Is faith about church membership or divine relationship?
At first glance, many would suggest the question is easily answered, “The latter, divine relationship.” However, when we consider the state of organized religion today, the answer becomes more nuanced. After all, membership rolls are swelling at mega churches. Their leaders become the template that shapes deep-seated aspirations of the next T.D. Jakes or Joel Osteen. Bling is increasingly the thing. The prosperity gospel campaign not only rationalizes the opulence of church leaders, but also entices willing financial supporters, “Give in order to get yours too!”
Altars that once served as a place for prayer have been replaced as areas for congregants to throw money at the feet of preachers. Gimmicks appeal to the spirit of “religion”. Some churches go as far as to give away prizes and serve beer during Super Bowl Sunday in order to draw people into the ranks. The successful ministry is known by the grandeur of its edifice and luxury cars in the parking lot. How many leave from the edifice to visit hospitals, convalescent centers, and prisons is an inconvenient question at-best, if not a basic distraction not deserving of our attention.
Ours is a time that ministers support everything from homosexuality to the murder of unborn babies. Preoccupations of past times, such as civil rights, are now weekly television shows that follow the extravagance of preachers immersed in their fame, fortunes, and allusions of grandeur.
We develop church language. Church fashions. And church moves during the most euphoric of moments. We have even established a sort of church fall, termed being “slain”, when blown on by a charismatic television evangelists.
With the shenanigans that routinely go on in churches today, it is no wonder that many cannot see the Lord because of the church.
Organized religion leaves a lot to be desired. Especially when we juxtapose the vital roles religious institutions once played as agents of conscience and change in times of slavery, segregation, apartheid, war, natural disaster, social unrest, and economic calamity. And yet, it is precisely in times like these that God sends angels to return us to the essential concerns that Heaven has for mankind. That is, for us to nurture a personal relationship with the Lord and to serve as a living testimony of God’s love.
Dave Benton, of WCIA-3 News in Champaigne, Ill., is one of God’s angels.
Benton has invited the station’s viewers into his personal journey of dealing with terminal brain cancer. Earlier this month, the born again Christian made a starling announcement regarding his prognosis that he has four to six months to live.
The anchorman’s revelations were stunning. And yet, Benton is offering the public a look through the window of authentic Christianity that is sometimes lost in the chandelier religiosity of our times. Benton has accepted the fact that his life will soon come to an end. This might come as a shock to the religious crowd that readily applies a “Whose report will you believe” response to any news of pending danger. It is as if some forget that each of us has an appointed date with mortality, whether or not we accept it. In our religious exuberance, we forget that the psalmist’s experience with the valley of the shadow of death was not necessarily a deliverance out of it, but an assurance that leaves one fearing no evil as we walk through the valley..
Indeed, the bad news that we must at-times accept is not an indication of faithlessness, but more so, the opportunity for our spiritual maturation to see God’s faithfulness in the darkest of scenarios. Satan’s charge against Job of Uz was essentially that bad news would lay an ax to his faith in God. [Job 1: 6-12]
Benton could have mimicked the wicked witch in the musical Oz, who demanded of her subject that they bring “no bad news”. But in the bad news, Benton is demonstrating that people of faith are not isolated from trying times. Yet, we are empowered to find redemption in them. For Benton that means making the rest of his days on earth special for himself and those who love him. Is this not instructive for each of us as death can reach our doorstep at a moment’s notice?
The 9-year employee of WCIA professes an unflinching trust in the God of time and eternity. Equally important, Benton is placing himself in an intercessory link in a chain of humanity that share a terminal prognosis. Each has access to God for answers as to how best to respond to bad news. Publication of Benton’s story on WCIA’s website was followed by numerous well wishes. A number of site visitor expressed their own stories. One visitor confessed suffering stage 4 metastatic melanoma in the brain and lung.
Another viewer wrote, “Dave, I was also given 4 to 6 months about a month ago. I have metastatic breast cancer….“.
And among others, one gentleman shared, “I am 49. I have stage 4 melanoma I was told 3 months ago that I have 6 months to live.”
Not everyone will agree with Benton’s acceptance of a doctor’s ominous prognosis. However, it is difficult to imagine such powerful opportunities to minister to others without acknowledgements of one’s own circumstances. For that, the we can be sure that God is smiling on his witness in Dave Benton. A faith witness in times of bad news.
Should Christians dismiss news of pending danger (i.e., bad news) or embrace it as a “faith opportunity?
Share your thoughts…
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