The church is once again engaged in the celebration of the Easter season. It’s springtime, which is familiarly considered as a time of renewal and new beginnings. We are blessed with another opportunity to reflect on our lives and spiritual condition while embracing the idea of love and sacrifice. But, what is the real meaning of Easter to the church and its believers? While critically exploring the current moral issues and tolerance within the body of Christ, are we genuinely progressive enough to honor our faithfulness? Well, this commentary invokes one simple, yet soul-stirring stream of conscience and inquiry. For the sake of clarity, let’s define the biblical meaning of the church as described in 1 Corinthians 12:13 “we as believers have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit (NLT).” The key emphasis here is placed on the phrase “one body.” Now, hold that thought.
When we prepare for a wedding or marriage anniversary, our focus is on two bodies joined as one. The courtship has advanced to the desire for a lifelong union that includes faith and trust. We prepare for the celebration of the relationship. We declare our hope of endless love and a desire for a continuous commitment. We witness new or renewed vows. Of course, that comes with the anticipation that the lover of our soul will return the same level of truth and their unconditional vow and love to create an eternal bond.
Similarly to the biblical passage in Romans 5:8 “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners (NLT).” We celebrate this juncture with familiar traditions and the belief of future joy, happiness, and sincere appreciation. These events can be paralleled to the profession of our faith and acceptance of our new union with Christ and His biblical teachings.
During these occasions, there is little or no focus on the vague reality of betrayal and disappointment, nor its impact. But, what if you became a jilted lover whose promises are filled with hypocrisy? As Christians get underway to celebrate this Easter season, could we lose focus, leading us to become hypocritical lovers who are jilting Jesus Christ? Would we expect Jesus to honor His promises to give us another chance to win His confidence and love in the future or should He? Let’s ponder the truth of the matter that through His sacrifice, Jesus has offered us forgiveness for generations.
As we approach this Easter season and its true meaning, there is little debate about the fact that we should focus on the biblical perspective of our remembrance of the holy occasion. However, this is where things get a little sticky and please don’t blame the messenger. The portion of this dialogue is a real message to the followers of Christ. Regardless, many Christians will dedicate ample time preparing to spend enormous resources on physical items with far fewer thoughts of the spiritual restoration that this season should resonate for all. We live in a global society that successfully dictates the affairs that govern our lives and can compromise our beliefs. The world marketplace is unfortunately quite intentional. So the question we may ask ourselves is, do we have enough strength in our faith to honor truth despite the mere habit of performing learned behavior and supporting commercialism?
Sharing the truth of the gospel can have a significant impact on those who seek to become followers of Christ. Perhaps the following true story may help us gain a reasonable perspective. As a child minister mentored by older and more seasoned clergy, a young person began his walk of faith at the tender age of only 12-years-old. He enjoyed learning about God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. His mom was a devoted believer and raised all her children based on her genuine understanding of God and His principles. He grew up to become enthusiastic about his service in the church and blessed many through his ministry. However, due to his large family of siblings and obvious limited resources, he was not economically able to dress as well as he wished when called on to deliver his pulpit message. But, with his talent, love for the gospel, a dedicated family, and ministerial support, he persisted. Then something changed. He will not fully disclose any details even today, nearly 49 years later. He only mentioned a brief version of a visiting minister that witnessed his unique potential and offered him a promise of better clothes and shoes in exchange for favors. In his humble opinion, he was subject to hypocrisy. As a result, he did not abandon the entire gospel that he had learned, but his faith was shattered in many ways. Yes, Christians can make unintentional mistakes, but Matthew 23:27-29 reminds us that “it is the same with you. On the outside, you seem to be doing what is right. But on the inside, you are full of what is wrong. You pretend to be what you are not (NIRV). Hypocrisy and deception still cause many unresolved questions today, especially within the church.
Whether you choose to call it disillusioned or heartbroken, the young adolescent came home and expressed to his mom that he “was never going back to that church!” Surprised, his mother asked for his explanation. He then explained that he had been disheartened by what grownups repetitious spoke about others including untrue things that were not in the bible. He went on to say that even she has not told the truth that “there was no Santa Claus and ask her why she had allowed him to believe in “an Easter bunny that lays eggs?” Perhaps disappointed, his mom’s eyes of understanding were opened to the effect on his spiritual and impressionable misguided journey. Long story short, today he still struggles with some spiritual truths.
Realistically, Christians love celebrations that align with biblical values. Our intentions are good. We believe and love the value of witnessing to non-believers that encourages them to embrace our faith in redemption and eternal salvation. However, if we are truly honest about our faithfulness in Christ’s sacrifice, we must admit that far too many believers are sitting on a fence of societal traditions. Regardless, marketing professionals depend on influencing us for their increased profits, while we provide a continuous financial stream that contributes more and more to support their mission.
There will be baskets, colored eggs, fake grass, new dresses with matching buttons and bows, new suits and shiny shoes, big dinners, and, oh yes, that infamous Easter bunny that will never lay an egg. Certainly, not everyone participates in all of these traditions, but many Christians worldwide will indeed in a number of ways. How many individuals within our faith community are sincerely committed to opening their hearts to confess the level of historical pagan practices included in numerous celebrations? To whom do we teach or what is conveyed to those who are new to our faith? In today’s times with the unbelievable amount of deception we hear, shouldn’t we as Christians have the courage to remain sharp and alert when educating biblical principles that teach our children and others? This issue does not only rest with Christ’s sacrificial efforts to save us from ourselves but in our vulnerability as believers to appropriately dismiss the distractions that the world presents to us. Can our well-intended practices become a source of confusion to the non-believer who is searching for clear answers and a better understanding of our belief in Jesus Christ?
Easter has a distinct meaning to the church as the one body of Christ. This meaning is described as all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. Honestly speaking, the truthful bond in our Easter celebration is simple. Jesus should never become our jilted lover for He has demonstrated His true love to all believers and non-believers within the following passage of Scripture as we remain mindful that “this is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it and why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him (John 3:16-18 (MSG).”
Therefore, it is crucial to remain cognitive as we are directed in 2 Timothy 2:15, “the believers within the body of Christ are indeed obligated to “work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth (NLT).” The answer does not lie in the value of a bunny nor does it advocate that anyone discontinue celebrating Easter with all the bells and whistles that come with it. As we have learned in Psalm 40: 4-6, “Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord, who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols. O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them… I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart (NLT).” Hopefully, this holistic message encourages us to both celebrate and teach the true meaning of Easter to those who are seeking meaningful answers about Christ’s acts of love, sacrifice, and resurrection.
Emerging from a season that primarily represents joy, unity and faith, fear and distrust lead the way. Whether you are a part of the faith community or not, you witnessed a 2019 new year governed by a democracy that was less than fully functional. In fact, it rapidly progressed into a historic government shutdown. Call it what you want, but many people are anxious about all types of potentially damaging effects of some degree of personal and publicly traded financial free fall. At the core of the matter, can we consider that perhaps the lack of ethics was a major culprit in this dilemma? If we all authentically ponder this idea, we may find some eye-opening premises.
Years ago during my college days, my roommate and I would joke about advice that her parent would often tell her when she was growing up. Almost always when she responded with her version of various explanations to her parents’ inquiries, they were met with the response from the parent “now lie to me the truth!” Of course, it was a laughing matter then, but now it is a demand within every part of our culture. One fact that will always remain, regardless of what Christian apologists or universal pessimists choose to teach the masses, truth is the cornerstone of ethics. The quality of being honest will always win. In the context of biblical teaching, 1 John 3:18 encourages all Christians to “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” But, who’s perfect?
For the first time in history, 2019 has presented us with the longest federal government shutdown ever. Mired by future uncertainty, lack of confidence and blind allegiances are rampant and send alarming signals projecting harm on others and fail to be in the interest of anyone but a few. There are more questions than answers and even less tolerance to resolve the obvious ills that plague all of us. If we struggle to depend on our nation of laws, then where is the teaching and intervention from the church? Have we all tossed our consciousness out the window?
The Wall, Conspiracies, and Indictments
There are multiple contexts given these are subjects that intertwine ethics and faith. However, it can be assumed that some of these most recent circumstances are not all negative or intentional. Perhaps there is a spiritual message that reminds us of lessons from the ministry of Christ. Christ and his disciples worked to teach the meaning and the importance of the necessity to respond to the concept of ethics to the nations. Their message essentially resounded that love and care for all people was good. Selfishness and lack of respect, not just the love of money, is equally the root of all evil. However in these times, self-preservation has become a common mantra and the Apostle Paul’s brutally honest confession in Romans 7:15-20 (NLT) simply has been lost in the sauce. Paul honestly explained that 15 “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. 18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” Does this sound familiar as reflected in our current state of world affairs and personal choices? Can we at least give Paul credit for acknowledging his truth to others? His statement was not an excuse to continue his inappropriate behavior, but a truth of his own self-awareness that as human beings, our faith can be a saving grace that begins to address the issues that contribute to corruption in our society and to the human spirit.
The good news is that the cornerstone of Christianity is still built on righteousness, not perfection. Although our government and its leadership have an obligation to be lawful, our community of faith has a job to also be accountable to teach more truth and empowerment. There are biblical laws that are universal. The lack integrity can bring on harsh consequences that spare no one. For example, we can begin with the Ten Commandments. They are regarded to some as ancient fairytales that have less relevance in our lives, yet disobedience of either of them can literally wreak havoc on our well-being as well as our quality of life or even our very existence. Biblical principles must be taught purposely for both salvation and survival and not in vain.
Ethics begin and end when there is a conscientious shift that keeps us in tune with truth that transforms us to intentionally think more in-depth about our ethical life choices or outcomes. The old must make an honest effort to teach the young. The self-absorbed must realize that they can make a difference to the less fortunate. Leadership is far more effective when leaders deliberately learn strategies without an ulterior motive that connotes deception or intent to hide true motivation. While there may have been many reasons for an action, the intent should reflect the true thing that is trying to be accomplished. No matter how insignificant an issue may be, a little white lie is still deception. More than ever before, there is a critical need for leaders of all levels to learn and continue to re-learn contemporary and more influential leadership skills that help those who follow them better understand that hopelessness is a choice and not the norm. As one of the wealthiest nations on earth, we have the resources, ability, and heart to be the ethical beacon of light that practices the type of equality that pays employees on time, feeds the hungry, provides a fair system of education for all, helps those who are giving their all to escape persecution, and most of all, as the Bible instructs “obey the laws of the land.” This is emphasized in Romans 2:13 — 13 ”For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight.” This logic should make sense, especially to those who follow Christ’s teachings.
Before we as a nation pay to build more walls for borders, let more individuals within the community of faith tear down unnecessary walls to embrace those who seek refuge. This is also embodied within the ministry of Christ. Keep in mind that all efforts to conspire against anyone or anything is unethical. Nevertheless, let the church continue to maintain its major role to inspire hope and spiritual awakening. Believers in Christ, let’s not allow ourselves to become desensitized to anything that resembles less than the truth. It carves a path that may lead to eventual indictments on the message of love we attempt to send throughout the world. For indeed, it is our privilege to be vigilant in recognizing the opposite of what is right and ethical to further strengthen faith in the face of fear. The freedom of truth is the most ethical contribution to mankind. Jesus was very clear about this in John 8:31-32, 31 Those that had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Let’s begin with some debatable thoughts. With an abundance of chaos and corruption in our world today, trust in almost anything is at an all-time low. We’re witnessing events and situations not experienced before in our lifetime. Things have changed. As a result, the reality is that with each generation, the general perception of faith has somehow been redefined in many ways.
We have more choices concerning how we decide to frame our reality of faith. Perhaps it’s just simply a response to the natural process of evolution of personal life experiences or just that our environmental situations contribute to defining what faith today really means to each individual. However, there is at least one simple truth that all believers have in common: God exists and the Bible still offers keys to a message of hope that appeals to our sense of decency, concepts about love, and forgiveness. It seems that most of humanity believes in the faithfulness of positive words and deeds that keeps us peaceful and centered during constant change and adversity. So, as mankind takes a critical look at the world, can we as Christians adhere to a core promise that faith today can be reframed as simply a way of living with peace of mind? After all, living in peace is a choice and, of course, having faith in God is a choice, also.
What is Faith?
The Oxford Dictionary defines Faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” With the intent to add more clarity to the subject, combine an academic perspective and some synonyms for faith, such as belief, conviction, credence, reliance, dependence, optimism, hopefulness, and expectation. As for church affiliation and the faith community, we are guided by “the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.” (Hebrews 11:1). The Bible presents ideologies that make common sense to all, regardless of faith affiliation. It reflects the ‘worldview’ for living that many cannot dispute. On the other hand, Christianity within the faith community remains steadfast in agreement with the biblical definition.
Christian believers generally refer to the “world” as a term describing individuals who do not believe in God or participate in Christian values. While analyzing these definitions as a member of humanity and society, can we see more of an interesting intersection of commonalities that cannot easily be debated with absolute merit? It seems that both Christians and non-Christians believe the following worldviews, for example:
Humanity should be respected and human needs should be valued by all.
Issues with poverty, civil disobedience, murder, famine, hypocrisy from all sources, transparency related to all issues, greed on all levels and other societal ills can be resolved with a joint effort.
Judgment of anyone or anything without a genuine effort of resolution to the problem is not a virtue.
A church building is not essential to the spiritual growth of human development; and more importantly, God, or whatever an individual chooses to call their creator, exists and impacts lives.
Simply put in today’s world, almost everyone desires some assurance to trust and hope for things that they cannot see, even those things that they cannot explicitly prove.
Gaslighting is simple to understand in today’s society. Merriam-Webster defines it as an “attempt to make (someone) believe that he or she is going insane (as by subjecting that person to a series of experiences that have no rational explanation).”
This is not a new concept. We’ve seen it in the Christian community. Let’s drop the mike at this point! Do Christians gaslight other human beings as they may perceive themselves godlier? Furthermore, do Christians gaslight those who are perceived to be non-believers because of their differences of thought about faith and values based on a litany of alternative realities? The answer lies in John 8:7(NLT), “All right, but let those who have never sinned throw the first stone!” Be honest, there are a number of valid reasons why most pews are empty.
Perceptions About Faith Today
For the last 30 years, The Barna Group, a research firm has focused on the intersection of faith and culture by studying and tracking the role of faith in America. According to one insightful study entitled “What Millennials Want When They Visit Church,” they found that among those who say church is not important, most millennials were split between multiple reasons:
Two in five say church is not important because they can find God or strengthen their personal faith elsewhere (39%).
One-third say it’s because church is not personally relevant to them (35%).
One in three simply find church boring (31%).
One in five say it feels like God is missing from church (20%)
8% say they don’t attend because church is “out of date.”
Interesting enough, another published report “Making Space for Millennials,” virtually mirrors similar sentiments in that a significant number of young adults expressed deeper complaints about church and their perceptions about faith today.
“More than one-third says their negative perceptions are a result of moral failures in church leadership (35%). And a substantial number of millennials view Christians as judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), anti-homosexual (91%) and insensitive to others (70%).”
These beliefs, of course, are not exclusive or experienced in all areas of the faith community as a whole, yet it seems quite revealing today that there is a large majority of people who lack interest in participating in any organized religious group and this appears to be a regular occurrence, especially within the Black church. The church’s decline in attendees corroborate this fact.
David Kinnaman, researcher and author of the book “You Lost Me,” shares some intriguing and perhaps valid perceptions about the Christian population of individuals ages 18-25 years old. Approximately, “38% have confessed to doubt their faith. Over 57% are less interested in the mundane messages preached based on traditional values of the old church that do not meet their concerns or provide the answers they seek in the troubled world in which they’re trying to survive. Even more puzzling, 59% do not regard church as a priority.” The author’s findings do not condemn the church, nor does it advocate that anyone change their views about their Christian beliefs. But the community of faith needs to make quality efforts to better understand that the realities of the world’s perception of love, faithfulness, values, and personal struggles have created a climate in which we all feel a need to be selective in our problem-solving and, in some cases, our very existence. Maybe this will cause a more positive change in perception of faith and promote the meaning of a true discipleship.
Today’s Faith In Action
Building faith and learning to consistently maintain it are two different constructs today. In a multi-diverse community of faith, there is a need to reframe how we can reach and teach God’s people with truth that matters. “So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ” (Roman 10:17 NLT). Our world is complex, our government is distrustful, our rights have diminished in many ways, discrimination is real, Black lives matter and, of course, all lives matter. What good news do Christians today have for all?
Christians today are indeed aware of their own missteps. We also realize that even non-believers sense that true forgiveness comes from God and portions of faith exists in all of us. We all understand that we judge others with our biases based on the degree of their circumstances while minimizing our own vices. Honestly, some non-believers often become disappointed and frustrated with Christians. Those who desire to gain a better perception of our faith in God see some Christians who also demonstrate worldly actions as well. They can see that Christians are too busy reacting and interacting with “worldly” issues and struggle to maintain balance in their own lives. They understand shade when they ask Christians to help them understand better or help with their doubts and often told “Oh, I’m so sorry, I’ll be praying for you,” “God is good,” or they are judged because their tithes records are not up to par. The outcome is that some Christians fail to personally help or end up gaslighting within the faith community. In today’s world, this can easily become a detriment to anyone who seeks God and desires to learn about our faith.
Isn’t it high time to reframe our own evangelism? We need to consciously and actively commit to spreading the gospel and continue to strengthen our personal witness and advocacy of our faith, even in a world of chaos.
Change can be fearful. Procrastination carries consequences. Anxiety is habit-forming. However, possessing wisdom with a sense of urgency is fearlessness combined with a drop of faith. It’s all we need to create the change we desire.
During our waking hours, some of us are indeed offering encouragement and educating all generations on reasons to take the nation’s midterm elections seriously and exercise our right to vote. Yet more recently, while we lay down to sleep, our democracy was threatened and our political landscape changed drastically overnight. Many saw it happening live on the 24-hour news cycle, but even more of us woke to senseless chaos, uncertainty, and doubt on all levels. That’s what an attack feels like. Perhaps it was even more disturbing to those who are not aware of our historic circumstances.
High drama is not new to the faith community and the African-American church in particular. Our ancestors kept each other “woke” at all times. Under the covering of God’s amazing grace and prayer, spirit-filled people strengthened themselves and their strategic interests. They dog-whistled like others influencers we hear today, but only among each other without shame or political correctness. Whether attending church, visiting the local grocery store, or at work in plain sight of their oppressors, Black Christians made their plight to obtain civil rights and equality clear. They took time to teach the illiterate, educate their children, and, most importantly, communicate with little regard for political affiliation.
Much has changed since the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act of 1964, ending both segregation and granting equal voting rights. Today we have many platforms of social media. We don’t own them, but we spend millions of dollars to invest in them using the latest technologies. We have somehow become cozy with these conveniences. Let’s face it; we enjoy our toys that keep us entertained causing us to become less engaged with humanity.
Technical inanimate objects allow us to keep in touch with those we care about without human voice or touch. It is appreciated as an asset in our society. Yes, we digitally celebrate birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, achievements and such, but we must be cautious about what is shared through these mediums. Perhaps it is also a brilliant distraction as the megabytes we use can literally tick away our freedoms when abused.
As a researcher and writer, I posted one simple question to my modestly sized social media audience one day prior to the bomb threats.
Question: “Given your personal history or social concerns that may affect you or individuals within your life or community, why will you choose to vote in this 2018 midterm election?”
For nearly 24 hours, everyone was silent. Then one response was received. That individual sincerely shared that her faith is in “Jehovah, not man.”
Even in our silence, we should reach deep into our mustard seed of faith and wake up, fearless and ready to take action. Voting is the most active resistance we have as a civil right. Our enthusiasm should empower us and encourage others.
Weren’t we told to “Wake Up Everybody” 43 years ago by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes ironically in November 1975? Singer and songwriter Elton John told us to “hold the borders open” in 1970. Are we even aware of the message that Rev. Dr. Frank Thomas encouraged in his book “How to Preach a Dangerous Sermon(2018)?” He shares with us a simple truth, “When we do not choose productive options and constructively confront issues…the issue does not go away…buried feelings do not die.”
When we are socially or spiritually asleep, we become more involved with our own personal daily agendas. I offer here a bit of nutrition for spiritual thought. The Bible teaches us in Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV) “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
Are we asleep in spite of our own best interest or complacent to our own demise? Are we aware of how high the stakes are for ourselves if we chose not to vote? Are we proactively awake enough to effectively communicate and participate in this critical process to educate both the eligible or disenfranchised voter?
If our choice is to remain silent, then perhaps the real question is — what are we doing with our stewardship? Wake Up! Stay Woke! Make the change you desire. It requires both prayer and action. Obviously, others who may not have our best interests at heart have a well-planned strategy. What’s ours? Make sure you at least use your right to vote now while you still have that right!