A Spiritual Shift

A recent article in the Hartford Courant revealed how millennials are replacing religion with things like meditation, astrology, and crystals. How far away from the truth can one get and still enter the kingdom of heaven?

A Spiritual Shift ~ October 13, 2019 ~ Colossians 2:6-8

We are in Colossians this morning. A little bit about the church in Colossae: the church there was established on Paul’s third missionary journey, his final missionary journey before his imprisonment and execution in Rome. Interestingly enough, this church was not founded by Paul. It was founded by one of his co-workers, Epaphras. You know some of the guys who were attending the church in Colossae: Philemon, who we’ve talked about, and Philemon’s servant, slave, brother-in-Christ Onesimus. They’re both active in the church in Colossae. Fun fact: there’s no biblical record that Paul ever visited Colossae. But he did find it necessary to write them a letter. He wrote it to them after hearing about some of the false teaching that was going on in the church and needed to be addressed.

You see, Colossae, the city, was an important commercial center on one of the main Roman roads in its region. It was a melting pot, similar to how we think of New York, where a lot of cultures and a lot of traditions all come together. Because of that dynamic, the city would be exposed to different ideas from many different philosophies, from many different religions, from many different traditions; and some of these things were filtering into the church. Paul heard about it, needed to address it. He did so in the letter to the Colossians. Would you please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God? Let us pray.

Lord, upon the pages of this book is Your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Colossians 2, beginning in verse 6:

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.
(Colossians 2:6-8)

May God bless to our reading and understanding His holy and inspired Word.

So, don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense. What ideas did Paul identify or hear about in Colossae that he thought were dangerous, were high-sounding nonsense and empty philosophies? Some of the teachers – the false teachers – were insisting on the observance of particular days. Sabbaths and new moon festivals. Now, we celebrate certain days too. We celebrate Christmas, we celebrate Easter. (Sometimes that’s the only two times a year I see people anyway!) We celebrate Christmas, we celebrate Easter, but you know what? Neither of those are in here. There is no biblical mandate for a festival or a celebration on those two days. But that day honors God, it glorifies God, so there’s nothing wrong with it, let’s continue to do so.

The difference is, these false teachers were saying you had to. You were obligated to. It was connected to your salvation. If you did not recognize the new moon festival or celebrate this particular day, you might be risked of not getting into heaven. They were also fixated on various rules, particularly pertaining to the body. This is called ascetism. Ascetism comes from the Greek word áskesis which means exercise, training, or practice. Ascetics renounced worldly pleasures, because they believed that worldly pleasures distracted one from spiritual growth and enlightenment. To some degree I can agree with that. Sometimes worldly pleasures do prevent us from growing spiritually. But they reacted with such vehemence, they lived lives of total abstinence, posterity, extreme self-denial. Ascetism wasn’t a new idea in Colossae. It was well known. It was common among Hinduism, and Jainism, and Buddhism, and even Judaism and Islam. They were used to an ascetic point of view.

Ascetics don’t necessarily believe that the flesh is evil, as some do; but they do deny the flesh. They go to great lengths to deny the flesh in order to transform the mind and set forth the spirit. Some of the practices usually involved fasting – serious fasting – exposing oneself to extreme heat or extreme cold, sleep deprivation, and even self-flagellation. Now, there’s a word for you. Flagellation. Have you ever seen in the movies when the guys have these poles, and at the end of the pole are some leather straps, and at the end of the leather straps there was a sharp object, or a bead or something like that, and you would take the stick and you would fling it and it would hit your back and you would hurt yourself. You would whip yourself basically, to the point of drawing blood. It was common during the Bubonic Plague, during the Black Death of the 15th century. People thought that God had sent the plague as a punishment for their sin. So, they thought by marching town to town, and beating their bodies, that they would do that for God, and He would see that and say, “Oh, okay.” And he would relieve them of the plague. Do something for Him, and He will do something for you.

That’s not how Christianity works, and unfortunately all those people did was spread the plague from town to town, because they kept walking from town to town and making things worse.

So, ascetism today is usually associated with monks, or priests, or yogis in the eastern traditions; and what’s wrong with it is it implies salvation by works – that you, we do something (fast, go out in the heat or cold, beat our bodies) we do something for God and then in turn, He will do something for us. A quid pro quo. That’s just not Christianity.

People still feel that way. There are still a large number of people who think “at the end of my life, as long as I have done more good things than bad, I will be saved.” That is a false teaching. Your salvation has absolutely nothing to do with your good deeds.

Jesus went through all the physical punishment that we could imagine on our behalf, so we wouldn’t have to. He took our punishment. Jesus said:

“This is the only work God wants from you: believe in the one he has sent.”
(John 6:29)

So, ours is a salvation by faith understanding. We believe in what Jesus did, and our faith in that – that we are sinners, that He died for our sin, that we are forgiven – that’s what gets us into heaven. Not what we do.

Now, that does not mean Christians sit back and do nothing. Not at all. What do we do? We pray. And I hope we pray more than just on Sunday mornings when we gather here. We’re supposed to pray every day. Kyle mentioned last week – we eat three times a day, why don’t we pray three times a day, minimum? We should be praying all during the week. We do that. We worship. And worship is not defined as just what we do here. Romans 12 is very clear that worship is how we live our daily lives. So, we are worshiping all week long when we are living lives that glorify and honor the Lord. So, we pray, we worship, and we serve; we reach out to those who are less fortunate; we share the gospel with those who do not yet know the story; we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick; we pray, we worship, we serve. But not because we have to. Not because we are obligated to. Not to earn brownie points. Not to impress God. Believe me, there is absolutely nothing you could do, nothing I could do that would impress God. Not fasting, not exposing oneself to heat or cold, not losing sleep, not self-inflicting wounds on our bodies. Nothing. So, please stop. If you think doing good deeds is earning you points to get into heaven, stop, because you’re wasting your time. Yes, they may be good deeds, and that’s a good thing; but if you’re doing them because you think you’re getting into heaven…

We pray, we worship, we serve out of a sense of appreciation for what He did, because we are thankful that God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. We serve, we pray, we worship because we can’t help it. We can’t stop ourselves from showing the Lord how grateful we are. When your team scores a touchdown (I hope someday to find out what that feels like), but when your team scores a touchdown, sometimes you can’t help yourself – you jump up! You yell out! You say, “Yay!” It’s instinct. That’s why we pray. That’s why we worship. That’s why we serve. It’s instinct. We can’t help it. We know what Christ did for us; we want to respond.

Well, Paul hears about all this other stuff, all this other false teaching that’s going on, and he knows this is not Christianity. I need to correct them. Now, what does that tell me? Not only it tells me that there was false teaching going on in the first century, so if you think there is false teaching going on in the 21st century you are correct. But it’s not new. It’s been happening for 21 centuries. Not only that there’s false teaching going on, but I thought to myself, “Wait a minute. If he’s saying this is not Christianity, then he’s also saying there is such a thing as Christianity. There are basic underlying foundational tenants of the faith.” And there are.

One of the best definitions of Christianity I know of was created at the Niagara Bible Conference in 1910 in Ontario, Canada. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church got together, had a conference, and they came up with a list of five basic underlying foundational tenants of the Christian faith. I think this is a good definition of what it means to practice Christianity.

Number one: Biblical inspiration, and the infallibility of Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16 says all Scripture is inspired by God. God influenced, through the Holy Spirit, those who put pen to paper. These are God’s thoughts, not the people who wrote them down. 2 Peter 1:20-21 says:

…no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding…

Either major prophets or minor prophets.

…or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.
(2 Peter 1:20-21)

These are God’s words. He didn’t write it Himself; He inspired others to write it. But if He had wrote it Himself, it would have said the same thing. Scripture is inspired by God, and infallible. The word infallible means incapable of error. If God wrote it, there’s no mistakes. There can’t be. If something is infallible, that means it is never wrong, thus absolutely trustworthy. Psalm 19:7: The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul. Proverbs 30:5: Every word of God proves true.

So, number one: The Bible is inspired by God and infallible. As a result of that truth, number two: The virgin birth of Jesus. If we believe this is the true word of God, God tells us that Jesus was born of a virgin. Jesus had to be born of a virgin, because He had to be born without sin. He could not die as a sinner for sinners; He had to be sinless. It was prophesied by Isaiah in Isaiah 7:14; seven hundred years later, it came true. He was born of a virgin. The virgin birth of Jesus.

Number three: Belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for our sin. Pretty basic stuff. Yes, Jesus died for our sin. He was the atonement for our sin. If Jesus didn’t die for our sin, why did He? What was the purpose? What was the function?

Number four, and this is a big one: Jesus died for our sins (that’s Good Friday). Number four: The bodily resurrection of Jesus. That’s Easter! Well, heck, if Jesus didn’t come out of the tomb, then we’re all whistling Dixie here! There is no point in this! Jesus affirmed, He proved that He was the Son of God when He rose from the grave.

And then number five: The historical reality of the miracles of Jesus, that when you read about Jesus feeding 10000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish, that’s not an allegory. That’s not a parable. That’s a fact. It really did happen.

So, there you go. Biblical inspiration and infallibility of Scripture, virgin birth of Jesus, belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the historical reality of the miracles of Jesus. You know what they called these things? The five fundamentals. So, if you believe those five things, you’re a fundamentalist, like me! Welcome to the club! The Word has been perverted and misused and abused over the last hundred years or so. But it makes sense – aren’t there some fundamental things that have to be true that describe Christianity? If you believe these things, if you’re a fundamentalist like me (although I wouldn’t say that out loud too often), all you’re saying is you believe, as Paul is saying, there is such a thing as Christianity. You can define it.

Which is why we need to be careful not to let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking. Sadly, this applies as much today as it does here in Colossae 2000 years ago.

If you remember a few weeks back, in August, I mentioned an article that Karl had shared with me that was in the Hartford Courant. It was titled, “A Spiritual Shift,” and the story was apparently, a large number, or a high percentage of millennials are replacing religion as you and I know it with things like meditation and Tarot cards, and astrology, and crystals. Empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense. You see? It’s still happening. Paul was right. Are you surprised? Did you think Satan just gave up and went home? He’s still at it! So, the question becomes – at least the two questions that popped into my mind – first, how far away from the fundamental truths of Christian faith can one get and still enter the kingdom of heaven? The answer is, not far!

I like to think of it this way. It looks as though your beloved Yankees might have a good shot at the World Series this year. But you all know baseball, right? You know the basic fundamental truths of how you play baseball. What if I said, “After church, let’s all run down to Bushnell Park and we’ll play some baseball? But when we get down there, I want to let you know of some tweaks. Instead of three strikes and you’re out, you’re going to get five. Instead of four balls and you walk, you’re going to get eight. Instead of running to first base after hitting the ball, you’re going to run to third and come around this way. There’s going to be fifteen people in the field instead of nine, and if you hit a home run, you only get one run and everybody else just moves ahead a base.” Is that baseball? No! It may look like baseball. It may feel like baseball. We may dress the same and use the same equipment. It’s no longer baseball. You changed too much of it.

It’s the same with Christianity. You can’t change it and still call it Christianity. It’s no longer Christianity. Jesus says in John 14:6 (I know Jesus said it because it’s in the red words), He says:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

You cannot get to the Father – where is the Father? Heaven. – you cannot get to heaven except through Jesus. That’s it. Just Christ. So, if I were to ask someone, “Is Jesus the only way to heaven?” and they replied, “Well, He’s one of the ways.” No! They’re not practicing Christianity. Now, you can call yourself whatever you want. You can call yourself a Christian all day long. I can call myself a five-foot three Filipino woman all day long. Doesn’t make me one! There’s a truth, right? You can call yourself a Christian, but if you don’t follow those five fundamentals, you’re not practicing Christianity.

So, my second question was where do people learn this stuff? How did kids end up with meditation, astrology, and crystals? What happened? Now, it’s easy to point fingers, and we tend to do that as we get older. “Those young whippersnappers!!!” They did it in the 60s and 70s when all the hippies were doing their stuff. You turn to the parents and you say, “You raised them!” See, it’s easy to point fingers. It’s harder to look at the causes. And here’s the tough stuff. How did they end up with meditation, astrology and crystals? I know too many parents, younger parents, who give me this line when you talk about faith. “Well, I’m going to let them make up their own mind when they’re old enough.” Bullocks on that! That makes no sense! You make decisions for your children every single day. “Eat your vegetables.” “Wear your sweater, it’s cold out.” “This is the time you go to bed.” “Sit down and do your homework.” “No, you can’t hang out with that person.” You make decisions for them all day long. And the one decision, the most important decision they will ever make, that affects their eternal salvation, you punt? “Well, I’m going to let them figure it out when they get older.” Let them eat the ice cream – tell them this! If you believe this is the truth, why would you not tell your children the truth? The fundamental truths of the Christian faith?

You see, it’s not that they were taught about crystals by us; it’s that they weren’t taught the fundamental truths of the Christian faith. “I’ll let them make up their own mind.”

Sadly, it gets even worse. Sadly, even some of those who were lucky enough to be taught the truth, there’s another reason why they might return to meditation and crystals and whatever: the church. They went to church; their parents brought them to church. But unfortunately, when they got to church, they found out that we talk a good game, but our walk is often a very different story.

Kids are smart. Please don’t think because they’re small they don’t know what’s going on. They are sponges. They are as powerful as that little tack. They are listening. You may think they’re zoned out in their games and their music. They are listening. And they are listening in the car on the drive home about what you have to say about today. About the people you are talking about. About how lousy the sermon was. About how Ryan sang off key (that would never happen, but…) They’re hearing all that. They soak it in.

There’s a special class of child that perhaps you’ve heard about, perhaps not. Have you ever heard of a PK? PK in the biz stands for “Pastor’s Kid.” Pastor’s kids are a special section because they don’t have a choice. They’re going to church, and they’re usually the first kid there and the last to leave. They never have something else that’s more important. They’re here a lot! God bless them. And they hear what people say. They see how people act. They are exposed to what people say about the pastor, their dad or their mom. Sadly, a fair number of PKs never darken the doors of a church once they’re of age. They’re gone. Why? Because they’ve been exposed to the underbelly. They saw behind the scenes.

I fully confess, when I went into the ministry, I was hopelessly naïve. I never knew the church had an underbelly. I was shocked. I thought everybody who went to church was like Mister Rogers, I swear to God. “Won’t you be my neighbor?” I honestly did. I was shocked to discover that was not always the case. Shocked. I had to think about it for a long time, and then it came to me. I mean, think about this. It’s not an amazing statement to say people are imperfect, right? People are imperfect. As families are groups of people, families are imperfect too! We have a fancy word for it. Dysfunctional! And they are. All families are. We have been since the beginning. Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Cain murders his brother! Disfunction from the start! In a jealous rage. The church is like a family, and as such is just as dysfunctional. I don’t have to tell you that, you know that. Look, here’s a piece of advice. If you ever find the perfect church, please don’t join it. You will ruin it. And if you do find the perfect church where everybody gets along and all the men are wearing suits and ties, and all the ladies are wearing skirts, and their hair is all done, they look like the Stepford Wives, and all the children are nicely behaved… RUN! It’s a cult! Before you know it, you’re going to be selling roses at the airport, shaving your head!

There is no such thing as the perfect church, just like there’s no such thing as the perfect family, and there’s no such thing as the perfect marriage. Because they’re all made up of people. The church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints. It took me a while to figure that out. Now that I have, the pressure’s off. So, you can’t expect perfection, but we do need to be aware of who is watching and who is listening.

You see, one reason there is a spiritual shift taking place among young people is that they highly value authenticity. And when they do go to church, they often don’t find that. They find Christians saying one thing and living something entirely different. Every survey I’ve ever seen done, when they answer, “What do you think of Jesus?” Jesus rocks! Everybody loves Jesus, whether you’re a believer or not. Just from everything you’ve heard about Jesus – you could be a Jew, you could be a Muslim, you could be a Buddhist, whatever – Jesus sounds like a really great guy. Everybody rates Christ highly. They love Christ! Nobody loves Christians. Why do you think that is?

Sadly, too often, Christians are nothing like their Christ. And young people see this. Children hear this. Paul frequently found the same thing. He was supposed to make a trip to the church in Corinth, and he writes this in chapter 2, verse 20:

I’m afraid that when I come, I won’t like what I find, and you won’t like my response. I’m afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior.
(2 Corinthians 12:20)

And this is a new church! This still has the new church smell; it hasn’t worn off yet! And already they’re messed up; they’re dysfunctional.

I know, I’m telling you, in church everyone knows how to behave. We’re all polite and cordial and friendly face to face. But when we reach the parking lot, the knives come out! Don’t tell me you don’t. that just makes you a liar as well as a hypocrite. We all do. I struggle with it. I’m a human just like everybody else. I’m trying. I’m broken. We’re all broken. We’re all hypocrites. Church is one giant AA meeting. We’re all in recovery from something: Sin! “Hi, I’m Adam, and I’m a Christian!” It is one giant meeting.

But we can do better, and we need to do better. We have to, because I’m telling you – one of the reasons the spiritual shift is taking place to crystals and meditation and astrology is too many churches pretend to be the Brady Bunch when in reality they’re more like the Addams Family. We have to stop saying one thing and living another. When people see that, when people hear that, not only do they conclude that we’re frauds, but they begin to believe that this whole Christianity thing is as well; and they turn and start looking for meditation, Tarot cards, crystals…

We’re broken. And if we’re broken, there’s no need to pretend we’re not. Like we have it all together. We’re better off being honest with each other, with visitors, with our kids. “Hi, welcome to South Church. I’m trying to do the best I can to follow Christ. And if you are interested, I’ll do everything I can to help you do the same. There are some basic underlying fundamental truths of the Christian faith I’ll be happy to share with you.”

We can do it. We can make a big difference. All churches can do it. And if churches do that, we just may start another spiritual shift; but this time it will be away from meditation, away from astrology, away from crystals, and toward the cross. Who knows? We may even start seeing some more PKs besides Jeremy! We can do it. We can make it so that when people walk into this place and they visit, they encounter Christ. Let’s be a part of that spiritual shift. Let’s give God thanks in prayer. Let us pray.