The beauty of the town of Sedona, Arizona blows me away. In fact, after spending a couple days soaking it all in, photographing the gorgeous red rock formations, and exploring the downtown area, we drove into Prescott, Arizona to worship with the Prescott church of Christ, then after our encouraging worship there, returned again to Sedona to explore more via a ultra-bumpy, yet picturesque Pink Jeep Tour and a challenging climb up gorgeous Bell Rock.
The most beautiful time of day to me in Sedona is the hour before and after the sun sets. I love when the sun peaks around this mountain or that crest and I always try to capture in my photography that special moment when golden sunbeams peak through between layered rocks and trees, or in video the shadows slowly crawling up the mountains like a nighttime blanket as the sun goes down. Sedona is a feast for the eyes, to be sure, and the hearts of God’s children can’t help but be filled with praise for our Father’s divine power and unparalleled artistry.
Like so many of the most beautiful places in America, it vexes my heart that much of the population in Sedona wholeheartedly worships the creation rather than the Creator. In the case of this little town, many trace this trend back to the 50’s when
Mary Lou Keller started a church called the Church of Light (ironically) where she promoted mysticism. But it was in the 80’s that Sedona became the center of the New Age movement when people started believing local “psychic” Page Bryant’s claim that there exists sacred places in Sedona where the physical and spiritual planes connect, and that those connections result in swirling electromagnetic energy called a “vortex” --- a phenomena she and others decided comes in handy for psychics, or channelers/mediums who communicate with extraterrestrials and entities who have things to tell humans. As it turns out the vortex was just as handy for anyone else wanting to make an easy buck off teaching New Age seminars, writing New Age books or selling massive quantities of sage, crystals, incense, and so much more.
As we went into one shop after another, we’d overhear conversations about which of various rocks or crystals would solve this problem or that: Abalone for guidance in relationships, agates for better focus on what is good, amethysts for sound sleep and solutions, angelite for comfort and consolation, aquamarine for renewal, and aventurine for confidence. In one gift shop we walked through, we stumbled across an older man giving a young woman a psychic reading. As I walked past, I overheard him say that what she really needed to focus on was forgiveness. I found it ironic that in many of the shops, the owners had a unique way of attempting to talk people out of stealing, which (along with the previous concept of “forgiveness”) is a tricky proposition if there’s no God or really any objective right or wrong or external standard of authority). The shop owners would place throughout their stores little threatening messages that if you take anything, Karma’s going to getcha. You really want to be reincarnated in the next life to a less desirable state, like a slug, or a vulture or a starving little girl trapped by her own parents in a third world country forced into sex slavery? You don’t want that. (Not that there’s anything wrong with sex trafficking one’s own children --- that is if moral relativity is true because there’s no objective right or wrong).
Not everyone in the New Age Movement believes in reincarnation. In fact, The New Age Movement does not have a unified set of beliefs or practices at all, but rather offers a sort of self-serve belief buffet with your choice of any combination of occultism, Buddhism, astrology, Paganism, pantheism, Hinduism, shamanism, Taoism, astral traveling, reincarnation, chi energy, Eastern mysticism, Western occultism, idol worship, neopaganism, chakras, UFO’s, ESP, telepathy, out of body experiences, and psychokinesis (moving objects with one’s mind) and of course healing through stones, crystals and pyramids.
It all feels so fresh and new to so many who are looking for just that, but many of these teachings are similar the Gnosticism that existed at the end of the First Century, that taught that salvation comes through knowledge of one's own divinity --- teaching which parallels today’s New Age Movement, where everyone reassures one another that God is really just an impersonal force that pervades the universe
Over 80 years ago, CS Lewis wrote “The Pantheist's God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you...An 'impersonal God'—well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads—better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap—best of all”, and went on to say, regarding is form of “wishful thinking”, “One reason people find Creative Evolution so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences. When you are feeling fit and the sun is shining and you do not want to believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, it is nice to be able to think of this great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carrying you on its crest. If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life Force being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God learned about when we were children. The Life Force is a sort of tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen?”
To do what I can, I often wear (but forget that I’m wearing :D) my "Jesus Changes Everything" T-shirt in the places where Jesus is least popular, just to see who might engage me in a relevant conversation, be it friend or foe. Sometimes it is in the least likely places I get a “like your shirt!” (such as the Amish Hippie store in Monteagle, TN). When workers in gift shops almost invariably ask where we are from, and we reply our curious answer, “everywhere, now”, almost all of them, especially those in their twenties, are interested in learning more about our Nomadic lifestyle living out of a van. We always linger a while to answer their questions and learn a little about them and their own life goals. As we leave, we give them a contact card so that they can find our website containing our podcasts, 100 churches blog posts, and a link to buy my book Your Fresh Start (if we haven’t already given them a free copy --- which we do --- by the hundreds!)
One evening while Mark was recording his live internet Bible program, my “Jesus Changes Everything” T-shirt caught a store employee’s eye as I wandered into her shop. We talked quite deeply for well over an hour, as if we’d known each other for years. She was an educated, articulate, cheerful woman who had been married for decades to a man, found her way out of Mormonism with help from the church of Christ, but a few years back had left the church to marry a woman.
As we conversed, we talked about how we both know there’s a God, the evidences confirming the Bible to be the perfect, infallible word of God, and how pre-denominational Christianity truly is the only way to go. I brought up how many of today’s denominations tell their members that they can be at peace with God and yet remain in the sin that God’s word repeatedly and clearly says in writing will cost them their soul --- just so long as their members keep donating to the church. We agreed that this is the same scam the Catholic church used to build such beautiful cathedrals in the past: by selling “indulgences” (A transaction between the Catholic church and it’s patrons that went something like this: You want to sleep with your neighbor’s wife? Fair enough. Here’s the bill for how much that “indulgence” will cost if you want us to talk God into forgiving you for that.)
During our hour or so together, we discussed much of what Paul covered with Felix in Acts 24: “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come ” and what God through John the baptizer lovingly, but boldly told Herod in Matthew 14, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Before I left, I asked if she knew how to use a Bible concordance, which she did. In preparation to meet her God, I encouraged her to compare what she was doing, as well as her modern definitions with how the word of God defines sin. More than anything else, I emphasized what I emphasize everywhere I go: God means what He says. God. Means. What. He. Says.
She could sense everything I was sharing for her was motivated by genuine love, and she was humble, open, and welcoming as she let me say everything that God says around her challenges --- things that needed to be said for her spiritual and eternal well-being. She agreed that she felt our meeting had been divinely appointed, and said she was excited to listen to my podcasts. She even agreed that those who love others best are the ones who tell them the truth, even when the truth is frightening to both speaker and listener. I admired her teachable attitude --- something too rare in every circle, truth be told.
Of course, she is not the only open heart so eager to discover or rediscover the truth in this dark world. Over time, the failure of sage burning, mantras, transcendental meditation and other disappointments around supposed magical cures start to build up, until many just finally walk away. That’s the trend statistically, you know-- that people become generally more conservative morally and politically as they age, which makes sense when seekers continue to keep their eyes open to long term consequences of various worldviews, and never cease to seek the truth.
There is a church family ready to receive such souls near Sedona. Some of those turning away from these old, empty teachings invented by humans, have surfaced lately in their last years of life, on the doorstep of the church of Christ in Prescott, Arizona. The preacher there, John Lasater, told us over dinner that lately many of the souls coming to him wanting to be born again in the waters of baptism, have been souls in their last decade or two of life. Throughout their lives, whatever worldviews they had used to cope with life, they did not find to have the fabric they need to prepare them to look their real Creator in the face and give an account to Him for how they have lived their lives. They have discovered the hard way that Christ is what He claimed to be --- the only “way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) and have acknowledges the truth that those who trust in Christ as their only hope of salvation will spend eternity in heaven; and those who reject Christ will spend an eternity in hell (John 5:24-30; Revelation 20:11-15). Old school, but just as true as it’s ever been.
What kinds of teachings might those who want to draw near to God hear at the Prescott church of Christ? Well, perhaps my notes from the sermon I attended would be a good sampling:
In the opening prayer, my brother in Christ, counter to the New Age culture in nearby Sedona, asked the God of all creation to “Open our minds to the scriptures that we are about to be enlightened by.”
The theme of the sermon was to let not your heart be troubled (John 14:1), but instead to have hope. Hebrews chapter six was referenced, which reads:
“... beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.” And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise...God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast…” Hebrews 6:9-19.
John Lasater preached that since God always keeps his promises (whether blessing or judgment), those of us who have fled for refuge in the hope that is set before us realize that our dependence is on God's grace. It is this grace that gives us the assurance of our hope--- a hope so strong it can anchor our souls to God in Christ so that when life hits us hard we need not be tossed and thrown around. He went on to say that since happiness is determined mostly by who you are with, that we do best to imagine what it would be like to be in the presence of the only One who is absolutely good, and the source of everything single thing that has ever come our way whether we realize it or not, from the diseases He has created our amazing physical bodies to heal from to protecting us from the asteroids constantly shooting through the hemisphere most of us are not even conscious of. His protection has always been near to us to bring us to this very day, so full of opportunity to experience the Fresh Start that only He can offer.
Let’s “Stay on the road of objective truth. This will be the way to avoid wasting your life. Stay on the road that your fiery evangelist father was on...Here was weighty intellectual confirmation that life would be wasted in the grassland of existentialism. Stay on the road. There is Truth. There is Point and Purpose and Essence to it all.” John Piper
Prescott church of Christ
1495 E. Rosser St. (Corner of Hwy 89)
Prescott, AZ 86301