The “Isms” – Counterfeit Belief Systems

Ok, I’m going to start writing a new series about the “isms.”  You know, the various belief systems that seem to define & explain the world…. and our place in it.  Beliefs are the most important things about us, they literally control us.  They’re like the operating system of your smartphone or computer; they determine the stewardship of your body, guide your passions, control your calendar, and counsel every decision you make.  We tend to think that WE choose our beliefs, but I think in reality they most often choose US.

“Belief” is a highly misunderstood concept.  In our pluralistic society, the concept of belief has been watered-down by post-modernity to the extent that its definition has morphed into something else.  Belief in today’s world might be seen as synonymous with Preference…religious, moral, cultural, or political values that we prefer over other equally-true options….like Coke vs. Pepsi, post-modern belief is a matter of opinion.  The problem is that when you try to take something essential and huge out of the human psyche, and replace it with something optional and minor, it wrecks the created intent of the system and leaves one shallow & wispy.  What we see in post-modern America today is a belief-vacuum; where people have jettisoned the idea of objectively-true values in favor of more tolerant & politically-correct alternatives, only to end up actually believing in practically nothing to the extent that their instinctive saddles get filled with whatever gets their attention.  Think about it.

  • Why does the wealthy business owner go on lavish shopping binges when she already has everything she wants or needs?
  • Why does the young man continue to drink, even after suffering damaged relationships with his colleagues, friends & family?
  • Why does the teenage girl send dozens of selfies a day to social-media contacts she’ll never meet for compliments?
  • Why does the husband & father steal nights & weekends from his family so he can go on high-risk adventures with the guys?

…Because of beliefs.  Behavior ALWAYS Follows Belief.

  • The binge-shopper may believe that a never-ending stream of new possessions bring happiness, that indulging in “retail therapy” will settle a desire that yearns for something deeper.
  • The drinking-man may believe that he’s powerless to stop drinking, that his life is on a downward spiral, and that drunken escape is the only salve.
  • The selfie-snapper may fear that she is ugly, and believes that the positive opinions of others will make her desirable.
  • The adventure-seeker may believe that amazing experiences define his masculinity and meaning far more than relationships do.
Just theoretical examples.  But in all these cases, and countless others, beliefs are the bedrock “truths” upon which we ACTUALLY, REALLY LIVE…and they will either undergird or dismantle your wholeness as a being created by God.  Your primary beliefs are whatever pursuits or people you give the reigns to for directing your life, and we all have them.  Some of them are part of God’s created order – like love, holiness, forgiveness, servanthood.  Others are counterfeits peddled by another jockey – like narcissism, humanism, hedonism, competitivism.  Whether you believe in God or not, what are the guiding principles that you believe?  Are they working?
Did you know that, in the original Biblical language of the New Testament, the words “belief,” “faith,” and “trust” are all the same word?  It literally means “to be fully persuaded.”  But sociologically speaking, most Christians must not “truly believe” in the God of the Bible; because they don’t act much different than their non-believing counterparts.  Perhaps we’re like the salt that has lost it’s saltiness, or the light that has a bowl on top of it! (Matthew 5:13-16).  What use is it to have correct theological doctrines if the actual attitudes & behaviors of our lives don’t reflect them?  None!

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

IMHO this is the main reason why the Church in America is so incredibly anemic, and why so many of us struggle so much with life even though we may “believe in God and go to church!”  We have so much trouble because we have so little faith….and we have so little faith because we have believed lies, more than we have believed the truth. The overriding principle of belief is CONTROL… we are hardwired to desire and exert control, yet we are inexorably beckoned by our Creator to hand the reins over to Him in order to live as He intended. Every belief system in the history of the world has been part of mankind’s attempt to exert control apart from God…except for one.
So I’ll be writing some blogs over the next several weeks that will detail some “isms”: Counterfeit realities that we have created, how to recognize and exile them, and how to align our actual beliefs with the God who is actually there.

Growing Up

I remember believing that adults were grown-up.  The feeling of looking up (way up, in my case) at adults as completed beings…finished with the processes of development, independent of the opinions of others, and very intimidating.  Childhood was tough for me, and I strived hard as a youngster to get to that place.  When I turned 18, I was finally old enough to be considered a legal adult; able to vote and smoke cigars, but still feeling like a kid.  20 was a bit different, leaving the teenage years behind and having a couple of post-high-school years behind me; but I still had a lot of growing-up to do.  Then the biggie, 21, I could legally drink…which I quickly found didn’t make a bit of difference in my maturity level.  A lot happened in my 20’s – I graduated college, got married, started a career – until suddenly I was 30.  Officially over-the-hill right? But I still felt (and often acted) like an insecure novice, and was surrounded by other adults who I came to realize were in the same boat as I was.  Then I had kids…you learn a lot about yourself, your true beliefs and identity, when you raise kids.  Fast-forward through countless scenes to the new season I find myself in.  I’ve reached a new mile-marker at 50 – with a wife of 23+ years, a 20-year old daughter, and (nearly) 18-year old son.  I’ve come to believe that the maturity I had always associated with adulthood as a child was merely a mirage; either of my own making, or of the adults around me who wanted desperately for me to believe that they had it all together. Now as an official old guy, I feel uniquely suited to understand the dynamics of the mirage I once sought.  Actually there’s nothing unique about it, I’ve just joined the club of fellow-journeyers.   
Adults are most-often just as confused, unsure, and afraid as kids…we just have more words, tools, and practice.  I see things more clearly than I ever have, and would say that I am truly coming to understand myself, the world, and my place in it.  For me, the path forward to understanding and peace often goes backward into lessons from my childhood, and always goes upward into the arms of the Heavenly Father who has beckoned and consoled me all along the way.  I’m learning some really powerful lessons right now, and thought I would share.
Recently I woke-up worrying about some things I couldn’t control.  After spending time waking up, I realized I was feeling more & more anxious & exasperated. I turned my attention to the Lord, asking Him to help me, and His Words in Psalm 42 came to me. “Why so downcast my soul, why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God.”  I went to the Biblical source of the words, Psalm 42, which begins….”As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, my God.”  As I continued to read, I realized that I had been looking past the blessings of the present and was placing my hopes on desired futures.  This is an elementary lesson in its simplicity, yet taking a lifetime to learn!  If I come into each day filled to overflowing with all I need, without compulsion to gain anything more to be happy, then my purposes and rewards for living are open to God’s designs and pleasure…which always leads to His favor and joy.  This is not a lesson we learn once, it’s daily…sometimes momentary.   Here are some pearls of wisdom that came to me through various people over the next 24-hours…
  • Rick Warren (through Dan): “When God is at the center of my life, I worship.  When He’s not, I worry.”
  • Pastor Jess:
    • “If you’re focused on what you will do, or what you want to see, you will always need to do more and better things. GOD DOESN’T BUILD WHATS, HE BUILDS WHOS. Whoever controls your identity controls who you will become and what you will do.
    • “God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.  The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
    • Every day we wake up to a new reality, new opportunities full of potential in Christ; rather than being ruled by the injustices of yesterday.
    • Who Are You?
      • I’m invaluably significant. 1 Cor.6:19-20
      • I’m outrageously love. 1 John 3:1
      • I’m immeasurably valuable. 1 Pet.2:9
      • I’m incredibly empowered. Col. 2:9-10
      • My voice commands the heavens. Mark 11:23