April / May - 2020 Vol. 109

                  eading bible together 
Countering the Spirit of the Age
by Bob Tedesco

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
Growth in Christian maturity, Christ-like character, and holiness of life involve a process of spiritual transformation which begin with purification, self-knowledge, and the readiness to receive instruction and change. We would all grow a bit if we knew more about ourselves. We’d grow even more if our brothers and sisters in Christ who know us well were courageous enough to reveal what is often hidden from our own interior eyes. Some of us are very good at defending ourselves and could rightly be called lawyers in this area. Self-knowledge brings forward those flaws that the Lord shows us. We move through these cycles of self-knowledge and purification by allowing the Lord to show and purify us of our imperfections. In this stage there is a certain kind of moral integration going on. A new Christian rarely matches the character and the nature of a fully mature member of the kingdom of God. Morally and behaviorally we need to be integrated into the kingdom of God, and he works to accomplish this through self-knowledge, instruction, and purification.

Scriptural knowledge is a part of the process. One of the reasons we encourage reading Scripture so much is that it will show us something about the kingdom of God and challenge us to make changes. Scripture is valuable for your spiritual growth, not just as a means of learning the history of our faith, or about miracles, or how to receive a healing, but to learn about what we’re called to be – renewed in our minds, so that we can be transformed more and more into the image and likeness of God.  More and more we are conformed to the kingdom of God.

It could be considered a corollary to the above statement to say it’s a mistake to expect deep, moral development from a teenager or from a 12 year old.

I had an experience once of seeing a child do something wrong and I reported it to the mother. The child then lied about it and the mother did nothing about it because her view was that her four-year-old child doesn’t lie! She trusted that if the child said she didn’t do it, then she didn’t do it. How many of us know a four year old child who is perfectly honest, especially when they’ve been caught doing something wrong? To expect that kind of character and moral development from a four-year-old is not a good approach.

Personal and spiritual development are somewhat mutually dependent. As we grow in character, it lays a good groundwork for spiritual growth as well. Conversely, if we deteriorate in character, that impedes any kind of spiritual growth and usually brings discipline.

In this article we are considering the effects of the world, the flesh and the devil in a somewhat collective way. We’re not going to mention the flesh or the devil, but simply to say they work together collectively. The devil makes sure that the world has lots of elements in it that appeal to our flesh and draw us away from being what the Lord wants and what the Lord wants for his family.

Zeitgeist: The Soup We Live In
There is a philosopher who is credited with the word ‘zeitgeist’. We’ll identify it as the “soup we live in”. Its meaning comes from combining two German words: ‘zeit’ meaning ‘time’ or ‘age’; and ‘geist’ meaning ‘mind’ or ‘spirit’. Together they make up the term ‘zeitgeist’ which could be defined as the ‘mind of the age’ or the ‘spirit of the age’. We as Christians know what that means. In scripture we’re warned against the spirit of the age, but we also acknowledge that we must live in it. We understand the effect it has on us. Every new Christian has been formed in this zeitgeist ‘soup’ and is now working to get into the soup of the kingdom of God, which is of superior moral quality and superior behavior. The spirit of the age does not support that effort. You can observe this simply by turning on your T.V. You can watch leaders of the land, our politicians and government officials treating each other viciously and saying vile things about each other. That’s the soup we live in. It’s easy to pick it up. If you say something about my behavior, I could say, “That’s fake news!” Just that quickly, I could dispense of you and not have to listen to you. So, ‘zeitgeist’ is defined as the moral, intellectual, general beliefs, values, ideas and spirit of a time and place that powerfully motivate the actions or decisions of the members of a society.

Sometimes a committed Christian might say, “I don’t know why I made that decision. Looking back on it I just don’t know why I did that.”  We’re motivated by the soup. We’re absorbing the character of the world, whether we’re Christians or not, and we need to do something about it. We need to be transformed by the renewal of the mind so we can prove what is the will of God.

Awhile back I was noticing and thinking about the ‘personality’ of the age, even among Christians. As a teacher, I’ve noticed that almost all of us are spring-loaded to say, “Yes, but…” or, “Who said so?” or, “You’re not the boss of me!” We’re spring-loaded against, specifically, good teaching. We’re not as spring-loaded to respond, “Yes, but...” to what we hear or see on T.V. because it appeals to our flesh. But we easily say, “Yes, but…” to the challenges of scripture. Priests and ministers are forever making it easier for us. They might present a tough scriptural text and we might hear, “Oh, what’s really meant by this is…” But they would do better by asking us, “What if he really meant that?” Some things really do have to be explained. When you’re teaching, you have people at all stages of discipleship, so it is prudent to look at some things more critically as they may require more explanation. But the spring-loaded “Yes, but…” is not helping us!

If we’re teaching in initiations, working with people who want to be discipled, or engaging people who come into our university outreach, many of whom may have already been evangelized, we may find that many of them have decided that gay marriage is a good thing. If you question that stance you should expect a great big, “Yes, but…” We’re spring-loaded by the spirit of the age to accept gay marriage, or fornication, or people living together outside of marriage. There is a lot of spring-loaded reaction when you’re trying to teach just about anything about the kingdom of God!

The personality has two sides: the negative and the positive. On the negative side skepticism seems to be an automatic response for many people. Also on the negative side is the tendency toward being anti-hero. When I was a young person heroes were good (the “Lone Ranger”). Today’s heroes are often  portrayed as having serious flaws (selfishness, ignorance or prejudice) which distances them from typically heroic characters, and they lack positive qualities or virtues such as courage, integrity and compassion. They often have a darker side which can blur the lines between the good guys and the bad guys. They might be acting like a hero, but somewhere there are bones in the closet! So Hollywood did away with the heroes. Remember the anti-heroes of the 60’s? Marlon Brando/”Wild One”; James Dean/”Rebel Without a Cause”; Robert Mitchum/”Thunder Road” (‘58); Clint Eastwood/”Dirty Harry”. It’s now part of the soup. We’re anti-hero as a culture. No one is worth following or believing except for actors and celebrities.

Hebrews 11 has a list of heroes who laid a historical groundwork for us. Those men and women, matriarchs and patriarchs of the faith, are real heroes!

Another negative on our list is the idea that ‘old is bad’.  Our culture has for a long time worshipped youth and youth culture. We are constantly looking for ways to appear younger, act younger; wanting to relate to what is current and popular culture. There is little respect for the older members of our society and less for their ideas and values.

 “Break the rules’ is also part of the personality of the age. We read in 1 Samuel 15:23 “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.” Hollywood has more than its share of rebels, scoffers and mockers. Rebellion is always portrayed as a virtue in the movies. We admire the rebel. “I’m gonna do it my way!” And then I’m gonna sing a song about it!

Politics has become one big soup of mockery.  Jude 18-19 says, “They said to you, ‘In the last days there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires. These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts, and do not have the Spirit.’” To enter into a posture of mockery is a very unspiritual thing to do and to accept as a part of your soup.

Our list also includes discontent. There is a great deal of discontent and dissatisfaction. People are unhappy with their car or house, parish or congregation, pastor or minister, spouse or children, neighborhood or country…the list could go on and on. Every day more and more seeds of discontent are sown. But the apostle Paul marks it as a sign of his growth as a disciple that he has learned to be content, whether rich or poor, healthy or sick, peaceful or in trouble. Learning to be content in whatever life brings our way is a sign that we are making progress in the spiritual life. Discontent (ingratitude) is good for sales but bad for spiritual growth.

Mavericks are making their voices heard, too. A recent presidential candidate defined himself as a ‘maverick’ most likely because he could identify that element in the cultural soup and knows that our current social climate embraces the independent who distances himself from the rest of the pack.

Anger, fear and narcissism are also running rampant in our culture and helping to create the soup we live in. Narcissism is growing and so are the crimes that spring from it. The culture seems designed to produce this kind of aberrant psychological profile. We are then questioning the news reports with, “Why would a person do such a thing?”

On the positive side we can see many good and virtuous traits such as creativity, generosity, heroism, inventiveness and caring for the needy.  The miracles we see in the medical field are astounding, and have to be among the many positive things we observe in our society…things that give us hope to continue on.

Biases… Many, Many Biases
Psychologists have identified between 75-100 different biases that can affect a person’s decision making ability as well as their social life. For instance, I married a wonderful woman with red hair and green eyes. So now I have a positive social bias toward red hair and green eyes that I have to watch out for. It could be, for me, an Achilles Heel. We can have a negative bias toward a certain name if we’ve had difficulty with a person by that same name.

There are lots of decisional biases that we carry, a particularly common one is called Cognitive Negativity Bias. This area of cognition has to do with how we learn, our understanding and comprehension, our ability to use our mental capacities as we apply them to decision making, our ability to reason, to interpret things and to solve problems. Solving a math problem, for instance, is in some sense a measure of your cognitive abilities.

To illustrate how these biases develop, let’s consider the following example. Let’s say you have a favorite restaurant. You’ve been there many times, had good meals, good times, good service. You have a positive bias toward that restaurant. One day you go into the restaurant, order a big fish sandwich, take a bite, and pull out a long hair from your sandwich. That single repugnant event can quickly develop into a negative bias toward that restaurant. All of the positive experiences that you’ve had in that restaurant suddenly are overshadowed by one negative experience that you might never recover from! You may never go back to that restaurant! Or at least it might be a long while!

Human beings and animals have a built-in negative bias. We tend to weight negative experiences and negative information heavier than positive information. Why is this so? A monkey wandering through the jungle might spot a banana, his favorite food, reach out and grab it.  For him, that is a positive event.  But, if that same monkey hears a stick cracking behind him in the trees, he will turn around instantly. He won’t think about it because it could be a predator sneaking up on him. It’s a negative input, and a scary one. We’ve all had scary events. You may be downstairs late at night in the dark and hear something move. It could be a little mouse, but you react like it’s a something that could potentially be life-threatening. Built into us is a survival instinct, so we are programmed to weight negative input heavier than positive input.

The first rule of conducting an engineering brainstorming session is “no idea is a bad idea.” If someone presents an idea, you should refrain from throwing water on it, even if you think it won’t work. It might be that their idea could lead to another that will work. Quenching it immediately takes it off the table, and people are less likely to offer their ideas if they think it could be met with negativity. So, there actually is a rule to guide a brainstorming session because of people’s tendencies to respond from a negative bias to first see what is wrong with an idea. 

We have a human tendency to weight faults too heavily. Weighing faults can also take a toll on relationships. We can do it to our pastor, our parish, our friends, neighbors, our government leaders, our children, even brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. It can also ruin marriages. It leads to the tendency to expect perfection! You can have eaten 100 really good fish sandwiches, but because one of them has something in it that shouldn’t be there that restaurant should be shut down by the health department!

This issue is an important one to raise because we need to be more accepting of each other’s imperfections. There are a lot of wonderful people in our communities, but we could make a reasonable case that no one would be good enough to spend time with if viewed through the lens of cognitive negativity bias. There are all sorts of biases that we use in making decisions or employ in our social networks. But we should be cautioned about the built-in tendency supported by the world, the flesh and the devil, to be negatively charged.

The Mind of a Disciple
The mind of a disciple is shaped, formed and challenged by scripture. Scripture can actively help us with two stages of spiritual growth, both the purgative and the illuminative. We can read Scripture and sense the presence of the Lord come upon us and open up a truth that we never understood before. And, in fact, the mind of a disciple has probably experienced some kind of conversion to scripture. We all talk about being baptized in the Spirit and accepting the Lord, but something has to happen in the life of a disciple, an awakening has to take place so that he finds in scripture a source of consolation, of knowledge, and of help in his spiritual life. He is, in fact, converted to seeing scripture as the Word of God. 

The mind of a disciple is subordinated to the will of God. That’s a hallmark of a disciple. A disciple should be scriptural, positive, up-beat, forward-looking. We need to spend some time in the past, but too much time there is not good. When you drive your car you look ahead through the windshield to see where you’re going. When you want to see where you’ve been you look into a little rear-view mirror. We sometimes need to look in the rear, but we don’t want to live there. In fact, a lot of us want to move past what happened there so we can focus on what’s in front of us, what we see through the windshield. A graduating senior is not looking back to the first day of kindergarten or to a time when he got reprimanded by a teacher. He is looking forward through the windshield to the many opportunities that are calling him on.

As disciples, we’re making our way toward the kingdom of God. We want to be focused on what is ahead, not what we’ve left behind.

The Mystery of Children and the Wisdom of the Youth Bridge
There is a certain mystery to children. Watching a group of children play is a very delightful thing to do. They are completely free to be themselves; they don’t care what race they are, what color they are, even what religion they are. Many of us have probably been inspired simply by watching a group of children playing and having fun together.

The mystery enters in when they come home from their first semester at college with a whole set of new ideas, a new set of emphases, changes in their ways of thinking about things; perspectives that are unfamiliar to you.  As a parent you might say, “Boy, that was a great little kid and now he’s struggling with this!” We wonder, “Why aren’t they like me?”

One semester at college is sometimes all it takes to effectively undo 18 years of training. Many college professors are armed with biases that they want to pass on to your children. But it isn’t just limited to the math instructor or the physics professor. It isn’t even limited to the university faculty. It’s the whole world system – magazines, entertainment, movies, music. A Greek general once said, “Let me write the songs of the nation and I care not who writes the laws!”

In our communities we have a network of programs, groups and events that are meant to serve and connect our youth from pre-school through post-university. We call it the Youth Bridge. We work to patch up any ‘holes’ in the bridge where a young person is disconnected from his peers. The Youth Bridge is a help to the parents in passing on faith, vision, and our call to community and discipleship.

The wisdom of the Youth Bridge is that it creates zeitgeists with a little ‘z’. We’re all immersed in this Zeitgeist with a capital ‘Z’. But the more we can be in environments that represent the kingdom of God, the more we can deal with the spirit of the age. And the more we can get free of the spirit of the age, the more we can absorb the spirit of the kingdom of God.

Our children, too, need self-knowledge. They need to be teachable; they need to resist picking up so many biases that they can’t be taught anymore. Some children can get to the point where no one can tell them anything. Sometimes it’s a phase, but sometimes it stays! They need environments and friends who help on their spiritual journey. One of the wisdoms of the Youth Bridge is that it immerses our children in the kingdom of God and its culture.

As parents, grandparents and singles we need to support the Youth Bridge. Do everything you can to help our youth. They’re still forming these biases and what they think about things.

Be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Take your mind seriously; get it renewed so that you may prove what is the will of God and represent that to the young people that come across your path.

Go easier on your friends, pastors, parishes, bosses, children, and spouses. Don’t zero in on what’s negative about them, but see the whole person. Counter the spirit of the age by resisting the urge to see through a negative bias.
Philippians 4:8
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, lovely, gracious; if anything is worthy of praise, think about these things. Whatever you’ve learned and received and heard and seen in me – do. And the God of peace will be with you.

Expectations of Christianity (c) 2019 by Bob Tedesco is featured in his new book, Choosing Discipleship: Embracing the Call in a Modern Culture, published by Credo House Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA.

Bob Tedesco is the founder of the People of God, a Sword of the Spirit community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA where he served as Senior Coordinator for 26 years. He has been involved in lay ministry for over forty-five years, serving in the Sword of the Spirit as the North American Regional President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the North American Executive Committee.

Bob is the author of two books, Essays on Christian Community and Choosing Discipleship. and forty-one Christian life articles published in the Sword of the Spirit international online magazine, Living Bulwark.

He has a BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and worked as a consulting engineer for twenty years. He and his wife, Bobbie, have been married for nearly sixty years. They currently have ten children, thirty-seven grandchildren, and eleven great-grandchildren. They reside in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, USA.

Choosing Discipleship book by Bob Tedesco
Choosing Discipleship

Embracing the Call in a Modern Culture

by Bob Tedesco

163 pages
Published in 2019 by Credo House Publishers,Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

The book is available in print at Amazon and Credo House Publishers.

Choosing Discipleship is an excellent book and very
helpful for keeping some key issues before us in a compact way. It is very useful, easy to ponder, and easy to teach from. It is a great resource... personally; I liked the style you used... it relates to the busyness of our culture.
Bill Durrant, Founder, People of God’s Love Community, Columbus, Ohio, USA

Excellent pastoral material and also well written. It’s a tremendous contribution to the Sword of the Spirit worldwide and the wider church as well... Seasoned leaders, parents, pastoral workers, and community members need to be refreshed and learn again (and again) the vision and sound principles and wisdom you have taught over the past few decades... It will continue to be circulated to many communities and individuals for generations to come.
Don Schwager, Editor, Living Bulwark, international online magazine of the Sword of the Spirit

Typing the manuscript for Choosing Discipleship over the course of a summer felt like being on an
extended retreat! My own life of discipleship and my understanding of what God is doing in the world today has been significantly influenced by Bob’s clear vision, insight, and wisdom... The impact he has had both as a community builder and author has stretched across continents, and I suspect his influence will be felt for many years to come.
Joanie Nath, Senior Women’s Leader, People of God Community, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

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