Thursday, May 29, 2014

How Much Beating my Kids is Too Much?

There is nothing more important to do as a parent than loving your kids.  The things you do for them, whether buying them toys, teaching them to read, feeding them, etc, are all nothing more than generic utilitarian practices when they are not rooted and shaped by a deep and abiding love. 

But don't forget that beatings are essential as well.  Not just beatings for punishment, but beatings for the pure sake of the importance of teaching kids that you are in charge.  Nothing helps a child develop a healthy sense of authority than using your superior strength to push them around.  In our house we actually schedule beatings by the clock.  10am....everyone line up for their beating....2pm...same thing.

If you haven't called child service yet, thanks for trusting in my unrelenting sarcasm.....

No matter how much you think you are loving your kids, throwing in a few random beatings(even if you think they are justified) has an odd way of derailing your whole showing them love philosophy.  Beating your kids and loving your kids are really just not able to be mutually practiced. 

Sadly we often practice a Christianity like this.  God loves you, but can't wait to beat you!  There He is, the cosmic score keeper, waiting for his chance to drop the hammer on you.  We create endless rules and regulations that we use to justify our behavior towards others and to create a sense of moral superiority to those who don't live up to our standards.  This develops an exhausting and painful Christianity that constantly tears down, but never builds up.

No matter how many times I say, "I love you son", it will not mitigate the beatings he receives.  Either he will develop an unhealthy concept of love that he will one day give to others(becoming a beater of children himself), or, he will become so destroyed by this experience that he will never fully function as a healthy adult. 

When we say, "God loves you", but then follow it up with telling someone how unlovable they are, we are creating either a fearful and beat up Christian, or, create not a Christian at all.

In Matthew 16:5-12 Jesus warns His disciples about the yeast of the Pharisees.  Just a little bit of their influence can destroy anything else that is good that you may be trying to do.  And what were the Pharisees all about?  Rules, rules and more rules.  And their "superior" ability to follow the rules made them prideful in themselves and abusive towards those who didn't live up to them.

Jesus is quite clear, and the New Testament reaffirms, that the abuses of legalism are incongruent with following Jesus.  The message of Christ is that while we were still sinners, He died for us!  It doesn't say, "You were pretty bad, but you got your act together and Jesus was like, ok, I can do this for you now".  The radical nature of the Gospel is that God offers us not a list of rules to exhaustingly follow, but, instead to experience a love that transforms us.

Does this mean there is no place for rules?  Anything goes?  Of course not.  I don't beat my kids up, but I also don't let them act inappropriately.  While the Pharisee would want to beat up their kid who messes up, Jesus picks them up, out of their mess and says, "I love you, let me help you" 

The Law of God is still valid, but how we apply it and how we practice it needs to radically change.  The Law is not a hurdle that we must leap to justify ourselves, but a mountain that we can be carried over.  In Love. 

The other day my son said something rude to an employee at Walmart.  As we were leaving she said, "Have a nice day!"  To which he responded "Nah nah nah nah"(said as snottily as possible).  I stopped in my tracks and explained to him that it was unacceptable and that he had to say he was sorry.  He refused.  After profusely apologizing for my sons behavior I had to leave(my ice cream was melting). When we got home I had a long talk with my son about how hurtful and rude it was and how sad I was that he would do that.  He didn't have much to say at that time....but the next day the miracle occurred. 

During breakfast he stopped eating and looked at me, "Dad, are you still sad about what I said to that worker yesterday?  Because I am too, I am sorry that I did that, I won't do it again."

Only four years old and his little heart was learning to break over what his father's heart broke over.  Not because I beat him, not because I yelled at him, but because I loved him and showed him in my words how much I cared about the person he "hurt".  When we are loved deeply and experience that love consistently, it shapes our heart towards the agent of that love. 

That is Christ in us and for us.  His heart breaks over our sin, BECAUSE he loves us.  And His love for us shapes us towards loving what He loves.

Where is the yeast of the Pharisees in your life? 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Possible Impossibilities

Do you jump straight into the pool before you test how cold it is?  Or, do you sloooooowwwwlllllyyyy dip in one toe at a time and try to get acclimated?  Are you a chance taker, or, do you only want to do that which you know you can do?

In my marriage one of my wife's biggest complaints about me is my hyper planning/preparing to do things.  Everything has to be just "right" and all possibilities and ideas accounted for before I make the leap.  Generally speaking, she is pretty spot on with her assessment.  Sometimes I allow the fa├žade of "just making sure" to be an excuse to not doing much of anything. 

Thanks to her not giving up on me, I am getting better.  Sometimes you just don't know what you don't know and you have to get going anyways!  When we wait until everything is figured out, we will never start. 

This a deep spiritual reality we face as Christians.  We are too slow to act.  Second guessing ourselves in the name of "wisdom" becomes the easiest way to avoid trying.  How many meetings do you think we should have before we go share the Gospel with our neighbors?  Perhaps a dozen...over the course of 5 years....  While we ponder and deliberate people who do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior are dying. 

In John 6 we find the story of Jesus feeding 5000 people with nothing more than a few fish and loaves of bread.  When the crowds arrive Phillip balks at the impossibility of being able to feed that many people.  Andrew, on the other hand, says, "Hey check it out, found this kid with a few fish and bread...LETS DO THIS!!!"(I think I paraphrased a bit there. 

Phillip wasn't wrong.  It was practically impossible to feed that many people.  But Andrew was right as well.  The crowds came to hear Jesus and they needed help, so Andrew looked to what was possible and trusted Jesus for the impossible portion of the task. 

Now this is not some call to be silly and irresponsible.  This does not mean we should have a free for all on doing crazy things without being wise and honoring to God with our choices.  But lets look at a few key components of this event and apply it to our own lives.

1)  The crowds came to them(vs 1-5). 

People were responding to the work of Jesus.  The work of Jesus is what drew them and it was the work of Jesus that would provide for them.  God does not call people to Himself and then act surprised and unprepared when they arrive.  If God will bring them, God will take care of them.

Are you casting a wide net with the Gospel in your life?  At your church?  Or, are you trying to work within your comfortable parameters.  A good friend once said that we should be in the business of creating logistical nightmares for the sake of the Gospel.  Open up your doors wide and be excited when you run out of seats, because than you will really see God move!

2)  Phillip limited his plans based on what he currently had on hand.(vs 7)

How many times have you avoided doing something for the Gospel because you weren't ready yet?  Didn't know what to say?  Didn't have the right information?  That person was too smart?  It wasn't a good week for you?  That person seems to busy?  Don't be Phillip, if you see the people, serve the people.  Figure out the details later.

3)  Andrew offered exactly what he had(vs 8-9)

Whatever is going on in your life RIGHT NOW, you are prepared for what God will put in front of you.  Even if it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, take the best you currently can give, and give it. 

4)  Jesus takes over the show(vs 10-13)

After they had done the best they could do(a few fish and loaves) Jesus got to work.  And not just handing out a few bites to the first 10 people in line.  He did something amazing, miraculous, extraordinary.  At this point in the event the disciples were no longer the drivers of the event, Jesus was. 

Don't bring your best to Jesus and then keep micromanaging it.  Do your best, and then do what Jesus tells you to do.  We too often try to manipulate every step of a situation as if we can more ably cause the Spirit to act if we just try a biiiit harder. 

5)  The people knew who Jesus was(vs 14-15)

Here is the final key that challenges me to do it Jesus' way.  We bring our best(which is not nearly enough) let God do the rest.  And then people aren't saying, boy, that Andrew sure knows how to throw a party and keep things organized.  They are instead seeing Jesus.  How often do you do things in such a way that people notice YOU.  When we only do that which is possible, it becomes all about us.  When we run after the possible impossibilities you can't help but see the Risen Lord!

Whatever it is you are currently "holding back" on doing, stop waiting.  Do it!

Well, there are some things that are impossible.....

Friday, May 23, 2014

Election vs Free Will

Do you like arguing about theology?  Oh, wait, I forgot you are a 21st century western civilization Christian.  You LOOOOVVVVEEEE to argue about theology....and doctrine....and church practices.....and pretty much everything else.

What gets people more heated than anything?  Election vs Free Will debates.  AKA, Calvinism vs Arminianism.

For those who have been lucky enough to have avoided knowing too much about this SUPER ESSENTIAL argument.  Let me briefly sum up the two positions.  But with the qualifier that I am in no way intending what I am about to write to in anyway be a completely exhaustive(or perhaps even fair) summation of either position.

Arminianism/Free Will:

Every person has to make the choice for Jesus.  No choice is also considered a "no" for Jesus choice.  No one is bound for evil, or, bound for good.  We are free will moral agents responsible before God for the choices we make.

If I was a competent blogger I would list a number of bible verses here that support this position.....


God Himself "elects"(chooses) who is to be saved and who is not to be saved.  This places a high value on God's absolute sovereignty and is hyper focused on our utter sinfulness and inability to do anything to "earn" salvation.  If you are God's elect, you WILL be saved BECAUSE of HIS work, if you are not, you will NOT be saved.

Ditto on the competent blogger post...blah blah blah, bible verses.

Where we Go Wrong

Are you able to know whether or not you are elect?  Probably not.  You know what is inarguable?  Jesus Christ came as fully God and fully man to die in the place of sinful man and to rise again and that through him(regardless of your view on elect/free will) and only him we can be saved.

The mechanism by which this actually works is a bit challenging to work out.  Not that lofty and challenging theological introspection is without value.  But here is the problem, the bible is pretty liberal at mentioning both.  It mentions constantly our responsibility to claim with our lips the Jesus is Lord, AND, it talks about God's elect. 

But, regardless of the actual details of the mechanism, both positions are clear.  It is only through Jesus that it happens. 

How did Jesus deal with the issue of election?

Let's take a look at an interesting exchange in Matthew 15

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Jesus appears to be a bit of a jerk here.  This woman is making quite a scene begging for help, yet he ignores her.  When pressed to respond to her he replies, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel"

Did you catch that?  Jesus had a specific, pre-ordained, ministry goal....shades of Election perhaps??

But this non-elect woman does not stop.  She comes right up to him, kneels before him and calls him Lord.  And Jesus heals her daughter just as if she had been one of the "Elect". 

Jesus was there for a specific people.  God had elected to send him there for them.  But when a non-elect person, by faith, comes to Christ crying "Lord Lord" Jesus commends her for her faith and in no small way shows great love and mercy to her.  In a way, her position transforms from non-elect to elect. 

I cannot deny that the bible speaks with clarity about God's elect.  Yet, here is a beautiful picture of our Savior reaching across that divide to one who was not elected. 

In practice and theology I lean much closer to Reformed and Calvinist theology.  But this is how I personally read scripture regarding this issue.  I do not believe that Election is a mutually exclusive position.  Meaning, ONLY those who are elect will be saved.  Scripture, as I read it, shows that the Elect WILL be saved, but when, by faith and calling upon the name of the Risen Savior, the non-elect come to the feet of Jesus, they will also be saved.

So how do we take this bit of theology and apply it to our lives.  Well, you don't know if you are elect, and neither do I.  But what I do know is that I have a responsibility to respond to the call of the Cross.  And the message of the Gospel is a responsibility that all followers of Christ are called to share. 

When we get lost in debating the nuances of the mechanisms by which God does what He does, we avoid the personal responsibility that we do have.  So let us cut down the rhetoric and start proclaiming that the Cross of Christ is the only hope for ALL men!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Wide Tents with Thick Walls

Did you hear?  Some Christians don't get along.  They have drawn a line in the sand and declared those on the other side Hereticstm and will now refuse to be friends!  Regardless of how you feel about it, these fights are increasing in frequency and angry rhetoric.  Is this ok?

In Matthew 12 Jesus is accused of being from Satan due to his ability to cast out demons.  This leads to a very important teaching moment for the church today.  "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand"(verse 25).  He goes on to illustrate that when we are divided we become ripe for destruction. 

So, should we just stop fighting.....

I want my kids to get along and love each other.  In a perfect world they would always be best friends and watch out for the other.  But this is not a perfect world, and my kids are not always best friends.  Sometimes, because I love them, I have to separate them and protect them from one another.

A few days ago I heard my 2 year old daughter began to cry in the other room.  My 4 year old son happened to also be in the room.  Since I am very Sherlockian in brilliant intuitive connections, I said to my son, "Why is your sister crying?"  He replied quite frankly, "She was playing tea party and I was playing crush things".......

I could  not allow my house to be divided, so following Jesus' wise counsel, I let my son continue to push around his little sister....

Wait, what?!?!

My son's behavior was unacceptable.  It is something we have addressed many times(and will surely be addressed many more).  In our house, you DO NOT pick on your siblings.  If you do, there are consequences.  I protect the unity of my house by addressing and putting a stop to hurting one another. 

The concept of unity is not found in ignoring bad behavior.  It is around rallying around love, truth and good behavior.  I love my kids unconditionally.  No matter how many times he hits his sister, I have never noticed a depreciating measure of my love for him.  I want to lead him in love towards being a child who treats his sister with love.  While also standing up to his bad behavior!

Do you know how difficult it would be to be a parent if our expectations and rules changed daily?  Today I tell my son to not hit his sister, and then tomorrow I ignore it, perhaps even reward it.  Talk about creating disunity!  Part of the hopeful effectiveness of lovingly teaching rules in our house is that they are consistent and reliable standards. 

The Church today has so many terrible fights and line drawing going on.  One day your are in, the next day you are out.  A hero today, a goat tomorrow.  Theologian extraordinaire in the first book, and Purveyor of Heresy in the next.  The goal post is constantly shifted to what it means to be a Christian. 

Sadly, this is not a new problem that has infected modern western Christianity.  From nearly the beginning of the Church people set up their little camps to duke it out over secondary doctrines that we were used as the lithmus test of True Christianstm.  So how have we made it 2000 years and counting with these ridiculous squabbles. 

Well, first and primarily, the fact that Jesus is alive.

But secondly I would contend that there have been moments in Church History that men were willing to lay down their differences and reaffirm that which was non-negotiable and true.  And that was quite a small list actually.  We, in many ways still lean on what they wrote.  We know them as the Creeds

I am not great theologian or Church Historian.  So don't go overboard on correcting my potential simplification of the matter.  I have linked to the two primary ones, the Apostles and Nicene creeds.  And in history there have been a number of other great statements of Faith that helped guide the church for many years. 

So why do I mention them?  I believe it is time for a new creed.  Not as a replacement, or a rewording, of the ones that have come before.  But one that can allow us to say, the tent is wide, but there are thick walls that clearly define us.  Perhaps you view justification and sanctification different than I, but if you affirm "these", then I can call you brother!  We have to not only be unified in fellowship, but also unified in correcting that which falls outside the fellowship. 

For those who read me religiously(hey Mom!! else...) I hope to never present myself as some sort of profound theologian.  But, to at least open up the discussion, here is my attempt at a new Creed that we can affirm together!

The 21st Century Creed
1.  The Old and New Testaments are an accurate and reliable testimony to the Living God, King of all Creation

2. Jesus is the Son of God who came to Earth as fully man and fully God for the purpose of dying in sinful mans place on the cross to pay the penalty of man's sin.  He rose three days later and in Him and Him alone we have hope of eternity with God.

3.  The Holy Spirit is the promised deposit given to each person who has professed faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.  It is through God in Us(the Holy Spirit) that we are empowered to fulfill the ministry of the Gospel and grow in every increasing maturity as followers of Christ.

4.  Each individual has a personal responsibility to respond to the claims of Christ and to claim Him as savior, or to reject Him.

5.  The Bible is our primary guide to life as followers of Christ and the functions of Christ's Church. 

This is probably far from complete, but what would you add, or take away?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Why We Stink at Evangelism

Evangelism....ick.  How many times have you been in a church or parachurch organization that is about to embark on some sort of "Gospel Blitz" and just cringed a bit inside? 

Drive by tractings....

4 Spiritual Laws

Servant Evangelism

But has the needle moved in our culture?  Not really.  Actually, that's dishonest, it is moving....the other way.  Numerous studies show that the numbers of those who would self-identify as Born Again Christians are shrinking, while those who are known as the "Nones"(spiritual but no affiliation) is growing.  Not to mention the growing visibility of atheist/agnostic groups. 

Now, it isn't all doom and gloom.  In many areas and within many amazing churches and organizations God is doing amazing things.  Lives are radically changing and people are being saved from death into life. 

But why isn't it more widespread?

Because, frankly, the sheep suck at making new sheep.  To put it simply, we aren't very good evangelists.  And no number of conferences and ONE TIME events are going to change that.

So, what can we do?

Here's a little life hack I want to pass on to you, FOR FREE!!  When trying to figure out what you as a Christian should be doing, see what Jesus did!!

In John 5:31-47 Jesus provides a wonderful example of how HE went about testifying about Himself(the Gospel in the flesh).  Everyone wants to know what He is all about and who He is, so He does what He does best...tells them. 

We see 4 great and applicable principles in Jesus' response that each of us should take to heart as evangelists(which we are ALL called to be).

First Principle
31 “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true.

Jesus is not saying that what he is going to say is a lie.  He is responding to the legal understanding of the Jewish culture.  Namely, that you cannot testify on your own behalf in court.  There was the basic belief that people will lie to make themselves look better.  Jesus is accepting that to communicate effectively with his audience he needs to follow their rules of discussion and proof.  He goes on to say, I know what I am saying is truth, but we will play by your conversational rules(my paraphrase)

We are terrible evangelists because we too often refuse to communicate to people in a way that they can interact with and understand.  If I am talking to someone who has never been to church throwing around a bunch of words like; Propitiation, sanctification, justification, etc...will not effectively tell them anything helpful. 

Are you being wise to know who you are talking to and how to talk to them well?  And guess what that requires?  Getting to know them!!!  Don't expect to be very effective as long as you are speaking another "language".

Second Principle
33 “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth."

Jesus than refers to a known testimony found in someone else's life.  Namely John the Baptists.  This Jewish audience respected John and they had observed the reality of his life and message.  John's life was a living testimony to the truth Jesus was trying to communicate to them. 

We are terrible evangelists because we don't have a life testimony that confirms the message we are sharing.  Everyone accepted what they observed from John to be the real deal.  Do people accept what you say to be the real deal in relation to how you actually live and behave?

Ask yourself, "Does my life reveal the truth of what I say, or contradict it?"

Third Principle
36 “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me.

Here is where Jesus starts to get supernatural.  He started by communicating by their rules, then he used an outside "testimony", and now he goes to the heart of the matter.  His miracles.  And what was it that the Father sent the Son to do?  To die and rise again! 

We are not inviting people to join a club of do gooders.  We are telling them about the Risen Lord.  If you are trying to share the Gospel, and this point isn't central....well....then you really aren't sharing the Gospel. 

Who is the last person you shared with that your talked about Christ crucified?

Fourth Principle
46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.

At the very end Jesus goes to the Scriptures.  Going back to principle one, you have to talk to people in the way that they can understand.  If someone doesn't believe in God, quoting random Bible verses right off the bat isn't going to be very helpful.  But the glue that holds the testimony(your life, Christ's ministry) is the Word of God. 

The best way to utilize God's word is by naturally using it in your conversation to show where it lines up with what you have been sharing.  If you start by saying "the bible says this" you can lose them before you show them its validity!

How well do you know the Word so you can use it appropriately.

Ready to stop stinking at evangelism?

Get to know people and know how to communicate with them.

Live a living testimony to the power of Christ in your life.

Share the hope of a Risen Savior.

Know your Bible well!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Defiled Churches

I bet you like the way your church "does" church.  Well, at the very least, you like it enough that you call it your church.  But how would you feel if your church made some significant changes?  I don't mean that they stopped preaching from the Bible but instead utilized the Koran, or, the Book of Mormon.  The type of significant changes I am referring to are...

1. Changing the type of music

2. Changing the order of service

3. Dropping something like the midweek evening services to replace it with something like small group home bible studies.

4. Your pastor stopped wearing robes/collar and began to dress "casual"

How would you react to those sorts of changes?  Or, how do you feel about churches that do those things differently than you do? 

Nothing seems to get Christians riled up more than how they "do" church.  There seems to be this streak of antagonism within the Church today that seems to say we can't really be happy with our church(or theological/doctrinal positions) unless we can prove that our way of doing things is the superior True Christiantm way of doing things. 

While certainly there are some areas of stark division that are important to define(such as divinity of Christ, salvation by Christ alone, etc) we have made every issue into a "die on this hill" battle cry.  And we look like idiots and destroy our witness when we do so.

A number of years ago I had a friend who was consulting with a struggling church.  They were demographically much closer to death than college and very old fashioned in their church practices(hymns, organ music, bell choirs, etc).  If something did not change relatively soon the church would have to close their doors.  The unchurched in their area were mostly young professionals with families and they had been wholly incapable at reaching them. 

The suggestion was offered that they needed to consider changing their church service "style".  Cutting back on traditional hymns and men and women in full three piece suit get ups and adding contemporary music and dressing more casually to help foster a more inviting atmosphere to the young and unchurched. 

One particular curmudgeon was infuriated by the suggestion.  There is no way he could stand by and let such terrible things transpire.  The consultant than painted a picture of what could happen if they did so by describing a young single mother in the area who would be more willing to come to a service that seemed more able to communicate with her and that what a wonderful hope it could be for her to get to hear the gospel and respond in faith.  He then asked the old curmudgeon if the possibility of seeing this young lady come to Christ was worth giving up on some traditions?  

The one word response; "NO!"

In Matthew 15 Jesus and his disciples are eating....WITHOUT WASHING THEIR HANDS!!!!  While mothers everywhere may have gagged a bit, the Pharisees went one step farther.  They called Jesus out for letting his disciples defile themselves, SPIRITUALLY, by doing so.  Their complaints weren't about hygiene, but that it had been common TRADITIONAL practice that a truly spiritual and good Jewish person washed his hands to protect himself from spiritual defilement.

Jesus, like he was wont to do, blasted them.  To sum it up(and do click the link and read the whole thing....) He points out that they have allowed MAN created traditions to supersede God's revealed truth. 

What traditions do you hold to that are man made?  And lets be brutally honest here.  No where does it say that an organ and Amazing Grace are the only way to worship in song.  Neither does it say that a guitar and 10,000 Reasons is better! 

The way you do church might be great.  But your style of doing church is not what matters.  What matters it the content of your service!

1)  Is Christ crucified preached?

2)  Is the Bible the center of your teaching?

3)  Is salvation by Christ alone taught?

4)  Are people challenged and encouraged to love each other, to bear with one another, and to grow in maturity?

5) Does your service try its best to honor God FIRST and to also communicate effectively to those who need it?

If those things are not true of your church service then it does not matter if your style is objectively "good".  And if those five things are the natural position of the hearts of your churches leadership, then style will never be permanently static!

Here is a great place of conviction for you and your church.  When was the last time an unchurched person visited on a Sunday morning....AND CAME BACK?!?!

So where do you fall on the spectrum of man made traditions?  What are you willing to change, and what you are not?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Church as a Marriage

After my post about "What Good is a Church" went viral yesterday(I have a very loose understanding of the definition of viral) I received a few "criticisms".  So I wanted to illuminate a little more on my thoughts about being a part of a church.

The most important point in all of this that I cannot repeat enough is that there is ZERO precedence in scripture for Christian's operating outside of the local church.  If someone could point out to me where in the city of Corinth there was the local church AND a couple of friends hanging out at the local coffee shop(or wherever well bred hipsters liked to frequent) who never went to spend time within the local church and that this was presented as equally valid I would concede my point entirely.

Can't find it....?

Because it's not there.  I have yet to come across a Biblical basis for avoiding participation in a local church.  I hear lots of personal anecdotes that sound like self-serving justifications, but never the Biblical basis for it!

There is no point where the writers of the New Testament did not assume that the natural practice of believers would not include participation in the church.  Paul even goes as far as to give CORPORATE instructions to how they should be conducting themselves when they met together.  As Paul established churches during his missionary journeys he also appointed LEADERS(elders) of those churches who were instructed with teaching and protecting the Gospel message.

Again, everything in the New Testament points to active participation within the local church. 

Does this mean that every local church lives up to its responsibilities?  Of course not.  But we don't quit on it all together when we encounter serious issues.  For example, you are attending a church and discover that they are teaching Jesus Christ is not the only way to heaven(aka universalism).  You would be well advised to exit quickly.  Or another church is abusing its members in some capacity.  Authoritarian control, shaming, power abuses, etc.  Get out of there as well. 

Sometimes, depending on where you live, finding a solid(but not perfect) Bible teaching church can be a challenge.  But don't give up just because the first one you visited had significant problems.

While no analogies are perfect, I think this one can help...comparing marriage to the Church.

Sometimes there are abusive and destructive marriages.  People should be protected from these situations.  While we understand someone who has come out of that situation might be wary about dating again, but wouldn't we be saddened if they have decided to give up on finding love at all because of the terrible situation from their past.  

To paraphrase a bit of CS Lewis, the whole reason you are able to recognize something as functioning incorrectly is that you have an indwelt sense of what is right.  If you recognize a problem at a past church, it doesn't mean that there is no good church, it means that you have solidified the truth that there is an appropriate way that a church SHOULD be functioning. 

Many wonderful Christians have walked away from participating in church life and, as of now, don't feel any "ill effects" from it.  Sometimes this is used as proof that the church was unnecessary for them(and perhaps for anyone..??)

I have had a number good friends that due to life circumstances(job and school) have had to live for long periods of time apart from their spouse.  While they certainly came through the other side with their marriage intact, how odd would it be for them to say, "I really liked not having to deal with you every day, can we keep living in different cities....?"  When you marry someone you are committing to sharing your life with that person.  Not just the convenient and fun stuff, but wading through the junk as well. 

When I hear someone tell me that they don't have to go to church to be a Christian I have a few thoughts.  First, I agree!!  Going to church doesn't make you a Christian.  Jesus's death and resurrection does!  But then I think about marriage.  Do you have to actually share your life with someone(emotionally and physically) to be married?  Of course not.  But you are kinda missing the point of marriage if you refuse to share your life with that other imperfectly perfect person. 

The problem is we like the "idea" of things, but not the things themselves.  The idealized picture I have of marriage is beautiful and inspiring.  The reality is often quite different.  The idealized picture we have of the Church is also beautiful and inspiring.  And reality is quite different there as well. 

To add one more part to this thinking.  What if your husband or wife said, "Honey I love you sooo much, but living with you makes it really hard to keep loving you so much.  I think we would be much better off if we spent as little time(if any) together so that I can keep thinking my lofty thoughts about the beauty of marriage". 

We love marriage, we fight against married life.

We love Jesus, but we fight against Christian living. 

Can you be a Christian who never goes to church?  Sure.  Can you be married and never spend time with your spouse?  Sure.  But why in the world would you accept that for yourself?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What good is a Church?

We Americans love our individualism.  No one to tell us what to do, no one to tell us we are wrong.  One of the reasons entrepreneurship is so high in the good ole US of A is that so many people don't like working for/with other people.  And we like our "religious" life like we like our jobs.  Our own!

A friend of mine from my former ministry world was married to a great gal who I enjoyed highly.  On the outside they seemed like a loving God fearing couple who enjoyed serving in ministry together.  Not long after they left their ministry "jobs" they stopped attending church all together.  They were looking to do something more "organic" and felt the structured formality of the "church" was a hindrance to real ministry. 

A few years after that my friend decided he just wasn't interested in marriage anymore and since he knew God just wanted him to be happy he called it quits on his wife and young child.  A few of us went to confront him about it and it was the most odd conversation I remember ever having with someone.  He had always had some fringe theological beliefs but his new positions were completely unhinged from scripture.  When we asked him what Christian men he was involved with who he would allow to speak into his life he claimed he didn't need it because he had the Holy Spirit....which was continuing to confirm for him everything he wanted to do anyways....

Today he refuses to talk to any Christians, and not even his own parents, because everyone in his life stood up against his crazy and self-serving viewpoints.  He wanted to define Christianity through the lens of himself and was completely unwilling to be challenged on any of his viewpoints. 

I read a great quote by Timothy Keller the other day.  "If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself."

Today we worship ourselves, rarely do we worship the one true Living Creator God of all the Universe.  Who became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ and who came to Earth, died on the cross, and rose again.  What is the most obvious way we show that we are worshipping self?

We leave the Church.

I don't mean you stopped attending the local First Liberty Baptist Methodist Living Water Tabernacle that your grandma went to.  I mean we have decided that we get to decide by ourselves what Christianity looks like and we don't want anyone getting in the way of interpreting God as high fiving us as we leave our wives and kids.....

Our favorite misquoted Bible Passage to support this travesty is Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” 

See?!?!?  I don't need a Church, just 2 of us and "BOOOM!!"  Church!! 

Yay proof texting.

As a reminder....Read more than a single sentence to understand the Bible. 

What is the full context of Matthew 18's claim of "2 or 3"?  It is about dealing with sin WITHIN the Church.  First you go privately, then you go with a few friends, then you go get the CHURCH.  Did you catch that?  This whole passage is written in the assumption that an individual is actively involved in their local Church.

I am not going to bore you with details here...But read for yourself.  The entirety of the New Testament is written in the context of believers tightly woven into the life of a local Church.  The assumption is that a Christian is WITHIN the local Church.  And what is the local church tasked with?  Holding firm to the faith, teaching truth, correcting sin, supporting their members, preaching the Gospel. 

Are many of the commands written to the Church able to be appropriately translated into the lives of individuals?  Of course.  But they are not distinctly separate from the community of believers.  There is no Biblical precedence for autonomous individuals creating their own version of Christianity outside of the life of the local body. 

So what good is the Church?

First:  Jesus established the Church and his disciples(apostles) established local churches to be the functioning and visible picture of the Universal Church.  The New Testament is written in the context of this community.  So before you talk about anything else, we have to recognize that being grafted into a local body of believers is the expected normal state of being for a Christian.

Second:  What about my friend I told you about?  The Church has a role in our lives to stand up for truth and call us to the carpet when we sin.  And not just private sin, but sin that harms others.  If we separate ourselves from the body, who will support you and call you out on your bologna?  I can theorize why he left the church....its quite simple really...he wanted to do what HE wanted to do, and didn't want anyone to call him out. 

The Church is the central and visible practice of the Christian life.  Sitting alone on a mountain top contemplating deep theological thoughts is not why Christ died for you.  

We like to think our individualism makes us so unique.  Instead, we are often just selfish and think we are better than others


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Is God a Vending Machine?

I like getting what I want when I want it.  I have no patience for patience.  And what I want is rarely  what is good for me.  My impatience and demands increase in frequency and stridency the more I am desiring that which is not in my best interest....funny how that happens. 

Have you ever felt like you were going crazy if you couldn't eat some broccoli....or.... mow your lawn?  When was the last time you got an insatiable and attitude shaping hankering for a healthy salad?  

What?!? You are telling me that your rarely feel that way about those things???  Welcome to the club.  As many of you know I have radically overhauled my health lifestyle in the last 5  years.  In general I eat pretty healthy and take good care of myself.  But even after 5 years of healthy choices I still get mildly obsessed over stupid unhealthy stuff.  Just last night, my beautiful wife went to bed early and I felt a bit hungry.  Did I immediately reach for a bowl of broccoli with some carrot juice to wash it down?  Of course not, I made a pb&j with potato chips and washed it down with whole milk.  mmmmmm.  And until I ate it I was literally obsessing over it.

What's wrong with me?  I chalk this moment of weakness to the fact that I lift heavy weights 5-6 times a week and my protein needs are higher than they used to be....but I probably would have been fine with something healthier.  But I wanted what I wanted and I wanted it NOW!!!

We are wildly selfish and shortsighted in so many ways.  And we apply this mindset(often unknowingly) to how we approach God.  We want what we want and we want it now.

In John 14 Jesus says,
13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

This proof texted passage becomes our life verse.  We want what we want, AND, we will invoke Jesus' name when wanting it and "voila" we got it!!!

Let's accept something together.  When we want what we want RIGHT NOW, it is often arguably not what is actually best for us.  So lets stop treating God like a vending machine whose value we perceive only through the lens of whether or not He gives us exactly what we have decided we want.

Whenever we read scripture we cannot just pick and choose verses and passages at random and in a vacuum to cobble together our point.  We cannot read John 14:13-14 in a vacuum either.  In Luke 11 Jesus teaches us how to pray.  Without repeating the Lord's Prayer here...suffice it to say, it does not read like a "how to manual" on how to get stuff, but, a challenge to empty ourselves of self and submit to God and His Glory. 

So what could we reasonable offer as the understanding of John 14:13-14?  Well, the surrounding passages are all about Jesus calling His disciples to the ministry of the Gospel.  To read this contextually requires us to understand that Jesus is telling His disciples that they can trust God to empower them to preach the Gospel with power and effectiveness for the Glory of God! 

Again, this is not the instruction manual to getting stuff.  It is the call to glorify God and know that you ARE empowered to do so. 

God is not a vending machine who exists to give you fancy baubles.  He calls you to Himself and then sends you out to proclaim that the captives are free and that sin is defeated.  What you and I need is not more things to fill up our houses with, but, more boldness to glorify the risen Savior!