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Surprisingly, a number of professed Christians say that they do not know what or whom to pray for.

All one can assume is that they are fine within themselves and have no need to pray.

However, to those who are looking for special Christmas prayer ideas, may I offer the following special intentions:

For our servicemen abroad and at home, that God may preserve them and keep them safe. For those who have been released from service and find themselves homeless and at a loose end, may they find a roof over their heads as well as all His infinite mercy and grace.

For families who have lost a loved one, particularly in the past year — a spouse, a father, a sibling — may they find comfort during this time of happy family celebrations and a sense of reassurance in God’s love. May they not feel lonely or excluded.

For parents and children whom the State has separated, may they know God’s mercy in their affliction. May social workers, magistrates and family court judges see fit to reunite deserving families to bring them together as a loving, divinely-ordained unit of love.

For the homeless, many of whom have felt separated from loved ones and friends from an early age because of circumstances, may God enable charities to find a way to house them for longer than a fortnight between Christmas and Twelfth Night.

For those seeking work, may they find honest, suitable employment soon.

For employers, that they be godly stewards of men.

For our farmers, faithfully providing food for our shops, may they realise plentiful harvests and healthy, productive livestock.

For our heads of state as well as our regional and local governments, may they come to appreciate the will of God and do what is righteous and worthy of His name in a quiet, lawful and peaceful way.

For those who mock God, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit that they may discover the meaning of truth in Holy Scripture which leads them to a renewal of life and a promise of salvation.

For our clergymen who view the Gospel message as an allegory or a metaphor for social justice, may they come to understand the true teachings of Jesus Christ.

For those who are alone on this day of rejoicing, may they have the comfort of the Light of the World and receive the hope which only He can give.

For those who have been victims of serious crime, may they experience a rapid healing and may they come to resume a sense of security.

For those who are trapped in serious sins of depravity — fornication, sexual deviance and substance abuse — may they come to know an understanding of the Gospel and the hope that the Christ Child brings, including His promise of eternal life.

For all of us who are aware of our innate sin and depravity — may we come to share in the joyous hope of salvation and eternal glory with Jesus Christ and God the Father.

For the world at large, that we may repent of our many and grievous sins, praying for God’s mercy and forgiveness.

For the faithful, that we find the fortitude to preach the Gospel and make followers of all men, wherever we are in the world.

O Lord, we thank you for sending us your only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true Man. Through your mercy, forgive us our sins, grant us Your divine mercy and keep us close to you through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, today and always. This we ask through the blessing of our only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ, your only Son who lives and reigns forever and ever.  Amen.

Last time, we read about Jesus and His disciples travelling by boat from Judea to Galilee.  There, Jesus would perform His greatest creative miracle, that of multiplying the loaves and the fishes.

Today’s post details what happened afterward.  This account is not included in the three-year Lectionary, which makes it appropriate for my ongoing series, Forbidden Bible Verses.

This passage comes from the King James Version with commentary from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John 6:16-23

16And when even was now come, his disciples went down unto the sea,

 17And entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them.

 18And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew.

 19So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid.

 20But he saith unto them, It is I; be not afraid.

 21Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.

 22The day following, when the people which stood on the other side of the sea saw that there was none other boat there, save that one whereinto his disciples were entered, and that Jesus went not with his disciples into the boat, but that his disciples were gone away alone;

 23(Howbeit there came other boats from Tiberias nigh unto the place where they did eat bread, after that the Lord had given thanks: )

——————————————————————————————-

After the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, the people wanted to make Jesus their king.  No doubt they were connecting Jesus and His miracle with the prophecy of Moses, notably Deuteronomy 18:15:

The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;

Therefore, in one sense, they recognised him as their Messiah.  However, they considered him to be only an earthly Messiah, one who would offer them a temporal and political liberation from Roman rule.  The error they made was in not recognising Him as Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Both our commentators describe the potential power — physical and emotional — that a crowd can have on a small group of individuals, in this case Jesus and His disciples.  Had Jesus allowed the crowd to persist, they could have dragged His disciples off to co-opt them.  Jesus did not want that.  Nor did He want them to besiege Him with their earthly demands and complaints. So, He ended the feast (verse 15) and sought time alone:

When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.

In reading this story, we might shake our heads at the ignorance and selfishness of those assembled.  Yet, are we any different?  Today, we are affected by what is known as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a fancy name for people who consider Jesus and God to be divine butlers of sorts.  We pray for favours but then forget to give thanks or we think it is our due, because, after all, we’re worth it. As the aforementioned post states, many notional Christians believe:

1. A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

So, we’re not too different from the crowd who benefited from the miracle.  They were satisfied and thought that Jesus could satisfy them in other material ways.  However, such was not to be.

John MacArthur warns us against temporal thinking with regard to Jesus (emphases mine):

May I hasten to add that Jesus is nobody’s genie … Many people see Jesus as some kind of super miracle worker and if they’re not involved in some kind of a so-called miraculous thing, they don’t think He’s even around. And all they want is to use Him to create miracles. People constantly seeking sensationalism. Other people who are content just to accept Him as whatever He is and use Him for whatever purpose …

Well don’t you ever be misled. Don’t you ever be misled by the seeming honoring of Christ that eulogizes His precepts and despises His cross. That’s backwards. And Jesus read the minds of this mob like it was spattered on a screen and He knew their plans

Nobody uses God…not now, not then and not in the life of Christ. Christ is not for your whims and your fancies and your wishes. You don’t use God. Christ doesn’t commit Himself to any man …until there is a cry for mercy and repentance. That’s when God and Christ commit themselves to somebody. And there wasn’t any such thing here. They didn’t need to repent because they didn’t know they were sinners, they weren’t willing to admit that.

Note particularly the word ‘repentance’.  And that is our part of the bargain.  Are we really sorrowful about our sins, some of which might have led to the predicament about which we are crying to the Lord?  If so, we would do well to pray for His grace to give us the strength to resist temptation — and then follow through by not committing that sin again.

After Jesus dismissed the crowd (implied in verse 15), He went back to the mountain alone, and the disciples went down to the sea (verse 16).  John MacArthur has several paragraphs which discuss their obedience in not questioning His instruction — well worth reading.

So, verse 17 tells us that they got into a boat — a ‘ship’ (a vessel large enough to accomodate them but not of the size we would consider a ship to be today).  They began sailing towards Capernaum.

Why Capernaum?  Recall the nobleman who asked Jesus to heal his son, who was on the verge of dying in John 4:43-54.  Because of the instant healing which He performed remotely, the nobleman came to believe in Him, as did his whole household.  That meant family and servants.  This man would have been comparable to a lord of the manor and would have had great influence on his neigbours living in the same area.  Matthew Henry surmised that this miracle and mass conversion might have had some bearing on Jesus’s making Capernaum the centre of His ministry in Galilee.  He would have also wanted a friendly place where He and the disciples could work and rest in tranquillity.  Jesus had enemies even in Galilee, although fewer than in Judea.

The second part of verse 17 states that, by now, it was dark.  It does not appear as if the disciples are concerned for the time being that Jesus is not with them.

However, it isn’t long before a storm arises (verse 18).  Readers who live near a large body of water understand how quickly a beautiful, sunny day can turn into a stormy one.  At that point, those who are on the sea return to shore for safety.

At the time of the storm, they were around 3 1/2 miles away from the shore (verse 19). MacArthur takes up the story (emphases mine):

Matthew and Mark tell us it was really some storm. West of the Sea of Galilee are some valleys and gorges. The Sea of Galilee is approximately 682 feet below the Mediterranean and firing down those gorges was a tremendous wind that hit the surface of that little sea and it began flipping the sea up and down, the waves became large, the wind was blasting against their little boat as it struggled. They had to pull the sail down undoubtedly and row and pull against the strength of the sea and the wind toward Capernaum. The storm, Matthew and Mark tell us, increased in intensity, the night deepened, they were pushed off course and Matthew says they wound up in the midst of the sea fighting the storm. Matthew tells us that it was the fourth watch, that is from three to six in the morning, that means they have been toiling for at least twelve hours to go five miles, thrown all over that sea. Dark. And I’ll tell you, if I know anything about those guys, if I know anything about those disciples, there was one person they were longing for more than anyone else and that was Jesus Christ. And I know it because later on when He arrived they pulled Him into the boat and fell at His feet and worshiped Him. And it wasn’t so much they wanted His miracle as they would His presence for in the midst of any storm the presence of Christ is comfort enough, is it not? The true disciple doesn’t say, “I want Your miracle.” The true disciple just says, “I want You.” That’s enough.

Observe how Jesus reaches them in the storm: He walks on water.  However, they don’t know that at first — this is the same story that Matthew and Mark recount.  They think He might be a ghost.  It is at this point that we also react in the same way, imagining that we are in the same boat: the fear, the apprehension, the terror.  We wonder where Jesus is.  Is He all right?  If only He were here with us. Then, we imagine ourselves seeing what the disciples did — a figure looming on the horizon, walking on water.  Talk about increased adrenalin and soaring blood pressure!  This is high anxiety, physical and mental.

Jesus knows this, which is why in verse 20, He tells them not to worry, for it is He. The relief the disciples feel is palpable. Yet, we can read these verses from two angles.  We’ve seen what the disciples went through, but let’s look at it from Jesus’s perspective.  Jesus can control all situations, and He does so here.  He doesn’t want His disciples to be harmed.  He has the power to keep them safe and, if necessary, to master the storm.

Matthew Henry extends this episode to the human condition and our search for Christ’s presence in times of need:

See here … (2.) The concern Christ has for his disciples in distress: He drew nigh to the ship; for therefore he walked upon the water, as he rides upon the heavens, for the help of his people, Deu. 33:26. He will not leave them comfortless when they seem to be tossed with tempests and not comforted. When they are banished (as John) into remote places, or shut up (as Paul and Silas) in close places, he will find access to them, and will be nigh them. (3.) The relief Christ gives to his disciples in their fears. They were afraid, more afraid of an apparition (for so they supposed him to be) than of the winds and waves. It is more terrible to wrestle with the rulers of the darkness of this world than with a tempestuous sea. When they thought a demon haunted them, and perhaps was instrumental to raise the storm, they were more terrified than they had been while they saw nothing in it but what was natural. Note, [1.] Our real distresses are often much increased by our imaginary ones, the creatures of our own fancy. [2.] Even the approaches of comfort and deliverance are often so misconstrued as to become the occasions of fear and perplexity. We are often not only worse frightened than hurt, but then most frightened when we are ready to be helped. But, when they were in this fright, how affectionately did Christ silence their fears with that compassionate word (v. 20), It is I, be not afraid! Nothing is more powerful to convince sinners than that word, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest; nothing more powerful to comfort saints than this, “I am Jesus whom thou lovest; it is I that love thee, and seek thy good; be not afraid of me, nor of the storm.” When trouble is nigh Christ is nigh.

Imagine the relief they felt in welcoming him onto the boat (verse 21).  Although John shortcuts the story a bit, Matthew 14 has more, and that is where Peter wants to be with Jesus on the water.  In that account, Jesus invited Peter to approach Him, also walking on water.  So, Peter did, taking a few steps then noting the strong wind. Then, he realises what he was doing, at which point he starts sinking into the sea. The thing to remember here is the longing of the believer for the presence of Christ.  Yes, rationally speaking, it was safer to remain in the boat, but Peter loved Jesus so much that he wanted to be with Him on the sea.  Foolish, no.  Sensible to seek the presence of the Master whom he so loved?  Yes.  Henry adds:

Note, Christ’s absenting himself for a time is but so much the more to endear himself, at his return, to his disciples, who value his presence above any thing.

Now let’s note the second part of verse 21: ‘immediately the ship was at land’.  So, after the nighttime struggle to get the boat to Capernaum, suddenly, they were there — a journey of two miles in an instant.  Jesus showed His infinite mercy on the disciples and performed another miracle. How incredible that must have been!  In Matthew 14, we read that the disciples worshipped Him saying, ‘Of a truth, thou art the Son of God’.

And for those of us today — wherever we find ourselves on the Christian spectrum — enduring persecution or simply feeling discouraged in our search for a good church, Henry has this advice:

Note, [1.] The ship of the church, in which the disciples of Christ have embarked themselves and their all, may be much shattered and distressed, yet it shall come safe to the harbour at last; tossed at sea, but not lost; cast down, but not destroyed; the bush burning, but not consumed. [2.] The power and presence of the church’s King shall expedite and facilitate her deliverance, and conquer the difficulties which have baffled the skill and industry of all her other friends. The disciples had rowed hard, but could not make their point till they had got Christ in the ship, and then the work was done suddenly. If we have received Christ Jesus the Lord, have received him willingly, though the night be dark and the wind high, yet we may comfort ourselves with this, that we shall be at shore shortly, and are nearer to it than we think we are. Many a doubting soul is fetched to heaven by a pleasing surprise, or ever it is aware.

Verse 22 tells us that, despite Jesus’s instruction after the feast the day before, not everyone left the area near the mountain.  So, they arose the next morning to find that the boat with the disciples had gone.  Yet, they knew that Jesus had not gone with them.  These people had disobeyed Jesus’s instruction to leave and now wanted to know where He was.  Later in the chapter, He rebukes them for their carnal appetites in this regard (verses 26 and 27):

26Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.

 27Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.

Verse 23 relates that boats came in from the city of Tiberias to the place where the feast had occurred the previous day.  The people who stayed behind to search for Jesus then were taken to Capernaum.  How did they know to go there?  Quite possibly because they already knew that was where Jesus and the disciples were based.  As John MacArthur explained in my earlier post about John 6:1-3, Jesus’s ministry was already well underway.

Next week: Various verses from John 6

A new book in the UK, The Faith of Generation Y, reveals that many young people practice their Christianity ‘on a need to believe basis’.

The Daily Telegraph profiled the book, authors of which include the Anglican Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth (probably pronounced ‘Cosworth’).  Emphases in bold mine below:

Sylvia Collins-Mayo, principal lecturer in sociology at Kingston University [just outside of London], said most of the 300 young people questioned for the study were not looking for answers to “ultimate questions”.

“For the majority, religion and spirituality [were] irrelevant for day-to-day living,” she said. “On the rare occasions when a religious perspective was required, for example coping with family illnesses or bereavements, they often ‘made do’ with a very faded, inherited cultural memory of Christianity in the absence of anything else.”

The authors described this approach as “bedroom spirituality”.

This is the moralistic therapeutic deism — ‘comfy Christianity’ — that Newsweek and Christianity Today explored earlier in 2009 when the book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers hit the bookstore shelves.  From my May 4, 2009 post:

The authors, sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton wrote:

‘God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.’

Isn’t that the truth!  God and His son Jesus are happy, good-time guys — always there to help.

Not much different from: ‘Dad, can you give me some money?  I’m going out tonight’ or ‘Mom, can I have a sleepover next weekend?’

Granted, the Boomer and Joneser generation of parents are to blame for not bringing their children up in a church-oriented environment.  British parents rely largely on schools to catechise their children.  That would be a mistake, even with an established Church, mandated Religious Education (RE) classes and school assemblies with a hymn and a prayer.  I must say that I’ve never encountered a nation more ignorant of faith than this one.  Someone told me that where there is no RE examination requirement, students tend towards presenteeism and take nothing in.

Only 27% of 18 to 24 year olds identified themselves as being Christian.  However, they were not averse to Christianity, per se.  And this is where the emergent church and Evangelical church growth techniques can present an unbiblical representation of Christianity to young enquirers, especially those who have been educated to be part of a ‘community’.

In the ‘Ecumenical Church of Deceit (ECoD)’, Pastor Ken Silva wrote for Apprising Ministries, warning:

O, but how much easier it is instead to tell ourselves that “we must work for unity in the love of God” than to look a professing Christian in the eye and inform them the Lord has not sent these of the new postevangelicalism [types] like Rick Warren, Richard Foster, Brian McLaren and Joel Osteen into our midst to teach counterfeit versions of Christianity. There are many false prophets and teachers in this lying ecumenical purpose driven-emerging-word faith-church who are deceiving you

Unfortunately Christians unwilling to turn their backs on the comforts of this world have been sleeping while the enemy moved his forces deeper into pagan American culture. And before we knew it up rose a Purpose Driven Church with its pragmatic man-centered attempt to Christianize the “American Dream” as well as an Emerging Church complete with its own seducing spirits and doctrines of demons designed by Satan to attack the Word of God from within the evangelical community itself. What first alerted me that something was seriously amiss was when in dialogue with Emergents I found myself having to use the same arguments to establish the authority and infallibility of the Bible that I would use in talking with skeptics!

Silva also observes:

… underneath there are a couple of core views that clearly tie them together. Each of them are based on man-centered pragmatic philosophies of successful secular businesses consistent with their roots in the Church Growth Movement. Why in his book The Church On The Other Side Emergent spiritual director Brian McLaren himself even calls this CGM method the “successful model.”

And the other factor that melds The Ecumenical Church Of Deceit (ECoD) together is the mystic experience-oriented theology of Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism, which has actually turned backward and inward the process of following Christ. Historic Christian doctrine has always held that we test all teaching, as well as spiritual experiences, by Holy Scripture and never the reverse as is done now.

Combine false teaching with biblical illiteracy, lack of catechesis, a postmodern perspective, communitarianism, emotional incontinence (as demonstrated by three commenters here in the past week) along with an absence of critical thinking and you have a powerhouse of heresy, sin and Lawlessness (in Luther’s sense of the word).

That’s a mighty dangerous potion to unleash on an unsuspecting world.  That can run wild anywhere — theologically, socially, politically.  Think of Dominion Theology.

Sound doctrine and biblical preaching are what’s needed to present the Gospel.  I read the other day where a pastor said, ‘You’ve got to preach the Gospel the way Jesus and St Paul preached it.’  Some of you are fortunate enough to have good men of God in the pulpit.  Many others do not.

I don’t have an antidote for moral therapeutic deism, other than to second Pastor Silva’s exhortation to be Berean-like (Acts 17:11) in our continuous testing:

Clearly the inerrancy and the final authority of Holy Scripture i.e. sola Scriptura is being taught right here in Acts 17:11–and this is long before Luther and the Reformers ever came on the scene. You see what happens when one properly meditates; he finds the Truth, which is also found in the Example of Jesus in Matthew 4:4. First we are told–in the text of the Bible itself–that the Bereans were noble because they examined the Scriptures to discern whether what Paul was teaching them was true. From this fact we can understand that their efforts obviously pleased God, and further, we come to know that He is also encouraging us to examine the Scriptures today as well. Now by definition Scripture is to be considered as that which God Himself has spoken. Then Christ Jesus Himself also taught us by Example that God’s Word – Holy Scripture – is Truth (see–John 17:17). Therefore we can now see sola Scriptura i.e. the doctrine of the final authority of Holy Scripture as being true.

Secondly we also see from Acts 17:11 that the Bereans examined the Scriptures in an effort to test Christ’s Own Apostle and to make certain that what Paul said was true. From this we now ascertain the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible

Without biblical literacy and doctrinal knowledge, our children will lack discernment.  Everything looks ‘true’.  ‘Oh, that makes sense, doesn’t it?’  Most of us have been guilty of that — I know I have.  That is why knowing errors and heresies are so important in our armoury of Truth.   As they say at the White Horse Inn:

Know what you believe and why you believe it.

I pray that we do not become too beset by these developments, particularly if newly-converted ‘Christians’ are going to become haughty and hostile in their error.

One of our problems in today’s world is our self-centredness.  We see it all over the place, driven by advertising campaigns with slogans such as ‘You’re worth it’ (L’Oreal), ‘It’s all about you’ (Nescafe) and so forth. 

When my generation was growing up, parents and teachers often told us, ‘It’s all “me, me, me” with you lot.’  How right they were.  We just laughed.  Well, we’re now reaping what we’ve sown.

I enjoy reading what independent thinkers have to say, one of the delights of the blogosphere.  Frank Davis discusses this egotism in a post entitled Empathy.  Here is a brief excerpt:

The other night, another friend of mine … phoned me up for a chat. She phones me from time to time to talk about what’s on her mind, and can talk for hours. She does so because I’m a good listener …

What was she worried about? Well, her 14-year-old son had discovered marijuana … And furthermore he had made the acquaintance of street drug dealers, and had their phone numbers in his mobile phone. What was she to do? …

And after an hour or so, during which I’d said very little, and she had said a lot, she said that it had been great talking to me, and she might phone again next week.

All very well, but when I would like to talk to her about what’s eating me, will she listen to me? … Will she put herself in my shoes?

No.

I know, because I’ve tried … 

It’s not the first time I’ve come across this curious lack of empathy. I had another friend, many years ago, who would talk to me for hours about her various problems with boyfriends/parents/employers. When, one day, I started having some sort of similar problem myself, and raised the matter with her, was she sympathetic? Not a bit. She delivered a stern lecture, pointing out my many weaknesses and inadequacies. I was more or less flayed alive. But she was back a few days later with her own assortment of woes and worries, to which I listened with my usual sympathy.

Davis concludes that our ‘moral failure is complete’.  How right he is.  We are intensely wrapped up in the ‘I’m alright, Jack’ mentality.  ‘Something troubling you?  Well, I don’t have that problem.’ 

Is that loving one’s neighbour as oneself as Christ commanded us?  But, then, we view Christ as a heavenly butler — there when we need Him, dismissed when we don’t.  Wrong.  So wrong.

Confession motivator2609790

Oh, dear.  The lack of confessions might be due not just to the priest lacking time, although the Vatican is trying to combat this in a practical and sensitive way, but to the laity’s changing attitude towards sin.

I ran across a 2008 article from Zenit which states that increasing numbers of Catholics are dealing with sins in a morally relativistic fashion — what they want, when they want.  In other words, moralistic therapeutic deism, although the Bishop of Salto (Uruguay) calls it ‘privatised’ religion.  But it’s the same thing, really.

Bishop Pablo Galimberti told Zenit (highlights mine) that:

he believes confessions are less frequent because many Catholics leave aside the figure of the priest and choose religious rites according to personal convenience.

‘In general terms, with adjustments for each country and each tradition, I think this is a worldwide phenomenon and is seen in each country with different focuses, obviously,’ the bishop said.

Bishop Galimberti holds the consumer society partially responsible:

Sundays, he offered as an example, are good days for buying, for going out, for sports, for an agenda ever more packed full. ‘And Mass that is taken on the run, and remains a bit subordinated to other interests that also pressure the family.’ 

He also notes a relativistic attitude towards sin among Catholics:

He mentioned a young student who, after making a ‘nearly psychological’ analysis of his problems, did not point out errors in himself nor in others. ‘And this student doesn’t have a body, hasn’t sinned, is an angel?‘ he asked himself.

Brilliant! Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when that conversation took place. I would love to meet this bishop.  We need more like him!

Yet, he noted that priests must also shoulder some of the blame, rightly or wrongly: 

He contended that many priests have distanced themselves from the sacrament to avoid ‘getting involved’avoiding problems that are or can become complex. And priests, too, the bishop added, also have their agendas more and more full and have less time for personal meetings with the faithful.

We know they are busy, but … the good bishop confirms what I had suspected for some years — too many, as a matter of fact — that the parish priest doesn’t want to get involved at all.  I remember growing up in the 1970s and the word from the pastor of the brand new parish we belonged to said flat out during the announcements, ‘I won’t be coming around to bless your house, so please avoid disappointment by not asking.’  Blimey, there were only about 400 parishoners, including kids, at the time.  That would have meant at the time 150 homes, roughly. I’m sure most of those people had already had their houses blessed.  So, imagine priests dealing with post-divorce counselling, RCIA and all the rest of it!

Well, one thing is true enough, there are generally enough Protestant pastors to go around.  And, yes, they do make house calls, even when you don’t want them to!  As they say in the North of England: ‘Owt’s better than nowt’ — something’s better than nothing at all.

alpha-omega-bagscafepresscomToday’s Boomers and Hipsters really need a rethink on Jesus.  I, too, admit to being guilty of this in the not-so-distant past. 

Have you heard of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, or MSD?  Neither had I, until I read the following in a recent essay from Christianity Today:

1. A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

This comes from a 2005 book entitled Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.  (Before I go any further, this is not to place blame on what teenagers think;  I thought the same way.) 

Colin Hansen in his essay called ‘Death by Deism‘  examines what the authors of Soul Searching found when they were researching their book.  Our popular culture has turned the Son of God into a ‘cool parent’.

The authors, sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton wrote:

‘God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.’

Isn’t that the truth!  God and His son Jesus are happy, good-time guys — always there to help. 

Following on from this blog’s brief exploration of Gramsci, this is yet another example of an institution being defanged — Christianity.  The post cited looks at the unhappiness of British children, and it was clear that social policies have been at work to unravel the age-old institution of the family.  Amazingly, it only takes decades to undo the work of thousands of years.  Gramsci was a genius.

Our faith becomes one of no demands, no obligations.  What do Boomers and Hipsters think of the Ten Commandments?  Commands — orders — or guidelines.  It’s always tempting to see guidelines where there are absolutes.  We have made Christianity into a drinks-party-cookout-friendly construct: enjoyable. 

A case in point are people who ‘don’t do’ Good Friday.  One online commenter said (paraphrased), ‘I remember going to church every Good Friday and the priest would recite true torture stories, chapter and verse.  It was depressing.’  And it was intended so to be.  The worst part of it is that Jesus went through more pain and agony that day than those torture victims.  So, we can’t stand to meditate on the sufferings of our Lord, who died on that Cross as propitiation for our sins. Wow.  Same person concluded, ‘But I do celebrate Easter — chocolate bunnies, Easter eggs!’  It’s hard to imagine that came from the thoughts of an adult, but it did.  And today’s Church reinforces it with a love-me-love-my-God message!

A few weeks ago, Damon Linker explored this theme in ‘The Future of Christian America’. He looked at Jon Meacham’s cover story in Newsweek just before Easter.  Although I wasn’t that keen on his essay, a few of the readers’ comments are worth pointing out, for instance:

(Basman, April 12, 2009, 3:42 p.m.):

…The theologian H. Richard Niebuhr offered the classic criticism of a feel-good brand of American religion that presented no challenges and posed no problems. He said it peddled the idea that “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

Niebuhr was critiquing certain varieties of liberal Christianity, but his scolding applies to all Christians too eager to conform their faith to the political and cultural whims of the moment. Grace is never cheap, and a Christianity that is struggling with itself is on the path of rediscovering its true calling….

And, that’s a reassuring note on which to end.  Maybe the Church just requires a sharp pruning of wayward branches to bring it into new, straightened growth.

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