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Overcoming Cynicism (Sermon)

Overcoming CynicismI’ve written on cynicism a few times here at the blog. If you follow regularly, you know this is something I’ve admitted to struggling with myself. I consider myself a recovering cynic. I must repent of my cynicism daily to follow Jesus faithfully.

I’m becoming increasingly aware that I’m not alone in my cynicism. In fact, I’ve gotten more response through personal correspondence on this one issue than any others. It no doubt strikes a chord with folks today. And I’m not surprised.

I’ve found that cynicism is the elephant in the room that nobody really wants to talk about.

A few weeks ago I preached a sermon that is a compilation of stuff I’ve written, as well as new thoughts, on the subject of struggling with and overcoming cynicism. This one sermon was probably the most relevant message I gave all year. It connected with our congregation like no other.

In Overcoming Cynicism, I specifically take on the growing cynicism toward the church, the Body of Christ. It’s something we desperately need to address as we seek to emerge from the “evangelicalism” of the last 30 years.

Here are a few excerpts from the sermon:

“Cynicism manifests itself out of frustration with persons, institutions, organizations, and authorities that have left her victims disillusioned and angry. Cynics feel cheated, robbed, lied to, and taken advantage of. Maybe you know the feeling. Disillusionment has been described as the “dispersal of illusions,” and many Christians are finding themselves passing through disillusionment only to drown in a sea of cynicism.”

“Cynicism is a sickness… it leads to despair. We must repent of it… repent by believing that God is greater than the evil at work in the world, for he calls us to be people of hope. We repent of it because it’s not consistent with the people we’re called to be.”

“Let’s be clear. It’s not cynicism simply to acknowledge reality. It’s just that we can’t fully know what’s real without considering the God fully revealed in Jesus. Reality must conform to the good news of Christ. If we’re not doing that, then why bother with being a Christian. Hopeful realism is about resurrection and the promise of new creation. And this is what I believe we’re being called to embrace in the gospel message. It allows us to see the Spirit of God at work, and it empowers us to join him in shaping God’s good future.”

You can download the sermon and view slides (PDF) here at our archives. Listen to Overcoming Cynicism and learn about practical steps you can take on your way to becoming a hopeful realist this Advent season.

Grace & Peace,

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

 


On Christian Cynicism

If you were to look up cynicism in the dictionary (or Wikipedia), you will read that the contemporary form is characterized as a general distrust of people—a lack of faith in others because of their naiveté—resulting in a continual flow of ridicule and scorn.

This cynicism manifests itself out of frustration with persons, institutions, organizations, and authorities that have left her victims disillusioned and angry. Cynics feel cheated, robbed, lied to, and taken advantage of.

I have personally experienced this “jaded negativity” and the pitiful pit of cynical despair after having spent 7 years in ministry, and coming to terms with many ugly realities of organized Christianity.

When I finally realized that I had been raised in fundamentalism, served in fundamentalist churches, and that pop-culture Christianity in America was a thousand miles wide but about an inch deep… I was angry.

No, that’s an understatement.

I was bitterly frustrated to the point of giving up.

Reveling in Cynicism

Truth be told… I left fundamentalism, but reveled in cynicism for a time.

I must admit that there was something strangely comforting being able to criticize and scrutinize from the outside looking in on what was clearly wrong with the church. I was safe and guarded against more pain.

It protected me from being hurt again, but it also kept me from people—all those for whom Jesus died—including religious hypocrites.

I knew deep down that my cynicism was a sickness. And I wanted healing.

I saw the harmful effects of social networks forming online just for Christian cynics. I found folks declaring themselves “free” from religion, but they were mostly a bitter believer’s club throwing salt on open wounds.

Christian cynicism can completely immobilize followers of Jesus.

Cynicism can even keep the Christian from ever recovering again.

It’s true. If cynic-saints are not intentional about moving forward in Christ to a renewed place of life in the Kingdom, they will forfeit their inheritance.

Let’s be done with the reveling and embrace resurrection.

Trading Cynicism for Hopeful Realism

Do you know any Christian cynics? Are you a Christian cynic?

You need to know that healing can come if you keep your heart open to Christ and your feet moving in the direction of his love for you and others.

This doesn’t mean that you forget what you’ve learned, what’s been revealed to you by Christ, or the reality of the current state of affairs. It doesn’t mean that you set aside your doubts and uncertainty. It doesn’t mean you must compromise your convictions.

But it does mean that you allow the Lord to shine a light on the darkness that is overcoming the living hope of Christ within you, and that is keeping that hope from being fully expressed as resurrection life to others.

You cannot faithfully follow Christ and harbor bitterness toward any segment of the church. Imagining that certain groups or that organized Christianity is not the true church doesn’t justify this behavior.

Be loving, patient, kind, forgiving, and compassionate as Christ. There’s no room for cynicism in Christ. Give it up. It’s killing you. And it’s hurting the Body of Christ. You can’t effect change this way.

Let the Lord have your cynicism. Trade it in for hopeful realism.

What is hopeful realism? It’s Christ getting the last word on the matter. It’s reality being confronted by the Kingdom of God. It’s new life in the face of death. It allows us to see a world poised for resurrection.

Healing for the Cynic-Saint

In his book, Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint (IVP 2011), Andrew Byers writes:

“We are in dire need for redeemed cynics to dress their wounds that they may rise up and flourish in the truths revealed to them for the health of the church and for the glory of God.” (p. 12)

I have reviewed Andy’s book and interviewed him here at the blog. His book offers a great help to those looking for a way out of their cynicism.

It’s not going to be easy, but if healing is going to come to the cynic-saint, he must take his hands out of the festering wound and let Jesus dress it with his loving kindness. He’s the great healer.

We need the keen insight and revitalized faith that redeemed cynics can bring to a struggling church. And we need it now more than ever.

Please don’t abandon the Lord’s work for self-absorbed cynicism or an idealistic pipedream for the church. Be intentional in rising above it.

Let the Lord reveal new possibilities to you. Allow him to show you his power and ability to resurrect the dead and dying parts of you, the church, and the world. Ask him. He will do it.

Remember that you are loved, you are missed, and you are needed.

Do you want to trade your cynicism in for a renewed hope and vision for Christ and his Kingdom? What intentional steps can you make today to embrace hopeful realism? Commit today to moving forward.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


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