Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Is "Thanks" Enough?

How often have we heard of Christians suffering real persecution and thanked God for the freedom we have to worship as we choose?  How many times have we seen someone who was homeless and thanked God for all of our blessings?  Probably not as often as we should but, it is certainly not uncommon for Christians to feel thankful when exposed to the misfortune or suffering of others.  These encounters also seem to put our problems into perspective.  As the old saying goes, “I wept because I had no shoes, until I met a man with no feet.”  When faced with real abject poverty and genuine suffering, worrying about our popularity seems a little trivial.

Now, here’s another question.  How often was Jesus moved to thank the Father for His blessings when He met those who were suffering?  When Jesus came in contact with the impoverished, diseased, or outcast – was He ever thankful that He was not like them?    Jesus’ reaction to suffering was different.  He felt compassion for those in need and was moved to relieve their suffering, not just count His blessings.  His focus was not on Himself but on them. 

Jesus was truly the first Christian missionary.  He saw the desperate need of mankind and was moved to do something about it.  While He existed in the form of God, He didn’t consider it something to be used for His own advantage but emptied Himself. (Eph 2:6-7).  He did this to relieve the ultimate suffering experienced by man; the death and condemnation caused by our own sin.  This is truly the missionary’s heart; it is the one that we should desire.

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be thankful for what God has so generously given us – we should.  But our thankfulness should be continual, not just motivated by sharp contrasts.  However, I am suggesting that if we truly desire to be conformed to the image of our Savior we must respond to the suffering and need in the world as He did.  Not with passive thankfulness, but with active compassion.  We must be moved to get involved, to try to lighten the load carried by those who are afflicted and in distress.  It is not enough to sit idly in our comfortable pews each Sunday and thank God for our blessings.  He does not bless us to make us complacent; He blesses us to give us the resources we will need to fulfill His mission.

As Christians we are all called to be a witness in our Jerusalem, in our Judea and Samaria and ultimately to the ends of the earth – every day.  Our compassion, our desire to genuinely show the love of Christ should never be limited to a one week trip during the summer.  It should not be something we do occasionally, it must permeate our lives.  As Christians we are called to serve, not be served.  Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that the Christian faith is an active faith.  James states that we are called to be, doers of the Word and not hearers only.  He goes on to say that if we are hearers only, that we are just deceiving ourselves. But if we are doers who are moved with compassion to show the love of Christ to a lost and dying world, we will be blessed in what we do.  Then we’ll have yet one more blessing for which to be thankful.

In His Service,

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Why We Go

     Every summer churches across the country send summer missionaries to different places around the world to share Christ’s love.  These trips offer uncomfortable travel, simple accommodations, unappealing food and lots of hard work.  The other thing these trips offer is the opportunity to focus on doing God’s work – unencumbered by the distractions of daily life.  They provide a chance to see what can happen when we get out of our own way and allow God to work through us.  They let us see what can happen when we focus all of our attention on Christ.  For many, these trips are life-changing; they are watershed moments that permanently alter the course of their lives.  They are an indispensable part of church ministries across the county.

     This is not to say that these mission trips do not have their detractors.  Every church that sends out summer missionaries will have a handful of people who ask, “Why should we send missionaries somewhere else when we have so much work to be done here?”  Usually, the question is being asked by someone who isn’t involved in mission work at all.  It has been my experience that their concern is rarely for local mission needs; it is more often about resource allocation.  “If we spend money to send people somewhere else, what will be left to take care of me?”

     Unfortunately, this attitude is far too common in the church today.  What many seem to have forgotten is that Jesus does not belong to us – we are His.  We don’t have the authority to decide who should hear the gospel and who shouldn’t.   Can we say that people who look like us, who live where we live and who act like us are more worthy than others to hear about their Savior?  Christ does not segregate people by skin color, nationality, language or geography.  He died for all (2 Cor. 5:15).

     As Christians we are called to be witnesses for Christ “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Notice Jesus said “and” not “or.”  It’s not a question of sharing the gospel at home or away from home; Christians are called to do both.  The truth is, a passion for one will feed a passion for the other.  I have never met anyone who had a genuine desire to share the gospel at home that didn’t have a genuine desire to share the gospel away from home as well.

     Admittedly, it is far easier to care for and have a heart for people that we come in contact with on a regular basis.  It is easier to connect with people who live around us; but this is exactly why we need to GO.  The more time we spend with others outside of our personal context, the more we begin to see the world as God sees the world.  The more we expand our view of the world, the more we see the need – and hopefully, the more we will be compelled to meet it.

In His Service,

Friday, May 6, 2016

Christian Conviction

            A while back I overheard a conversation that a small group of people were having about church.  Like most church conversations each person was saying what they liked about their church sprinkled in with their experiences from other churches.  Since I was occupied with my book at the time I really didn’t catch most of the conversation until one of the ladies made a statement that perplexed me to the point that I could no longer concentrate on my reading.  She said rather casually, “my husband was Catholic and I was Baptist so when we got married we started attending a Methodist church.”  While I was still staring at the pages in front of me, my mind was overwhelmed with the poignancy of the statement.
            Now there are a couple of ways that this statement could be interpreted.  The first is that both the woman and her husband had profound spiritual experiences in which the Spirit of God revealed to them the error of their ways and showed them the truth of a new doctrine.  She no longer believed Baptist distinctives like, autonomy of the local church, the inerrancy of Scripture and the eternal security of the saints.  He abandoned his belief in the divine inspiration of the apocryphal books, the veneration of Mary and the primacy of the pope.  I have to believe that it would take an incredibly profound, life changing moment to create such a radical redirection of the fundamental principles of their faith and lives.

            The other alternative is that their faith was really not that important in how they lived their lives, nor was it fundamental to their identities.  The truth is, for many people Christ is not foundation to their lives, He is a component of their lives.  Therefore what they believe about Him is not as critical, and the decision to join a fellowship is based more on style, friendliness and programs than doctrine, conviction and obedience.  Of course this is nothing new or even unusual today.  Over the years I have met more than a few people who have repeatedly switched between different religions with very little effort.  I know a woman who was once a Mormon, converted to Islam and today professes to be Catholic. 

            Modern Americans (even in the church) have embraced the belief that life directing, foundational truth does not exist.  The only truth seems to be that there is no real truth.  I believe that all of this is a result of decades of us trying to “sell church.”  How often have we tried to entice others to attend church by emphasizing what’s in it for them?  We talk about or close-knit fellowship and sense of community; we sing the praises of our wonderful music and present an impressive list of programs for the whole family.  Who wouldn’t want to join us?  This is not to say that these things are not dear to us, but they are characteristics of the church-not the foundation on which it is built.  What has gotten lost is the fact that the only way any church can have a close-knit fellowship is if they are united in Christ; what makes the music joyful is the forgiveness found in the cross and apart from the true identity of Jesus our programs are meaningless.

            What we truly seem to be missing today, particularly in the church, is the idea of conviction.  Not in the sense of a guilty verdict but in the sense of certainty of belief; conviction that serves as the foundation on which life decisions are made.  Just imagine what the church would look like if we began making decisions and acting as if we were certain of the truths taught in Scripture.  Imagine the strength and integrity that the church would display if we were unwilling to compromise on the eternal truths revealed in God’s Word.  Jesus called us to be lights in the world.  We know He is the source of the light, but it is our conviction, our devotion to that truth that determines how brightly His light shines through us.

In His Service,

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Death by Desertion – The Marginalization of God’s Word

     In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth the apostle admonishes the Corinthians for their lack of spiritual growth.  He writes, “I was not able to speak to you as spiritual people but as people of the flesh, as babies in Christ.  I fed you milk, not solid food, because you were not yet able to receive it. In fact, you are still not able, because you are still fleshly” (1Cor. 3:1-3).  The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews noted that his readers had “become slow to understand.”  He also points out that although they should have been teachers they still needed someone to teach them the basic principles of God’s revelation – they needed “milk, not solid food.”  They were inexperienced with the message of righteousness because they were [spiritual] infants (Heb. 5:11-13).

     It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  The modern church is marked by a serious lack of Biblical understanding and spiritual growth.  This lack of biblical knowledge should come as no surprise as surveys have shown that biblical knowledge is that area that most Christians consider themselves deficient.  However, what is surprising is that these same surveys show that few Christians aspire to increase their knowledge of God’s word as a means of improving their spiritual lives.  It would seem that even in the Christian life the Bible has become unnecessary.  

An article from the Barna Research Group reveals that,

“Bible reading has become the religious equivalent of sound-bite journalism. When people read from the Bible they typically open it, read a brief passage without much regard for the context, and consider the primary thought or feeling that the passage provided. If they are comfortable with it, they accept it; otherwise, they deem it interesting but irrelevant to their life, and move on. There is shockingly little growth evident in people’s understanding of the fundamental themes of the scriptures and amazingly little interest in deepening their knowledge and application of biblical principles.”

 “The problem facing the Christian Church is not that people lack a complete set of beliefs; the problem is that they have a full slate of beliefs in mind, which they think are consistent with biblical teachings, and they are neither open to being proven wrong nor to learning new insights. By the time most Americans reach the age of 13 or 14, they think they pretty much know everything of value the Bible has to teach and they are no longer interested in learning more scriptural content.”

     This dismissive attitude towards Scripture affects every aspect of the modern Christianity.  In increasing numbers American Christians are less likely to hold orthodox views even on critical issues such as the sovereignty of God or the exclusivity of the cross.  Without these central doctrines Christianity is reduced to little more than religious therapy designed to promote the esteem of its adherents. 

     It is not for lack of opportunity that modern Christians fail to grow beyond the most basic principles of God’s revelation, nor is it freedom.  We live in a time and place where God’s word is easily accessible and Christians are free to immerse themselves in Scripture without the fear of persecution.  The only thing that seems to be lacking is the desire to do so.  Once we have learned enough to involve ourselves in spiritual conversations and crated a Christian facade, we are satisfied.  We are content with milk and have no desire to move on to solid food.  There can be no wonder as to why the church has become more and more secularized.

     This world needs mature Christians.  It needs Christians who have been washed by the word and been transformed by it.  It needs workmen who aren’t ashamed, who are rightly able to handle the word of truth.   God revealed Himself to us through His word.  He intends for us to be changed by it and for us to communicate His message to the ends of the earth.  It won’t happen by accident, nor will it happen if our biblical exposure it limited to a predigested Sunday school quarterly. 

In His Service,

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

She May Not Be Pretty, But She's Still His Bride

     In recent years it seems that there has been a movement to try to separate the Christian faith from “the church,” as if they were two mutually exclusive concepts. More and more people in our country are seeking to follow Christ without being a part of what they see as the religious institution. I can’t say that I don’t understand the sentiment. There are certainly times when I would like to turn my back on the whole mess and retire to a cabin in the mountains. As a pastor I have a unique perspective and I don’t always like what I see, but there are some serious theological problems with the idea of the solitary Christian.

     Christ desired that we gather together as believers. He tells Peter, “on this rock I will build My church.” The word that we translate as “church” actually indicates an assembly or group. Scripture also tells us that Christ is the “head of the church,” (Col 1:18) and we are also told that he gave his life for the church (Eph 5:25). If the church is that important to Jesus, then it would seem to me that it should be that important to those of us who seek to follow Him.

     Are there problems with the church today? Absolutely. Is the church missing the mark? No doubt. In my opinion the most serious offense of which the church is guilty is baptizing lost people into the family of God. The church has become so “numbers conscious” that literally hundreds of thousands of people who have no relationship with Christ call themselves Christians (however is a rant for a different day). My point is that the church is flawed and is probably guilty of many of the charges leveled against it. But we should expect nothing different. The body of Christ (that is the church) is made up of flawed, fallen people. We are all sinners, saved by grace. We all fall short of the glory of God – daily.

     Despite our failures the church endures. After 2000 years of abuse, heresy and infighting, Christ’s church still stands and sometimes manages to fulfill its mission. When things are at their worst, the church is often at its best. Over the years I have performed more funerals that I care to count. I have had the opportunity to minster to families during long protracted illnesses and after unforeseen tragedies – neither is easy. It is however, during these times that the church truly shines the love of Christ. All of those things that cause conflict and division disappear as God’s people seek to heal the hurting.

     I’ve seen this at the national and international levels as well. After the attacks of 9/11 Christians from across the country converged on New York. The church provided relief after the tsunami of 2004, Katrina in 2005 and now after the earthquake in Haiti. Southern Baptists already have assessment teams on the ground and have purchased over 80 tons of rice for Haitian relief. The Florida Baptist children’s home is preparing to receive Haitian orphans and hundreds of relief workers are making preparations to go. There is no doubt that other denominations are doing the same. While government leaders argue over authority and who will get credit, Christians just seek to meet the need. These are not the efforts of unconnected individuals, but of Christians organized for the purpose of ministering in the name of Christ – the church.

     Does the church have faults? Sure, but by the grace of God we still can manage to show the love of Christ to a lost and dying world. Christ called us and connected us as His followers. We need the fellowship of other believes, we need their encouragement to face the trials of this world and we need them to walk beside us as we all seek to serve our Savior. While it is certainly easy to cast dispersion on the church, just remember – it is still “the bride of Christ,” and Jesus does love His bride.

In His Service,