintances in which God has placed me. These spheres have multiple up-sides. Familiarity, less relational stress, religious/spiritual rapport and encouragement are just a few. But there’s a downside…

Especially vexing at times is how we in this clique tend to talk about those who are outside of this comfy ghetto. In our conversations and by extension, in our attitude, people who are liberals/Democrats, gays, Muslims, atheists, urbanites, environmentalists, gun-control advocates, mainline christians, animal rightists, feminists, or secular academia are generally feared, reviled or dismissed. Our chit-chat often mocks these people. We love jokes that make fun of these kinds of people. We imagine their thoughts and actions are ever plotting to persecute and destroy us. We celebrate their downfalls. We talk as if we know and understand their minds and intentions very well, but we rarely actually quote them (let alone sit down with them and hear their side). We repeat what we’ve heard media/religious ‘experts’ write or say about them, which is always how awful they are. We easily slip into exaggerating their faults and beliefs. We make them into unreconcilable monsters who deserve our scorn and who deserve retaliations via media, preaching/teaching, education, lawsuits, politicking or other end-justifies-the-means worldly machinations short of real violence against them. Continue reading

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Too intimate before it’s time…

mystery-couple-talkI remember many years ago listening to Focus on the Family and a discussion of the 12 steps to intimacy.  I’ve wondered about this process as it relates to the Church and its relationship with her suitor, Jesus Christ. Can a connection be made between the caution expressed in the 12 steps of intimacy and the feelings/emotionalism/romanticism emphasis of modern evangelical christianity? Could  the caution to not get too deep, too quickly apply to our relationship with God too? (individually and corporately) I don’t want to suggest that ‘not seeking to draw nigh to God’ is the right path, but is there an emphasis in our evangelical christianity that might push people to jump over or rush through needed steps in our path towards ultimate fellowship with almighty God? Continue reading

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