This week I’m teaching at a Bible College in Estes Park.
I had driven by their sign on Hwy 36 many times coming into Estes Park, but was never quite sure what Ravencrest was, or what their Bible school was like.
Last year I got a call from the director, inviting me to come up for the day; it turns out we have some common friends in Hungary, and several people I know had studied here.
Over the past few months, I’ve enjoyed getting to know Frank and the staff here at Ravencrest, and they invited me to come up these week as a guest lecturer. I’m teaching Genesis for the first-year students and teaching “Leadership in the Local Church” for the second-year students.
They have a great facility up here, and a good ministry that brings people in from all over the world. Along with the Bible School, they function as a conference and retreat center and in the summer they organize camps for youth, including some backpacking retreats into Rocky Mountain National Park.
One of the things Daniel wrote about in his book and talked about at the conference is the idea that discipleship is a direction, rather than a destination. While there is an ultimate destination to our discipleship: experiencing the glory of God in the fullness of His Kingdom forever, as long as we are here on this Earth, being a disciple of Jesus is about direction, not destination.
A destination is a place you can arrive at. Once you’re there, then you’ve arrived.
A direction implies active and sustained movement towards something.
What is the measure of maturity?
What is it that makes a Christian disciple “mature”?
Consider this: in the Bible, we read about many people who encountered Jesus, from ultra-religious pharisees to prostitutes, extortioners and even thieves.
If the measure of spiritual maturity is simply knowledge or religious observance, then it’s no question: the pharisees were more mature. They knew more about the Bible and their record of religious observance was spotless. The only problem was: the pharisees were far from God in their hearts. (Mark 7:6 – “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me).
On the other hand, you have people like Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), an extortioner who hasn’t got everything in his life sorted out, but he’s changed directions and is moving towards Jesus even though he’s just now at the beginning of his journey.
Who is the greater disciple? The answer is: Zacchaeus, because he is moving towards Jesus, as opposed to the pharisee who isn’t.
The implications of viewing discipleship in this way
Viewing discipleship as direction rather than a destination has profound implications. It means that you don’t become a disciple by successfully learning a block of material or completing a discipleship workbook or 4-part class. Rather discipleship is an ongoing process.
Unlike justification, which is an outside, definitive, unchanging status that is bestowed on a believer by God, discipleship by definition implies sustained movement. So, if at one point in your life you were passionately seeking God and following Jesus, but are not currently doing so, your past discipleship doesn’t make up for your current posture. Knowledge, longevity nor familiarity equate to having “arrived” as a disciple, in other words. Discipleship is about direction.
A Case Study: the Cussing Christian
When I was pastoring in Hungary, we had a young woman come to our church. She had grown up in an atheist family and her father was a musician. She was a bohemian herself. At our church, she heard the gospel, and she received it – and immediately she began to grow and change. She was at every Bible study, taking copious notes, so hungry to know God and understand His Word and His will for her life. She was all-in, whole-heartedly following Jesus and asked to be baptized.
She also cussed like a sailor. My wife and I learned some new Hungarian words from her… You see, we were fluent in Hungarian, but being in church settings, there were certain “colorful” words, which we had never been exposed to. That all changed when this woman came around. Every Wednesday, after Bible study, there was a time for people to ask questions and then we would pray together. She would often have questions or comments, a praise report or a prayer request – and as she would speak, we’d hear her say some words which didn’t recognize, and then we’d watch as the others in the group grimaced from the words she chose to use. Quickly, we learned what those words meant.
Although we didn’t love the fact that she was using this language, we were happy to see the change in her heart and in her life and her obvious love for Jesus. This was how she had talked before she came to know the Lord, and we trusted that the Holy Spirit would do the work of sanctification, and as she followed Jesus, she would be transformed in every area, including this one.
One day a middle-aged woman from the church approached me. She was angry that we allowed this woman to come to our church and be baptized, considering that she used foul language. This middle-aged woman had been raised in a Christian home, but had a penchant for gossiping about others and slandering them. Unlike with the young woman, I had not witnessed any of the fruits of the spirit in this middle-aged woman’s life, but instead had distinctly seen judgmental and legalistic tendencies.
Which of these two women was the greater disciple? Clearly the older woman knew more about the Bible and had been a Christian longer, but if discipleship is a direction, then the answer is: the younger woman.
What direction are you moving in?
If discipleship is about active, sustained direction, what direction are you moving in? Have you perhaps stagnated?
The good news is, you can change direction. That’s what the word “repentance” means: to change direction.
That was, after all, the first message Jesus preached: “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Change directions, whatever you’ve been pursuing, running after – instead, change directions and follow me.
In Part 1 of this mini-series on Making Sense of Different Bible Translations, we looked at the fundamentals of how Bible translation is done, why so many translations exist and some guidelines for choosing a good translation.
Here in Part 2, we will be looking at the King James Version (KJV) specifically. In Part 3, we will look at the New International Version (NIV) and the question of gender-inclusive language.
When it comes to the King James Version of the Bible, some people feel very strongly that it is the only Bible that English speakers should use. Why is that, and is that a good position to hold? Let’s consider the main issues at stake in this discussion:
Manuscripts: Textus Receptus
The King James Version was translated based on a collection of Greek New Testament manuscripts called the Textus Receptus (Received Text). The Textus Receptus was compiled in the 1500’s by Erasmus Desiderius of Rotterdam, a Catholic priest and humanist.
Although he was a humanist and his work played a significant role in the Reformation, by putting the Word of God back into the hands of the people, Erasmus remained loyal to the pope. Martin Luther disputed with Erasmus over theology, which you can read more about here.
There are two kinds of KJV adherents: those who trust the Textus Receptus, and those who trust the KJV itself.
As discussed in Part 1, the Bible doesn’t change, but language does. As a result, new translations of the Textus Receptus have been done, most notably the New King James Version (NKJV), which also uses the Textus Receptus as its basis, but which translates it into modern English. Those who are trust in the Textus Receptus are happy to use the NKJV and other translations of the Textus Receptus which use current rather than archaic English, such as KJ21 and MEV.
However, there are some KJV Only loyalists who reject any translation other than the original KJV, showing that they are not loyal to the Textus Receptus, but to the KJV itself. This brings up several problems:
KJV Only Problem #1: Which King James Version?
The King James Bible has undergone three revisions since its first publication in 1611, which updated the spelling and use of many words – in order to make them more comprehensible in the common language of the people. If you buy a KJV Bible today, you will be getting the 1769 version, unless you go out of your way to get a 1611. So the question for KJV loyalists is: which KJV are you loyal to? If you accept the 1769 (which is almost all KJV’s available for sale today), then you are dealing with what was essentially the NEW King James Version of the 18th century. There seems no reason in this case then to reject the New King James Version of the 20th century either.
KJV Only Problem #2: What About Other Languages?
As a missionary in Hungary, I remember times when people would come from America to serve at our youth camp, and they would bring English KJV Bibles to give out to the kids… Hungarian kids, who not only don’t speak English, but who certainly don’t understand Shakespearean English from the 1600’s. I have heard stories of American churches buying boxes of KJV Bibles to send to orphanages in Mexico.
Do people need to learn English, and specifically archaic English, in order to read and understand the Word of God?
Other languages have translations of the Textus Receptus which predate the KJV, including the German Luther Bible (1522) the the Spanish Reina translation (1569), and the Hungarian Vizsoly Bible (1590).
Furthermore, when the KJV was first introduced in 1611, it was criticized for being too easy to understand, because it was written in the common language of the people at that time. When the Bible is translated for the first time into a new language today, it is translated into the language the cultures speaks today, not the way they spoke 400 years ago.
Thus, it seems unreasonable to be loyal to the KJV itself, rather than the Textus Receptus. Next, let’s look at the Textus Receptus:
Is the Textus Receptus the best manuscript of the New Testament?
Since Erasmus assembled the Textus Receptus in the early 1500’s, many Biblical manuscripts have been discovered which are older and more accurate than the manuscripts in the Textus Receptus. What these manuscripts show is that the later Textus Receptus manuscripts contained several additions to the text, which were not present in the older manuscripts.
It should be noted: none of these “textual variants” have any significance for Christian theology. They were added, it seems, as forms of commentary, or to help bring clarity – but they seem to have been added nonetheless.
Do Newer Translations Remove Verses?
As explained in the section above, the Textus Receptus includes some verses which older manuscripts show us were later additions to the text by zealous scribes who were trying to help, but which were not a part of the original manuscripts.
So, rather than newer translations “removing verses”, what you actually have is that the KJV (or the Textus Receptus, rather) has added verses to the Bible – something which is also forbidden by Revelation 22:18-19.
Both the KJV and more modern translations are upfront about these facts. The KJV indicates words which have been added for clarity by using italics, and newer translations use brackets or footnotes to show places where the Textus Receptus includes text which is not found in the oldest manuscripts.
Landing the Plane
Our loyalties as Christians should be the original texts of the Old and New Testaments, written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, not to any particular translation of those words which God inspired. It is often helpful to look at several translations in order to get a full understanding of the meaning of a text.
I just got back on Saturday night from a 2-week trip, during which I was in NYC, Turkey, Hungary, Ukraine – then a quick jaunt to Southern California, before making my way back home just in time for daylight savings! My internal clock was so confused by that point that losing one more hour of sleep didn’t even register.
Hagia Sofia, Istanbul
NYC from the top of the Empire State Building
The purpose for the European trip was to visit White Fields‘ missionaries and ministry partners in Hungary and Ukraine. I got to spend time with Pastor Jani and others from Golgota Eger, the church my wife and I started back in 2005. We also spent time in Budapest at Golgota Budapest and with the leaders of the Anonymous Ways Foundation which helps to rescue women out of sex-trafficking.
Pastor Jani – Golgota Eger
Pastor Laci – Golgota Délpest
After a few short days in Hungary, we flew to Kiev, Ukraine where Mike and I taught at a Pastors and Leaders Conference for Calvary Chapel Ukraine. Our topic was “movement dynamics” and we gave biblical and practical instruction about leading missional churches for about 50 pastors and church leaders from all over Ukraine.
After church we spent some time with George Markey, one of the pastors of Calvary Kiev, and he shared with us the vision for urban church planting in Kiev – a city of about 5 million people. Their vision is to plant 30 churches in Kiev in 5 years! This year their goal was to begin with 2 church plants, and God has already raised up people for those in the northern Obolon region of the city and in the southern Teremky region. Please join in praying for God’s work in Kiev through Calvary Chapel and for this big vision they have for church planting!
Ternopil and Kharkiv
Sunday evening, three of us got on an over-night train to Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine, near the Russian border – while Mike and his wife Marika took a train in the opposite direction, to Ternopil in Western Ukraine to visit friends from Calvary Chapel Ternopil.
In Kharkiv, we visited with friends from Calvary Chapel Kharkiv, including Pastor Victor Fisin and Assistant Pastor and missionary Nate Medlong, whose aunt is a member of our church. Nate and his wife Diana are on the front lines of ministry to orphans and children in the foster system in Kharkiv. God is doing great things through their ministry, so please keep them in prayer.
CC Kharkiv’s new building
Coffee with friends from CC Kharkiv
Returning to Kiev, I got to speak to the students of Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary on Tuesday morning, and then we spent time with one of the teachers and the director of the seminary afterwards. UETS is a doing a great work, raising up pastors and leaders from all over the former Soviet Union. They have a strategic partnership with the seminary I am currently attending: London School of Theology (LST), and they have several hundred students attending their many campuses all over Ukraine and one other former-Soviet country. Pray for their work!
While the others from the team came back to Colorado, I had one more trip before I came home: I went to Thousand Oaks, California for the first Expositors Collective – an interactive seminar for young people who have a desire to preach and teach the Bible well. As one of the leaders, I coached a group of young men who had a range of different experiences: from Bible college students to interns, to a staff pastor who sometimes preaches at his church. It was a great event, and one that was geared towards ongoing mentorship. This was only the first of what will hopefully be an ongoing collective to encourage expository Bible teaching in the next generation. For more information, check out expositorscollective.com
Based out of Berthoud, Colorado, Ukraine Orphan Outreach is a local non-profit you should know about that is having a global impact.
UOO works to help the kids who are falling between the cracks in the system, by establishing transition homes for orphans who are aging out of the system as well as helping to facilitate adoptions of older orphans with adoptive parents in the US. They also organize camps and other activities for orphans in Ukraine, to be able to have fun and hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. – James 1:27
When we lived in Hungary, my wife and I were involved in ministry to orphans, and we saw how difficult life is particularly for kids as they get older and especially when they age out of the system and have to move out on their own.
Here are some statistics from UOO’s website:
12,000 children age out of orphanages every year with no where to go.
70% of the boys are incarcerated after only 2 years of being out of an orphanage.
60% of young girls that age out of orphanages are pulled into sex trafficking.
10% of the children who age out of orphanages commit suicide within 2 years.
Friends of mine here in Longmont have adopted through UOO, a couple from our church met on a UOO mission trip, and through UOO I have made good contacts and friends in Ukraine, including at Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary, where I will be visiting in March when I will be in Kyiv for a pastors and leaders conference.
A few weeks ago I was preparing to go out of town for 10 days.
For the past several years I have taken trips like this one to visit different ministries and speak at churches and conferences. Last year when I was preparing to leave, my kids were sad that I was leaving, but when I told them that I would bring them Túró Rudi from Hungary, they cheered up and asked me, “When are you leaving?!”
But this year was different. My daughter was very upset that I was leaving, pretty much to the point of being inconsolable. In an attempt to cheer her up I told her that I would bring her back a present from one of the countries I was visiting, and I asked her what she would like.
Her response broke my heart: through her sobs she said, “I don’t want any presents, I just want my daddy.”
In Exodus 33 there is an interesting story. After God had heard the people’s cries and saved them from slavery in Egypt, brought them through the Red Sea and provided for them in the wilderness and entered into a covenant with them, the people had turned their backs on God and created a golden calf to worship instead. God chose to forgive them for this, but in Exodus 33 he told them: Even though you haven’t kept up your end of our deal, I’m still going to give you the Promised Land. I will send an angel before you, who will protect you and who will give you victory in all the battles you face. BUT… I will not go with you.
Think about what God was saying… He was testing them: Did they only want Him for the things He could give them, or did they actually want Him?
Essentially, God was offering them success, security and prosperity – without Him. He wouldn’t be there to tell them what to do. They could live their lives however they wanted, and they could have everything they wanted.
Sounds like a pretty good deal, right?
But rather than being excited by this offer, we read that the people mourned when they heard this “disasterous word.”
I wonder how many of us would consider this a “disastrous word” and bad news, that we could have everything we want — without God. I’m sure there would be many people who would be quite fine with that offer: if they could have success, security and prosperity and no God around telling them what to do and what not to do.
And yet these people were willing to give up all of those things, in order that they might have a relationship with God! It’s the same sentiment that was expressed by my daughter on the eve of my trip: “I don’t want any presents, I just want my daddy.”
The claim that many detractors and critics of Christianity make, that one of the only reasons people are religious is because they view God as a “cosmic fairy” or a genie in a bottle, whom they can invoke to give them what they want. But this flies in the face of that!
Let me ask you: What if you could have everything that you’ve always dreamed of having: money, success, the dream house, the trophy spouse, fame and recognition, and/or whatever it is that you dream of having — but without God. Would you be excited by that prospect, or would you consider it “disasterous”?
What we see later on in Exodus 33 is that Moses, having come to know some of who God is, makes a bold request: he asks to see God’s glory. Because here’s the thing: one of the defining characteristics of a person who has truly come to know God is that they want more of Him.
May we be those who come to know God in such a way that we want more of Him, and desire to know Him more than we want the “presents” that He can give us.
As I wrote in a previous post, I am currently in Kyiv, Ukraine on a ministry trip. On my way here I had the chance to stop in Hungary for two short days, during which every moment was packed.
I arrived in Budapest Tuesday night, met with a few friends on Wednesday, and got on a train to Eger to visit our friends from the church we started there several years ago. There was an open house gathering at the pastor’s house for anyone who wanted to come see me and it just so happened that one of my good friends and our former worship leader, who now lives in the Netherlands, was also in Eger that day, and was able to come out and visit.
Jani and Tünde and I stayed up late that night talking about life and ministry, and on Thursday I woke up early for a marathon of meetings with as many people as I could. It was a short time, but because of that it was also a very focused time. That evening, rather than taking the train back to Budapest to catch my flight the next day, Jani decided to drive me so that we would have more time to spend together and talk.
Pray for Pastor Jani and Golgota Eger. They are doing a good work in that city and region.
And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2)
Friday morning I flew to Kyiv, arriving at 11:00 AM. At 2:00 PM the Calvary Chapel Ukraine Pastors and Leaders conference began at the conference center in Irpin.
The conference was two days long and the theme was “Vision for Our Cities.” It was a pleasure to get to spend time with this great group of people who are doing important work, and get to share with them some of the things I’ve learned.
On Sunday morning I shared at Calvary Chapel Kyiv, and had a great time with that wonderful church which has great leadership and a great vision to reach their city and the country of Ukraine. Pastor George told me today: “We could literally start as many churches as we want in Ukraine, the only thing we lack is people to do it. People here are so receptive to the gospel, particularly in the East where the fighting is going on.”
“We could start as many churches as we want in Ukraine, the only thing we lack is people to do it.” – Pastor George Markey, Calvary Chapel Kyiv
As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
At church in Kyiv, I spent most of my time talking to people in Hungarian; an ethnic Hungarian man from the Hungarian-speaking region of Ukraine was there, as well as a Ukrainian girl whom my wife and I know from when we all lived Debrecen, Hungary. As more and more people in the world are moving to big cities like Kyiv, the world is getting smaller as it gets bigger.
60 years ago this week, the Hungarian people rose up against the Stalinist government of Hungary and the Soviet occupation.
The revolution ultimately failed, and in the wake of it, my wife’s father, Ferenc, fled Hungary along with some 200,000 people, and became a refugee. Ferenc was able to escape across the border into Austria along with a friend thanks to the help of a local villager who helped them navigate the minefield at the border. Unfortunately they later received news that this man had been caught and executed.
Those who fought and those who fled were known as 56-ers (Ötvenhatosok).
Time magazine named the Hungarian Freedom Fighter the Man of the Year in 1956.
The revolution began on October 23, 1956 with rallies and protests. When the ÁVH (Hungarian secret police) fired into the crowd of protesters in front of the parliament building, people formed militias, armed only with rocks and molotov cocktails, but were later able to break into military weapon storage and get guns. The revolution spread throughout the country, and on Oct 28, 1956 Soviet troops withdrew from Budapest. The Hungarians thought they were free, and began to establish a new government, but on Nov 4, in the middle of the night, the Soviet army rolled into Budapest and crushed the revolution completely and finally.
One of the saddest parts of the story of the revolution, was that the United States had been broadcasting into the Eastern Block via Radio Free Europe, telling people there that if they were to rise up against the Soviets, the US would support them. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, because at the exact time when the Hungarians did rise up, the US was in the middle of negotiations about the Suez Canal and needed the support of the Soviet Union, and they weren’t prepared to turn the Cold War into World War III.
My father-in-law, Ferenc, was able to get refugee status in Austria and petitioned for asylum in the United States, and was among those who were accepted. The United States said they would accept 100 young men who were willing to work. They took them on a B-52 Liberator, and after a stop-over somewhere in Africa, they were brought to a military base in New Jersey. Asked where they wanted to live in the United States, they chose Chicago, because it was the only American city they had heard of.
Ferenc later gained US citizenship, got married and had 2 kids. He went to college and worked in the tech industry. He loved Hungary, but understood he couldn’t go back. He also loved America, because of the opportunities and the freedoms he enjoyed here.
It was also in the United States that Ferenc heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and became a Christian. He was born in Hungary during World War II and raised in the Stalinist era of communist Hungary, which meant that although he identified as Roman Catholic, he never practiced it. Upon coming to the US, Ferenc began attending Catholic mass, but the real turning point in his life came when his son, my brother-in-law, was invited as a teenager to a church by some friends. My wife and her brother had gone to Catholic church growing up with their parents, but as they got older they had stopped attending. Tony, my brother in law embraced the gospel message of who Jesus was and what he did: the Divine Son, dying in our place, for our sins, so we could be forgiven, justified and redeemed; rising from the dead that we might have eternal life through him.
Tony invited Rosemary, my wife, to come to church with him, and she did. He also invited his mom and dad, who were much more hesitant to come because of the charismatic nature of this particular church.
Ferenc, however, listened to what Tony said about Jesus, and so Ferenc looked for a church where he felt comfortable going and learning more. He ended up finding Calvary Chapel in Vista, CA – and Rosemary began attending with him.
Rosemary remembers the time when her dad really understood the gospel for the first time. She says that he was emotional, having been touched deeply by the love and the grace of God towards him, and at the same time somewhat angry, saying: “I went to church for years…but I never heard the gospel! Why did they never tell me that I needed to repent of my sins and put my faith in Jesus, and that God extends grace and mercy and eternal life to those who will receive it?”
I went to church for years…but I never heard the gospel! Why did they never tell me…? – Ferenc Kovács
Ferenc attended Calvary Chapel in Vista for years. While he attended there he met another man, István, who was also a 56-er. About this time, the great changes were taking place in Eastern Europe which led to the end of Communism in those countries. Calvary Vista led the way in sending teams to preach the gospel and to plant churches, first in Yugoslavia and then in Hungary.
Ferenc was so excited to see what God was doing, and he wanted so badly to go to Hungary and tell his fellow countrymen the good news of the gospel, and the message that God loved them and that Jesus had died for them. Unfortunately, he never got that opportunity. Ferenc suffered from Juvenile Parkinson’s Disease, a devastating condition for a man who had formerly been an avid athlete and soccer player. Ferenc died from complications from Parkinson’s in 1996, at the age of 59, but not before seeing his daughter go on mission trips to Hungary. His friend István did go to Hungary and spent years working with Calvary Chapel in Budapest.
We ended up working together in, of all places, a refugee camp
In 1998, Rosemary moved to Hungary to work with Calvary Chapel, spreading the gospel and planting churches. It was there that I met Rosemary in 2001. We ended up working together in, of all places, a refugee camp, in Debrecen, Hungary where we ministered several times a week to people mostly from muslim countries, who had never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. We provided for them materially through donations, and we also offered them Bibles and held Bible studies, translated into several languages. Over this period of time, we saw people from Kosovo, Iran, Afghanistan and several African countries become Christians after hearing the gospel clearly presented for the first time in their lives and having the opportunity to read the Scriptures for themselves.
Today, we have a modern-day refugee crisis. We’ve been told that they are a “Trojan Horse” – and maybe some of that rhetoric has some truth to it, but I also know that people were sceptical of people like Ferenc, my father-in-law, who came from a Communist country – and guess what: during the Cold War, some spies and people with bad intentions against America did come to the US pretending to be refugees. It doesn’t change the fact of Ferenc and many other refugees’ stories of escaping oppressive regimes and not only finding freedom, but also having the opportunity for the first time in their lives to hear the life-transforming message of the gospel.
I see the current refugee situation through this lens: the lens of my wife, her brother and my late father-in-law. I see it through the lens of the many people who became Christians in the refugee camp I worked in, who had never had the opportunity to hear the gospel or the freedom to become Christians in their home countries. I see it through the lens of the Iranian refugees I met in Budapest last year, whom White Fields church bought Bibles for, because they were hearing about Jesus and getting baptized, changing their names and evangelising other refugees.
I’m not afraid of refugees – my father-in-law was one. The mass exodus of people from Syria is a difficult and messy situation, but here’s what I’m going to do if Syrian refugees move into my neighborhood: I’m going to befriend them, love them, show them kindness and seek to share with them the life-changing message of the gospel, a message which they likely have never heard before. I hope you’ll do the same.
I’ve noticed something: a lot of people are lonely.
I don’t know if it’s particular to Colorado, or even to the United States. I would guess that it isn’t.
In my conversations with people, this is a recurring theme: they are lonely, they wish they had more friends, they find it difficult to connect with people.
From a quick search on the internet, it seems that this is a widespread problem. This article mentions major media coverage of this problem, and there are some interesting causes which they point to: one of them is the Internet, another is the decline in church membership and attendance in recent generations. This article from the New York Times talks about how research has shown that even in social situations where people are surrounded by others, loneliness can be contagious.
It seems clear that people long for deep, meaningful relationships, but struggle to create them.
What’s at the root of this? Here are a few things I can see:
1. “Rugged Individualism” Leads to Loneliness
I moved to Hungary when I was 18, spent 10 years there and moved back to the US when I was 28, having spent ALL of my adult life in that cultural setting. When I moved back to the US, even though I grew up here, I had never really lived as an adult here, and so I experienced a good deal of culture shock.
The 2 characteristics of American society, particularly here in Colorado and the West, are what I call: “Rugged Individualism” and “A Pervasive Sense of Loneliness”. These 2 go hand in hand: the rugged individualism leads to the pervasive sense of loneliness.
In the US, individualism is considered not only a virtue, but one of the supreme virtues. However, in other cultures, individualism can even be considered a vice, whereas being part of the group is considered a virtue. This comes out in our politics: perennially, there are calls for “an outsider” to come in and “shake things up”. Our culture places value on not needing or depending on anyone but yourself, and looking out for your own needs first above those of the community. It’s an every-man/woman-for-him/herself type of mentality. The result of this mentality is an undervaluing of other virtues such as loyalty and self-sacrifice for others outside of your immediate “tribe” (usually a nuclear family). When people do meet up with other people, they tend to be very careful to put their best face forward, showing their strength rather than being vulnerable. Americans tend to be very generous, which is good, but sometimes the motive behind generosity can be a way of showing strength: that “you are weak, and I am helping you, because I am strong”.
2. Isolation is one of the results of “the Fall”
The Book of Genesis begins by presenting the “ideal”: God and humankind, in relationship with each other, in a world where death and sickness, malice and sin do not exist. However, when humans decided to rebel against God, not only was the natural harmony ruined, but the results were: shame, fear and isolation.
The results of “the Fall” were: shame, fear and isolation.
This isolation was not only isolation from God, but it also involves isolation from each other. People fear intimacy, often in large part because they are afraid to really be known, lest their shame be revealed or discovered. Isolation and the breakdown of community is one of the results and repurcussions of sin in the world.
3. A Culture of Fear and an Obsession with Privacy
One thing that stuck out to me when I moved back from Europe, was the degree to which people here in the US are concerned about their privacy. People tend to be very cautious with who they give their address or phone number to, who knows where they live, how much they let people know about themselves. For a people who pride ourselves on being “free” – we are particularly captive to fear in many areas of our lives, and quite obsessed with privacy.
My take on it personally, is: if someone is watching my every move, 1) they are going to be very bored, and 2) they are going to see me live a Christian life, and hopefully hear a lot about Jesus. I always think of the Proverb: the righteous is as bold as a young lion, but the unrighteous runs even when no one is pursuing (Proverbs 28:1)
Being obsessed with privacy leads to being afraid of intimacy in relationships – which hinders friendships from developing. People are afraid of sharing too much about themselves, afraid of inviting others into their homes, etc.
Okay…but now what?
Here are a few thoughts on how to combat this pervasive sense of loneliness:
Begin with the Assumption, that Everyone Else is Lonely Too
…because the great majority are. Most people I talk to are lonely, yet they assume that everyone else has tons of friends, and that their loneliness is unique to them. It’s not. Reach out to others, because most of them are lonely too.
Embrace the Gospel
Many people believe that they can be either fully known or fully loved, but not both – because if someone was ever to really know everything about them, they could not possibly love them. The message of the gospel though, is that God knows you better than you even know yourself, and yet, he loves you more than you can even imagine; so much so that he was willing to suffer and even die for you.
That love, perfect love, the Bible says, casts out fear (1 John 4:18). If you know that you are fully loved and fully accepted, and that you have nothing to fear, neither in life nor in death, then you are truly free. With a God who is both sovereign and wholly committed to our good, Christians should be the most bold, fearless people in the world, as they allow the gospel to address each and every fear that they have.
Live Out Redeemed Community Life
Furthermore, Jesus told us that the real life that we desire is found not in seeking our own fulfillment, but in laying down our lives – as he did – for the sake of something greater than ourselves: e.g. God’s mission, and the good of other people. In other words: what most of us are looking for is something which can only be found indirectly: it is not in seeking friends that we find friends, but in serving others. I’ve found that when you pour our your lives for others, you find yourself surrounded by people, and paradoxically, it is in pouring yourself out that you become full, rather than empty.
When you embrace the gospel, you become a changed person. And as changed people, we are to live out the principles of God’s Kingdom together as a new community, that doesn’t function on the same basic principles of community at large.
How about you? Do you feel this “pervasive sense of loneliness”? What causes do you see – and what solutions? Feel free to share your thoughts below.
Some good news coming out of my former home, Hungary, this week:
This week, Hungary, which has during the past year come under pressure for its handling of Europe’s mass migration crisis, has become the first government to open an office specifically to address the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Europe.
“Today, Christianity has become the most persecuted religion, where out of five people killed [for] religious reasons, four of them are Christians,” Catholic News Agency (CNA) quoted Hungary’s Minister for Human Resources, Zoltan Balog, as saying. “In 81 countries around the world, Christians are persecuted, and 200 million Christians live in areas where they are discriminated against. Millions of Christian lives are threatened by followers of radical religious ideologies.”
I’m glad to see someone standing up for these persecuted Christians in the Middle East. It’s about time. Good on you, Hungary!