Barna finds Christians failing to let Holy Spirit transform

    The Holy Spirit truly transforms us. With our cooperation, he also wants to transform the world we live in.

    -Tweet by Pope Francis

A recent survey conducted by The Barna Group came up with distressing, but not surprising, results.

    “Many Christians are more concerned with what they call unrighteousness than they are with self-righteousness. It’s a lot easier to point fingers at how the culture is immoral than it is to confront Christians in their comfortable spiritual patterns ... "

In other words, according to the study more Christians (51 percent out of 1,008 phone interviews in which 718 respondents "self-identified" as Christians) tend to have self-righteous attitudes and actions rather than Christ-like attitudes and actions.

Those surveyed responded to these statements with agree or disagree. From Barna:

The 10 research statements used to examine Christ-likeness include the following:

Actions like Jesus:
  •     I listen to others to learn their story before telling them about my faith.
  •     In recent years, I have influenced multiple people to consider following Christ.
  •     I regularly choose to have meals with people with very different faith or morals from me.
  •     I try to discover the needs of non-Christians rather than waiting for them to come to me.
  •     I am personally spending time with non-believers to help them follow Jesus.
Attitudes like Jesus:
  •     I see God-given value in every person, regardless of their past or present condition.
  •     I believe God is for everyone.
  •     I see God working in people’s lives, even when they are not following him.
  •     It is more important to help people know God is for them than to make sure they know they are sinners.
  •     I feel compassion for people who are not following God and doing immoral things.
The 10 statements used to assess self-righteousness (like the Pharisees), included the following research items:

Self-Righteous Actions:
  •     I tell others the most important thing in my life is following God’s rules.
  •     I don’t talk about my sins or struggles. That’s between me and God.
  •     I try to avoid spending time with people who are openly gay or lesbian.
  •     I like to point out those who do not have the right theology or doctrine.
  •     I prefer to serve people who attend my church rather than those outside the church.
Self-Righteous Attitudes:
  •     I find it hard to be friends with people who seem to constantly do the wrong things.
  •     It’s not my responsibility to help people who won’t help themselves.
  •     I feel grateful to be a Christian when I see other people’s failures and flaws.
  •     I believe we should stand against those who are opposed to Christian values.
  •     People who follow God’s rules are better than those who do not."
Surveyors developed these statements from what they surmised from the New Testament and the Epistles regarding Jesus' attitudes and actions.


As you can see, 51 percent of Christians responded in a way indicating that their attitudes and actions reflected the Pharisees, "the self-righteous sect of religious leaders described in the New Testament," according to Barna. Only 14 percent of Christians identified as Christ-like in attitudes and actions. Twenty-one percent were Christ-like in attitudes but not in actions and 14 percent were Christ-like in actions but not in attitude. 

These findings are distressing to me because so many Christians are not living the abundant life. Of course, we all have issues on which to work, but being like Jesus should be our goal. When we fall short of the mark the Christian community should change its ways - in the past this was called repentance.

I also said that the findings did not surprise me. All one has to do is look at Facebook, Twitter and the comment sections of most news articles to see that people who claim Christianity as their religion have lost their focus, if they knew what it was at all. All Todd Starnes, Fox News' replacement for Glenn Beck, has to do is say that Christians are suffering persecution here in the States and people begin frothing at the mouth in the comment section.

We can find the reason for this in findings from another survey that Barna conducted. The article, Self-Described Christians Dominate America but Wrestle with Four Aspects of Spiritual Depth, describes four obstacles standing in the way of Christians.

    Commitment: "More than three out of four self-identified Christians (78%) strongly agreed that spirituality is very important to them. Yet, less than one out of every five self-identified Christians (18%) claims to be totally committed to investing in their own spiritual development. About the same proportion of self-identified Christians (22%) claims to be “completely dependent upon God.” Those figures help explain why a majority of self-identified Christian adults (52%) believe that there is much more to the Christian life than what they have experienced."
    Repentance: "Most of the self-identified Christians in the U.S. (64%) state that they have confessed their sins to God and asked for His forgiveness. But the evidence is quite clear that relatively few self-identified Christians are serious about abandoning the lure of sin and handing total control of their life to God." In fact, only 3 percent of the surveyed Christians said that they had completely given their lives to God.
    Activity: "Mired in a culture that rewards hard work and busyness, it’s not surprising that tens of millions of self-identified Christians have confused religious activity with spiritual significance and depth. For instance, four out of ten self-identified Christian adults (39%) have participated in a combination of three “normal” religious activities in the past week (i.e., attending church services, praying, reading the Bible). But far fewer have engaged in another trio of deeper faith expressions: less than one out of ten have talked about their faith with a non-Christian, fasted for religious purposes, and had an extended time of spiritual reflection during the past week. Various spiritual disciplines – including solitude, sacrifice, acts of service, silence, and scriptural meditation – are also infrequently practiced."
    Spiritual Community: "Only one out of every five self-identified Christians (21%) believes that spiritual maturity requires a vital connection to a community of faith. Further, only one-third (35%) claims to have confessed their sins verbally to another believer at some point during the past quarter."

Of course, who wants to go to church with a bunch of hypocrites?  Millennials (those born between 1984 and 2002, according to Barna) are leaving the church in droves. Even though I am a Buster (1965 - 1983), I too have considered leaving the church because I do not have much in common with the average church goer. Why did I not leave? Because church is where hypocrites- and we are all hypocrites to some degree - belong.

The Church, however, cannot help hypocrites if the depth of preaching does not go beyond the basic salvation message or if leaders merely parrot popular teachings. Pastors and Sunday school teachers should take responsibility for the people under them and research their sermons, Bible studies and lessons with more than one source. Preferably these sources should either disagree or present different aspects or viewpoints of the topic. Critical thinking should be encouraged. People should ask questions, especially in Sunday school.

Church should not be a "country club" where busy-ness and activity are confused with spirituality. The Barna Group mentioned that the church lacks practice in spiritual disciplines such as "solitude, sacrifice, acts of service, silence and scriptural meditation." In fact, fundamentalists ridicule these disciplines and those who practice them, as heretical.

I am going to close with a quote from John Wesley, an Anglican cleric and theologian who is credited with starting the Methodist movement. Wesley believed in holiness of heart and life.

    Lord, I am no longer my own, but Yours. Put me to what You will, rank me with whom You will. Let be employed by You or laid aside for You, exalted for You or brought low by You. Let me have all things, let me have nothing, I freely and heartily yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, You are mine and I am Yours. So be it. Amen.


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"The Genesee Diary" - Nouwen learns to live in the moment

When Catholic priest Henri Nouwen, a popular spiritual writer, needed to slow the pace of his life, he spent seven months in a monastery in an effort to regain his focus on God's calling in his life.

At the Abbey of the Genesee, a Trappist monastery, Nouwen participated in the activities of the monks who lived there. The abbot assigned to Nouwen tasks of manual labor, as well as time to study and pray. Life in the monastery was different from life outside. Nouwen observed that the monks got up around 2 a.m. to pray and get ready for the day. They ate breakfast between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. then began their daily tasks. Each monk had chores for which he was responsible. There was also a bakery at the monastery, the proceeds from which provided funds to run the place.

When Mike and I visited the Benet Hill Monastery, a Benedictine cloister similar to the Trappist, we noticed that the nuns were industrious. They ran a nursing home at the monastery and a retreat center. They sold crafts and books. All of this helped them raise funds for their monastery, to keep it running and active.  

Here is an excerpt from the Rule of St. Benedict, - the definitive guidebook to monastic life:
Idleness is the enemy of the soul; and therefore the brethren ought to be employed in manual labor at certain times, at others, in devout reading. Hence, we believe that the time for each will be properly ordered by the following arrangement; namely, that from Easter till the calends of October, they go out in the morning from the first till about the fourth hour, to do the necessary work, but that from the fourth till about the sixth hour they devote to reading. After the sixth hour, however, when they have risen from table, let them rest in their beds in complete silence; or if, perhaps, anyone desireth to read for himself, let him so read that he doth not disturb others. Let None be said somewhat earlier, about the middle of the eighth hour; and then let them work again at what is necessary until Vespers.
If, however, the needs of the place, or poverty should require that they do the work of gathering the harvest themselves, let them not be downcast, for then are they monks in truth, if they live by the work of their hands, as did also our forefathers and the Apostles. However, on account of the faint-hearted let all things be done with moderation.
Living with this rule adds simplicity to the monastic life, thus allowing more time for prayer.

In "The Genesee Diary," Nouwen's account of his first stay in the monastery, he wrote that he did not enjoy the manual labor assigned to him. His tasks included working in the bakery and also pulling rocks from a nearby stream that the monks were going to use in the construction of a new church on the grounds.
"I'd better start thinking a little more about my attitude toward work, Nouwen wrote. If I have learned anything this week, it is that there is a contemplative way of working that is more important for me than praying, reading or singing. Most people think that you go to a monastery to pray. Well, I prayed more this week than before but also discovered that I have not learned yet to make work of my hands into a prayer."
What does 'making the work of my hands into a prayer' mean? Surely, the artist understands this concept. An artist can express beauty, scripture, his or her thoughts and feelings by creating in all sorts of venues, but what about expressing the prayer in the work of our hands in manual labor. Art is fun. Certain forms of manual labor are not, especially the repetitive kinds that have no apparent lasting results.

Housework is like this for me. I love having a clean house but it is difficult to motivate myself to dust often. I will just have to dust again in a week! When I was younger I would let the dishes go until I figured out that it took less time to do them everyday than it did to do them every other day. Machines make housework easier. I have a dishwasher - one of humanity's most noble inventions. I would rather put clean dishes away than stand at the sink washing them. Yet, do we lose something when we would rather get the job done quickly and move on to something else?

I noticed that when we did not have a dishwasher, our family helped each other with the task. There would be discussions, problems resolved, and laughter prevailed. Now that we have a dishwasher, it is easier for one person to do the job so there is not as much talk. It is like this with other chores and if we are not careful, machines can take away our ability to work together. Our propensity to rush through tasks takes away the enjoyment of completing a job well done; it adds to our impatience when tasks take longer than expected.

In a world where it is easy to purchase everything inexpensively at the store, we lose our ability to create and to survive with what we have. We accept cheaply made products, rather than enjoying the artisanship of another person or ourselves.

In chapters one and two, Nouwen is learning that the contemplative life is a unified life. A contemplative person does everything for one purpose - to bring glory to God. So everything a person does, whether it is manual labor, reading, praying, creating, sleeping is done with that one purpose in mind. Contemplative living brings simplicity and enjoyment to life. It turns the work of our hands into prayer. 
"When God is my only concern, when God is the center of my interest, when all my prayers, my reading, my studying, my speaking, and writing serve only to know God better, and to make him known better, then there is no basis for anxiety or stage fright," Nouwen wrote. 
Here is what my version would look like:

"When God is my only concern, when God is the center of my interests" when all of my labor, crafting, meal preparation, child-rearing, laundering, cleaning, writing, reading, praying "serve only to know God better, and to make him known better," then there is no basis for complaining or in not doing my very best in everything.

The contemplative person learns that living in the moment is God's will.

"If I could slowly come to that trust in God, that surrender, that childlike openness ... I could live the simple life ... I would know that here and now is what counts and is important because it is God himself who wants me at this time and place," Nouwen wrote.

Popular Christian musician Keith Green sang Make My Life A Prayer to You, a song that exemplifies our discussion. Enjoy!


Three Lies Porn Tells You

According to Yahbut: Abundant Living! statistics, our second most popular post is "Opening Pandora's Box: Clergy Porn Addiction. Is help available?" (the first is "Aristotle and Christian Education"). Some of you have requested more information on clergy and pornography so when I saw the article "Three Lies Porn Tells   You," on Relevant magazine's website, I thought I'd share the link. 

Remember, pornography addiction is not exclusive to pastors. There are lay people who are also addicted. The suggestions given in this article could help anyone with this problem.

Here's the link:

Three Lies Porn Tells You

Yahbut: Abundant Living! articles:

Pastors and Sexual Addiction
Opening Pandora's Box: Clergy Porn Addiction. Is help available?

Becoming like Christ

The first chapter of the gospel of John is a beautiful introduction to his account of the life of Jesus:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. 

Centuries later, spiritual writer Henri Nouwen wrote in his book, "Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith", about a way that Christ becomes flesh in our day:

"Spiritual reading is food for our souls.  As we slowly let the words of the Bible or any spiritual book enter into our minds and descend into our hearts, we become different people.  The Word gradually becomes flesh in us and thus transforms our whole beings.  Thus spiritual reading is a continuing incarnation of the divine Word within us.  In and through Jesus, the Christ, God became flesh long ago.  In and through our reading of God's Word and our reflection on it, God becomes flesh in us now and thus makes us into living Christs for today.

"Let's keep reading God's Word with love and great reverence."

By reading God's word, the Bible, Nouwen says, we allow God's Word, or Jesus, to work in our hearts. As we learn scripture and garner encouragement from others who have written about their walk with God, Christ works within, molding and shaping us, changing us so that we become more like him. It's a life-long experience, a journey. We learn as we go.  Will you allow Jesus to shape you through the word? Will you allow Jesus to shine through you so that others may see him?

Written by Lisa Gossman-Steeves. This blog post was first published on the Create in Christ team blog 4/19/2013.


Monday treasuries

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